Insanely Great

It took me about two minutes to create this profile.

Statistics show that as of today, there are about 71 million web sites running WordPress. Those sites publish 500,000 new posts per day and are viewed by more than 320 million people every month.

Mind boggling, isn’t it? Kind of like the national debt or the number of stars in the cosmos, it’s difficult to even wrap your mind around a figure of that magnitude.

I’ve been a WordPress user for — what, probably seven or eight years by now. Before WP, it was Movable Type. Remember that one? Yeah, it still out there. Let’s see, prior to Movable Type my site was developed and maintained using nothing more than Windows’ built-in Notepad program and an ancient version of Photoshop. That goes all the way back to the site’s genesis in 1995.

I dropped Movable Type when publisher Six Apart decided to move away from the open source model and begin charging for the software. At that time, MT was the undisputed champion platform for bloggers. Nothing else even came close. WordPress existed, but it wasn’t half the product it is today, and the user base was small. The decision to move away from open source started a mass exodus away from the Movable Type platform, and I was one of those who jumped ship.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind paying for software; in fact, there are dozens of software packages I have paid for over the years and continue to buy. But there’s something insanely great (as Steve Jobs would say) about products developed under the open source model. The talent it attracts, the size of the developer community, the motivation of those who labor over the code. It can be messy at times, and there are no guarantees about quality, security, or anything else, but there’s no arguing about the success WordPress has achieved, and that’s why I use it here.

WordPress is unique because while it’s still a free open source product, one of the developers — Matt Mullenweg — managed to built a for-profit company based on WP. That’s not easy to do. Even Google has trouble making money off the free stuff it has developed.

Cleverly named Automattic, Mullenweg built it to the point where he’s investing in other start-ups through a venture capital firm he founded called Audrey Co.

If you’re a computer nerd, you probably know all this. I bring it up because one of the firms Audrey Co. invested in (and later sold to AOL) was About.me. The gist of the site is that it’s a single place to create a personal splash/bio page and aggregate all the other content you’ve got around the web. I don’t know what it is about this thing, but I spent a whole day playing with the profile creator. It’s addicting.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m on the road, camped out in a Hilton hotel room in central New Jersey with a bunch of free time on my hands. Ah, the glorious life of a charter pilot! Not that I’m complaining. The money is good and you don’t have to look far to find a boat load of unemployed pilots, so you won’t find me looking this gift horse in the mouth.

Anyway, after playing with About.me for a while I came up with a simple profile with a short bio and links to other social networking sites I use.

It took me about two minutes to create this profile.

The only problem is, I’m not sure what to use this thing for! I’ve already got a web site. All the profile info is here on the House of Rapp. It’s a testament to the elegance and beauty of the product that I want to find a use for it even though I don’t have the need. It’s much like an Apple product in that regard. In fact, I can totally imagine Steve Jobs using About.me. Considering the fact that Apple just supplanted Exxon as the world’s most valuable company, that might be the best testament they could ever ask for.

If you don’t have a web site of your own, About.me is so well executed that it could do for you what WordPress did for me: become your own personal home base on the web, the URL you put on business cards and attach to your signature. Give in a whirl.

A Fresh Coat of… Code

You’ve probably noticed the new look-and-feel here at the House of Rapp. What do you think?

There are still a few kinks to be worked out here and there, but hopefully you’ll find it a refreshing improvement and not a step backward. It’s surprisingly difficult finding a design which is suggesting of flying or even remotely aviation-themed.

Re-doing the joint took some time — and that’s not something I have in abundance these days, so despite the fact that I was getting tired of looking at the old design, I was going to just let it slide. But then suddenly I didn’t. My thought process boiled down to the idea that perhaps if the site looked better, it would inspire me to write more often.

Also, a good friend and former college roommate of mine, Rich Manning, recently launched a site of his own, Foodie-A-Go-Go, and looking at it made me think it was time to put a fresh coat of paint (or should that be “code”?) on the walls. I’m certainly not in his league when it comes to writing, but at least I can look the part in my attempt to keep up with the Jonses.

Speaking of Foodie-A-Go-Go, be sure to check it out if you’re a Southern California-based lover of vittles and vino. I remember when Rich’s idea of fine dining — and mine, for that matter — was a midnight Del Taco run to pick up a ninety-nine cent bean burrito… or three. Hey, it was college for Pete’s sake! Anyway, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve all come from those simpler times.

Another reason for a redesign is that I was already knee deep in code anyway. I’d received an email from a reader who said viewing the site with Internet Explorer would occasionally bring up one of those fake virus pages where they offer to “scan” your computer for you and eradicate it. I can assure you I’ve put nothing like that on the site, and have no idea where it’s came from. In fact, I was convinced it must be something on his computer, not my web site. But sure enough, when I looked at the site using IE, the same thing happened. Not repeatedly. Just once.

