WordPress . . . calypse?

I went on my first real wordpress odyssey last week[skip the tiresome narrative]. I encountered a number of sites that helped me on my way. Now I plan to “give something back” in the form of documenting the steps and missteps I took in the hopes that, should someone else find themselves in a similar situation, they can use this post as a resource to find their way home.

A number of tools of modern web development (and software development in general) attempt to provide a clean and simple(r) interface to rather complicated processes. WordPress is one such tool. The idea is to abstract away the various elements of site development and allow the WordPress user to focus on content. The obvious advantage of all such tools is the inclusion of non-expert site developers among the potential software users. This expands the base of people that can communicate their ideas in modern networked forums.

The downside is, when something goes wrong, it can often be at a “level” that the site maintainer may not be expert in, and may not even be aware of.


I am a novice user of WordPress. My level of expertise was such that I could install updates–a process which with my provider must be done manually. I had version 2.7.1 installed when I saw that an update was available. Knowing that updates are generally responses to super-heinous security vulnerabilities, I attempted to upgrade using my trusty notes on the process.

Upon completing the upgrade, I looked at the “new” site and saw this. A totally blank page. Being the computer genius that I am (and following my wisely conservative notes), I had the old version on hand, so I rolled it back in and went googling for information. I saw a couple of other people had encountered this problem, but all of their situations seemed, at a glance far more complicated than mine. I didn’t see any simple solutions provided so I decided to wait awhile in the hopes that somebody would notice and fix the problem in the next WordPress release–I adopt this type of tactic frequently, with mixed results.

A couple weeks passed (I’m the opposite of a prolific blogger) and another version of WordPress was released. I tried again to upgrade and I got the same results–blank screen. This time, I was determined put in some time and fix whatever it was that was broke. Thus began my adventure . . .

The Boring Technical Details (or, perhaps, the Reason You’re Reading this Post)

I make numerous indirect references to my install instructions.
Part of the setup at my provider is a personal “public” folder that is the document root for the entire site. My WordPress installation is a sub-directory of public (/home/public/wordpress). As a step in my (and any) upgradeThe first thing I did, to be extra super safe is to create a tar file of my old wordpress installation, wordpress.20100216.tar. No matter what, I’d have a working version [foreshadowing]. Now I could operate in my typical manner, with reckless abandon.

I had three wordpress installations–three subdirectories of public: wordpress-old, the working original copy; wordpress-blank, the latest wordpress install, but with my wp-config.php and wp-config directories copied over; and wordpress which was latest.tar.gz unzipped and extracted with a generic wp-config.php.

Beginning of Useful Information

My first reference was Velvet Blues, who have, apparently, suffered all kinds of blank page woes. Another site, High Tech Dad, was the first place I saw the term White Screen of Death (WSOD). Searching for WSOD brought a bunch of additional stuff. If you’re suffering WSOD, you’re solution is out there . . . unless you have the problem I was having*.

I was able to rule out all of the content, plugin, theme problems. I copied the wp-content directory over and built a new wp-config.php (via the web interface) which resulted in a functioning wordpress install–without my content. When I copied wp-config.php over, WSOD.

So I followed #5 from the Velvet Blues article, excerpted from another excellent WSOD article by a McNulty–which is awesome, I’m a huge Wire fan. He suggested that white space in the wp-config.php file could be the culprit. When I crack it open in vi, my config file looks like this:

Narrative Interlude

My provider hosts with FreeBSD. I transfer the files from a windows machine and, there or in the original, the control-M (carriage return) is tacked on the end of each line. FreeBSD doesn't use carriage returns, but the control character is still on there. Of course, this hadn't been a problem for my old wordpress installation, but maybe the latest release is finicky? In any case, I figure I'll try to strip them out. While I'm at it, I decide to strip them out of the entire distribution. After popping over here to refresh my memory on entering control characters, I do the following:

find . | xargs perl -pi -e "s:^V^M::g"

Still got WSOD. Oh, and I accidentally ran in in public, instead of public/wordpress, so I stripped all the control characters (^M) out of every file under the document root. Careless move, but no big deal, they're not used in unix [more foreshadowing].

