Sep
06
2009
0

I Just Make It Look Easy

Easy-to-make iPhone

Easy-to-make iPhone

A company once told me someone had offered to build permanent disability calculators for their website in three months for $7,500.  One said six months and $20,000.  Recently, another suggested it would take them a year and $40,000.  My response is usually some variation on “You’ve got to take that deal.  You’re wasting your time talking to me.”

It’s no big secret that building a great product takes a lot of work.  The important thing to remember is that just because something is easy-to-use, that doesn’t mean its easy-to-make. [1]

Real iPhone

Difficult-to-make iPhone

Let’s take the iPhone for example.  Everyone will concede its an easy phone to use.  However, it was released more than two years ago on 6/29/2007. [2]  In that time the other players – BlackBerry, LG, Nokia, and Palm have all been trying to catch up.  If this easy-to-use phone were easy-to-build everyone would have their own version.

Look, there’s no special magic to building a website like this.  Really, anyone can do it.  All you have to do is learn the calculations inside-and-out, deconstruct the math involved in the various calculations, learn some client and server side programming languages, learn a content management system, make it all work together, keep current on changes in the law, start all over again each time the law changes, and earn the respect of the workers’ compensation community.  Once done, you’ll have your very own workers’ compensation calculator website!

To return to the lesson of the iPhone, building a touch screen phone that can play music and surf the web is totally doable.  Doing it right is another matter entirely.

  1. Visit the link for a PDF of a cut-and-fold iPhone.  Thanks Gizmodo! []
  2. Wikipedia link. []
Dec
12
2008
0

Website Upgrade to WordPress 2.7!

Wordpress Upgrade

Wordpress Upgrade

I upgraded the website to WordPress 2.7 RC 1 over the weekend.

I generally do not bother installing the updates between the major upgrades.  My major concern in upgrading is eliminating possible security issues and obtaining additional program features.  I maintain a totally separate website from PDRater.com, also running on WordPress, where I install the very latest versions of WordPress and try out new variations on the look-and-feel of this website, new calculators, and new ideas about how best to present the current calculators.

Very late Wednesday night I upgraded this website to WordPress v2.7.  I’m not sure I fully appreciate how much better it might be than the various release candidates.

Thursday morning I discovered an unintended effect of upgrading is that it “broke” one of my plugins.   (Reza: Thanks for pointing it out!)  I had modified an existing plugin, EasyPayPal, to allow this website to accept credit card payments.  WordPress v2.7 changed the user profiles area of the website – and made it so that instead of seeing an option to become a paid subscriber, you just saw a cryptic PHP error.  This is nothing that would have compromised a credit card number or anything – it just would have prevented anyone from giving me money.

A little bit of bug testing, one new line of code and its back up and running.  :)

Nov
11
2008
0

Safer Software Practices

Wordpress

Wordpress

I’ve been upgrading to the latest releases of WordPress as soon as each one comes out.  And, its a good thing too.

Over the last week or two a website named “Wordpresz.org” ((I’ve edited the link so that it goes to WordPress.org instead.  I don’t want contribute to these hackers fooling anyone else.)) was discovered.  The people who created this website were using a vulenerability in WordPress version 2.6.2 to redirect users to their website.  Their website purported to release WordPress version 2.6.4[1].  The problem was that they had hacked one file in the installation package to create a bigger security vulerability.

This just goes to show that:

  1. Monitor for Updates. Many programs these days automatically check to see if new versions are available.  If the program does not have this feature[2] , its a good idea to check about once a month or so.
  2. Update Frequently. Not all software updates are equal.  If the program is being updated to fix security vulnerabilities or improve the program’s stability, you definitely want to install the update.  This website’s installation of WordPress was already “inocculated” against this kind of attack because I had alled version 2.6.3 almost as soon as it came out.
  3. Use Official Sources. WordPress is open source software built using PHP and MySQL.  Since the program is open source, its easier to modify the code. ((As Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”))  The themes and plugins available through WordPress.org are reviewed by other users for malicious code and for possible improvements.  If you’re not certain how to examine source code for malicious code, its best to only use official sources.
  1. The latest version is 2.6.3 which is just version 2.6.2 with a small but important security fix. []
  2. Or if you turn it off, as I sometimes do. []
Oct
24
2008
0

