Hello

It’s been a while. I’ve been living in a hotel since the last post (yes, since the end of April). During that time, I discovered that hotel life renders me apathetic and extremely unmotivated. What little energy I could muster was spent trying to find a new home and trying to be productive at work. As is surely obvious, I was not at all motivated to maintain this blog. This lack of motivation was bolstered by shoddy hotel bandwidth, which rendered any web-based activities quite painful.

That said, it’s now over. We’re now in a new home with a decent broadband connection. While I’ve studiously ignored this blog for months, I have thought about it quite a lot. Do I still enjoy it? Do I want to keep it going? My conclusion: I do want to keep it alive, but I’m going to shift the focus a bit. I’m no longer going to focus my writing on Mac-related tech. The volume of Mac-related content on the web has exploded since I started this project. There’s a glut of Apple-focused review-commentary-ramblings out there. So this blog is going to turn into something a little different. There will still be Apple-related posts, surely. But I’m going to shift to a wider range of topics. It’ll be an experiment, as it’s always been. Expect to see a lot of tech-related posts. But also expect to see other topics that stray into other areas of that interest me. While a general rule of thumb is to keep one’s blog focused on a narrow niche to build readership, I’m choosing to ignore that. We’ll see what happens.

In other news, I’ve just migrated from a self-hosted WordPress site to Squarespace. Why? I’ll save the full details on what I like (and don’t like) about this new service for a later post. The main reason for the switch, though, is that it will allow me to focus more on content. When I started this blog, web development was something I only did through this venue and through some for-hire work. Now, my current job fully scratches this itch. I’m knee-deep in it most of the day. So my Squarespace migration is a move towards letting others worry about the details. This is not to say that the free WordPress.org solution isn’t a great choice. It is. But it takes more time and vigilance than I care to invest at this point.

The site will remain named ‘View from the Dock.’ When I started this blog, I chose this name because of the obvious reference to the Apple Dock. But I also liked the name because it could mean a view from a dock. As in a dock in the water, overlooking a lake. That’s more of where I’m at now.

Site hack recap

So, the site is back to normal. The question is how did this happen? My passwords consist of 12 randomly-generated digits/symbols, I’m using the latest versions of WordPress and various plug ins. It could be that I was just one of the lucky first few to have their WP 2.7 installs compromised. It could also be that the attack came from a hole in one of my plugins.

It appears that only my wp-config.php and index.php files were overwritten. My MySQL database and theme files were unaffected. It wasn’t that hard to recover from this, but it was a bit scary. The majority of my time was spent checking through all of my files to ensure I captured the extent of the damage.

Whatever vulnerability I had, this incident is a good opportunity to take stock of ways to minimize the chance of this happening.

1. Spend some time learning about hardening your WordPress installation. One thing I learned after this incident is that anyone can peek into my plugins folder.

2. Backup. Backup. Backup. Not just your WP files, but also your MySQL database.

3. Keep up to date with the latest plugins and WordPress version.

4. Make sure your file and directory permissions are correct.

5. Choose good, long passwords. Use a manager like 1Password so you don’t have to remember what they are.

6. If you have multiple WordPress installs (or Drupal, Joomla, etc.), ensure those sites are up-to-date as well. For instance, I had two Drupal installs and two other WordPress installs in the same public directory on my host. My Drupal installations were not up to date. This could be a vulnerability.

I’m not going to rehash all of the WordPress security tips and tricks here. It’s exhaustively documented. Start with the WordPress Codex. Learn a bit about the .htaccess file. Learn a bit about file permissions. I’ve linked to some of the more interesting documentation I came across. Hope it helps.

Site will be back to normal soon

Even though this site was running the latest version of WordPress (2.7) and the latest plug in versions, it was taken over sometime overnight and replaced with a site espousing an end to Palestinian violence. Thankfully, I had a good backup.

I’m still in the process of restoring everything, changing and strengthening passwords, etc.

