Upgrade Your WordPress Plugins

If you’re like me, you probably don’t check your plugin page very often.  Aside from activating something new you’ve uploaded, there’s really no reason.  The problem, however, is that your forget to update your plugins.  After taking a look at my page the other day, I found several notifications like this:

upgrad_wordpress_plugins

Yikes. That sounds urgent. Just like upgrading your WordPress installation, upgrading plugins is very important. New versions often fix security issues, known bugs, usability, etc. Be sure to backup your installation and deactivate the selected plugin before performing major upgrades – the last thing you want is a PHP error that makes your blog inaccessible.

If you’ll be spending a few minutes upgrading multiple plugins, you might want to install Maintenance Mode – a cool little plugin that shows a message to visitors that your blog is being worked on and will be up shortly.

Of iPhones and Gnomes…

Big Prize. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, there’s a good chance you’re somewhat familiar with the name. Whether you check the fan page every hour, are constantly confused by the odd little sayings your friends write on their wall, or your Twitter homepage is sprinkled with #moonfruit tweets – you’ve seen the name.

BigPrize

In less than two weeks, and with over 140,000 fans at last check, Big Prize is taking over – by giving stuff away!  The people at Big Prize seem to understand something very basic to human nature – we like free stuff.  Want to attract a lot of people?  Give them really expensive things…for free.

Now, as with every “free giveaway” program, Big Prize has raised plenty of skepticism, especially after the consecutive winnings of Ben Scott.  Ben was one of the people I got to talk with, and he has a very interesting story about Big Prize.  Ben actually won 4 different prizes – 3 t-shirts and an iPod Touch.  While a lot of people posted some pretty rude things about him, he won it all fair and square, simply tweeting responses when he received Twitter SMS updates.  That’s not good enough for some people, and Ben gave up 2 of his shirts to calm the storm of people essentially angry over the fact that they didn’t win.

To be fair to those truly wary, I was also a tad hesitant at first.  However, after doing a little reading, tweeting, Facebook stalking (and discovering that it’s sponsored by Startlike), I was (and am) sold.  So how can someone just give away iPhones, MacBooks and golf clubs?  The answer is pretty straight forward, and involves something my mom has hounded me about for years – budgeting.

As with any company, Startlike has a marketing budget.  This is how they can give away awesome little freebies that we all love so much like t-shirts and koozies (honestly, what is it about free shirts that makes us salivate?).  It’s also how they can afford to chuck out more iPhones than self-taken mirror shots on an middle schoolers Facebook.  Which do you think is more effective – banner ads, pens, and rubber key chains or TaylorMade drivers, iPhones, and MacBooks?

As Michael Scott (Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. in Scranton, PA) has taught us, this is what’s called a “win-win-win”.  Big Prize experiences an exponential growth of fans (hopefully attracting partners), Startlike gets more attention, and all the fans and Twitter followers get the opportunity to win stuff.  Viral marketing at its finest, in my opinion.  Traffic, fans, and interest grows through Facebook “word-of-mouth”, with minimal-to-no direct advertising.

Ok, so all that’s fine and dandy – but why do you care?  As the end consumer, you just want to know that you aren’t getting scammed.  That’s where I come in.  Over the past few days, I’ve been gathering interviews from a few people who have been Big Prize winners.  Everyone I talked to was happy to answer my questions – I guess free iPhones tend to put people in a good mood.

Now, as Facebook is geared towards sharing information with friends, most people I talked with found Big Prize through the wall posts of friends or direct referrals.  Michelle Cramer, however, saw something about it on her Startlike homepage.  A few days ago, I wrote a post about how much I enjoy my own Startlike homepage, and it’s neat to see a winner who uses it on a regular basis.

Basically, though, I just wanted to find out if winners actually got their prizes, and if they got them quickly.  My answer:  a resounding double yes.  Everyone I talked with had great communication with Big Prize, and they received their prizes about a week after winning.

“They were really quick about it, within a week I got it.” – Binal Patel

“They told me on June 29th or 30th I would get the gift card . . . on July 8th. I got it on July 2nd.” – Benjamen Scott

“The prize . . . arrived by postal mail the following week. No muss, no fuss.” – Eric Alderman

“I received my [prize] about a week after winning it, which in my opinion is pretty quick!” – Michelle Cramer

So, after speaking to 4 completely satisfied winners, I can safely say that yes, Big Prize is giving things away – no scams, no ploys.  “No muss, no fuss.”

