Archive for the ‘Housekeeping’ Category

My Bonehead Move

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Quick note to let regular blog readers know that the blog was down for most of Friday Eastern Standard Time due to “user error.” I made a configuration tweak to the database that required a corresponding tweak to the WordPress software — only I stupidly didn’t check the blog site so I didn’t know something more was needed. Once I realized (thanks to Mike Nash for alerting me), it was a 5-minute fix, nothing to worry about.

So, to summarize … Scot stupid, Mike Nash good Samaritan, blog site just fine.

Blog-Site Performance Issues

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Yesterday’s blog-entries-announcement newsletter, which went out late morning EST to both HTML and Text edition subscribers, taught me something important: My current web server arrangement is not going to stand up to the first hour after the newsletter is mailed each month.

Many of you wrote to me to tell me you either got error messages or had to wait minutes for individual blog stories to load in your browsers. Some of you just assumed that this was the normal experience at Scot’s Blog, and that is just not the case. Most of the time it’s pretty snappy.

The problem boils down to this: WordPress (and all other blog packages I’ve inspected) use a database to store the stories in. Many of them, including WordPress, use MySQL. My forums also uses a separate MySQL database. The two databases are on the same server. And the arrival of the blog newsletter quickly maxed out the number of simultaneous connections that my webhost has limited my MySQL service to. So people either got “database connection” errors or just waited and waited for the server’s time to free up. The forums also experienced interruptions and slow page loads.

(more…)

The State of Scot’s Newsletter

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

I’m really tired of the Rolling Stones.

There, I got that off my chest. But it’s not what I wanted to tell you.

Now, about the blog, newsletter, whatever it is — Scot’s Newsletter. Here’s where things stand.

There’s a lot to do on the blog and newsletter sites to stitch them together, make them work in tandem. I want to combine them, not replace the old with the new. I’m feeling my way toward that, gradually. But at some point, major surgery will probably occur. For now, my recent promotion and ongoing physical therapy take priority. But I am planning in my minimal spare time.

Performing surgery on the WordPress code — except where related to design — is proving to be more difficult than I’d hoped. And the mods available for WordPress aren’t all that great. I’ve received lots of excellent suggestions from the newsletter’s readers for making the blog work better. People generally would prefer that the blog entries weren’t separate permalink pages. Many would also like the same kind of navigation the HTML newsletter offered, with a TOC at the top linking down to each item and a “back to top” link at the end of each entry. I’d prefer that too, but it’s not as easy to refit the blog code as you’d think.

Another recurring theme I hear from readers is the desire to make it easy to print “an issue.” The concept of separate monthly issues is blurring, to be honest. Much quicker than I’d expected, I find myself writing individual blog posts on different days. It seems to me that the content is better when I write it this way. But it’s a judgment call as to what items are in a specific issue. The blog software archives by calendar month.

So, anyway, the problem with printing isn’t the printing itself, but the fact that you’re not printing an issue, per se. Also, you need to print the stories pretty soon after you get the text-based blurb-and-link newsletter because as I add new posts, ones from the bottom roll off the main page into the archive.

What I’m currently doing is leaving all the latest entries at their full length, and the ones from the “last issue” will be abbreviated with a “read more” link. I’m also setting the “Recent Posts” column to show only the stories in the current “issue.” I don’t know where this will lead, to be honest. This could be transitional, or it might be my solution. I still have a lot of thinking to do to make the user experience the way I want it.

One thing I want to make very clear: This Is Much Easier for Me! I appreciate the support of so many of you who agreed to something very different even though you might not really have wanted that change. Everything about this is better, easier, faster, and less expensive. It also lets me focus researching and writing content instead of the tedium of production hassles.

The New Newsletter

Those of you getting the notification newsletter are seeing the first rendition of a new template this week. Drop me a note if you have a suggestion. It’s a work in progress.

