Adventures in Upgrading: Plugins

I’m blogging through the upgrade process to MT 4.2. You’ll be forgiven if you forgot I was doing that since my last post on it was 2 1/2 weeks ago. Someday I might get to the actual upgrade. 😛
One of the questions anyone reading this series (Heh, like someone is going to read this :-D) might wonder is why haven’t I upgraded to MT4.x until now? After all, MT 4.0 was officially released over a year ago, MT 4.1 came along back in January and MT 4.2 has been in it’s own beta for several months as well. So why haven’t I until now?
One word – plugins.
I mentioned in my first Adventures in Upgrading post, Getting Ready, that I thought dealing with plugins was “the Achilles heel of the upgrade process”. Many simple plugins haven’t changed for years and should work fine on 4.21, but the more complicated and the more integrated into MT, the more likely it is that a plugin will break when upgrading. I use a few like that, three of which are crucial to the function of my blogs, Photogallery, which powers my photo gallery blog, MT Notifier which manages the email notifications and RightFields which I use for uploading my images and automatically adding them to my posts. It turned out that two of these plugins (MT Notifier was upgraded pretty quickly) would tie my hands and prevent my upgrading.
Lots of other software use plugins, they are a great way to extend the functionality of the software by tapping into the expertise, and enthusiasm, of the community. Researching the status of your plugins is part of any upgrade, and any one, in my case two, can put a roadblock in your upgrade path. The irony in my case was that Six Apart played a role, perhaps indirectly, in each situation.
The big one was RightFields. RightFields was a slick plugin that allowed you to add extra data fields to your entries and had some of the best documentation I’d seen, sorely lacking in some plugins.. To make the long story short, after MT4 was released, myself and other RightFields users began asking when an upgrade might happen. “Soon” was the answer we got from Kevin Shay, the developer, and later by Apperceptive, his employer who had evidently taken over responsibility for RightFields. Then, when MT 4.1 was announced in January, it came with the news that Six Apart had bought and integrated a competing plugin, Arvind’s Custom Fields (then only if you bought the Pro Pack, now available to all). Even though that sort of made RightFields redundant, we were assured that an upgrade was still coming. Shortly after that, Apperceptive was bought by Six Apart, who also insisted that an upgrade path for RightFields users to Custom Fields would be provided. Ultimately, no upgrade came and no Six Apart solution for converting to Custom Fields was provided that I’m aware of, though I suppose they may have helped out with the solution that did emerge. [See update below]
So, what happened? In May, Chad Everett of Everitz Consulting released a plugin for converting RightFields data to Custom Fields data. He originally created it back in December 2007, but the first version couldn’t handle data in a custom SQL table, as was the recommended method for RightFields and how my data was stored. The new version released in May overcame that limitation, finally providing me (and others) an upgrade path. MT 4.2 was in development by then, so I decided to wait for its release. I will still have a pretty significant amount of work because Custom Fields and RightFields work differently and the template language to place the images in posts is different, but at least I have an upgrade path.
The frustrating thing is that Six Apart played a direct role in this road block. As I’ve said, issues with plugins are expected, but you don’t expect the developer itself to create a hindrance to an upgrade. Their buying Custom Fields and then Apperceptive had a direct impact, I believe, on RightFields not getting updated. Perhaps the ramifications were considered and thought through on their part, but from the outside, it seemed that the fallout was considered only after the fact. In the end, a member of the community not affiliated with Six Apart, RightFields or Apperceptive ended up bailing out those who were stuck. I could understand if this had been an obscure plugin, but RightFields has been around a long time (longer, I think, than Custom Fields) and was used by many. Even members of the MT ProNet, folks who make their living implementing MT, were left trying to explain to their clients that they couldn’t move to MT4 because of this issue. I wonder if any lost clients over this.
Ultimately, I think MT is better for having Custom Fields integrated, ironically, because it avoids the very drama that I experienced in the future. However, these kind of situations need to be better planned out in the future.
The other problematic plugin was Photo Gallery. Photo Gallery is a plugin implementation of Doug Bowman’s slick gallery templates for Movable Type by the MT project manager at Six Apart, Byrne Reese. Photogallery takes all the required plugins (there are many), the complex templates and the mind boggling CSS and adds a one-at-a-time upload mechanism. Without an upgrade, I wasn’t sure what my gallery would look like. The gallery isn’t a big part of the site (obviously since I’ve never provided a link to it here), but I’ve got some 1,300 photos in there of cars from various shows and other things that I’d hate to botch up in an upgrade. So I waited. Finally, in February, Byrne released a version of Photo Gallery for MT 4.1. This converts all the photos to MT assets and updates the galleries to MT 4.x. It’s still, I believe, considered beta (or maybe even alpha) software, and it hasn’t really been tested (that I know of) with MT 4.21, but I’m tired of waiting so I’m going to give it a shot and see what happens.
This isn’t really Six Apart’s responsibility. They can’t be expected be responsible for what their employees do outside of work,even if it is related to MT. In fact, it’s an asset to the community that they have such an enthusiasm for the product that they’d develop plugins for it on their own time. Based on some recent dialog on the ProNet, Six Apart recognizes this and does provide some ‘company time’ for personal plugin development. However, when I as a user go looking at plugins and I see some that have been developed by Six Apart employees, the very folks who work on MT everyday, my expectations for that plugin are going to be higher. I think that Six Apart ought to have high standards for their employees who make plugins too. Each plugin ought to have a home page on their website, there ought to be clear communication on the plugin’s status (what version it works with, version number, if it’s alpha, beta or production at the least) and support inquiries ought to be answered in a timely manner, even if it’s to say “Sorry, can’t help now”. My experience with plugins made by Byrne and another Six Apart employee, frankly, has been the opposite. Documentation is lacking and support is hard to come by.
In an ideal world, the standard would be even higher with complete documentation and full testing. But I understand that personally developed plugins will not be built to the same rigor that Six Apart would do in house. I understand that personal resources are limited and choices must be made as to where to spend their time, but in the least good communication on the status of their plugins and timely replies to support inquiries would be extremely helpful. Six Apart employees should be setting the bar high in this regard, not low.
My hope is that sharing my frustrations will help upgrades involving plugins by Six Apart and it’s employees go more smoothly in the future. For those reading this for advice with their own upgrade, be aware that if you use any more sophisticated plugins, you will most likely have issues. Hopefully they’ll be minor, but don’t attempt an upgrade until you know what you’re in for.
Next step – time to pull the trigger and actually move to MT 4.21.
Update: I had forgotten this from the MT Wiki detailing a proposed expansion by Six Apart on the solution by Chad (below). However, it was announced on the ProNet in June and the page hasn’t been updated since July. They did put up a migration page in the official docs and they also came out with a plugin (still in development) for creating and converting Right Fields LinkedEntry fields to Custom Fields. So to imply that Six Apart has done nothing for Right Fields users is inaccurate.