I should have made note of this when it happened, the details are fuzzy a week later--maybe I'm trying to blank it out. Somehow in all of the moving things around I deleted wordpress-old (or maybe just wp-contents in there). Anyhow, I'd lost my original installation. Luckily, I had my tar file . . . without the ^M's that are apparently used in non-text files, even in FreeBSD.

Without ever solving my first problem, I was now facing a second--how to connect a totally new wordpress instance with my still existing database backend.

Installing a New WordPress Instance with an Existing Database

At first, this looked trivial. According to the codex, I just needed to point a clean copy of wordpress at the existing DB. So I extracted a fresh copy of the latest distribution and attempted to point it at the existing database. It wouldn't let me continue, giving the following error:
"Already installed! To reinstall please clear your old database tables first."

So then I tried giving it a "fake" table prefix so that it would complete installation, and then go end and change the table prefix by hand to match my existing DB . . . WSOD. It was getting late and I was resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to get my upgrade/recovery done before my cognitive skills degraded to the point that I would further endanger my chances of ever succeeding.

Upon waking up the next morning, I had a pretty good feeling that I could fix my site. I figured the damage must be inside my database itself, so I would just copy the tables one-by-one until I got the WSOD. Then, knowing the culprit, I would repeat the procedure but leave out the corrupted table, which I would copy over from a new installation.

So I unzipped a new copy of the latest distribution. This time, upon creating the wp-config.php--again, from the web interface--I provided another, totally new, prefix. During the course of my searches on prefixes, I discovered that I probably should have a non-standard prefix anyway. Apologies to the original source--I couldn't find it again. I picked up and installed the phpMyAdmin plugin. It showed my original wp_ prefixed tables as well as a set of tables for each of my two other installs.

One-by-one I dropped the tables from the new installation and copied the wp_ tables to the new installation prefix. It turns out, something in the options table was causing the problem. I copied all the other tables over, and voila, a functioning website.

On the Dangers of Blogging 10+ Days After an Event

To be honest, there was one additional hurdle to do with the salts in the options table (or keys, as they're labelled in wp-config.php). They need to match, and . . . something else is required as well. In any case, I've forgotten exactly what the problem was--I solved it by dropping the options and user tables and creating a new wp-config.php (all together) "via the web interface".

* My problem may have been on the list. I may have had to figure it out the hard way.

One Upping the Crazy

I have a new guilty pleasure–not sure how much mileage I’ll get out of it, but it’s off to a hell of a start. Behold, Emmett Tyrrell, founder of The American Spectator and appearing as a writer for Townhall. I think I enjoy his particular brand of right wing-authoritarian ranting because it reminds me of Onion founder and columnist Hermann Zweibel*. Beware, if you are a left wing-authoritarian who still believes in the political process, Emmett’s writings will likely fill you with white hot rage or elitist condescension, depending on how your mind responds to a nonsense narrative’s assault on your nonsense narrative.

Reading Thers at Whiskey Fire (h/t for pointing me towards Emmett) is another guilty pleasure of mine. His** party loyalty is bullet proof, which I appreciate because it gives us a modern day example of how pre-literate tribes may have been structured. Beware, if you are a right wing-authoritarian who still believes in the political process, Thers’ writings will likely fill you with white hot rage or elitist condescension, depending on how your mind responds to a nonsense narrative’s assault on your nonsense narrative.

Recently, in an moment of accidental lucidity, Emmett wrote a post in which he compared the united state’s army to the german wehrmacht: “Confronting savages — usually on their own soil — our forces have been professional to the utmost, the Wehrmacht but with democratic values!”

