Changes coming to Parkzer’s Blog

Hi humans.

I decided to throw a quick post up on my blog to let you guys know that I will be working on some pretty large changes to my website within the upcoming months. During this time, I will be making very little to no new content posts.

At the end of this period, I hope for my website to have a completely new design with far greater functionality. I am also attempting to turn my blog into more of my own personal social network feed (this means more posts in general throughout the day, and more different types of content overall).

In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me, I recommend following @Parkzer on Twitter. If there is something urgent or personal, you are welcome to send me an email or use the contact form on my website. If you are one of my close friends, this doesn’t mean I’m disappearing for a few months, it just means I won’t be posting on my blog. I’ll still be around, and nothing will be different about me outside of my website.

If you’re eager to see the changes, I will be publishing them live in segments throughout the next handful of months. Feel free to check back every few weeks or so to see if I’ve made any noticeable progress.

 

Tip of the Day: Pay your bills

Hi humans.

If you’re a frequent visitor to my website, you might have noticed that for the past day, my website was down.

Normally, when something goes wrong, I can usually figure out the problem and fix it within a few hours because I have access to the main server, as my friend owns it. However, this time, when I tried to go to the core of the problem to fix it … well I couldn’t. The core was missing.

I went to my friend’s website, which is hosted on the same server as mine, and his website seemed to have disappeared as well. I scratched my head in confusion, then texted my friend.

A few hours later, I get a text back:

“Omg I forgot to pay the bill.”

Yes, he had received a few notifications letting him know that he was supposed to pay his bill, but ap­parently he somehow still forgot. As a result, the company that maintains his physical server cut off his service, and both our websites, as well as the control panel that manages the server, went down.

So here’s your tip of the day: pay your bills. Or else your friend’s website might randomly die for a day.

 

In case you’re curious: uptime statistics for 2012

Hi humans.

I got an email report a few days ago from a service I use that tracks my website’s uptime.

Uptime, of course, is the time that my website is up – basically, any time that my website is not down due to some sort of server error. A few years ago, web hosting services emphasized how they have 99.9% uptime rates, but nowadays, it’s not that huge of a deal because near-100% uptime is pretty much expected out of all hosts now.

Either way, I thought the stats were interesting, and decided to post mine here for 2012 for those who were curious.

Yearly uptime: 99.92% Downtime: 5 hour(s) 48 min(s)

Month 2012-12 Uptime: 100.00%
Month 2012-11 Uptime: 100.00% Downtime: 46 sec(s)
Month 2012-10 Uptime: 99.66% Downtime: 2 hour(s) 9 min(s)
Month 2012-09 Uptime: 99.98% Downtime: 5 min(s) 35 sec(s)
Month 2012-08 Uptime: 100.00%
Month 2012-07 Uptime: 99.84% Downtime: 1 hour(s) 2 min(s)
Month 2012-06 Uptime: 99.99% Downtime: 5 min(s) 39 sec(s)
Month 2012-05 Uptime: 99.91% Downtime: 33 min(s) 29 sec(s)
Month 2012-04 Uptime: 99.90% Downtime: 37 min(s) 4 sec(s)
Month 2012-03 Uptime: 100.00%
Month 2012-02 Uptime: 100.00%
Month 2012-01 Uptime: 99.81% Downtime: 1 hour(s) 13 min(s)

Seems like October was my worst month.

Two hours and 9 minutes out of 31 days? That’s pretty rough.

 

Comments have returned … for now

Hi humans.

As of a few days ago, the commenting system has returned to my website.

I initially took out my commenting system a few years ago because it was more of a hassle to me to monitor them. My audience has historically not been very conversational or discussion-oriented (either that, or everything I’ve ever written is usually not conducive to provoking discussion), and a majority of my comments have either been spam, or comments letting me know I have a typo or misspelled a word.

However, I’ve decided to bring back commenting for now to test out a new feature provided by Disqus called Discovery. Basically, I rent Disqus some space on my website and it will place some related and promoted links near where the comments are. If someone finds any of these pages as interesting and clicks on the links, I get paid advertising revenue.

