WordPress Network domain issue

I have been attempting to deploy a couple of WordPress “networks” and have run across an issue that fortunately was rather easy to fix.  It just took a bit of thinking.

When WP is set up as a network, you have to choose whether you want subdirectories, or subdomains.  Since I want separate domains, though, that is not always satistfactory.  Fortunately, you can edit your site URL in the dashboard and use any domain you’d wish.

Sort of.

At one host I use, I “park” a domain on top of another.  If I had domain-one.com as being my main WP network site, I would then park anotherdomain.com on top of it, and point it to the same root WP installation.  That works, up to a point.

The problem I was having is that WP’s htaccess coding tends to treat anotherdomain.com and www.anotherdomain.com as different entities.  I always use “www” just due to the fact that it is more “correct” in terms of referencing a server.  Fortunately, I was able to add the following to my htaccess to fix it:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^anotherdomain.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.anotherdomain.com/$1 [L,R=301]

Not ideal, but I did not want to muck about with WP’s own provided htaccess code for now.  I found I also needed to do this with the root domain of the site as well.

Just wanted to post this as a heads-up if you find your WP network and additional domains don’t behave as you’d think.

 

 

 

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WordPress cookie login problem solved

I had yet another incident with the dreaded WordPress cookie login problem.  This is a case where you attempt to login to one of your WP “network” sites, and despite having a valid username and password, WP alerts you with a message saying that cookies must be enabled.

I have a few “network” (aka “multisite”) installations of WordPress, and have successfully used one with both custom subdomains and full domains.  On that network, logins have worked fine.  On another site however, I was getting the dreaded cookie error message while logging into the individual sites.  The main network site, however, worked fine.

I realized I had to insert this into my wp-config.php file:

define('ADMIN_COOKIE_PATH', '/');
define('COOKIE_DOMAIN', '');
define('COOKIEPATH', '');
define('SITECOOKIEPATH', '');

 

Once I added those lines, I was immediately able to log in.

Crisis averted.

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New Google Camera: epic fail

The new update to the Google Camera app came out this week, and it has taken the Android camera a significant step backward.  The basic premise is that a handful of useful features were stripped for one gimmicky feature that looks terrible.

2014-04-24 18.45.08What’s gone?

White balance.  No longer can you set it yourself.   Not only does a smartphone camera often not set the correct white balance itself, it changes wildly even as you pan around a scene.

HDR.  Why can’t I turn it on or off?  It never worked the best, but at least I could turn it off if I needed faster camera action.

Exposure compensation.  Oh wait…it’s hidden under “Manual Exposure,” which itself is a failure due to being named incorrectly.  Or at least I think so.  With the original Android camera for Kit Kat, I could easily see the exposure change; with this one, it’s vague at best, and the setting doesn’t vary the brightness as much.

Maybe I just don’t appreciate the “camera for dummies” approach.

I can’t say the picture quality is any better with the new camera, since it’s not.  Photos I take now are murky and look somewhat diffuse and washed out.

Regardless, you can revert back to the far superior KitKat camera app by going to Apps, finding the camera, and uninstalling the updates.  But prepare to do it often.  It’ll download the new version each time and overwrite it.

This camera seriously needs to go back to the drawing board.  Not that smartphone cameras are very good to begin with (just one look at social media proves that point), but as I say, having any camera is better than no camera.  I’d just prefer that I be allowed to use my phone’s hardware to its fullest capabilities, not dumbed down and stripped of features.

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Seven annoying Web trends

The Web has always been an exercise in frustration with all of the varied markup and layout changes we have seen over the years.  Yet for the most part, many sites still remain readable and easy to use.  Despite this, there are stil some alarming trends in Web design that I cannot let go unmentioned.  Let us see if they are as annoying for my readers as they are for me.  Some are advertising related.  Others are just plain old bad design ideas.  In no uncertain order, here are my pet peeves in Web design.

1.  Mid-article advertising.  You may be reading a few paragraphs in an article, only to come across an often unrelated single line, which is a hyperlink to other content they want us to read.   For me, that is just one more intrusion on my reading process, and one more thing I have to learn how to tune out.  Note to designers: stop distracting me.  I won’t click anyway.

2.  Pop-ups delivered as JavaScript overlays.  For years we have seen browsers incorporate their own pop-up elimination settings.  But now that all sites create pop-ups differently, we have no consistent way to block them, and they are back…with a passion.  Note to designers: you’ve given me one additional reason to avoid your site in the future.  Tell your bean counters.

2A.  Pop-ups are bad; animated pop-ups, especially those that chase me around a page (you know, those annoying little JQuery boxes that stick to your page even as you try to scroll away from them), are a whole new level of annoying.  No, I don’t want to take advantage of your special offer.  No, I don’t want to chat online with customer service.  Note to designers: you really know how to piss someone off, don’t you?

3.  The auto-loading neverending page.  Some sites now insist on loading more into the page, the further you scroll down.  Sorry, I still like to come to the end of a page, especially if there are helpful links at the bottom.  Especially if your site is graphic-heavy, you will be slowing down your users’ computers, no matter how fast they are.  Whoever decided we needed to auto-load addtional content, rather than paginate, obviously did not take into account the simple concept of usability.  Note to designers: Stop. Please.

