Tag Archives: computers

Got WordPress Woes?

Im WordPress nichts Neues.*

Scuttlebutt has it that horrible things are happening (or are about to happen) to the functionality of the Blog Host We All So Admire. This should be no news to those of us who have been blogging here for the past 5 years (as I have), or even longer.

Some bloggers are particularly irate about what they have experienced as a discoverability problem associated with the WordPress search engine. People who commented at one such blog also said they were having trouble finding the blogger in question. The universal conclusion was “a broken WordPress search engine.”

Many bloggers may not have much knowledge about the intricacies of computer technology because they’re “users” (people who are not, and never have been, “programmers,” no matter how many years they may have had computers in their work or personal lives). They never even dabble in HTML, and are content to just plug-and-play. That’s fine and dandy. But not having any background in the anatomy and physiology of computers can make life frustrating when things on the screen seem to be going pear-shaped.

What follows (in the shaded, bold italic block quote) is a short course in computer technology, composed by a person who was programming computers long before the last two generations of geeks were gleams in their granddaddies’ and daddies’ eyes. (It’s highly generalized, but fundamentally correct.)

Computers are stupid. Despite the bells and whistles, all they really understand are only “on” and “off.” What is typed that shows up on a screen as a word is just an electrical signal generated by a combination of alpha-numeric characters that are coded in a computer language. When people talk to computers, they have to use the same language, and user input in that language has to mathematically add up, for communication to occur (hence the name, “computer”).

When you use a search engine, the stupid computer on the receiving end of your request simply looks for exactly what you typed into the search bar. If you leave anything out, or mistakenly add something that isn’t part of the term for which you’re looking, the on-and-off sum that the computer comes up with won’t match anything it can find, and you won’t get any hits. This is not exactly “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO), because no garbage comes back, although the artificial intelligence (AI) that’s programmed into some search engines will guess that there’s a misspelling, and will come back with some alternative suggestions (which may, indeed, be garbage).

In the recent “discoverability” example cited above, the commentator who said that the blogger couldn’t be found reported having entered as search terms only part of the blogger’s name, only part of the blog’s domain name, and only one iteration of the word that’s used for the blog’s title. These were technically misspellings, but as far as WordPress’s stupid computer was concerned, they were just generic words, and as a result, thousands of hits were supplied, effectively burying from sight any correct hit on the blog in question.

In another apparent example of search-engine-gone-awry, the same blogger was angered to find not only just re-blogs of the blogger’s original post, but also the many hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of hits that were for blogs which somewhere in their titles or texts had used the word which the blogger had been using for years as a blog title.

In the first place, blog posts get time stamps when they’re published, and because the most recent occurrences of a search term will show up first on a hit list, any re-blogs would appear before one would find the original post. Secondly, getting in the way are the more recent posts of all those thousands of bloggers who, in the interval since the post in question was published, wrote something that used the same word for which the unhappy blogger was searching. Again, if what you’re searching for is a fairly common word, all you’re going to get is rubbish.

My blog post inventory, accessed from my Dashboard, showing my latest 4 posts. Note that the time stamps include hour, minute and second. (Click on this image to enlarge it.)

The question then arose about the “ownership” of the “name” of the blog. The angry blogger, who had paid for a plan, apparently was of the impression that what had been bought was the word that is being used for the title that appears in the header of the person’s blog. The blogger expressed the belief that exclusive rights to use that blog title had been violated, because that “name” had been “bought” but was in use by other people to identify their blogs. This is a grievous misunderstanding.

The “name” that one sets up for a blog (whether free or paid), is not the text that can be put in the blog header: that’s just the title of the blog. In my case, the actual blog “name” is a variant of the domain name possessed by the blog host (WordPress, whose domain name is “wordpress.com”).

Because computers use telephone systems to navigate the internet, a domain name is nothing more than a telephone number. This number appears as the universal resource locator (URL) that shows up in the address bar at the top of a window.

When you set up a free blogsite, what you get for a domain name/URL is essentially the WordPress phone number with an extension number added. When you pay to have a blog account, WordPress obtains a completely different phone number, and rents it to you. (The only thing you own at WordPress is your copyright to the original content you post on your blog, and even that can be contested by pirates and plagiarists, if you haven’t registered your copyright.)

Thus, the title of your blog (and any associated tagline you may choose to add), which you put in the header, is not your domain name, and you don’t own it, no matter how long you’ve used it. Of course, you can choose to reproduce your domain name as the title in the header, but that still doesn’t mean you own, or have the exclusive right to use, the title of your blog. (In fact, according to US copyright law, titles cannot be copyrighted, which is why you can often find several books, fiction and nonfiction, all covering different subject matter, but which have exactly the same title.)

(Click on this image to enlarge it.)

As far as any stupid computer’s search engine is concerned, the title that appears in the header of a blog is just another piece of generic text, and it gets treated just as any other word gets treated in a search: it has to take a number and queue up in a hit list, like any other block of text. Therefore, if you want people to be able to find your blog by searching for its title, you have to make sure that your title is unique enough to have few possible duplicates.

Likewise, if you want your blog to make it to the top of a hit list when a search term matches your domain name/URL, you have to make sure that you pick a suitably unique set of words, or combination of words and numbers. You also need to be sure that your domain name/URL can be easily identified with you, personally, or with something special about your blog. Then, folks will find it.

At this point I would like to report that when I searched for the missing blogger, I used the blogger’s full name, the blog’s full domain name/url, and with Caps Lock on, I entered the common word the blogger uses for a title. I did these separate searches when I was logged in to WordPress, and when I was not, and used two different browsers (Chrome and Firefox). I used the dedicated search engine page at https://en.search.wordpress.com/ and the search engine on the “Reader” page. At the dedicated search engine, the original blog post came up within the top three hits of the hit lists that were returned; at the Reader search engine, only the blog title failed to turn up the desired results, indicating to me that the word is too common. As far as I was concerned, the blogger was not “Lost in Space,” and the search engine(s) not broken.

