Must-have WordPress plugins

For all the WordPress sites I maintain, I always install the following plugins:

  • BackWPup: To make full backups of my WordPress sites, and upload them to my Dropbox account. It supports a lot of other backup destinations as well. The free version is excellent, but if you like it, buy the pro version.
    My typical settings are:
    General: Archive Format: zip
    Schedule: Start job with: WordPress Cron
    Schedule: Scheduler: Type: Weekly (at eg. 02:35 in the morning – never set it to the top of the hour, because other people probably backup at that time)
    To Dropbox: File deletion: 1 (because Dropbox then keeps the past month’s backups anyways)
  • Avoid Google’s Cache: Because I don’t like that Google and Internet Archive make copies of my content.
    I wrote it because a politician regretted something he wrote on his WordPress site.
  • WP Updates Notifier: Sends you an email every time WordPress, a plugin or a theme has an update.
  • Open external links in a new window: Once a user clicks on an external link, a new tab is opened, instead of opening the link in the current tab. This is to keep visitors on the current website. It is pure JavaScript, and doesn’t affect SEO.

Let me know if you have plugins that I should add to this list.


Drive: Photo by John Loo

My experiences with ProfitBricks: Negative review

A few months ago, the organization I work for decided to investigate new hosting providers: I spent several hours reviewing our possibilities, and we decided to go for the company ProfitBricks.
For a number of reasons, we prefer our data to be on servers in Germany, and ProfitBricks seemed to offer this at a good price. The company writes on its website that 24×7 support is included (unlike other cloud-based hosts): “When you have a technical question, who better to ask than a senior system administrator who understands your issues and can offer clear solutions directly and without delay?“.

I had some talks with ProfitBricks’ friendly sales team, discussed the architecture with them etc., and finally, my company decided to move our servers. I recall at our final IT meeting before signing up that I found it odd that I couldn’t find any neutral or negative reviews online. It just seemed a little too perfect.

I set up two servers just for testing, and my colleague set up a third server, which was the first we wanted to go into production.
After the server was set up, everything worked as it should for a little less than a week: On Sunday morning, I received an alarm that the server was having file system issues.
I logged on to investigate the problem, restarted the server to run fsck, which resulted in the server not coming back up.
I then called ProfitBricks, and after a brief conversation, I received the first email.

Sent: February 9th, 2014 09:27
Thank you for your Phone call and bringing your server issue to our attention. I have informed Sysops of the issue of your Server being in RO FS mode and we are starting an investigation into the issue. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

4½ hours later, I received a message with a proposal on some things I could do (booting up using a DVD image). I tried that, but it didn’t work. Called them again later in the afternoon to get a status. They promised to follow-up by email. That didn’t happen, and at night, I called again for a status. They told me that the ticket was pending their staff in Germany. It had been down for about 13 hours at that time, and I didn’t feel that the “core team” really cared about the system. I had called them 4 or 5 times during that Sunday to ask about the ticket, and kept receiving promises that they would get back to me, and that they were already working on the ticket.

I asked my German colleague to set up the server at a new host, but left the incident ticket open.
Then, 28½ hours after I opened the ticket, I received the first question that indicated that the server was actively being looked at:

Sent: February 10th, 2014 12:57
What file syustem is the OS using? ext3 ? ext4 ?

A few minutes later:

Sent: February 10th, 2014 13:00
Did you delete [server-name] server ?

And a few hours later:

Sent: February 10th, 201415:57
What Guest OS he used
To paste (if possible) relevant line (s) in the guest OS kernel log
Link and attach pictures to IO latency statistics for that volume 10 min prior and after going read-only

I had not deleted the server at the time he wrote, and these emails made me so mad that it was impossible for me to write back the same day. Instead, the following day, I asked for a full refund, which they never responded to.

