Wikis and more

Wikis

A wiki is a web page or set of web pages that can be edited by the users rapidly and collaboratively. Wikipedia is probably the most famous of all wikis and their underlying engine is called MediaWiki. It’s open source and available for install on mtheory.

Wiki’s allow easy edits to webpages and enable many people to collaborate, however they are a prime target for spammers and unless you expect a largish number of people to contribute we would suggest you avoid a wiki. Either that or you need to lock it down quite a bit to eliminate the spamming problem. This somewhat negates some of the benefits of a wiki. The support pages on the old mtheory site were based around media wiki and suffered from large numbers of unwanted edits never mind the creation of hundreds of unwanted pages by spammers. In saying that, if you are willing to monitor and have multiple contributors you can make it work.

More

In general most web based things can be installed and made to run under mtheory. SQL databases can be readily generated and custom frameworks and platforms can be installed if required and you have a genuine need. If you’re looking to do something unusual just ask.

Web logs and web analytics

Web logs are logs from your website turned into useful statistics. More commonly people use web analytics these days which provide more detailed information on who is actually visiting your site. Traditionally people used web logs which are derived from the server logs (in most cases Apache) and converted into graphs by programs like Analog. However in 2005 Google launched Google Analytics which relies upon tracking code being inserted into the web pages to register the visitor with the tracking system (this isn’t the same as a cookie, which is left on your machine). This allowed much more sophisticated, including real time, analysis of what visitors were doing on your website. As a result it was a massive success and some estimates suggest that half of all web sites use Google Analytics.

A variety of open source alternatives now exist which attempt to compete with Google Analytics, one of which is called Piwik. This is what we use to track web site stats and because it relies upon code being embedded into web page in question you can use it to track any website you want and not just ones hosted on mtheory.

Why not just use Google Analytics? Well there are potentially good reasons not to use Google especially when it comes to privacy concerns. See the Wikipedia page on Google Analytics for an explanation of potential concerns. Personally we like having control over data we generate.

What about web logs? We also run a traditional stats system using Analog and the server logs for domains hosted on mtheory. Generally these will be made available to anyone who wants to look at them, they are much harder to derive useful information from however.

You can login to our Piwik install at https://mtheory.co.uk/logs. (Note you’ll need to request a username and password first).

Sub-domains

A sub-domain is a domain that sits underneath the main domain name. It is anything before the ‘.’ before the main domain name. In the case of mtheory, mtheory.co.uk is the main domain name and tippingpoint.mtheory.co.uk is a sub-domain of mtheory.co.uk.

Sub-domains are useful as they can often be easily remembered and can redirect traffic somewhere else whilst appearing to stay within your domain. For instance tippingpoint.mtheory.co.uk is actually a Tumblr blog and mailboxes.mtheory.co.uk is actually hosted by our ISP, Dreamhost. They can also be used as a shortcut to some deeply nested part of your site that may otherwise require a very long URL.

If you need or want a sub-domain from mtheory for some particular use please get in touch with the administrator.

Changing your email password

 

To change your email password you need to login to the mailbox manager web service. You can access the mailbox manager web interface at http://mailboxes.mtheory.co.uk or securely at https://mailboxes.mtheory.co.uk. If you plan to change your password we strongly recommend that you login securely.

Note if you login securely you will get a warning that “the identity of this website has not been verified,” or “server’s certificate does not match the URL,” or “server’s certificate is not trusted,” in your web browser. This is because the mailbox configuration service is hosted by our ISP, Dreamhost, and the certificate is issued by them rather than us. Your browser will normally let you view the certificate. If you click on this your browser will give you the option to always trust this certificate or install this certificate. Either of these should resolve this problem for you.

Once you login you will see a screen the top of which is shown below. You can configure quite a lot of things from the mailbox manager interface. Many of these features are pretty self-explanatory but more details can be found in this post.

Change password screen shot

To change your password you simply need to enter your new password twice under the Change Your Password heading shown above and then click on the button Change it! You will now need to use your new password when accessing your webmail, the mailbox manager and with any email clients you use to access your email.

