The Great Storm of ’08

What we first thought to be gunshots continued unabated throughout the day on Sunday. Our home is surrounded by very tall evergreens of every species Before the stormand stately old oaks – and we soon realized that our own private forest was the source of those horrific sounds. Huge branches sounded like wounded elephants as they ripped away from their trunks. As they fell to earth they’d brush past lower branches, finally hitting the ground with the sound of a car crash.

On our own property in southeast Salem [Oregon], two stately old oaks suffered dearly from bearing their burden of ice. Nearly a dozen large branches fell to their premature deaths, meeting their end laying across the sidewalk and intruding dangerously into the street in front of our home. Our home after the ice storm

In spite of the bitter cold, neighbors gathered together or stopped briefly to chat in the middle of the street where they were safely away from the tall trees, constantly being interrupted by the loud cracking sounds of huge limbs falling to their deaths off in the distance.

“Are you alright? Is your home OK? Do you want to borrow my chainsaw?” were phrases mixed within the conversations as everyone reached out to help and console each other. We watched in awe and sadness the virtual destruction of trees long protected by law from the axes and saws of contractors and uncaring homeowners, tall evergreens that were decades older than the eldest among us.

Although historic storms like this can be extremely damaging, creating some danger and inconvenience to many of us, we must understand that what we are watching is all a part of natural processes, somehow fitting into the grand plan for our own survival. We can do nothing but watch and listen in awe to the power of wind and water, realizing how helpless we really are against the unyielding will of Mother Nature.

I guess when it comes to weather, we just have to “go with the flow and enjoy the show.”


This article was first published at JustOneOpinion.com on December 23, 2008. As of three days later, the ice and snow remain on the ground and the street is still nearly impassable except by 4-wheelers with chains. So we are hunkered down, keeping warm, and as long as we have electricity, we’ll keep ourselves entertained with DVDs and the Internet. More bad weather approaches, so we will most likely remain home-bound until after the New Year. But that’s OK, we still love our Oregon home.


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Conversion to WordPress 2.7 begins

Some of my website clients have contacted me and wondered when their new sites will be finished and ready for daily use. Others have been expecting upgrades or major modifications to their sites and wondered if I had forgotten about them.

I have not forgotten about you, have not left the country, and have not gone to my final reward.

The truth is that I have been waiting for a major new software program to be released that will not only improve their websites, but also give them a lot more freedom to publish on their own.

I am pleased to announce that on Thursday, December 11th, version 2.7 of the popular blogging software WordPress was officially released. I will be upgrading all of my sites and those of my clients over the next few weeks to this new version.

WordPress 2.7 is a significant upgrade that greatly improves the user interface and expands the possible uses for the software. It also lays the groundwork for WordPress to be used to expand the social networking.

Many additional improvements are planned for the next 12 to 36 months, but for now WordPress users can take advantage of Version 2.7’s new interface which makes blogging quite a bit easier.

When WordPress made its last major modification to the publishing interface in version 2.5, the user community reacted negatively, calling it a step backwards. Many of us felt that it was a major step forward and a vast improvement over earlier versions, yet in many ways it did not go far enough and could be very frustrating to use at time. Automattic, the publishers of WordPress moved quickly to resolve some of the issues by releasing Version 2.6 in the spring of 2008. With 2.7 almost everyone feels that the new interface is a vast improvement and makes blogging and CMS management a whole lot easier.

WordPress 2.7 has an amazing number of customization options. If you don’t like or don’t use some of the tools in the dashboard, rearrange them by drag-and-drop, resize them, or hide them.

Among the new features now available is the ability to create “sticky” posts, posts that you can program to remain on your homepage no matter when you originally published them. There are also some excellent comment moderation tools.

The latest version of the “Dashboard” is the biggest change. In the past the dashboard was mainly used to show the latest news involving WordPress – new themes, new plugins, version changes. Version 2.7 provides a modular dashboard that you can customize with a few clicks of your mouse.
Version 2.7 allows you to compose a post and reply to comments directly from the dashboard.

In the past upgrading WordPress was fairly complicated, as was changing themes or adding plugins. Rather than needing a webmaster to manually upgrade WordPress by accessing the server with FTP tools, site owners can simply click a button in the admin interface and WordPress will automatically download and install updates.

For website customers serviced and supported by my company, Hoyle Consulting Services (www.Hoyle-Consulting.com, www.SmallWebMaster.com, and www.ALowCostWebSite.com), the changeover to this newest version of WordPress will occur in stages over the next 30-60 days. There are some sites that I support that can be changed with a mere click of a button and nothing more will happen. Other sites are quite complex and have a lot of customization involved. I will go a little slower on more unique and custom sites so as not to disrupt service.

An old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” For some sites, I may leave well enough alone for a while until I make sure that I can quickly repair anything that might go wrong. Version 2.7 is that kind of an upgrade, like going from DOS to Windows, or Windows 98 to Windows XP.

If you are a new client who has been waiting for your site to be finished, please understand that the learning curve between WordPress 2.7 and previous versions was quite steep – and I simply did not want to have to train you twice. Trust me – 2.7 is much easier to learn in a shorter time. You will be writing your own blogs and articles within the first day or two – and it’s practically impossible to break your blog by accidentally doing something stupid. As the “King of Stupid Tricks” I know how easy it is to totally screw up a website, so when I say that screwing up your new blog will be almost impossible you can believe me.

I will be contacting each of you as your site comes online and will be happy to coach you online and over the phone until you get more comfortable using the new program. For those of you who have delegated to me most, if not all, of your website copywriting and physical changes, nothing will change – I will still meet the terms of our contract.

