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What’s New?

Published June 3, 2014 - 3 Comments

So what’s new?  What’s going on?  What’s shakin’?  It’s been 6 months!  C’mon… gimme something!  How’s the family?  Kids?  Work?  Latest plan for total world domination?  There’s gotta be something going on that’s newsworthy!

Ummm….     maybe?

It’s actually hard to believe that I’ve been away from here for 6 months!  Granted, at the time that I packed up shop, I never thought I’d be back.  Maybe a post here or there, but even that was in doubt.  My blog was sitting on a server in Powweb, and I had long given up hope of moving it to Dreamhost, where my new blogs had been opened.  I’d already spent money to renew Powweb’s hosting for a year, and didn’t like the fact that I was paying for 2 hosting companies.  But everything that I’d tried to move the files from one host to another failed.  I even bought a program that was supposed to make it seamless and I still couldn’t get it to work.  I’d pretty much given up on it.

It wasn’t until my vacation last month that I started to get the “blogging bug” again and sat down to try to migrate the blog again.  This time there was an urgency… I had cancelled my Powweb membership months ago, and they were only holding my blog until my pre-paid year was up: some time in June.  So if I wasn’t able to move this blog, it was either start from scratch (maybe not a bad idea, I dunno) or give up on it altogether.

If you’re reading this, then you probably have a pretty good idea what the outcome was.  I found a great little WordPress plugin called Duplicator that actually lived up to its name!  And better yet… it’s free!  I’ll probably write a post about this plugin later, but for now, suffice it to say… you wouldn’t be reading anything on this blog without Duplicator!  (The migration wasn’t 100% seamless.  You may have noticed a lack of pictures.  None of the pictures from previous posts moved over, so anything you see now is something that I’ve had to put in manually, but that’s fine.  I was worried about the years of writing… not the pictures that I borrowed from the Internet)

So what about you?  What’s new in your life?

6 Hours and 60 Minutes

Published April 19, 2011 - 0 Comments

PingdomAlert UP: WhatAboutStephen (www.whataboutstephen.com) is UP again at 19/04/2011 12:39:43PM,  after 6h 60m of downtime.

6 Hours and 60 Minutes.  That’s how long my blogs were down flat this morning/afternoon.  Perhaps my math is a little rusty, but I still thought that an hour was made up of 60 minutes.  So rather than 6 Hours and 60 Minutes, maybe Pindgom should be telling me that my blogs were flat for 7 hours?  That’s just my opinion.

So last night I was relatively active on my blogs.  I replied to a bunch of comments, and published 3 posts on WhatAboutStephen, with a 4th scheduled for later today.  I worked on TheUnfriendlyGiant.com, changing the layout, configuring Thesis, adding a few plugins, and starting to add some content.  All of this was taking place while having a Twitter-meltdown of epic proportions.  It was not a fun night.  But I was being more productive than I’ve been in a few days.

Then around 5:30am I tried to save some work on TheUnfriendlyGiant.com and I received an error saying that it could not connect to the database.  I tried again, with the same result.  Then I tried this blog, and was unable to connect.  Same thing with the others.  Not good.  It didn’t feel like another account problem.  It felt more like a technical problem.  I confirmed that by successfully connecting to Write-ClickMedia.com which does not run on WordPress.  Obviously my problem was related to my WordPress installations, which run on a database on a shared hosting server, courtesy of PowWeb.  I checked my hosting provider’s website to see if they had posted any planned work maintenance.  5:30am here means that it’s even earlier throughout the rest of North America, making it the perfect time for a planned maintenance schedule.  There was indication of that on their website.

By this time I had received an email from a service called Pingdom, which I only recently subscribed to.  They automatically “ping” your website at predetermined intervals, and alert you if they are unable to reach it successfully.  The internet isn’t perfect.  Things happen.  A certain amount of downtime is understandable, but Pingdom is there to alert you in the event of something major.  It’s free to install on a single website, so I chose my most active one, WaS.  Because this isn’t a revenue-generating blog (damn), it’s not exactly mission critical to my online presence.  I have the Pingdom interval set to 30 mins before emailing or texting me an alert.  If I check the logs for the month, I can see that there have been instances of missed pings, but this is the first time that they have been required to contact me.

