Category: Site Updates

The more things change, the more they stay the same

I’ve been fine-tuning things on the site for the last couple weeks, particularly security-related stuff as WordPress remains under constant threat of l33t h4x0rs. Here’s a screenshot from a recent report of attempted activity on the site:

Could you not?

I found this to be kind of amusing – Turkey’s at the top of the list, and when this site was hacked back in late 2009-early 2010, the person who defaced it put up some text that was in Turkish. Not saying it’s the same person now, because it probably isn’t; just a funny coincidence.

Another thing the security software is reporting is all the failed login attempts:

Keep guessing, guys

The interesting thing about these logs is that they show what people are trying, and I’m going to hazard a guess that people try these because they’ve worked in the past. So that should be a clear warning not to use usernames like Admin, demo, test, or whatever name your posts publicly show as having been written by. (The attempts using my name are interesting in that they only just started today, even though all the posts on this site since the revival nearly two months ago have been under the same name.)

Of course, having 2FA is more important than obscuring your username; even if the username gets out, without the security token, you aren’t getting in via the front door anyway.

This place isn’t exactly Fort Knox either though; I’m sure WordPress has a vulnerability in some spot or another that someone can take advantage of. In that event, I’ll just have to make sure the database is backed up. It won’t do to have to put this site back together again.

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Putting more pieces back together

All the posts that I think I have are published (either privately or publicly) to the site. So that’s good. I’ve identified a couple things I need to go back and double-check:

First, I left the WordPress installation configured for UTC, which sounded like a good idea when I started. But what ended up happening is that some of the old posts had the exact time included, so I entered those as I was backdating posts. I’m not sure I realized it at first and may have entered the first couple in local time. Then later on, it dawned on me that the original post times would be subject to the clock moving forwards and backwards relative to UTC time. So even if I remembered to translate a post’s time from its original timezone to UTC, I may not have bothered to check whether I needed to spring forward or fall back. So now I’m going to have to review all the posts and tweak some publish times.

Pending availability of such information, one thing I want to do is try to review the original posts (as they were archived) and make sure that I’ve retained as much of the original formatting, images, etc. as I can. As of now, I have over 150 posts published, so I have my work cut out for me. There are at least a few posts where things are missing. I may have those missing things tucked away someplace, but it isn’t a guarantee. The voicemail I got on my 27th birthday was saved; but the pictures from my late 2011 PC build are probably gone. There have been a couple examples where a media link was broken, but I was sure enough that I remembered what the link was (specific Youtube videos, pictures, etc.) that I felt good about linking to new copies.

There may be a need to go back and update links in old posts to get them working again. I’ve wrestled with that a bit to some extent. Leave them exactly as they were, and if they break, they break? Turn the links into pointers to the Internet Archive, even the ones that still work? If I do that, do I just get the latest snapshot of a page and call it good or try to get the most appropriate snapshot for when the post was originally written? I have a feeling the last one is going to be the way I go.

Lastly, I also want to take another crack at pulling up posts that I missed or thought I couldn’t retrieve after some of the dust has settled. I might be able to take some of the posts that were cut off and turn them into a blurb so I can put the headline back in the timeline, which could potentially be better than nothing.

One thing is for sure… the fewer times I have to recheck or reread the post I wrote about Sid’s death, the better off I’ll be. While the recurrence of the number nine throughout the post stands out as an interesting theme, the older of my two cats is herself nine years old this year. Kind of hard to ignore.

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Putting the pieces back together

The notion of kintsugi seems to be fairly well-understood online these days; at least, in the context of the self-affirming “you can do it” attitude of memes/posts meant to keep people going. I’ll not go into much detail on that on this post because that isn’t particularly germane to the topic at hand. I will say that while I am not doing any self-affirmation here in this post, the process for putting this website back together seems basically to net the same result: gather up your pieces and stitch them back together such that the reconstruction becomes part of the story of the vase or the bowl or glass or whatever got broken.

In my case, the cup is this site, and the pieces have been strewn not just across the internet in various different sites, but across some pretty extreme lengths of time as well. So the task at hand is to gather up all the pieces and try to reconstruct one whole website out of all of them, and the monstrosity that comes out the other end will essentially be a catalog of most the writing I’ve ever done.

Most? Why not all?

