You’re owed an apology, dear reader, for the 2-month hiatus with the blog. It’s down to a variety of reasons compounding each other, and alternately forcing me to prioritise other pressing problems, then when I tried seizing the initiative again, frustrating me with technical issues and actually preventing posting. You probably never noticed it, due to the nature of the exploit, but this blog was drawn into this nightmare of invisible insertion of hundreds of spam links into the header and footer, incorporating the URLs of dozens of other similarly attacked WordPress blogs, redirecting to the spammers’ intended destination.
Likewise, dozens of other blogs had (and still have) hidden spam links in them including this site’s URL, which, while temporarily leading to a comparatively fantastic Technorati rank, also resulted in Google penalising this blog quite severely. I don’t blame them – when 150/200 of the top external links to the site involve(d) c1al1s or cr3d1t c4rds, thanks to all the hidden spam on other blogs, the evidence is pretty strong. I’m hoping a reconsideration request to Google will eventually lead to this blog’s rehabilitation. As far as I can tell, I’ve removed all the spam and the vulnerabilities which permitted the exploit in the first place, but in upgrading WordPress a number of other problems occurred – some minor, such as all apostrophes throughout the blog being replaced by euro signs, trademark signs and other characters (luckily, fairly easy to solve), but some more vexing, such as an issue with actually posting at all, which I finally managed to fix earlier today: it was a plugin which, while it misbehaved consistently, did so in a pattern which took me a long time to unravel.
One of the major tensions I find with WordPress is between the benefits of an upgrade (which may be invisible to the user) and the downsides of a load of plugins suddenly malfunctioning. When you have many plugins activated, and have designed the blog around the functionality some of them provide, the cascade of failures and odd effects which occur with an upgrade can be quite a lot of hassle; I wonder to what extent this tension controls (holds back) the rate at which bloggers do upgrade, and hence allows security holes to persist. Still, I guess I can always get a refund if I don’t like it.
Some bloggers seem to be permanently in the right state of mind to rattle off insightful, quality posts every day or couple of days. I’m not one of those people; I should probably try and even out the bursts and lulls a bit by scheduling some posts to appear, in advance, but that always feels a bit like cheating.
Aside from all of the above, in the last two months I’ve gone on holiday, had my Reliant Scimitar very nearly written off by a BT Openworld van driving into the back of me at a roundabout, negotiated with BT to get a fair price for compensation, got the car back and (slowly) got it legal again, if not pretty yet, got an allotment with my girlfriend, built a shed, dealt with a failing hard drive, been stung by fuel prices and taken the plunge to get started on the electric car project at last (but with a Reliant Fox rather than a Bond Minicar – for the first project at least), acquired said Fox, replaced the alternator to enable driving to work each day, spent too long experimenting with a GP2X F200 and continued refining and developing the DwI Method towards being testable. Fixing and getting back to the blog properly was frequently close to the top of my priority list, but that priority list was frequently knocked over and scattered across the floor by other problems which required immediate resolution.
The critical path is all over the place. I realise I need a better system for organising myself to blog consistently and frequently, and deal with all the enquiries and comments I get, and am working to try and achieve that. The stream of very kind and helpful suggestions and links that readers have sent me over the last few weeks really does demonstrate that people enjoy the site – which is a fantastic motivation in itself. I will do better!
P.S. The ultra-brief paper for Persuasive 2008, Design with Intent: Persuasive Technology in a Wider Context [PDF, 169kb], is now available in a self-archived preprint version. It will appear in H. Oinas-Kukkonen et al. (Eds.): PERSUASIVE 2008, LNCS 5033, pp. 274 – 278, 2008. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008.
I also thought it was worth uploading the short proposal which helped me get accepted to the doctoral consortium which precedes the conference – Design for Sustainable Behaviour [PDF, 124kb]. This is a summary of the PhD project so far, although the text explains the work specifically in the ‘Persuasive Technology’ context appropriate to the conference.