Yes, yes they are. Forgive me for mansplaining the obvious: “savages” and “their soil” is universal propaganda, but that aside the similarities Tyrrell is pointing out are pretty striking. Both packs of psychopaths fought/fight imperial wars of aggression far from “home” (some farther than others, more on that later). Both were highly professional–the profession of the soldier being to kill and destroy life and instruments of prosperity quickly and without remorse. I would take issue that the Wehrmacht demonstrated fewer democratic values. Democratic values enshrine the barbaric principle of “might makes right” into institutional form–the idea being that if the many can demonstrate that they can destroy the few, maybe the few will submit and physical conflict can occasionally be avoided.

So well done, Emmett. I know you didn’t mean to be so spot on, but credit where credit is due. Now stop calling foreigners “savages.” Seriously, the irony is almost too much for me.

Thers isn’t going to let this slight to the imperial army go unchallenged:

See, now, call me a liberal kook, won’t be the first time, but I’d previously been of the opinion that the Wehrmacht was comprised of the most barbarian enemy “savages” we’d ever gone after on their home turf. Or at least in the top two. But besides that, the concept of a “democratic values” Wehrmacht is a bit of a mind-bender. Even before Hitler, the Wehrmacht was inherently anti-democratic, bent on violent conquest, contemptuous of the idea of civilian authority… I suspect that what Tyrell means is that the Wehrmacht was awfully butch, but still, the fucking Wehrmacht? Comparing American troops to the fucking Wehrmacht? As praise? The fuck?

This, folks, is why the military budget of the united states is larger than the rest of the world combined. When some crazy right wing statist accidentally says something true about the military, some crazy left wing statist is going to rush to its defense, attacking right-wing guy’s accidental truth. Thers is even straw-manning Emmett, who stated the Wehrmacht lacked democratic values, to point out the non-conquest oriented, non-contemtuous, pro-democratic values of his fantasy-land u.s. army. He even concedes the use of barbarian to describe foreigners, although he does put quotes around savages–I guess that means he’s a progressive.

The rest of Emmett’s article and Thers’ response can be summed up as stodgy old back-in-my-day mysoginist vs. stodgy old** why-can’t-I-be-dictator state employee. Both entertaining writers–hence my guilty pleasure. Keep writing gents**!

*Here’s an excellent example from Emmett of his Zweibelness:

Often the Super Bowl ads depicted these patheticoes in humiliating states of catastrophe. One promoting a disgusting snack called Doritos — an inescapable insult to Latin cuisine — ended with a loutish young man wearing a dog collar and writhing on the ground, supposedly another exemplary Doritos customer.

** I apologize if Thers is young and/or female. I’ll happily change the gender of the pronouns and/or relabel Thers as a stodgy young why-can’t-I-be-dictator state employee.

Rad Geek fulfills his Civic Duty

For no healthy reason, I love this sort of thing. Rad Geek, a member of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, registers, via post, his advocacy of revolution against the federal, state, and local government. This is in accordance with south carolina state law.

The entire letter is well written, and I’m sure it will get an interesting reaction, “Merle, where *do* we keep that list of subversive organziations?”

My favorite bit is at the end: “PS. I am told that there is a processing fee in the amount of $5.00 for the registration of a subversive organization. Our organization is in fact so dastardly that we have refused to remit the fee.

Revisionist History, aka Reality Based History

I like the thought-exercise of viewing historical events as if one were a disinterested Martian. When stripped of the rhetoric, oratory and emotional appeals to the psychological hooks by which we’re so easily manipulated, what does an event look like?

The resulting narrative–in this case, of the creation of the american revolution and creation of the constitution–looks alot like this post by IOZ.

A gang of propertied tax yahoos who’d read a bit too much Cicero did what any patriotic Roman might’ve done in days of yore. They raised a private army and made civil war on a tyrant. They won! And in the decade the followed, they crafted a Roman-style aristocratic Republic, from slaveholding through general manhood citizenship through a vaguely consular system of government. That’s not some anachronistic metaphor. That was their self-conscious project. How many fasciae, how much cognomenizing of Washington as Cincinnatus does it take, huh? Anyway, after a few hundred years, that Republic, which was a little less glimmering than nostalgia recalls, is now deformed beyond recognition or repair. It has inevitably acquired an imperial identity, as you’d expect given its past economic and military success, and its consular-dictatorial office has acquired the trappings of a monarchy. . .

