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Photo Credit: Microsoft & Michael Cruse
An Error Occurred – Try Refreshing?

An Error Occurred – Try Refreshing?

Sometimes apps have their own mind and do not behave as we wish.  I have dealt with a problem where Microsoft MSN Money App for Windows 10 displays the following message on several tabs “An error occurred” and “Try refreshing?” with a link to “Refresh this page.”  Refreshing the page never helped.  I tried reinstalling the app, resetting Internet Explorer settings, and registering the App Store with PowerShell, but nothing corrected the problem.

I was able to fix the problem, but trying these steps is done so at your own risk. I did not look at the implications of taking ownership as described below and deleting the wrong folders will break your apps.

  • Uninstall Money by right-clicking on the Tile and choosing “Uninstall.”
  • Navigate with File Explorer to C:\Program Files\WindowsApps
    You may need to turn on the setting to display hidden folders, and you must grant yourself access to the folder by taking ownership.  This will cascade down through the folder tree.  You can do this just to the base folder and the specific sub-folders that need to be deleted if you wish (Look at Step 7 in the Ownership link or Google how to do it.)
  • Delete the three folders that start with “Microsoft.BingFinance.” DO NOT DELETE ANY OTHER FOLDERS.
  • Reinstall Money from the Microsoft App Store
  • Start the Money App!
Photo Credit: Wordpress.org
Continuing to Improve a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog

Continuing to Improve a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog

Last month, I took action to correct the ultra-slow loading time of my blog.  I cleaned up the site and used a few plugins to improve the performance.  I went from a “D” score to a middle “B” according to Google’s PageSpeed Insights.  Most importantly, the load time according to Pingdom went from 13.6 seconds to 0.914 seconds. This is a huge improvement, and I am delighted by the results.  I covered the steps I went through in my March 25th post.

Note:  I am not affiliated or compensated in any way by any company or service listed or linked.  This is my experience as I work to improve my website’s performance through trial and error.  If anyone has suggestions or recommendations to improve the performance of a self-hosted WordPress site, please post a comment.  Thank you for the help! –Mike

However, I noticed a few issues starting to creep up when the caching plugin was enabled. First off, the WordPress Admin page became very slow.  The login process could take 30 seconds or longer to complete.  Additionally, some of the images would show as broken links or be incorrectly sized until the page was refreshed.  I know some of this is fixable by

  1. Disabling the Object Cache
  2. Locating and moving some of the Java out of the minify settings. I would need to test and find the exact Java files that are causing the issue.
  3. Change the .JS loading to blocking.

The last thing I ran into was build errors related to the CSS/JS cache. From doing some reading, these errors seem like they could safely be ignored.  However, it was bugging me.

I started to look for a new cache plugin that has been updated more recently.  I came across WP Fastest Cache. The configuration of WP Fastest Cache is a snap to set up.  I placed check marks in all the available options listed in their settings’ tab.  That’s it.  Done. I waited for 24-hours before completing a set of tests.

Configuration changes from the original baseline.

  • Added basic SSL encryption: I used the .htaccess file to urge all sessions to connect over SSL.
  • Replaced the blog theme to Nisarg from Poseidon
  • Add plugin Redirection of help eliminate some old 404 errors when pages have been renamed
  • Stopped using CloudFlare as a CDN until I have a chance to configure it for SSL. For now, I will use Photon that is part of Jetpack as an image CDN.
  • Replaced the cache plugin

Results from Pingdom

Grade: 84
Requests: 31
Load Time: 1.08s
Page Size: 637.4kB

I would say that the plugin is working very well.  While the load time is 19% slower than my earlier results, the total size increased by 38%, and everything is now being delivered over SSL.  This adds more overhead and time for the site to load.  I have detected no performance issues, errors, or layout problems.

What more could I ask 🙂

Photo Credit: Wordpress.org
Improved Self-Hosted WordPress Performance

Improved Self-Hosted WordPress Performance

My self-hosted WordPress website was slow. Google Analytics Site Speed showed page load times fluctuating from 8 to over 15 seconds.  I know that anything over 2 seconds is bad and results in lower traffic and search engine referrals.  I have put up with this slowness for years, but now I need to address this problem.  I spent time with Google searching and reading about WordPress settings, plugins, content delivery networks (CDNs), and web host configurations that are designed to improve site performance. There are links to many of the resources I used throughout this post. Furthermore, if you are hosted with an optimized WordPress hosting service, then these steps may not be necessary because of the hosting provider’s optimization.  Please check with your hosting company.

