Events

Site migration complete

Last night, I completed what could be called an unusual site migration. I went from a self-hosted WP install to WP.com. That’s right, my full site is now hosted at my WP.com account. People usually migrate from WP.com to WP self-installs after their site gets big and they decide they want more options, like the ability to run all sorts of ads and fiddle with the code, etc. With me, it was the opposite. I wanted to stop worrying about my web server and focus on publishing my content.

As I mentioned here, things got worse after upgrading to WP 2.9. My server kept going down for no reason, and often, too. It’d go down several times a day. I’d have to keep watching it all the time, and that got old real quick, especially when I traveled and had no internet access. I’d often get home to find out my site was down and had been down for several hours, if not more. Since I hadn’t mucked about with my server to make things worse, and had already fiddled with optimized my Apache, MySQL and PHP settings to last me a lifetime, I decided to have WP have a go at hosting my site and let them worry about keeping it going. Judging by the initial results, it looks like they had a bit of trouble with it too (see this, this, this and this), but at least it’s not my headache anymore.

During the migration process, I learned three things:

  1. I hadn’t been getting full XML transcripts of my site in the past, when I used WP’s WXR Export feature. See this for more, and make sure you’re not in the same boat.
  2. The WordPress Import wizard still needs a TON of work to iron out the bugs. You’ll see why below.
  3. WordPress.com Support can be terribly unresponsive. I waited over 20 days for a resolution to my ticket about the site migration, and in the end, I had to work things out myself. When I told them as much — and I tried to be as nice as possible about it — it would have been nice to get a small apology, but I didn’t even get that.

Granted, my site migration does not represent the usual WP user’s migration path, nor was it a typical migration. By current count, I have 1,552 posts, 4,129 comments and 3,090 media files. That’s quite a bit more than your average blogger, and I think that’s what served to point out the bugs in the Import Wizard.

What exactly were the bugs?

  • Failure to import all posts, comments and media files
  • Post and media file duplication
  • Failure to properly change all paths to media files (either image source or image link or both)

Here’s where I need to acknowledge the help I did receive from WP Support. My WXR file was over 20 MB. The WXR upload limit at WP.com is 15 MB. WP Support modified the upload limit to allow me to go through with the WXR upload, and they also adjusted the timeout limit, because the migrations timed out prematurely as well. So I thank them for that help.

The big problem turned out to be the third issue mentioned above. The Import Wizard didn’t change all the paths to the image files. It turned out to be a very hit-or-miss operation. Given the scale of the operation, I might even call it a disaster. Some posts were fine, some weren’t at all, and some were a hodge-podge of images that were okay, and images whose paths were wrong, or whose links were wrong, or both. You might imagine that checking and fixing the image paths for over 3,000 media files can turn out to be a very big job, and it was.

I was also under pressure to finish the job quickly, since the site was live. Imagine how you’d feel as a reader if you visited a website and none of the image files showed up — you’d probably think the site was dead or dying, right? Well, I certainly didn’t want people to think my site was on its last legs, so I had to act quickly.

Thankfully, only (sic) about 40% of my posts had their image files messed up. The rest were fine, but then I also had plenty of posts with no images. If all my posts contained images, I might have had 90% of my posts to worry about… Still, I had to check every post, and as you might know if you’re a regular reader, I post lots of images per post, and where a post was messed up, brother, I had to do a bunch of work to get it fixed up. Just as an example, some posts have anywhere from 20-50 images…

Here are a couple of screenshots that show you how things stood. Here, the image link was okay, which meant I didn’t have to modify it. This was a happy scenario. However, the image path was still wrong, as you’ll see below.

The image source, or path, didn’t change during the import process, which meant I had to change it manually, or browse for the image by title or file name in the media library and re-insert it.

The image size was also lost, which meant that if I changed the image path manually, I had to also enter the width of the image.

What made things more cumbersome was the lack of an image insert button in the Gallery dialog box. That’s one of the differences between a WP self-install and WP.com. This meant that even though I’d uploaded a certain image for a certain post, and it showed on the Gallery tab, I couldn’t go there and re-insert it into a post. I had to go to the Media Library tab, search for it, then re-insert it, which takes precious time and clicks, particularly when you’re dealing with thousands of images.

In spite of all the extra work which I had to do, and which took about 1½ weeks of my time, I got done last night. My site is now fully functional, thank goodness!

As for my experience with WP Support, there are no hard feelings. I like the WordPress platform and it’s done good by me so far. I wasn’t a VIP customer and they didn’t have any financial incentives (besides the small fees for a space upgrade and a domain mapping) to get their hands dirty with my code. They offered minimal support, and to a certain degree, that’s to be expected when most of your customers are non-paying customers, as is the case with the large majority of WP bloggers.