Alright, so maybe IOZ does express a point of view greater in strength than the Martian description. I may be inclined to forgive a bit of non-objective sarcasm and derision since the next-most-mainstream position already incorporates the honorary, “Founding Fathers.” You’ve got to travel a long way past the last outpost of Serious politics to find the position that the constitution is: “neat historical document, like the Twelve Tables, or Leviticus, or Hammurabi’s code, but it is the law of the United States in the same sense that we are guided by, say, the Ten Commandments.”

I’ve still got Howard Zinn on my mind and so I hunted down his take on the American Revolution:

In the year before those famous shots were fired, farmers in Western Massachusetts had driven the British government out without firing a single shot. They had assembled by the thousands and thousands around courthouses and colonial offices and they had just taken over and they said goodbye to the British officials. It was a nonviolent revolution that took place. But then came Lexington and Concord, and the revolution became violent, and it was run not by the farmers but by the Founding Fathers. The farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.

Zinn sticks more to my ideal of Martian detachment–he’s even generous enough to use “Founding Fathers” instead of “gang of propertied tax yahoos,” though I favor the latter description myself.

What is presented in both pieces are perspectives stripped of the propaganda accepted as truth, or a close approximation thereof, by virtually everyone. It’s no small part of the pain and suffering in the world that these clear-eyed perspectives on the history of nations and peoples is considered “radical” rather than “reality.”

Goodbye, Howard Zinn

Looking back on it now, Howard Zinn had a major impact on my radicalization.  I remember reading The 20th Century, essentially a subsection of The People’s History, on a park bench in Rutland, VT.  I recall my surprise that the progressive political agenda whose return I had hoped for during the Clinton presidency was, in fact, a reactionary force.

The political giants of the era who, I had been told for years, fought against greedy and monopolistic corporate barons had, in reality, actively crushed social movements challenging the economic dominance of said barons.  The 20th Century also introduced me to dozens of individuals and communities that I had never read about, but with which I felt an immediatel and powerful solidarity*.

I spent most of that day and the following months and years unlearning the “leftist” history I had accumulated in my first quarter century on earth.  I marveled at the monstrosity of the crimes committed by the paragons of the progressive political narrative*.   The ruthlessness with which they smashed nascent unions, sowed discontent between the races, and used police, prisons, and the courts to break up organic social structures that were rapidly forming across the working class brought into question, for the first time in my life, the notion of political solutions**.
In Zinn’s telling, every chapter ends in a victory for the conservative establishment.  Every populist movement is destroyed or absorbed, its energy dispersed or twisted to serve the increasingly powerful ruling class.  Throughout the entire book, chapter by chapter, you get a sinking feeling that, if the pattern doesn’t change, the people he’s writing about are going to end up . . . well, exactly where we are.
Dennis Perrin wrote a post about Howard Zinn’s passing titled, The Human Train which does a better job of expressing my sentiments than my own post.  The title triggered a feeling within me, which I’m having a hard time pinning down.  I feel loss, which I am not accustomed to when strangers pass.  Maybe it’s a feeling of connection and motion, even between people far removed.  Anyway, I’m saddened by his passing, and very grateful for his work and the influence it’s had on my life.
* Yeah, and the ones on the right too, but I already knew they sucked.

** RIP that notion ~2002

Reason vs. Faith

As further evidence of my unresolved psychological issues, I’ve occasionally have conversations with theists.  A classic dynamic that I find myself in during these conversations is the faith vs. evidence/discernment–I think most skeptics are familiar with the phenomenon.

