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.

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

Cooking with sound : a combo stove-generator-fridge

ArsTechnica has a cool new post about a tool to help developing nations use their energy more efficiently.

It’s a combination stove/fridge/generator that is ingeniously crafted. Yet, according to Ars, the building and maintenance of the thing itself (that is based on a stirling engine) is not difficult. What it means is that the design was difficult to make, but that the creation, application and maintenance of this new device does not (hopefully) need a highly trained technician.

Let’s hope this goes into production, it’s a neat and very practical idea.

RFID firewalls are here !

Today I read an Ars Technica article about a new protection for your RFID tags (you know, those tags that are now used for taking stock of inventory, theft protection, and are now showing up in passports).

What great about this new protection is that you can configure which tags you want to allow to be queried – you can even select trusted readers, for example if you have an RFID chip in your card that allows you access to your work building, you can allow that reader to query that tag, but no others.

So far it’s still in development, but if and/or when RFIDs become more and more pervasive, this will come in useful.

Using RFID to configure your wireless network

Apple has gotten a bright idea (and patented it right away too) : put a Radio Frequency ID (RFID) chip in your networking device, and bring them in close proximity to each other.

They’ll recognise each other, and can then configure the rest of the wireless network setup themselves : an extract from the MacRumors site :

The system describes using RFID tags in networking equipment that would communicate basic configuration settings when the devices got close to one another. The devices would then be able to establish a rudimentary network based on that information and be able to automatically finish setting up a more complex and secure wireless network.

Personally, I think it’s a damn cool idea, one of those “slap-your-forehead and wonder why nobody thought of this before” ideas…

I can already see it before me : you’ve bought a new laptop, you come home and unbox it, and bring it close to your router during the network setup. They see it each other and immediately set themselves up using the correct protocols and keys.

Still, two things need to be cleared up : one, RFID chips in their current state are notoriously unsecure, so Apple will need to secure them in one way or another, and two, there has to be a mechanism to agree on the router that you want to add a new client (a button to press ?).