the walking writer

When I first opened this blog, I wanted to create a place where I could write about anything. I work as a writer, but I’m usually spending my days writing about subjects that aren’t all that interesting to me. One of the topics I’ve written many articles about is optimizing your blog. I think I had internalized a few too many messages from all those articles and it hampered my ability to write here. For example, I often strove to hit arbitrary text goals. Yes, writing a blog post that is 900 words will probably get you noticed by a search engine, but I’m tired of caring about that. Lately, I’ve felt myself feeling inspired by tumblrs and blogs that exist just as a creative extension of the writer.

So, going forward, my hope is to post more posts that will probably be shorter, more casual, more creative, and so on. I gave the blog a slight redesign to help eliminate some of the design quirks that were distracting me every time I visited the blog. It’s quite sparse and minimalist, but I think it fits my new goals.

As I write this, I’m currently uploading files to my new web host. I’ve been a loyal customer of A Small Orange for many years. I joined them when they were still a fairly small company, back when they still had customer forums and you could expect quick responses to support issues. A few years ago, ASO was gobbled up with many other web hosting companies by a company known as EIG. You don’t have to look far on the web to find a long list of complaints about web hosts owned by EIG. In ASO’s case, however, I believe they managed to hold onto their support staff for many years. Unfortunately, that seems to have changed recently.

Last month, I suddenly realized my site was suspended. I was rather surprised as I had seen the PayPal receipt for my invoice that month. After logging into the email I used for ASO, I discovered they claimed they never got the payment and had suspended my site. Now, I fully admit that I should have seen the emails warning me that they were going to suspend my account due to non-payment, but I’ve been using the same PayPal subscription for years without problem and as I said earlier, I saw the receipt for December’s payment.

So, I sent in a ticket. And waited….and waited some more. I looked at their Twitter and discovered their Twitter feed was full of messages to and from clients about tickets not being answered. Each time, the poor soul manning the Twitter feed would ask for a ticket number and problem to get the issue looked at. That is a terrible way to do customer service, in my opinion. In my case, I don’t have a Twitter account, so I decided I would just jump into their live chat. It took 15 minutes, but finally, I got someone to look at my issue and fix it immediately. I never really got an explanation for what happened, just some claim that PayPal had held onto the money for some unknown reason. The fact that they were able to fix the problem within mere minutes indicates to me that something may have actually gone wrong on ASO’s end. If it was PayPal’s problem, wouldn’t they have needed to actually talk to PayPal first?

Well, this little incident made it clear to me that I needed to look for a new host. During the holidays, I put it on the back burner, but I made sure to closely watch my invoices for January’s payment. Sure enough, once again, PayPal deducted my money and ASO said that my invoice had not been paid and that I was late. I responded immediately to the email they sent, and waited. Two days later, they sent another automatic warning email about the lack of payment. I replied to that email immediately. Two days later, they sent me a final notice about the non-payment, so once again sent in another email. Finally, four (!!!) days after the initial email I sent in, I got a reply. This time, they gave me a completely different explanation for the problem then they did last month. It’s pretty clear to me that they don’t know what is going on, and while they are willing to fix things for their customers, you could be waiting for days and days for help. I should also note the customer service rep offered no apology for the delays or the payment problem.

Based on reading their Twitter feed, I understand that ASO is having significant problems serving clients who pay far more money than I do. However, just because I am a small potato compared to other customers, doesn’t mean rather urgent issue can’t be fixed. It’s amazing to me that a web hosting company would ignore someone who’s on the verge of having their site incorrectly suspended yet again.

I am sorry to have to say that I would strongly recommend staying away from A Small Orange. Fortunately, there are plenty of other web hosts out there, including my new host, iWF Hosting.

How to Stop Comment Spam On Your WordPress Site

Credit: Mkhmarketing, CC BY 2.0 (image edited by author)

With more and more people now using WordPress to power their websites, spammers are getting better and better at figuring out how to spam the comments feature efficiently. These annoying spam-filled comments usually include links to sites that you definitely don’t want appearing on your own website. Depending on how popular your blog is, you could see hundreds of spam comments a day. This tutorial aims at providing some basic ideas to help you avoid the need to wade through piles of comment spam to find comments actually left by humans.