First, the theist will claim that their belief is just a reasonable following of the facts.  After the evidence examined, found lacking, and dispensed with, the theist claims that their beliefs are faith based and founded on subjective experience–hard to argue with that!
Today I was talking to an ex-catholic who had been challenged in his teens to reconcile the bible with the tenets of the catholic religion.  He decided to read the bible in order to refute the challenger, but found instead that the man had, in fact, been correct.  He was upset that more self-identified Christians didn’t take time to apply reason to their beliefs and discern god’s intent for their lives.
I pointed out the irresolvable problem he faces: if a person examines the evidence and applies reason to religious beliefs, she will become an atheist.  The most basic filters that we humans use to strain out nonsense-that-cannot-possibly-be-true immediately get rid of all religious claims.  Only indoctrination of the young and the threat of ostracism and/or physical harm keeps these relics of humanity’s psychotic past alive.

Mixed Messages

Before I present the story, I need to make a statement for the record: I hold Islam in no lower (or higher) esteem than any other lunacy invented whole-cloth by crazy people and passed down through the generations by abusive indoctrination of children.  Also, this is apparently an old story (Feb 2009), that I’m just now hearing about due to some even nuttier recent updates (h/t Rob Taylor, btw I disagree w/ his assessment of Lancet).

There’s a television network called Bridges TV, whose purpose is “to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and diverse populations.”  Specifically, the founder and CEO, Muzzammil Syed Hassan, also known as Mo Steve Hassan, hoped togives American Muslims a voice and will depict them in everyday, real life situations” to counter the stereotypical Hollywood depiction of Muslims as unhinged psychopaths.

Then he cut his wife’s head off.  Again, I’m certain that on the same day, men off all religions the world over murdered their wives in a number of ways, and this is a horrible, despicable thing.  Still, talk about giving a mixed message.

Up in the Air

Alisa and I just got back from watching Up in the Air.  On the whole, the movie was pretty good.  I’ll not summarize the plot too much, but there are spoilers down below.

In Up in the Air, the George Clooney character is a solitary adult that has spent his lifetime travelling for business.  He’s disconnected from his family and has forsworn marriage and children.  During the film, he meets a fellow business traveller (Vira Farmiga) and they begin a no-committment relationship.  Over the course of the movie, he decides that his life is incomplete–that he’s missing out on something–and he abandons a motivation speaking gig (mid-speech, of course) to fly to Chicago and . . . well, we never get to know what he planned to do.
It turns out she’s married and George is denied his happily ever after.  I found this to be a refreshing twist on the romantic comedy, or unromantic comedy, as it turns out.
Some of the subplots were slightly more jarring, if more predictable.  The further one lives one life from the mainstream, the stranger some cultural norms become.
In this case, the redemptive power of marriage.
Clooney’s sister (Melanie Lynskey) gets married about 2/3rds the way through the movie.  Her fiance (Danny McBride) has squandered their savings on real estate scams and seems like sort-of a loser.  On the day of the wedding, he gets cold feet–citing the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death.   Rather than welcoming the breakup and encouraging his sister to hold out for a healthy and responsible partner, he convinces McBride that he’ll be happier with someone as his “co-pilot.”
Why not advise Lynskey and McBride to take a little while to introspect and ensure that they have identified what they would like out of life.  Maybe they could talk to a councilor, find out why death looms so large in McBride’s mind, why he’d risk their collective financial assets on risky investments, that sort of thing.  Why rush into marriage?
I know it’s silly to imagine a movie bucking both the romantic comedy happily-ever-after and the inherent value and necessity of marriage, but a guy can dream.

WTF: No exit polls?

My beloved better half constantly chides me for exiting the popular political narrative during a given discussion. As a made up example: she’ll call bullshit on Obama’s not repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and I’ll jump in with, “having a military is bullshit.” So I’m not much fun when discussing the kinds of tactical political minutiae favored by my intellectual peers–or political events in general, frankly.

Nevertheless, like a horrified bypasser stopping to watch two trains heading at each other at full speed, I Googled “Massachusetts election ‘exit polls.'” Guess what? Nobody’s taking exit polls! Nobody has to convince me that elections are a complete fraud and were even before Diebold and their “buggy” proprietary software guaranteed preselected results.

