Thoughts

New site design is live

This past week, I spent a feverish few days working on this new site design. I have been working on several different layouts during these past few months, but liked none of them except the one you see now. I built it from scratch, since that’s the way I like to do things.

New site design

One of the decisions I pondered was whether I should go with a three-column or a two-column design. The three-column layout would have allowed me to reserve one of the columns for ads. In the end, I thought good taste should trump ad space, unlike what’s happening on so many other sites.

If you find my articles useful and you’d like to support my site, please use the sponsors listed in the sidebar. Buy the stuff you need from them. I’ll get a small percentage of each sale.

Site sponsors

I’m also looking for a main site sponsor, whose logo and link will be featured in the top right corner of my site. I’d like the arrangement to be simple: a flat monthly fee over a certain period of time; the fee and period can be negotiated. See the Advertising page for more details.

Main sponsor placement

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Thoughts

Please check to see if you're subscribed to the correct feed

This is an important message for my feed subscribers.

It’s been over a year since I changed my feed URL and domain name, and I now see, inexplicably, that over 35% of my subscribers still show up under the old ComeAcross feed.

My feed traffic has been redirected (with a 301 status message, which indicates a permanent change) for that same year, which means that if your feed reader hasn’t already changed your subscription over to my new feed, you’ll need to do it manually.

The old feed will go down in the very near future, possibly within days. It was set to be deleted one year after the redirection. Please check your feed readers to make sure you are indeed subscribed to feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul, which is my main site feed, or you will not receive future updates from my site.

For historical reference, I talked about the feed changes on 1/16/08, and on 1/29/08, I explained how I did the transfer of the content.

I also want to give you advance notice of another possible change to my feed URL, which may happen when I transition my feeds from FeedBurner to Google within the next 1-2 months. You may recall that Google bought FeedBurner in 2007. Now they’re at the point where they’re moving FeedBurner publishers to the Google infrastructure, and I’m not sure how they’re going to manage the process.

I thought the migration from FeedBurner to Google was going to be fairly smooth, but I’ve already run into a roadblock. One of my feed URLs is somehow in use on Google’s servers, and my migration fails every time I initiate it. I’m not sure how that’s going to be resolved, and I would appreciate any help from Googlers out there.

So, just to be on the safe side, do a manual check in your feed reader and make sure you see feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul. When I hear what the new Google feed URL is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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Mobile version of site now available

If you happen to browse my site via a mobile device like an iPhone or another web-enabled smartphone, you will automatically see an optimized version of the site that downloads and navigates a lot faster than the regular version on your mobile device.

This was made possible by the folks at MobilePress, who’ve put together a wonderful (and free) WP plugin. My thanks go to them, to Digital Inspiration for writing about them, and to Chris Nixon for sharing that post through Google Reader for me. That’s how I found out about it.

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Thoughts

Changed all site URLs

I pushed through some major changes to site URLs tonight. Every single site URL has now changed as a result, but the change is good, and all old URLs should still work just fine, seamlessly redirecting visitors to the new URLs. Just in case though, please let me know if you find a non-working URL.

The changes have to do with how post, category and tag URLs appear. WordPress, my site’s platform, allows me to change URL rewrite rules (the way a certain URL is generated when you visit a page on my site). I’ve wanted to make this change for a long time, and finally bit the bullet after first trying it out on one of my other sites, Dignoscentia.

Here’s what this means for you:

These changes may not be important to some, but they are to me. Once I get something like this in my head, something that I think will help me organize my content a little better and make the URLs a little shorter and easier to type, I have to go through with it.

I have some more changes planned for the actual categories themselves, such as re-organizing my content into more logical categories. I also need to finish tagging all my posts (currently 1242 posts and counting).

This is all part of my long-term efforts to properly curate my content. You may want to have a look at the site news tag to see what other changes I’ve made to the site over time. It’s been an interesting journey with quite a bit of work behind the scenes, but I like doing this sort of stuff a lot.

