Amazon.com Widgets A Round-the-World Travel Blog: Devil May Care: Technical Issues Archives

Technical Issues Archives

Comment Problems

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I would like to apologize for the problems that we seem to be having with comments at the moment. I've had a few reports that the site is timing out before accepting comments. This may be a problem with my web host, or it may be an issue with how MT rebuilds. The more I fight this system, the more that I wish I'd just installed Wordpress.

DMC_US: We now have a twitter feed

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For those who are fond of Twitter, we now have a feed that will be filled with more irreverent, spur-of-the-moment observations. It's displayed in the lower left-hand column.

From the "I wish someone had told me this before we left" file. While you're on the road, your computer will crash. Someday I'll tell the epic farce that has been my interaction with ASUS tech support, but suffice it to say that I left them with a computer that booted into Windows, and they gave me back one that blue-screens. Reinstalling Windows looks to be the only solution.

I can back up the data, but reinstalling Windows will delete all of our installed programs. We don't have that many that we use regularly, given that most of our computing is in the cloud these days. But it's hard to collaborate with anyone without Microsoft Windows [1], and I keep track of finances on Quicken. [2] I won't be able to get those back. The disks are... well, somewhere in Texas or New York, who can tell?

So here's my advice, if you're taking a long term trip and leaving key software behind: copy the disks (or ISOs) to a USB key, and bring a file with the relevant software keys (those lengthy strings of numbers and letters that you need to install the program). Because over a year, your computer will die, and you'll probably need them.

[1] Yes, there are alternatives like OpenOffice. I have it, and I like it. But many collaborators don't.

[2] Though it strikes me that I could start the new year with Mint and abandon Intuit forever.

A Brief Technical Difficulty

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I would like to apologize to readers who came to this site yesterday and saw a warning from Google stating that the site had been infected with malware. It seems that my webhost was hacked and our files altered. I'm not very happy with their solution to the problem (which has taken days and not really fixed the issue), but I have removed the offensive code by hand. Although I suspect that the warning will remain until Google reevaluates the site, I believe I have made the necessary repairs. If you discover otherwise, please comment or send me an email. And keep your antivirus up to date!

Update: Google's webmaster tools appear to be giving my sites a clean bill of health now, although the malware warnings may persist for a few days.

Update 2: One problem with trying to troubleshoot from this distance is that it's hard to identify problems. I'm getting a lot of 403 errors ("You do not have permission to access this site"), but it's difficult for me to tell whether this is because my host's servers are falling over as they try to remove traces of this hacking attack, because they have reset my file permissions, or because I am on a flaky connection in Jakarta. Is anyone else seeing this?

Another useful travel tool: TripIt

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Starting on Wednesday we're in Hong Kong, a city that both of us have visited and another expensive destination. We're only there for a week, and we intend to spend a lot of time catching up on the blog and other items on the to-do list.

In the meantime, here's an word in favor of a handy travel app useful to anyone who takes a lot of trips: TripIt. The core concept is easy. Every time you book a hotel, flight, or other travel plan, forward the confirmation email to TripIt, and the application automatically compiles it into an itinerary. [1] Your flight times, record locator number, hotel address and phone, and other information are (mostly) automatically at your fingertips. If you don't get an email, you can add information the old-fashioned way: by hand.

While this system isn't foolproof -- we've had a few hotel reservations missing the hotel name -- it takes very little effort to correct any errors, and I've been surprised at how few there are to begin with. All in all, it's the easiest way to get all our plans in one place on the web. Typical of such systems, there are mobile apps that synchronize with your mobile for offline access.

There are many other bells and whistles (e.g., the ability to share trips with friends, keep track of frequent flier miles, and a map showing your travels) but TripIt's ability to keep track of our schedule with a minimum of fuss is what has turned it into an indispensible tool in our kit.

[1] You can even give TripIt access to your Gmail so that it scans for travel plans automatically. That said, I'm not comfortable giving anyone that much access to my email.  

Sufficiently Advanced Technology

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The process by which we generated Pallavi's last post left me briefly awed by the miracles, and apparent absurdity, of modern technology. Not that we did anything particularly special.

