What to do when the Internet goes down



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How to make the shift to WordPress



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Last week was the official launch of the new look for The Written Word Communications Company. The new website is based on WordPress and integrates the Written Words blog with the home page of the website and new pages that describe the various services I offer companies—writing, editing, publishing and training—plus samples of the work I have done, including books I have written and books I have edited for other writers.

As I explained last week, I engaged the services of Bard Drozdowich of Sugarbeats Books to help make the transition. Barb steered me safely away from a lot of pitfalls.

WordPress offers a lot of options, tools and flexibility, as well as a wide range of beautiful templates, some free and some at a reasonable cost.

The first thing to realize, though, is that there are actually two WordPresses: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. I had been experimenting with a WordPress.com blog for months, to see whether it would be better than Blogger. I have also owned the Writtenword.ca domain for years. To host a WordPress site on your own domain, you have to use WordPress.org. It requires that you do more of the work and make more of the decisions (or pay someone to do that), but it also offers more flexibility and features.

With WordPress.org, I can edit the underlying code (something I don’t like to do, but is occasionally necessary) and add plug-ins for things like image galleries and “sliders”—those rotating images on the Home page.

Barb guided me to some good choices in templates and other plugins, including JetPack, which speeds up performance and loading and also offers statistics on visits to the site.

Barb set me up with a “practice” blog in WordPress.org, which I then customized and added to. When I was happy with it, it was time to move it to my writtenword.ca domain.

This was where it got tricky.

First, I had to back up my old site, then delete the old pages from the server. Next, we transferred the new WordPress pages and blog to the domain server. It turns out, a number of domain hosts have a one-button solution for this. My domain host is IX Web Hosting, which is reasonably priced and has 24-7 online live help. That was important.

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Barb did the transfer and changed a few things in the underlying code. Meanwhile, I contacted the IX Web Hosting technicians to make some changes to the settings to allow some of my plug-ins to work.

The last thing to do was to transfer my old blog content to the WordPress site. This was tricky.

I actually started out by creating some new posts in WordPress, then copying and pasting individual posts from the Blogger system. But as you can imagine, that is painstakingly slow. And it means that posts that I created two or three years ago, once copied to WordPress, now bear the date they were copied.

WordPress.org has an Import tool. Click on it, and it supposedly transfers posts, categories, images and comments. But every time I tried to import my Blogger content to WordPress, the tool crashed.

It turns out that WordPress.org needs to have the data in its own format in order to take the data from the database that underlies every blog. And Blogger, naturally, does not follow the same database format as WordPress.

Some searching on the Web yielded a solution: first, import the posts from Blogger blog into WordPress.com. Remember that experimental WordPress.com blog I had? It came in very handy. WordPress.com has the same Import tool, and it brought in the posts from Blogger, no problem. More important, it put the data into WordPress format.

From there, I used the export tool to create a database in a spreadsheet format, which I could then import into WordPress.org.

And it worked! It brought over the text and most of the images, and associated them with the dates they had been entered into Blogger.

But somehow, the import tool missed some posts. None of the posts from 2010, 2011 or the first ten months of 2012 made it into the WordPress blog. “Who cares about old blog posts, anyway” you ask? Well, in 2011, I published my Get a GRIP series of writing tips, where I explain my four-step process for writing well and efficiently. They’re still popular, and I want to make them a part of the revamped website. So for those, and a few choice others, I copied and pasted them into new posts on WordPress. That meant they have 2015 publishing dates, but I can live with that.

Overall, it took about a month to get the practice blog, set up the pages I wanted, create the text and find the images, and then do the transfer to my own domain. I’m happy with the look and the functionality.

Now, I have one less excuse for not finishing my next novel.

Do you like the new look? 



Wordpress logoHave you noticed the new functionality?

Written Words has moved from the worthy Blogger platform to WordPress. Along with that, as you can see, it sports a new, cleaner look and new functionality. I like the white space, the categories for blog posts and the ability to search through the blog. I hope you do, too.

Why make the change?

