The customer service rep…

Sometime back, I was talking on the phone to a customer service representative about some product or another. He needed to snail mail me some information.

Now the conversation went something like this (names changed but not the concept):
Customer Rep: Can I get your name, please.
Me: James Piper.
Rep: Diaper?
Me: No, PIPER!
Rep: Diaper?
Me: NO! PIPER! P as in Paul, i-p-e-r!
Rep: OH! Okay. Thank you.

A few days later I got the information in the mail. It was addressed to Paul Iper.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sphider 2.2 is in the works

The subject(s) has come up recently about the use of html tables, css, and mobile browsers.

Looking at the Sphider search pages, there is room for improvement. So work has begun to alter the code to do away with html tables and expand the use of css. The result is that the appearance of the search page layouts using css is nearly identical to look using html tables.

The kick is, it makes it easier to customize the look from template to template. Even a new template has come about. Named “mobile”, it is much easier to see/use on a mobile device. The search page will also detect the use of a mobile and force the mobile template even when it is not the template set in the configuration and seen by anyone NOT on a mobile.

The changes have already been made and will now undergo a period of testing. Most likely, Sphider classic will see the new version first, with PDO a short time later. If this will also carry over to the PostgreSQL and SQLite variation has not yet been decided.

Core functionality will have no change. This new release will be for benefit of the user’s clients, the people who actually use the search feature.

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To get an idea how the mobile template will work, first visit
https://www.worldspaceflight.com/sphider/search.php
with a desktop or laptop. Then visit the same link with a mobile device.

Feedback appreciated.

NASA announces date maiden flight of Crew Dragon

NASA recently announced that an unmanned test of the SpaceX Crew Dragon to the ISS will take place on 7 January 2019. The Boeing Starliner will have a similar test sometime in March.

If all goes well, The first manned flight of Crew Dragon will be sometime in June with the Starliner doing so in August.

But there are no guarantees. Both vessels do have issues. With the Crew Dragon, there are parachute issues and, more importantly, concerns about the high pressure helium tank. Remember the tank failure on 1 September 2016 that took out the Falcon 9 and the entire launch pad?

Personally, I am concerned about SpaceX’s procedure in which the crew is boarded BEFORE the Falcon 9 is fueled. The crew has to sit atop the rocket while fueling takes place. I know SpaceX fuels at the last minute because they use super-cooled propellants for added power. But I have to ask, is a little extra efficiency more desirable than a reduced risk to human life? For purely cargo or satellite launches, go for it. But when lives are at stake?

I like what SpaceX has accomplished. They are definitely daring. But then again, there is a fine line between between being daring and being cocky. Cocky can get you killed.

 

Sphider 2.1 released

It was found that all variations of Sphider 2.0.* had a flaw in the search capability. While earlier versions allowed wild card searches (*), or not contained searches (-), this ability was inadvertently blocked in 2.0! It seems the work to improve security and block undesirable searches went too far!

This is resolved in all variations of 2.1 – Classic, PDO, PostgreSQL, and SQLite.

A family tradition

It is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. Many families have traditions for Thanksgiving. My family when I was growing up was no different. This is the story of one of those traditions.

It began about 1955 or 1956 when we got our first television set. It was on the first Thanksgiving after getting the television that my father discovered the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He would turn on the television, set the channel for the parade… and leave the room to do other things, never to return. But God help the soul who, in his absence, attempted to change to another channel! That was strictly forbidden! So every Thanksgiving, we would turn on the television, tune in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, … and leave the room to find other things to do. Nobody had any real interest in watching the thing… but it just HAD to be on.

After I had left home and had my own family, the tradition died, at least in my house. If we went to visit the folks on Thanksgiving, the parade was on… with nobody watching. My father didn’t miss a Thanksgiving Day parade (which he never watched) a single time until he died in the early 1980’s.

Why I hate Microsoft

I have a number of computers. My main desktop machine runs Ubuntu (currently 18.04), but I have another desktop running Windows 7. I also have a newer laptop (which I don’t use much) with Windows 10. I also have an older laptop, which rarely even gets powered on anymore, with Linux Mint.

Well, I have always had nightmares with Windows update. It seems always to need to do something right when it is least convenient, and is problem prone. As a result, I just disable the service and update ONLY when it’s a) been awhile since the last time, and b) it’s a good time for me.

Today, both conditions were met. I re-enabled the Windows Update service and checked for updates. It took nearly half an hour and discovered there were 6 “needed” updates. One was the totally useless Malicious Software Removel Tool, which runs a long time and does nothing. I deep sixed that one that one and proceeded with the other 5. Another half hour went by as the system downloaded 5 updates. Time to install. It worked, and worked, and worked… said it needed to restart. Okay, fine. “Configuring updates”. “Configuring updates”. … You know how that goes. Finally, it’s been “configuring for another half hour and it has reached 98% complete. Then, the very thing I just KNEW was going to happen, did. “Windows was unable to configure updates. Reverting changes”. CRAP! But not the first time I’ve ever seen that happen!

Anyway, while all that was going on, I was over on my Ubuntu box. I use that one every day, so it is pretty up to date. I figured I would check anyway, so I did an “apt-get update”, and there was one for Linux firmware. I installed it… no reboot needed. I went online and made a few tweaks to another one of my web sites, did some surfing, worked a bit in Libre Office…. Meanwhile, back at the Windows ranch, the “reverting changes” was getting underway. I had to go to the bank, which I did. I was hungry, so I went to get something to eat. Got back home and decided to boot up the old Linux Mint laptop. It had been AT LEAST six months, so you can imagine. It needed a gazillion updates, which I proceed to do. It definitely took awhile (no idea how many updates were actually done), but they all completed without any issues. No reboots were needed. I found some outdated apps and updated them. My Libre Office was still at version 5, so I upgraded it. Took a phone call, went back on my Ubuntu machine and did a bit more work. Then I played with the cat for a bit. After three hours of “reverting changes”, Windows was ready.