All newsletter subscribers should be advised that my newsletter distributor, Dundee.net, will shortly be merging the HTML and Text lists into a single list for the notification newsletter. That change saves me money and time, but the main reason to do it is that it will greatly simplify the subscription tools. Subscribing, unsubscribing, and changing your email address all become much more straightforward processes. You’ll still need to receive a confirmation email and click the confirmation link it contains to verify intent to subscribe (also on email-address changes), but most of the problems that people have with the Scot’s Newsletter subscription tools will vaporize when there’s only one list.

What does merging the two lists mean for you? For most people, nothing. Both the process and the result of the merging should be invisible. People who are currently subscribed to both the HTML and Text lists with the same email address should find that they’re subscribed only once. If you’re subscribed to both lists with two different email addresses, you’ll have two subscriptions to the same newsletter after the merging. You can simply unsubscribe one of them.

During the merge period, the subscription center may be down for hours or days.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll keep you posted on changes as I schedule them.

Program Note

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Yes, the newsletter is in the process of being converted into a blog, but no, that’s not the reason I haven’t written my usual plethora of articles on a wide variety of topics and sent a November newsletter.

I recently underwent joint-replacement surgery and was in the hospital for a few days. I’m still in the process of several weeks of recuperation and physical therapy, but I am starting to feel human again.

I’ve got some additional stuff in the works. So please check back.

The Blogs Have It

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Beginning immediately, I will be switching Scot’s Newsletter to primarily a blog with a text-only notification newsletter.

In the text-only, October 2 issue of the newsletter, I described two possible format changes for Scot’s Newsletter:

Option 1. A blog presentation with a text-only, blurb-and-link notification newsletter.

Option 2. An HTML-only newsletter, without a text alternative.

The main reason to change formats is to save production time for yours truly. It takes almost as much time to produce and send the newsletter as it does to write it. (Of course, the majority of the time I put into the newsletter is spent on research.)

Now five days after the newsletter went out, I’ve received over 2,700 votes. With voting beginning to slow down, the votes for the blog outnumber the HTML-only newsletter option 2:1. In other words, I’ve received a little more than twice as many votes for the blog as I have for the HTML newsletter.

There is much to be done on the blog site, in revising the template for the new text newsletter, and on the Scot’s Newsletter website to pull this altogether. It’s not all going to happen overnight.

Several people who voted requested navigation changes to the blog site that I’d already been thinking about. I’m also considering how to work through the archiving system, how to make the site print better (although it does print OK for now). Please be patient while I make modifications, which will come over time — a little bit here and a little bit there.

WordPress geeks and designers: If you’ve got experience, I might need your help!

For those of you who wanted HTML or who preferred the text newsletter, I ask you to give this a good try. And let me know what isn’t working for you. I can’t promise to fix all problems, but I do care and will fix anything I can.

Thanks to all those people who voted, and the many people who expressed their intention to support Scot’s Newsletter no matter what change I went with. That means a lot to me.

Your Input Wanted: Possible Changes to Scot’s Newsletter

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Those of you who have been reading this missive for a long time can probably recall that every two or three years, I try to come up with a new plan that will save me time on producing the newsletter. My life has become more complex over the past three years. I now have three children. I no longer work out of my home. And I have a challenging management job with a lot of responsibility that eats up my time. It’s no longer possible for me to describe my work at Computerworld as just a “day job.”

When I started the newsletter in 2001, it was a weekly. A few years later I had to cut back to every other week. A few years ago, I was forced to cut back to monthly frequency. This year I’ve only been able to publish six issues counting this one.

Other issues make the newsletter business very tough. In my Let’s Fight Sp@m series, 2002-2004, I more than once articulated my concern that spam — and the way ISPs, the government, anti-spam solutions, and corporations are attempting to fight it — will eventually kill the viability of email-based newsletters. I was clearly right about that. On the Internet, email is guilty until proven innocent. And most people don’t care enough to ferret out the truth. Four years ago, many people believed that RSS would replace email newsletters. And in a way, that’s partially true. What has actually replaced newsletters is blogs (most of which have RSS feeds).

