Happy New Year! (again)

Happy new year 2002A custom of this now nearly dormant weblog is a post at new year. The first such post that I could find was for 2002. Back then I was using Radio UserLand as my blogging platform. WordPress had yet to be invented. By 2002 I had already been blogging for a couple of years. One of the things that I regret now is that I wasn’t consistent in where I posted. I ran several blogs at the same time so a lot of what I posted back then was spread over several sites, a number of which were hosted, from which I never took a local copy of my data. A lesson to us all, but thank goodness for the WayBack machine. I now self-host my own WordPress installation.

Early days of mobile bloggingBack in those days I invented a method of posting to a weblog via email and SMS. It was cutting edge, or so it felt all those years ago and it earn me a place in  history as one of the pioneers of mobile blogging. You’re welcome Internet. I remember it was a lot of fun but came at the price of many long nights. I was active in the UserLand scripting community, most of whom were in the US, so the only way I could participate when everyone else was awake was to work into the small hours in the UK. Yes I had a day job too, and a young family, so I didn’t sleep much in those days. It was worth it though because it felt like I was part of something. I also gained attention for some of the people I respected most at the time, Dave Winer, without whom there wouldn’t have been a UserLand community, and Aaron Swartz. Take a look at this screen grab of one of my early weblogs that allowed anyone to post to my site via email. Dave and Aaron both posting to my blog on the same day! Aaron was only 15 at the time and had been working on the RDF/XML media type. He went on to do so many great things before his untimely death almost exactly a year ago. Also posting that day was Scott Lofteness, someone else who has achieved great things. I was in good company.

So as another new year starts and I reflect back on this weblog I notice that there has been a shift away from publishing to my own personal blog, and instead I post to different sites depending on the context or the medium. I use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and several other services that have fractionated where all my stuff goes. I can’t say yet whether this is a good or bad thing because these sites make it easy to create great content and I still have control of my data. But I do miss those late evenings and early mornings of the early days of blogging. These days however I need my sleep.

Goodbye Google Reader hello Feedly

Feedly logo
Feedly logo

The retirement of Google Reader has forced me like many others to look for an alternative service to manage my RSS subscriptions. I’ve tried a number of services and apps and have decided to go with Feedly, at least for now. Feedly made the transition from Google easy because I started using it as an interface to my Google Reader account in the weeks leading up to the switch off so there was no need to export my feeds from Google. I like Feedly’s web interface, and use that the most, although I also have the iPad and iPhone apps and use those occasionally. There’s also an IFTT Feedly channel, so I might play with that too.

Some people are saying that Google dropping Reader is another small step away from the open web towards a closed walled-garden web composed of proprietary services. In terms of RSS at least, I’m not that pessimistic. For a long time RSS was my main route to getting all the news I read from multiple sources. But in recent years I’ve been getting news and updates via all kinds of other routes including Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. I now mostly use RSS as a way of keeping up to date with various blogs. It fits with my workflow. I use Twitter to find out about updates to apps and web services that I use. I read one or two of the big news meta sites like TechCrunch and The Verge, and I subscribe to a number of Linkedin groups for professional interest. RSS has a place, and for that Feedly works well for me.

Dave Winer clearly has a view on this, as he was instrumental in most of us using RSS to read news in the first place (whether or not most people knew it). There’s much to be optimistic about for the future of RSS in Dave’s piece, even if he’s not sure himself. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Bulletproof blog

HackedI’ve had an interesting few weeks fixing my blog. It was hacked. I suspect – though I have no direct proof – through my domain host CPanel account. Reading around the Internet, the host that I had chosen and had been happy with for a number of years had been victim to a server attack since early in the new year, and the account details of customers had been posted online somewhere. My CPanel password was relatively strong and not guessable (it wasn’t a dictionary word) yet a file was uploaded to my account via CPanel file upload. When I asked my domain host about it and how they think my account was hack they simply said via an unsecured script, and didn’t elaborate whether it was in my WordPress install or on their server. Anyway, after much cleaning and reinstalling – thank goodness I paid for routine site backup – I’m now back online with a clean site.