I have yet to see the Discovery feature actually working on my website, but I’m assuming that, just like most other advertising campaigns, it needs a bit of time to search for relevant keywords on my page and index my website into a directory where it can form associations with relevant websites.

Also, if I do end up being able to encourage my readers to be more inclined to have discussions, that will overall raise the popularity of my website, so I figured that it could potentially be a win-win sit­uation in the future.

Again, everything is still in testing phase, and I might scrap the idea in the near future, but just men­tioning that it’s available for now.

 

AdSense Account Disabled?!

Hi humans.

I was recently notified by Google that my AdSense account was temporarily disabled for invalid activity on my website.

Hello,

With our advertising programs, we strive to create an online ecosystem that benefits publishers, advertisers and users. For this reason, we sometimes have to take action against accounts that demonstrate behavior toward users or advertisers that may negatively impact how the ecosystem is perceived. In your case, we have detected invalid activity on your site and your account has been disabled.

We’re limited in the amount of information we can provide about your specific violation. We understand this can be frustrating for you, but we’ve taken these precautionary measures because intentional violators can use this information to circumvent our detection systems.

In some cases, publishers can make significant changes to correct the violation and are willing to comply with the AdSense program policies (google.com/adsense/policies). For this reason, we offer an appeals process as an opportunity to work with you to resolve the issue. To help you with the process, we’ve created a list of the top reasons for account closure for you to review before submission at http://support.google.com/adsense/bin/answer.py?answer=2660562. Please be sure to provide a thorough analysis in your appeal, which you can submit at [link removed] and we will follow up accordingly.

Thanks for your understanding,

The Google AdSense Team

I did file an appeal, as suggested in the email, because I obviously have no idea what this invalid activity is, and I have never before artificially created activity on my website that would be considered dishonest through the Google AdSense terms of service. After filing my appeal, I got this automated response:

Hello,

This message confirms that we’ve received your appeal submission.

We’ll get to your appeal as soon as we can, though due to the high volume of emails we receive, it may take us up to a week or more to process it. If you’ve previously submitted an appeal for this account, you might not receive a response to this or future appeals.

Also, please be aware that appealing the disabling of your AdSense account does not guarantee that it will be reinstated.

If you have any questions or concerns about accounts disabled for invalid activity, please visit https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=57153.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

And now I’m waiting for a response back from the Google AdSense team.

I’m sharing this with the readers of my website because this has immediate consequences to my website, and if the appeal is denied, it will have drastic consequences to how I produce content on the Internet overall.

First of all, I have a temporary contract with another advertising company so I can keep serving advertisements while Google is reviewing my appeal, which will supposedly take about a week. Fortunately, the minimum payout for this company is $5 (and not $100 like Google), so if my account were to be reinstated, I could easily cash out from this temporary advertising company and go back to Google AdSense.

If my AdSense account were not to be reinstated, I would take a temporary break from content production as I start making more personal contracts with companies and other people to ensure that I can continue earning as much as I did before, but through different means. I can pretty much guarantee that nothing on my actual website will change, because I am confident that I can strike some deals to continue earning a good amount from my website.

Unfortunately, that is not going to be the case for my videos. As of right now, the only website I know of that provides reliable advertising for videos with good payout is YouTube. Once your AdSense account is disabled, there is no way to make money off your YouTube videos. As a result, my primary motivation for making YouTube videos will essentially be completely eliminated, as I will get absolutely no compensation for the time invested in filming and producing videos. Thus, the amount of videos released on my YouTube channel will shrink to near-zero. This does not mean, however, that I am going to completely stop video production all together – I will still take roles as contributing producers in various other people’s videos like I have been in the past.

So, the result of this temporary account disable are still up in the air. I’ll post another update on my website when I get a response from Google.

 

Update on WordPress Migration

Hi humans.

I realize that it’s been a while since I started the migration of my website, and it’s also been a while since the date I had hoped to finish migrating everything. So, I decided to give a quick up date as to how much progress I’ve made, what I still have left to do, and how long I expect it to take.

As of today, everything on my website is migrated except for all blog posts written in 2011. That wording makes it seem like I’m very close to finishing, seeing as I have content from all the way back from early 2009, but unfortunately, I decided to do a blog-everyday-in-2011 challenge (and succeeded), so I still have 365 more pages to go.