As I finished my shift, all I could care about was getting out of there and getting home.  It had been a miserable night, and I wasn’t in a mood to submit a support ticket to PowWeb.  Sleep was my only priority, and if the blogs were still down when I woke, then I would deal with it.  Unfortunately, after a few hours of restless sleep I woke up briefly to check my iPhone, and discovered that nothing had changed.  I decided that I’d better call PowWeb’s support line and find out what was going on.  As soon as I heard “We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes.  Please wait for the next available representative.” I knew that it was something much larger than just me.  To be honest, I took some comfort in that.  In my mind, it meant that they were probably already aware of the outage and working on it.  If the problem had been localized to me solely, chances are that it would have been pushed down their list of priorities, as they worked on other trouble tickets in their queue.  That’s normally how these things work, and it’s generally a pretty good system.

Considering the fact that they were warning me that I might be on hold for awhile, a customer service representative was there in under 2 minutes!  I wasn’t quite ready for that.  I explained the problem to the gentleman, who informed me that the support engineers were working on a database failure, and that it should be resolved soon.  I didn’t even bother to ask what “soon” meant because I know that he either didn’t know, or he wouldn’t tell me if he did.  It’s best to keep the customers in the dark about these things.  I was fine with that.  I just rolled over and went back to sleep.

The first thing I did when I woke again was check this blog.  It worked!  Whohooo!  I checked the others.  Everything looked good.  There was even an email from Pingdom alerting me that this website was back in service, and had it been down for a total of 6 hours and 60 minutes.  Then it occurred to me… the last post showing as published was Good Ole CAA.  Where were the posts that I had published after that?  There were 3 of them… plus the one that was scheduled and should have been published through the day.  Obviously PowWeb had restored my blogs with a recent backup copy of their database.  That sucked, but was not unexpected.  The main thing was that the sites were restored… even if TheUnfriendlyGiant.com had lost all the work that I’d put into it.

I hate when I’m writing something, and it gets lost.  If I have to re-write it, it’s never as good the second time.  It happens from time to time with emails, or the occasional blog post that gets deleted as I’m writing it.  There’s something about taking the time to write something again.. it’s just never as good.  I wasn’t enjoying the prospect of having to re-type 4 blog posts.  In fact, I really considered just letting it go.  There’s never really anything important here anyway, and in the case of 2 of those posts, I knew that they had already been read by the person they were intended for.

Then I remembered something.  Google RSS Reader!  I’ve been adding friends’ blogs to my Google Reader page, and syncing them with my iMac and iPhone.  I had also added all my Write-Click Media blogs.  Why?  I have no idea.. just to see how they looked when presented through RSS as opposed to directly on the website.  I wondered if they would still be there in Google Reader…   WHOHOOO!  3 of the 4 were there.  The last was never published, so Google Reader never had a chance to capture it.  At the moment I can’t even remember what it was about, so it might be lost forever.

The point is, I don’t have to re-write them from scratch.  I am going to go back to Google Reader and simply copy and paste them in, and re-publish them.  It doesn’t help me with TheUnfriendlyGiant.com because those were style changes, not content.  And I’ll have to go back and reply again to those people who had commented on this blog.  But that’s a pretty quick process.

Let this be a reminder to everyone… whether you’re concerned about your own personal files, or running a company responsible for tons of information… BACKUP BACKUP BACKUP!

Blog Outages – Lessons Learned

Published August 29, 2010 - 2 Comments

The recent blog outages have certainly driven home a couple of lessons.

