Quick Site Update News

 

Folks,

I’m hard at work on the new site/new theme. Instead of launching everything I hope for at once, I’m going to go for a series of stages. This should allow things to settle in before making more significant changes. Stage One will be the new theme. Stage Two, etc. TBD.

New Theme? I Hate Change!

As do we all. I chose a new theme because the current one was no longer suitable for our needs. We are stuck on an older version of it  which has lots of issues, but the current version, once loaded into Balloon Juice (on both the old test server, then a new one), killed the site. I spent hours trying to get the damned thing working, but I decided that it was no longer a good use of my time, so now I’m working towards a better future with a new theme that’s well-supported and well-regarded.

Recent Comments

As many have noticed, the Recent Comments function has been removed. Until we get a better handle on the site’s performance, this was the “low-hanging fruit” that greatly improved performance. I hope to have an updated Widget for that soon, but for now, Recent Comments (and Posts) has been removed.

To explain – there are approx 5 million comments, and that’s a big table; each time the page is refreshed, that widget would query the table. This added too much extra load and our hosts strongly recommended we remove it. This is not how you would design things, but it is how things currently function.

CDN And Caching

The site should be much faster for most users as we’re now using a Content Delivery Network (this copies the site’s resources and puts these copies “nearer” to you on the Internet so that you are not downloading everything from the main server).

This greatly speeds up the site for many users, and as we get more familiar with it, we’ll tweak the settings to achieve optimal results.

Caching is related; it is a series of settings that greatly reduce the amount of files you need to download when you refresh the page. They work together to provide a much faster experience.

Mobile Site

One key change will be the dumping of the current mobile site. The current mobile site is extra work as it is a completely separate thing from the main site. This means many resources are not available on it, and it is much more work to maintain. The vendor for the mobile plugin/theme was recently purchased and their support has been inconsistent since then, sometimes taking 2 weeks between question and answer. And this is for prepaid, premium-level access!

Tablet View Of Mobile Site

In order to reduce the complaints about the iPad/tablet view of the mobile site not working correctly, I’m just going to turn the whole thing off today to see how it goes.  I had planned to await the new theme launch, but I truly feel awful that it’s such a pain for users.

If there’s much angst, then I’ll re-enable it until the new site design is live. Either way, that stripped-down, text-heavy view will soon be a memory.

Morning Slow Down

Another issue that I’m unable to fix right now, but that I hope we can improve, is the morning slowdown/poor responsiveness.  This is unavoidable because the site is backed up once a day, and that takes a lot of resources (disk spinning, memory and CPU occupied, etc.) that would otherwise be used to make the site speedier. It begins in the early morning hours, when there are the least active readers, and runs until completion.

Each day, there are more pictures/graphics, and more content, and that means that there are more files to backup, and that the database that drives the site is bigger.  This means the backup takes more time and CPU attention, every day.

I’ve researched and asked our hosting company if they can do a differential backup, the common solution to this issue, but to no avail – they have a standard backup toolkit and that’s what they use. We shall see what creative means we can employ to improve this, but for now, it’s the way it is.

Video Ads/Memory Issues

Although we’ve removed the insecure video streams from the ads, that doesn’t mean they don’t eat up memory. As soon as I have some time (post redesign!) I will once again see what I can do.

My hope is to have the redesign site/stage one ready next week, and then, once everyone’s rent their garments and pulled out their hair, demanding everything be back the way it was, and I’ve tweaked a few things, I can look anew at the video ads to see what we can do to make them behave better.

So that’s where we’re at. Hopefully I can restart On the Road soon, but no promises – I only have so much time for things Balloon Juice these days!

I will not be around in the comments to this post, but I will review it later. I must go scrounge up some lunch, do a quick koi pond clean, then back to the computer!








Site Issues. Working On It

Sorry for the issues folks.

ETA: I removed Recent Comments again because the server cannot take the extra load it causes. We’ll have something new sometime in the future, but for now, it’s done. I’m sorry, but that’s the reality of the current setup.








Occult Open Thread

Good evening…

I put the remember-me checkbox back on the desktop site*, so now you have to humor me. 😈

*(If you would like to use the remember-me checkbox on your mobile device, you’ll have to scroll all the way down and request the desktop site.)

This caught my eye while browsing the local news: Why Do San Francisco Psychics Need Permits From the Police?

Fortunetelling isn’t just mentioned in the San Francisco police code. It gets its own section — starting with a rundown of all 70 things SFPD counts as fortunetelling.

This includes: clairvoyance, cartomancy, phrenology, tea leaves, tarot cards, coffee grounds, crystal gazing, astrology, palmistry, telepathy, and placing or removing curses.

“Fortunetelling,” the police code reads, “shall also include pretending to perform these actions.”

[…]

The application process for a San Francisco fortunetelling permit involves a background check, fingerprinting and even a public hearing. The fees are just under $350 — more than a permit for a masseuse, but less than one for a tow operator or walking-tour guide.

But why?

Unlike other Bay Area cities that require fortuneteller permits but don’t explain why, like Benicia and Lafayette, San Francisco says these permits are to help fight fraud. The police code says the regulations should “protect the public by preventing people who have been charged with deceptive practices from having easy access to persons who may be vulnerable to fraud or confidence games.”

Fair? Although…

Of course, when it comes to fortunetelling, the very notion of fraud is a subjective one.

Well, as long as it helps.

The S.F. District Attorney’s Office has received zero complaints in the last couple of years. The SFPD wasn’t able to say how many reports it has received about this kind of fraud recently, because fortunetelling fraud is not a unique category of crime it tracks.

Next, a shameless plug! Speaking of urbanite occultists, my new short story is now available for free online if you’d like to read it.

Read more



Site Update

Folks,

I tweaked the caching and things seem to be running better and the site seems zippier and more responsive. This is good.