While she was drafting, Pallavi decided that it would be nice to post a picture along with her entry. She used my iPhone to snap the photo, and then the only question was how to get it to her computer so that she could add it to her entry.

Now that I give the matter considerably more thought than I did at the time, there were several ways we could have accomplished this: miniSD cards or a shared network, for example. But I chose the easiest and most thoughtless way, which actually involved a number of complex international transactions:

  • I transferred the image to my computer and attached it to an email. Because my SMTP server is based in England, this means that the image was probably uploaded to a machine outside Oxford.
  • It was then sent to Pallavi's Gmail address, to a server that may be located anywhere in the world. I'd guess that it was in the United States.
  • Pallavi then downloaded it from Gmail's far-flung servers to her machine, which I could have reached out and touched without stretching too hard.

In a real sense, the image had traveled much of the way across, if not around, the globe. In a practical sense, I had shifted it across the table.

I've done something like this hundreds of times. It only occurred to me now because I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. These sort-of-sci-fi novels are perfect for a round-the-world trip: first, because their sheer length and complexity demand a significant amount of time to complete them; and second, because their scope spans decades and the entire breadth of the world. [1] Much of the plot revolves around problems in communication, and how events on the other side of the globe will eventually affect the flow of money within Europe when they become known. I realized that one character spends much of the second book, and a decade of his life, to go a distance around the world that is actually somewhat shorter than Pallavi's photograph took this morning.

As I said, I've done something like this a hundred times, and it no longer seems magical. That alone is worth noting.

[1] It should also be noted that while these are historical novels, Stephenson does not always get his history precisely correct. For instance, there is a point where a Japanese character relates the story of how Dutch were allowed to trade in Nagasaki that gets certain historical events a bit out of order. Of course, it could simply be that the character relating these events had his history, handed down to him by his father, somewhat misremembered.

New Zealand isn't much better for internet access than Australia. Most restaurants, cafes and holiday parks offer paid, metered wifi. Those few that offer free wifi with purchase tend to limit bandwidth to very low levels.

Yet even with these access issues, we've been able to post more regularly than in South America, thanks to a few useful offline tools. (Since this is mostly a technical post, however, I'll put the details behind a cut.)

As some of you know, I used to write a law school blog several years ago. It still gets a little bit of traffic and has kept a respectable Google PageRank (the measure that Google uses to assess the importance of a page). Search engine optimization specialists (who try to get their clients' pages towards the top of a search engine's results) like sites like my old one, because they can help move other pages up in the rankings. I frequently receive offers from legal publishers to "exchange links," which I routinely turn down because I don't need a link from a textbook publisher. But last month I got a new and interesting offer: $300 cash on the barrelhead for a link from my old site. I don't know how I feel about the ethics of such a transaction: certainly no one who used to read or link to my site expected that I'd use it for profit in that way.

While Devil May Care has a zero Pagerank, it did get me thinking that I should make a brief note of how we're "monetizing" this site. Of course, we don't come close to making a profit, as it costs more to keep the site running than we've taken in thus far. As with my old blog, the revenue-generating portions of DMC mostly allow me to play around with web technologies that I used before I was a lawyer. But in theory, this is how the site could subsidize the trip:

  • Amazon Associates: If you read Instapundit, you may have wondered why he obsessively links to every Amazon.com sale on cutlery, lawn and garden equipment, or assorted piece of tomfoolery that the nation's premier online merchant decides to hawk. Like DMC, Instapundit is an Amazon affiliate, which means that if you click through one of his Amazon links, he gets a small cut of whatever you buy from Amazon within a set period of time (usually 24 hours).

    Amazon provides an easy source for product links when we want to review equipment or travel guides, and they have a nifty storefront application that was fun to mess about with.

  • Google Ads: I had never used Google Ads prior to DMC. Google provides an interesting suite of tools useful for analyzing site traffic, and the ads play into that. And surprisingly, some of you have clicked through on these ads, putting a total of about $4 worth of cash in our pockets. Thank you, and I hope you found what you were looking for.

