Facebook Redux and More PHP

A lot has happened since we last spoke. I was all gung-ho over using Facebook to try and build traffic to www.the-althing.com, but then I hit something of a brick wall. Actually a huge brick wall. My plan was to follow pages on Facebook as my page. As interesting postings from those pages would show up in my feed I would share them on my page. I thought it was a win-win solution. I would get content and the pages I was following would get traffic. Even FB would win with increased ad revenues. But of course FB’s revenue model doesn’t work quite that way. I noticed that I was only seeing postings from a small percentage of the pages I was following on my feed, and it was postings from the same pages. Turns out FB limits how many pages you will see postings from, presumably unless you pay them. I then searched the web high and low for any solution that would workaround those limits. Unfortunately no such workaround exists…except the one I came up with, which relies on simple brute force. In short, I created an Excel spreadsheet, went to each of the pages I was follow (over 200 at present), and copied the URL into the spreadsheet. At that point it becomes a simple matter of going to each URL one at a time on a regular basis, searching for postings of interest to share to my Facebook page for The-Althing. Not the best solution, but one that will work until something better comes along (or the money grubbing Facebook lightens up a bit). In doing all this, I discovered that the links to almost all my t-shirts and other products at Zazzle were broken. They had restructured their link format, so I had to go in and edit almost every link, but that is all back up and running now.

On another front, there have been a variety of changes and updates to the thang. A lot of content was added in various areas, and PHP was more fully utilized in getting that content online for you to see. I went to larger images for the stuff I’m selling through Amazon. I wrote a small script to randomize the content on the front page and other pages, so you don’t see the same old thing every time. I also cleaned up the script the loads the information for the various shops and restaurants, so it automatically eliminates lines that were left when a particular field was empty…say a shop didn’t have a phone number or a website.

Next up will be a rethinking of how I present books and music on the site. I will be going to a dedicated page for each author or musician, along with some biographical information. This will also allow me to integrate links to audiobooks and links to purchase individual songs, something I’ve wanted to add for some time. To accomplish at least some of that I may sell through iTunes rather than Amazon, as it looks like the former has a much better looking interface.

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A Facebook Weekend

Some time back I had established a page for the-althing.com on Facebook. I routed these blog postings to that feed, and I systematically went through all of the places featured on the thang, checked if they had a FB page, and then liked or followed them. Imagine my dismay when the only postings that showed up on the feed were the blog postings I put there myself. I confess I was looking for a lazy way to build traffic for the site and I was disappointed that was not it.

Which brings us to this weekend. Like most things associated with this site (and with my life) I am self-taught and I learn a lot through trial and error methodology. I’m not too big into buying how-to books or soliciting advice. I had previously experimented with trying to share posts from other sites onto the althing.com feed but they ended up on my regular FB feed, where they do me no good. However, I realized that when you click “share” one of the options that drops down is “share to a page you manage.” Voila! This weekend I really dug in, hit the feeds of the folks I featured on the thang, and started sharing them to my the-althing.com feed on Facebook. This also gave me an ideal time to start to build the calendar of events back up. I had started with a free calendar from Keep and Share, which worked fairly decently. But awhile back I noticed the link was broken, and when I checked I learned they no longer offered the free calendar. At the time I started the calendar it was a close pick between K&S and Google, so I went back and checked Google calendar and found it was easier to work than K&S and I went to that. The only problem was I never got time to populate it with events, so it sat empty for a few months. As I pored through FB entries this weekend it was a perfect opportunity to start to build the calendar.

The bottom line is that this weekend was very productive. There were a few changes to the actual page, consisting of the calendar and an edit for a NYC shop that went out of business. But I really started to build traffic through FB, and hopefully that project will continue this week and next weekend.

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Stop Fugiting, You Damn Tempus!

It has been almost two years since I posted anything on the Althing blog. Shame on me. Of course I have my candy ass excuses, but I will spare you.