So, let’s cut to the chase: I am once again considering relaunching Scot’s Newsletter as a blog, using the Scot’s Newsletter HTML and Text lists as announce-only notification of major blog entries. The last time I suggested something along those lines, I got bags of mail about it that split into two extreme camps. Many of you preferred that kind of approach; but many of you really hated the idea when I asked a similar question about two and a half years ago. I’d like to check the point again, so please send me your vote.

Should Scot’s Newsletter become primarily a blog?

Vote Yes (click to email your vote).

Vote No (click to email your vote).

The subject line of your email will tell me your vote, but inside the message, I have a question for you to answer:

If You Vote Yes: Do you like the idea of being notified via an email when a significant new blog entry or entries have been posted? Or would you prefer to stop receiving email entirely?

If You Vote No: Would you be willing to switch to the HTML format?

(more…)

Scot’s Newsletter’s Unexpected Change of Address

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Doesn’t it figure? I haven’t put out a call for monetary contributions to Scot’s Newsletter in roughly a year. In the last issue, I finally did. And, of course, that request ran into a snag.

There are two ways to send your donations to Scot’s Newsletter. All PayPal contributions reached me fine. But I can’t say the same about checks or cash sent via conventional postal mail. At some point in May or June, the UPS Store terminated my account for failure to pay the next year’s annual fee. I didn’t know about it because the company contacted me by sending the bill to my UPS Store box, not my address on file. Before the UPS Store bought out Mail Boxes Etc., I received notification if I didn’t pick up my bill before the due date. Not only had the UPS Store terminated my box, it had already re-rented it. When I walked in a week or two back to pick up my mail, the clerk handed me some other guy’s package.

In the end, the clerk found a small stack of letters to me in the back room that they gave me, all of which had June or very early July postmarks. If you’ve sent me something recently to the old address, I’m not going to get it.

(more…)

Ten Things Good Newsletter Subscribers Should Not Do

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

It may help you to keep something uppermost in mind while reading this list: There are almost 50,000 subscribers to Scot’s Newsletter:

10. Don’t send an email to 400 people, including me, telling me that you’ve changed your email address. Please use the appropriate Change Your Email Address Wizard.

Never send email to more than 20 people, unless it’s in a corporate setting. I’d prefer not to have my email address among a long list of others.

9. Don’t expect me to click a link and enter stuff to approve the delivery of the newsletter because you’re using a permission-based anti-spam service. If you saw as many of these as I do, you’d know why the whole idea is a bad one. But the real point is: If you use this kind of service, you better whitelist the newsletter yourself because there’s no way I can click all these anti-spam links. Just imagine how many I get every single time I send the newsletter.

8. Don’t send me an email asking for me to unsubscribe you without trying to do so yourself. There are no operators standing by here. The newsletter is free, and I expect you to read the one-paragraph directions and please unsubscribe yourself.

Look, sometimes people have trouble and want help. I’m always willing to help in that case. But most people who send me this request never even look for or try the subscription center. It’s easy to use. Please try it.

(more…)

Call for Contributions

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

It’s been a long time since I put out a call for contributions to the cause here at the newsletter. But it’s time for me to do that again. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to help me keep it going, I could use your help. This is a one-man-band operation. I do the work on weekends and evenings, and I don’t get paid. The research I do often costs money that comes out of my own pocket. The ads help but they don’t pay the full freight.

You have two choices for how to send your contribution:

1. Send your contribution with PayPal. (You can use a credit card through PayPal.)

My PayPal email address is scot@scotsnewsletter.com.

2. Send your contribution by postal mail.

Thanks for your support.

Scot’s Newsletter Back Issues

Sunday, April 1st, 2007

Get access to all the Back Issues of Scot’s Newsletter dating back to April 2001.