All change!

As I’ve said, following the abortive WordPress move, I decided to spruce up the site. 2½ years ago, I started the site off with a pretty orangey theme, which must have appealed to my Dutch sympathies. Because I hadn’t been blogging for long, this was all pretty much out-of-the-box, I fiddled with things like fonts over time.

I then decided to spruce things up again, a very sepia theme. Sufficient deviation from Blogger’s “factory” theme that I took care to keep a backup, just in case.

Since the wordpress episode, I’ve decided to change once again. In fact, the base was just one of Blogger’s minimalist templates, which I subsequently customised into a kind-of “After Eight” theme. For those of you who aren’t UK, a dark green theme. Right now, it looks elegant, but I expect I’ll tire of this, sooner or later. but being able to take something barebones and customise fonts and colours, that was a big win for Blogger over WordPress.

When I moved back from WordPress, I checked all the post-to-post links were working. I think “all” in any case. There were akmost 400 posts to go through, so it took a while! I’ve also tried to rationalise the labels of each post. I kind-of work on the basis that I want to have as few labels as possible, provided I have a label to cover the post. If not, I’ll create something new. Certainly with some of the early posts, there was a lot of label-editing happened, just because the blog grew organically into what it is now.

So, new theme again. I hope you like it! You can, of course, use the buttons below the post to tell me!

Failure

The experiment is over. My daliance with WordPress is over. I fiddled around with it yesterday and Tuesday, but… it felt a bit like wearing a straitjacket.

I went through the wordpress.com subscription process, having justified to myself that the price of a subscription would be worthwhile I forked out the cash on Tuesday morning. My Blogger site imported nicely, seamless so far. Posts, pages, media, comments…the lot! I then wanted to set up all my domain credentials. With Blogger, I set up the domain, configured the name servers and DNS settings. Blogger said, if you want your domain to point here, just add a few domain prefixes in the DNS. Just like “www”. I added these and, bingo! With wordpress.com, it was a little different. A bit easier, I guess, for a novice user, but less control. wordpress.com just said, “point your name servers to us”, and they took over from there. I did find a way that I could subsequently manage settings through their site, but by then I’d made my decision.

I’m trying at this point to find an article which clearly explain what name servers and DNS are, but failing miserably on the “clearly” front. If you imagine you have a bunch of phone books covering a big city. Do you remember phone books? Well the name server is which one of the phone books you use, and DNS is your phone numbers in that book. A real-world example of DNS is where you type “www” in front of a domain name, to signify world-wide web.Against this record, is the address of a computer, the domain’s web server. Another typical value might be “mail”, say, which points to the mail server. I’ve been brief rather than acurate, but it is near enough.

When you buy a domain name, some companies (e.g. the company that I use) have their own name server (phone book). You use this by default. But you can also change to a different name server if you like. If you choose to stick with their phone book, you can set up whatever DNS entries you like. Like I say, this is your actual name and address. Full control, that’s why I use them. Beyond that, there’s basically a trade-off between control and ease of use. When I signed up with wordpress.com, I said I had the domain name already, and wanted to maintain ownership. You have the option of transferring management to them, but again you surrender control. The solution was for me to keep ownership of the domain, but to reset my name servers over to them, thereby surrendering control of the DNS entries. Obviously, they’d set the ones critical to the blog!

The blog it created looked decent, but I couldn’t configure the appearance anywhere near as much as I can with Blogger. It was frustrating, having this page in front of me, wanting to tweak it, and being unable. I mean, I’ll say early on that if you have no html experience, WordPress is probably easier to use to build a slick-looking web site, but it does that by hiding a lot of things away from the user. You might feel that if you’re starting a blog, you’ve got enough on your plate creating content as it is, but I was unimpressed. I tried to customise something called CSS, which are the instructions they send to a browser, to tell it how to display your page, but I was told that I needed a more expensive plan to do that. Having come from a free platform to start with, to one that cost £48 per year, you can imagine how happy I was to have to pay yet more! Getting cooler!