So Microsoft Windows took between four and four and a half hours…. accomplishing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

I updated the Windows 10 laptop a couple nights ago, and that took a couple hours. Surprisingly, this time it actually worked.

After years of experience with Microsoft, beginning with DOS 2.11 up to now (I avoided 95/98/ME like the plague and was more into NT 3.51, 4.0, etc. – except Vista/8/8.1), and years with UNIX SYSTEM V, into Red Hat, and finally Ubuntu, I have learned this moral:

The quality of an operating system is inversely proportional to its cost.

Note that Ubuntu is free.

I compose this rant on Ubuntu.

Sphider demo

A demonstration of Sphider can now be experienced at the Sphider Home site demo page.

You can search the sites content and images, as well as a sample of an RSS feed.

You can play around with the Sphider admin console, although naturally you can’t commit the changes. Still, you get an idea of the look and feel of Sphider under the hood.

Header photo

The header photo you see is of the Canyon Diablo bridge at Two Guns, AZ. This bridge was built in 1915 and served the National Old Trails Road. In 1926, this section of road became part of Route 66. The bridge was the Canyon Diablo crossing for 66 until 1938 when Route 66 was slightly rerouted in the area. The ruins on the far side of the bridge served as a store for many years.

Sphider for WordPress

About three years ago, I attempted a port of Sphider to WordPress. What did result was buggy and incomplete. The Search tab on this blog actually contains a sample of what came out of the effort.

Among the MANY problems:
1. It gives more results that is really desired, making it pretty useless.
2. If the number of results goes beyond one page… well, it breaks if you try go to the next page!
3. Suggestions don’t even begin to work.
4. The effort was based on Sphider 1.5.1, and PHP has advanced since then. Now I can’t even get a screen to do a re-index if I wanted to.
5. It is VERY difficult to integrate into a WordPress theme.
6. There are other issues, but they don’t come to mind off hand.

So, in a nutshell, that attempted port was a dud. An laughable and unmitigated disaster might be a good way to describe it.

Now, Sphider seems to be stable (famous last words?), and I am often a glutton for punishment, so I am THINKING about trying again… kind of a Sphider for WordPress, Take 2, pre-alpha…

This would have to be thought out before actually doing anything, but these are my considerations so far:
1. History has taught that not all hosts provide the MySQLnd module for PHP. Therefore any future WordPress port would need to be based on the PDO Sphider. Version 2 supports PHP 7.1, so that would be the beginning basis.
2. WordPress uses its own class, the wpdb Class, to interact with the database. So code would need to be changed to use wpdb. That is a LOT of code… BUT… why would the spider part of Sphider need to use the wpdb class? Spidering (indexing) itself really doesn’t need to be integrated into WordPress, does it? All it is doing is populating the sphider database. So why couldn’t the spider and search functions of Sphider be separated? The only thing those two functions currently share with each other is the database connection. The current spider part could remain as is (with some modifications specific to WordPress page needs), and only the search function be rewritten to use the wpdb class (with its own database connection). Both functions would connect to the same database but in different manners.
3. Would a WordPress Sphider really need to use categories as used in Sphider? I am thinking not. So scratch that capability. I don’t think we need RSS feed indexing or image indexing, so those can also be cut. We are only concerned with a single site (the blog on which it would be installed), so more code simplification. This all reduces the size and complexity of spidering (indexing).
4. Perhaps embedded into the indexing function would be the elimination of looking it unnecessary places, like /wp-json, /category, /feed… This would reduce the size of the database and eliminated some of the redundant “finds” when a search is performed.
5. Naturally, the search function would eliminate RSS and image search functions and retain the keyword search.
6. Try to get the search page to more easily integrate with themes.
7. Get the multipage search returns to function, forward and backward, without producing an error.
8. Get suggestions to work.

Okay. Before I get in too deep…
1. Is there any real interest in a Sphider for WordPress?
2. Anything I’m missing in thinking ahead?
3. Anybody have any experience integrating content into WordPress themes? Care to share?

Feedback would be appreciated. In fact, without feedback, I may conclude the whole idea is more trouble than it’s worth.


UPDATE: So… I got brave and changed my theme. And the theme had the ability to add a Search widget. And playing around with this simple search, it seems to work just fine. Granted, it is just a simple search, not one with and/or or phrase options, but quite functional nonetheless. I have to imagine any decent theme can do the same thing. Unless there is really a big need for a Sphider for WordPress, I think I’ll save myself the trouble and pass. 🙂

Did you know…

The WorldSpaceFlight site covers a lot of territory. There are shortcut ways of reaching particular sets of pages.

Americainspace.com redirects to the America in Space pages.
Russiainspace.com redirects to the Russia in Space pages.
Chinainspace.com redirects to the China in Space pages.
Canadainspace.com redirects to the Canada in Space pages.
Europeinspace.com redirects to the Europe in Space pages.
Japaninspace.com redirects to the Japan in Space pages.
And astronauts-n-cosmonauts.com redirects to the astronaut and cosmonaut Bio pages.

Other sets of pages within WorldSpaceFlight aren’t so lucky. But the big seven sets which are may save you a little bit of typing.