Grace Potter and the Nocturnals tear it up at Tanglewood

There is hope for music after all, and it comes in the form of a hippy chick from Vermont

Rock isn’t dead; in fact it turned up at one of the least likely venues, Tanglewood in Lenox, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Monday night and it came on the bus that brought Grace Potter and the Nocturnals to town.

From the minute they took the stage, the crowd was on their feet, and they remained that way the whole way through the band’s energetic 2 hour plus show.  From the start, with an up beat “Medicine” off the band’s eponymous 2010 album, Grace had a hold on the crowd.

You like the way she makes you feel
She got you spinning on her medicine wheel
She’s crossing me with magnetic sand
She hypnotize with her mojo hand

– Medicine

The early set was  laced with material off the latest album, “The Lion, The Beast and the Beat”, released in late 2012, with “Never Go Back”, “Timekeeper”, “Keepsake” all featured prominently.

From there, Grace launched into a request for “Treat Me Right”  a song off her first album, released in 2005 entitled “Nothing But the Water”.  Here their jam band roots shown, with a well matured, smoky, sultry version of the song, delivered down tempo.  A thoroughly different treatment than the album, or the earlier faster paced, heavier versions of the song.

Continue reading “Grace Potter and the Nocturnals tear it up at Tanglewood”

Is your host up to speed?

Over the past couple months I’ve had a customer with on going issues.  The biggest single issue was the site was slow to respond in the afternoon. The site is built on WordPress, and this was a nationally known WordPress hosting company.

Whenever we asked them about the issue, we got the standard response that it was due to “your code”.  However, they could not point to a simple example.  We’re talking about the site taking 10-15 seconds to respond during peak business hours.  My customer wasn’t sure who to believe.

The symptom was clear: the shared server was likely overloaded.  I looked at the error logs in cPanel and I could see they were hosting a whole lot of domains on the server, and that there were a lot of scripted attacks going on across the spectrum of sites that were hosted there.  The same external script hitting site after site after site…

Honestly I did everything in my power to make the site function fast.   I cached the heck out of it, minified the css and script files, etc. using W3 Total Cache.

The hosting company continued to argue the problem was code alone.  However there was one telling fact: they refused to tell us what the Server Load Average was.  Dead give away right there.  They either weren’t even looking at the server, or they knew they had a problem.

Their entire hosting service got the blues two weeks ago when “something” happened and they were down for the better part of a day.  A major hosting company down for a the better part of a day!  So my customer decided it was time to move.

The new server, another shared box, at 1and1.com (I am not recommending them, but I do use them for many things) immediately proved my case; site response improved to  1.5 seconds per page load.  Not bad, and in that case, I had not even turned on caching!

The short version is this: hosting companies are a dime a dozen.  If you think you’ve got a slow server and the hosting company isn’t doing anything, move.  It may be the only way to prove you’re not the problem.

The NSA plus Big Data equals Big Brother

Brand new NSA data warehouse in Utah – where your data goes to never die.

Preface: I’ve done some small amount of work with big data, and have a general understanding of how it works.  I haven’t really seen a decent breakdown of what is happening, and felt it necessary to share. 

Over the past decade, Business Intelligence has really come into vogue.  Companies all have many large and often unconnected databases, full of information about their customers.  Thus is makes sense that they’d want to find ways to connect this data together, to reach across systems to enable them to literally mine the value of their data, allowing them to better understand not only their customers, but the nature of their businesses.

From Wikipedia:

Business intelligence (BI) is a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes. BI can handle large amounts of information to help identify and develop new opportunities. Making use of new opportunities and implementing an effective strategy can provide a competitive market advantage and long-term stability.

It works.

Here is a great, fairly short IBM animation on Big Data.  While you listen, consider the implications of applying such strategies to ALL data…for political purposes.

So the other day, I was talking with another engineer and system architect and mentioned that the government was storing all the data from the license plate scanners in police cars.  He looked back and me and said “Of course they are…if you designed the system, you’d be storing the data too…” and he was right.  I would.