I am not an expert, and I addressed my website’s performance problem through trial and error.  I tried many combinations of plugins and setting before locking in on the below mix.  I am NOT being compensated for this post in any way.  It is my experience, and some of this information may very well be wrong.  If anyone has suggestions or recommendations to improve the performance of a self-hosted WordPress site, please post a comment.  Thank you for the help! –Mike

Initial Page Speed Assessment for www.cruseit.com

  • Google PageSpeed Insights Score: 64/100 (D)
  • Google Analytics Site Speed: 8-15 Seconds
  • Pingdom results using the New York Test Server
    • Grade: 65/100 (D)
    • Requests: 49
    • Load time: 13.6 seconds
    • Size: 1.6Mb
    • Slower than 88% of websites
  • These are very dismal results, and it is no wonder why my site traffic has fallen badly over the last couple of years.

Final Optimization Results as of 03/23/2016 – a significant improvement in the site performance!

  • Grade: 83/100 (B)
  • Requests: 19
  • Load time: 0.914 seconds
  • Size: 460.6 kB
  • Slower than 9% of websites

What I Used
Note: the free plugin versions were used, but I believe in supporting the developers. Thanks and free press for the developers are nice gestures, but it does not pay their bills. All software takes time and serious skill to develop so buy their services & software if it is valuable to you.

Before We Begin, Backup…Backup…Backup

Anytime major changes are made to your blog, it is important to back up the site before starting.  If things go wrong, you can always restore the site. If you do not have a backup process already in place, it is simple to add.  Login into your site admin page, go to plugins, select “Add New” and search “Backup.”  Many of these backup plugins support multiple storage options, including writing the data to Google Drive, an FTP account, Amazon S3, and Azure. Please take to look them over a few seem to be shady, so taking some time with Google is in order.  I have purchased backup service through Automattic’s VaultPress, and it is working well.  Please, Please, and Please, take the time to back up your site—including the database—before continuing on with this post.

Creating a Blog’s Baseline Scores

Go to Pingdom and test your website as a baseline.  Click on “Settings” and pick a server in the “Test from” section.  Keep using the “Test from” server throughout the process.  If you are doing this over multiple days, you will want to test at roughly the same time to make sure you are comparing apples-to-apples. Once complete, visit Google’s PageSpeed Insights and complete a test. Be sure to document your results to see what changes are improving your scores. My initial scores are listed below.

  • PageSpeed Desktop Score: 64/100 (D)
  • Pingdom Grade: 65/100 (D)
    • Requests: 49
    • Load time: 13.6 seconds
    • Size: 1.6Mb
    • Slower than 88% of websites

Time for a clean-up

Review your installed plugins and deactivate and remove any plugins that you do not need or want.  Look at each plugin and think about what it will do for the performance of the site and does it help deliver your content.

Example: Page View Plugins to show most popular posts.
These write an entry to your database each time a page is loaded.  This will slow your website down, and what value does it bring to your readers?
Alternative: Use Google Analytics or the Site Stats component of Jetpack to understand your best posts.

Example: Related Posts Plugins
These are great and may help retain visitors longer.  However, many will process the data on your webserver and hit your database hard.  This slows down your website.
Alternative: Use a plugin that shifts the burden off of your site.  The Related Posts feature in Jetpack is one such plugin.

Do not have another cache or optimization plugin installed as it could conflict with the plugins that I listed in the What I Used section. Review the features included with Jetpack and disable anything you are not using.  If possible, see if you can disable any feature or option of the other plugins that are not being used.  Basically, if you are not using it, don’t enable it.  Since we are in clean-up mode, take a critical look at the widgets that are being used.  Do they serve the purpose in helping your visitors consume or find additional content?  Do they add value to the visitor’s experience or aid in establishing the blog’s authenticity?

Once complete, clear the cache from your web browser and visit your site.  Does it look right?  If so, complete another set of tests and see how your results compare.  If the site looks off, go back and enable one thing at a time until you find the feature you were looking to restore.

Are you considering changing your theme?  Now would be a great time to do it.  Once your new theme is active and the widgets set, run the tests once again.  The site is clean, and you have a solid performance baseline metrics for your WordPress site.

