5 Things to think about before using WordPress.

[I’m gonna upgrade the site today, so you might experience temporary interuptions while I do a backup of the existing pages and content and replace with the newest, latest WordPress version, version 2.6.3.]

A friend of mine recently said he wanted to start blogging, and was looking at WordPress to use as a blog. I quite like WordPress, as you may have noticed. I have been using it for some years now, but there are some caveats to be aware of for a blogger new to WordPress:

  1. If you decide to host your own blog, be prepared to upgrade at short notice. Since WordPress has become very popular to use as a blog platform, the hackers target this much more now as well. My blog got hacked this year sometime during the two or three weeks I was vacationing and enjoying the summer, so you really need to regularly visit your blog and check it (WordPress now tells you in the admin interface that an update is available). An alternative is to use the blogging platform that WordPress provides via www.wordpress.com.
  2. Test any new plugins that you want to install one by one, especially if they are new or in beta.
  3. Disable free registration for users; this seems to be a popular way of attacking, first creating a user on your blog and then using privilige escalation to get write access to your site. If you want that other people contribute to your blog, define them yourself.
  4. Get an Akismet API key (free for personal bloggers) and open up your comments for all visitorss : let akismet do the heavy work of checking your comments for spam, and give your visitors the chance to react.
  5. Make a regular backup of both your wordpress db content and your files on the site; especially, do this before you upgrade !

There are many more tips, but these are the ones that I practice.

A new revolution : storing electricity from the sun

It seems that a new revolution is under way, and in less than 10 years we homeowners should have a source of renewable energy, simply by using the sun and water (and some catalysts) :

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan’s new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity — whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source — runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it’s easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.

I think that it would be really cool if this made it’s way to the top. Of course, being the 40ish year old cynical wiseguy that I am, I wonder if the oil companies and the electrical power companies (both behemoth energy suppliers) will be happy, and if unhappy, what they will do about it. In the article, they claim that powerlines could soon be a thing of the past, but I disagree with that : you could still give energy back via those lines, and someone inventive enough is going to find another solution to reuse them.

My hope is that those companies show themselves to be flexible and ready to adapt to the new possibilities.

Oh, and by the way, this is my 300th post !!!

Selfcleaning clothes

This is amazing ! Researchers in Australia (woot!) have discovered a way to coat wool (and seemingly other keratin-based materials) with titanium dioxide crystals, in a way that, using sunlight, organic dirt is ‘burned’ and removed. This is dissimilar to other methods that repell water, oil or dirt in that the dirt is actually consumed by the reaction between the crystals and sunlight.

True, you need several hours of sunlight for the material to clean itself, so it is not instant, but still, this would be great : hang your clothes out in the sunshine, and they’ll clean themselves.  Apparently it is harmless, though I would need to have proof of that before wearing it. And I’m wondering if you could coat your hair with it; self-cleaning hair, anyone ?

On a side note, a way to repel oil on a glassy surface like my iPhone touch screen would certainly help in keeping it smudge free !

Open helix structures in space contain liquids better than closed containers.

Instead of using coffee cups in space, dear spaceman, try drinking your coffee from corkscrew (helix) cups.

I have a hard time to see how somebody on Earth managed to find this solution to a problem in space, but it is very cool ! Potentially, it could also have big implications in nano workings, where things become so small that gravity is negligible and you need to devise alternate ways of containing fluids.

www.international-orders.com customer service is no good. In fact, it's bad.

When I ordered my iphone I ordered it from the USA via the site www.international-orders.com.While the actual delivery was speedy, the follow-up was not. When I ordered it I didn’t want to take any chances with customs and taxes, so I payed to have it shipped out to me including prepaid taxes and customs duties for the additional amount of 157,49 dollars extra.

However, 2 weeks after receiving my iphone, I received an additional invoice from fedex, asking me to pay another 27,99 euros. This turned out to be the invoice that was supposed to have been prepaid by International Orders. However, it was not prepaid. The Fedexbill clearly showed the tick marks that the recipient was to pay for the customs fee.

So I asked them to refund me the 157,49 dollars I had already payed. That’s 109 euros I paid them to pay a bill of 27,99 euros. Clearly they have a serious profit margin on pre-paid customs and duties…

At first they apologized, then they hemmed and hawed, and then only wanted to pay the additional bill and no refund IF I could show them proof of payment ! I wonder how I, a Belgian, can convince an American that yes, this piece of paper in Flemish that I sent to you is indeed proof of payment…

Really ! First you get a customer who pays you to send it prepaid, then by making a mistake you make him pay more and potentially a fine ( the iphone was undervalued on the form), and then you want to reimburse him only for the additional cost and then only if he has shown you proof of payment !

My advise : be careful when dealing with internet shops, and be especially careful with International Orders !

Racetrack memory.

Interesting post pointing to the possibility of a new kind of memory called ‘racetrack memory‘ under development by an IBM Fellow.

If this could become a reality within a few years, I agree with the author – this could change the way we look at storing data, heck you wouldn’t mind letting your camera on all day (if your batteries could follow, ofcourse), no worries about storing any kind of content anymore.

Detecting Cancer Cells in the blood in your body a.k.a Medical Tricorder !

The Star Trek medical diagnostic appliance called the tricorder is not very far away anymore. In facts, it’s here.

You do need to have a labelling-agent inside you so that only the tumor-cells fluoresce, but hey, the days are still young. A few adaptations and hop, soon we will all have those gadget devices that Doctor Jim had….

Star Trek Medical Tricorder