Petrol prices across Cyprus

Cyrpus Mail runs an article about some ‘name and shame’ list that the government is assembling for petrol stations across the country.  And interesting bit there is the paragraph that compares petrol prices:

In Larnaca petrol 95 costs €0998 while in Limassol it is €1.022. Petrol 98 costs €0.999 in Larnaca and €1.058 in Limassol. Diesel will set you back €0.893 in Larnaca and €0.969 in Paphos.

The cheapest petrol is in Larnaca.  Not that I am too surprised with this fact, but rather by how much difference there is – more than 5 cents per litre!

Rebuilding mamchenkov.net – Step 2 – Monitoring

The best practices of web design and development suggest that I need to set up some goals and monitoring before I make any changes to the web site.  This way, I will be able to track how the changes affect the performance of the web site.

The problem is that right now my web site is not set very well for goals that I want it to achieve.  But insufficient monitoring is better than none, so I logged into my Google Analytics account and configured the following goals.

According to my own goals for this web site, as described yesterday, I want to get hired more.  The only way to track it now is to see how many people used the Contact me page.  I will eventually improve my contact details and contact form to be able to track more details.  Once that is done, I’ll reconfigure this goal.

One other thing I want people to do is read more of my movie reviews.  Again, there is no easy way of monitoring it now, so I just setup a goal for the Movies category.  This will probably get reconfigured later.

And just to have some generic goals for an overall picture, I added tracking for those who visit more than 2 pages  and for those who spend more than 2 minutes on the site.  That should be enough for starters.

VaultPress – yet another goodie from Automattic

Automattic – an awesome company behind WordPress, Gravatar, IntenseDebate, Akismet, and a few other – announced that they are starting up a new service – VaultPress.  While the details of the service are not completely clear yet, it looks like a real-time backup solution plus some security monitoring and automated updates.  This service is primarily targeted towards stand-alone WordPress blogs, not the ones hosted at WordPress.com .  Maybe WordPress.com support will come later, but for now those guys are settled pretty well anyway.

If you want to try VaultPress, it is in the invite-only stage now.  You can request an invite.  And while you are there, please do enjoy the beautiful form, which doesn’t follow the conventional “captions, fields, and the submit button” concept.  That’s what happens when you have a good web designer around and enough sense to let him work.

Rebuilding mamchenkov.net – Step 1 – Ideas

It’s that time of the year again, when I am looking for more inspiration, when ideas are brewing, and when I feel this uncontrollable urge to change the appearance of this blog.  However, this time I want to do more than that.  I don’t just want to get another theme.  I want much more than that.  In fact, I want so much that this time I am sure I won’t be able to do it in one big step over a weekend.  I want a re-make.  Re-birth.  A complete makeover.

I decided I will take it slowly. Because otherwise I’ll lose passion soon and the initiative will die.  I won’t work on it somewhere else in hopes of finishing and releasing it one day.  Because then it will drag forever.  I’ll do it step-by-step, I’ll do it publicly, and I’ll document the path.  Just so that I get a better understanding of what is involved and why I decided to make certain things a certain way, and for someone else to hopefully learn of this experience.  And there is another, hidden, you wish, hope.  That someone will watch me suffer and will step up and help.   Not begging yet, though.

So, step 1.  Ideas.  Here is what I want with the new site.