Still, I would encourage them to consider doing the following:

  • Improve their Import Wizard so that it will not terminate until it checks and doublechecks to make sure it has imported all the posts, comments, pages, tags, categories and media files, and all the paths to the media files are correct. They’ve still got one of my WXR files, and they can use it as case study to help improve the accuracy of the import wizard.
  • Include an image insert button on the Gallery tab of the “Add an Image” dialog box, like the one that already exists on WP self-installs.
  • Offer the functionality of the Search & Replace WP plugin for WP.com blogs. This would have been a huge help to me as I fixed the image paths. I could have run a couple of queries on my blog’s content to change most of the image paths, and it would have halved my workload.

If you were one of the folks who kept seeing no images during this transition period, sorry for the inconvenience, and I’m glad you’re still around. If you’re still seeing no images, definitely get in touch with me, I might have missed a few — after all, I’m only human.

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Thoughts

Wondering when California's budget is going to get fixed

One great thing about California is they’re not allowed to go into debt, like the federal government. They must always balance their budget. And yet the California legislature has failed to address this problem and has let deadline after deadline slip by, in seeming mockery, in spite of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s continued pleas and coaxing. When in the world will they get their act together?


Gov. Schwarzenegger’s weekly address, 7/3/09


Governor discusses state budget in weekly address

Anyone from California care to clue me in? Seems to me the legislature’s stalling because they have their own agenda and want to spite Schwarzenegger. What he’s saying makes sense to me. Is there another side to this story that I don’t know about?

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Thoughts

It’s no surprise broadband internet sucks in the US

A recent Akamai survey, which I shared here and here, ranked US in the 33rd spot (globally) when it came to broadband internet connections above 2 Mbps. Sure, it moved up two spots compared to last year, but it’s still lagging behind countries such as Monaco, Slovakia, South Korea, and believe it or not, Romania — which is where I’m living these days.

That’s sad. It’s very sad because a country such as Romania, with fewer resources than the US, and with a LOT more corruption at every level, has managed to provide better Internet services than the US. It just goes to show you how much pork barrel legislation and ridiculous lobbying can slow down an entire country’s Internet access. Why, every time a company tried to improve the way broadband worked in the US, it was eventually bought out or dragged down and kept down for the count.

Remember Telocity? It was one of the first companies to offer DSL service in the US, ahead of Ma Bell. Even though it was paying hefty amounts of money for the right to transport Internet traffic on Ma Bell’s lines, they had enormous problems with the same Ma Bell, due to problems that would somehow just happen to crop up on the same wires or the switching equipment. Then they’d have to pay more money so Ma Bell could fix their own equipment, which they’d say Telocity broke, etc., ad nauseam, and so on and so forth.

That’s just one example. Another was the more recent push to restructure the way cable services are provided (both TV and internet). One of the efforts was the a-la-carte programming initiative, and another was the push for faster and more reliable cable Internet services. You wouldn’t believe the advertising, PR and lobbying blitz the cable industry started and kept up for several months — actually, I’m fairly sure you saw their ads on TVs and buses everywhere, particularly in the Washington, DC area.

Or what about when they got together in late 2007 and 2008 to ask for an Internet tax? Remember the tiers of traffic they wanted to create? They wanted all the big websites to pay them for the traffic, as if they weren’t already getting enough money from the customers for their slow and unreliable services. They also wanted large chunks of money from the federal government in order to upgrade their infrastructure. No matter how much money they make, they’re so greedy they always want more, more, more.

What I’d like to know is how all these other countries, including Romania, can manage to offer faster and more reliable Internet services without asking for money from their countries’ government, without charging big websites for their traffic, and also by charging less per month for better broadband? How is that possible? Could it be that these companies actually know how to run their businesses while their counterparts in the US are filled with lazy, greedy idiots?

I still vividly remember an incident which happened while I was a director of IT at a Florida hospital, several years ago. A BellSouth technician had been called in to check the phone boards, and my network and servers kept going down and coming back up. The Medical Records system kept giving errors when employees wanted to access forms to fill in patient data, not to mention that other network services, like file sharing and printing, kept going on the fritz. I checked every one of the servers and they were fine. I finally walked into the switch room, at my wits’ end, only to find the moronic BellSouth employee with his fat, lazy butt on our UPS, jiggling it back and forth as he chatted with someone back at BellSouth HQ, plugging and unplugging the power supply that fed one of the main network switches. I went ballistic, grabbed him by the collar and threw him out of my switch room. Was he that stupid that he didn’t know where he was sitting? Was he such a pig that he couldn’t feel the plugs underneath him as he sat on them? He didn’t even want to apologize for taking out an entire hospital’s network during daytime hours. That’s BellSouth for you.