Mark 16 – Resurrection and Commission

Mark 16:3 – I wonder what their plan was, if they needed the stone moved, why did they go out without someone to help them move it? Perhaps they just went out, and if they could get it moved, they would, if not they would not.
Mark 16:5-6 – They were alarmed, I’m thinking I would have been angry. After all, in the frame of my understanding of the possible, the only explanation of a missing Jesus is thieves or pranksters. Isn’t that how we look at the world, from the framework of what we see as possible? It’s hard to expand your thinking to include all that God sees as possible. I think that God understands that (I hope so) and deals with us where we are and with what we can accept. but I think I need to constantly remind myself that God is bigger than what I can fathom and things that I can’t even imagine are possible with Him and are being done. I’m convinced that, just as Jesus was limited in what he could do because of the lack of faith in some places, I limit how effective the Spirit can be in me because I can’t see beyond reality and experience. Lord, increase my faith and my vision!
Mark 16:7 – The angel says “… g, tell his disciples and Peter …” (emphasis mine). Today we would never make such a statement, but God doesn’t hold back. Peter had denied Jesus, and at this point God was accepting that proclamation, listing him as separate from the disciples. Today we’d say that such a distinction was rude and uncaring. Don’t kick the guy when he’s down, give him a second chance. Look again though, Gods is giving him a second chance, he’s reaching out to him and calling him to meet Jesus again in Galilee. Yet the angel doesn’t mince words here, the fact is that Peter has turned away. There will be an opportunity for reconciliation, but Peter will need to accept it.
I don’t know why the Spirit singled out Peter when all deserted Jesus. Maybe Peter’s denial was more public and vocal. Maybe God knew that Peter needed to face this head on, to understand exactly what he had done in order to clearly choose to follow.
Mark 16:15 – “”Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” What an instruction! Of course, you’re sitting there with a dead man who is now alive and handing out missions, who’s to argue or doubt?
Mark 16:16 – This is one of those “See! Baptism is necessary!” verses. Jesus says that hose who believe and are baptized will be saved. But when talking of those who would be condemned, ho only mentions those who don’t believe. What of those who believe but aren’t baptised? Jesus doesn’t say. Frankly, this verse doesn’t say anything conclusive about the necessity of baptism for salvation (although a plain reading certainly implies that it is), it says more about the necessity of faith.

Really Unplugged

Well, this past Unplugged Sunday has really taken hold. About 3-4 PM, hurricane Ike rolled into central Ohio bringing hurricane force 75-80 MPH winds that just tore things up. We were without power for about 18 hours and as of this morning still have no internet (I’m typing this on my lunch break at work.) Nothing like what Texas experienced, but the worst hurricane I’ve experienced in Ohio. Thankfuly, the wind came alone, no rain to add insult to injury.
There are still over 150,000 without power here in the Columbus area and it all won’t be back to normal until next week some time. My neighborhood of relatively young trees (12-15 years) still saw many go down, some roofs & gutters were lost as well. We fared just fine, in fact because our patio was on the leeward side of the house, Emily and I spent a little while outside watching the wind. The kids enjoyed two beautiful fall days off school. The Columbus City Schools (not our district) has taken 4 days off this week due to power issues. The state only allows 5 ‘calamity’ days per year, and we haven’t seen any snow yet.
Depending on when things come back on at home, I may be silent for a little while longer. Not that anyone likely noticed …

