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No one ever wants to hear those words. “You’ve been hacked!” Sure enough, when I went to the blog, I was greeted by this:
It slowly scrolled up and told me how good my security was, but how they were far better. Blah Blah Blah. I figure that it’s just a group of script kiddies somewhere who don’t have a clue and are just getting their jollies from defacing some websites. The real kicker here was that I went to check each of my websites, and they were all showing the same thing! 🙁 That’s one of the joys of shared web hosting. When one is torched, it’s almost a sure thing that everything is gone.
I contacted my hosting provider Dreamhost and received instructions on how to get my websites back up and running. Unfortunately there is no simple way to roll them back, so I had to go through each one and create new WordPress installations, copy the database and uploads from the hacked folder into the new one, and re-install my themes and plugins. This started off as a very slow process, but after the third or fourth time, I began to get the knack of it. Let’s just say that I’m now pretty proficient in understanding which WordPress files are key to holding your data.
So how did these punks get in in the first place? I don’t know. The most likely scenario is that one of my WordPress plugins or themes had a vulnerability in it, allowing them access to all my sites. Wordpress plugins get updated all the time, and it’s a big pain to keep them up to date – especially when you are running multiple sites. Some of my sites are not actively used, so I rarely log into them. That makes them especially vulnerable to hackers looking for access.
How do you manage multiple WordPress sites to keep your plugins or themes up to date? There are some services out there that allow you to update everything from a single dashboard! One of the free ones I found is WP-Remote. Their website claims “Monitor and update all of your WordPress‐powered sites. 68,253 WordPress websites already do.” I created a login and added a plugin to each of my blogs that I wanted to manage. Voila! This is what the WP-Remote dashboard looks like:
You can see the list of WordPress sites on the left hand side, and easily determine whether they are up to date or require action. Installing updates is as simple as clicking a single button on the right side to update all. Within seconds everything is good to go! This is a brilliant service, and saves me a ton of time! I’ve made a habit of checking in with WP Remote in the morning and updating any files that require it. Did I mention that it’s free? They sell a premium version of their service that adds things like automated backups, but I’ve discovered that I don’t need to pay for those. Why not? Keep reading, and I’ll tell ya!
Updraft Plus is a fantastic (and free!) WordPress plugin that performs fully automated backups on whatever schedule you set, and saves them locally as well as on virtually any remote storage location. They offer a premium plan that gives you more control over how those backups are performed, but I’m OK with the free version for now.
Free managing dashboard. Free automated backups. What a great deal, right? Yup! But there’s one area that I DID decide to splurge a little money on. I’ve been a faithful Dropbox user for years, and I’d worked my way up to 14GB of free space, but it just wasn’t enough. So with the money that I saved from the other two services, I upgraded my Dropbox to the Professional plan. For $109/year I now have 1TB of space. That’s more than enough for all my backup needs. Famous last words.
So while this hacking incident has cost me some time and money (lost Adsense revenue and increase purchasing) I’ve learned a great deal about WordPress installations, the critical files, bulk management, and now have a solid backup/restore plan in the event of a catastrophic failure in the future. It was a difficult pill to swallow, but I think that the lessons learned far outweigh the loss.
Let’s hope that I never have to deal with this again. But if I do, I have the right tools in place to minimize any downtime.
I’ve been working on the look of the blog again. When I think back to how it used to look on the old Blogger platform, and many many different variations on WordPress… well… it’s quite amazing, actually!
I stumbled onto a brand new blog tonight. I was clicking randomly through twitter links, and notice someone posting that her blog was now live, so naturally I went to check it out. There was a single post there. No comments. When I say a brand new blog, I mean a brand spankin’ new blog!
As I read through Katching Kayte I wondered whether the blogger would follow through with her current passion, or whether she would eventually succumb to writer’s block, and Katching Kayte would become yet another addition to the dead blog wasteland… Only time will tell.
