Teaching and Technology Learning Conference

Today I’ll be in Rolla at a tech conference. Perks to this:

  1. It’s close enough to drive there and back in one day comfortably
  2. The conference is free
  3. I don’t have to monitor the student workers again all day (we’re paying extra close attention due to recent changes in our phone systems)
  4. I get to hang out with Brenda

There are downsides, though:

  1. I will certainly have more work to do on Friday, leaving me stressed

So… yeah. Should be a good time 🙂

For occasional updates about the goings-on, be sure to check out our work Twitter @msuhelp.

Proof that I am not the tyrannical despot you think I am

From Twitter earlier today:

I hate the management / disciplinary part of my job, but as cliché as it is, somebody has to do it. Now that it’s done, back to tech stuff.

to which @rcburrell replied

@dmmagic Solution: fire people you have to manage

I don’t do the management stuff because I enjoy it. Rather, I do it because it needs done, and because I feel that our staff deserves to have it done. What’s more, we will never improve if people aren’t held to higher (or, to be honest, any) standards.

It sucks to hold people to standards and have to discipline them when they don’t meet those standards, and I don’t like doing it. Writing people up doesn’t make me happy–it’s upsetting, frustrating, and a bit depressing. But it’s important we be clear about things: you’re expected to do a job, and if you don’t do it, there will be consequences.

And to be perfectly clear, Ryan‘s not alone in his feelings on the matter. There are a lot of people, particularly higher up, who wouldn’t tolerate some of the stuff we do. There wouldn’t be a warning, there would just be a lot of student workers out of jobs.

My overriding principle and guidance in all things is fairness: I want to give people a fair shake. Sometimes that involves warning and disciplining people when they don’t do as they have been told they should, with the goal of trying to help them do what they need to be doing so we don’t actually have to fire them.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m no tyrannical despot who enjoys this stuff. I’d much rather be playing with web pages and figuring out how to make stuff work. It’s just something that has to be done sometimes.

Speed up WordPress by Disabling Plugins

I’ve known for a long time that WordPress plugins extend load times of both the front-end site and the administrative interface on the back-end. Each one has numerous sets of PHP calls and, since each page is loaded dynamically, every plugin has to be called and checked to see if it is included or not. WordPress leaves nothing out, so the more plugins you have, the slower it becomes as it has to check more and more.

What’s worse, if you have inefficient plugins, they can slow your site down to a crawl. The fault isn’t WordPress’s, your web host, or an overly-large image, but rather is due to poor javascript execution, logic loops, redundant code, or other culprits of Programming Gone Wild™. In these cases, the only options are to rewrite the plugin to make it more efficient or ditch it altogether.

Tired of my administrative interface taking forever to load and switch pages, I decided to test each plugin I use individually to discover the culprit and expunge it from my WordPress installation. Some of the instigators were surprising, but they’re all gone now.

Woopra

I love this little tracking utility because it allows me to see people live when they hit my site. I can see when they came in, what they’re looking at, where they are in the world, and watch the ping away as they leave. It’s just very cool, but it’s also very bloated. It violates the common wisdom of tracking technologies hosted off-server, which is, “Since all the work is being done by our servers, rather than yours, it should have next to no impact on your site performance.” Google Analytics and WordPress Stats also operate in this fashion, where my web server isn’t doing the tracking or analysis so my performance shouldn’t take a hit.

Unfortunately, Woopra (or at least the Woopra plugin for WordPress) often hangs with javascript errors, leading to very long load times on all pages, be they front- or back-end. I had to disable Woopra on our wiki at work because of how much it was slowing things down (which was not using the plugin, by the way, just the stock code), but I hung onto it for my personal site because I like the utility so much. Unfortunately, I just can’t put up with it any more.

WordPress Mobile Edition

I’ve gone back and forth on mobile browsing so many times it’s like a worn out joke that just won’t go away. While I like the idea of providing improved functionality for mobile users, this plugin added at least half a second to all page load times, and often the lag was more than that. Half a second doesn’t sound like much until you’re waiting over and over again for what we have come to expect as instant. That functionality simply isn’t worth the lag to me.

WP-DBManager

This plugin allows you to manage your database through the WordPress administrative interface, and in the meantime automates some nice routine maintenance matters. However, it also slowed down my site, and since I don’t actively use it often, I went ahead and disabled WP-DBManager. I can still re-enable it if I want to do a quick backup or optimization, but most of the time it will sit dormant now.

WP Greet Box

This plugin pops up a box at the top of each post when someone comes from Google, Facebook, et. al. saying, “Welcome! You should consider subscribing!” Though generally annoying, I felt that WP Greet Box did this in a more polished, unobtrusive manner, so I’ve been using it for a while. Unfortunately, it was right behind Woopra in causing my site to slow down, so it had to go.

Total Gains

Though each of these only accounted for 0.4-1 second each of lag, between them they were doubling the load time of everything on my site, from 1-3 seconds to 4-7 seconds (approximately). In addition, now that I don’t have to worry about a mobile edition of my site, I can turn WP Super Cache up to full blast and cache/compress all my pages, decreasing load times further.

Though I’m sorry to see some of these plugins go (I’ve been using Woopra for well over a year now), it’s hard to justify negatively impacting load time across the entire site for both myself and visitors for a few minor conveniences. We must always balance functionality against speed (and security, and a slew of other things for that matter), and in this case speed won out.

For the other 26 plugins I will continue to actively use, they do slow my site down some, but all of them together only impact site times by 1-2 seconds. In those cases, the loss of speed is well worth the gain in functionality.

Which plugins do you keep even though they slow things down a bit? And which is more important to you: Speed, Functionality, or Security?