No I won’t. Since my last posting I went through the highly stressful process of finally selling our old house in Baker County. I went through the even more highly stressful process of looking for a house in Tallahassee, of finding several, of having a deal or two go bad, of settling on “the one” only to learn just before closing that the place had two mortgages and the sales price was less then both combined. Needless to say the banks balked. Now go through the highly stressful process of a short sale, which was successful after several months and a change of financial institutions. Now go through moving about 90% of our vast accumulation of crap myself over the course of three weeks (with two very intensive weekends).

Midway through this soap opera I assumed responsibility as Library Services Administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections. No stress there, following two almost mythic personages in the position. Throw in the demands of family and all that entails.

Finally there’s my health. A bit before we moved to Tallahassee in late 2013 I started fighting intense acid reflux with some very bad nights along the way. I severely altered my eating habits and since that time my weight has fallen from 250 to 160. Comments have gradually changed from “damn, you look good” to “damn, hope you’re not dying.” Yeah, I hope I’m not dying, too. I’m nearly 56 and probably ought to have the whole colonoscopy, upper GI rigmarole. Pretty sure my prostate ain’t right, either. What I seek to avoid is getting on that, “gee, we don’t know what’s wrong with you so we’ll order an endless chain of tests.” I’ve seen this in car repair. “That didn’t work. Let’s try replacing the alternator.” On the bright side I did have dual cataract surgeries a week apart, with very successful results (so far). Of course even with good insurance that set me back over a grand, and my finances are razor thin right now with the new house, so you can see why the Thing has suffered. This past week has seen a flurry of new content, and updates and fixes, but no telling where we go from here. Hope I’m not pushing up daisies for a while.

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Life is good.

I’m doing a job I love, and one of the things I love about it is not driving 150 miles round trip daily. This has freed up a massive amount of time, which is a wonderful thing. A lot of that is devoted to family, and rightfully so, but a segment of it should allocated to creative efforts, like writing and keeping up with the Thang. And to digress just a bit, thanks to the folks who have bought our products. I hope you enjoy them.

But back on point. One of my peculiarities is that I have to have a clean slate before I can get creative. I have to start every project with a clean desk. The desk will certainly get messy when I get rolling, but I need to have room to spread things out and see it all at certain stages in the process. One mental mess that has been hovering over my head is the efforts to sell our property back in Baker County. It has been pretty stressful to have a rent payment on top of a mortgage payment, which has been the case for almost a year. One sale fell through months ago, but we are hopefully looking at a closing next week, and if all goes well this source of stress will be eliminated. And the price we are getting, though still much less than the home was valued at atop the bubble, should allow us to also retire both car payments a bit early. All told, it should free up almost $1000 monthly between the cars and the mortgage payments going away. This, in turn, should allow us to start attacking the other debts we incurred as a natural process of moving, and get us  back on track of buying a home here in Tallahassee.

Of course it’s all up to God, whatever happens.

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The a-Store

Grant watches “Go, Diego, Go” from time to time, sometimes in great back-to-back binges if allowed. The theme music is so ingrained in my head that I, in typical Peterson fashion, have written new, borderline filthy lyrics. I sing them just out of earshot sometimes, to a cautionary, “Daddy?” from Mom, if she is around. If you know the tune, you probably know where I sing, “cause he’s an aaaaaaa-hole. Aaaaaaa-hole. No, Diego, No.” We won’t get into the lyrics I sing to the theme of Thomas the Train.

But I digress, for I speak now not of a-holes, but of Amazon aStores. I first had experience with them when I was doing my mother-in-law’s website using Joomla. Like most Amazon Associate tools, I found it to be fairly straightforward to set up and integrate into a site using iframes. They could be made to look like a reasonably integral part of a site. As it turns out, she had trouble with the content management end of things, in terms of adding products, a problem I never experienced. But she is an older person who does not delve particularly deeply into the technical aspect of the internet or computers, and to some extent needed everything spoon-fed to her.