What’s new with WhatAboutStephen? The blog is still running on the Thesis WordPress theme. (Remember when I was so frustrated switching to Thesis?) I moved from the free Thesis Sharp skin to the premium Thesis Blogskin. I think that it’s a little crisper than Thesis Sharp. I hope that you agree.
I’m making better use of the teasers on the front page, including thumbnail pictures with them. Thumbnail and post pictures have always been a little tricky for me, but I think that I’ve finally managed to figure it all out. Unfortunately this change makes my previous posts look rather sloppy. If a post is not configured properly, it will show a missing photo link… I would have to go back and correct each post manually, and that’s about 3 years worth. I don’t foresee that happening. As new posts continue to push the existing ones off the front page, it will become less noticeable. Oh, curious about those smiley faces? Those are default thumbnails and get placed there automatically if I chose not to include a photo within the post. Think of them as a placeholder. I will probably end up changing them, but for now they work.
I’ve removed some of the more annoying widgets from the sidebar. In fact, I went on a bit of a cleaning spree and removed A LOT of plugins that I’ve installed over the years. Most of those are things that you would not notice, but hopefully it provides a little cleaner interface, and fewer 3rd party plugins reduces the chances of a conflict.
So other than a couple of cosmetic things that I want to test out (I really would like to have a proper banner graphic, except that I’m artistically-challenged) I think that I’m pretty much settled on the way things are… for now… and will turn my attention to updating some of my other projects that have been neglected over the past few months.
Thanks for reading!
Wow.. it’s hard to imagine that this blog has been around long enough for me to say this, but…
Usually I switch over to a really cute Christmas WordPress theme for the holidays, but not this year. I like the other theme quite a bit, but it’s dated at this point, and it really screws with my Thesis settings when I revert back after the holidays are over. I remember the headache from last year, and I just don’t want to go through that again.
So instead of changing the theme, I decided to add a Dancing Santa, and turn the default grey skin into a nice Christmasy red one! Hopefully that puts people in a cheery mood! 🙂
Less than 2 weeks now. This is the first year that the kids will be at my place Christmas morning. I’m looking forward to that. It’s such a busy day, but it will be worth it. I hope!
Now to just get some wrapping done…
I don’t know if I’m ever going to reach the point that I’m 100% happy with the blog’s appearance. I recently decided to implement some more of the functions within the Thesis WordPress theme. Thesis is a premium theme, which means that I spent good money on it awhile back. It’s almost an industry standard when it comes to getting serious in the internet marketing blog world. There are other providers of premium themes (any many free ones) too, but Thesis is what many marketers recommend for it’s stability and ease of configuration. I wouldn’t disagree at all, but the one downside I have with Thesis is that it’s not exactly pretty. If you’re someone who has visual arts skills, you can make Thesis look amazing… but right out of the box, Thesis is not a real eye catcher. To help me make it more palatable, I’m using a free Thesis skin called Thesis Sharp, which sits on top of the Thesis framework. It’s not fancy, but I think that it’s better than the default look. I’ve actually been using the Sharp skin for awhile, but in the blue version. When I decided to change things recently, I opted for the default grey theme.
So what else has changed? I’ve gone back to the two column look. I’ve gone back and forth a few times between 2 and 3 columns, but for the moment I’ve settled on the 2 column look. It means that all the widgets are put on one side, and you may have noticed that I’ve removed a few of the widgets that I don’t think were really necessary. If you’re looking for the blog archives, they’re gone. I don’t think people were really going back and reading old ones anyway. I’ve removed the Twitterbabble, although I’m torn about that one. I want to use a Twitter widget that DOESN’T display my replies, because I know that gets confusing for people. I just want to display a few of the random thoughts that I tweet. WordPress has a Twitter widget as part of their Jetpack combo, but the damn thing doesn’t always want to connect. When it does, it looks great. When it doesn’t, it gives a big error and tells you to hit refresh in a few mins. Not exactly the look I’m going for.