The most important difference now is, the Written Words blog is an integral part of my revamped Written Word Communications Company website, writtenword.ca. Since I started the blog years ago—in 2006!—I have wanted to integrate into the website. But mostly because i wasn’t willing to invest the time into figuring out how, I never did—until now.

A couple of months ago, I began an effort to update the writtenword.ca website. I quickly found that cheap or free web layout programs usually are not that easy to use, and worse, are not reliable. Freeway Express, for example, is free, but it inexplicably changed the names of all my image files. If all I wanted to do were to create a nice website that sat on my desktop computer, it was great. But when it came to uploading it to my domain host, well … I’ll tell you about that in a future post, where I review the software in detail.

Finally, I took the excellent advice offered by many colleagues, some of whom I hope are reading this post now. I decided to move to WordPress. Instead of trying Mailchimp logoto link the blog to an existing website, with WordPress, you create a website with the blogging interface. Then, you upload files to the domain host that essentially link the browser back to the wordpress.org platform. WordPress takes care of most of the grunt work of keeping track of file directories, and there’s no need to use an FTP uploader. I don’t have to wonder whether Host Name is the same as Server Name. And I don’t have to learn how to write Cascading Style Sheets, either.

WordPress also has a lot of other great features, like comment spam filters, galleries, sliders and carousels for images. MailChimp is integrated into the system, too—not that I’ve used it, but others tell me it’s quite powerful.

But the most immediate appeal was the range of layout templates WordPress offers.

How I did it

I knew that if I were to try to make this change completely on my own, I’d spend weeks chasing down blind alleys and making all sorts of newbie The Book Blogger Platform by Barb Drozdowich cover errors, so I turned to blog expert extraordinaire, and author, Barb Drozdowich of Sugarbeats Books. She’s also the author of The Book Blogger Platform and several other guidebooks for authors, and a founding member of BestSelling Reads. In the next post, I’ll explain all the details on how I made the transfer, along with some key pointers for anyone else who wants to try a self-hosted WordPress site themselves.

But for now, I want to encourage you to explore the site. Click on the house icon at top left for the Home page, and explore the four different service pages: Creating, Polishing, Publishing and Training. Check out the work that I’ve done: Books written, Books edited and Articles written. Explore the blog categories and leave comments.

Don’t ignore those social media sharing buttons. Please, if you like the look, Like it on Facebook, Plus One it on Google+, Pin it on Pinterest and all that other stuff.

Or just go to the Contact page and let me know what you think by email or any other medium.

Thanks for sharing!

 

Do on-screen keyboards change the way we write?



Image via Flickr Creative Commons
(Caleb Roenigk) 
Image via Wikimedia under by Creative Commons
by  Matt Buchanan.
 Originally posted to Flickr
 
On the bus last week, I was standing behind someone typing on a tablet. She was using the on-screen touchpad keyboard. Not that I was spying or anything (honest!), I watched how she typed an accented é: she touched the e “key” for an slightly extended time—less than a second—until a menu of accented characters appeared on the screen above the keypad, then slid her finger to her choice.
Seeing it in action started me thinking: is on-screen typing, as done on touch-screen computers, changing the way we write?
 
We all learn to write, or print, with a stylus directly marking a surface: pencil on paper, crayon on colouring book, brush on parchment. 
 
Since the invention of the typewriter in the 1860s, the technology of writing has been a kind of remote control, separating the action of our fingers from the results. Press a key on a typewriter, and the attached type bar strikes the ribbon and impresses it onto the paper. 
Since then, typing technological development has progressively increased the distance between actions and results. To create this post, I am tapping my fingers on a wireless keyboard. I can’t imagine how many digital transformations occur to make the characters I am typing appear on the screen in front of my eyes. It’s only after I hit the Print button that the printer, two metres from the keyboard, puts marks on paper.
 
But I won’t print this particular essay. I’ll edit and proofread it on-screen, and then post it on this blog, hosted on a server hundreds or thousands of kilometres from this screen and keyboard. Or maybe it’s next door—I have no way of knowing. 
 
Image via Flickr Creative Commons
(Stan Wiechers)
Closing the gap between action and consequence
Typing on a touch screen brings actions closer to results. There is still a separation, of course, as the keypad is at the bottom of the screen and the words may be at the top, but still, it’s closer than the typewriter allowed.
 