I don’t know how the US can get better broadband, unless it’s legislated. An ultimatum must be given by the government, one that can’t be overridden by any lobbyists or CEOs shedding crocodile tears in front of Congress. These companies simply will not get their act together until they, too, are grabbed by their collars and shaken about. They’ve gotten used to the status quo, they like it, and they’re clinging to it with all their might.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample of the Internet plans you can get in Romania right now. For comparison purposes, 1 Euro is worth about $1.4 these days.

Romtelecom (the main phone carrier, provides ADSL services):

  • 2 Mbps, 2084 kbps/512 kbps, 4.88 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps, 4096 kbps/512 kbps, 7.02 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps, 6144 kbps/512 kbps, 9.40 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps, 8192 kbps/768 kbps, 14.16 Euro/month
  • 20 Mbps, 20480 kbps/1024 kbps, 24.87 Euro/month

[source]

Birotec (provides fiber optic services, all plans include phone line with varying amount of minutes based on plan price):

  • 3 Mbps up/down, 10 Euro/month
  • 4 Mbps up/down, 15 Euro/month
  • 6 Mbps up/down, 20 Euro/month
  • 8 Mbps up/down, 29 Euro/month
  • 10 Mbps up/down, 49 Euro/month

[source]

RDS (provides fiber optic, cable, cellular modem and dial-up access — prices not readily available on website):

  • Fiber optic access up to 2.5 Gbps
  • Cable access up to 30 Mbps

[source]

The lowest internet access plan in Romania is 2 Mbps. Cellular modems are advertised at speeds up to 3 Mbps. Meanwhile, in the US, you can still find 512 Kbps plans at prices twice or three times as much as the 2 Mbps plans in Romania. That’s the price of complacency and excessive lobbyism.

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Thoughts

Meet Buttons, the cutest kitteh ever

The one with the tiny nose

Sorry for the baited title. This post is really about how web users interact with written content on the Internet, and how people in general interact with the news these days. But read on anyway, you might find this useful, and there’s even another cute kitty photo at the end.

I’ve been sitting on the sidelines lately, looking at the way people interact with items on FriendFeed, and I realized it’s all part of how people in general interact with the world these days. In a word, it’s superficial. On the web, there’s barely any interaction with items that have no thumbnails. If there’s no image to be digested quickly with a news item, then it gets buried, fast. That particular news item might be truly meaningful, it could have real value, it could be worth at least a few minutes of someone’s time, but users just don’t take the time to click through and find out what’s going on if there isn’t an image to go along with it. It’s like they’re little kids and they gotta have pictures in their story books. Whatever happened to being adults?

I’m not talking about my own articles, and I’m not talking about FriendFeed per se. I’m talking about the bigger picture. You can see this on TV as well. In the US nowadays, instead of showing the person who is talking, whether that be a news presenter or a person being interviewed, the stations overlay the audio on top of looping footage of the things the person is talking about, or they run the audio on top of marginally related video, ostensibly to keep a spastic audience glued to the set. In Romania, where I’ve been staying these past few months, they divide the TV screen in half. They show the commentator in one half, and they show video footage in the other. Your eyes keep jumping from one spot on the screen to the other, to make sure they catch all the action. And they also scroll text and stock and weather alerts on the bottom of the screen. It’s nuts. You just don’t get the chance to digest what the person is saying, because your attention is continually grabbed and pulled in many different directions.

If you are reading this on FriendFeed or in a RSS reader that shows media content thumbnails, do you know why you clicked on it? Likely because I had a photo of a cute kitten to draw your attention, not because you wanted to do some actual reading. It would have been much better if I showed some woman in a bikini — many more people would be reading this article right now, or at least skimming it, hoping for more photos.

Isn’t it sad though? For a person who likes to write, and wants to communicate through writing, it’s so disappointing to see the audience drifting from adult food to baby bites, to cute or sexy photos with (preferably) one or two sentence captions, instead of real articles. Whatever happened to sitting down and reading something?

Don’t tell me it’s because you’re busy. I don’t buy it. You’re lying to yourself and you’re lying to me. People have always had lots of work to do. Sure, it wasn’t computer work a few decades ago, but it was chores or factory work, and it took just as much time and much more effort. But they knew how to relax. They could sit down with a magazine or newspaper in hand, tune out everything else, and read something they found interesting.

You still have that ability. Stop being immature and clicking on everything, and pick the stuff you want to spend your time on carefully. There’s only so much time in one day, and you can’t keep up with a thousand RSS subscriptions and still do other things. Thin out the stuff you want to see on the web every day. On a larger scale, thin out the stuff you want to do every day, because you can’t do it all. Decide on what’s important to you, and stick with that. Maybe if more people took this advice, the world would be a saner place for those who write on the web, like me. We wouldn’t have to go nuts trying to get the word out about our content, because people would take the time to find interesting stuff and stick with it.