Okay, so let’s look at the data that our government has admitted they are already grabbing:

  • Metadata from phones- ACLU article
    • exact gps coordinates of where each call was made from
    • to whom it was made
    • by who it was made
    • where the recipient was
    • how long the call was
  • Location data from any time you are scanned by a police cruiser  – ACLU article
  • Credit card transactions – WSJ
  • Internet history – WSJ
  • Internet seaches – WSJ
  • Arrests, Civil Suits, etc.

Okay, that’s a pretty major intrusion on our privacy to begin with.  But we can also safely assume the following is being stored:

  • Location data from traffic cams
  • Tax data (they already have it, so why not pull it into their profile, along with all employment related documents)
  • The actual cell phone call itself (the NSA maintains they don’t listen, but they do save them, so they can listen later if they want) – Daily KOS
  • Immigration records (trips out of the country)
  • Travel records (trips inside the country via airlines)
  • Location data via your EasyPass – the time and date of every trip through the tolls you take.

Now, just for laughs let’s consider a couple other bits of information they very well might consider mining:

  • Supermarket advantage cards – that would tell them what you eat, what brand of deodorant you use, the works.
  • Drug store advantage cards – that give them every type of medication you buy, prescription or over the counter(Of course, they won’t need this for long…).

That, my friends, is a crap ton of data.  None of it comes from a warrant, and that’s all without out even the slightest presumption that you’ve done anything wrong.  I’m no lawyer, but I am certain that violates the constitution in both deed and spirit.  And when Obamacare kicks in, that will most likely give them access to all of our health records, right down to our DNA profile.

So why are they collecting it, you ask?  The reason is this: large scale data analysis relies on having the most possible data points to provide comprehensive profiles.

This is a great way for our government to identify possible miscreants before they’ve offended.  However, its not illegal in the US to fit a profile for a potential offender.

It does help them single out people and groups for much closer scrutiny.  However when you put such power at the fingertips of low level government functionaries, it’s virtually inevitable someone’s going to start targeting people based on criteria other than that which we might expect.  Think of the IRS targeting Tea Party groups, or their 3.5 year audit of former NJ Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.

For my progressive friends, let me put that into context: how would you feel if President Cheney was using the incredible power of the federal government to selectively target Harry Reid, George Soros and MoveOn?

Worse yet, our government isn’t just doing this to our citizens, they are apparently doing the same throughout the rest of the world.

As Americans, we need to stand up and put an end to this.  It is intolerable that our government is running rough shod over privacy, the Constitution and our general sensibilities.  Our forefathers fought against this sort of tyranny, and it begins to look more and more as though we will need to fight that fight as well.

As Edmund Burke said:

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

Other stories to read:

 

Warped Tour 2013

Black Veil Brides tear it up
Black Veil Brides tear it up

Last Sept. I promised a certain 15 year old girl that if she managed all A’s and B’s she could basically name her reward. Warped Tour Tickets were it…so I got to go.

All in all, a pretty enjoyable day of music. Quickie reviews of the bands I saw:

Never Shout Never – these guys are real musicians. I think they might have almost fit in better at a jam band festival, but the crowd really dug them, and so did I. Ukulele music for the win… (btw, these pics aren’t from the show, I wasn’t close enough to get any good shots, save the one in the lede).

Black Veil Brides – one look and you can tell they’re a band out of LA. Probably the best stage presence of any of the bands, everything about these guys was nailed down and under control. Loved it when Andy, the lead singer, nearly went into the crowd after some clown giving him grief.

Bring Me the Horizon – as a band, fairly tight. More hardcore than would normally appeal to me. The lead singer, Oli, is a total douche, however, inciting the crowd to “riot” and then trying to turn the entire crowd into a giant circle pit. Without question he sent people to the hospital with his words.

