Exercise

The RPM System just got better!

As I mentioned in some of my recent posts, I recently (5/18) started on the RPM System, a new fitness regimen that you can do with only an exercise ball and an exercise band, and I love it. I recently passed my 6-week progress point, and I plan to post the results from that re-assessment this week.

There have been some changes in the works on the backend of the RPM System website, which have just been completed. As a result of those changes, many of which came about from feedback provided by early users of the system, like me, the RPM System is a lot more affordable and easy to understand now:

  • The cost has been reduced to $9.95/month, which makes it affordable for just about anybody. It’s now much, much lower than a gym membership, and since you can do it at home, you’ll be saving time and money.
  • Those using the system will have the opportunity to sign up their family members at $7.95/month, with a special code, which will make it easier and even more affordable to stay fit. You’ll be able to work out together and encourage each other.
  • It’s much easier now to get the equipment you need for the program. There’s a new Equipment tab on the site menu, where you can purchase the exercise band and the ball, plus the door wedge and the metronome, which are the two additional items I didn’t know about when I started the workouts. Fortunately, you can get all of this as a bundle from the Equipment page, so you’ll be able to get right to the workouts without missing a beat. As a matter of fact, the door wedge is included with every exercise band, right off the bat. And you no longer need to get a metronome, unless you want to. All of the exercises have been changed to the same beat. If you want to try different beats as you advance through the workouts, you can, by using a metronome, but it’s no longer a must-have piece of equipment.

I took a few screenshots of their website, to give you a sense of the changes. Here’s the page where they describe why you should use the program. The new price is clearly posted there.

And here’s the Equipment page. As you can see, things are nicely bundled and the prices are quite affordable.

One of the things I like about this fitness program is the fact they donate to charities. It’s nice when a company decides to do that, especially in these troubled economic times. The founders donate 10% of the corporate profits to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation.

If you’d like to try the RPM System, you can get a 2-week free trial through this referral code: 553677456. The normal free trial is 1 week, but this way, you get to really use the system enough to see its true benefits to your body. I have, and I plan to keep using it for a long time.

As I mentioned in my very first post about the RPM System, I am using the system for free. When the founders asked me to review it, that was one of the benefits I got in exchange for putting in the time and effort of using the system enough to be able to speak cogently about it. But I wouldn’t have stuck with it for 6 long weeks if I didn’t love it, and I do. When I say you should give it a try if you’re not already exercising, I really mean it! You will see results!

Standard
Thoughts

Identity theft and password security

A neat infographic that details how identity theft occurs and why password security fails when passwords aren’t secure enough. If you’ve ever wondered why you’re asked to choose both lowercase and uppercase letters in your password, know this: an eight-character lowercase password can be cracked in just two hours, but if you add just one uppercase character, it can take up to 200 years.

Identity Theft and Password Security

Standard
Thoughts

The history of rickrolling


The History of RickRolling

Standard
Exercise

Started on the RPM System today

I’ve always had an abiding interest in exercise. Perhaps it was brought on by the fact that I was very thin as a child. I was shorter, thinner and looked much younger than my age as I grew up, and I got fed up with being treated like a little boy.

When I got to college, I read about weightlifting voraciously. I educated myself and began lifting weights frequently, advancing from 2-3 times/week to 6-7 times/week. I started weightlifting regularly my sophomore year, and by my senior year, I’d put on about 60 lbs of muscle, without illegal supplements.

After college, even though I was still lifting weights intensely, I lost about 25 lbs. There were a few reasons for that. For one thing, I turned vegan, and I didn’t balance my diet properly. Then I had an operation on my right knee for a torn ACL, and was out of commission for 6-7 months. I became unhappy with going to the gym, for other reasons as well… so I focused my efforts on my job and my personal projects, such as writing for my websites. Over time, that meant more weight loss, until my weight settled around 155-160 lbs. I was still interested in exercise though, and I wrote several articles about the subject when I began to publish online in 2001.

On a side note, if you ever wonder whether you should play rugby or not, keep in mind I broke a rib, then my nose, then tore my ACL playing rugby. It’s not an easy sport on the body. I decided to stick to regular exercise and leave rugby to those with sturdier constitutions and cauliflower ears.

