Migrating my WordPress site, again

I’ve been trying to develop a regular rhythm to posting, again. Last week, however, I had to stop for some badly needed maintenance and cost reduction by changing web site hosts. This turned out to be a remarkably painless experience, thankfully.

A little over a year ago, I moved my site from a hosted service to my own Amazon EC2 instance, as I talked about in How do I look, now? That move was desperately needed and it wasn’t too difficult, either. What I underestimated (or underappreciated) was the need to keep up with the OS updates, WordPress updates, certificate updates, etc. The cost wasn’t much different from what I’d been paying and it gave me the access to the nuts and bolts that I felt I needed after the previous hosting service lost two months of content that I described in What’s with the radio silence?

But, with power comes responsibility. In this case the responsibility to keep all the aforementioned nuts and bolts properly tightened–a task that seemed to take up much of my scarce and fragile attention span.

So, as of last weekend, docsbydesign.com is now running on a managed WordPress site hosted by EasyWP. Migrating my site was made easy by using All-in-One WP Migration. The migration tool makes a complete backup of the old site’s files and database, which also serves as a handy site backup, and then updates the destination site to look just like the old one. So close to the original, I had to add a new file to be able to tell them apart. The only challenges, if you can call them that, involved resetting my DNS to point my domain to the new host and get a new certificate for the site. These two challenges were solved with a couple of emails to their support team who responded quickly.

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Documentation metrics, again?!

A digital voltmeter being prepared to measure a web page.
If only this was all you needed to measure a web site.

To get back into the blogging habit, I thought I’d rummage through some of my earlier posts to see if there might be something I could recycle. (How does the saying go? Good designers copy, great designers steal?) Because the topic of documentation metrics came up recently at work, I thought I’d start there and see if I had said anything about that before.

It turns out, I’d written a post or two on the subject, so let the theft recycling commence!

In The answer is Google Analytics—what was the question? I talk about how the web interaction model that Google Analytics (GA) is optimized for comes up short for a lot of user assistance content. True confession: GA is wired up to this site, and in Google Analytics just makes me sad, I followed up with a summary about how that works for me. Hint: the title sort of gives that away.

The premise of conflicting models came from a paper that my Ph.D. advisor and I wrote about the challenges of collecting useful data about your non-funnel-oriented web content. I posted a blogified version of the published paper in the series on Readers goals. Basically, if the reader’s reason for reading an article is to accomplish a goal that’s outside of the documentation, it’ll be difficult to measure how the documentation helped that goal from inside of the documentation.

I was on a roll, four years ago, because, I continued with Measuring your technical content – Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Part 1 talks about asking the questions you want your analytics and analysis to answer and the instrumentation that can help make that happen. Parts 2 & 3 bring this exercise into a sharper focus by trying it out on getting started topics and tutorials, respectively. That thread addresses some of the challenges that you might encounter along the way in Measuring your technical content – What about…?

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How do I look, now?

Hopefully, the same. Over the weekend, I migrated my web site from a brand-x hosting service to a DIY server hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS). After the disappearance of my site last spring, I’ve been looking for an excuse to find it a new home, but didn’t want to spend a lot of time fussing with the details of site management and migration. Turns out (as so many things do), it was much easier than I anticipated. The migration was straightforward and accomplished in just a short time, once I knew what I wanted to do.

AWS offers a dizzying array of configuration options, which can be very intimidating to the weekend webmaster. So, the first problem was to figure out which server options I wanted to use (i.e. pay for). I opted for tiny, which seems to work well enough. Being virtual servers, I can always level-up (or down) if performance becomes an issue. In all fairness, the hardest part was trying to figure out what I really wanted.

Once I got the server running to my satisfaction, Step-by-Step Guide to Migrate Your WordPress Site to a New Host provided the details to migrate the site contents (files and database tables). The hardest part of that process was realizing that I needed to create an .htaccess file on the new server.

Going through a Cloudflare load balancer made switching to the new server as easy as typing in the IP address of the new server. A couple of summers ago, I moved the public IP of my site to Cloudflare to take advantage of their SSL support. That gave my site its padlock (finally) and a bunch of other features–like the presto-chango IP address. No DNS records involved at all. Best of all, if I messed something up, I just type in the old server’s IP until I get things sorted out.

So, this is my first post of the new year (2020…and I’m still upset that don’t have a flying car that I was promised in the 1960s views of the 21st century). And, my first post on the site’s new server.

Happy and prosperous new year!

What’s with the radio silence?

Tropical beach with sunny sky and plapapas
Summer in paradise

I’m finally catching up with myself after an action-packed summer. I’d intended to share much of my summer activities through my blog because, well, it was action packed. However, one of this summer’s actions was the disappearance of my website (more on that later). So, as my site updates its version of WordPress, I thought I’d start catching things  up.


In a nutshell, my wife and I went to Honduras for the summer to finish the research on the piClinic Console I’d started a few years ago. Thanks to a Fulbright Scholars Grant, we were able to travel to Honduras for the past two summers to see if I could disrupt healthcare information systems technology in rural clinics.