If you’re a FriendFeed user, let me tell you it’s not cool to subscribe to tons of people just so you can watch news items stream by you in real time and feel good about keeping up with everything that’s going on in the world, because that’s not the case. In the end, you’re just as superficial as the guy who looks at a magazine cover and thinks he knows everything inside it. Instead of wasting your time doing that stuff, pick the people you find interesting, weed out the rest, and really sit down to see what they have to say.

Now, just because you read/skimmed this far, here’s another photo of kittens, this time two of them, playing together. See, I’m not such a bad person.

Games kittens play

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How To

Finally, an update for Apple's Bluetooth problems

Updated 8/26/09: It turns out the firmware update didn’t fix the Bluetooth issues. But OS X 10.5.8, which also came out recently, seems to have mostly fixed the problems. I still get the occasional Bluetooth connection error, but it’s nowhere near as often as before.

A software update noticed popped up on my MBP today, telling me Bluetooth Firmware Update 2.0 was available for download and install.

bluetooth-update-1

The update explanation says the following:

“This update provides bug fixes and better compatibility with the Apple Wireless Mighty Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard. It installs on all Macintosh systems with Bluetooth based on the Broadcom chipset.”

Finally! If you’re unfamiliar with the Bluetooth crashing problems on Mac computers, then you’re one of the few lucky ones. But the rest of us with late generation laptops like the MacBook Pro have had this issue for at least a few months now. This, for example, is just one of the many threads in the Apple Forums dealing with this persistent Bluetooth issue. On June 9, I’d had enough and vented on FriendFeed about it.

Basically, Bluetooth communications stopped working after a Mac was woken up from sleep mode, necessitating either a turn off/on cycle of the Bluetooth hardware, or another quick sleep/wake cycle. I for one didn’t have too many problems with the keyboard and mouse not working, but I did have a serious issue maintaining connectivity with my Nokia N95 via Bluetooth. My MBP kept refusing to connect to it, and I can’t remember how many times I removed and re-added it from my preferred Bluetooth devices. I even thought my N95 was to blame, until I tried turning Bluetooth off/on and realized my MBP could connect to it just fine after that.

From the looks of things, Apple’s been at work on a fix for the problem, and it’s now available for general install. So, by all means, download away and see if it helps you. I for one will be on the lookout for any more Bluetooth issues, to see if this firmware update has truly fixed the bug.

Before I close, I’d like to point out that even though a restart is not announced for the firmware update, you will most certainly need to restart your Mac. Once the Safari update installs, and your Mac restarts, the following dialog box pops up on the screen, informing you that the Bluetooth update will now begin, and your machine will restart once it’s finished. Just FYI.

bluetooth-update-2

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Thoughts

The iMac: not so great long, long after

I received an email from Apple a couple of days ago, advertising the new iMac. The title of the ad was: “Amazing right out of the box. And long, long after.”

imac-ad

I disagree with that characterization. Perhaps it’s true of the new iMac, but it’s not true of our iMac. First, let me get something out of the way. I’m a Mac guy. I love Macs, I use a Mac all day long, I love their design and performance, and I love OS X. Unfortunately, my long-term experience with the Mac hardware, particularly when it comes to our iMac, isn’t so positive.

You see, we purchased an iMac G5 in late 2006, with an Apple Care plan. Thank goodness we did that, because we had problems with it from the get-go. A year after owning it, I wrote a post where I detailed the problems I’d been having. At the advice of some of the readers, I took it into an Apple Store to have it checked out. They replaced the motherboard and did a couple of other things. The repair experience was problematic in itself. Then, a short while afterward, the computer died again. This time we took it into a different store, where they replaced the motherboard again and did some other repairs.

Although that second repair experience was more positive, I had to take it into the store once more in 2008, for related issues. I can’t find the repair receipt at the moment, so I don’t know the date and I don’t know what they fixed, but yeah, that was the third time I had related repairs done to it, very likely for the same problems.

Then, inconveniently, about two months after the Apple Care plan expired in September 2009, our iMac died, just as it had died a couple of times before. It refused to boot up altogether. When I’d plug it in and press the power button on the back, nothing would happen. But, if I was extremely lucky, every once in a while, some noises would be heard in the back of the machine, as the cooling fans and hard drive started rotating, only to die a second or so later.

When this last hardware failure occurred, we were packing for an extended stay in Romania. I took the iMac along, since we had data on its hard drive that we needed. Once here, I was able to open it and retrieve the data from the hard disk. Unfortunately, the computer itself is still dead. What’s worse, I’m nowhere near an Apple Store. There are no official Apple stores in Romania. None at all. Where do I take it for service? And will I have to pay for the repair? A logic board replacement on an iMac G5 is somewhere around $900, and that’s only for the parts. It hardly seems fair to pay for a lemon repair, because that’s basically what I have — a lemon. Our iMac G5 has had repeated hardware failures of the same parts (at least three failures) while the Apple Care contract was still valid. The right thing for Apple to do would have been to replace it with an equivalent model, or to offer me a significant rebate on a newer model, allowing me to upgrade as painlessly as possible to more stable hardware. But none of that happened, and now I’m stuck with dead hardware.