That's about it. Hopefully the quasi-mercenary nature of the site doesn't change your opinion of our blog. And if you're in the market for some particularly expensive piece of kit from Amazon and feel like helping us out... well, please click through here before you order!

All the cool kids are Tweeting!

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I can count the number of "tweets" that I've ever sent on one hand and my facebook updates are irregular, at best. That said, I've added some code to Devil May Care for tweeting and "liking" posts.

I'm still testing the code: I'm pretty certain that on the homepage, for instance, I need to pass the URL for the entry to the Twitter button. (To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that the Facebook button works.) If you have any problems, feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to fix it.

UPDATE: I think that I have it fixed, so feel free to try it. Does anyone with better CSS skills than I have know why the Facebook and Tweet buttons won't line up?

Bleg: Indiana Jones-style mapmaker?

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I'd like to add a map to Devil May Care illustrating our travels, something like the interactive map on 13 Months. Unfortunately, I don't know how to program in Flash. Does anyone know of something similar that might be easy to put together?

We already knew that if we were going to charge anything in South America, the Capital One card was the way to go. They have good exchange rates and no foreign transaction fees. (Seriously, if you're doing overseas travel, CO beats AMEX [1], BoA, or Chase hands down.) But credit cards are the least of one's payment problems in Ecuador and Peru. For the most part, establishments are loath to take your plastic, and will frequently charge you a heavy fee for the convenience. While you're down here, cash is king.

Which had been a problem, because we were getting killed by ATM fees: about 10 soles or $3 per ATM transaction. Which puts one in a bind: do you pull out the maximum amount of cash and become an instant mugging target, or do you pile up the fees?

Fortunately, Scotiabank has solved the problem. Its ATMs throughout Peru do not seem to charge ATM fees, nothwithstanding which of our accounts we used for the withdrawal. If you're traveling in this area, it's worth walking over a plaza or two to get to their ATMs. (The GlobalNet ATMs, by the way, are tourist-trap-highway-robbery fee machines.)

Hey, How I Met Your Mother may like to make fun of Canadians, but at least they have civilized cash machines!


[1] Which does, however, have a pretty good platinum concierge service, although it's more likely to get a good result if you ask it a question about stateside services.

A brief note on comments

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I have received a few emails stating that users are having a hard time leaving comments. If you do have a problem, always feel free to send me an email describing the problem and I will try to work it out.

As near as I can tell, readers have been trying to leave a comment by signing up to be a commenter on the blog. However, before anyone who signs up can comment, I need to approve the "pending" user. Unfortunately, I am not online very often, and cannot approve everyone immediately.

The best workaround for this is to try logging in with a different system: either a Livejournal, Google, Facebook, or OpenID account. Any of these should allow you to comment without system approval. However, if you do want a unique "Devil May Care" login, I will do what I can to approve you as soon as possible.

The problem: we have items that friends need to mail to us, but starting next week we will be traveling somewhat randomly around Peru. Our older guidebooks suggested that American Express would hold packages, but apparently Amex stopped doing this due to security concerns sometime after 9/11. So now we're trying to find someone who would hold packages for us if it arrives before or after we're there.

If you have any thoughts, we'd love to hear them.

Comments

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At the moment, I think comments are working: feel free to contact me if this is not so.

By the way, for those of you authenticating using Yahoo! OpenID, your comments currently display your identity as a series of random letters. This can be changed using the settings in your Yahoo account.

A few technical difficulties

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I've been told that we're having a few technical difficulties today with comments and page loading. MT 5.0 is still pretty new to me, so it is taking me some time to iron out the problems in the system. In particular, because MT 5.0 will accept authentication from several different systems, it is difficult to figure out if the issue is with our host or the external process. If you are having difficulty leaving comments (particularly with authentication), please either send me an email or leave a comment below and I will try and work it out. Please include the login method that you tried (OpenID, Facebook, etc.) and the nature of the error.

Update: A few tests have worked. My host seemed to be having some severe service issues earlier today, so that may have been the problem, but again, please contact me if you have further difficulty.

Update II: Is anyone having trouble logging in using Firefox (particularly in Windows)? Chrome on Macintosh is working fine, but sadly I think I need to create a better testbed.

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