Now, explaining why I’m a Big Prize fan is like trying to explain to my best friend Daniel (a Celtics fan) why I’ve been a die-hard Laker for 11 years – they’re the best program in the league, backed by some terrific players (in Big Prize’s case, Startlike), and Kobe Bryant is the finest example of hard work, dedication, and fundamental perfection the NBA has to offer.  Ok, so that last one didn’t really apply at all, but it’s my blog.

Show me another company that can give away thousands of dollars in free stuff, carry on great personal customer relations, generate thousands and thousands of Facebook fans in a few days, and represent themselves with a gnome.  In the meantime, my computer’s broken, and I could really use a MacBook – so excuse me while I keep playing.

Embed RSS Feeds in WordPress

WordPress makes it easy (well, kind of) to embed RSS feeds into your WordPress template, so you can have a feed displayed in your sidebar, footer, or anywhere else you want in your PHP files. To do this, I used a combination of code from Darren Hoyt and Jeriko.

first, from Darren

<?php
require_once (ABSPATH . WPINC . '/rss.php');
$rss = @fetch_rss('RSS FEED HERE');
if ( isset($rss->items) && 0 != count($rss->items) ) {
?>
<ul>
<?php
$rss->items = array_slice($rss->items, 0, NUMBER OF ITEMS);
foreach ($rss->items as $item ) {
?>
<li>

and then the bit from Jeriko

<a href='<?php echo wp_filter_kses($item['link']); ?>'>
  <?php echo wp_specialchars($item['title']); ?>
</a>
</li>
<?php } ?>
</ul>
<?php } ?>

A Few Steps to Prevent Laptop Overheating

It’s clear that desktop users have a solid advantage over laptop users in the category of customization and personal repairs. It’s much, much harder to do a repair on or even build a laptop than it is to do so on a desktop. If something goes wrong, such as constant overheating in this case, laptop users don’t have much choice than working around the problem, whereas those with stationary PC’s can simply add a fan.

My Pavilion has been overheating a lot recently, leading to lots of frustration on my part.  I mean, you’d be frustrated too if you had a few tabs open, maybe iTunes and OpenOffice – and your computer just shut off.

Anyway, here’s a quick list of tips/things to use so your computer doesn’t overheat.

  • Download SystemExplorer and use it.  It’s much more comprehensive than the default Windows task explorer.  Use it to guage how much memory certain processes are using.  For me, the big killer is Firefox the majority of the time.
  • If you know you won’t be using them for a while, quite background programs like LogMeIn, media managers, etc.  Even consider stopping Google Desktop indexing if you’re computer is particularly bad – this program can eat up memory like a piece of fried chicken at a Baptist convention.
  • Clean your computer with compressed air.  This sounds weird, but I’ve heard that cleaning out all that dust can actually lower the temperature.
  • Allow ample room for ventilation.  Since most laptop fans are on the bottom, this can be difficult.  The best way is by purchasing a cooling pad.  There are basically two types of cooling pads – electric ones and just plain pads.  The pads usually work to prop up the computer and allow the fan to blow out hot air, while the electric pads plug into the USB port and add extra cooling.  You can usually pick up a good Belkin pad for around $20.

Quick Fix for Ubuntu/Windows Boot

grub-15

Recently, while waiting for my Grub 1.5 to start up, I was met by a blinking underscore. I sat for a few minutes, hoping that it would go away and that I wouldn’t be faced with anything like my previous problem.

However, it didn’t – and I got worried. Problems booting a secondary OS like Ubuntu is one thing, but not having access to anything can make your heart skip!

Thankfully, though, the fix was easy enough. Basically, before turning on your computer, you just need to make sure you have ejected all external media (flash drives, SD cards, external hard drives, etc). For some reason, Grub is confused, thinking that there may be a bootable OS plugged in.

Simply eject your media (while the computer is off) and try again. Voila!

Need to FTP on the run? net2ftp it!

[tag]net2ftp[/tag] is a free site that allows you quick and easy access to your [tag]server[/tag] for [tag]transferring[/tag] files. This might come in handy if you’re, say, at a limited permissions computer and can’t use a portable [tag]FTP[/tag] like [tag]FileZilla[/tag].

net2ftp is very easy to use and uses [tag]java[/tag], [tag]flash[/tag], or simple “browse” to [tag]upload[/tag] files. It’s quick, free, and easy to log in, so if you’re in a situation where you can’t get to your usual FTP software, try it out!

net2ftp

I’m hungry, feed me!