4. Stop linking every single page, every single element, to social media.  I don’t care if anyone “liked” it on Fecesbook.  I don’t want to retweet it.  I understand others might, but must it now be so prominent that it seems like your Web site is nothing more than a front-end for your social media presence?  It should be the other way around.  Note to designers: tone it down.  Several notches.

5. Slideshows.  No, not an image gallery where images appear one by one.  I’m talking about those article that enumerate their titles (like I’ve done here), and make each point in the article a separate “slide”.  More often than not, it takes several seconds to load each slide.  It is cumbersome and time-wasting to read.  I only have so much patience, and if it takes me 15 minutes to scan your miserable slideshow page by page vs. an article I could have read in three minutes, you can bet I’ll be clicking away early.  And we know your true intent:  your ten “slides” are nine more opportunities to shove your advertising at me.  Note to designers:  slide shows are annoying.  Even so, use JQuery, AJAX, etc. to create slides that load instantly within the same page container.  Making us reload pages constantly is, like, 1999.

6. Your Web site is not Pinterest.  One of the most disturbing trends in page layout is the Pinterest style of layout, where items are haphazardly tossed across three or more columns with no consistency.  Maybe it’s OK for random images, but if you are presenting serious content, it makes your page busy and unreadable.  The human eye is used to reading vertically, in an orderly fashion.  Spewing content across the page is not an improvement.  Note to designers: seriously??

7. Download an app.  Um, no thanks.  Instead, take some initiative and make your Web site responsive, so that it displays properly on all devices.  Smartphone users do not need more clutter in the way of “apps” (which in many cases, are just dumbed-down web browsers showing limited content) littering their phones.  For commerce sites, visitors also knows what this means: it’s a small block of advertising these companies are depositing on their phones, with their consent.  Note to designers: get with this decade and make your sites responsive.  Forcing us to download apps, or zoom in/out/around to view your “full” site, is sloppy. And lazy.

Have you seen some sites that fall short on one or all of these? Let us know–expose them in the comments!

 

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What a daft lot those spammers are!

For a few years now, I have displayed the email address of my now-defunct Canton Web Services company as a way for potential clients to make contact.

The amount of spam I get is incredible; fortunately my mail through Google Apps filters out just about all of it.  But while looking through my spam folder, it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly stupid some of those spammers are.

Many you can tell are just junk mail.  But others actually are on topic and offering things I don’t need.  I clearly used to do web development, and I offered SEO services as well.  You would not believe how many contact the sales address trying to get me to use their companies for the exact same services I offered!  Clueless lot.

It’s true I could take the address down, but why?  It is actually amusing to see the depths of stupidity these spammers demonstrate in trying to reach me.

The ones that irritate me the most come from non-US companies: I have spent the past dozen years fighting that sort of “off-shoring” and watching those leeches erode my business.  To the point where I got tired of having to sell my superior services when these leeches offer the same services for $4 to $6 per hour.  It’s no wonder the US economy can’t recover.

They are lucky I do not bother replying to their spam…

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Did you hear about shared endorsements? How could you NOT? (Google+ vs. facebook)

What a large chasm between two social media networks, and how they do business.

If anyone has noticed, Google has been pushing out notices to all of their Google+ users over the past week about upcoming changes to their advertising policies.  Google is now going to make use of shared endorsements for its G+ members.  In essence, if a friend of yours searches for a local business that you like, your name and user image may appear along with that listing.

Yes, facebook has been doing that for a couple of years now.  But there is a difference.

Does anyone remember when facebook rolled a similar feature out a few years ago?  No.  Because they never told us directly.  Like everything they do, new “features” (many or most of which invade their users’ privacy rights) come out with little or no fanfare, or are buried in new “terms and conditions” among the fine print.  We often hear about fb’s transgressions after the public has stirred up a fuss about it, or the FTC (in the US) or privacy organizations slap an investigation on them.  New settings are often made public by default, without their members’ explicit approval.

Yet here is G+, rolling out the same feature.  Just about everything I’ve touched in the past week has had an alert from G+ with details of the changes.  In essence, there is no way we can miss this new policy unless we choose to ignore it.  It’s there for the reading.  There is even a very clear link to the exact page in your settings to disable the feature.  We’re nagged daily.  We have nobody to blame but ourselves if we don’t read about the new policy.

 

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XenForo 1.2 goes “responsive”

What exactly is “responsive” design?

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with the upcoming release of the growing XenForo forum system.  In the new version, the developers have adopted what they call a responsive design.  What this does is reformat the display based on the user’s screen size.

Haven’t we had this before?  No, not really.  Many sites can reformat themselves, but they usually do so in a clumsy fashion–a site header image may not resize, the text may flow awkwardly (if at all), and other elements will become unwieldly to use.

Responsive design changes that.  XenForo’s approach is to have a series of different layouts based on the available screen width.   For normal desktop screens, the forum looks as it always did.  If you begin resizing your browser and making it smaller, you will see various elements change and collapse.  A menu bar will collapse partially into a menu icon, which preserves the contents while preserving precious screen space.  At its narrowest, the user information panel on the lefthand side of the post (called the “postbit”) shifts to the top of each post.

