Beware the unmatched brace

I’ve been tinkering with the new WordPress Twenty Twelve responsive design template for a couple of other sites that I maintain. Given the increased use of mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, websites have to accommodate those smaller displays. Doing so with multiple style sheets for each possible configuration is possible but a testing and maintenance nightmare. Responsive design templates, where smart people figure out this stuff for us, are the easiest way to get to a good common solution.

The basic Twenty Twelve design, admittedly, is a bit bland. It has a quirk of placing the header image below the website title and tag line.
It also puts a box shadow, albeit faint, around the image.

I cloned the default template, moved the image above the title, and then set about to remove the box shadow. All that I’d need to do is reset the value of header-image in the style sheet.


WordPress offers a built-in style editor so that you can make changes to your design as you go.
In a simple case such as this, little can go wrong. If you are making a bunch of changes, however, you discover that it’s easy for an extra character can wander in during a copy-and-paste editing session.
The code editor doesn’t do syntax highlighting. As a result, if you leave an open curly brace:, the style sheet will fail silently and you’ve left with a simple change that doesn’t work.

/* a bunch of code copied from elsewhere
that goes on for a while and then is missing a closing brace.

Tip: if you’ve spent what seems like an inordinate time tracking down a style change that’s not working, copy your code into a proper editor and let it help you see what you’re missing.

There will always be an England

These are the famous Flaming Tar Barrels of Otterly St. Mary. 

In brief, the townsfolk put tar in barrels, set the tar on fire, and carry the barrels around the town. Only local are permitted to carry the barrels, but the competition is open to men, women, and children.

They are worried that they’re not able to raise enough money to keep the festival going.
Mark Steele describes the town and its carnival of flaming tar barrels in this BBC Radio 4 Extra show.

Blog tinkering

It’s windy and cold outside, so it’s a good day for tending to long overdue housekeeping chores on this blog. I’ve turned off email updates to help avert a flood of new posts and bizarre errors that we’ve seen in previous    tinkering sessions.

For some email subscribers, blog posts may be arriving through a new service, FeedBlitz. You’ll have the usual options to adjust how frequently you receive the mailings and to unsubscribe if you so desire.
For those of you who care about such things, I’ve resumed with Blogger. I’ll discuss the reasons for the change in a future post.

Feeding birds by way of ice

A few weeks ago,we had small amount of snow and ice. We also did not have any sand or ice melt. Son Mike and his crew were making repairs on our house. Mike used bird seed to give some traction. It worked pretty well.
Last Monday, we had more ice, so I tossed more bird seed on the ramp and driveway. The ensuing warmth and rain washed away the ice, leaving the seeds. Birds large and small are taking care of the rest.

All the news that’s fit to throw away

We get the Sunday-only option, currently costing $7.80/week. As with all print subscriptions, we also get their All Digital Access service, providing web, iPad app, and other mobile options, for no additional charge.
The All Digital Access costs $8.75/week.
To read the Times online on all of our gadgets, therefore, it is cheaper to buy the Sunday print edition and throw it away, rather than buy just the digital editions by themselves.

The New York Times recently sent a letter announcing new rates for print subscribers. Depending on your selection, a subscription will cost 40¢ to 70¢ more per week in the new year. Ours will increase to $8.20. The Gray Lady hasn’t said whether there will be a price increase or not for the digital products.

More on Digital Nomads: Panera Bread

Panera Bread was one of the first restaurants to offer free Wi-Fi. It was a good thing. People would use the restaurant as adjunct office, holding meetings or just working for an hour or two. The restaurant would shorten the amount of time you could be connected during the busy lunch period, a condition that seems reasonable.
Of late, however, the Wi-Fi service has deteriorated to the point of dial-up quality.

Even in Leominster, where cell phone coverage is thin, my phone was getting better results on two-bar 4G service (921kbps) than on the store’s Wi-Fi (896).
Add to that their use of Flash on the Wi-Fi login page and you have an unfriendly, unworkable setup.
Granted, we’re supposed to go to restaurants to eat, not necessarily to work. If your business is offering an additional service as an attraction, it’s a good idea to make it something you’d want to use. If you advertise air-conditioning, and can only keep the summertime temps at 80F, you’re not delighting your customers.
Dunno where I’ll try next, but I’m out of here.
By the way, the mall where the Leominster store is located is called the Mall at Whitney Fields, not the Searstown Mall. The mall was known as Searstown when it opened 45 years ago. It was renamed in 2004 when other anchor stores didn’t want to be subservient to Sears.