Even in a sham 4th world election, there are exit polls so that everyone *knows* the results are a fraud. Anytime the UN or other multi-national body declares irregularities in an election, it’s due to a discrepancy between exit polls and actual results.

Soooo, playing inside the box, I’m pre-declaring the results of the Massachusetts election to be a fraud–a fraud inside lie wrapped in a sham, to paraphrase a beloved war criminal. Since the democrat candidate had a gigantic lead (part of the stated reason for no exit polls), I’m going to guess that this one is rigged for the republicans–again, just a guess.

Zogby, who correctly predicted that John Kerry would “win” the 2004 race–if by win one means having the majority of voters cast a ballot for you in the correct electoral combination*–is saying that the dem will win by < 1%. I feel supported in my assertion that this is a republican steal by Zogby’s prediction.

* as opposed to the more favored definition which refers to actually assuming the political title for which one was contending.

Time Travelling God Particles

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I was a member of the institutional science community.  My particular bullshit field was “artificial intelligence,” but in the modern university, bullshit fields abound–sometimes with legitimate scientific endeavors buried within, or as an umbrella above, the bullshit.

I predict that large tracts of present-day physics research will be revealed as an exercise in mathematical masturbation–a sort of ueber-complex sudoku puzzle that only .001% of humanity has the intellect and training to attempt solving.  The sudoku metaphor can be extended to include the relevance of the solution to our questions about the nature of reality.

I’ll admit, I don’t have the mathematical chops to follow, replicate, or disprove the work of theoretical physicists.  My skepticism of their work stems from more primary methodological concerns.  Of primary concern is the lack of testable hypotheses–a feature found also in rank mysticism.

and then there’s this:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (NY Times 10/12/09)

One of the two pysicists is Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. You probably recognize from his famous proposal that the Veneziano model was actually a theory of strings*.  A distinguished physicist indeed.

Nielson along with Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto (less famous–doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry) propose that Higgs boson particles created by scientists in the future, travel backwards through time to prevent scientists in the present from discovering them.


Now I’m the first to sympathize with scientists forced to use metaphor.  Communicating an absurdly complicated topic to an untrained public is challenging.  I’m also sympathetic to the problem of the media in relating these metaphors to the public: how literal are they meant to be taken? Is the cat *really* alive and dead at the same time? Is space *actually* a rubber matt displaced by bowling balls? And so forth.

But, as far as I can tell, the Terminator metaphor above is meant to be taken literally.  Just substitute Higgs boson for Arnold, and anything-to-do-with-discovering-Higgs-boson for Sarah Connor.

The list of things sabotage possibly engineered by Higgs: the cancellation of the planned Superconducting Supercollider in the US in 1993, the various mechanical problems of the Large Hadron Collider, and the arrest of a resident physicist on suspcion of Al-Qaeda affiliation.


Of course, thinking like scientists, they’ve come up with a plan–a peer reviewed, up-for-publication-in-a-real-journal plan.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Create a deck of 1 million cards.
  2. Write “Procede” on 999,999 of the cards.
  3. Write “STOP” on 1 card.
  4. Shuffle.
  5. Draw a card.

If the card says “STOP,” then it supports the claim that Higgs boson(s) are emanating from the future to stop scientists from creating them, and we should design more experiments so that Higgs, from the future, can tell scientists how they should proceed with their experiments.

I think it’s a great experiment, but I would go the additional step of not including the “STOP” card.  That would really cinch it.  As a “real time” way you provide Higgs input on HLC activity, you could have a grad students continuously flipping coins.  If one of them comes up heads one million times in a row then we know Higgs thinks we’re going too far.  Or, with nearly the same degree of scientific rigor, we could have a seance.  I’m willing to be the conduit through which the Higgs boson can make its will known to our world.


*I had no idea who he was either.

**Since it would cost, like, a billionth as much as their other bullshit experiments, why haven’t they done it?