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Thoughts

Sorry about the growing pains

My sites were out of commission yesterday afternoon, evening, and part of the night as well. Each outage lasted anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours, and drove home very clearly this message: I need a web server upgrade.

While it was certainly frustrating to see my sites go down, and to see that no matter how much I tuned Apache or MySQL, I couldn’t meet the traffic demands, it’s also encouraging to see that I first outgrew shared hosting plans, then outgrew a small dedicated server, and had to (now) upgrade to a more powerful dedicated server. My site stats show this same trend. Traffic levels have been growing steadily throughout this year and even more in the last few months. October in particular has been rough on my little web server.

Yesterday, Google and Yahoo had been indexing my sites, on top of the usual, fairly heavy traffic. I started having serious performance issues during the afternoon, which led to a small outage. Google got done with my sites after that, but Yahoo kept going, and Cuil, the new search engine on the block, joined the party as well. Cuil is known for taxing web servers heavily when it indexes sites, and it was merciless on me last night. It, together with Yahoo, brought my server down and kept it down for close to one and a half hours.

I got it back up and re-tuned Apache and MySQL with Chris Johnston‘s help, but at some point during the night, it went down hard, and stayed down. When I woke, I decided enough was enough. It was high time I upgraded.

Thanks to my awesome hosting company, SliceHost, I was able to double the specs of my previous server in less than two hours. Before non today, my little web server morphed into a larger, more powerful one that can handle the current traffic levels with ease. We’ll see how long it can keep up before I need to upgrade again. You can help there. I don’t mind at all if I have to upgrade again in the near future, should my traffic levels warrant it.

Thank you for sticking around!

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Thoughts

Photos back in the site feed

A few weeks ago, I took my Flickr photos out of the site feed [reference]. Last night, I put them back in. Turns out taking them out cut their views by about 60-80%. That taught me two things:

  1. Showed me how few of the hundreds of people who’ve added me as a contact at Flickr actually care about viewing my photos, which was an interesting realization.
  2. Sometimes the desire to keep things organized and neat is trumped by convenience and practicality. Keeping my photos in the feed allows them to be viewed by more people, and for me at least, it’s no fun to share photos if no one looks at them.

The photos are back in the feed for now. We’ll see how long FeedBurner continues to offer the option to do this, or if they improve it to allow daily photo summaries, as they’ve been asked to do by others (including me). FeedBurner’s site has gone strangely silent lately (after their acquisition by Google), and I’m not sure how long they’ll stay in their current iteration. But don’t let that concern you.

Enjoy the photos!

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Thoughts

Removing photos from my main feed

At least for now, I’m removing my Flickr feed from my main feed. If you are a feed subscriber, you’ve been able to see my Flickr photos appear as separate feed items in my main feed, thanks to a feature at FeedBurner that allows me to splice my site feed with my Flickr photos feed.

But I think the implementation of the feature isn’t well suited to my main site feed, because a separate feed item is created for each photo. Considering that I may publish 3-4 text articles per week but up to 25 photos, this means you’ll see 3-4 feed items for my articles, and up to 25 feed items for my photos, which skews the proportion of my content in a direction unacceptable (to me) for my main site feed.

I contacted FeedBurner to ask if at some point they might put through an enhancement that would allow users to select a “digest” option for the Flickr feed. It would work the same as the “digest” or summary option on their Link Splicer features, which publishes a single feed item with all of that day’s bookmarks. It’s been a while, I haven’t yet received a reply, and I’m not waiting any longer.

So, at least for now, the photos are out of the main site feed. You can still find them in my photography feed (they’ve been there all along), so if you’re interested in getting them along with my photography posts, please subscribe to that feed as well.

Do let me know if you really want to see them here in the main feed. If I get enough responses, I may put them back, but I didn’t want to distract or deter folks who are interested in reading my usual content.

Thanks for reading my stuff!

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Thoughts

Wondering why I write less these days?

I came to the realization that too much work around the clock is not a sustainable lifestyle. When you hold down a full-time job, write on two websites, have a consulting practice and you’re also a photographer, there’s little time to decompress. And I’m determined to carve out more time for relaxation. I have to. It’s not really a choice. My body is telling me so.