Everything is back to normal, except for my sidebar tabs. They are refusing to be tab-like. I’ll have them working again shortly…and I’ll post about the experience soon.

Catching Up, Lessons Learned

Well, I’m happy to say the move is over. Before I recap some of my technology-oriented ‘lessons learned’ during this period of transition, I’d like to respond to some of the comments received over the past couple of months while I was not monitoring this site:

1. Reader Lek asked how to convert (or move) a site from Rapidweaver to WordPress. The only way I am aware of to do this is to manually transfer posts and comments. There are no automated ways to do it that I know of. If anyone knows of any tricks or tips in this department, please let us know.

I did, however, come across interesting threads related to MarsEdit and RapidWeaver that are worth checking out. Both threads relate to using RW for static content and another system (e.g. WordPress) for a blog on one site.

2. A couple of readers commented on the current bugginess of RapidWeaver, and reader PanicGirl noted the lack of ability to directly edit code in a RW blog. About the bugs: it does has some flaws, but I maintain it’s about the easiest way to get a site up and running for people who don’t want or need absolute control, but want quite a bit of flexiblity. And, no, you can’t edit HTML directly in RW. It It may not be the best tool for those who want total control. For those who do want such control, RW templates are fully editable, but it takes a fair investment of time to learn how to do it.

3. PanicGirl also asked if MarsEdit is the best tool to use with WordPress, and if I’d tried MacJournal. MarsEdit is the best tool that I know of to manage my WP blog. It saves me countless hours. I haven’t used MacJournal for a long while (in the days before it had this feature, back when it was donationware). Sounds like this would make a good future app comparison.

4. Reader Gary commented on my Yojimbo review, noting that worrying about potential database corruption in a SQLite database is different than actually experiencing database corruption. I haven’t come across any users who actually had such corruption. My Yojimbo database has never given me any problems. Point taken.

5. I received several new app suggestions regarding the long-delayed Mac PIM review series (which I started before the move, then was forced to abandon because of the move). I’m still scratching my head a bit over the Info Manager comparison idea. All of the suggested applications are certainly worthy of review, so my challenge now is to regroup and decide how I want to tackle this comparison in the coming months.

To recap, I began a comparison between five info management apps back in May(!), but have only completed a full review of Yojimbo to date. I floundered for a while, too, on just which apps I should choose for this series. I think I may opt for more reviews, but markedly shorter reviews for each app. I’d like to spend more time discussing the range and categorization of info managers to help place them in better context, which will hopefully help to sift through the sea of choices out there for the Mac. The term ‘Personal Info Manager’ really doesn’t cut it, as fellow blogger Alan aptly pointed out in a post on his site. Stay tuned for more on this. This topic has become a minor obsession.

6. Some other readers took the time to post some nice comments on various reviews on the site, to which I say ‘thank you.’ And I thank all readers for their patience during this long offline period. Curiously, my RSS subscriber base actually increased over the past two months, despite the dearth of new material. Go figure.

About the Move

Now for a few words about my move from Hawaii to Maryland. I spent the better portion of the past two months without internet access, and without my desktop Mac. Fortune smiled on me, though: right before I moved from Hawaii, a friend upgraded to the 3G iPhone and graciously gave me his 16GB 1st generation iPhone for a pittance. I’ve always used employer-provided cell phones, so this was the first time I actually had my own mobile device.

I can’t stress how useful the iPhone has been during this period with no home, no easy internet access, and no computer. Here’s what I took away from the experience:

1. My next Mac will be a Macbook Pro. I love my 24-inch iMac, but I’m now ready to sell it. Since the thing I love most about my current desktop is the large display, I will buy an affordable large display and will dock my laptop while working at home. It’s a much more expensive solution, but it’s worth it.