WordPress Update to v2.6.3

Wordpress Upgrade

Wordpress Upgrade

Quick Update

or those of you keeping score at home, I’ve updated to WordPress v2.6.3 last night. [1]  This version was released as a security fix.  Unlike other WordPress upgrades, this one took only a few seconds.

Less Quick Updates

Admittedly, prior updates probably only take about 10 minutes, max.  This 10 minutes includes roughly 9 minutes of backing the website and database up and 1 minute of actually uploading the new version.  Since the 9 minutes of backing up is essentially all processing/downloading time, there’s nothing for me to monitor which makes the whole process very painless.

Upcoming Updates

The kind folks over at WordPress have been hard at work on the version 2.7. [2]  If you scan through the above link, you’ll get to see what the new WordPress 2.7 control panel/dashboard is supposed to look like.

Best Thing About WordPress

(If you just can’t wait, skip down two paragraphs.)  Regular readers have heard me go on and on about the virtues of WordPress. [3]  The interesting thing about new versions of WordPress is that any upgrades would be seamless to a website visitor. [4]

A website that is easy to read is a function of the author

Website content is really all that matters to a website visitor.  Visitors don’t care about what software a website owner is using – just as long as the content is useful. [5]

A website that is easy to write is a function of the program

The single best thing about WordPress is that this program makes maintaining a website a breeze.  I would recommend WordPress to absolutely anyone interested in creating a website.  For the novice, the program makes it easy to write, edit, and delete single pages or the entire website without any knowledge of programming.  For the tech-minded, the program makes it easy to install, upgrade, and personalize a website.

If you know a little PHP, MySQL, and javascript you could do some c-r-a-z-y things with WordPress. [6][7][8]

  1. Talk about unnecessary decimal places. []
  2. I call them “kind” since a lot of these people are working for free. []
  3. You know, you three should really form some kind of support group for people who read unnecessarily nerdy and self-referential blogs. []
  4. I think its interesting, anyhow. []
  5. If they don’t care about what kind of software, they sure as heck don’t care its version 2.6.3. []
  6. You could even put together your own workers compensation calculators and EAMS search engines! []
  7. Am I going overboard with these footnotes? []
  8. The answer is “No, I’m not going overboard.”  In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “You can never go too far.” []
Oct
13
2008
1

PDRater.com Facelift

New v5.0

New v5.0

First off, don’t be afraid, this is the same website you’ve come to know and love.  Change can be good!  Besides, this latest change is almost 100% cosmetic.

I have been meaning to change the entire look of PDRater.com for a while now.  Thus far I’ve been focusing on improving the workers’ compensation calculators and the website content.

Previously I showed the evolution of PDRater.com from a ridiculously ugly but useful website into a less ugly and more useful website.  Since these latest changes have been mostly cosmetic rather than functional, this should really be something like Version 4.647.  I figure with adding six new calculators in September and updating the look, I’ve earned the right to call this Version 5.0.

Besides, its my blog, right?

The last theme I used was based upon the fantastic WordPress Themer Kit, which is an incredible tool for people who either have little graphic design skill or who don’t want to build a new theme from scratch.  Ultimately, I just don’t have the skill, time, or inclination to build an aesthetically pleasing theme.  (But, let’s be real, its mostly the lack of skill thing).

That said, I am good at adjusting and incorporating.  The original Aeros theme looked significantly different than the one you see.  I’ve changed the background color, removed the slight transparency, highlighted the different sidebar sections, and moved the top menu to the left side.  Since the theme was open source, this mostly involved tinkering with the CSS and underlying PHP.

How do you like this new theme?  Shoot me an e-mail or leave me a comment.

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