Sleeping with Sirens – For as bad as I say Ollie from BMTH was, Kellin Quinn was that good. He had the presence to see he had a tight crowd, and did the right thing, imploring the crowd to “help each other” so that no one else would have to go to the hospital. The band ripped through their mainstay numbers, and did not disappoint.  Notably some dude in a wheelchair crowd surfed his way to the stage (yes IN his wheelchair). Musically, Sleeping with Sirens, as the headline act, was crisp and well deserving of that stature, starting with If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn with the classic line:  “They say that love is forever, your forever is all that I need.”

Uncharacteristically for a post-hardcore band, he took the time to slow it down, pulling out Second Two: Roger Rabbit to slow things down a bit mid-set.  This was a real audience favorite as judged by the number of fans singing along.  Then from there they whipped it back up to a frenzy with Tally It Up, Settle the Score.  The finished the set with If You Can’t Hang.

“You’re such a pretty, pretty, pretty face, but you’ve turned into pretty big waste of my time.” – from If You Can’t Hang

While waiting to leave I had a long time to talk with one of the Police Officers that works detail at ComCast Center.  I casually mentioned to him “this must be your favorite day of the year”.  He laughed.

“These kids are great.  Last year, not a single arrest.  This year, one, at the very end of the show, and it was really that the kid didn’t know when to shut his mouth.  Tomorrow night, with 3-11, we’ll have a minimum of 70 arrests. The country music fans are the worst; they drink hard liquor.  These kids don’t drink at all.  Listen out there.  Not even anyone screaming in the parking lot.”

I hadn’t noticed it before, but he was right.  Other than the cars running waiting to leave, it was almost as quiet as it could be…

Defending Against a WordPress Brute Force Attack

Security experts are warning about a large botnet attacking WordPress sites using brute force attempts to break passwords. It is important to note that WordPress is not insecure.  It is, however, a big target with a massive number of sites installed, many of which were installed by morons who use things like “God123” as their password.  Do yourself a favor, protect your WordPress site from brute force attacks – hire a professional to install it or at least to run a security audit on it. If your site is hacked, email me and I can help you get it back. Here is a list of things you can do right now to keep your site safe.

  • Install the plugin to Limit Attempts to Access Admin – this may not stop it cold as some reports have the current attack using over 90k ip addresses.  Still, this is worth while. http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/limit-login-attempts/
  • Change your password (and ALL passwords for your site ) to something that uses at least 8 characters, including numbers, symbols and uppercase.
  • Do not use “Admin” as your user name.  If you do, set up a new administrator account and delete the admin user.
  • You can install a second layer of security by installing an htaccess password.  Instructions here.

If you can’t do this, then please contact me and I can do it for you.

WordPress 3.6 Coming – But I Really Want Workflow

wordpress-logo_318-40291.pngWe’ve got another fairly interesting release from WordPress on the way – 3.6.  From Mark Jaquith’s post on features:

  • Post Formats:  Post Formats now have their own UI, and theme authors have access to templating functions to access the structured data.
  • Twenty Thirteen: We’re shipping this year’s default theme in our first release of the year. Twenty Thirteen is an opinionated, color-rich, blog-centric theme that makes full use of the new Post Formats support.
  • Audio/Video: You can embed audio and video files into your posts without relying on a plugin or a third party media hosting service.
  • Autosave:  Posts are now autosaved locally. If your browser crashes, your computer dies, or the server goes offline as you’re saving, you won’t lose the your post.
  • Post Locking:  See when someone is currently editing a post, and kick them out of it if they fall asleep at the keyboard.
  • Nav Menus:  Nav menus have been simplified with an accordion-based UI, and a separate tab for bulk-assigning menus to locations.
  • Revisions: The all-new revisions UI features avatars, a slider that “scrubs” through history, and two-slider range comparisons.

All good features.  However I would suggest that it’s time for WordPress to address the one major feature of a CMS that they have woefully ignored: Workflow.