It’s nice to see that a few weeks after I started writing less, other, more authoritative sources, have chimed in with their findings, validating my own thoughts. It’s not like this stuff is new. People have been saying for decades that our American lifestyle moves too fast. And I noticed the effects of too much work on my own body back in December of 2006, but failed to take proper action.

Now I’ve done something about it. I’ve rearranged my schedule so that my wife and I spend more time together. I work from 11 to 7 instead of the usual 9 to 5. Just one of the benefits is not having to deal with rush hour traffic during my commute. In return, Ligia and I use some of our free time to exercise, or just spend time at home. I write less, and I publish less photos. And I’ve cut back on my consulting work.

Sure, I miss not being able to say everything I want to say and giving full outlet to my creative side, but my health is more important than a few paragraphs or photos. There are real, tangible benefits to be gained from slowing down. Life gets more manageable, more enjoyable. I realized that in the end, I’m the one that sets the pace, and if I don’t take the initiative, I’ll keep going full tilt till I crash. I don’t want that to happen.

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Where are the Condensed Knowledge posts?

Good question. Some of you have gotten quite accustomed to those daily Condensed Knowledge posts, and they’ve gone AWOL since last week. On the other hand, others have told me they were distracting, and detracted from the substance of my site.

I’d been giving the matter some thought myself, and in the end, sided with the folks who said I should stick to writing original content. You see, while I enjoy sharing the information with you, and while I also believe that it’s important to highlight valuable content on the Internet, those posts were distracting me from writing. Since I had something to post every day, other than my own writing, I tended to do less of it, and that was not good.

So, for the time being, no more Condensed Knowledge posts. That’s not to say you can’t access them anymore. You still can, but in a separate feed: feeds.feedburner.com/FavoriteBlogPosts. Subscribe to it if you’d like. The feed is actually more reliable than the method I used with the Condensed Knowledge posts, which was to share items from Google Reader, publish them to Twitter, then use the Twitter Tools plugin to collect them in a daily summary. That method was highly dependent on Twitter’s uptime/downtime, and that meant you weren’t getting the full link list every day. With the feed, you are getting everything I share from Google Reader.

I can’t deny I’d rather have the same link summaries present in my site feed, just like with my daily del.icio.us links, and perhaps at some point in the future that’ll be possible, but until then, the separate feed will do just fine.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can answer them.

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Seems quiet, but it's not

I’ve been helping Ligia launch her re-designed personal site over the past several days. While my own site may seem a little quiet (except for the regular Condensed Knowledge posts), I’ve been quite busy behind the scenes.

Ligia has been working on her own line of greeting cards since January. She makes them by hand, from scratch, using only sheets and strips of paper and glue as her materials. Having seen her do the work, right here beside me, I can tell you it’s painstaking, slow and hard. I fear for her eyes if she keeps going like this. All that meticulous work is bound to have an effect. It takes her about a half hour to 45 minutes to craft a single card. It’s hard to understand why it takes that long until you sit there and watch her at work. You can’t argue with the results though. They’re beautiful.

She’s really excited about the cards, and has asked for my help in setting up a little shop on her site so she can sell them. I helped her do just that, and modified her site design to allow her to post nicely-sized photos of the cards. I’m happy to say her site is pretty much done now, and yes, it’s open for business. I made the store within her WordPress install, using the existing options, without extra plugins. Simple is better in my book.

The cards are priced from $2.95 to $4.95. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that $5 for three quarters of an hour isn’t optimal pay, but this is a labor of love for her, and I support her in that. She’s not going to get rich selling the cards, but she wants to make people happy with them.

Being the enterprising little woman that she is, she’s already gone into downtown Bethesda and walked around to find stores that might pick up her cards and sell them there. (It’s more than I’ve done for my own photography, and I’m ashamed to admit that.) She found three stores that wanted to keep samples, and she’s going to find out soon whether they’ll be interested in buying first batches.

Wish her luck, and if you like one of the cards, pick it up for your special someone.

Thanks!

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