New connections = new knowledge

September 12th, 2009

I am very proud of myself: I fixed a very technical problem with this blog last night. How I fixed it was interesting too. I have had this blog for about 8 years. For many of those years, I only posted sporadically. Lately, because I am writing a book I am passionate about, I have posted regularly. In the hope of making more links to this blog, I reached out to an event called Festival of the Trees, which gathers blogs that write about the importance of trees. Only because I did this did I discover a big problem with the blog: my permalinks didn’t work. These are links that let others (like Google, like Festival of the Trees) link to individual blog posts, so they are very important in terms of getting your blog indexed and seen by the outside world. And mine were broken for perhaps 8 years. (Click on the time stamp at this bottom of the post: that’s a permalink. The blog opens in its own Web page.)

The problem? I publish on my own Web site. My files go on the server space provided by my ISP. They go there as blank documents with no file extension such as .html to tell a Web browser they are Web pages. So most browsers (not Internet Explorer, oddly) thought they were text files and displayed the CSS page for the blog post.

Are you still with me? To fix this, I had to put an .htaccess file on the site. This is a powerful file that manipulates the server (a server I don’t own). So it’s a little risky to do this. I put the following relatively benign instructions in there:

DefaultLanguage en-US
DefaultType text/html
AddDefaultCharset UTF-8

This tells a browser that, unless the file contains instructions to the contrary, assume that it is an HTML document, in U.S. English, and UTF-8 encoding.

My ISP wouldn’t help me with this. Blogger’s tech support is nonexistent. Only one person on the support boards at Blogger tried to help, and he couldn’t figure it out. I am sure WordPress provides better support, but I don’t want to switch at this point if I don’t have to.

So I fixed a problem I didn’t know I had by tending to my blog and reaching out. And the solution was something I wrote about in a book called Apache Server Little Black Book, published nearly ten years ago. I just didn’t have a practical application for it until now. It pays to make connections.

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