One of the most noticeable changes is that I’ve broken down the front page into featured and teaser posts. I’ve experimented with this in the past, but never on this blog. At the time I was told by a reader that she didn’t like the look of the teaser posts (the ones at the bottom) so I opted for just having all featured ones. I’m backtracking on that now, because I think that it makes the blog look a little neater. Rather than a long rambling blog, it’s condensed somewhat. If you’re a regular reader, then you are probably going to see all the posts as features, because they only become teasers when pushed down the page by newer posts. I think that works. If it bugs the hell out of you, please let me know.
I’ve also changed the font and font size. It may not seem important to some people, but I didn’t care much for the old font, and it took me awhile to find something that I wanted to use. I settled on Droid Sans 12 pt. I’m aware that it’s a little smaller than what I had been using before, but I think it makes it look neater. Please let me know if anyone finds it too small.
I’m still trying to get a few things working properly… the multimedia box doesn’t seem to do what I’d like it to, so I have that disabled. It should cycle through pictures or movies, but it’s a mess. I’ll dig into it a little more, but for now… the other thing is that I expect to place a small box along the side with links to some of the programs that I use. These are tried and true things that I personally use in blogging or on my computers at home. People are always asking me “what do you use for… ” and it’s time for some of that stuff to go right on the blog. Some of those will be referral links, but that doesn’t necessarily mean affiliate. I’d love to see more people using SugarSync, but I don’t get paid for it when someone signs up. The extra 500MB bonus space is nice though!
So that’s pretty much it for the changes. There’s nothing static in the blogging world… So I know that this will not be the last change, but now I’m starting to put more focus on some of the other blogs to get them up to the level of this one. Wish me luck!
And don’t forget, if you’re curious about what the blog used to look like before getting to this point, you can use Archive.org’s Internet Wayback Machine to see just how far it’s come!
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!
You may have noticed a tiny change in the appearance of this blog. Some of the less recent readers may recognize the holiday theme from last year. Yes, I kept a copy of it in the WordPress theme directory, so I could pull it out this year! I like it. I haven’t given up on Thesis, but let’s face it… out of the box, Thesis is pretty boring to look at! If I had any amount of web design skill at all, I could customize it to look better… hell, I could probably even make it look Christmasy if I knew what I was doing. But I don’t, so I need a theme that does all of that for me. This one looks nice, is relevant, and easy to use. Behind the scenes, it’s basic compared to Thesis, but that’s fine. I wanted to spice things up as we turn the corner and head into the final stretch before the Big Guy (Santa) gets here. That’s right.. it’s less than a month away now. Sorry to bust your bubble, folks. I know that some of you have not even started your shopping yet. Then there’s my Mum, who has probably been done and wrapped since August.
Yeah… didn’t inherit that gene.
I was asked by a couple of people recently why I (and some other people who post on the blog) have a nifty little picture beside my name when I reply to a comment on the blog. There might be an assumption that it is something specific to this blog, and I have to set you up with one if you would like your own. That’s not the case at all!
The picture is called a Gravatar (I think it means Global Avatar) and you can sign up for one (free!) at www.gravatar.com. Just remember when you register an email address, to use whichever one you typically enter on the blog when you fill out a comment. That will link back to your Gravatar account, and automatically post the picture there. You don’t have to use a picture of yourself. You can use whatever you’d like. Anything is better than that default blob of a person that gets put beside your comment if you’re not using a Gravatar.
And once you have a Gravatar registered, it will link to any WordPress blog that you comment on. You can have multiple ones set up too, if you comment on different blogs, using different email addresses.
I’d love to see more people using them, because it really gives a little more “life” to the blog. So if you want to give it a try, sign up for a Gravatar and leave a comment. If you run into a problem (you shouldn’t. It’s very straight-forward) don’t hesitate to give me a shout. I’m always around here somewhere.
Have a great Tuesday!
I thought that you said that you were good with computers?
I’m great with computers! Or more accurately… I’m great with some aspects of computers! Networking, communication, end user application support… sure thing. I’m your man. If things start to break physically, it’s a 50-50 chance whether I even want to take the case off. I might do it for my own machine, but I rarely have any interest in doing it for anyone else. Depending on what it is, it’s probably at the edge of my comfort zone… or well past it. I’m generally a software / network application guy, more than a hardware guy. That’s how I roll.