It was always the plan to integrate Scandinavian products into the Althing. That has been done for film, books, and music, using Amazon product links, but as yet I have not migrated those pages to full use of MySQL, and it would be time prohibitive to add products one at a time that way, so I looked at aStores early on. I even did a few mock-ups to see how it might look, but this past week I took the plunge and started using aStores, with the first featured products being Husqvarna, Lego, and Carlsberg. For the latter, of course I wish I could sell good imported Danish beer online, but the next best thing is to list Carlsberg paraphernalia such as signs and lights. As time passes I will be tweaking the store, adding a lot of new stuff, reorganizing what I have. It also could be time soon to add Lutefisk to the site, and we can all experience the smell of good fish gone bad.

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The Latest

One of the benefits of the move to Tallahassee has been the gift of time. I have now used that time to put into action some of the plans I’ve had for The Althing. The Movie page has been updated through the use of PHP and MySQL and now offers not only the chance to purchase DVD’s of the films on Amazon.com, but the ability to stream the films (when available). There is also information on each film courtesy of the Rotten Tomatoes API. To access that information, I also had to get up to speed on the basics of JSON. In short, diving back into the nuts and bolts end of the page in a big way.

Still, having to take a U-turn on one plan, which was to redesign the Music page, adding in MP3 sales. I really wanted to have the ability for folks to sample brief excerpts of the music, just as you can do on iTunes or Amazon.com, but Amazon does not offer that option in their links. I have done a survey of all available music websites, and don’t see that available from anyone that has an associates program. Not sure which way I will go next. Want very much to get “Lutefisk” up on the site. What is Lutefisk, you ask? Doesn’t everyone know? I’ll just give a hint and say it will be another outlet for my strange sense of humour. One thing I most definitely will be doing is to update the calendar entries in a big way. I have really let that lag since I instigated it, to the point there is no current content on it. That will change soon.

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Didn’t want to mix subject matter, so this is a different posting.

The Althing is now converted to PHP. Something I’ve been contemplating for a couple years but never had the chance to  implement. Now it is done, or more properly it is begun, as I have further plans moving forward into the future. Hopefully the Thang will become a far more dynamic and interesting site as we progress.

The process was not without its hiccups. Installed XAMPP on my computer, picked up a copy of PHP Solutions by David Powers, moved over all my files, and did the conversion. The first thing I did was to change all my page menus to includes. Tested it all, everything worked flawlessly. Uploaded it all to 1and1, and nothing. All sorts of odd errors. Old files I had deleted appeared out of nowhere (some strange cache?). The site was down for a good two days. Finally, today I realized I had copied over a small php.ini file that maybe, just maybe, ought not to be there. Deleted it and the Thang came back to life like Lazarus rising from the dead.

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A Long, Strange Journey…

What a long, strange journey it’s been.

Almost a full year since my last posting, and I can barely believe it’s been that long. Today finds me in very different and happier circumstances. At that time I was an Education Supervisor in a Florida prison, looking at a tough next few years, as far as free time was concerned. I have been with the Florida Department of Corrections for almost thirteen years , the first nine as librarian at Union Correctional Institution. I then became the department’s regional librarian for northeast Florida, a job I greatly enjoyed. Unfortunately the budget crunch led to the elimination of all four regional positions, including my own. I was moved to New River Correctional and became an Education Supervisor. This transition necessitated my obtaining first a permanent Florida teaching certificate, and then an education leadership certification. I was looking at several years of part-time classes, not so odious working at a low key place like New River, but then the budget crunch intervened again and New River was closed. I ended up at Hamilton Correctional Institution, complete with daily round trip commute of 150 miles. And it was also a much busier, much more intense place supervising twice as many people. Plus I still had to get the education credentials to keep my job. All that was doable, but things like maintaining websites took a back seat. Way, way back.

