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A Server Crash and Lessons Learned

computer_firstaid

Photo: ranjith krishnan

Surfacing from the catastrophe of last weekend (you can read about it in my previous post Computer Blues) when our web host’s server crashed beyond repair, I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the lessons I learned from the experience.

They may hold a few gems you’ll find superbly useful. Perhaps you’ll simply laugh at my naivété and muddled approach. Or you may even be horrified, to think anybody managing websites could be so unprepared for a crash of such major proportions.

But whether they make you goggle, giggle or groan, I hope you’ll enjoy reading them.

Oh … and if  I’d learned the first lesson properly before this, I probably wouldn’t have learned most (though not all) of the others. I wouldn’t have needed to! ;)

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Computer Blues

Computer screen with out of service noticeTechnology is a wonderful thing. A boon to us all, a time-saver and a wondrous miracle of information, communication and connection…

… when it works! :)

And when it doesn’t? It’s a pain in the proverbial, a huge time-eater and a frustrating, bang-your-head-against-the-wall monster of immense proportions!

That’s exactly what it’s been for me for the last three days.

I’d just completed a gazillion (well it felt like that, at the time) improvements and tweaks to all our sites. And our main BJ Seminars International site had gone through a major overhaul – new focus, new design, new content.  The work on all the sites had been done mainly in an hour or few here and there  – but the whole process had taken a couple of weeks.

I’d finally finished it all off, working late on Saturday night.  I knew that, now it was done, a full backup of all sites was needed. But I was tired. And of course those backups could wait until the morning, couldn’t they?

Boy, was I wrong!

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The Wonders of WordPress & Thesis

There’s been a big gap since my last blog post – I’ve been very busy with the workhorse aspects of WordPress, improving the operation of the platform for no fewer than 6 websites!

wordpress logoAnd no, I’m not in the process of changing careers… :)

But my webmaster role has definitely increased, and WordPress is the platform for all six sites.

My first two WordPress installations earlier this year were for this blog and my partner Chris’s blog, Chris Chats. More recently we added our third blog, BJ Biz Buzz, offering resources and tips for business.

Then Chris decided he’d like to separate his blogging activity into two – with a second blog focusing on his interest in Tai Chi. This is still a work in progress, as he transfers the relevant content across from Chris Chats. But I’ve done the WordPress installation and initial configuration and it’s ready to go.

Headers Four Blogs

As if that wasn’t enough, we decided that our static website (which I’d been managing too) should be brought more in line with our blogs in terms of style. So BJ Seminars International is now also running on WordPress. And if you happen to drop in to that site, you’l understand that transferring it into WordPress was no small task! :)

The sixth site I’m managing, in partnership with another webmaster, is the Positive Change Core (PCC) website. That was already running on WordPress, but has undergone a major overhaul too in the last couple of weeks – a new theme, new plugins and some major reorganisation of the previous content.

Headers BJSI and PCC

So for the last two weeks I’ve been a bit preoccupied to say the least … immersed in the wonders of  WordPress, php, plugins, widgets and other gadgets.

wordpresswondersI say ‘wonders’ of WordPress deliberately because, although it’s involved some major learning curves and taken considerable time in the short term, I can see how using WordPress will ultimately save me time in the long run.

And since we installed the Thesis theme about three weeks ago, I’ve very much appreciated how WordPress and Thesis together will make my webmastering experience so much easier!

I’ve not yet taken advantage of the SEO enhancing capabilities of both – that’s still on my ‘to do’ list. And there are many more bells, whistles, tweaks and other improvements I’m sure I’ll be making to all the sites. But so far? Well, my wee office has echoed several times with exclamations of  ‘Wow’.. “Amazing” .. “Oh, that’s great!” .. “How EASY!”

NOT that everything has been easy of course – well, not until I’ve finally worked out how to do it anyway! :)

But I’m very impressed with the capacity of WordPress and Thesis together (along with various handy plugins) to configure layout, design, content and all the ‘stuff’ that’s required for maintaining a website.

wordpresswonders02So, although this blog has predominantly been about other topics altogether, I’ve decided to add a WordPress category.

I’ll add posts from time to time about my experience with or impression of different aspects of WordPress or its associated plugins in the hope that my journey into this particular territory might be of some use to others as well. Particularly for other non-expert ‘newbies’ such as myself.

The journey hasn’t been all smooth sailing – a few squally winds, a couple of major storms and several potentially hazardous rocks to avoid.

But so far so good!

Stay tuned for more practical posts in which I’ll share some of the boat-building and navigational tips or tricks I’ve picked up along the way.

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Category Feeds with WordPress and Feedburner

(Note: This is now an old post, as you will see from the WordPress version mentioned. I am not sure how well these steps will work with more recent WP upgrades. We also changed to FD Feedburner plugin rather than Feedsmith and no longer use individual category feeds.)

I’ve been working today on re-organising and configuring my partner Chris’s blog, Chris Chats. He needed RSS feeds set up for individual categories – and I learned that this is NOT an easy thing to do if you are using Feedburner, as we are!

I’d set up Feedburner and Feedsmith for both our blogs – which are self-hosted installations of WordPress 2.7. This was a relatively painless process that worked very well for the main blog feed and comment feed.

GRRRR Moments with the ComputerHowever, as we then found, Feedburner & Feedsmith don’t ‘play nice’ in the sandbox with WordPress if you want separate feeds for different blog categories or tags. Every feed must be individually set up in Feedburner – and at first I just couldn’t get this to work at all!

Extensive web searching, lots of WordPress tweaking, much growling and many ‘DUH!’ moments later, I finally worked it all out, and the new system is now operational.

In case the tips and steps I learned along the way are handy for any other newbie bloggers like Chris and myself, who are also using Feedburner, I thought I’d share them here.

  1. Click on “Permalinks” in the WordPress admin area and change this to one of the available settings.  The default WordPress setting doesn’t use permalinks and URLs look like something like this: http://chrischats.com/?p=34  These links won’t work to create feeds in Feedburner – each category requiring its own feeds needs its own permanent URL – ‘permalink’ in WordPress.
  2. Check out Using Permalinks on the WordPress.org website. This was the most useful resource I found to explain how the permalink structure works and how to make relevant changes. I chose the setting /%category%/%postname%/ which was recommended on several sites.
  3. If you already have one permalink setting in WordPress (as I did in my own blog), and wish to change to another without breaking all the links you have so enthusiastically shared elsewhere on the web, the Redirection plugin is a must-have. :)
  4. After establishing a suitable permalink structure for your blog, visit the category page(s) on your blog for which you need to create a feed. Copy the URL and enter it into Feedburner with /feed added to the end. For example, using the above permalink setting, Chris’s category for his Tai Chi Posts became http://chrischats.com/category/taichitips/  which I then entered into Feedburner as http://chrischats.com/category/taichitips/feed
  5. Install this Feedburner Feedsmith plugin, which includes a fix that allows configuration of individual category feeds within WordPress itself. A process that’s easy for non-techies, such as myself – particularly when compared with the various .htaccess or .php modifications I read about elsewhere. :-)
  6. Hung Out To DryGrab the category feed link that you created in Feedburner, return to the  plugin in WordPress, and enter that URL against the relevant blog category.
  7. Finally, you may like to consider either the Category Specific RSS Feed Subscription plugin or the Extended Categories widget. There may be others out there, but I found either of these worked very well to provide the list of category specific rss feeds in the widget sidebar.

Voila! All done, dusted and hung out to dry. And that’s easy for me to say … now! :-)