  • Stay on top of the financials.  When you pay for a service on a yearly basis, it’s easy to forget to update your financial records if something changes.  In this case there was a change of credit card information that did not get updated with the service provider.  The wrong card was charged, and it all went downhill from there.
  • Verify contact information.  Not only was the wrong credit card on file, but I also noticed that a now-defunct email address was used as the contact information for all my websites.  This wasn’t really an issue this time, because I could quite clearly see that my account was in trouble, but had the service provider attempted to contact me through email, they wouldn’t have been able to.
  • Backup regularly and test the backups!  I used to have a plugin set to send me a weekly copy of my WordPress file that could be used to restore my blog to a previous point in the event of a catastrophic failure… like the one that I just had!  For some reason, I stopped using that plugin… probably because I was tired of getting the constant emails.  That was a mistake.  In theory I could have restored the blog, or have re-created it on another server.  PowWeb does have an automatic backup/restore option, but it does not include SQL databases, which makes it kinda useless for my needs.  Trust me, I tried it.  Twice.
  • Redundancy.  I mentioned this is in an earlier post, but I’ve heard of online marketers who use two separate webhosting services for their sites.  Only one can actively host a site at a time, but in the event of a failure, you can easily log in and redirect the DNS to point to the backup hosting service.  It’s an insurance policy.  I don’t really see myself requiring this until I start to make some money with this stuff… but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.  Webhosting runs a little over $100 for the year, which is far less than I would have lost during these outages had this been my primary source of income.
  • The message must get through.  This is something that was drilled into my head years ago when I was part of the Communication Reserves.  You do whatever you have to, to make sure the message gets through.  I’m lucky.  In the case of WaS, most loyal readers are friends in real life and I was able to tell them what was going on through txt, email, or voice.  But it really hit home the need for an alternate channel to ensure that readers (and eventually consumers / clients) were informed.  I had been toying with the idea of adding a newsletter subscription service to the growing arsenal of tools.  Now, it’s an absolute high priority.  You can expect to see Aweber newsletter services offered here shortly.

Hopefully these outages are a thing of the past, but all things considered, the lessons learned have been a positive experience.  Better to go through these pains now, when the stakes are much lower.

Well, I Guess They Showed Me!

Published August 29, 2010 - 0 Comments

Right after I wrote that post about my experiences with PowWeb support, I started looking for a new Twitter integration plugin to install… and with one simple click of the button, my website was dead!  My initial instinct was that PowWeb had done something to my account again, but after checking the status of my other blogs, that assumption went out the window.  No, the problem was unique to WaS.

It took 2 days, but I finally received the fix.

After reviewing your site, we found that one of its 59 different plugins is now preventing it from loading as it was intended. As we do not support 3rd party applications such as Word Press beyond their installation via Install Central, we will not be able to correct this for you. We recommend renaming your plugins via the File Manage starting with the latest ones added until you find the one causing this problem and delete it. Alternatively, if you have any backups of this sites database, you can import them using phpMyAdmin. Let us know if you have further questions.

Oh, I knew which plugin it was… Twitter For WordPress… I could see that it was installed at 7:40am on Friday morning.  The exact time that my blog went dead.  I didn’t even bother renaming it.  I just simply deleted it and voila!  Problem solved!  So I wrote them a very nice “thank you”.

Open mouth… insert foot… story of my life.

Another WaS Service Interruption? NOT $%^&*( Happy!!!

Published August 27, 2010 - 0 Comments

So the blog was down for nearly 13 hours since last evening, until a few minutes ago…  First, let me say THANK YOU to everyone who sent me a text or tweet to let me know that it was down.  I’d rather get a few messages from people telling me that there was a problem, than to go about my life thinking that everything was ok.  Certainly I would have picked up on it on my own, but that’s not the point.  It’s good to have people who care enough to let me know that something isn’t right with the blog.  So thank you.

Second, I’m extremely disappointed in PowWeb for 2 things:

  1. My account was suspended due to a mysterious charge back on my credit card, when in fact no such charge back was ever requested.
  2. When I called to have the problem corrected, I encountered incompetence at its finest.  I don’t know if the guy hung up on me or what, but I called back and got someone else who was at least a little better.  But even HE told me that it would be a couple of hours before they could unsuspend my account!  I was sitting in front of a screen showing my online credit card activity, and it clearly showed how I had paid for my yearly subscription… yet it would still take a couple of hours.  When I woke up this morning, it was STILL suspended!  I was just about to call again and suddenly everything came back to life.

I don’t believe that it takes that long to have something like that corrected.  I should know.  I had the same thing corrected earlier in the week!  Over the phone!  That time there HAD been a charge back.  It was unexpected, but it wasn’t PowWeb’s fault.  When I called them and provided them with more details, they were able to unsuspend the account within 15 mins.  So I know damn well that it IS possible, if you get the right person.  Obviously, in this latest instance, I did not.

I’ve heard of some online marketers paying for 2 separate hosting services.  In the event of a problem, they can switch the DNS to point to their backup.  If I get serious about this, it might just be something to look into.  Get all my eggs out of the same basket, so to speak.

Not happy PowWeb… not happy at all…