Standing on the bus in rush hour, I was fascinated by the woman typing on the touch-screen. I wondered: is her writing experience different?
 
Personally, I don’t like typing on a touch screen. There is no physical or kinetic feedback from a touch screen, unlike with a keyboard, where I can feel the key depress and spring back. 
 
Also, using the touch pad on my iPad shrinks the display of the writing I’m doing. I like to be able to see the words I’ve written. So I have a Bluetooth keyboard to write with my iPad, re-establishing that remote action of the old-fashioned typewriter.
 
An area to research
Does bringing the result, the mark on the writing surface, closer to the motion of our fingers make typing on a touch screen closer to writing with a pencil on paper?
 
And if it does, will that have an effect on the way that we write? Will it affect the words we choose, the way we construct phrases and sentences?
 
Will we be able to tell a book written on a touch-screen from a book created with a typewriter?
 
I can imagine someone getting a doctoral degree on this by analyzing documents written with a stylus on paper with those created on a computer using a standard word processor, and others written using a touch screen. And I’d be fascinated to see the results.
 
What do you think? If you use a touch screen for anything, do you find the writing experience different? Do you like typing on a touch screen?
 
Do you think that the touch screen changes the way you write?

Technology weirdness: a warning and a tip



 
Written Words has whined about technological bugs before, but here’s a warning: don’t always believe the network when it tells you it does not recognize your password.

I have gone through this problem periodically: I come down to the computer in the morning, try to check my email, and get a message that either the password is incorrect or that the server does not recognize my outgoing (smtp) password.

This always mystifies me, because the email had been working perfectly the night before. When this has happened in the past, I have logged into the self-service site of the affected ISP and updated my password. Then I have to go to all my devices that can access email and change them, too. Then I have to update my secure, written list of all my passwords, because there are only so many words that combine letters, numbers and special characters, and don’t reference names of family, friends, pets or places I’ve lived, and are easy to remember.

It’s a process bound to create confusion. When the problem occurs again, and I have to enter the old passwords and then a new password.

And it begs the question: why did the server no longer recognize the password? I did not change it. It worked the night before, but stopped the next morning.

The latest time this happened, I tried re-entering the password, which did not solve the problem. I logged into the webmail program, and that worked fine. So I called my service provider. After waiting on hold, listening to lame music and enduring the repeated “We apologize for any inconvenience” recording, I explained the situation to the technician.

I looked at the email client, and an email had come in while I was on hold. But clicking Get Mail still gave me the error message that the server did not recognize my password.

“I don’t see any problem on my end,” the technician said. “Let me check something else.” She put me on hold for another five minutes. When she came back, she suggested I try sending a test email. “But don’t put ‘test’ into the message or subject line. We sometimes get problems with that.”

I did. And guess what? The message went through.

I did not change any settings. I did not reset the passwords.

“We are migrating our servers. Perhaps that caused a glitch,” the technician suggested.

Then, as if by magic, the email clients on all my devices connected with the email server, and messages started coming in.

Tip

So here’s my tip: when you get an error message that your email account information is wrong, and you know you didn’t change anything, don’t go through the process of changing all your email passwords on all your devices and remote connections. Call your ISP and just wait for a while. See if an hour’s wait doesn’t solve the problem. Changing all your passwords should be a last resort.
What about you techies? Do you have an explanation for this, or alternative solutions?

Communicator’s Toolbox review: Belkin’s Ultimate Keyboard and Case for iPad



The Communicator’s Toolbox


One of the original goals of this blog was to review technology developed for professional communicators. While I have reviewed digital cameras, laser and inkjet printers, software and even the iPad 2, it’s been a long time since I’ve focused on the writer’s tools.

I’ve been using the Belkin cover/keyboard combination for about a month, now, since the company sent me a demo at my request for a review model. Overall, I have to say I’m thrilled with it.

I got my iPad2 about two years ago, just before a trip to Austria and Switzerland. With it, I bought a Kensington KeyFolio case with an integrated Bluetooth keyboard for two reasons: first, I wanted a sturdy protective carrying case for the iPad; and second, I wanted a real keyboard, as opposed to a virtual one.