I did actually create a post in wordpress, although again there were fewer options than in Blogger. They had a nice effect where you could make the first letter of the paragraph bigger. This looked good, but posed problems when I subsequently tried to copy/paste the text into Notepad. Funny, one of the things that was missing, that I find invaluable these days, was a spell-checker. You’ve seen how badly I type! Cooler still.

I also found a funny where it looked like I couldn’t set up my email. An existing mailbox, an existing server. When I hit the links, it wanted to sell me a Gmail address, at more money per month. When you set up a Gmail address through Google, it’s free anyway. These guys were out to get every penny! Ironically, after I cancelled, I discovered a screen where this looked to be possible, but by then it was too late.

The last straw was when I attempted to contact their support team, to find out about this email business. I couldn’t actually get as far as making contact, merely looking at one page or another in their knowledge base. ‘Course, none of their articles covered anything as intricate as what I was looking for. I decided that a relationship with a company I couldn’t even contact was doomed to failure.

So, I’ve spend today putting everything back onto Blogger, including a bit of “rebranding” a new theme. I’ve even customised the CSS – in part, because I can.

There was one silver lining in the cloud – literally. Once I decided to stick with Blogger, I decided to do some tidying on wordpress.com. I figured, I’d bought this hosting plan for two years, the least I could do was to have it point to my real blog. Instead I found a button which at first offered to cancel my subscription (i.e. to not renew it in two years’ time) but this led to a button which allowed me to cancel my subscription immediately, including a refund. So at least I have my money back.

As far as I can tell, everything is safely back on Blogger, looking good and in full working order. The experience has cost me nothing but time. but really having gone through the process I understand only too well some of the pitfalls associated with wordpress.com. So, next time somebody tells me that they use wordpress.com, I’ll take note of their IT skill level!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure wordpress.com is appropriate for some users. If you hate the idea of going anywhere near html, you might like it, although with Blogger, you don’t need to write code either. Furthermore, with the core wordpress.org product, this gets rave reviews precisely for its flexibility, so I’m sure wordpress.com have taken a deliberate decision to eep things simple. And I’m told that wordpress has lots of shopping cart-type plug-ins (certainly with wordpress.com, more functionality equals a greater subscription cost) which are way beyond Blogger’s scope. Blogger is specifically written for blogging, no surprise there.

There is also a warning here. I was lucky to get the refund, but while I’m not earning I can’t really afford to spend that kind of money, without getting some kind of return. I must be more careful in future before committing myself to things.

 

Took the plunge

As readers will know, I have been toying with the idea of switching my blog from Blogger to “WordPress”.

I put that term within quotes, because the first thing I had to learn was exactly what WordPress is! As it turns out, that’s not such a daft question. The core WordPress is basically a content management system. I’m told it is very functional – you can customise most everything! The “pure” product is free, open-source… all the good things we expect from the internet. The product is based at wordpress.org, is written in PHP – a scripting language which is supported by absolutely everyone – and hits a MySQL database. MySQL is another ubiquitous product, traditionally with an “open” ethos, although I learned from my last project that they are now owned by Oracle. Oracle are a big, proprietary database company, so it puts into question just how “open” MySQL remain into the future. In any case, WordPress can work with other databases.  As you might imagine, this application is known simply as “WordPress”. As you might imagine, WordPress sticks all its content into this database, exactly as it should be done, and renders it on the fly to the reader.

So the raw product is just an application that you host somewhere. And that’s where the ambiguity comes in.  There is a host – wordpress.com – a commercial company, out to make a profit, who support this application, and who are also known as WordPress! These people host the application, provide a slick web-based UI to help you to create posts etc. There’s a trade-off, because in making it easy to create content, they also hide some of the detail.

So, I was looking at moving my blog from Blogger to a WordPress site. I’m still not convinced that either will beat the other with a knockout blow, but aficionados tell me that WordPress is ultimately the better platform. In terms of which WordPress host I used, it didn’t overly matter. The main requirement was that it import my existing posts in. WordPress.com was the front-runner, just because I already follow three blogs which are all hosted by wordpress.com, so it is just easier in terms of a single sign-on for all of it (you can read a post anonymously, but as soon as you wish to interact, you have to log in.) That’s who I ended up going with.