Moderate All Comments

Moderating all of your comments will absolutely ensure that no spam appears on your site. By choosing to moderate your comments, you will need to sift through the comments each day to find and approve legitimate comments. Although this option will cost you some time, you can fine tune it to make it a bit easier. For example, you can set your WordPress installation to allow comments from repeat commentators. In other words, if you’ve accepted a comment from one person once, the next time they comment, their comment will go through without needing approval. These options are all under Settings > Discussion on your control panel.

Use an Anti-Spam Plugin

If you’d prefer a more automatic option to deal with spam, you can try a variety of plugins from the WordPress community. The Akismet plugin comes with each fresh WordPress installation. However, the terms for using Akismet have changed over the years. If you have any kind of advertising on your blog (for example, an Amazon affiliate link), you must pay at least $5 dollars a month to use the service. Fortunately, there are some other alternatives that you can use instead, including the aptly titled Anti-spam. A quick search on the WordPress plugin site can help you find more plugins to better suit your needs.
Please be aware that Akismet and other plugins will on occasion mark a legitimate comment as spam, so you may want to browse through the spam comments from time to time. Spammers have gotten better with making their spam look legitimate, but it’s still pretty easy to identify true spam, especially if you look at the URL they include in their comments.

Block Repeat Spammers

If you have a troublesome spammer who refuses to give up, it’s easy to blacklist them if they have a pattern to their comments. First, go to Settings and then Discussion. If the spammer is leaving a lot of links, then fill out the option to hold a comment if they leave X number of comments. This will not mark it as spam, however, but it will hold the comment in moderation. You can also scroll down a bit further to the Comment Blacklist form. Here you can put particular words or URLs that will automatically be marked as spam. Maybe you’ve noticed you have a problem with a spammer who is trying to sell you toothbrushes. If you’re not too worried about someone submitting a legitimate comment with the word “toothbrush”, you can simply add “toothbrush” and future comments with that word will automatically be held for moderation.

Pinging Can Bring Spam

When you make a new post on your WordPress blog, you have the option to ping update services to let these websites know about your newest post. Spammers monitor these update lists to find new blogs to unleash their advertisements on. Be cautious about what ping services you choose to use. I suggest using only Pingomatic. This service is run by the creators of WordPress and automatically notifies the other important update services for you. You can also turn this function off completely, but you may lose out on some legitimate visitors as well as the spammers. You can adjust this feature in the Writing settings in your WordPress control panel.


You can also install a CAPTCHA plugin to ensure that only a human reader can leave a comment. CAPTCHAs are garbled images with some blurry text that you must decipher and input to prove you’re a human. Some people strongly dislike CAPTCHA plugins because they often generate images that are hard to read. There are, however, some other kinds of plugins that are less annoying and only ask your visitors to input something simple, such as answering a basic math question. In my opinion, this option is a last resort as some of your visitors may refuse to leave comments because they dislike dealing with CAPTCHA.

Good luck! Comment spam is annoying, but there are many ways to increase your defenses against it.

As I mentioned in the first post I wrote on this blog, the first blog post is usually the hardest to write. The first post you write after taking an unexpected absence is also pretty tough. In my case, however, this little blog is just a experiment and something to provide a few minutes of entertainment here and there. Thus, I don’t feel too bad about taking a break.

I admit that I sometimes suffer from writer’s block. If you do as well, you’ve probably read numerous lists of things that may or may not help you break through the block. I have my own list of things that actually does help:

  • Do something else. If forcing yourself to write is just making you frustrated, it’s time to do something else. Take a walk, watch a television show or play a video game.
  • Read. I find that reading the words of other writers is a great way to feel inspired. No, don’t steal, but allow yourself to absorb the words and feel the inspiration behind them.
  • Write something unrelated. If you’re working on an article for a client about pest control and struggling to hit the requested word count, write something else. Switching gears to an entirely different topic helps me unblock my brain.

Well, despite my failure to blog for a couple of months (I blame lack of inspiration and a really terrible cold), my poor little blog has been mercilessly attack by spam bots.  I must say the spam comments have become a little more interesting in the last few years.  Some of them could almost pass for legitimate comments.

I’m not a big fan of Akismet for spam protection, but I will sing endless praises for Anti-spam.  It’s a simple plugin that uses two hidden fields in your comments form to catch spam.  Spam bots will automatically fill the fields in (thus identifying them plainly as spam bots), while human readers won’t.  You don’t have to deal with a moderation queue or sign up for an account.

Well, now that I’ve eliminated my spam problem, hopefully I’ll manage to motivate myself to post a little more frequently.

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