But there is one aspect of software that has completely frustrated the hell out of me for as long as I can remember.
I hate it. I don’t understand it. I don’t have the patience to even try to understand it.
Back when I was first trying to figure out what to do with my life, some people were surprised that I didn’t go in the direction of a Computer Science degree. I obviously had an interest in computers, and spent more than enough time in front of them. But even back then, I had a healthy mistrust of my software programming abilities. Even if I could have have slogged my way through 4 years of a Bachelor of Computer Science, I don’t think that it would have changed anything. I’m sure that I’d be in the same boat I am today. Hating it.
I swore that I’d never get into programming, and I’ve been true to my oath. I turned down what might have been an excellent opportunity at work years back because I told the boss flat out.. I hate programming. That was the end of that conversation!
You see where I’m going with this?
So now I’m looking at the current state of my blog. WhatAboutStephen.com … Where once there was vibrant colour, now there is only black and white… straight lines… angles… hardly a splash of creativity anywhere to be found…
For over a year I had gotten used to sifting through hundreds of free WordPress themes, and changing the look and feel of the blog with virtually a single click. It was great. WordPress themes are freakin’ awesome. But when I decided that I wanted to get serious about this whole internet marketing experience (and yes.. that’s the direction that I’m aiming) I read, heard, was told that I should look seriously at purchasing a premium theme because they contain solid code, and have a more professional look and feel to them. I can appreciate that. The free WordPress themes are fun… some of them are even quite nice… but if everyone else is going the premium theme route, then who am I to argue? It’s not like the costs are astronomical. So I threw down my credit card and got myself a fancy new Thesis theme. Whohoo! Welcome to the big leagues, Stephen.
Finding a web developer to customize the blog wasn’t overly difficult. Finding one that could do the job within my limited budget was a challenge. In the end, my first foray into the whole outsourcing business was a learning experience, but didn’t provide the end result I was looking for. So that shifted the burden back squarely on my shoulders. No problem. I hate programming, but one of Thesis’ claims to fame is that you really don’t need to be a programmer to customize the design. There are all sorts of options within their controls. You don’t need to know anything about programming.
But it sure as hell helps if you do!
I’m thankful that there is a button that reverts the blog back to its default look! Last night I created a horrible monstrosity of a blog… the first thing I did when I sat down today was to click the “return to default” button, and *poof* … three different shades of grey again. (Something I just learned: My auto spell checker underlined “grey” and told me that it should be “gray”. Huh? So I went and looked it up… “Grey (often spelled gray in the United States, see spelling differences) describes the colors ranging from black to white.” Well, isn’t that interesting? Silly Americans and their always wanting to be different.)
So back to what I was saying…
I’m getting tired of trying to customize the blog. I have the artistic fortitude of a snail, and I work just about as quickly. I think that I’m going to put it on the back burner for now, and concentrate on other things. So if you’re not a fan of plain and simple… well… you’re outta luck.
For the time being.
I’ve been holding off on this post because I believed that it would be the unveiling of a completely redesigned WhatAboutStephen.com. The idea was to hire a professional team of web designers to do a complete overhaul, and make it look… well.. pretty!
As often happens in life, things didn’t go as well as planned. After settling on a development team, it was brought to my attention that the scope of work required was far beyond the budget I had allocated for the project. Now I understand how businesses and governments get stuck with cost overruns. But rather than suck it up and increase the budget three-fold, I opted to cancel the project, and take a much smaller financial penalty for backing out. (This money goes to the employment finder website… not the worker…) At the end of the day, there are no hard feelings on either side, and I learned a valuable lesson in preparing for outsourcing projects.
So, for now, I’m flying solo again.
Which brings me up to the topic of the day. This is my 500th published blog post! Who would have ever thought that I would reach this point? Sure, there are many blogs with far more (and better!) content… but that’s not the point. Most bloggers have a tendency to lose steam after their good intentions run dry. Yes, there have certainly been periods of inactivity with this blog too, but I always seem to come back to it. And somewhat more surprisingly… so do many of my readers.