What’s making blog posts more difficult and time-consuming to transfer than other pages is that I have to go through and remove manually-entered navigation code from the bottom of every blog post. What’s even more time-consuming about blog posts in 2011 is that I have to go through the old RSS feed and find out what I titled each blog post, so I can transfer the title as well – there is unfortunately no pre-made connection between the titles and the blog posts, so I have to put those in manually.

I would love to say that this will be done within the next week, but I don’t think that is going to happen, seeing as I’m about to start summer classes soon as well and will have even less time than I did before. Realistically, I could do about one month per day and still not get completely frustrated and exhausted by the transfer process. I will probably forget to, choose not to, or not have time to do a month a day once in a while. Seeing as there are 12 months remaining to transfer, I am going to say that the anticipated date for completion is the end of June.

As for the people who have offered to help me in the transfer process, although I really appreciate your offers, I am going to reject them. I’d rather finish this up myself because, first of all, that’s just the type of person I am, and also, I want to make sure that everything is done exactly how I want it to be done.

I will probably be posting another update when everything is finished, so keep your eyes out in late June for that. Meanwhile, if you think there are other things about my new website design and function that could be improved, feel free to use the contact form to let me know.

 

It’s About That Time Again … Parkzer.com is Being Migrated

Hi humans.

Those who have been keeping up with me and my website since the beginning (which, I’m pretty sure there are very few of you) know that once in a while, I decide to do a massive overhaul of my website. After my huge redesign back in May of 2010, I was pretty satisfied with my what I made, and my website’s physical appearance has changed minimally throughout the past two years. There have been some significant back-end changes, but the front-end essentially looked the same except for the occasional new module and different background.

I felt that now would be a good time to do another huge change to my website for a handful of reasons. The main reason for this timing is that I’m on summer break now from university, and have not yet started my summer transfer courses at college. This gives me a relatively larger amount of free time to get everything done as quickly as possible. On top of that, I’ve been doing a lot of discouraging and frustrating programming work for the Badger Herald, which is my university-related work, and I needed a break from that to program something fun for my own website.

As for the actual motivation for this change, I’ve been wanting to make a change like this to my website for a long time now because the way I had my website set up before before was not very dynamic and efficient, and it was time-consuming to make changes.

So by now you’re probably wondering, what exactly is the change? Previously, my website was made out of pure PHP, HTML, CSS, and Javascript code. If I wanted to edit a page or post a new article or blog entry, I would use a template and code it up, then upload it to my website. Then, I would have to manually update the RSS feed and the XML sitemap. This sounds like a hassle, but I had my coding environment set up so it could be done relatively quickly.

The bad part about this set-up was that it was too localized within articles. If I wanted to make a universal change, it would be nearly impossible, and I would either have to go through each page individually, or at the very least, I would have to go through each section or category individually. Thus, even if I wanted to add new features (such as previous and next buttons), I wouldn’t be able to easily put it into effect for my entire website.

After this update, I’ll be able to do what I couldn’t before relatively easily, because I am now using a pre-made content management system called WordPress. It probably sounds familiar to a lot of you, because WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms. The difference between other WordPress blogs you might see and my installation of WordPress is that it’s hosted on my own server (my friend’s, if you want to get technical, but it’s on my hosting account on his server), and it’s extremely customized.

Before initiating the change, I already finished coding up the design, which is why the finalized aesthetic version of Parkzer.com got released so soon. It’s almost the same as it was before, but with a few differences related to the functioning of WordPress.

Now that the core of the conversion is done, I have to transfer all of the individual pages manually over to WordPress. There are an estimated 800 unique pages that I have to hand-transfer by copying and pasting content and trimming out unnecessary pre- and post-scripts.

Fortunately, after I transfer everything over, all my website’s content will be in a nice, parsed format stored in a database rather than in 800 individual text files, so I will never have to do a mass migration of this scale ever again. Meanwhile, I still have to get through a lot of content. My hopeful completion date is within the next week or so, but at the rate that I’m going, I don’t think that will be a viable deadline. I am literally taking every opportunity I can to transfer pages, so hopefully I will be able to get everything tidied up before the end of the month.