I Remember

Seven years and the memory starts to fade, but like my parent’s generation and JFK’s assassination, I remember just where I was standing when Tower 1 fell and the world changed.
I was in Big Bear, a supermarket that no longer exists, standing in line buying 1 pound bags of M&Ms for a project at work. The store had brought a TV on a cart up to the check out area and those of us in line watched as the tower came down. I don’t remember any words being spoken, no words were necessary – or adequate.
Before I sat in our morning scheduling meeting and we laughed that some knucklehead had flown his plane into the WTC. We assumed it had been one guy in a Cessna at that time. We were naive.
I spent the rest of the workday trying to stay on task, but in reality hitting refresh on
I spent the night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open watching CNN, waiting for the amazing rescue story that never came.
Seven years later and it wasn’t until I read some other posts that I paused to think about that day. Memories fade, but I’m not sure that this one should.
Where were you? What do you remember?

Unplugged Sunday Followup

What a great day it was, though. Starting with an outdoor church service, then a few hours of letterboxing followed by a little relaxing & reading, dinner on the patio, cutting the grass and then a game of Rummikub with Maria & the girls.
Ironically, the day started with some surprise clouds rolling in which prompted a check of the weather radar on TV to see if we were going to be rained out at church, and letterboxing clues are all listed on line, so we had to get on to find those. But we limited out ‘plugged in’ activities to those two things, which were only to make our unplugged day a success.
The hint that this was overdue came as the day rolled on and I felt increasingly compelled to check-in online with my email and blogs. Yeah, I’m too plugged in.
A very good day, and, I should point out, it was almost entirely my wife’s idea.
Should have done this sooner.

Family Unplugged Sundays

We’ve decided that Sundays we are going off the grid. Ok, not quite off the grid, we’ll still use lights, the dishwasher, the oven, etc, but we won’t be on the computer or the TV. We’ll play games, go to the park, take a bike ride, read a book, have people over and try to do things together as a family.
We’re a family of loners, frankly, and Maria and I don’t think that’s good. Left to our own, I think we’d eventually all find our own corner of the house, with a TV or computer, and sink into our own little world. After the kids go to bed, Maria and I pretty much do just that, she to her office and me in the recliner, each on our laptops. (I decided that I can use the chair in her office, so we’re at least in the same room)
Unplugged Sundays is one small step against that trend. So, if you email me on Sunday, don’t expect and answer until Monday. I’ll be unplugged.

Adventures in Upgrading: MT 4.21 Gotchas

FYI – There’s a good list of possible gotchas for the upgrade to MT 4.21 on the forums.
Additionally, it’s been reported on the MT ProNet that Arvind’s MT Blogroll plugin (whch I use to generate my hopelessly outdated blogroll at left) has to be completely wiped out or the upgrade will stall. Arvind has instructions on his site on how to upgrade MT Blogroll to his mew MT 4 plugin, Linkroller. I’m going to give that a shot and see what happens before I ‘nuke’ my MT Blogroll install.

Mark 15

Mark 15:1-5 – It can’t be said so much that the Jews or Pilate killed Jesus as that Jesus refused to stop them. Whether he would have been successful in answering their false accusations is immaterial, he didn’t even try. He was determined to fulfill his mission and any words he might say may prevent that. And so he was silent.
Mark 15:6-15 – I seem to remember other Gospels indicating that it was Pilate who brought Barabbas out as an alternative to Jesus. This seems to imply that the leaders put forth his name. If it was Pilate, I wonder if he chose someone so bad (a murderer) that he thought they would surely choose Jesus instead.
Mark 15:21 – “Simon … the father of Alexander and Rufus” I wonder, did the group that Mark was writing do know Alexander and Rufus? Were they disciples? Why else, except that they were known, would Mark mention them?
Mark 15:24 – Earlier (verses 16-20), the soldiers are mocking him, here they are fighting over his things. They are treating him just as they did any other man condemned to die. I wonder, did any of these soldiers later come to faith, to understand that this man, who’s undergarments they fought over, this man was God. Did they look back and see the epic moment in history they participated in?
Mark 15:35-36 – All those around mocked him, but when Jesus finally called on God, they anticipated, hoped for, a miracle. Because they believed? No, I think it’s the same reason Nascar fans love the crashes, people flock to Circe de Soleil and hurricanes get so much coverage – we love a good spectacle. God coming down to rescue Jesus would have been a spectacle indeed.
Mark 15:37-47 – The matter of his death is told in such a matter of fact way here. No drama, no emotion. He died. The curtain was torn. He was buried. A stone was rolled in. It seems odd that the even that Mel Gibson made an entire movie of is told here in less than 50, simple verses. I think that a lot is hidden in those 47 verses.

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