  1. Focus.  I started this blog a long time ago.  It was about everything.  Then it spawned a few niche blogs, which lived and died, and folded back in.  While there will always be something outside the main topics to blog about it, I want to focus this blog around my primary topics of interest.  Which are: technology and movies.  Technology as in programming, system administration, Open Source Software, web work, social media, etc.  Movies as in movie reviews, trailers, trivia, etc.  I’ll also often blog about my personal life, things that happen in Cyprus, this, and that.  But that shouldn’t be the primary focus.
  2. Goals.  This blog was always my personal place on the web.  It didn’t really have any goals. Probably, that’s because I didn’t have any goals on the web myself.  And now I do.  And I want this blog to reflect it.  So, what are my goals on the web now?  Earn money.  I don’t want to completely lose the personal touch of this blog, but I think it can make way more money than it does now.  And there are two ways it can earn me money: by finding me better jobs (either full-time office jobs or once off consulting gigs or anything in between), and by ads.
  3. Presentation.  There are more than 4,500 posts on this blog.  That’s a tonne of links, images, videos, and code snippets.  But all of it buried in the archives with no easy way of finding it.  I want to change the presentation so that posts of value swim up to the top.  Movie reviews come to mind.  They have poster images, and ratings.  They are tagged with actors and directors.  They have recommendations and comments.  But there is no easy way of getting to them.  I want to change that.
  4. Social web integration.  I spend a lot of time on the Web.  I have a number of profiles, accounts, streams, and portfolios all over the place.  I want to have better integration of this blog with my other places on the web, such as Flickr, delicious, Twitter, Google Buzz, Google Reader, and whatever else that might be at the time.
  5. Mobile.  More and more people are using mobile devices to browse the web.  I do more of the mobile browsing myself.  It’s a pity that I find browsing my own blog annoying when on the mobile.  This must be improved.

Now that I look at these ideas, written, in front of me, I already have a better understanding of all the changes that have to be done.   There is no magic theme or plugin that will just do all that for me.  And there probably isn’t even a combination of those.  It will take a number of trials and errors, some hand coding, some content fixing, some A/B testing, and some of something else to get there.

What have I done so far? I got some new ideas yesterday by installing a number of themes and playing around with them.  All of them was online and in real-time, so some of you were probably confused.  You’ll see more of that in the near future.  I’ve also slightly rearranged the categories – moved technology categories under a parent of Technology, removed Blogging category (which fits under Web Work anyway), and a few other minor changes.  I’ve installed some more plugins and added a few more rules to the ever-growing .htaccess file.  I won’t go into details now, since that’s something I’ll have to re-work soon anyway.

What’s next? My mind is busy working on the visual concept.  It doesn’t share thoughts with me yet, but I can feel the buzz.  I’ll give it some time.  In the meantime, I’ll fix and tune a few things around.  There is a lot of mess to clean and it will take a long time to clean it.  There is no reason to wait.  Also, to monitor the progress, I’ll need to tune my Google Analytics setup.  Goals, conversions, funnels, landing pages, blah, blah, blah.  I’ll share the details with you, once I have an idea what I am doing.

Stay tuned for more news from the fronts.  Here I come…

On the future of Adobe Flash

There is a lot of rumble going around the Web now on the future of Adobe Flash.  Some say that Flash is here to stay.  Others believe that when HTML5 will be a norm, Flash will die out.  Others believe in some other technology or in the mix or in none of the above.  But everyone has something to say.

I just read a lengthy Slashdot discussion of this post by John Dowdell, who is working for Adobe in San Francisco, and who is not worried about Flash future.

There’s really no “HTML vs Flash” war. There are sure people inciting to create such a war, and individual developers may have strong practical reasons to choose one technology over another, but at corporate levels that drive strategy, all delivery channels are important Adobe territory, whether SWF or HTML or video or documents or paper or ebook or e-mag or film or packaging or whatever. Adobe profits by making it easier for creatives to reach their audiences.

On the other hand, a few month ago, back in Karlsruhe, Germany,  I was in the audience for the keynote speech by Patrick Lauke of Opera fame.  During that speech he presented a few developments – HTML5 and CSS3 among others – that clearly showed that there is a strong alternative coming for at least some of Flash’s functionality.  How soon?  The time will tell.

And yet there was yet another important announcement on the subject today.  Google Chrome releases blog mentioned a new version of the browser, released today, with integrated Adobe Flash plugin.  There was a link for more detailed explanations of such a change to Chromium blog.  It looks like there is something bigger going on:

[…] we are working with Adobe, Mozilla and the broader community to help define the next generation browser plug-in API. This new API aims to address the shortcomings of the current browser plug-in model.

I think that whatever the upcoming alternatives are, Adobe Flash is here to stay.  It won’t necessarily stay as we know it now. After all we now know a better Flash than we knew initially (read some Adobe Flash history).  But it surely is not going anywhere any time soon.