At it’s basic level, Workflow is the movement of information or tasks through a work process. In our case, it’s content as it moves through the WordPress system. This might be as simple as the blogger opening the editor, writing his content, adding a couple pictures, and then clicking publish; essentially three workflow steps.  In a larger media organization, that general process becomes much more involved as more people perform separate and distinct tasks.  The workflow might look more like:

  • Editor assigns story and deadline
  • Writer researches story
  • Writer writes story
  • Writer archives story research items (not for publication but as resources that may be used later)
  • Copy editor edits story
  • Photographer takes photos,
  • Photo editor edits photos
  • Editor (or someone) adds photos to story

So our simple task now involves 5 people at least, as well as spanning 8 distinct workflow steps.  Now realize there may be several cases of back and forth, for example., the editor sends the story back to the writer for rewrite, or the photo editor realizes they need another photo, etc.  Similarly, these same people are each involved in multiple workflows at the same time.

How do we keep it all straight?

Basically, we’d need a way to provide a “To Do” list for each of the members of our team.  The items on that list all might have separate deadlines, which would then allow our editor to see the progress of the story, as well as adequately budget time for the various resources.  Obviously your photographer isn’t going to be at two ends of the county at once…thus the editor is able to “budget” his resources.  Now extrapolate that to including not just your human resources, but perhaps your equipment.  Perhaps you’ve got two events your covering and you want to film both with your Red Camera.  Problem is that you’ve only got the one, and the events are both at the same time.

For your human resources, they are able to get notifications when something is ready for them.  In the newspaper world, a copy editor would see the article appear in his “queue” (his task list) and then he’d proceed to edit it.  This article might be assigned specifically to him, or perhaps it might be generically assigned to someone with the role “copy editor”.

Perhaps this system also enables us to get notifications on things.  Such as impending (or worse yet, passed) deadlines.  Or new work that needs to be done.  And maybe that notification is can be made at several levels of urgency.  Level one just sends an email, whereas level 4 alerts you via sms, email, tweet, and probably also warns the editor to something such as a missed deadline.

…And then, magic happens.

So let’s think about those steps in our workflow again.  We’re assuming that all of these steps are human steps.  They probably aren’t.  You might have videos uploaded to the system, and perhaps once they have been edited, you have an automated step that sends then through a program (which isn’t part of WordPress) to convert them to various formats.  Or maybe you have a program that extracts keywords from a post and creates a summary post that gets automatically tweeted out.  Simple stuff…but important.

So that is sort of what I’d like to see.  In it’s core, WordPress works well as a CMS, but the management of people and work is sorely missing. Yes, it is possible to cobble much of this together, but in my mind, there is no reason not to provide it in the system itself.  Many of us would be working much more efficiently and the system would certainly get much more acceptance as a real CMS for Media and Enterprise.

(If you’re interested in how you can setup a system with this level of functionality let me know – I’ve already got some of this working right now)

Migration from Drupal to WordPress

I’ve been working on migrating a fairly large site from Drupal to WordPress (actually WP is just a middle ground, it’s moving from there to another platform) and noticed a lack of decent information about Drupal to WP migration.  Since I had to put some time in cleaning up MySQL scripts, and working through the move, I thought it’d be a good idea to document the information for anyone who needs to make the migration in the future.

First off, the original Drupal site is at version 6.22 and I’m migrating into WP 3.4.2.

Initial steps:

  1. Get MySQL access to the Drupal site, either command line via SSH or PhpMyAdmin.
  2. Grab a full dump of the DB (yes, you may not need the whole thing, but this way you know you’ve got all the info you might need).  The Drupal db backup module in my case was incapable of backing up this db.
  3. Create a new database on the system you will use for migration and call it “drupal” – in my case I am working locally on my Xampp MySQL db.
  4. Import the db dump into your new database from the command line.  Don’t waste your time trying to use PhpMyAdmin if you’ve got a decent size backup (mine was over 3 gigs).  mysql -u username -p drupal < drupal.sql is the syntax (replace username with your mysql username and be prepared to be asked for the db password).  The import may take a few minutes for a large database. (*note: if you are having trouble getting the import to work, you likely have mysql buffer sizes set too low.  I found this to be the case with the XAMPP install of mysql, but I easily fixed it by editing my.ini via the XAMPP control panel.  I think the innodb_buffer_pool_size setting was the one that did it, but most of the buffers were upped substantially.  You can safely up innodb_buffer_pool_size to about 50% of your system memory.
  5. So now you’ve got your own import of the Drupal database.  Go ahead and create your new WP database if you haven’t already and do your WP install.

