Saturday, September 12, 2009

New connections = new knowledge

I am very proud of myself: I fixed a very technical problem with this blog last night. How I fixed it was interesting too. I have had this blog for about 8 years. For many of those years, I only posted sporadically. Lately, because I am writing a book I am passionate about, I have posted regularly. In the hope of making more links to this blog, I reached out to an event called Festival of the Trees, which gathers blogs that write about the importance of trees. Only because I did this did I discover a big problem with the blog: my permalinks didn't work. These are links that let others (like Google, like Festival of the Trees) link to individual blog posts, so they are very important in terms of getting your blog indexed and seen by the outside world. And mine were broken for perhaps 8 years. (Click on the time stamp at this bottom of the post: that's a permalink. The blog opens in its own Web page.)

The problem? I publish on my own Web site. My files go on the server space provided by my ISP. They go there as blank documents with no file extension such as .html to tell a Web browser they are Web pages. So most browsers (not Internet Explorer, oddly) thought they were text files and displayed the CSS page for the blog post.

Are you still with me? To fix this, I had to put an .htaccess file on the site. This is a powerful file that manipulates the server (a server I don't own). So it's a little risky to do this. I put the following relatively benign instructions in there:

DefaultLanguage en-US
DefaultType text/html
AddDefaultCharset UTF-8

This tells a browser that, unless the file contains instructions to the contrary, assume that it is an HTML document, in U.S. English, and UTF-8 encoding.

My ISP wouldn't help me with this. Blogger's tech support is nonexistent. Only one person on the support boards at Blogger tried to help, and he couldn't figure it out. I am sure WordPress provides better support, but I don't want to switch at this point if I don't have to.

So I fixed a problem I didn't know I had by tending to my blog and reaching out. And the solution was something I wrote about in a book called Apache Server Little Black Book, published nearly ten years ago. I just didn't have a practical application for it until now. It pays to make connections.


Anonymous Dave said...

Eight years, eh? I was wondering why you didn't seem to be using the new version of Blogger, but I hesitate to suggest it since you aren't on blogspot - who knows what mayhem the upgrade might cause. The main advantage I think would be that you'd then be able to assign topics (like categories in other blogging systems) and could link to those on the sidebar, improving access to the archives for both human visitors and search bots.

I love WordPress, but every hacker in the world is gunning for it right now, so if you ever decide to switch, be prepared to upgrade regularly (which is a one-click thing, pretty painless) and backup the database every night. There is an import tool for Blogger, so you'd be able to bring your content over O.K.

As I said in my email, I'm glad that submitting to the Festival of the Trees prompted this discovery and its fix! Makes me feel useful. And I'm impressed that you found the solution by reading your own words. I always say that I've forgotten more than I've ever known...

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Greg, you might not want to hear this, but your feed doesn't work. I tried to subscribe by clicking on the RSS icon in my bowser window, which offered that standard option of Atom and RSS, but both options brought me nothing but "The requested URL /gregholden/blog/atom.xml was not found on this server."

8:58 AM  
Blogger Greg Holden said...

Well I hate to admit this but I didn't look in my own book. I found the solution online.

I fixed the site feed problem BTW. Woo-hoo!

WordPress sounds great but a lot of work. Blogger is actually sort of lower tech but possibly lower maintenance as well(?). I'm so busy, i'm going to stick with this as well.

9:44 AM  
Anonymous Ann said...

The frustration you feel when you're stuck is rewarded with the thrill of discovery. Of course then there's the next challenge looming on the horizon ...

8:25 PM  

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