About the Connecticut school shootings

A lot will be said about the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Most of it will be an expression of grief and bewilderment. Much of the commentary will be thoughtful and heartfelt. Some of it will be positioned, consciously or not, to advance an agenda. Intertwined with all of it will be observations from people whom we respect, but who are making statements that are passionate, stupid, and wrong. That’s who we are, and that’s how we have to live together.
Let me add just a couple of quick thoughts based on early and likely to be inaccurate information.

  • It appears that the guns used in this shooting were purchased and owned legally by the assailant’s mother (now dead by those same guns). Gun control legislation of a type that would pass muster under the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Second Amendment probably wouldn’t have prevented these guns from being used in these crimes.
    There may be reasons for considering stronger gun control laws, but this case doesn’t appear to be one of them.
  • Much will be said about identifying people with mental illness in an effort to prevent future shootings. Our predictive powers regarding the behavior of anyone, mentally ill or otherwise, are nil. We have statistics that will show that a certain percentage of people who exhibit certain behaviors or who have been treated for certain conditions are likely to cause problems. There is, however, zero chance that we can then say with certainty that any specific individual matching that profile will offend.
    Two members of my extended family have done time in jail as the result of their mental illnesses, one for what he did and the other for what he said and that others feared he might do.
    • The one who did the crime did so as a complete surprise to all of us.
    • The one who said the wrong thing to the wrong person as the wrong time only learned how not to say those things to anyone, including a therapist, again.  Anyone who has been committed to a hospital under a Massachusetts Section 12 knows the magic words not to say. As a result, the person’s illness goes underground even further.

    Even as we discuss identification of people likely to offend, we make it more difficult to get the kinds of sustained mental health and family services that might give us a chance to heal what is badly broken.  A person who kills his mother and her kindergarten class isn’t going to be made whole by a Prozac presecription. 

There’s no question that gun violence and mental illness are causing grave problems in our society. There’s also no question that there are some things we can do to make things better. I keep thinking, though, about our invasion of Iraq. The Septemeber 11 attacks deserved a forceful response to confront terrorists in this world. That we chose, under the guise of responsing to 9/11, to invade and occupy Iraq squandered left us neglibly safer at a enormous cost of lives, money, and good will. 
I hope that we’re better than that this time around.

More on Charter

You bring your laptop from home to work in a coffee shop. You connect to the Wi-Fi service, start the web browser to check the news, and then go to Outlook to check email. You read what’s arrived and write a quick note to a friend to make plans for lunch next week.

Up pops this message:

Task Throat-Warbler - Sending' reported error (0x800CCC61) : 'Your outgoing (SMTP) e-mail server has reported an internal error. If you continue to receive this message, contact your server administrator or Internet service provider (ISP).  The server responded: 571 imp09 NzAuMTkyLjE0Ljcw You must connect from Charter IP space.  E1110'

A normal, English-speaking adult would see a block of more than 700 undifferentiated ASCII characters.

If you happen to guess that that it might be related to your Charter email account and stumble over to the Charter online help, you may find a message such as this:

571 You must connect from Charter IP space. E1110  Sender attempted to relay email while not connected to Charter IP space. Charter subscribers may receive this message if their client IP address is not recognized as a Charter owned IP address.If the IP address the customer is sending from is a Charter owned IP address then this should be escalated to Charter Customer Support and should include the client IP address.

Do you feel helped?

The short explanation is that Charter has a stupid policy that doesn’t allow people to send mail through Charter email servers when they are not connected to the Internet through Charter.

If you go to one place around Worcester, you might be lucky and find that they use Charter for business, in which case you can send your message. Most places, though, have their own national ISP configurations and so block connections to Port 25 used to send email.

The workaround is to use Charter’s webmail service, the one that welcomes you with email that includes the following message about the message:


If you have a VPN back to your home and can make a connection through a service there, you might be able to connect.

The other alternative is to use the mobile device settings ( and SSL for the IMAP and SMTP servers.. These settings are intended for smartphones, but appear to work with Outlook.