Advice on creating a strong password you can remember

There are many ways to create a long, complex password. Here are some suggestions that might help you remember it easily:

What to do Example
Start with a sentence or two. I love complex passwords.
Remove the spaces between the words in the sentence. Ilovecomplexpasswords.
Turn words into shorthand or intentionally misspell a word. IloveComplekp@sswords.
Add length with numbers. Put numbers that are meaningful to you after the sentence. IloveComplekp@sswords2012.

You can check the strength of your password using online tools such as this password strength assessor provided by Microsoft. The stronger your password the better.

Mailbox Manager

Various aspects of your email can be controlled via a web interface known as Mailbox Manager. From this web interface you can:

You can access the mailbox manager web interface at http://mailboxes.mtheory.co.uk or securely at https://mailboxes.mtheory.co.uk.

Note if you login securely you will get a warning that “the identity of this website has not been verified,” or “server’s certificate does not match the URL,” or “server’s certificate is not trusted,” in your web browser. This is because the mailbox configuration service is hosted by our ISP, Dreamhost, and the certificate is issued by them rather than us. Your browser will normally let you view the certificate. If you click on this your browser will give you the option to always trust this certificate or install this certificate. Either of these should resolve this problem for you.

RSS readers

Having got fed up with Google Reader for my RSS feeds I installed a copy of Fever onto mtheory. The interface is much more keyboard driven which may be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. On the whole I find it to be as functional if not more functional than Google Reader. The downsides are: it isn’t supported by very many RSS feed reading applications, unlike Google Reader which may be a problem for you; and it costs money. It also doesn’t support multiple users by default so if you want to use it you’ll need your own copy installed which is perfectly acceptable by the way.

Other CMS systems

Apart from WordPress several other content management systems (CMS) are available as straight forward installs for your use. These are:

If you are interested in using any of these for your own projects then please ask for them to be installed into your user space.

Version Control

Version control also known as revision control or source control is a system that lets you track changes to files. It is most often used with source code to track changes between revisions of code. This enables previous versions to be recovered with ease, differences between versions to be compared and for source code to be branched to allow different versions to be developed in parallel. If you have never used it before the closest thing you may have used is track changes in a word processor such as Microsoft Word. However version control is significantly more powerful than this.

What can be tracked

Any files can be tracked, including binary files however all the features of version control are only available when tracking text based files. This can be source code, latex code, html, or many other text based files.

How does tracking work

When you have made a set of changes to your files you commit the changes and then synchronise them with the server. This allows collaborators to access your changes and pull them into their version of the files merging them in if necessary. You can commit changes as often as you want/need. Similarly you can pull changes from the server that may have been committed by your collaborators, or even by yourself from another machine.

Making use of version control

A distributed version control system called Mercurial is installed on mtheory and if you wish to have your own repositories then please ask the administrator. Repositories are password protected to prevent unwanted people changing your work. Only authorised users can commit.

Several GUI tools exist for Mercurial the most popular of which is probably Tortoise Hg. A free book is also available describing how to use Mercurial.

WordPress

Overview

WordPress is an open source web blogging tool and content management system (CMS). The WordPress site has a pretty good description of what WordPress does, there’s also a summary on Wikipedia.

WordPress use falls into one of two main categories, as a personal or corporate blog, or as the underlying CMS system for a website. In the case of the former you install WordPress on your web server, login, choose a theme you like, perhaps customise it a bit through the menus and start blogging. For the later a web designer will normally write a custom theme for WordPress which basically lays out your website as you want it to look. They then rely on the WordPress backend to provide an interface to enable you to manage and update the content on your website, hence the phrase content management system. There are quite a few off-the-shelf designs which can be purchased, though I think it is fair to say that WordPress probably doesn’t scale to very large websites as well as other solutions might.

Anyway WordPress is available as an install for you to use on mtheory. If you would like your own WordPress install please get in touch with the administrator.

Where is it installed

WordPress is installed in www.mtheory.co.uk/wordpress/name where name is the part before @mtheory.co.uk in your email address. Ideally WordPress would be installed in your webspace. However for various reasons including ensuring automatic updates of WordPress itself we don’t do that. The downside to this is that you don’t get ftp access to /wordpress/name by default. When you upload photos etc. in WordPress they are put in /wordpress/name/wp-content/uploads/. The lack of ftp access should not prevent any real problems for users as you can manage your content from within WordPress. More of an issue is if you want to install custom themes and certain plugins, though virtually everything else can be done via the WordPress admin interface.