Now we’re ready to start migrating data.  First off, I import categories, but I need to warn you: WP requires unique category names, and apparently Drupal apparently does not.  You will most likely need to make sure that you don’t have Drupal Term_Data entries with names that are similar, ie, Immigration and immigration.  Change the names to something unique, like changing immigration to immigration issues and it will work.. Thus, you need to make sure that all the Category names are unique.

This script which I have slightly modified from the original from Lincoln Hawks at SocialCmsBuzz.com did the trick.  I have also added user import, which wasn’t in the original.  My WP database name is wptest and the drupal db is named as noted before “drupal”.

TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_comments;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_links;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_postmeta;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_posts;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_term_relationships;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_term_taxonomy;
TRUNCATE TABLE wptest.wp_terms;

INSERT INTO wptest.wp_terms (term_id, `name`, slug, term_group)
SELECT
d.tid, d.name, REPLACE(LOWER(d.name), ‘ ‘, ‘-‘), 0
FROM drupal.term_data d
INNER JOIN drupal.term_hierarchy h
USING(tid)
;

INSERT INTO wptest.wp_term_taxonomy (term_id, taxonomy, description, parent)
SELECT
d.tid `term_id`,
‘category’ `taxonomy`,
d.description `description`,
h.parent `parent`
FROM drupal.term_data d
INNER JOIN drupal.term_hierarchy h
USING(tid)
;

INSERT INTO
wptest.wp_posts (id, post_date, post_content, post_title,
post_excerpt, post_name, post_modified)
SELECT DISTINCT
n.nid, FROM_UNIXTIME(created), body, n.title,
teaser,
REPLACE(REPLACE(REPLACE(REPLACE(LOWER(n.title),’ ‘, ‘-‘),’.’, ‘-‘),’,’, ‘-‘),’+’, ‘-‘),
FROM_UNIXTIME(changed)
FROM drupal.node n, drupal.node_revisions r
WHERE n.vid = r.vid

INSERT INTO wptest.wp_term_relationships (object_id, term_taxonomy_id)
SELECT nid, tid FROM drupal.term_node;
UPDATE wp_term_taxonomy tt
SET `count` = (
SELECT COUNT(tr.object_id)
FROM wp_term_relationships tr
WHERE tr.term_taxonomy_id = tt.term_taxonomy_id
);

INSERT INTO wptest.wp_comments (comment_post_ID, comment_date, comment_content, comment_parent, comment_author, comment_author_email, comment_author_url, comment_approved)

SELECT nid, FROM_UNIXTIME(timestamp), comment, thread, name, mail, homepage, status FROM drupal.comments;

UPDATE `wp_posts` SET `comment_count` = (SELECT COUNT(`comment_post_id`) FROM `wp_comments` WHERE `wp_posts`.`id` = `wp_comments`.`comment_post_id`);

UPDATE wptest.wp_posts SET post_content = REPLACE(post_content, ”, ”);

UPDATE wptest.wp_posts SET post_content = REPLACE(post_content, ‘”/sites/default/files/’, ‘”/wp-content/uploads/’);
INSERT IGNORE INTO wptest.wp_users SELECT NULL AS ID, NAME AS user_login, SUBSTRING(MD5(RAND()) FROM 1 FOR 30) AS user_pass, NAME AS user_nicename, mail AS user_email, ” AS user_url, FROM_UNIXTIME(created) AS user_registered, ” AS user_activation_key, 0 AS user_status, NAME AS display_name FROM drupal.users;