And yesterday, I finally bought a wordpress.com subscription. This is my first post using that platform. My initial impressions? Well, it imported okay. It didn’t get many of the inter-page hyperlinks right, I need to check them over the next few days (weeks, probably). I’ve found a “funny” with my email, which I need to try sorting today. In that respect, I have already seen the “dumbing down” effect, as previously, everything was under my control. Visually, they’re much of a muchness. wordpress.com offers a richer choice of templates, but once you choose a template, you’re quite tightly-defined. I always liked their themes, another reason for moving. Blogger has fewer templates, but has more choice exactly how you lay your page out. I’ve chosen a very minimalist theme, for now.

So, no firm feelings on whether I’ve made the right choice. I’m still in the have I / haven’t I made. I’m already missing the spellchecker that I used to have on Blogger. Worst-case, this is a few pounds down the drain.

Backstop

I was fixing the links on my posts yesterday. My “politics” page had a link on it which claimed to be a link to a post on Theresa May’s deal. In fact, the post was a critique of May herself, and didn’t really touch on the deal. So I just wanted something in writing which reported my thoughts. They’ve fleshed out a bit since I first became aware of the deal, but only really because the guts of the deal took time to filter out.

I would have gone with the deal. To put it into context, though, I’d have been happy with a very soft Brexit. The key issues for me were around governance, not day-to-day issues. A lot of things done by the EU have been positive. I do think that the agreement left a lot of things unsaid, though. But they could be discussed later.

One of the things that it did say, and something which has proved very contentious since, was about Northern Ireland. Again, bear in mind that my version of Brexit would have seen the UK very much in harmony with the EU, so the Irish border would never have been an issue, but…

I think you have a couple of over-riding concerns there, but only really a couple.

Primarily, there is a border there between the UK and the EU. Rules, regulations, standards even, must be assumed to diverge over time. Also, in respect of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that there would be freedom of movement across that border.

On Day #1, there is no problem, but, as I say, we have to allow for things to diverge (or for politicians to want some divergence to happen, at any rate.

So, we assume divergence. In the future, things could be so different between us that either the EU or the UK might want to put checks in place, to ensure that everything coming in is up-to-scratch. Both might have different rates of duty, so there might need to be some form-filling. Rather like VAT currently.

The solution? Well, the UK have said that “technology will sort it”. The problem is that this is all a bit untested. In any case, nobody has taken steps to introduce this technology yet, so even if it were possible, people might have their work cut out. As I say, on Day #1 is won’t matter, nut on Day #2, it might.

So the EU have raised the question “what if your untested solution doesn’t work?” And they have proposed the solution known as the “Irish Backstop”. The plan is basically that, in the absence of a working solution, the UK keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the Republic, so everything remains homogeneous. I mean, we can handle things like different tax rates, because that happens now. But, there is no duty now, so what if you need to cater for duties? And, what if you want to check goods (or people) as they arrive in your bloc?

Their proposal seems reasonable enough, but at that point, politics takes over. Northern Ireland’s unionists say “well, we can’t have NI being treated any differently to the rest of the UK”. That’s their main mantra. Conservatives are unionists also, although they are mostly English, so their fervour may be diluted. But, in principle, they sympathise. The Democratic Unionist Party is also propping up the Conservative government at the moment, so that adds an extra dynamic.

So, the implication here is that, if the EU want Northern Ireland to remain aligned, then that means that the whole of the UK must remain aligned. To some people, that’s not Brexit (although exactly what Brexit was, was never defined). For me, I have no problem with alignment, in any case neither do I have a problem that Northern Ireland is treated differently, to me the Irish Sea seems an ideal place to perform checks, if they ever need to happen. but to some people, this is a showstopper. Dare I say that not wanting to perform checks might be driven by cost as much as it is by principles? The UK is, after all, in quite a safe position as regards the standards of goods coming in from the EU – you wouldn’t really expect 27 member states to change direction because 1 member state decides to leave. But there are very real fears about the relationship going the other way, because who knows how UK politicians see our future?