Be sure to tell your friends about your new website and invite them to contact me if they want one of their own. Even if new clients are not “friends and family,” my rates are absolutely rock bottom even as I try to provide the highest level of personal service possible.

Here is a video that will give you a feel for the new WordPress 2.7 and how you can use the dashboard features:

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More on “news alerts”

After publishing the previous article entitled “Watch out for ‘news alerts,’ I did some updated checking to see if either CNN.com or MSNBC.com have acknowledged the problem and have tried to do anything about it. I’m pleased to say that progress is being made – I think…

MSNBC.com has actually put up a blog article about the “news alert” problem. Why they haven’t given it more visibility and have chosen to hide it back on a more obscure spot on their website is, at the minimum, a mystery. You would think that they would want to get the word out and put more emphasis on the problem. Maybe they are afraid that somehow it will diminish their appeal to their readers. If that is the case, it is definitely a misplaced caution.

One of the comments to the MSNBC.com blog article mentions that in order to watch the live Olympic video NBC.com is offering, NBC.com requires that you download a special viewer program. This is exactly what the sp@@mers are doing – so it is very easy for viewers to get confused? In both cases a properly configured web browser will throw up a caution and require you to confirm that you really want to download the new program. If yours is not doing this, then you need to update your browser to IE7 or a later version of Firefox.

Snopes.com is also reporting this scam and confirming that a very dangerous virus is attached to the program you are asked to download. It also reports that “FBI Bulletins” have been duplicated to spread similar viruses. Take time to read this article as it is very informative. Snopes.com can be relied upon as a good source for information of this type as well as “urban legends.”

I’m disheartened by the fact that CNN.com has not even mentioned the problem – either on its newscasts or on its website. If you go to their website and do a search, you will only get generic Google.com searches. Most of their articles are very out of date and none mention the “news alert” or “CNN.com Top Ten” emails that are being sent out with their design and logos all over them.

You’d think that a big news corporation like CNN.com would want to inform its viewers and readers that such a scam is out their and misrepresenting CNN’s good name. Whatever happened to “The News You Can Use” objective of CNN.com?

I’m sorry, but I have to once again give high marks to MSNBC.com for staying on top of important issues while giving CNN much lower marks for seeming to be oblivious to real news. CNN used to set the industry standard and has the resources to be the real leader in news. But they have faltered in my eyes and are falling way behind MSNBC. In fact, they may only be running neck and neck with FoxNews in terms of relevancy. Sad, very sad indeed.

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Watch out for “news alerts”

Over the past few weeks many of my email accounts, especially Yahoo!Mail and Hotmail.com, have been inundated with messages purporting to be from CNN.com and MSNBC.com. They are “phishing” emails, trying to harvest new active email accounts by either (1)registering the emails that actually open the messages, and/or (2) by capturing emails from people trying to unsubscribe by following their bogus links set up for that purpose.

Here is a link to an article about this problem: MSNBC, CNN Breaking News Alerts Really Malware

I’ve reported these incidents to the security departments of both CNN.com and MSNBC.com. I did get one response back from CNN.com affirming that the emails were bogus, but other than simply telling me to delete them, they seemed not to be interested in pursuing the problem any further.

I would think that due to the fact that the spammers are using exact replicas of their webpages and their logos, that both CNN.com and NBC corporation would be all over these guys and do everything in their power to shut them down. It shouldn’t be difficult to trace the sources (I can do it in less than 30 seconds) or the email addresses that any responses are directed.

I think the problem is that these big corporations, when they do decide to go after somebody, usually go after some little guy with a small website and no money. They are easy and quick to comply simply because they don’t have the money to fight. Usually their transgression is to use a logo or photo that is copyrighted or appeared on the larger corporation’s site.

The real problem lies with the governments of China, Canada, and the USA. These guys can block messages (as China has done) that the government deems to be anti-establishment, or to track personal emails (as the USA is doing) supposedly to search out “terrorist” messages. If they have that level of technology and can control and monitor the emails of common people, they can certainly track the source of the millions of spam messages that go out to every email account.

I guess the real question is why they haven’t used their technology to put a stop to these harmful emails? Who is really behind this whole industry? Every so often they do catch one or two of the major spammers, but it usually because these guys have overreached and involved innocent people in their scams.

The bottom line is that there is obviously a lot of money in sending out spam emails and some of it is finding its way into the hands of those who are supposed to be policing this issue.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 defined what was illegal and what each emailer must do to comply. Among other things, it clearly bans:

  • It bans false or misleading header information. Your email’s “From,” “To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person who initiated the email.
  • It prohibits deceptive subject lines. The subject line cannot mislead the recipient about the contents or subject matter of the message.

The real problem is that you never really know why the spammers are sending out these emails.  Are they loaded with a virus?  Is there a “spybot” or some other piece of software built in that might be able to clone or take over your computer.  Some software can actually capture your keystrokes and then email them back to the spammer. If you have accessed a credit card or bank account and actually typed in your passwords, then they have everything they need to crack your account and steal whatever they can.

I truly feel that the U.S. government spends so much of its time and resources cracking down on minor or victimless crimes, while letting these internet thieves continue to steal identities, bank accounts, and personal data from the public.  Our governments, both state and federal, would rather punish “sign laws,” the personal use of marijuana, licensing laws, and pornography than to go after mass conspiracies that pass on computer viruses, identity theft, and credit card abuses.

The real question here is “Whatever happened to common sense and real public protection priorities?”

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