Recently in Metablogging Category

Blog, blog, blog, blog, blog

So, what has Michael been up to lately?

A.) Building an 18,000 piece puzzle?
B.) Backsliding 40 pounds, delaying his quest to become an underwear model?
C.) Growing a beard and long hippie-length hair?
D.) Spending hundreds of hours blogging at work?
E.) Racking up credit card debt faster than the national debt’s rate of increase?
F.) Turning procrastination into an art form?

Well, one or more of the above is an exaggeration.

For now, I’ll talk about “D” for a bit. Once upon a time, I reveled that I had job where I could actually blog and get paid for it. Nowadays, I sometimes feel like if I hear the word “blog” one more time, I’ll scream.

Late last fall, I took over administrative responsibility for our university’s Movable Type weblog server. Whew. Running an enterprise-level service is time-consuming beyond my wildest expectations. People at my university are starting to make great use of their weblogs, and I am starting to streamline operations…but it’s a darn good thing I don’t have a sig. o. waiting at home late at night.

The most frustrating part is when I cannot make nagging problems go away. Ever since we rebuilt the server last December, I have been unable to get the ImageMagick Perl module to install. Very, very frustrating. I have spent countless hours compiling, and recompiling, and going over error logs. Bleah.

Sort of related, but not really related, our university is hosting its largest conference ever this weekend. For the past couple of months, I agreed to help our comparative literature department with their website, which happens to be built on WordPress.

I did not do the original site design; however, when I took over the site, I tried to polish the look of the thing the best I could. Would you believe I rebuilt this conference website on top of the K2 template for WordPress? CSS is so powerful. I love that K2’s developers made their template so easily themeable, with full access to the K2 back-end. (I was slightly disappointed, though, that for simplicity-sake, we ended up turning off the AJAX-powered live search feature.) I am currently redoing my alumni class site, using K2.

I really wish an enterprising Movable Type developer could come up with an über-template for that platform, similar in spirit to K2 for WordPress. (Yes, I use and love both MT and WP. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.)

When the conference site was originally created, the conference organizers had little idea of the site’s eventual scope. For example, what once was a single “page” in the blog became 125 separate entries, each with about a page of content that had to be cut from 125 Word docs, pasted as raw text, and reformatted. The site just keeps growing, and growing, and growing. And growing.

I do have to give a shout out to Coffee2Code’s Custom Field plug-in. It proved absolutely indispensable. Custom fields really do make MT and WP powerful little content management systems.

Scrambled foreign characters in MT

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In my last entry, I mentioned a problem that I was having with high-ASCII characters appearing as garbled text after an upgrade to my university’s weblog server environment.

For example, ゴジラ or Cézanne would show up as ゴジラ or Cézanne, respectively.

I spent the first week of my holiday vacation with this problem hanging over my head. In a way, the ability to remotely access one’s work computer from home via VPN can be a bad thing because the temptation to try and resolve such a problem during “off-hours” is too great.

My attempt to completely put the problem out of my mind for at least the 24 hours of Christmas Day failed when the director of my department e-mailed me that very day, asking me for a status update on the problem.

Anyway, the former server admin finally e-mailed me the log-in information to obtain support from Six Apart, the company that makes Movable Type. Six Apart sent me two links that did not help and one wonderful link that finally solved my problem.

The solution was so simple, yet frustratingly difficult to find. It was the upgrade from Apache 1.3x to Apache 2 that did it. There is a bug (“feature”) in Apache 2, where Apache can override the character set encoding, even when it is defined by the charset attribute in an HTML page’s meta tags.

All I had to do to fix the problem was add the line AddDefaultCharset Off to my httpd configuration files and restart Apache.

I present all three links here in the hopes that if someone else runs into a similar problem, they are more likely to stumble across the solution via Google.

These are the links that did not help in my situation:
Accented Characters Display Incorrectly
Characters In My Language Are Encoded Incorrectly

This is the link that saved my butt (or at least my sanity):
Debugging charset encoding mismatch with Apache

83,371 spam comments

So when I took over our university’s Movable Type server two weeks ago, I knew that I would be in for a few surprises. Some of them good—I now know more about using the command line than I ever thought possible, which is odd because I consider myself much more of a visual person than a “code person.”

Case in point, one of the first things that I did when I took over the server was give it a bit of branding, including a spiffy new Princeton shield-inspired logo, which one can see on the new portal for the revamped service.

Some of the surprises were not so good—a public server is not really something that one can neglect for very long; evil, nasty, scum-sucking people will exploit it. After upgrading our primary Movable Type installation, which currently hosts over 200 blogs, I had to clean out a couple thousand spam comments and TrackBacks. I thought that was a large number. Silly, Michael.

Oh, no. It seems there was a legacy Movable Type 2.6 installation on the server with no active spam filters whatsoever. Thirty-one blogs on that installation—over eighty-three thousand spam messages. I would love to just wipe them all out with a click of a single button, but that wouldn’t be right.

Mixed in with the comments about penis enlargements, incest pics, horse ejaculation(?), and texas hold-em sites are some really interesting discussions that arose from a Writing Center class last fall. These students all had to keep a dream journal, and all of the students actively commented on the other students’ posts about their dreams. It was a wonderful idea that produced fascinating results.

So I upgraded the 2.6 installation to MT 3.2 to curb the constant flood of new spam and to give me system-wide control over the comments. With a few key search terms (sex-related, gambling-related, etc.), I started to chip away. After about 7 hours of work, there are now less than 30,000 spam comments left. Die, spammers, die!

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