So yeah, I don’t think the iMac is so great, long, long after. I’m sorry I spent our money on it, actually, and sorry it never worked as it should have, from the get-go.

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Thoughts

Concerned about swine flu? Know who to thank for it

To all those people who are worried about swine flu — you should thank the pig farming industry for it, and the rotten politicians who keep it going the way it is, even though it’s one of the worst polluters in the US. It’s no wonder new viruses are getting cooked up in those industrial pig farms, given the conditions in which they keep the pigs.

And perhaps you should also thank your local landscaping companies, who, about this time each year, dump tons of pig offal around your communities at outrageously high prices. Along with the smell, you’re also getting a dose of swine flu, trichinella and other intestinal parasite eggs, and who knows what other poisons, cooked up nicely in fermented pig manure.

sow-with-piglet

Enjoy all this, and keep in mind you’re the one financing the whole shebang when you buy pig meat and you hire landscaping companies based not on how sustainable and non-polluting their methods are, but on how tall they can make your pansies and grass grow…

Updated 5/3/09: Wired Science confirms my hunch that the pig farming industry is to blame for this virus in an article entitled “Swine Flu Ancestor Born on US Factory Farms.

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Places

Wish I could do something about those dogs

There are two problems with dogs in Romania, as I see it:

  1. There are entirely too many stray dogs
  2. Most dog owners care little about their dogs’ behavior

Let me say first that I’m a dog lover, though my recent experiences here in Romania have cooled my enthusiasm for dogs significantly. Overall, it’s been one negative experience after another, and right now, it’s gotten to the point where I will not hesitate to kick a dog who lunges at me or my wife, as has happened repeatedly.

Stray Dogs

Everywhere you look in Romania, there are stray dogs. It could be the middle of the city, or the middle of the countryside — you are guaranteed to find a stray dog. They usually converge where people are, but you’ll see them crossing open fields or walking alongside roads in the middle of nowhere, looking for scraps of food.

The look

You’d think a breed of animals that depends on people for their food supply, especially dogs, who are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, would be more grateful to people. You’d be dead wrong to assume that, and I don’t exaggerate. Sure, they’re nice when you have food and you want to give them some. They’ll line up and beg, putting on a show. Some packs of these stray dogs specialize in begging, and will stick around car stops and fast food kiosks. They do alright, because they look well-fed. Even I feed them sometimes. After all, I still love dogs, and I don’t mind sharing my food with a hungry and friendly animal.

But may God protect you from meeting a pack of stray dogs at night, or when they’re hungry, because they’ll tear you to pieces. They’re dangerous even during the daytime, sleeping in the sun, curled up next to buildings or on the sidewalk. Those same sleepy dogs can turn vicious and attack at any second.

The dangerous thing about stray dogs is their pack behavior. They’re not disciplined and they are dumb animals. When one begins to bark at you, they’ll all join in. When one of them lunges at you, they’ll all start lunging at you. When of them bites and draws blood, the others become enraged and will all start biting you. As the taste of blood enters their mouths, they’ll soon begin to bite you in order to get pieces of meat. You will no longer be seen as a human being, someone to be feared and respected, but as food — a hunk of meat to be eaten.

I’ve seen stray dogs lunge at street cleaners working nearby. I’ve seen them lunge at elderly people. I’ve heard of them killing adults and children or leaving them scarred for life. A relative of ours from Constanta was jogging on the beach one morning, and was attacked by a pack of dogs who chased him for over a kilometer. He literally ran for his life while they lunged at him one after the other, biting, scratching, digging their teeth deep into his body. He fought them off and barely escaped alive. Now he’s scarred for life on his arms, legs and face, from something that could have been avoided if the city of Constanta did its job in cleaning the city of strays.

I was running one evening in a village in the province of Dobrogea, and a stray dog lunged at me, barking and snarling viciously, ready to bite. I stood my ground, ready to fight, and he retreated. If there had been more of them around, they wouldn’t have retreated, and I might have ended up in the hospital. I have not been able to do any regular running during my stay in Romania. You can’t do it in the city, and you can’t do it in the countryside. When you run, it’s basically an open invitation for stray dogs to attack you. To be able to do any sort of outdoor sport, I’ve had to find remote places away from people, but even there, I have to watch out for sheep dogs, who will attack you on sight if they see you running. It’s insane. This brings me to the second part of this article, where I talk about dog owners and their dogs’ behavior. Before I do that, let me mention one more incident.