During the migration process, you might notice an abnormally high number of 404 errors, which are page not found errors. That most likely means that I haven’t gotten around to transferring that file yet. The order in which I am transferring files is based off popularity as stated by Google Analytics; my most frequently visited pages will be transferred first, and my least frequently visited pages will be transferred last.

 

Plus One Button

The moment you’ve all been waiting for is here – Google’s +1 button has arrived!

Just kidding, most of you probably had no idea what the +1 button was going to be, and still don’t know what it is. For the less informed, the +1 button is Google’s version of Facebook’s Like button. If you’ve been keeping up with Google lately, you know that they’ve been trying really hard to get into social networking. They tried Google Wave and Google Buzz, but they weren’t very successful. Google Wave was a self-proclaimed failure; Google was planning on getting rid of it completely, but they decided to extend its life to the end of the year. Google Buzz was a bit more successful, but nowhere near as popular as what they had anticipated.

Their next attempt at social networking is the +1 button. Basically, you click the +1 button if you like the page you’re on. You’re probably thinking by now, “What’s the point if you can just use the Facebook Like button?” The reason the +1 button isn’t useless is because the +1 button can affect your search results. For example, if your friend searched for the same keywords that you’re searching for now and (s)he found a page that (s)he likes, (s)he can click the +1 button to advance it higher up on the search results. Basically, you are relying on your friends who may have similar interests as you to find good search results for you, then let you know which ones they like.

I heard about Google’s plans to release the +1 button a while back and signed up for the mailing list. I received an email earlier today letting me know that the +1 button is now available, so I went ahead and implemented it into my website.

For starters, all my blog posts, including all existing ones, have the +1 button on the top right corner of the main content area right next to the Tweet button. I think it’ll be a little unrealistic to go back to all my previously written articles and add in the button, because my articles are published differently than blog posts and need to be updated individually and manually. However, all articles written from now on will include a +1 button.

While I was adding in the +1 button, I also decided to give the Facebook Like button a try as well. If you know me, you probably know that I don’t really like Facebook that much, and that I haven’t been regularly using it for over a year. But, just because I don’t like Facebook obviously doesn’t mean nobody else does. Facebook is undeniably one of the best ways to reach out to a wide audience, so I threw in a Facebook Like button on my website as well for those who wish to share any page on my website with their Facebook friends.

Most of the other updates are efficiency, compatibility, and usability updates.

One thing a lot of people have mentioned to me in a complaint-like manner is the fact that I have a huge legal notice at the bottom of every page of my website. I’ve had that there since I created this site design, but I finally decided to modify the footer so it isn’t excessive. The last two lines involved a disclaimer about changing content and a notice to contact me if there’s any unintended copyright infringement on my website; I thought those were the two least important lines of my five-line notice, so I decided to get rid of them.

You may have noticed that the background no longer dynamically changes. It used to be a lightning bolt that randomly changed color, but now it’s back to my classic neon background (which is the same background I’m using for my Twitter profile). The lightning bolts weren’t very high-quality anyway because I was trying to save bandwidth, so they weren’t really that appealing. I decided to get rid of them because it was just increasing page loading times and wasn’t really that aesthetically pleasing. You can think of the neon corner background as a temporary background – I have an idea for a better background that I found on a different well-designed website.

Similarly, I no longer have dynamic header banners for articles with the same topic. I selected one header that best represents the topic, and made it a static banner. Once again, this will save bandwidth and reduce loading time because once the static banner is downloaded, it’s stored in cache and doesn’t have to be redownloaded each time a reader refreshes the page or goes to a different article of the same topic. This update isn’t completely implemented yet, but I’ll be finishing it up within the next handful of days.

Finally, if you have used my contact form in the past, you may have noticed that it was a little bit difficult to correct your message if you decided to change it around a bit. The reason for that is because my website is built to ward off copyright infringers to begin with. If you have ever tried to highlight any of my text to copy or right-click to view my source code, you will have noticed that both of those features are disabled. Of course, there are other ways to copy my text or view my source code, but that takes a bit more background knowledge and fewer people are able to do so. A side effect of this was that my contact form was difficult to use. I rewrote a small portion of my contact form so you will be able to highlight text within the contact form itself. Not only will this make it easier for you to fix any mistakes in messages, but it also patched up a spam threat that a handful of people already discovered and abused.