But then God changed things up. While I was at New River the number two position in Library Services came open in Central Office. I applied and interviewed, but lost out to a colleague. After two years of doing the job, she left to head a multi-county library system in the Florida panhandle. I applied, and this time the job was mine.

So 2014 finds me moved to Tallahassee, doing work I enjoy, freed from classes, freed from a daily commute. I no longer fill up my gas tank every other day. Instead, I drove the whole first full week of work on less than a quarter tank.

Time. Free time. A wonderful gift.

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Hello Stranger

Long time no see, stranger.

I know. All my fault. It’s me, not you.

Well that old tempus sure does fugit when you’re having fun. I looked at some of the dates of my earlier posts and I was stunned, though I really shouldn’t have been. With one or two notable exceptions, I manage my time pretty well. It’s just that it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for creative endeavors. The job has become easier as I pass my one year anniversary (and my twelfth year with the state), but there are still large segments of intense activity, such as GED prep and the actual testing, the quarterly graduations, trying to spend out meager funds wisely, and trying to get new staff hired in the narrow windows of opportunity we are occasionally presented with. All that would be enough, but I also have to secure a permanent Florida teaching certificate by June of next year, and then I have about another year to get the additional credits for education leadership. In the meantime, I look for ways to move back into the library world, but my prison library experience carries little weight in the free world.

The Althing has been updated for the first time in a long time, and that is good. There are many things I plan on doing, including moving the site to all PHP code, integrating more API’s, and adding much more content. Be warned…Lutefisk is coming.

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Mrs. Stones

Bonnie and Grant have been out of town a couple weeks, attending graduations up north. I miss them, but have taken advantage of the time to clean up the office. Today I am going through my files. Most folks wouldn’t guess it, but I’m sentimental about certain things, which dovetails nicely into my OCD traits. I keep just about every Christmas card, birthday card, any sort of card anyone sends me. In going through those cards today, I came upon a card I received in response to my high school graduation announcement. It had been sent to the old lady who watched me for several years when we lived down in Daytona, and Mom and Dad were both working. With one brief exception, I didn’t go to day care, and I didn’t attend kindergarten. I started school in the first grade when we moved to St. Augustine.


Mrs. Stones was a nice old lady. Her husband was either working, or sleeping, as apparently he worked odd hours. He went duck hunting once, and brought home several ducks. He photographed me holding them, sitting on their gas tank. There were no other kids, just me and her. I spent my time playing outside, or poring through their collection of National Geographics. An odd pastime for a 4-5 year old, but I taught myself a lot of stuff in those magazines, and developed a lifelong love for them. I have an almost complete collection from about 1940, and many of the older issues. The rest of the time we went about her daily shopping. Quite often she would leave me in the car while she ran into the shops. I’d pretend I was driving, play, or nap. Remember, this was the 60’s, a different time. I’d never ever dream of doing the same thing with Grant. One time, I grew tired of waiting for her and went into the store, which required me to cross mainline railroad tracks because the parking lot was on one side, the store on the other. When she realized what I had done, I thought the poor old lady was going to have a heart attack. She was sure my Mom would hit the ceiling, but she didn’t, and I kept going to Mrs. Stone. I also recall that one of her kids was overseas, possibly doing missionary work. I would ask her where they were, and she would point to the east, presumably towards Africa, and say they were “across the water.” In my childish naivete, I thought she meant they were on the other side of the inland waterway, at the beach.

I re-read the card she had sent me in 1978, and saw something I had missed in the intervening 34 years. She invited me to stop by and visit her.

I never did. I looked her up tonight, and learned she had died in 1981, just three years later. I lived 50 miles away, had a car, and had free time. I could have gone to see her. It made me sad today to think of my thoughtlessness. As if to accentuate that feeling, Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” began to play on Pandora, with its plaintive refrain of, “Please remember me.”

I remember Mrs. Stones. I also now know, after reading her obituary from 1981, that the “old lady” I remember was in her mid-fifties when she watched me.

About the same age I am now.

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