In the past, I have used default WordPress RSS feeds. However, in the past fewFeedBurner days, as I have redone much of the site, I thought it was time to optimize the feeds and begin tracking statistics.

FeedBurner, which was recently bought by Google, allows for the creation of various types of feeds, from normal blogs to podcasts. You have the option to advertise with your feed, track user statistics in terms of RSS link hits and email subscribers, and much more.

I have to say that my favorite part of FeedBurner is the option to have users subscribe via email. For a while, I’ve had several readers ask about this, but I didn’t know the best way to meet this need. FeedBurner lets me easily put a customizable subscribe box on my site, and they take care of the rest. I can set up a default time to email subscribers about new posts and change other preferences in my account.

All in all, FeedBurner is a wonderful, free tool to get return visitors and readers to your blog. Plus, it’s a Google product.

FeedBurner

Forget Aero, I like XP’s Looks!

For a long time, I have ranted and raved about the ugly glass look of Windows Vista.  While I haven’t had problems with the performance, as others have, the look really bugs me.  Until now, I have used Stardock ObjectDock to cope, eliminating the taskbar.  However, the windows (explorer.exe, dwm.exe) still have the same feel.

Today is a great day.  Today, I added a visual style.  Visual styles allow you to change the appearance of Windows.  By default, the only styles available are “Aero”, “Classic”,  and “Standard”.  So, basically, either glassy windows or greyed out, sharp edged windows.

I settled for neither.  Sure, there are programs like WindowsBlinds that will make the process of changing the OS appearance easy, but why spend so much money when it can be done for free (and lower on system resources for that matter)?  I have always been fond of the Windows XP look, so I found a nice little theme called Royale that mimics that look.  Take a look below to see if you can tell the difference.  While it’s not identical to the actual Windows XP theme, it’s pretty darn close and most certainly beats Aero.

2009-01-22_1630022

2009-01-22_163029

Here is a step by step guide to changing the look and feel of your desktop.  Visual styles and themes can be found easily by performing a quick google search, or searching sites like DeviantArt.

First, we need to get patched version of 3 files in your Windows/System32 folder.  Get these files here.  *Please note to get the files for your specific OS.

Use something (like 7zip), to unzip the .RAR file.  You should be left with three .dll files.

Open up an explorer window and go to C://Windows/System32.  Since you’re using Vista, just type in “uxtheme.dll” in the search box.  When this comes up, change it to read “uxtheme.old”.  This will keep the file in your System32 folder.  In case something goes wrong, just rename it back to a .dll file.

Do this same process for the files “themeui.dll” and “shsvcs.dll”.

Now, simply drag the three freshly downloaded files into the System32 folder.  You should note that they have the same names as the ones you just changed.

Since this change affects the way things look, and especially Windows system files, you should restart your computer.

After that, all you have to do is apply the visual style of your choice.  For organization purposes, I would suggest copying the styles into the Windows/Resources/Themes folder.  Once there, just double click the .msstyles file.  After a few seconds, the style should be applied!

    Speed Up Computer Boot Time

    Here’s a great little trick from Chris Pirillo that helps to speed up your computer by utilizing all processors that you have.  By default, Windows usually only uses one, but you can benefit immensly by simply using all of them.

    Password Security

    I was recently informed by one of my professors just how insecure the password system is for the national voting machines.  You can read the entire paper by Professor Duncan Buell right here.

    Apparently, there is a set of three passwords, each of them three characters long, that stand between the user and administrator access to the machine.  It gets even more ridiculously simple, but the point is – it’s not secure.  At all.

    Essentially, setting up a GMAIL account would be more secure.

    This entry is short and not very insightful, but I hope the warning will prove useful.  I’m positive that in your day to day life, you use several passwords to access private information:  email, facebook, personal computer, school computer, online banking, etc.  Please, please, please make these passwords complex, consisting of letters (both capitalized and non-capitalized), and numbers.

    If you have trouble creating passwords, use tips like these or free generators like this one.  If you have trouble remembering passwords, use a protected manager like this.

    A novice hacker can generally hack into a “secure” Windows machine with a Knoppix cd and some time, and so passwords are obviously not all there is to having a secure tech life.  However, by protecting your online accounts, you can save a lot of frustration, embarrasment, and MONEY.