Back to my adventures in exercise… I coasted onward, relying on my previous years of workouts to keep my body in a residual shape, and that worked, for a time, until I noticed that even though my weight stayed the same and my waist stayed the same, I was getting flabbier. The basic shape was still there, but muscle tone was nowhere near what I used to have, and I was accumulating body fat, slowly but surely.

I had several false starts over time, where I tried to go to a gym regularly, but that didn’t work out. So far, my exercise routine has been irregular. I do pull-ups and crunches every now and then, but it’s not enough.

Imagine my surprise, when out of the blue, I was contacted by one of the founders of the RPM System — a low-cost, highly customizable fitness program that tailors itself to each user’s needs after a baseline fitness and diet assessment — and I was asked to review it honestly, without pulling any punches. (RPM stands for Results Power Movement.)

Here was a fitness program I could do at home, with minimal equipment (an exercise band and an exercise ball), using only my body weight. Absolutely, I said, bring it on!

So here I am! I did my initial assessment today, and you can see my results below. My power score is 64, which, on a scale from 1-100, gets me a D (barely). It looks like I need some serious work…

It’s not that I could only do 4 push-ups, and so on… Their website grades each of my numbers on a scale of 1-10, then assigns me a score on a scale of 1-100. Here are my actual numbers for each test:

Continue reading

Standard
Thoughts

SmugMug now supports oEmbed

According to this GetSatisfaction discussion, SmugMug have implemented support for oEmbed. When I first tried it a few weeks ago, putting a one-line URL in a WP.com post didn’t show the video, but it worked on WP self-installs. Still, you had to hack the URL by prefacing the video URL from the address bar with the SmugMug oEmbed API URL (http://www.smugmug.com/services/oembed/?url=), so that was a hassle. I have found out since that the folks at SmugMug are working with WP on simple video embeds (like the ones at YouTube or Vimeo or blip.tv) — see the GS discussion for the details.

Tonight, I decided to try the old hack URL on my blog (hosted at WP.com) to see how things are coming along. Surprise, surprise, videos play nicely! Have a look below. It’s a video of my tom cat, Felix, sleeping in my arms. The direct URL to the video, in case the embed stops working at some point, is this.

http://www.smugmug.com/services/oembed/?url=http%3A//www.raoulpopphotography.com/Other/My-Videos/8635949_WoFHs#741544973_ZdwRZ

Standard
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.

Standard
Thoughts

Now in top 75K websites on the internet

I took a look at my Quantcast stats today, and got a nice surprise. After hovering around the 100K rank for some time, I’m now ranked in the top 75K websites on the web. I do hope the trend continues along the same route, to the point where I can announce that I’m in the top 50K websites and so forth.

quantcast-raoulpopcom-stats

Why do I reveal this information? Because I believe in transparency, and I’ve been fairly open about my site’s performance from the get-go. (See this post from 2006, or this post from 2007 for a couple of examples.) I started using Quantcast to track the ranking of my site in 2008, and ever since then, I posted a little button in my sidebar that you can always click on to see my live stats.

quantcast-widget

By the way, let me take this opportunity to invite serious, legitimate companies who want to gain exposure to a worldwide audience to get in touch with me. The details are here.

Standard
How To

Site optimization — the order of your scripts and styles

I watched this video yesterday, where a Googler talks about the importance of ordering your scripts and styles correctly in order to speed up the rendering of your website, made a quick change to my header file, then ran the Page Speed extension for Firefox to see how I was doing. While there still some things to address that could make my site load faster, some of which don’t depend on me but on external JavaScript files from ads and stats and such, I’m glad to see things are a little snappier today.


Google Webmaster Central — Optimizing the order of scripts and styles

There’s extra documentation on this very topic available from Google, in the help files for its Page Speed extension. It’s worth a read, because a quick re-ordering of the code in your site’s header could shave as much as 50% off your site loading times, depending on how much JavaScript you’re using.