UPDATE wptest.wp_posts JOIN drupal.node ON title = post_title JOIN drupal.users ON drupal.users.uid = drupal.node.uid JOIN wptest.wp_users ON drupal.users.name = wptest.wp_users.user_nicename SET wptest.wp_posts.post_author = wptest.wp_users.ID

 

One note for you: I found the line where we updated our content image links didn’t really take care of what I needed.  My Drupal db was full of absolute links for image sources so I ended up having to change each by doing something like: UPDATE wptest.wp_posts SET post_content = REPLACE(post_content, ‘my.drupal.site/sites/default/files/’, ‘/wp-content/uploads/oldimages’); for each of the image urls.  I then mass imported the images via ftp into my wp-content/uploads/oldimages/ directory.  This meant they weren’t included in the WP media library as I would prefer, but at least the images were there.

Let me know if you’ve got improvements, especially if you write a script to import the images into the media library!

 

Again with the “WordPress Isn’t Secure” Meme

As I was going about my morning reading, I came across an article with this dire headline: “The Perils of Using WordPress as a Hotel Website Content Management System.”  Of course, being a professional who spends much of his time working on WordPress, my interest was piqued.  From the article:

WordPress technology is ill-fitted to power hotel websites’ content management systems and is only adequate as a blogging technology.

Hmmm…that’s a pretty serious allegation.  So I read on.  The crux of his argument was that a WordPress system can be hacked using the technique described in the post contained in this article. So where is the fatal flaw?  Apparently if a user creates an insecure password, the system can be breached by blunt force.

Blunt force.  Right.  So if you were to ignore WordPress’ own warnings that your password was not strong, you might be hackable. This is not a system problem, it is a user problem.  It is in fact a problem inherent in computing in general and in any system which uses passwords.

Read on further and you’ll find the co-writers of this article have designed their own hotel content management system.  I’m going to guess that they don’t use passwords though, since those would be insecure.  But I will venture a guess without looking at their system:  it is neither open source,  nor are there millions of users who are trained and ready to work in the system.

I could continue ripping their post apart, but on further reading, it is an obvious attempt to get some Google juice for their site. They are simply not worth it.  If you have a hotel and want a simple, easy to use, and effective hotel website, drop me a line and I’ll get you set up for a fraction of what they’d charge you.  In the long run, you’ll be better off.

 

Death of Journalism – In the end, it was us all along

In the end, it wasn’t the Internet, or televsion or even bad management that killed journalism; we did it to ourselves.

When I was in college, we held up the Bob Woodwards of the world as our mentors.  The story mattered above all else.  No matter who it was, it was the journalists job to expose corruption.  We were to be that shining light in dark places.

This election cycle has shown us the lie in that.  We’ve got supposed journalists falling all over each other to produce dubious “fact checks” based on a pyramid of half truths and deceptions carefully spoon fed by the campaigns.  The keyword now in politics is “control the narrative” and that means finding ways to get their version of the story out.

To be clear, as a journalist, you cannot spin a story.  Propagandists spin stories, PR flacks spin stories, journalist report.  We are meant to be that sharp probe stuck into sensitive areas.  Not some dull mouthpiece regurgitating the party line.

It’s not that it’s one side or the other that is the problem, it is that it have become utterly apparent to everyone that media has a side.  The right, Fox, and in opposition MSNBC. Too many issues have been left alone.  Far too many.

For example, how is it we have an ambassador killed in Libya, yet none find fault with our government.  To be clear, their “it was the video” mantra was an obvious fabrication. The truth, that it was a coordinated attack by terrorists, and even worse, that we had repeatedly denied requests for more security, and in fact, removed 34 security personnel over the previous 6 months, was concealed and only now comes to light.

Are there still bright points: to be certain.  One has only to look at the work done by Univision on the Fast and Furious scandal.  Another story most media shied away from for over a year. (I link to ABC News – their English language partner)

To be fair, I could just as easily link to instances of press ignoring CIA lies about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction etc.

The death of journalism comes when journalists look the other way.  When journalists give up.  When they become propagandists.

We cannot allow journalism to die.