As your personal webpages are normally found at http://www.mtheory.co.uk/name/ and your WordPress install clearly isn’t at this location people may not be able to find your WordPress site. To help get around this problem there is a symbolic link to WordPress in you Website folder. You can’t see this link when connected with a Webdav client but the webserver can. This means that you can access your blog at either of the following addresses:

  • http://www.mtheory.co.uk/name/wordpress
  • http://www.mtheory.co.uk/users/name/Website/wordpress

Should you want people accessing your website to be automatically redirected to your blog we suggest that you edit the html file index.html in your Website directory in your webspace to redirect to your WordPress pages. See this entry on redirection of a webpage for instructions.

I want to install extra Plugins/Themes

If you would like to install other WordPress plugins or Themes you can do this from the WordPress admin interface.

More Help on Using WordPress

There are many, many sites with good descriptions explaining how to use, edit and customise WordPress. Here’s a list of some of the bigger ones:

  • WordPress Codex. The Codex is the encyclopedia of all things WordPress. It is the most comprehensive source of information for WordPress available.
  • Planet WordPress. The WordPress Planet is a news aggregator that brings together posts from WordPress blogs around the web.
  • WordPress Forums. If you’ve looked everywhere and still can’t find an answer, the support forums are very active and have a large community ready to help. To help them help you be sure to use a descriptive thread title and describe your question in as much detail as possible.
  • IRC Channel. Finally, there is an online chat channel that is used for discussion amoung people who use WordPress and occasionally support topics. The above wiki page should point you in the right direction. (irc.freenode.net #wordpresss)Other Themes
  • Themes from WordPress. Not the only source of themes I’m sure but the official source at any rate. If you need help installing extra Themes or hand-written custom themes contact an admin.

Linking your blog to search engines

There are specialised Blog based search engines such as TechnoratiGoogle Blog to name a view. Most of these engines have help sections that will explain how to get your blog added to them.

What is comment spam and how do I stop it?

An annoying spammer practice is to post comments on as many web logs as they can across the Internet, with links to their web site.

The reason they do this is primarily to attempt to up their search engine ranking by having lots of sites linking to them, and secondarily to possibly get some people visiting them through the links in the comments themselves.

Comment spam can come pretty fast and heavy with any new weblog, so here are some helpful tricks for fighting it:

  1. Before you make your first post with WordPress, consider going to the Settings > Writing area and deleting the “http://rpc.pingomatic.com” entry under “Update Services”. What the Update Services does is immediately announce to a dozen different “weblog aggregators” that you’ve made a post. Ostensibly this is to help get the word out about your new post so people you don’t even know may read it. In reality, few real people browse new weblogs based on searches in a weblog aggregator, but plenty of spammers do. Within a few hours of your first post spammers will be beating down a path to your blog, trying to automatically figure out what comment spam techniques will work on your installation!
  2. You can change your comment settings from the “Options > Discussion” area. From there you can require manual approval before any comment shows up, only comments with certain words (not a very effective long-term solution though), or turn off comments altogether.
  3. If you’re a little bit more technical-minded there are lots of anti-spam plugins for WordPress you can try out listed at http://www.tamba2.org.uk/wordpress/spam/.

Email Aliases

What is an email alias

An email alias is another email address which forwards all email which arrives at that address to your main email address. For instance you may be called John but your friends might call you Jonny therefore your email address might be john@mtheory.co.uk but you might want your friends to be able to email you at jonny@mtheory.co.uk. The second address could be set up as an alias which forwards all email which arrives at it to your main address john@mtheory.co.uk. There is no mailbox associated with an alias, it simply forwards emails onto another address hiding that main address from the sender.

Why might I want one

The above example is a bit contrived. More normally people want aliases so that they don’t have to hand out their main email address to people they don’t trust or suspect they might receive spam from. Thus you may want johnmailinglist@mtheory.co.uk to give out when you are signing up for mailing lists. Or mypowerbill@mtheory.co.uk for giving to your power company. If you suddenly get lots of spam to an alias the alias can simply be switched off and deleted killing off the spam.

How do I get one

You can simply request any address @mtheory.co.uk from the administrator. Provided it’s not taken already it will be setup to forward to your main email address.