The critical thing is that this was not just the EU’s suggestion, but it made it into the deal that Theresa May agreed with the EU and then asked the British parliament to approve. They rejected it, was it three times?

So, that’s it in a nutshell, and the reason why some people are up in arms against the whole agreement (or should I say, disagreement?).

There is also the side-issue raised during the Tory leadership, just really that timescales now are so tight, that there’s very little time to change anything. Anything substantial, at any rate. The EU have said “if you don’t like the backstop, then propose something else instead”, but nothing else has even been forthcoming. Of course, we can argue still more about why timescales are so tight, but they are. The UK public elected a Conservative government in 2017, and they must have known then that Brexit was the key task, so we only have ourselves to blame. We are where we are.

Doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Arbitrage – woes with wordpress.com

Arbitrage is a complex name for something that’s actually very simple. You sell a product for $10 in the USA. You sell that same product in the UK for £10. In the real world $1 ≠ £1. The difference between the two, that’s arbitrage. It’s money for nothing, as long as you’re prepared to travel to a different currency with your goods or service. For multi-nationals, that isn’t a problem. In the age of internet shopping, that isn’t a problem.

For me, it always used to get my goat that American companies, in particular, would assume that £1 = $1. American companies drove computing, let alone the internet, and it basically meant that UK customers paid more. Either buy it in GBP, and accept our unfair rate, or buy it in USD, and pay the duty.

With software, in particular, we don’t really have that any more. Most things are delivered over the web, so there’s no concept of a disk going through customs. There’s not really any mechanism for an individual to pay VAT, say, other than at the point of sale. There is for businesses, and that becomes more complicated. Companies do try a bit of arbitrage, but it is usually acceptable. It’s less hassle just to pay an extra few pennies, and to know that you’ve paid in GBP, and be done with it. It also saves on banks charging for currency conversions.

However, yesterday I came across something old-school. I’ve been looking at wordpress.com, and they want £48 from me for a year’s basic subscription. When I set up the WordPress account, I must’ve said “UK” somewhere, so they know to bill me in GBP. However I was chatting to my (American) friend, he says he gets billed $48.

At today’s exchange rate, $1 should cost me £0.90, so $48 should cost me £43.19. This is using the site xe.com with today’s numbers. Yet, wordpress.com wants me to pay £48. It’s only £5 difference, but that’s an extra 10%. Imagine if everything you paid for each month just got 10% more expensive, you’d soon notice!

As you can guess from my tone, this all seems unfair. Why don’t wordpress work on the basis of “we want $48 per year per subscription”, then leave it to somebody like Paypal to calculate the amount, in the user’s local currency? Paypal allows users to pay in their local currency anyway, thereby saving them on bank charges. I’m sure there must be a little fee for their arbitrage in there anyway, but 10%?

So, I questioned them. This was all done yesterday, so at least they answer queries on a Sunday. The response started off pretty lame – “we can’t control exchange rates”. D’uh, thank you for assuming that I’m so stupid, I didn’t realise that. And, “if we billed you in US dollars, you’d only get hit by the bank for fees instead”. So, you’re giving me the choice of being screwed by the bank, or screwed by you? They did say that they would convert my GBP account to a USD account, if I wished, so at least I’d be able to choose.

Actually, writing this has made me realise – I choose neither. I really don’t like the ethics of a company who say “we will charge you more for our service, depending on where you live”.

I’m still thinking about wordpress.org, but I doubt it’ll be on wordpress.com. WordPress.org recommends a dew other companies – they all offer subscription services, but it’s not the subscription part that I object to, it’s the “having bought a subscription, we’re going to try and get some more out of you anyway”. As for “we can’t control exchange rates”, that just goes to show how dumb they think I am. But ultimately, I’m happy to stick with Blogger for now, after all, it satisfies my current needs, and contemplate a change at my leisure.