WhatAboutStephen.com has undergone many changes since it first debuted. Some people may remember that it used to run on the Blogger platform. I upgraded to WordPress last year and have been extremely happy with that decision. My only disappointment is in losing the posts that I had already published as a Blogger site. Had I kept those, I would have reached the 500th post long ago. More importantly, it would provide a complete picture of how the blog has evolved over time. Not much I can do about that now. They’re gone, and they’re not coming back. It’s time to carry on…
I’m curious to see what happens in the next 500 posts!
Before I sign off, I want to post a picture of a comic that I stumbled onto very recently. I’ve mentioned the artist’s blog before. The comic is called Happy Sad. I really wish that I could meet this guy because everything that he comes up with… well… just read this…
Some readers may have noticed that there’s been a bit of a lull in blog activity lately. It’s true… I haven’t done much writing, but I haven’t exactly abandoned the blog either. You can see that it looks a tiny bit different than it used to. Although it’s still in the very rough stages of a major upgrade, I thought that it might be a good idea to peel back the curtain a little and let readers take a peek at WhatAboutStephen 2.5.
The blog now runs the WordPress Thesis theme, which is a premium (ie cost money) theme… as opposed to all the free themes that you may or may not have witnessedover the last year and a half. Why would I shell out nearly $200 (cha ching!) for a premium theme? Well… that’s a license fee which can be used on any of my blogs, and not simply this one. I consider that to be an investment, not only in the blog… but in my future. Thesis is generally considered to be the premium WordPress theme (although there are plenty of other very capable ones out there) due to its top-notch code and customizability. One Thesis blog can look completely different from the next Thesis blog. That’s obviously important when setting up multiple blogs. I wanted to standardize on something, yet I didn’t want readers to see the same thing over and over. The backend portion that the reader does not see will look identical from blog to blog, allowing me to not have to reinvent the wheel every time. That’s a good thing!
I had originally thought that I might like to work with Thesis myself, but after dabbling in it for awhile, I’ve now decided to outsource that entirely, and concentrate on content creation and building my brand. It’s actually exciting to start looking at different virtual assistants specializing in Thesis development. And it’s not very expensive either. I’m thinking that it’s in my best interest to let someone who knows what they’re doing get everything set up for me, and focus on the things that I’m good at. Whatever those are! 🙂
So… having said that… hopefully the next post/update will show off a completely new, totally redesigned WaS blog. And baring some minor tinkering, I don’t expect to make any more changes to the blog for awhile. It’s time to get the ball rolling on other things.
Here’s something that I found a few days ago that I really got a kick out of. Remember all those Old Spice commercials? This is a Sesame Street parody… if you don’t laugh at this… well… (After I wrote that, I watched as my co-worker stared blankly at this video… no heart, I tell ya! No soul… sad… But *I* thought it was funny!)
So what else is going on? Hmmm… I noticed that this is the 499th blog post! That means that the next one will not only showcase an entirely new professional-looking blog… but will also be the 500th post! Yes, I would have hit that milestone sooner had I kept all the Blogger posts from version 1.0 of the blog, but oh well. Stuff happens.
Speaking of stuff happening, this is the ominous anniversary of one of those things that always seems to happen when you least expect it to. Two years seems like just yesterday for some reason.
On the flipside, I’ve actually stumbled into a relationship that doesn’t appear to be faltering. Hmm… Curious. [UPDATE: Less than 24 hours after writing that, it faltered. Somethings never change.]
I’ve decided to make an investment in my business, and really put it to the test. The Thesis theme was the first step. You will also notice a professional Aweber email notification system being implemented in the next version. As well as some behind the scenes marketing stuff that should either make or break my dreams of taking Write-Click Media to the next level. How do they put it? Shit or get off the pot? Well.. it’s time to shit.
That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I’m excited to see what the future has in store for me… And whether or not I can pull off this winter scruffy-appearance for much longer!