Now, it’s entirely possible that drag-and-drop experiments by WordPress Unhappiness Engineers have screwed up search engine optimization by introducing strongly graphics-oriented functionality to what is now a heavily text-based application. That kind of messing around is understandable, because WordPress has tons of techies on payroll who have to justify their existence there by fixing things that ain’t broken. The problem with it, is that those of us who are more literate than the point-and-grunt generation may prefer to communicate with real words that can be coded into machine-readable language, rather than to push around pictures composed of what Microsoft PowerPoint called Word Art. Sometimes, WYSIWYG just doesn’t cut the mustard.

The only difficulty I’ve had over the past few weeks are isolated incidents of my userid not working, when I tried to log in. I keep all my usernames and passwords in a spreadsheet file, and all I have to do is copy and paste what I need into a log-in field, so I know that I hadn’t misspelled anything. What I ended up doing to gain access was to temporarily switch to using my e-mail address, and I got in all right. The next time around, my username worked just fine. Go figure.

The really important thing about all this is not to get our knickers in a twist. Turning WordPress Woes into WordPress Wars is as futile as Pickett’s Charge, or the Battle of the Somme: frontal assaults against an entrenched enemy’s strongest point, in an uphill battle.

We can make complaints to the Unhappiness Engineers, and when the changes that are made don’t suit us, we can quietly vote with our feet (if that’s what we type with) and take our blogging elsewhere. We probably won’t be missed by the WordPress Warlords, because there will always be a new generation of clueless cannon-fodder users, who don’t know how good it used to be, to take our place.

In the end, it’s WordPress’s business, so they can run it into the ground, if that’s what they want to do.

* Apologies to Erich Maria Remarque.

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He Takes No Prisoners!

kittypoo-meme2“I TOLD YOU to put that thing down and PET ME! NOW will you listen?”

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Lamentations of a Laptop Luddite.

Programming ENIAC

Programming ENIAC

The advantage of laptops (and of tablets) is their portability (although they’re still as heavy as sin), but that perk is threatened by the Damocles’ sword of their fragility, and by the looming penumbra of the corresponding physical limits to their capacity. Their useful life seems to be about five years, and even if you can coax more time out of them, the changes to the software that’s used on websites eventually exceeds the ability of their memories to cope.

Commodore 64

Commodore 64

This is because most modern software “improvements” rely upon “enhanced” graphics, which swallow bigger mouthfuls of memory. The bias towards graphics at the expense of genuine utility is a consequence of software developers’ catering to video game players. We now have a generation of users who cut their teeth on Game Boys (in some cases, literally), who seem to need ever more in-your-face visual input, to arouse their jaded sensibilities.

Coleco Adam

Coleco Adam

But many of the world’s busiest computer users have no fondness for graphics frippery. Those lovingly crafted 3D swooping and flashing special effects just make us qUeAsY. We like bright colors, and sharp resolution that doesn’t pixelate badly under high magnification (especially if we’re Indie Authors who do our own cover art), but what we like the best is not to have our computers’ memories sucked into a black hole every time we boot up, or go online.

Tandy_1000_rl_1

Tandy 1000

This is less of a problem with desktops and towers, because there’s room inside them to plug in more chips. But eventually planned obsolescence catches up with all operating systems, because their manufacturers stop supporting them. Computing was so much easier years ago, before they came up with the supposedly “intuitive” bells-and-whistles. The system wasn’t broken until they decided to “fix” it. Honestly, I’ve owned toasters that had more genuine intuition.

packard bell tower

Packard Bell

This leads to a machine that thinks it’s HAL or the MCP, and tries to impose its notions on your work. When I was editing Irish Firebrands, I wasted more time ferreting out and undoing the mistakes made by arrogant artificial intelligence that went behind my back to change the specifications I’d made for my manuscript.

Toshiba

Toshiba

This was not GIGO: I saved identical formatting requirements on the laptop and the desktop, and only worked on a file that I stored on a large-capacity external drive. But invariably, when I opened the document on the laptop, the computer changed my settings to its default preferences. I finally ended up playing both ends against the middle, but to do that, I had to go deeper and make “permanent” changes to templates for as long as I worked on the book. “Compatibility mode,” thy name is mud.

Compaq

Compaq

Then the time came when I had to accept that my old tower CPU was not only creaking and groaning with arthritis, but also that it had begun to show signs of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. After nine years and six months of faithful service, it was time to put the poor old thing out to pasture, before it suffered thunderous apoplexy and descended into full-blown dementia.

Holstein Frisian. Matches my cat.

Holstein-Frisian

Now, when I want to visit the old desktop’s cerebrum-hard drive, it hums happily in an external case, and I’m the one who’s creaking and groaning with arthritis – and at risk for apoplexy, as I continue to wrestle with a new operating system that I still detest, many months after the switch. I discovered that the old rule that new operating systems would still read old programs had also gone the way of all flesh, and I had not only to update my most-used software, but also replace a perfectly good printer, because the new OS turned out to be too dumb to decipher how to install it.

Meanwhile, the lobotomized tower with the old CPU’s brainstem-motherboard disappeared into the space-time continuum that is my resident son’s suite of rooms – from whence it may someday emerge, a threat to life as we know it: a zombie computer that will make Frankenstein’s Monster blench.

Drawing of actor T.P. Cooke as Frankenstein's monster in an 1823 theatrical production.

Period drawing of actor T.P. Cooke as Frankenstein’s monster in an 1823 theatrical production.

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