Conclusion

Although this is generalizing based on a single case, I will still not recommend ProfitBricks to anyone. The offer of having system administrators on call 24×7 at a reasonable price was simply too good to be true.
ProfitBricks’ marketing and sales teams seem to be doing a lot better than the operations team.

Based on this experience, I have sent ProfitBricks’ billing department two separate messages asking to get a refund – they have not gotten back to me, which is not a big surprise to me.


Disk Cleanup in Windows Server 2008

If you want to install Disk Cleanup (cleanmgr.exe) in Windows Server 2008 the official way, you need to install Windows Media Player. A media player has nothing to do on a server – so here’s a little hint (it works on a 64-bit system, typical installation):

copy %systemroot%\winsxs\amd64_microsoft-windows-cleanmgr_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_none_c9392808773cd7da\cleanmgr.exe %systemroot%\System32
copy %systemroot%\winsxs\amd64_microsoft-windows-cleanmgr.resources_31bf3856ad364e35_6.1.7600.16385_en-us_b9cb6194b257cc63\cleanmgr.exe.mui %systemroot%\System32\en-US

Then you can run it by going to Start->Run, where you type cleanmgr.exe.

Tip: TreeSize is a great tool for figuring out where to clean up.


Personal watchlist through RSS from Wikipedia

MediaWiki, which runs the famous Wikipedia-sites, has an API available, which makes it possible to get RSS-feeds. Through these RSS-feeds, you can even get your personal watchlist.

The API is documented, but I found it more useful to visit the actual API.php script (this is for the English Wikipedia, you can just change the en at the beginning of the URL).

To get your personal watchlist as an RSS-feed, you have to set up a personal token on your Preferences->Watchlist page, and input a token. The nice coders at MediaWiki thought you wanted some privacy, so you can use the given 25-character tokens.

Then go to the feed URL, which could be something like http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php?action=feedwatchlist&wlowner=kezze&wltoken=e5d7a983d213352dc135691217cb21629c71ccfc , i.e. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php?action=feedwatchlist&wlowner=USERNAME&wltoken=TOKEN . Substitute USERNAME and TOKEN with your own data.

My personal preference is to get 72 hours (which is the maximum) of updates and all the revisions (not only the most recent one). This way, the URL is something like
http://en.wikipedia.org/w/api.php?action=feedwatchlist&allrev&hours=72&wlowner=USERNAME&wltoken=TOKEN – and for the Danish Wikipedia, which I’m mostly using, the URL is http://da.wikipedia.org/w/api.php?action=feedwatchlist&allrev&hours=72&wlowner=USERNAME&wltoken=TOKEN.


Apache2 + Internationalized Domain Names (IDN)

Since I couldn’t find any documentation regarding Apache2-support for Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), I realized that it’s not at all hard to configure.

You can just set the ServerName or ServerAlias-property to the punycode-value of the domain name, i.e. æøå.tld would become xn--5cab8c.tld. A converter is available at VeriSign.
After converting, save the apache2 virtualhost configuration file, (eventually run a2ensite config_file.tld , if you have chosen to config your web sites that way) and run:
apache2ctl graceful

The web server should start serving the web site immediately.


Getting started with iTunes and iPod

Pretty much since I played my first mp3, I have been using Winamp, but after getting an iPod Classic, I realized that I had to install iTunes to achieve the full functionality.
Importing my music collection to iTunes was relatively fast, and I spent a couple of hours to correct misspellings in artist and album names etc.

I discovered iLyrics, which imports lyrics for the songs you have from LyricWiki. A very neat feature, especially because you can click the middle button on the iPod a couple of times to display the current song’s lyrics.

I have been using Last.fm for quite some time, so I wanted a plugin for the integration of this service. iScrobbler didn’t work well, but luckily, (experimental) iPod support had been introduced in the current official release, which enables me to scrobble the songs I have listened to on my iPod.

I have a few iPod-links and I also keep a list of podcasting links, however, I mostly listen to the DR podcasts (in Danish).