 

End-of-2010 Updates

A good question that many people have asked me lately is, “Where have you been since Dec. 13, 2010?”

A good question that you might have just came up with is, “Where did you come up with Dec 13, 2010?”

For the past half year or so, I’ve been getting better at not abandoning my website for an extended period of time, but I did that for a while starting from December 13, which was the last real blog post of 2010. I have a blog post from December 17 too, but it just had a link to a video I made on YouTube and wasn’t exactly a blog. The thing is, the actual video itself was made far before December 17, but was released on that date because it was a video directly related to an event taking place on that date.

I’ve been extremely busy with academics even before December 13, and to get the highest grades possible, I stopped releasing major updates to my website to focus on my course work. My final exams spanned between December 18th and 22nd, and immediately after my last exam, I came back home and was busy with stuff back here. But enough about my life, time to update you on the status of the website, as the “Site News” title suggests I should.

To make up for the major lack of new content in the past half month or so, I’ve been doing more website work than normal in the past few days since I got home. Whenever I have free time (which is quite often, now), I come up with ideas on either how to improve existing pages, or what new content to add.

For example, for improving existing pages, I have been slowly merging and moving content I used to have on my Resources page to my Articles page. A lot of articles in Resources were short and required the viewing of multiple pages to get the whole picture of what I was talking about. To make it more cohesive, I put all the related articles (such as an article about one topic split into multiple articles) into one page, then moved it from Resources to Articles. I’m down to only a handful of pages left in Re­sources, and hope to completely eliminate the Resources section soon. All URLs pointing to Resources will be automatically redirected to the new corresponding page in the Articles section.

The Articles page itself has gotten some new content in addition to moved content. Although it may not be apparent at first, there will be a handful of new articles in various categories added to the Articles page. The reason it may not seem like it has been updated for a while is because I pre-date time-sensitive articles. Some topic ideas that I came up with a long time ago apply to that time period, and the way in which I would have written the article would have most likely changed if I had known the new information that time discovered. If you’re an avid reader of my articles, you shouldn’t have a problem noticing the new ones. If you’re not, then you shouldn’t be too worried about it, because there are a lot of articles that you haven’t already read anyway.

A section of my website that you might have forgotten about is Five Minutes in My Head, the older version of my blog. Nothing has been added to it since I made my final post on June 24, but there are still a few changes that I have made. First, I (once again) restructured the back-end of the PHP file that runs Five Minutes in My Head, hopefully making it more efficient. I am also in the process of changing the URLs of the images embedded in all the posts. To save bandwidth and disk space on my web server, I have already uploaded all the images used in Five Minutes in My Head to my Picasa Web account with Google. All I have to do now is finish updating the URLs.

My blog will hopefully be getting more posts in the near future. (There will be a new post tomorrow for sure.) It’s difficult to find interesting things to blog about, as there’s usually nothing interesting happening at home, but I’ll be on the look-out of funny stories to share. Once I get back to my apartment and resume courses at university, the regularity of my blog posts will likely return. In the worst-case scenario, I can still talk about the boring things I do for those who care, or do reviews of things I read and watch that day like I used to (if I end up having enough time to read books or watch movies).

As for my video blogs (on YouTube), those have been on hold since November. Making videos takes a lot more time than simply writing a blog post. It also requires more effort, as my facial expressions and body language is visible, making it more personal with the audience. It’s also difficult to find good topics to make videos about, as something that could suffice as a quick post on my written blog does not necessarily make a good video. I have a video planned out that I will be releasing on January 12, 2011.

And finally, the banner advertisement that has been at the bottom of all my blog posts as of lately (and is at the bottom of this Site News post as well) expires today. That means that you have an opportunity to get your advertisement on my website. If you’re interested, feel free to contact me, but keep in mind that I’m very selective about who I accept as advertisers and what the advertisements look like, because these advertisements are more integrated with the content instead of offset in a separte area. I also tend to give priority to my friends who wish to advertise with me. Keep in mind that I do contracts by the number of pages, not by impressions, as once your advertisement is on the page, it is there permanently, even if your website gets shut down or becomes dormant.