Standard
Thoughts

My Drobo review is first at Google

A couple of days ago, I noticed an increase in the traffic to my Firewire Drobo review, most of it from search engines, so I did a quick search on Google for the phrase “drobo review“, which is what people were using to find me. To my surprise, my review was the first search result that came up! I’d been in the #2 spot for a long time, just under CNET, for the same phrase, but now, without having made any changes to my review since I’d written it, I ranked first.

drobo-review-google-search

This makes me happy, because when I created my site, I wanted to sit down and write good articles while staying away from any unethical SEO tricks or even white-hat SEO tricks like keyword loading and other such unappealing, tedious stuff. I just wanted to create good content and get noticed because of that, not because I’d tricked the search engines into ranking me higher up the page. That would have been an empty success indeed.

It also makes me happy because I like my Drobos. So far, they’ve worked well for me, and I’m glad I’ve found a reliable and expandable way to store all my data. It’s also worthwhile to note that my Firewire Drobo review was published months after it came out officially. I did not get a review unit, I didn’t have to pull any strings to be among the first to get one, and I didn’t spend a feverish night working on my review after it first came out. You know how the press clamors to get review units of products when they first come out… I didn’t do that, and it’s very refreshing to see that after taking my time and really putting my Firewire Drobo through its paces, intensively, for a prolonged period of time, I was able to write a truthful review that is now ranked first at Google.

It’s been about three years of intensive writing, and my work has begun to pay off. (I began publishing multiple articles per week in 2006. I’d only been publishing sporadically until then.) In 2007, almost two years ago, I noticed I was getting more and more traffic from search engines, and made a list of the articles that were getting noticed. For a lot of them, I was either on the first page of search results, or among the first few search results, right at the top.

Still, it’s something to be the first search result for what is a fairly common tech phrase such as “drobo review”, and it really makes my day that I, a writer working alone, using WordPress and hosting my site on my own little Ubuntu web server at SliceHost, has outranked CNET and other big names such as Engadget and others, on Google, the world’s biggest search engine. It serves to illustrate very well a point Matt Cutts from Google has made time and time again: just focus on writing good content, and the rest will come. You’ll get indexed, and as your site builds a larger collection of articles, your online trust will cause you to rise up among the search results, until you make it to the top. You don’t need tricks, you don’t need to get headaches from trying to squeeze SEO juice out of every paragraph and page title and others — you just need to write informative articles.

I’d like to thank God for this. You see, I live by certain principles which are rooted in my religious beliefs, most notably in the Ten Commandments found in the Bible. When I began to write online and created my site, I didn’t want to steal, and I didn’t want to lie. Taking content from others (content-scraping) is theft, so I don’t condone it or do it. Using dirty SEO tricks to rank higher in search results is also theft, because those who do it are robbing others of those spots and robbing tech engineers at search companies of their time, which they will have to use to modify algorithms and clean up the search results. And using those same dirty SEO tricks is effectively a lie, because those who do it are misrepresenting their websites and their articles. That’s not me, I don’t want to do those things, and I’m really glad to see that God proved me right when I stuck by my principles. I’m also glad to see that a company such as Google exists, and that it rewards honest, forthright behavior.

Standard
Reviews

Gmail offers another pleasant surprise

The Gmail team has done it again, and they’ve given Gmail users a whole slew of cool new features.

New Gmail features

We’ve now got YouTube, Picasa and Flickr previews, built right into each email message. All we have to do is to put a link to a YouTube movie, or a Picasa or Flickr photo, and its thumbnail shows directly in the message. This feature can be enabled by service from the Labs settings in our Gmail accounts.

I love the “Undo send” feature and have already enabled it. My wife is already using the Offline version of email. It took a bit to sync all her messages, but it’s doing alright now.

Other Gmail features I love are as follows:

  • Superstars, which adds additional stars icons. I organize emails that I need to act on that way.
  • Signature tweaks, which places the signature above quoted text
  • Right-side labels
  • Navbar drag-and-drop, which allows me to re-organize the various items on the Gmail screen
  • Forgotten attachment detector
  • Vacation Time, which lets me specify beginning and ending dates for those times when I can’t get to my email
  • Create a Document, which allows me to create a Google Document right from my Gmail inbox (this is new)
  • Send & Archive, which allows me to reply and archive that message at the same time (this is new)
  • Title Tweaks, which changes the order of the text in the Gmail page title, allowing me to see right away how many unread messages there are (this is new)
  • Google Docs gadget, which displays my most recent Google Documents on my Gmail inbox screen

There’s more information about the new features on the Gmail Blog, here and here.

Standard