And if you need examples of stale technologies on the web, think Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.  It’s over 10 years old. Everybody hates.  Even Microsoft is advising everyone to upgrade.  Better technology exists for years now.  And yet we still have MSIE6 hanging around and no apparent way of getting rid of it.  And Adobe Flash, with all its limitations and shortcomings, is way better than MSIE6.

WordPress goodies of the week

I spent some time playing around with WordPress themes and plugins this week.  While most of the stuff I discovered was cool, as usual, a few thins stood out.  For the benefit of the general public, here they are.

  1. Automatic thumbnails in Swift theme.  One of the problems that I face when choosing a new theme is that often theme author would expect you to do things in a certain way – organize your menus using pages and not categories, or use specific custom keywords, etc.  For some time now I was interested in a theme with post thumbnails, but never dared to try.  After all, I have more than 4000 posts and the last thing I want to do is go through all of them adding thumbnails.  That’s why I was so surprised by how nicely Swift theme handles this problem.  It does expect that you add thumbnails using custom fields, but if you don’t, it just grabs the first image from the content of the post and prepares the thumbnail itself.  If there are no images in the content, it uses a default one, which can change easily. Awesome!  Here is how it looks.
  2. After The Deadline spell-checker.  Michael Koenig commented on the post about me trying IntenseDebate comments plugin, and suggested that I enable After The Deadline plugin for comments, which I did.  Looking further into it, I noticed that After The Deadline spell-checker is also available for posts.  I already have a spell-checker built into my browser, but it doesn’t seem to check the grammar or anything else beyond the syntax mistakes.  So, I installed the After The Deadline and I do enjoy it.  It doesn’t stand in the way, while at the same time, provides some feedback about my writing style.  It has a number of useful features, such as highlighting passive voice, suggesting replacement for complex words and expressions, and more.  Recommended, especially for non-native English speakers.
  3. Security tips. A reader of my much outdated, lost, and forgotten WordPress Bits blog asked for some tips to improve WordPress security.  I compiled my list of tips and then looked around for a few suggestions from other people.  Apparently, there are a number of blog posts (one, two, three) on the subjects and even some plugins (one, two, three) that can help you out.

Minimum salary in Cyprus

Living and working in Cyprus, I am often asked by people from other countries what are salaries like in Cyprus.  I never had a good answer to the question, because the answer depends a lot on the company you’ll be working for and your position.  Even the range for the same position across different companies can vary 3-4 times easily.

Cyprus Mail reports that the government had decided to increase the minimum wage (salary).  Gladly, the article provides a reference for average salary across the island.

THE MINIMUM wage is being increased to €887 from €840 effective from Thursday, the Labour Advisory Committee announced yesterday. Final approval for the 5.6 per cent increase, which will bring the minimum wage to 50 per cent of the average national wage, rests with the Cabinet.

So, this means that the while the minimum wage will now be €887, the average is twice that much – €1774.  That’s good to know.  Now I have an a better answer for all those people who are asking.

The Road

Last Friday I went to see “The Road“.  I’ve seen a trailer of it several times before and figured that it would be one of those post-apocalyptic zombie movies that I don’t particularly want to see. But I was with my wife and there was no better choice of a movie in the cinema, so we went.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, it’s been a while since I wrote a movie review.  But this film is something!  It’s such a load of crap!   Everything about this film is bad.  Not neutral, but bad.  The story is extremely shallow.  The dialogues are horrible.  There is no common sense what-so-ever.  The film is boring on so many levels that it’s unbelievable.  It is even boring visually.  Everything is shot in a greyish colours, with decreased saturation, and with no highlights at all.  The images of the post-apocalyptic world don’t touch on any feelings – they are not sad, not horrifying, not inspiring.

I was very surprised to see both Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and Charlize Theron (“The Italian Job”, “Sweet November”, and many others) in this crappy movie.  They were trying their very best to save it, but there just wasn’t enough ground.  Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played a kid, delivered horrible acting and all the dialogues that he had to do weren’t helping at all.

The film is running for almost 2 hours (111 minutes), and I think it is about 100 minutes too long.  Overall, I’ll rate it a 1 out of 5 and recommend you avoid it at all costs.  It’s just that bad.