As always, feel free to use the Contact Form or any other methods of contact found on my profile page to give me any feedback about this page or my website in general.

 

New Contact Form

After having a commenting form on my old WordPress blog, and after getting more spam comments than legitimate comments, I lost faith in the people that wanted to comment on my content, and after tran­sitioning to the new Parkzer.com on May 15, 2010, I removed commenting entirely.

Shortly after, I started getting instant messages and emails from people that said that they wanted to comment on my blog posts and other articles. When I explained to them why commenting was gone in the first place, they suggested that I implement a system that makes it a lot harder for spammers to successfully get through.

On July 5, 2010, I started adding a Discussion section to some of my blog posts, and added that in order to contribute to the discussion, one must email me directly after acquiring my email address from a CAPTCHA. I knew that this would discourage spammers, as most of them would not go this far simply to spam my website. I even added a note that there was no guarantee any submitted comments would be published on their respective blog posts.

The only problem was, not only did this discourage spammers, this also discouraged the people that wanted to leave good discussion-based comments. Finally, earlier today, I decided to give everyone an­other chance and made a comment form that can be used universally on my website. I wrote the sub­mission form myself in PHP, adding particular ways to catch spammers and make sure known spammers can’t use the form.

Like every new thing that I release, this Contact form is currently in public testing mode. I will be scanning through the comments I receive and find out ways spammers and spam bots are getting through, then add ways to block those smarter spammers. One thing that you’ll notice in this contact form that’s different than many other blog commenting forms is the abundance of text fields. Most blog commenting forms only have three fields: name, email address, and comment. Mine has far more: name, email address, subject, and message to be filled out by the user; IP address, date and time, and refer­ring page automatically filled out.

Depending on how this turns out, I’ll most likely post an update to how the commenting form ended up, and how well it’s working. Check back on the news page, and I’ll update the date next to this article if it has been updated at all.

 

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

It’s been four months since I implemented the commenting and contact form system on my website, and I think it’s time for an update on how it’s going.

I’ve managed to make a contact form good enough that I’ve had almost no spammers, even without a CAPTCHA image verification system. I think simply adding a “Subject” field threw off the spamming bots enough for them to not be able to submit my form – not including a subject gives an error on a sub­mission attempt, and the only way to know the form didn’t submit is to read the error message that’s written on the page, which I’m assuming most bots are unable to do.

If you’re interested in knowing why, the Subject field is so important in this case because it makes my custom form deviate from a standard form. Most spamming bots are built to seek out contact or comment pages and inject their preprogrammed and predefined data into the form. A majority of comment pages have a space for name, email, and comment. My form also has a space for name, email, and comment, but also has a required Subject field. Because most comment forms don’t have subject lines, the spam bots are not preprogrammed with data to inject into a subject line when they encounter one. The bot is then unable to continue any further, and gets an error when trying to submit. The error is still a confirmation page – a page confirming failure. The bot doesn’t know the difference between a confirmation of success or a confirmation of failure, and moves on assuming the form submitted properly.

The spam bot programmers that are intelligent enough to have their bots inject random data (such as “zkrfsjxmyzc” and “CefxkBXZEetnrX”) into all fields managed to get through my filtration system a few times until I found out a way to combat that as well. Not long after the release of my form, I added a new field called “Spam Check.” This field is meant to be left blank (as denoted by the words “Leave blank” next to the field). A bot that injects data into all fields just so the form will submit is out of luck now, because putting in any data in the Spam Check field will cause it to reject the form.

Overall, I’m satisfied with how the form and the results turned out. Although I’ve rejected many com­ments from real people because they were stupidly written or trolling, I’ve also accepted many comments that now appear on various areas of my website. I’ve also responded to many one-on-one messages through email that were initiated with the contact form.

Like always, feel free to use the contact form to provide me with any feedback on this article, or about anything in general.

http://parkzer.com/contact