Why I Hate Your Tech Blog

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. “But Matthew, you have a tech blog!” Let me tell you what separates my technology articles from 90% of the rest of the blogosphere: thought.

I won’t claim to know the motivation of the people who run these worthless tech blogs, but the vast majority are nothing more than a collection of the exact same topics and articles (perhaps re-written, but with the same ideas, conclusions, and messages) as everyone else has. If I’m going to write something about technology, I first go out and see if someone else has written it. If they have said everything that needs to be said, there is absolutely no reason for me to re-write it. And in general, I don’t even see the point in linking to it; I found them on Google, and that’s how most people find my site, so if they’re looking for that topic they’ll find the other person’s blog.

The only situation in which I would write an article and link to them is if I have something new and original to say, a counter-point or an extension on their piece, but that takes some original thought and development. These characteristics are sorely lacking in most tech blogs.

I don’t know, maybe these “authors” are upset that Slashdot wouldn’t accept their submissions, so they started blogs of their own. Or maybe they’re hoping for traffic and ad revenue. Regardless of the reason, parroting press releases and embedding YouTube videos to the exclusion of original thought just strikes me as worthless.

Want to have a successful tech blog? Go out and see what’s lacking. Find topics, how-to articles, and analysis that has not yet been provided, then write it. Your voice won’t be lost in the noise, and you’ll be contributing something to the Internet rather than just parroting what everyone else is writing.

Not dead yet

Update 11:52 a.m.:: Today’s project – Writing documentation for a portal that goes live on Monday, to which I only got access yesterday.

I figure I’ve gone through about half a dozen projects in the last three weeks, and every one of them has had a timeline of “Now.” For whatever reason, everything is high priority and extremely time sensitive, so I’ve been putting in some extra hours at work and really pushing myself to get everything done on time while maintaining high quality.

Thus far, I’m pretty happy with how everything is turning out. I have managed to get everything done, and the projects I’ve completed have come off swimmingly. Moreoever, I’m not as exhausted as I expected myself to be. I’m making it through.

But another 2-3 weeks of this and I’m going to start burning out. There have also been some personal projects that have fallen by the wayside, in addition to my annual review. Part of our annual development plan (ADP) is that we need to submit the highlights of our year, noting the things we want to get credit for in our evaluation. This ensures that our manager(s) don’t forget or overlook something, give us a low score, and tell us later they wish they’d known we had done X, Y, and/or Z. Unfortunately, due to the volume of work I do in conjunction with my verbosity, my review of what I’ve done in a year is rather lengthy and will probably take 6-8 hours to compile and compose. I just haven’t had time for that.

Hopefully on Monday I can get to it, because my ADP will probably come in late December and it would be best if I could get my side of the paperwork filed sooner rather than later. But I’ve been trying to work on this for two weeks now… who knows what next week will hold.

Tomorrow we are traveling to St. Louis to spend Thanksgiving with April’s mom’s side of the family, which should be enjoyable. I’m also excited that we’ll be coming back on Friday, giving me about two and a half days to chill and relax; my weekends have been crucial to maintaining my sanity throughout this period. I do have some homework to do, though: our Buddhism class requires either an essay or a creative project for the final, so I have elected to write a fictional epic poem. I like the idea I have for the poem and hope to write the first canto (I’m not sure what a properly Buddhist term for this would be) tonight.

Until then, I’ve got a ton of work to do. See you on the other side of the moon.

Blogerload

That’s the new word for when I’m overloaded with topics to blog about and I just haven’t taken the time to write them all out yet. This week will see a lot of things scheduled out for the next… month? Yeah, I’ve probably got at least a month’s worth of material sitting on my desk, waiting to be written.

However, I did get a new story done over the weekend, or at least a journal entry from the point of Arias. He’s about to meet some very interesting characters, and I’m curious to see how the next section goes.

For better or worse, I have published an article comparing analytics programs for blogs. From my first solution of AWStats all the way up to the modern super-shinyness that is Woopra, I’ve tried a number of different stats programs over the years. Check out SilverPen Tech for the scoop on these different programs.

Following the Fourth of July celebration at Cody’s, April wrote a villanelle that is simply fantastic. You should check out her blog and leave a comment.

I’m at work right now and currently installing Fedora Core 9 in a virtual machine so I can test uPortal. I’ve been invited to join the Luminis committee and help construct the portal we’ll be using at Missouri State, so I’m gearing up for that. Hence the super-brief blog entry. I should probably write a review of Fedora, and UPortal, and blog about my Luminis experience… all in due time.

BLOGERLOADED

June 30 – July 4: This Week at SilverPen Publishing

I know that I haven’t gotten any stories done, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to read at SilverPen Pub. If you’re looking for some books to check out from your local library, you could do worse than investigating the DragonLance Saga. I had two reviews go live this week, first on book 3 of the Legends trilogy, Test of the Twins. I followed that up with a review of Dragons of Summer Flame, possibly my favourite book in the Saga. Let me know what you think of the reviews (especially since I’m so new to reviewing and don’t really know what I’m doing), and I hope you check the books out sometime too.

I responded to Lorelle’s challenge today and wrote in the tech section about how my computer hardware and usage has changed over time. I think I’ll do a follow-up article next week about my experience and history with blogging, both on the hardware and software side. I’ll also have an article going live in the tech section next week about statistics gathering programs that display information about your visitors. Stay tuned.

Tonight, we’re having a LAN party at Metagames in honour of Cody’s week home, and tomorrow night April and I will be joining him at his parent’s house for a 4th of July party. I knew I was leaving that night open for something, and while I had assumed it was in anticipation of dying from exhaustion, it turns out it was because I had assumed a month or so ago that we would be having/attending some sort of party. Forethought is awesome, even when I forget that I thought forward.