Swiss Army Knife by Dave Taylor

Is WordPress the Right Tool for Every Job?

I love WordPress.  It’s a phenomenal piece of software.  This blog runs it, and it’d be hard to think of doing it with anything else.  In fact, I did use Google’s Blogger for a while, but was frustrated with its lack of features and astonishingly unique (and not in a good way) theme building experience.

A lot of other people agree that WordPress is amazing – so much so that it is the most popular content management system on the web today.  With this popularity comes amazingly great platform support, a wide variety of plugins and themes, and, mostly because of its popularity, it has become the proverbial low-hanging fruit to hackers.

WordPress’s pervasiveness and ability to handle almost every task thrown its it’s greatest strength. It provides non-technical people the ability to easily edit their site, and that’s a very useful benefit for someone considering the platform.  I’ve used it to build many sites, and is very worthy of any web designer’s use and full support.

Unfortunately, because it has become the Swiss army knife of the web, it is also used in many situations where it just isn’t necessary. Anytime you use software that is exposed to the public Internet without necessity, you’re creating a wider surface for attack. If WordPress (including its themes and plugins) isn’t kept up to date, your site will surely fall victim to attacks and begin sending SPAM, become defaced, or worse.

Now, I use a simple three-pronged test for the use of WordPress.  If the answer to any of these questions is no, I do not use it, or at least give the failing answers serious consideration (along with deep analysis of alternatives, including cost/benefit projections):

  • Do I actually need WordPress?
  • Will someone be around to keep it up to date?
  • Do I expect it to get a ton of traffic?

If other software will do the job, is open source, well maintained, and has a good following, then I’ll use it if WordPress isn’t a requirement. Ideally, I’ll use no software on a website at all except HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  Maintaining a PHP-less site is a lot easier, and they’re almost always more secure.   You’d be surprised what you can do with plain old JavaScript.

Regarding traffic, simple WordPress sites are fairly easy to scale into a multiple server setup, especially with the help of great plugins like W3TC.   However, not every theme or plugin is compatible with multiple servers, and without careful planning and good Linux system administration, any WordPress site deployed over multiple servers can become a problem very quickly.

If a site is going to get a lot of traffic, and by “lot”, I mean tens of thousands of page views a day or more, I will always look for alternatives, and come back to WordPress if none can be found.  In that kind of situation, strident caching is a must.

Even though I’ve given WordPress a bit of a hard time in this article, I want to emphasize that I do love using it.  WordPress makes life easier for a web designer in many different ways.  But at the end of the day, I believe it is critical to remember that it is not always the best tool for the job.

Photo Credit – Swiss Army Knife by Dave Taylor

With a Little Help from Our Friends

I have a friend that’s going through a tough time.  To protect their identity, I’m going to not refer to them by name, or even pronoun.  I won’t even be specific about the issue they’re dealing with.  Most of my readers on this blog won’t know who I’m referring to, and that’s alright.  This is a post for them, highlighting a revelation I had about friendship.

As I said, this person has been going through quite a lot of issues over the past few years.  Like most of us, they’ve had their fair share, and perhaps then some, of bumps in life.  What they don’t have is a lot of confidence in themselves.  You can weather just about any storm in life if you possess that key ingredient, but for various reasons, it needs bolstering.

Most of us don’t take the time to really tell people how much we value them being in our life.  I firmly believe that everyone, without exception, enters our life to teach us something.  Some are even special enough to hold onto and call friends.  When someone like that is hurting, it is tough to sit and watch, and yet, that is often what we must do.

We can offer the usual words of comfort, but that sometimes just doesn’t seem like enough.  Telling them that things will be alright is something that seems trite, and yet it is often what they need to hear. It is not a promise – none of us can guarantee that things will work out as we want, but yet a bit of shared hope that what they’ve been working towards, and what they’ve been bravely, courageously dealing with will pass.

This friend has been told many times, in various ways, that they aren’t worth much.  The people who told them that might as well have been talking about themselves, because tearing people down is not something done in love, it is done in hate.  Their opinions are not worthy to be heard, as they refuse to participate in the light that is love.  They give in to its polar opposite – fear.  It rules their life and clouds their perceptions.  This can terribly hurt the people towards whom they aim their deadly lens of hate.

This post is not about those people.  This post is to bolster the already courageous, loving spirit of someone whom I hold in high regard.  I respect them greatly, and know already, perhaps more so than them, that they have the strength within them to ignore the naysayers and finally be free of the burdens they have been carrying for far to long.

To put it simply, they will prevail.  I have the privilege of being there with them through the rougher of times, looking towards the dawn when they declare victory.  They are of strong enough character that, when they finally do so, they will have an outstretch hand to those that have kept them down, and lovingly offer their forgiveness.