House Keeping (not speed related…but many people forget to do it)

Update WordPress, themes, and plugins to their latest versions.  Please do this frequently for improved security, stability, and performance. Next, we want to make sure that you have an updated SEO plugin.  The website title, description, keywords, Google Analytics tracking code, webmaster verification code, and any other headers that need to be added.  A good plugin should allow you to set your robots.txt file.  Jetpack will take care of creating a sitemap that should be submitted to Google and other search engines through their respective webmaster tools.

Plugin Overview

  1. Jetpack by Automattic
    This is a powerhouse plugin and has a ton of features to offer including an image CDN. Use Photon if your web hosting provider does not have a relationship with a CDN that comes with your service.  Media Temple uses CloudFlare as their CDN partner and a basic subscription is included with my hosting service.  This is becoming more popular, and you should check your host’s control panel.
  2. WP Smush
    Images can represent a huge slowdown for websites. WP Smush optimizes your images as you add them to your media center in WordPress.  Additionally, it can optimize your images already in your blog in batches.  This can take time, and you must stay on the page to do it.  Do not skip this step!
  3. W3 Total Cache
    This is a great caching plugin. It will create static HTML files for your website.  These files are much faster to deliver than the PHP files that WordPress uses.  Additionally, this plugin will update these static files as you make new posts or when they need to be refreshed because of age.  The plugin will require some configuration, but it is well worth it.  There was some concern regarding the continued active development of this plugin.  WordPress Tavern did a nice write-up on its status.

Setup Details

Jetpack by Automattic
Install and activate the plugin.  This is straight forward.  I disabled the following features: beautiful math, carousel, comments, Gravatar, JSON, Likes, Markdown, Monitor, Photon, Post by Email, Single Sign On, Site Verification, Galleries, VideoPress, and Data backup.  I use Disqus as my comment system, so I use the Disqus Conditional Load plugin. If you do not have a CDN that comes with your web hosting services, then you should enable Photon.

WP Smush by WPMU Dev
Install and activate the plugin. From the plugin page under WP Smush, click on “Settings.” Place a check mark in “Smush images on upload” and then “Save Changes.” Next, under “Smush in Bulk,” press “Bulk Smush Now” until all of your prior images have been optimized. This will take a while based on how many images are in the media library.  The free version limits it to 50 images per press.  I pressed “Bulk Smush Now” a lot… Once complete, I averaged a 20% reduction across my entire media library.

W3 Total Cache by Frederick Townes
Before installing this plugin, open another browser window in Incognito or InPrivate mode. Then go to your blog’s home page in that private window. Once you are at your home page in the private browsing window, Right Click on the page and view the page source code. In Google Chrome, the option is “View page source.” In Microsoft Edge, this option is “View Source.”  You will need this code window later so do not close it.

NOTE: If you use the mobile theme that is part of Jetpack or WP Touch, then your desktop users may see mobile versions of pages.  Some additional steps are required to address this issue.  I am working on these steps and will do a separate post once it is complete. One quick option is to disable the Jetpack mobile theme support and see how your theme looks on your mobile phone.  Many newer themes work great.  Another workaround is to make a few changes. These are temporary workarounds, and I know it.

Now, move back to your main browser window that is logged into the WordPress admin page.  Go to plugins and install/activate W3 Total Cache. I did not have to reset any security permissions as they were all set correctly way by default. There is an excellent setup guide completed by Ahmad Awais, and I do not believe in reinventing the wheel.  The Guide is broken into a few parts and takes you through all the key configuration steps.

Our option configurations were very close.  We diverged in the advanced minify area.  The options I used are listed below.  You should test both methods (Ahmad Awais first) to see what works best for your site.  This includes speed and functionality.

Minify Details Page (Performance | Minify)

HTML & XML

  • Line break removal: Enable

JS

  • Minify for all three options and select Embed type: “Non-blocking using async”

This is where it starts getting more complex. I went back to the other browser window where I have the code for the web page displayed. I then searched through that code to find all the Java files. There are three sections where these files will typically live. You will need to look closely, but find file names ending in “.js” after the <head> and before </head>, after the <body> tag but close to it, and before the closing </body> tag. In looking through the View Source and using the search function, it is pretty easy to find all the files that end with “.js”. Please be aware that some of these files will have parameters after the .js that begin with a “?”. Please see the below screenshot for what some of my entries look like. You need to be sure to group the Java files in the correct section and in the same order as what was listed in the View Source. It is not hard to look through the page source and find these files. You may want to view the source on some of the other pages and posts to see if the Java files are used consistently throughout the site. If not, you can specify the Java files by template page type. In my particular case, all “.JS” files were consistent across the different page and post types, so I was able to apply them to “All Templates”.