The bad is the missing checkbox on the comment form. I’ve spent 2 hours working on it, to no avail. It should be working and it isn’t, and we can’t update the %&*(#$%& theme, so it’s strictly DIY.

I don’t remember if M4 is back on the West coast or not, but I’m waiting a few more minutes before texting him for help. I’m sure he’ll look at the documentation and code and find the right thing immediately.

In this case, WordPress updated the privacy checkbox and it should just work…clearly it does not.  Once that’s fixed, I shall return to working on the redesign.








Ch-ch-changes

Folks,

You may have noticed that a lot of ads are gone and, until a few minutes ago, a lot of sidebar content was also missing.

I’ve restored or added much sidebar content back and expect to have some new ad code to throw in. Hopefully things will be back to sort-of-normal. I had to spend a lot of time yesterday that I hadn’t planned for, as well as this morning and it looks like, much of the rest of the day.

That all said, I’m working on a new redesign. It will be a while before it’s ready, and it will change things big and small. Our current situation is like a rickety rowboat taking on water; some changes are needed. This is as much about our inherited quirks as it is about WordPress having evolved, as well as such changes as embedded tweets or memes.

In the 16 years that this blog has been around, much has changed, and the back-end is a complex series of plugins to solve problems that bring their own set of problems. This site does not need to be state-of-the-art, but it’s time to do some major remodeling so the server doesn’t crash, your browsers don’t complain about memory or security, and there are many less downloads from different sites/sources.

I am in conversations with John about some major changes that I believe will improve things for all. It should be simpler to maintain in many respects, and the performance should be improved, even with the enhanced functionality I hope to bring on.

Major Major Major Major is now onboard, so we’ll be able to do some custom work, and he’ll figure out other ways to contribute. Exciting! When it’s in a good enough state, a test panel will be assembled to evaluate the new site, we’ll incorporate their input, and then we’ll launch the redesign. And then tweak it as needed, of course!

I have a lot of work to do to get ready for a demo of my vision to John, so I’m investing my time in that as opposed to solving the current-site issues I’d planned on. As the afternoon/evening continued yesterday, my weeks-to-months plan jumped the queue. In fact, earlier yesterday, I shared my priorities/short-medium term goals with Majorx4 and this change was in the future, not now. Funny how a few hours dealing with issues with the current site/theme/setup will change your plans!

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed new contact options for website or ad issues. It’s now easy to report misbehaving ads to John or other site issues to me.

On that up-note, have a great Monday and Open Thread.








Site Updates: Not So Much Fun

Folks,

Looks like something happened to a bunch of widgets and ads in the sidebar. As in, “poof, they’ve gone into the aether”. Enjoy the mostly-ad-free current state as I’ll be restoring those soon.

iPad users, rejoice: I’m working with the Mobile site vendor to get the @#$*&^$@ issue solved.  Once that’s done, I expect M4 and I will get the pie filter re-enabled.

There are a number of other things going on in the background that will make things better soon. I’ll be updating the core theme version (finally!) and that should improve performance. I’ve got some tweaks to apply to the caching system and then will get the #$($&^ CDN working correctly. That will greatly reduce the download time and server load, making things groovy for all readers. I curse the CDN because both times I enabled it, many users (including myself!) had trouble  getting the site, instead getting bad gateway and/or CloudFlare errors. Since there were other core issues to improve, I put that on the back burner and so later this week, things will improve.  Between now and then it may be a bit bumpy, but we’ll get to a better place, tout de suite.

Open thread and since I’m working on back-end issues, this is not so much a bitch about the site thread. I’ve detailed what I’m working on, and once we get this stuff nailed down and things settle for a week or three, there will be one or two threads seeking suggestions for improvements. A redesign/update is in order.

Don’t forget that you can always use the Contact a Front Pager form to report tech issues to me, or bad-behaving ads to me or John. For such ads, please let us know which advertiser it was as that’s the crucial information needed to suppress them.

I will be updating the WordPress version and a plugin or two in a bit, and I’m downloading some large db files, so the site may slow down a bit over the next couple of hours.

Have a great Sunday, everyone.

 



Let’s Give It Up For Our New Back- and Front-Pager!

Folks,
I have the sincere pleasure of announcing that, starting today, Major Major Major Major is helping with the site on the back- and front-end! Over the past year, he’s been very helpful and has developed some custom programming to enhance our experience here. When I decided to move the On The Road forms to the live site so that we can have a purer test server, I gave him back-end access but that seemed like a tease, so he’s now on the site as well.

Since Major Major Major Major will have access to the site, I asked if he’d be interested in posting. Gracious as always, he confirmed his interest and had a great idea for a regular semi-monthly feature: Book Recommendations, a dedicated space to ask for and give reading recommendations. The idea came from the lively discussions that have happened when he’s asked for recommendations in the past, with several commenters suggesting it as a feature. (If you have ideas for what format this might take, please share them in the comments!)

I’m sure he’ll find other suitable topics to post on, as I’ve encouraged him. I know that, as he pokes around the site and sees what makes it all tick, he’ll have suggestions to simplify, speed up, and improve it. This will be welcome by all, no doubt!

On a related note, in trying to work on some issues the past few weeks, I’ve had to experiment and then restore the server from backup, and this has caused some havoc with folks’ On The Road submissions. It made sense to move that function over so that I can delete and restore the test server as needed, and so for now the On The Road form is offline. I expect there will be some more changes coming soon, and we’ll announce them when appropriate.

 

Please give it up for a great addition to the team. His developer skillset will help make this site much better and will allow us to do some more custom WordPress work than I would dare alone. He’s a great guy, and I know everyone pretty much knows and loves him, so I hope this news falls on kind hearts.