That, above all else, is why I am proud to call them a friend.

The Spiritual Joy of Discovery

The Spiritual Joy of Discovery

Science and faith have fought for far too long.

It hasn’t always been a fair fight.  For hundreds of years, pioneers in science were silenced, tortured, and even killed for practicing their art.  Of course, faith has its struggles to, and is often unwelcome in our modern technological society.  There’s a lot of bad blood on both sides.

We can move past this.  Science and faith are usually put into camps, like Democrats or Republicans, Coke and Pepsi drinkers, and the eternal boxers versus briefs debate.  But at the end of the day, we must realize we are all humans trying to make sense of this crazy, wonderful, and at times, tragic universe.

I’m writing this today to share a video that I thought was quite special.  Years ago, Andrei Linde made a prediction that the cosmos was inflating, a critical portion of the Big Bang Theory.  Just recently, his work was validated.  The video where he learns the news is heartwarming.

Why am I posting this, and tying this into the eternal spiritual versus science debate?  I have seen people of faith question scientists, asking them where the joy comes from seemingly trying to disprove their heartfelt beliefs.  Scientists often cite the joy of discovery and understanding of how the universe works as their motivation, but this explanation tends to fall flat in faith-based circles.

I submit this video as a possible answer.  I don’t know the beliefs of the people involved.  It doesn’t even matter.  Watch the joy on Andrei’s face as a lifetime of work is validated.  Regardless on your stance of the Big Bang, his universe became just a bit more clear.  You can’t put a price on that moment of understanding.

Writing Tips

Robert’s Writing Tip #2: Create a Reader Surrogate

I regret that it has been quite a while since I posted anything to my blog.  In my defense, I’ve been quite busy releasing the second book in The Bravest of Souls trilogy titled Rebirth.  But I realize its time I made up for that, so I’ve decided to add my second writing tip!

This time, we’ll deal with the concept of introducing complex or difficult to follow subjects in your creative work by using an audience surrogate.  In writing, I prefer to call them reader surrogates, because the reader is your audience.

It would be reasonable to ask, “Why not make complex subjects simpler by breaking them down into more digestible pieces?”  That’s certainly a possibility, but depending on your audience, you might end up causing more trouble than that is worth.  If you make the assumption your reader cannot understand the subject you are trying to introduce, you run a great risk of underestimating, and ultimately insulting, your reader’s intelligence.

If you have a concept that is complex, but central to your plot, you can use a reader surrogate to make the experience easier for your audience.  The easiest way to explain this concept is to give you an example.

In my first book, The Bravest of Souls, my main character learns she has magic.  She was protected from a complex world of magic, and deep metaphysical knowledge that is essential to the use of this power.  Magic, in and of itself, isn’t a complex subject to fantasy readers – they are already quite familiar with it.  However, every system of magic is different, and explaining it carefully sets the groundwork to allow the reader to become immersed in the intricate world of the series.

Since Niv’leana did not understand what she was experiencing, she leaned heavily on those around her for guidance.  She, in essence, was the reader surrogate, jumping head-first into the world of magic I created for the series.  In the process of explaining to Niv what power she possessed, the reader was gradually introduced to the system as well, allowing for the suspension of disbelief and the nuance of the system to be absorbed in the reader’s mind.

Your main character doesn’t always have to be the surrogate.  In a story where most, or all, of your characters are familiar with jargon, a concept that isn’t known to most people, or a unique and important premise with great detail, creating a character for the purpose of helping the reader through the nuts and bolts of your thoughts is recommended.

In summary, remember that there’s no reason to shy away from complicated topics in creative writing.  Simply remember to extend your reader a helping hand in a non-condescending way.  They will certainly appreciate it.  If properly done, they won’t even realized that is what you did!

I hope you enjoyed this writing tip.  If you have any questions or thoughts about this topic, please post them in the comments below.


Robert's Writing Tips

Robert’s Writing Tip #1: Character’s Emotions

Robert's Writing TipsI’ve decided to release a series of tips on writing.  They are a collection of things I’ve learned while writing my book series, The Bravest of Souls.

Robert’s Writing Tip #1 – If your character has a strong emotion, give them an even stronger reason to have that emotion.

It is often said that without darkness, there can be no light.  The same holds true for emotional states.  Without some source of angst, your character’s success against it will be hollow.

Many characters thrive when they are possessed by strong emotions.  Conflict is what often drives your plot, so it is important that your characters have good reasons to feel what they feel.