As a result of all this unwanted excitement I’ve made a few changes. Most importantly I’ve changed my domain host. I’m now with Bluehost, one of the few hosts recommended by WordPress themselves. I couldn’t be happier. It was an easy switch and I’ve now got more control than ever before over my CPanel account. I’ve also paid for BulletProof Security Pro plugin. I can’t recommend it highly enough if you’re a serious WordPress user. I used the free version for a while and liked it. The Pro version is just terrific and for the first time I feel safe in my WordPress bed at night. The owner Ed Alexander is so helpful. Please do seriously consider this plugin if you manage your own WordPress installation.

As an extra layer of security I now also use CloudFlare. I’m completely new to the word of content delivery networks and web application firewalls. It’s early days to know whether I’m benefitting from the claimed security and performance improvements, but the basic version is free with Bluehost so I’m giving it a go.

If you have any WordPress security tips and favourite plugins please let me know in the comments.

3 Tiny Habits

I’m excited to have been picked to join BJ Fogg’s 3 Tiny Habits programme for this coming week. Dr Fogg is founder and director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, and an expert on the psychology of persuasion. His behaviour model and in particular the behaviour grid are worth checking out.

The 3 Tiny Habits programme is a way of looking at how people form habits. As I am both a serial procrastinator and someone who finds it hard to stick to routines, I thought I’d give it a go. So I signed up and found out yesterday that I got accepted on the programme. The instructions are simply, very simple, but that’s the point.

  1. Pick something simple & easy to do in very little time.
  2. Decide when to do it.
  3. Practice.

There’s more to it than that but I’ll wait until after the programme to describe more. In the meantime, writing down the 3 habits I will try to form over the coming week is a way of declaring publicly my commitment. Mine are:

  1. After I finish my breakfast, I will write down on an index card 3 things that I want to do during the day.
  2. After I eat my lunch, I will take my vitamin tablets.
  3. After I have cleared up after dinner I will post a single Tweet describing one thing that I have learnt during the day.

See, I said they were simple. Of course with some willpower you wouldn’t need to join a programme to create such simple habits. But that would miss the point I think. Doing things in a group like this strengthens the behaviour. The really fun and rewarding part will be building bigger habits in the future. From little acorns to great oak trees grow.

Semantic schmantic

The Semantic Web
Like many, I’ve been watching the development of the semantic web with interest but also with a degree of scepticism. Interest, because it just makes sense that expressing in a machine-readable way what we humans already know – why one piece of information is linked to another – is a good thing to do (the arguments in favour being so apparent and well articulated elsewhere that I don’t need to state them again here), but also scepticism because most methods of doing this to date are just too darned difficult for the majority of us. To me at least it has seemed that the semantic web and it’s underlying language, RDF, is one spoken only by the initiated few.

Well that was until my 2-day workshop at Talis this week. My brain is now full of graphs and triples with their subjects, properties and values. The trouble is, this little insight into how linked data is helping to shape the semantic web has made it even more frustrating for me. I left the workshop fired up to add machine-friendly meaning to all my information in future, only to get back home, fire up my blog, and realise that if I want to add RDFa, the in-line annotated version of RDF that can be embedded in any web-based document, then I’d have to add it by hand by editing the source code of my post. Ok. Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. But no, after a couple of days of searching I can’t find an easy way of adding RDFa to a WordPress post. No matter, this is still, ahem, early days of the semantic web and maybe the user-friendly tools are coming RSN (real soon now). But at least if I accept the pain of adding RDFa by hand, it’ll be worth it, my posts will enter the web of linked data. The only trouble is, I’m not sure if that is true. I can’t find how my RDFa-enabled posts can be used to extract their meaning. Am I simply adding this meaning now for future consumption by a semantically-aware search engine, or have I missed something?

By the way I tried to add valid RDFa inside this post but WordPress kept changing it, I guess out of the box it doesn’t like RDFa, or perhaps I was just doing it wrong.

Maybe I should have written a recipe instead.