Compared to Kensington case

The Kensington KeyFolio fulfilled its purposes well. Its tough synthetic leather construction has protected the iPad well. However, Kensington made some compromises with the keyboard to get it to fit in a space the same width as the iPad itself. There is only one Shift key, for example, and the apostrophe/foot mark key is one row lower than on the standard QWERTY keyboard.

Those don’t seem like huge issues, but it took me a while to get used to it. Only after I started using that keyboard did I realize that I use both Shift keys, depending on which letter I’m trying to capitalize. Also, getting a semi-colon every time I expected an apostrophe was annoying.

The other drawback to the KeyFolio was its size. The synthetic leather is pretty thick. I thought at first that would be a better protector for the fragile-looking iPad. But the KeyFolio makes the iPad a bulky device, hard to put into an already overstuffed briefcase.

It’s also heavier. At 567 grams (1.25 pounds), the KeyFolio is almost as heavy as the iPad2’s 601 grams (1.33 pounds). Suddenly, I was toting over a kilogram of tablet computer — heavier than a MacBook Air laptop computer.


The new protector

I heard about the Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad through a press release in my Mailbox (I get a LOT of press releases). When the item itself arrived, I was instantly delighted. Belkin designed the case to preserve the iPad’s thin profile and form factor — two of its main selling points.
The base is made of aluminum alloy, and it’s so thin, it’s almost not there. Belkin says the keyboard is only 6.4 mm thick. The top is a textured rubber-like substance that provides adequate protection, at least in my experience so far. It has holes for the iPad’s switches, camera, and earbud and power ports.


One of my greatest fears since getting
my iPad2.
Image source: laptoprepairleyland.co.uk 


Open it up and that same rubbery material is the hinge that attaches the two halves of the case: the rubber-backed shell that holds the iPad itself, and the aluminum-backed keyboard half. This is the only part that worries me — the rubber is very flexible and I always imagine it tearing.

But this flexibility is one of the great features of the case. On the keyboard side, above the keyboard itself, are three magnetic strips that hold the iPad up at your choice of three angles.
Belkin also uses the magnetism to power off and on the iPad when you close the case, just like with Apple’s own tri-fold iPad cover.


A fully functional keyboard

The keyboard is smaller than the standard for a desktop computer, of course, to match the width of the iPad itself (or height, depending on how you hold it: 24.1 cm or 9.5 inches), but the layout is the QWERTY standard. It has two Shift keys, as well as Command, Option/Alt, and Fn keys. Overall, the typing experience on it is not much different from typing on a desktop computer’s keyboard, except that the keys are a little closer together. The keys click satisfyingly when you depress them — unlike the standard Apple keyboard.


Drawbacks

The aluminum back is prone to scratching, like all aluminum. After a month, there are several noticeable scratches and scuff marks on mine, and I don’t consider myself a rough user. The hardest surfaces my iPad has touched are desks and tables, and the inside of my briefcase or pannier saddlebags.
Getting my iPad into the case was tricky, and getting it out again almost as hard. However, I can’t imagine when that would be necessary.


Bottom line

Belkin’s Ultimate Keyboard Case for the iPad is a great accessory for the professional communicator who wants to use the iPad — or for anyone who uses the iPad, travels or commutes with it, prefers a physical keyboard and is as worried about dropping or damaging the iPad itself. It’s very lightweight, almost unnoticeable in my hands. It doesn’t interfere with the operation of the iPad at all. In fact, I typed this review on my Belkin Keyboard Case. Plus, it provides peace of mind about damaging the tablet.
While it is prone to scuffs, it has protected my iPad. For a hundred bucks, no iPad owner should be without one.

Find out more on Belkin’s site: www.belkin.com/us/p/P-F5L149

Word of the week: “overshare”



Photo by Brookage (Creative Commons)




What are we sharing online? Too much.


“Oversharing” used to refer to celebrities posting on their social media way too much detail about their personal relationships, their dates with other celebrities or newest bulimia techniques. Or about ordinary people blogging stuff that’s just too personal.