2. The iPhone Google Maps application is incredible. The cell tower triangulation employed by my 2G iPhone worked unexpectedly well. We used Maps more than any other single application during the move to get directions to potential new rental homes, to find nearby stores, and to figure out where we were. Transitioning from Oahu’s few roadways to the serpentine routes of suburban DC has been jarring.

3. I missed the ability to update my podcasts. The iPhone needs the ability to download casts on the fly, without the need to tether up to iTunes. Judging from Apple’s unfriendly and illogical response to the first iPhone app to offer this service, I guess we won’t get this functionality any time soon. That’s a shame. As many have already noted around the Macosphere, Apple’s bizarre and murky iPhone application acceptance/denial policies (coupled with their lack of transparency) threaten to dissuade developers from making great apps. This anticompetitive streak is sad to see. Excellent, inventive third party apps are the soul of the iPhone platform, just as they are the soul of the Mac.

4. Cultured Code’s Things for the iPhone worked well for me, but I wonder why it doesn’t include the ‘Areas’ feature of the desktop app. Nevertheless, I relied on it to manage dozens upon dozens of tasks, and it held up beautifully. I was a bit surprised to see that Things 1.0 (desktop) now isn’t due out until the Fall, but at least we have a very good Beta. Odd, though, that Things for the iPhone rolled out for $9.99 right from the start.

5. Evernote’s iPhone app also served us well. We used this app to store all of our critical data (airplane, hotel, and car reservation confirmations, etc.) for quick and easy access. I have no real complaints about it. It did what I needed it to do. Still, I would love to see Yojimbo compete in this arena. I’m not willing to shell out $30 for the limited functionality of Webjimbo.

6. Agile Web Solution’s 1Password did the job, but I was a bit frustrated by the way it opens up links within the application. I prefer to use mobile Safari. I actually think I liked the first iteration of 1Password (the web-based solution) more than I do the full-scale iPhone app, simply because I often surf to a site in Safari, then realize I need a password. In such a case, it’s inconvenient to have to exit Safari, start up 1Password, then load the page again within 1Password.

7. The AT&T network is surprisingly spotty. In our new home, I can’t get a decent signal … yet my wife can get a great signal on her cheap T-Mobile pay-as-you-go phone. I expected the iPhone to have a better signal in most locations, but that hasn’t been my experience.

8. I downloaded WordPress for the iPhone before I packed up my desktop, but I have yet to use it. The problem is one of ease of use: I just can’t see myself typing a post on that little touchscreen. I’m awaiting a bluetooth-enabled mini keyboard.

9. I’d like to add my voice to the choir regarding the lack of cut and paste on the iPhone. It’s a basic, essential feature and I’m dumbfounded that we still don’t have it at version 2.1.

That’s about it for now. It’s good to be back.

Moving to Maryland. Back next month.

UPDATE: It’s Sept. 3, and the move is almost over. We move into a new home this weekend. Now we just have to wait for our stuff and our car to catch up with us. These items will arrive, with luck, sometime before the end of October. So, it’s taken me a bit longer than anticipated to resume the blog, but I’ll be back with the next update within the week … very soon (I just got internet access about 10 minutes ago, Sept. 15, in our new home). Thanks to all who have posted comments and visited in my absence. After I respond to some of the comments and questions posted over the past few weeks, I will write a bit about my moving experience … especially in terms of how the iPhone worked out, which was my sole computer since mid-August. Can’t wait to get my desktop Mac set up. One thing is clear: it’s time to get a laptop.

I’m temporarily suspending work on this site for about a month. I’ve just accepted an offer for a new job in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so it’s time to leave Hawaii.

Apologies for the lack of updates, but I must place all my energies into leaving one job, starting another, and moving back to the mainland. It’s going to be a crazy month.

If you subscribe to this site, please don’t delete your feed. I’ll be back online shortly with more reviews, tips, and commentary. Mahalo and Aloha.

Site update

I’ve received a couple of reader comments over the past few months asking if I would consider creating a lighter-colored theme. The gist of it is that the dark colors of View from the Dock are fine for short posts, but some people don’t enjoy reading the longer review articles on the dark background (my wife is included in this category).

