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The Prisoner of Blogger

There is no escape from the spinning wheel of death

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That was enough. It was time to look for another blogging application.

WordPress! And it was already on my host!

I installed it in a subdomain off dickdestiny. Paradoxically, this is what Klau wanted Blogger's FTP'ers to do, except he suggested subdomains be pointed at Google servers.

Now perhaps you've already guessed that this adventure also ended in tears.

My WordPress fail hung on an unusual show-stopping problem with the program.

WordPress ate my blog

WP depends on its database and, apparently, under certain conditions, if that database server hiccups or goes sideways, and the application cannot see it, it thinks it's being asked to freshly install. It does not happen for everyone, but it is not uncommon, and it is very bad when it crops up. The rather negative aspect is illustrated well here, as Jeff Starr at the Perishable Press blog writes:

The problem that I painfully discovered when my server crashed is that WordPress does not always display the default page for all database-related issues. Apparently, if the database is missing entirely, WordPress assumes that it has not yet been installed and loads the Installation Page.

Oof!

For the curious and technical, this happens when something causes the wp_options table in WordPress's SQL database to crash or become corrupt. One repairs it and the blog comes back up. You may have rightly guessed this is not an obvious solution to anyone seeing it for the first time.

In any case, any stranger logging onto such a faulted blog in the time between crash and when the owner figures out what's up can input their e-mail and be installed as administrator. This is a fair sized window of opportunity, unless absolutely no one reads your blog, and it is exactly what happened as I was attempting to put the pieces of wreckage back together. A new administrator had to be disposed of after my password was reset in an attempt to lock me out. And although the blog remained intact, something was crippled in the capacity to update it.

The blog is hosted on Yahoo!, so the vulnerability is present for anyone using a Yahoo! hosted-website and its WordPress installation.

As for aid in WordPress support forums, one is dependent upon the pure milk of human kindness dispensed by others. If one is inexperienced, the help forums can be combed for clues which, on balance, tend not to accurately describe the fault and its implications. In two questions I posted, the general solution offered was to update to the newest version of WordPress, which is not a fix at all, but a catch-all recommendation many people receive from the volunteer squad as a pro forma band-aid. Some people, naturally, resent it.

As with Blogger help, one not so infrequently sees the passive-aggressive treatment handed out. If there has been a fault, it's because the user was not diligent. The software can do no wrong.

"Code is poetry," is the WP motto. Here's some poetry, ala Ogden Nash:

I once had a blog that was fit
But one day a server got hit
My site went upside down
And I floundered around
WordPress had dumped upon me a s---

As a way of giving you another flavour of all this, imagine the first appearance of Rover in The Prisoner. The menacing white balloon roars and sucks up a man, who screams for help.

The Prisoner: "What was that?" Number Two: "That would be telling."

The net takeaways are this: There are answers for the faults but solutions are obfuscated.

For this writer, WordPress looked very good. But the effort spent mining for a relevant solution isn't worth the time spent sifting through the fool's gold in the volunteer help database, an evaluation one reckons some others also come to if they endure the consequences of a non-trivial fault. It cast the impression, similar to one conveyed by Blogger, that if one suffers some form of unreliability... ehhhh.

It was easier to walk away. Throw the dice with Blogger again and pick up the pieces. Had FTP publishing had become more reliable? Sadly, no. The spinning wheel of death still haunts with no rhyme or reason, with a new and exciting wrinkle. The interface stalls on an error message, but checking the blog may show it has updated anyway.

Blogger's latest FTP misadventure dates from the beginning of August and remains unresolved. The unpredictable publishing teaches a new skill in (attempted) daily blogging: prayer. The basic lesson is to remember to complain in the help forum and practice spotty workarounds suggested by some members of the volunteer force who've been lucky.

Movable Type? ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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