But something else is happening: in the last week, I’ve received a number of news releases, announcements and reports that use this word to refer to inadvertently sharing data like love poems to your significant other (real or hoped-for), bank records and even passwords for credit card accounts.

We need to juxtapose that with a new word I just invented: “underprotect.”




Why do we do this?



It’s no surprise that
celebrities are the worst
oversharers – that’s why they’re
celebrities!

With computers and access to the Internet everywhere, all the time, we in the Western world are sharing a lot of information. It’s like we just can’t resist posting our pictures on Facebook and Google+, on flickr and Twitter.

And nearly a quarter of Canadians (and presumably a similar proportion of Americans, too) sent romantic, intimate or sexy photos to their partners for Valentine’s Day, according to the Love, Relationships and Technology report released by McAfee Canada, the company that sells computer security and antivirus software. “Over-sharing has led to privacy leaks and having private/intimate photos become exposed online,” the company’s release states.

Visa, the credit card company, announced yesterday that “a significant number of young Canadians who regularly post personal information on social network sites are putting themselves at unnecessary risk by mirroring similar oversharing behavior offline with their payment card information.”

That’s right: while we (okay, I’m not a “young Canadian” anymore) use the same devices to take and share pictures, compose love messages and send them to our partners, real or hoped-for, and pay bills, check bank accounts and make impulse purchases, most people don’t even bother taking the simplest security measures.

According to McAfee, while 60 percent of Canadians use smartphones to store personal or intimate photos, text or emails — and passwords to their accounts — 41 percent do not even protect the device itself with a password to turn it on.

“As long as I don’t lose my phone/tablet/computer, I don’t have to worry about that,” you might say.

But here’s where the next human characteristic that has to do with information comes into play: we can’t help snooping.

McAfee’s study found that 97 percent of respondents believe their data and revealing photos are safe with their romantic or life partners. However, 45 percent of the people McAfee surveyed admitted to checking out their partners’ emails, bank accounts and social media pages, and 57 percent looked at their bank accounts.

Over 40 percent track their ex-partners on Facebook and Twitter — more than do their current partners.

You can guess what comes next: ten percent of respondents have had their private information leaked without their consent. This includes not just the amateur porn (sorry, “intimate photos”), but things like bank account numbers, email accounts and passwords.


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It seems that when you lie to, cheat on and/or break up with a romantic partner, a common response is to publish your sensitive information.

“It can lead to embarrassment, and we have heard of cases where this kind of information enters into divorce proceedings,” says Doug Cook, Director of Sales Engineering with McAfee Canada.

“While they’re in a relationship, people tend to think everything will be wonderful forever. But when relationships end, things can sometimes get very ugly and people can take advantage of their ex-partner’s personal information.”

Cook advises against sharing passwords with anyone, including family members. It may seem harmless, but it exposes you to risk.


Photo-sharing services

Even sharing photos on services like flickr, Picassa and Apple’s Photostream can expose you to danger. “There could be information in a picture that people can use to see, where you live — for example, in a university residence,” says Cook.

Information on the professional social media site LinkedIn can help a fraudster put together enough information about you to send malware or spyware, which could lead to hacking or even penetrating a bank account.

“Sites like iCloud and Picassa a relatively secure, in that you can set various levels of permissions for people to see your photos,” Cook explains. “flickr encourages sharing of photos; by default, it’s open. So you need to be aware of what you’re sharing with family, friends and the world.”

Cook’s top three tips to protect yourself from cyber-stalking:

1. Educate yourself about digital security beyond setting passwords. Make sure you understand what access you are granting to your information, whether it’s data or photos.

2. Practise safe computing: use strong passwords (at least eight characters long, mixing upper- and lower-case letters, numerals and other types of characters) and change them regularly.

3. Invest $30 to $50 in capable digital protection software: firewalls and antivirus protection, and keep it up to date.

“Data that’s on the Internet never goes away,” says Cook. “Once your personal photos or information is out there, it’s there forever. People need to understand what they’re doing before they share information.”

In short, if you must overshare, make sure you don’t underprotect.