Short answer, yes.

Of course, many other things happened as well. I’m not sure how many of those adventures will fit in here, but these are some of the things I’ve done since my last (currently published) blog post.

  • Spoke at the API the Docs conference in Chicago in April.
  • Read a few good books:
    • Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World and What We Can Do to Fix It by Mike Monteiro
    • Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More by Mark Graban & Donald J. Wheeler
    • Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Wrote some thoughts about them in my blog.
  • Woke up to find this site had disappeared.
    • Got chewed out by my hosting company for not reading the various email they claimed to have sent (but that never arrived).
    • Spent the next two weeks on Skype and my slow Internet connection dealing with the aforementioned hosting company trying to find my site.
    • Learned they migrated my site using a backup from two months earlier (sending my last two months of posts into the bitbucket).
  • Hosted 10 undergraduates on a Mercer On Mission trip to Honduras, in which they conducted research on the piClinic Console and got a taste of Caribbean culture on the Honduran island of Roatan.
  • Spent three weeks on the Honduran mainland during some political demonstrations.
  • Learned how to SCUBA dive.
  • Attended SIGNAL 2019.

So here I am; doing my best to get caught up.

Google Analytics just makes me sad

In my last post, I talk about how Google Analytics isn’t very helpful in providing meaningful data about technical or help content. It can’t answer questions like: Did it help the reader? Did they find it interesting? Could they accomplish their task/goal thanks to my content? What do readers really want? You know, simple questions like those.

While a little disappointing, that’s not what makes me sad.

What’s sad is that the charts on the dashboard have all the makings of dysfunctional communication. For example, the dashboard seems to tell me, “You’re not retaining readers over time.” But, it can’t, or it won’t, tell you why.

Awww, come on, gimme a hint?!

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Catching up

New WordPress update, new WordPress theme, and look…a new blog post!

Shortly after the last post, my wife and I began the process of moving from the Pacific Northwest to Middle Georgia so I could start working as an Assistant Professor of Technical Communication in the Mercer University School of Engineering. I’m now halfway into my second semester and having a great time.

Lots of things going on and lots to catch up. For now, I’m just blowing the dust off the blog to get back into a more frequent posting rhythm.



Long or short (posts)?

As one of my blog goals, I limited each post to no more than 500 words. My intention was to make them easy to read and write. They seemed like reasonable goals at the time. Since then, however, I’ve read some posts that suggest this might be counter productive. Some of the advantages of long form posts I gleaned from what I read (cited below) include:

  • Long form posts rank higher in search results
  • Long form posts are shared more often
  • Long form posts are seen as more professional

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Looking back at 2015

Blog Posts - 2015

It’s hard to believe: a) it’s 2016 (and still, no flying cars…), and b) it’s been over three weeks since my last post. I don’t have much to say about flying cars (except that it’s probably better that we don’t have them, yet), but it’s a good time to reflect on my first year of blogging.

Looking back

In my vision statement, I set a few performance goals and the graph shows how I did, last year. Not bad. A few under-performing months, explained (and, perhaps, excused) by the other, higher priority things going on at the time. Finishing my Ph.D. in the first half of the year and, well, I took a break in December.

The table shows the statistical summary of my blogging performance for last year. While I had some ups and downs, I averaged more than 5 posts per month. I managed to keep the posts under 500 words, except for the first one of the year–before I set that word count as a goal.

Posts/Month Words/Post
Average 5.4 369.7
Max 11 510
Min 2 78
Std. Dev. 2.98 126.05

Not shown in the stats is the time it took to write each post–about an hour each. I know that because most of them were written as I rode the train to or from the office (usually to) and that ride is 55 minutes.

Also not shown in the stats is the “start to finish” ratio, or, what the cutting-room floor looks like. According to WordPress, I started 79 blog posts, last year, and published 66 for a completion ratio of 84%.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad–or if published/started is even the right metric. Looking back at some of those unpublished posts, I think the right way to look at that number is that I published 100% of the posts worth publishing.

Looking forward

I think, for the time being, I’ll stick with the goals I set last year. The 500 word/post goal was a good goal to enforce sticking to the point and keep the work manageable, but it also limits their value and utility. I’ll be pondering that goal to see about how to create more valuable content while not making the posts to onerous to produce (or read).

So, welcome 2016 and all that it will bring and (belated) Happy New Year.

Quorans like my hangar flying

quora_ga_mvI made it to the top-10 most viewed in General Aviation, this week.

While, like the most viewed writer in technical writing notice I got a few months ago, this wasn’t an intentional goal, but I think these notices represent what I like to talk and write about. It’s encouraging to know that they are also what people like to read.

For those who aren’t familiar:

  • Quoran is the term for someone who participates in Quora. I’m not sure if you have to submit content or if just reading it qualifies you for the label.
  • Hangar flying is the term for talking about flying, whether you’re doing so in an actual aircraft hangar or not.