I don’t know if folks in the US have had the chance to witness dogs running alongside cars, or behind them lately. The US does a good job of taking strays off the streets. In classic cartoons, this is sometimes depicted as dogs running to latch onto the bumpers of the cars. That’s inaccurate. Dogs will run alongside the cars, barking at them, and some might even try to lunge at the tires, in order to bite them, clearly with sad consequences. When you see stray dogs with bad scars on their faces, you can assume they probably succeeded in latching onto a moving tire.

When you’ve got so many strays, you can get anywhere from only one or up to ten or more running after your car, and accidents will happen. Before I spent any significant time driving in Romania, I couldn’t understand why, and thought the drivers were just being vicious and ran them over on purpose. That’s not the case. I, too, ran over a stray dog recently. It couldn’t be helped. It was raining, so the road was somewhat slippery. This particular dog came out from the side of the road and started running alongside the car in front of me, on the driver’s side, then decided to switch sides and darted right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and swerved left, but couldn’t avoid him and ran over his hind legs. Needless to say, that was not a good day, and I’d still rather not think of it — but that’s what will happen when the stray population isn’t controlled.

Domesticated dogs

Few dog owners in Romania care enough for their dogs to teach them how to behave properly. Of the majority, there are two classes: those who do little more for their dogs but provide them with a dog house and food, and those who pamper them for the very purpose of showing them off on the street.

This latter class of people is more rare now, but used to be quite common during Romania’s communist regime. They’d have these big, ferocious dogs, such as German shepherds, dobermans, or bulldogs, and they’d walk them in public with a muzzle, smiling secretly (or openly) every time their dog growled at someone and that person shied away.

The other class of dog owners — by and large the overwhelming majority — is quite content to tie up their dogs in the yard, next to a dog house, and to feed and (maybe) clean up after them, but do little else for them, like teach them when to bark and when not to bark. The end result of their treatment (or lack of it) is that you have these frustrated dogs who are tied up behind wooden fences where they can’t see what’s going on outside, but can hear and smell a ton of foreign scents, and who are going nuts, barking at everything, all the time. For all intents and purposes, they’re not really domesticated, because they’re not potty trained, house trained, or taught how to respond to signals and when to be silent. They might as well be strays, because they’re just as dumb as the strays. They cannot communicate. They only bark and snarl, and collectively, they create this cacophony of barks and yelps and snarls that can’t be ignored and drives me crazy.

I’m told I’m supposed to get used to it. I cannot. I can only bear it, and that only for short amounts of time. After that, I get pounding headaches, and the only thing I want to do (and imagine doing) is to squash those idiotic, furry, barking noise boxes. If you’re reading this and you’re shocked, I tell you, you cannot understand it unless you get to spend a few weeks in Romania and are treated to incessant barking at all hours of the day and night, from all directions. You try sleeping when every damn dog in the neighborhood has joined in the barking started by the neighbor’s idiotic mutt. You try concentrating on your work when some moronic, flea-bitten fartbrain a couple of houses away chooses to mark the passing of every 10 seconds with a bark. You try going on about your business, accompanied by that sort of a noise parade, and you let me know how it feels after a couple of weeks (or months) of it.

The other issue I encounter is that of violent behavior in dogs that are supposed to be domesticated. I guess this sort of ties in with what I said a few paragraphs above, but this sort of violence isn’t necessarily encouraged by the dog owners. It results more from a lack of care. I’ve seen it on two occasions.

While in Predeal — a popular mountain resort — I hiked to one of the peaks nearby, a place miles away from civilization, called Clabucetul Taurului. The only settlement nearby was a tourist cabin set in the valley between two peaks, about a mile away, called Cabana Garbova. As I stood there on the peak, taking in the beauty of the place, a stray dog wandered up the slope of this peak, and greeted me in a friendly fashion. I warmed up to him quickly. After all, I still love dogs, in spite of my recent experiences. This dog was nice and clean, which isn’t something you see often in stray dogs. It’s likely that he belonged or had recently belonged to a farmer down in the valley, and he liked to wander around all day long. I took several photos of him while up on the peak. Here’s one of them.

Friendly company

When I headed down the mountain to re-join my wife, who was waiting for me near Cabana Garbova, he followed me. As we all approached the cabin, it became evident to us that we had a problem. The dogs at the cabin, a pack of about 8 big monsters accustomed to fighting wolves and bears, sniffed him and started barking wildly. We tried to shoo him away, to make him go back up the mountain, but he didn’t want to leave us. Then the dogs down below started running toward us. We started getting really worried. Here were some seriously large dogs who gave all the signs of intending to do us harm. I started yelling down at the cabin, hoping its owner would come out and call them back. No such thing. Our companion stray got really worried, and stood close to me, behind my legs. He was hoping the other dogs would see he was with me and wouldn’t attack.