W3_Total_Cache_JS_SectionClick image for a larger view

CSS

I specified the .css files in the same way as I did for the Java files above.

W3_Total_Cache_CSS_SectionClick image for a larger view

Even though my screenshots only include a few files listed, I had 16 Java files and 8 CSS files.

Wrapping It All up and Publishing

I then “Saved all settings” and went to the Dashboard underneath Performance. If you have not done so already, deploy your configuration. If you have already saved this configuration, you will simply need to empty all caches. At this point, I opened up another browser in incognito mode, emptied its temporary files, and thoroughly tested the site. I was not able to detect any visual or functional anomalies for my site. I tested search, navigation, links, comment forms, and the feedback form. I logged in and out of the admin portal several times, and everything worked as it should.

Retesting to Assess the Results

I performed new PageSpeed Insights and Pingdom test.  The results were phenomenal. The improvement was dramatic, and I was shocked at how fast I could navigate the site after the cache was seeded.

  • Grade: 83/100 (B)
  • Requests: 19
  • Load time: 0.914 seconds
  • Size: 460.6 kB
  • Slower than 9% of websites

Furthermore, take a look at my server load below. I use a shared hosting platform so GPUs represent an allocation of CPU resources. Can you tell when I deployed the cache?

GPU_REPORT

After this was completed, I enabled the content delivery network, CloudFlare, that comes with my hosting provider. My performance decreased slightly but that CDN offers several advantages, including greater website security. For now, I am leaving the CDN enabled and seeing how it performs over time. Currently, it is reducing server bandwidth by 20%. I will spend some time tweaking its configuration to figure out how to get the best performance out of it.

I hope this information helps, and please let me know if you have other tips or alternative configuration settings that produce better results.

Photo Credit: www.nuance.com
Dragon Professional Individual 14 “SendKey Canceled”

Dragon Professional Individual 14 “SendKey Canceled”

Update:

Another conflict occurred that required me to disable the advanced security setting in Adobe Acrobat.  This error has not happened since this setting was changed.

Original Post:

I have recently upgraded to Dragon Professional Individual (NaturallySpeaking) 14.  I use this application extensively to capture initial thoughts while preparing for writing projects and completing drafts of documents.  I have been a loyal Dragon user for multiple years and have found it to increase my productivity substantially.  Recently, I upgraded to Windows 10 and Dragon Professional Individual 14 and all went well for two weeks.

Starting yesterday, “SendKey Canceled” errors started to occur while using Dragon.  Additional information listed “at line 1 in script Dragon Voice Commands Automation.” and the system would appear unresponsive.  I would press control-alt-delete to lock my computer screen.  When I unlocked the screen, I could cancel the error message.

After doing a fair amount of Google searching (watch out for the malware “fix links”), I can see this is caused by a software conflict.  I started to uninstall updates and applications to see if I could track down the conflict.

For me, the application creating the conflict with Dragon was GIMP 2.8.14.  Once I uninstalled my favorite image editing application and rebooted, the error went away.  In the last several hours of dictation, it is not returned.

This is not to say that there is a problem with GIMP or Dragon.  For me at least, these two applications just do not want to play well together right now.

Opportunities at the Application Layer

Opportunities at the Application Layer

I saw a headline earlier today that Bill Gates spent the day installing Windows 8.1.  I too, in my free time, have spent the last couple days beginning to set up a new Windows 8.1 laptop.  I am certainly known to be an advocate for Microsoft since I built much of my career on their products, but by no means would I consider myself a fanatic.

The installation of the operating system has gotten easier with every release of Windows since the early days.  No matter if you are a Microsoft or Apple fan, I would argue that every release of the operating system for both platforms continues to get better with time.  I certainly am not enjoying the wipe and reload process related to replacing a laptop, but it is certainly better than what 5 or 10 years ago.  Back then, it was a balmy 8 to 10 hours to complete the job.

The operating system is probably the easiest part to get installed.  Drivers and Windows updates come down extremely easily. My frustration with the entire process continues to be the application layer.  It takes absolutely forever to install all the applications and utilities back on your computer after replacing the hardware or just completing a fresh start with a clean operating system.