In response, I created a ‘light’ version of this site. You can choose the light or original flavor from the new ‘Switch Style‘ drop-down list in the left column. It’s persistent, meaning it will remember your choice…provided you have enabled cookies for your web browser.

I also got rid of the registration requirement for commenting and added a ‘CAPTCHA‘ to prevent spam and verify commenters are human. The one I choose is reCAPTCHA. The nifty thing about reCAPTCHA is that one of the two words you are required to type is a scanned word from a book that cannot be read by computerized Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. By entering the word, you are helping to digitize an old book. That is a truly great idea.

So, if you registered for this site — you don’t need to log in anymore to comment. If you’re new to the site, you do not need to register at all to comment.

My final new WordPress site design…really

So, I freshened up the site a bit this weekend. Why? The previous design just felt too heavy, dense and modular for my taste. I think the new design is much lighter and more aesthetically pleasing. I thinned some fonts, balanced out the colors, and added some organic shapes. It’s not perfect, but I think it looks and feels better. I also toned down some of the overt Apple imagery and dropped the Apple Dock metaphor. I created what I feel is a subtler logo, with subtler supporting art. The design still sports an Apple logo, but it’s a warped and blended into the clouds. I like it. I had fun.

I hope to keep this basic design, even if I decide to drop WordPress. And I am planning to drop WordPress. Next week, I’m turning back to a long-neglected topic promised in a previous post: the long-awaited WordPress vs RapidWeaver comparison. They are both wonderful tools. I’ve come to know them both well (in addition to this WordPress site, I’ve developed several RapidWeaver sites for friends and clients).

Still, I’ve concluded to go with neither WordPress or RapidWeaver when I next update this site. I’ve decided to turn to a new CMS on the block called ModX. I see it as a nice hybrid of the two that is full of promise and potential. It offers the flexibility I seek.

That’s not to say that I don’t like WordPress or RapidWeaver. Each has strengths. And each has weaknesses. I’m going to explore my view on both of these tools in the upcoming week. After that, I plan to steer towards a wider discussion about Content Management Systems, leading to my current infatuation with ModX.

Back in November, I said that I’d create a WordPress and RapidWeaver mock up of this site and offer it to anyone who wants it. I still intend to do this. The WordPress version is just about ready. I’m now tweaking it to ensure the CSS and XHTML validates. I also intend to develop a RapidWeaver template, simply because I really like this application and want to create a RW template!

Stay tuned.

Site Registration Fixed

I discovered the solution to the WordPress registration problem. You will now receive an email with your chosen user name and password when you subscribe to this site. The problem is with the last WordPress upgrade (2.3.1). With some hosts (including Bluehost, my host), this upgrade broke the auto-generated email. I don’t know why, but it did.

Here’s the solution if your interested: What you need to do is open up pluggable.php (which is located in the wp-includes folder in your WordPress installation on your host server). Look for line 228 and comment it out (to comment out a line on a PHP file, use //). It will look like this:

// $phpmailer->Sender = apply_filters( 'wp_mail_from', $from_email );"

Then save the file and you’re good to go. The only thing I don’t like about this solution is the email format. Instead of receiving an email from ‘wordpress@viewfromthedock.com,’ you will now receive an email from ‘viewfro3@box361.bluehost.com.’ What an ugly address! I’ll have to see if I can change this to a more user-friendly address.

Subscription woes

It just came to my attention that subscribers to this site are not receiving confirmation emails with their user name and password, which is pretty frustrating. And it may explain why no new comments have appeared for quite some time! I am trying to isolate the problem and apologize to those of you who attempted to register.

a New Year

Wow. Time flies. Thanks to the holiday season and other personal commitments, it’s been a while since the last post. Just a quick message to say ‘View from the Dock’ will be be flowing with new commentary, reviews, and such beginning this week …