I called out to them, telling them to stop, but they kept coming. I could see their teeth, bared, ready to bite. They ran and lunged right at me. I braced for the impact. They brushed right by and latched onto the stray. The poor thing was mauled, right there, in front of me, and I was helpless to stop them. I had nothing but my camera in hand, so I took photos. I may at some point publish them, but right now it’s really hard for me to even look at them, because I got attached to that stray. He did nothing to us, even helped us by hanging around as we walked through wild territory where we could have been attacked by wild animals, and yet these vicious dogs were trying to tear him apart. He was, after all, one of them — not a wolf, not a bear, not a fox — not a danger to anyone.

My wife found a stick and started hitting them, trying to make them let go of the dog. They wouldn’t, but growled at her and started dragging him away, wanting to kill him and likely eat him. I woke up from my shock, grabbed the stick from my wife, and started hitting the ground next to them, yelling loudly. Finally, they let go. By this time, some people down in the valley below came out and started calling them back. They spread apart and left us alone. The poor dog was still alive, but badly hurt. He was bleeding in several places. Thankfully, there were no open wounds. His thick fur protected him. He followed us down to the cabin and laid down by the door. Others nearby kept the dogs away. I was livid with anger. I went inside and asked to speak to the owner, who was in the kitchen, not outside tending to his vicious dogs. I asked him why he hadn’t done something to stop them. Did he think it was okay to let them kill an innocent dog? He called me stupid to my face and told me he couldn’t care less about someone else’s dog. I couldn’t believe it! What if the dogs had attacked us, I asked. He didn’t answer that question. I wanted to punch him right in the face, but chose to walk away.

Just imagine for a second how much more traumatic this whole experience would have been if that had been my dog, not a stray. If it were your dog, and you were standing there helpless, fearing for your life, watching it being mauled to death by a pack of large mountain dogs, how would you have reacted? It’s likely that a smaller dog would have died right away. Thank goodness our stray was hardier and more resistant. Still, only the adrenaline kept him on his feet long enough to walk down to the cabin. When we came out, he was lying by the door, in pain. He didn’t, or couldn’t get up. I bought some meat and bread and put them in front of him. He started eating, slowly, afraid for his life, flinching every time he saw the cabin dogs in the distance.

We had to leave, and he wasn’t going anywhere, so we left him. I only hope the cabin owner had some heart left in him, and didn’t let his dogs finish him off. I think I saw his wife chiding him in the kitchen as we were leaving. Perhaps she knocked some sense into him, because he sure needed it.

The other incident I wanted to mention happened as I was walking through the hills outside a village near Bacau, in the province of Moldova. I was taking photos, and I had my tripod with me. It was a viciously cold day, and a snowstorm was brewing in the air above. The calendar might have said it was March, but no one had told Jack Frost. Billy, a lovable mutt belonging to family of ours, accompanied me.

Billy

Suddenly, he became wary of his surroundings and started sniffing the air with a worried look. He kept looking at me, then at something in front of us. I could see nothing. I only heard the distant bleating of sheep. Billy hung around for a couple more minutes, signaling that we should return, then, seeing I had no intention of doing so, turned around and headed back home by himself. I laughed and wondered why he did it, but kept walking my way. I soon discovered the source of his fear. It was the vicious sheep dogs who were guarding the flock of sheep in the distance. As soon as they saw me (I was downwind, so they couldn’t sniff me), they charged right at me, three of them. I was ready. I had my tripod, which is nice and thick and just the right size for bashing in the head of a violent dog. I raised it above my head and waited for the first lunge. It didn’t come. They stopped a few feet away and kept snarling and barking. I advanced toward them. They retreated. The shepherd finally came in sight, saw what was going on, and called them off. They obeyed and left me alone.

I walked off, finished the route I wanted to do that day, and started to walk back home. The flock of sheep were still around. I tried to keep a safe distance and avoid another encounter, but this time they sniffed me and came at me again. I raised my tripod again, ready to put out their lights, and again they retreated, leaving about 10-15 feet between me and them. But they were still barking like crazy. I called over the shepherd and had a talk with him. I told him I’d have no qualms about quieting his dogs if he couldn’t control them. He disagreed, and said they wouldn’t attack if I stood still. I didn’t test his theory, because it might have proven painful and hazardous to my health. I went home instead and warmed up by a nice fire.

So you see, Billy wasn’t the coward I thought he was. He knew what he was doing when he hightailed it out of that area. The scar you see on his muzzle in the photo above is apparently the reminder of a fight with sheep dogs — that’s what our relatives told us.

What’s to be done about those dogs?

The way I see it, two things need to happen in Romania when it comes to dogs. For one thing, the stray population needs to be controlled. To this point, city governments, working with NGOs and veterinary offices, conduct neutering campaigns every once in a while, but it’s not working.