Does your character have a reason to be angry?  If not, your reader will not understand the reason for the emotion, and the intensity of it will be lost.  Your reader will not cheer your protagonist on when they fight their demons.

This rule applies to more than just the darker side of your characters’ personalities.  Readers expect a reason behind positive emotions.

You can delay introducing the detailed reasons behind your character’s actions for a while, but when you need to leverage the emotion behind their decisions for impact, you need to have the reason behind it firmly intact.

Long Live the Linux Console

I just finished reading an excellent article from Alexander Turner titled Why Linux Will Never Be Ready for the Desktop.  He’s absolutely correct – Linux will probably never be a powerful force in the desktop.  Despite many tries to the contrary, and the full weight of Valve Corporation behind it, the Linux GUI can just not get its act together long enough to really offer competition.

As Alexander pointed out, the Linux command line is its greatest strength.  It’s so good that it has actually hampered its GUI progress.  Fortunately, due to visualization, the choice between Windows or Linux no longer has to be exclusive.  I run Windows with Linux in a VirtualBox instance, and I suspect many developers take a similar approach.

Windows 8 Automatic Restart

Windows 8′s new automatic restart feature is probably the worst operating system design decision that Microsoft has ever conceived.  One possible exception, of course, is the forced Metro interface on Desktop and Laptop PCs.

Due to many unfortunate technical reasons, restarts of Windows are required when an update needs to be applied.  It is important to apply security and bugfix updates, but since a restart is required for even trivial updates in Windows, people naturally try to avoid restarts if they possibly can.  This created a problem for Microsoft’s security team – how to ensure that consumers were installing important updates in a timely fashion.

Their solution for Windows 8 users?  Force them to reboot after 3 days of not so noticeable warning.  You are given a 15 minute warning, and then another warning at 5 minutes.  As thought it were some sort of silent self-destruct mechanism, you are given no further warnings.  After 5 minutes, when you least suspect it, your computer will automatically restart.  You can lose data with this feature issue if you’re not careful.

There are several solutions:

  1. Turn off automatic updates (not really a good idea)
  2. Disable automatic reboots (the best option)

The fact that you should have to do this is a testament to the growing distance of user concerns with the Windows design team.  Hopefully this will be corrected in Windows 8.1.

To Touch the Moon

Review of To Touch the Moon

To Touch The Moon
by Laurie Martin-Gardner

I will protect you from it all – if only for this moment.

– For This Moment

To Touch the Moon

To Touch the Moon

I’ll admit that I have never been a voracious consumer of poetry, but that was never for a lack of appreciation for the art.  Growing up I knew many people who wrote poetry, but the teenage angst  that so commonly produced it seemed trite.  I allowed my experiences then to cloud my judgement, and persist a lack of interest in reading poetry.

Until I read To Touch the Moon, I was prepared to live with that.

Now that I have allowed myself the opportunity that her book has given me to become again exposed to this timeless style of writing, I find a deeper love and respect for it.  I’ll admit, I am now a fan of poetry, and I’m placing the blame squarely on her book, To Touch the Moon.

My favorite poem was For This Moment.  It not only set the mood of refuge with a loved one from a cold world outside, it drives you through the nuances you never knew a scene like that could have with a gentle, yet purposeful tug.  Its meter is driven by warmth and compassion that drives a stark, and appropriate separation from the relentless storm.  In a word, it is comforting.

I liked Spirit Walking quite a bit, too.  The poem casts the spirit guide in its traditional role, instructing the reader through the challenges and mysteries of life.  In the last stanza, perhaps unintentionally, a hint of Poe’s dream within a dream concept arises.  In any lesser poem it would be a pale grasp at complexity, but Gardner pulls it off excellently.

Toxic Dreamland was quite an interesting short story.  I felt pulled along in the insightful narrative as a guide directed me through a mysterious state of consciousness.  To say more about its plot would give things away that you should have the full pleasure of uncovering.

If nature could sing a tale in words, Tales of Ivy & Sunlight would probably be one of its best melodies.  Gardner weaves an inspiring and reflective tale of the circle of life and the interconnected nature of it all. It’s hard not to come away from this tale without a deeper respect for it.

I must close this review with a final note about a bias that some may perceive.  I consider Laurie a good friend, and I feel it is only necessary to disclose this.  But those that know me know that I do not give praise freely for artistic works. However, she, and you, the reader, can count on my honest opinion.

It is wonderful!

You really would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t buy a copy today and read it as soon as it is delivered.  You won’t regret it, and if you’re like me, you’ll open (or re-open) yourself up to the world of thoughtful, insightful, and thought-provoking talent that my friend Laurie so freely shares with us.

Website of Robert W. Oliver II