All of this is done via CSS and JavaScript.  And it is cross-browser compatible: they have been testing it extensively in all major browsers, and it works nicely in all of them.  More importantly, users no longer have to use poorly written products such as Tapatalk or Forum Runner to access forums, which strips forums of their functionality.

Given the progress in responsive design, we have been aiming clients toward using responsive themes with WordPress and other web systems, as opposed using separate mobile themes as we have in the past.  Web users tend to use all different devices these days, and we feel that it is better to grant accessibility to all using one common interface, as opposed to creating a secondary mobile site or worse, forcing them to download an app in order to access the site.   It is nice to see XenForo at the forefront of responsive design, along with the growing number of sites making use of it.

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vBulletin 5: Preliminary End-User Review

Ugh.

One of my favorite forums, running vBulletin 3.8, was taken offline for several days, and it was then converted over to vBulletin 5.0.2.  More’s the pity.  The forum has been online and offline like flashing traffic light lately.  Tonight, I try to post and get a database error.  Of course, I try to repost and am told to wait 30 seconds between posts (even though my post never made it to the forum).  30 seconds later?  Another database error.  Nice coding.  (He says, dripping with sarcasm.)

This is a lower traffic forum, yet the speed is even slower than vB4 was.  After being suckered into buying a license for 4.x, we were very disappointed with the poor quality of vB4 and, hence, never deployed it on our large forum, which runs on a dedicated server and now hosts over 1,000 visitors online during peak hours.   vB4 was slow even with our dozen users.  The blog and CMS systems were terrible–I had wanted to start using them for our forum home page, but their inflexibility and poor styling and layout (not to mention terrible loading speed on our test forum) prevented us from converting.

vB5 is even worse.  I saw the initial beta and it was a trainwreck.  Apparently nothing has improved.  You can still comment on posts within threads–talk about diluting a discussion with numerous offshoots!  Terrible.  The interface is cleaner, but navigation still takes too many clicks.  Using the forum is counter-intuitive.  Replying to a post in this AJAX day and age should take a mere second or two; most replies take far longer and still, the browser has to hiccup through a partial page load.  Didn’t we learn anything from the bloat of vB4?  Apparently not.  This is more a product designed to power and monetize Internet Brands’ own sites, rather than be usable by normal forum end-users.

Terrible.

Thankfully we are off the vBulletin treadmill.  I would even rather go back to the dismal freeware systems out there (like phpBB or MyBB) than subject any of my visitors to vBulletin 5.  There are far better, nicer, more efficient systems out there; vB5 is simply digging its own grave at this point.

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Is the iPhone on the way out?

While I think the iPhone will be around for a long time to come, its days in the public spotlight as the leading smartphone are long past.

One telling movement lately has been among my own personal sphere of friends.  In the past two months, seven of my friends, three of them diehard apple fans, have switched to Android based phones.  The reasons?  They were tired of the small screen size and mediocre computing power.  But more importantly, the innovation was gone.  The last couple of product releases were full of empty hype, and widely acknowledge fiascos.  Google Now easily trumped the smartphone-for-dummies approach that Siri took, and who can forget the infamous fiasco with maps?

Beyond that, other than some minor app and appearance changes, the past couple of iterations have been “more of the same.”

Where has the innovation gone?  Look at the lawsuits.  Rather than develop and improve the product, apple has spent millions suing others.  Money that could go toward R&D and put them back in an leading position has been squandered away on frivolous lawsuits over patents, some of which have failed in court.  As my old saying goes:  when you can’t innovate, you litigate.

This is a repeat of the path apple took many years ago, when the company slipped and lost its way after being a successful niche vendor of computing systems.  Today, they are headed down the same path, and while they are still sometimes first when introducing new gadgets, it only takes a few months before all of their competitors do the same but far better.

The media is still blindingly enamored of the company, but those of us in the technology see them for what they have become:  empty promises.  Lots of hype but with no real “meat” behind the flashy packaging.  All sizzle, with a bland and tasteless steak as the end result.  The hype machine still can line up lemmings on launch day, but even consumers are becoming more aware of what an empty experience the iPhone and iPad have turned out to be.  Their day in the limelight is over.

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Android (Jelly Bean): Revert Google Hangouts to Google Talk

Given my prior frustrations with the poor interface of Hangouts, I decided to uninstall it on my Nexus 4.  Here is where I stumbled across the way to revert Hangouts back to Talk…and it is working nicely now!

First, go to Settings / Apps, select to view “All” apps, and scroll down to Hangouts and tap it.  You should have an option to uninstall updates for the Hangouts app and revert it to its “factory” status.   Lo and behold, I did that, went back to my home screen, and now Talk has returned!

To say I’m relieved is an understatement.

I will, however, only consider this a temporary fix: I’m certain that Google will find some other way to disable the basic messaging interface so that it no longer works in Talk.  But for now, at least I can take my time trying to find another IM app that is as easy to use, and uncluttered.  (This is why I’ve never liked Yahoo or AIM–they carry too much additional baggage.)

 

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