It was a bear to figure out where the malicious code was hiding. I finally found it in some of the WordPress system files. They’d been modified through a hole somewhere in a plug-in or a remnant of code from a previous version of the WP software. Things should be secured now, but if you encounter any issues, would you drop me a line about it? Thanks!

Changes

Well, my friends, it’s 2009, and with it I’ve made a few changes to the House of Rapp.

For one thing, you’ll notice a new theme. Let me know how you like it!

I wanted something a little more up-to-date than the 2005-era code I had cobbled together before integrated themes became popular for WordPress. The background image I’m currently using is a photo of my Pitts S-2B on a vertical upline over the old El Toro MCAS base here in Orange County.

Second, I’ve password-protected the photos section. For some reason, a lot of my site statistics and referral logs were showing huge traffic coming from sites like Myspace. Thousands of hits per day! Turns out people there were using my photos as background images. While I’m glad they enjoy my photography, they were also using a lot of bandwidth by simply linking to my files. It’s considered rude to use another person’s bandwidth to serve images to your own web site, and my requests to stop doing that were met with silence. So, a password, a few changes to the .htaccess file, and problem solved.

I also got to thinking that there are a lot of other people in my photos, and they might not want every Tom, Dick, and Harry looking at their mug on my web site. But the photos are all there, and if you’re someone I know, drop me a line and I’ll give you the username/password combo.

I hope your holidays were safe and restful, because I have a feeling we’ll be needing all the strength we can muster to endure the goodies that 2009 has to offer.

Eh — I’ll write more about that in a future post. This isn’t an economics/finance blog, of course, but that happens to be one of my interests — money also comes in handy when your aviation is your avocation! — and I don’t mind saying that I predicted the fall of the housing market right here on this blog back in 2003. So the way I see it, I should be running the Fed, Treasury, or Council of Economic Advisers!

Alas, life is not fair. So until the phone rings with that Big Offer from the Obama administration, I’ll just have to make due with the great flying, perfect weather, and unbeatable friends and family I have here in Southern California.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Hopefully, the old saying is true, and will make up for my largess in the writing department as of late. Don’t worry, I’ll be turning out the tripe again soon enough. Until then, enjoy these photos of:

  • Elixir of Love – a very well recieved production of this classic opera, set in a 1950’s west Texas diner. Think of it as opera infused with a Grease-esqe panache. The show just closed last night.
  • Carmen – yes, again.
  • SoCal RV Rendezvous – I presented a seminar on aerobatics at this gathering of RV pilots. If I recall the numbers correctly, more than 50 aircraft showed up. It made for some impressive photos of the ramp…
  • Wild Animal Park backstage tour – this is probably the best way to get up close and personal with the cheetah, tiger, lion, and other cats while seeing how things work behind the scenes. Well worth the ~$20 cost.

AdSense

From one house to another… a quick shout-out to my college roommate, Rich, on the relaunch of his sports commentary site, House of Sports Blab.  I don’t know about the name, but the content is first rate.

We spent the afternoon putting some fine touches on the WordPress template design, tweaking the style sheet, and so on.  The main thing he wanted was a location for Google AdSense advertising.  The spot we dedicated to it is directly below the tagline on the right-hand sidebar.

Speaking of AdSense, for a long time I’ve frowned on such advertisements and vowed that I’d never put such junk on this site.  I’ve got nothing against Google, but we’re bombarded with ads from the time the radio wakes us up in the morning until we go to bed at night.  It’s in our postal mail, email, radio, television, it’s on buses, cars, billboards, pens, packaging, and everything else we touch, see, or do.

But even that doesn’t spur my intense dislike of online advertising.  The crux of the problem is that advertisers are resorting to more dishonest methods for pimping their wares.  Adware, spyware, and outright deceptive advertising — anything to get you to click on that ad.  I’ve no doubt that American enterprise loses millions of hours of productivity to it.

I know I’m not alone in believing that there should be some place that’s free of overbearing communiques on Leptoprin, day trading secrets, and free iPods.

But lately, I’ve been rethinking my aversion to some web-based advertising.  For one thing, AdSense doesn’t stoop to the malware level.  Also, their stuff is highly targeted, so presumably any ads that appeared here would be aviation related.  Flight training, charter, aircraft manufacturing, part suppliers, and so on.

Of course, I’d be remiss in not adding that there’s another reason I’m rethinking things:  money.  Does that make me a bad person?

My site gets thousands of visitors per day, and every time I turn around there are guys getting four, five, and even six figure checks from Google for doing nothing but running their web site.

To be honest, I’m curious about what sort of money a site like this would bring in.  Will I join the AdSense tidal wave?  I’m undecided.  But if you’d have told me five years ago that any small-time web site would be able to generate that kind of revenue without dealing in something a) illegal or b) pornographic I’d have said you were crazy.

I’m starting to think I’d be crazy to not at least look into it.