Perhaps euthanasia of unwanted strays is a solution. I know it sounds cruel, but stray dogs are a real danger, and they need to be off the streets. They need to be put up in shelters, where if they’re not adopted within a certain time period, they’re euthanised. Why condemn unwanted strays to a life on the streets, in bitter cold or fierce heat, with little or no food, to the risk of accidents that maim them and leave them in pain for life, when they could rest in peace? If we were to judge the situation coolly, we would realize it’s not feasible to take care of all the strays. Perhaps if the money and the interest were there, we could feed them and neuter them all, but neither the money nor the interest is there. We can’t find adoptive families for all of them, either. Why not put them to rest? At least they won’t suffer anymore.

I look forward to the day when I can run on city streets or on a beach in Romania and not have to worry about being mauled by strays. I’m sure a lot of other people look forward to simply being able to walk the streets without being mauled by strays.

The second thing is that dog owners need to start being more responsible about their dogs. At the very least, they need to teach them when to bark and when to keep quiet. That’ll go a long way toward cutting down on unnecessary noise and headaches. As I write this, some mutt a few houses away is barking like a nutcase at something of no consequence. He’s been driving me up the walls for the past few days. I honestly think the dog’s owner ought to be fined for his lack of concern and for the noise pollution. That should be another measure implemented soon by local governments.

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Thoughts

WordPress Stats plugin has gone cuckoo

For over a month now, I have been unable to rely on the official WordPress Stats plugin. (I say official because the folks that made WordPress also made this plugin.) It, all of a sudden, started assigning all site visits to the same article, so that all of my stats became completely skewed. Let me explain it with a screenshot:

WordPress Stats has gone cuckoo

Instead of seeing the proper distribution of site visits by titles, which is what happened in the past, almost all of the site visits get assigned to a random post. I have no idea any more which titles get the most traffic for a given day. I know this is wrong because I’m also using Google Analytics. Here’s a screenshot of the 20 most popular titles for the past 30 days.

Google Analytics Content by Title

I like WordPress Stats because they aggregate the data almost instantly, whereas there’s a 3-4 hour delay with Google Analytics. Sometimes they even correct the data a day afterward (this happened to me recently) so you can’t rely on their figures until 24-36 hours after the fact [reference].

I stopped using WordPress Stats for a while, hoping the problem would somehow work itself out, but when I re-activated the plugin, all that happened is that it started assigning all site visits to a different random post. Whoopee…

If someone at WordPress reads this, please let me know if it’s something I’m doing wrong, or if it’s something that you’ve got to work out on your end. I posted about this problem in the WordPress forums, but I have yet to receive a reply there.

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Thoughts

You simply can't depend on computers

Take it from someone with 15 years of experience in Information Technology — me. You cannot depend on computers.

Every single time in my life when I’ve had to depend on a computer to help me do something under a tight deadline, some glitch intervened. Something inevitably went wrong. Something didn’t work. I wasn’t able to get things done.

Generally speaking, it’s Windows computers that are more problematic, particularly when it comes to peripherals like printers or drives or USB sticks or webcams or whatever. Apple computers are slightly less unreliable, but I’d still say the same rule applies: you cannot depend on any computer for anything critical.

Need to print something in a hurry? The printer will inevitably not work, or the computer will slow up all of a sudden, or it won’t recognize the printer, or it’ll clam up, or the editing software will start acting up. Need to get to a document on a USB stick? Somehow, the stick will become unreadable. Or maybe it’ll work, but all of the apps on your machine will become so slow that you won’t be able to make the changes in time for the deadline. Need to edit something online? Your Internet connection will go down; if you’re on WiFi, that’ll go down or start cutting out. Or the remote servers will become unavailable even though other websites work just fine. Need to install an app in a hurry? Something will go wrong. Either you won’t have the right version for your OS, or the installer will freeze mid-install, or the site where you need to get the installer will stop working. Have to do a video chat? Guess what, if it’s an emergency, your webcam won’t work, or the chat will cut out mid-speech, or the sound will become garbled. Something will go wrong. It’s a given.

I don’t care if your computer is squeaky clean. I keep my machines that way, and yet I still have problems. There are no viruses, no spyware, no bloatware on my machines, and yet something always goes wrong when there’s a tight deadline involved.

The only way you can circumvent this rule is to have entire server rooms with IT staff standing by at your disposal. Even then, you can be sure that the weakest link in that chain will give, and right at crunch time, something will go wrong.

Take my word for it. I’ve worked in all levels of IT, from help desk up to the director position, and have put together computers and servers and server rooms. It pains me to say this, but after so many years in IT, I have to face the facts. You cannot depend on computers when you’re in an emergency. Don’t count on it. Computers are for entertainment purposes. They’re nice and they wow you when you’re playing around or doing normal stuff. But when it comes time for them to deliver under pressure, somehow they fail. It’s just the way things are. When they fail, and they will fail, deal with it. Try not to get a headache like the one I have right now. Go outside. Take a walk. Breathe deeply. Remember, it will pass.

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