It will take about an hour to get an operating system installed and patched, but it could easily take me 4 to 6 hours to download install and configure every application utility that I use.  Each time I do this, I always swear that I am going to make an image of the hard drive before I start using it.  The idea being that the very next time I need to do this, I can just drop an image on it and be done.  Needless to say, I never do it for some strange reason.  Maybe it is just my own morbid fascination with the process.

The market is beginning to challenge application providers to come together with easier and more portable application installation and preference retention methodologies using the cloud.  It unquestionably should not be that hard to track all of your application settings and write those preferences to the cloud. Imagine the very next time you install the software and login, it will bring down all of your preferences to the device.  Time Saver!!

Google with Chrome certainly has done this and Microsoft has made significant strides with the latest version of Office that are tied to a Microsoft account.

These are two examples where the software manufacturers got it right, but there are myriad of other applications and utilities out there that do not leverage this simple time-saving and customer beneficial enhancement.  Mobility is driving innovation with applications that span all platforms and remember whom you are no matter what device you are using.  This is the new frontier and opportunity for all application vendors to innovate and modernize their platforms to become more customer-focused.

The “Big Players” are moving to Software-as-a-Service

The “Big Players” are moving to Software-as-a-Service

One of my team members has a picture of a rural home that was in for an unlucky day as a funnel cloud heads toward it. The picture is captioned by “The Cloud, it is coming for your data.” Every time I see it, I crack up just a little. We are amidst of a Cloud revolution, and it will change the world as we know it. Web 2.0 is only the beginning.

The online services lead the way, the enterprise is just starting to look, but the software players are actively investing. The software giants’ move slower than the “web guys” but have deep pockets and are the real market makers. So, what am I talking about???

Well, Adobe announced it is moving some of its core software to the Cloud and will sell it as a SaaS product. Microsoft has commented that it will take a cautious strategy by playing both sides of the fence for a while supporting both boxed and cloud software versions. For now at least, Microsoft will keep boxed software and subscription Cloud-based software for a few years.

I don’t buy the Microsoft position. Adobe is leading now, and Microsoft will not be far behind. The SaaS opening makes so much sense for these companies. Let us consider a few wins that SaaS offers…

Read More Read More

Photo Credit: www.microsoft.com
Packet Loss on a Microsoft Surface Tablet Running Windows 8

Packet Loss on a Microsoft Surface Tablet Running Windows 8

I jumped headlong into testing the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet by turning in my corporate laptop. Being an IT professional, I get attached to the computers I use regularly. I hate to admit it, but I was sad when I turned in my laptop today. Unfortunately, I am not the kind of person that will thoroughly a computer without making it my primary for a couple of months. As they say, out with the old and in with the new.

One of the issues that I ran into today was a high percentage of data packets being lost when I would complete a ping command. At different points in time, the packet loss varied from 5% to 90%. I completed a lot of research online but was unable to find much in the way of help as to the nature of the problem. I completed a system file check (SFC.exe), uninstalled every application that I installed, completed a disk check, and generally did all the things that IT pros will do when trying to troubleshoot a problem.

After running out of ideas, I completed a system refresh on the Surface Pro. This kept my domain membership and a few of my settings but basically reset Windows 8 back to default. I pinged one of our internal servers with 2,000 packets and had no packets lost. I was excited thinking that I corrected the problem with a simple refresh, and something must have been corrupted during the application installs. I completed all the Microsoft Windows Updates and rebooted a few times. I completed an additional 2,000 pings and had a 14% packet loss. No other software was installed on this device other than Windows updates.

=== By the way, thanks @Office@Surface, and @MicrosoftHelps for the few tweets back and forth today.  We did not really work on this problem, but it was nice to be able to chat and know you were willing to help. ===

After working on this problem for another hour, I looked very closely at the network driver and changed one setting that alleviated the problem. I was thrilled and only wish that I did not have to finish resetting at the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet back up from nearly scratch.

Steps:

Control Panel > Display All Control Panel Items > Network and Sharing Center

Change Adapter Settings > Right Click Wi-Fi adapter and select Properties

Click on Configure below the Marvell Wireless Network Controller > Click on the Advanced tab

Select Selective Suspend in the Property list and change the Value to Disabled

Select OK and few times to back out of the networking configuration and Reboot.

Try your Ping command and see if your packet loss stops.

Let me know if this helps you by leaving a comment or if you come up with a different solution –thanks!