So far, the oldest piece I’ve found is from August of 1997. I found a few posts in 2000, a few other things on a Tripod site I briefly ran back in 2001; and some more stuff on an Earthlink personal page before I ever registered this domain. There is a noticeable gap in the 2001-2002 timeframe, when I used AT&T WorldNet for dialup service and stored a few things on a personal web page on one of their servers. I know I had at least one long-form essay on that particular site, but either it was never cached, or the address isn’t what I thought it was. Most things from the 1990s are also gone, but if my recollection is right, stuff from that era would serve more as a case study in contemporary (read: awful) website design than anything else.

On the other end of the scale – although I had originally let this domain registration lapse sometime in the 2015-2016 timeframe, I did occasionally still do some writing on other platforms. In one instance, I had a hand-written essay that I’d forced out of my system after a difficult few months. Whether I transcribe that particular piece of business and put it online anytime in the near future remains to be seen.

But at all stops along the way, the Internet Wayback Machine simply didn’t capture every page. As of now, I still have some digging to do, but the best I may be able to come up with is just a headline, or a headline and a couple sentences before the “read more” link.

There are also a few posts which frankly aged so poorly as to fall into the realm of bad taste. Being angry was the schtick then, even before characters like Foamy the Squirrel or the Angry Video Game Nerd really took off, but sometimes jokes don’t land because they aren’t good jokes. I may yet carry those posts over, but will likely keep them as they are and make them private rather than editing out tasteless content just so they can be republished. The end result is the same in that I’m presenting an editorialized history of things, but keeping things intact will serve as a reminder of how out-of-tune my sensibilities could be at times.

That all said, this is a work in progress. By volume of text, I’m about 1/3 of the way done loading all the content in. But as I was collecting all of this stuff, I noticed that in later years (2007-onwards), the posts started growing in size. This coincided with my going back to school and needing to be able to shit out five or six handwritten pages of material in under an hour for classes. I simply had to learn to write more, develop ideas, and have a consistency of purpose throughout a single unit of work, and that carried over into what I posted online. So, I’m actually hoping that I’m most of the way done since I’ll just be pasting in larger and larger blocks of text going foward.

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We’re live, pal

This site is live again after an extended hiatus. I plan to do a full oral history/autobiography of this site sometime soon, but for now, the focus is on getting things moving again and repopulating old posts.

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Development Diaries – Entry 1

A lot has changed in web development in the last twenty years. Prepackaged goodies like jQuery and Bootstrap speed development of the look and feel of your website. The HTML standard has evolved over the years, allowing webpages to serve vastly different kinds of content that years ago would have been impossible without plugins. And then there are content management systems, which do what they say on the tin.

Some things stay the same though, like the need to timestamp your stuff. Every Facebook post, every Tweet, every article on your favorite news site, they all have the date and time on them so you have an idea of how fresh the content is. And so did every one of my web pages back then. The implementation was certainly different – whereas now everything’s a record or a document in a database that has a timestamp associated with it, back then I was working with static HTML files with no content management. So if I wanted to say when a file had been updated, I had to do it manually. That’s assuming I even remembered to do it at all.

Rather than do it the analog way, I looked at alternatives. Javascript was the first attempt:


But this presented a problem – technically, writing the last modified date to the document is itself a modification of the document, so the result is always the date and time that the browser renders the page. Useful, but not informative.

Then I looked at server-side ideas, specifically CGI scripting. It isn’t terribly complex, and writing a program in C to power a website in 2017 would be a pretty hilarious thing to do:

void getFileCreationTime(char *path) {
    struct stat attr;
    stat(path, &attr);
    printf("Last modified time: %s", ctime(&attr.st_mtime));

But it’s overkill, and I also don’t know C well enough to go down that path without spending a bunch of time looking for help online.

So, I found another option that gives me the server-side capability without writing and maintaining code: server side includes!

<!--#echo var="LAST_MODIFIED" -->

It’s a single tag, it does exactly what I want it to… but with one hitch: the date is reported in a time zone local to the server, and I’d reeeeeeally rather it report the time in GMT instead. Just a preference of mine. SSI tags don’t give me that option out of the box, but I can go back to my first attempt: Javascript can read the output from the SSI tag, parse the date, and spit it back out the way I want it to!

function lastUpdate(dateTime)
        var updated = new Date(dateTime);
        return "Last updated: " + updated.toUTCString();

document.write(lastUpdate('<!--#echo var="LAST_MODIFIED" -->'));

The result is what I want, a timestamp that automatically updates itself when I make a change to an HTML file, and reports the time in the time zone I want it reported in. Not bad!

[Historical note 2021-03-31: Publish date approximated]

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