Under the Hood

By Sean Carroll | January 6, 2007 1:21 pm

When we started Cosmic Variance over a year and a half ago, we put quite a bit of effort into choosing a web host (Bluehost.com) and blogging software (WordPress) and a theme (K2, heavily modified) and spam-filtering software (SpamKarma) etc. Since then, however, for the most part things have just sailed along smoothly without much tinkering, which is exactly how we like it — none of us is the type who enjoys messing with the blog software just for the heck of it. But occasionally things do crop up that we might want to do something about.

  • We’re told that the blog doesn’t display correctly with the current version of Internet Explorer, IE7. Is this still true? This is the kind of problem you get when all the bloggers are sensible enough to use Firefox on Macs. Hopefully we will fix this problem, but I suspect it won’t be easy — to get a feeling for the kind of angst we went through to get the blog to look okay in the last version of Explorer, have a look at the box model problem. If my life had gone as I planned, I never would have had to know about the box model problem.
  • SpamKarma is great, and we certainly need it — we get hit with over 1000 spam comments in a typical day, and almost none of them get through. But occasionally it’s a wee bit over-enthusiastic, and respectable comments are filtered. (In particular, it’s been objecting to comments from people with “blogspot.com” URL’s.) If that happens to you, please do let us know, it’s easy to fix.
  • You may have noticed that occasionally you can’t see the blog because we’ve “exceeded our CPU allocation.” How is this possible for a humble little blog like ours? Something like that makes sense in the rare circumstances when we are linked from Slashdot or Fark, but it seems to happen almost every day. This is a problem with Bluehost that others have complained about, and about which the company seems rather unresponsive. If it gets really bad, we’ll contemplate switching to another host, as annoying as the prospect may be. Suggestions welcome.
  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit


    You do still have a problem with IE7, content in your right sidebar overlaps with the main part of the page.

  • http://darwin.gruts.com/ Richard Carter, FCD

    I loaded IE7 on my PC just to test my website still looks ok. IE7 crashes quite a lot!

    The box model problem is a total pain. I have solved it (I hope) with judicious use of &ltdiv style=”clear: both;”><div> before the closing of the box in question – but that can cause problems at times. I also find that specifying width: 100% in the CSS for the container box sorts out problems with certain text not displaying at all (although your website seems to be ok on that front).

    Good luck!

  • Stephen Levy

    Sorry, very off-topic but I thought you might enjoy this string theory cartoon from the Jan. 8 New Yorker.

  • http://samthornton.blogspot.com Sam Thornton

    If you’re using the Bluehost $6.95/mo option, for about the same price http:/www.webstrikesolutions.com provides very reliable service. Have used it for over 5 years with only rare problems which were fixed immediately. Very responsive tech staff. Best of all, the first year is free.

  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com Joseph Smidt

    I will first give my opinion: EVERYONE SHOULD USE FIREFOX! Not only is it as good if not better the IE7, it comes out with new releases every year and has lots of available themes and extensions which you will probably never see from IE7 since IE7 is not open source.

    With that said, I also had trouble reading this blog from my parent’s home who use IE7. Just thought I would say I had problems too.

  • http://rigogz.blogspot.com rz

    I have been using dreamhost for my web and unix needs for the past ~6 months. I have nothing but good things to say about them. In particular, whenever I’ve sent an email to tech support I’ve gotten a sensible human response in 15 minutes or less.

  • John Phillips

    All the right hand columns such as the ‘Recent comments’ overlaps into the blog proper, the ‘Contributors’ section more so than all other items. The ‘Contributors’ entry overlaps by approximately 9 characters and the others by 4 to 5 characters. All right hand column entries on and below the line “Comments on BLOG TITLE” completely loses the first 1 3/4 left hand characters characters of each line. This overlap defined as the number of characters to the left of the left hand edge of light grey vertical box housing the right hand columns The effect is exactly the same irrespective of what size browser window is used.

  • greg

    Is IE7 support really needed. I’m told that a lot of sights don’t support firefox or opera, not that i have ever needed to view such a sight. But why not the other way round?

    I’m often told why I should use MS word or IE –one frequent reason is that “everything is compatable”. Why do we bend over backwards for issues that are in fact MS’s so that IE etc is “compatable”?

    Pop up a link to firefox or something with the claim that this sight mite not display correctly in IE7.

  • spyder

    Well, with Berube ceasing blogging as of this morning, that can only mean more traffic for quality sites such as this. More traffic will bring more Bluehost problems. And since i am one of those who are “sensible enough,” i haven’t really experienced any problems reading this site. Keep up all the good that is being done so well.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Thanks, spyder. Thing is, I supect that our “CPU allocation exceeded” warnings are completely independent of the amount of traffic we get — it’s just a Bluehost snafu.

    Thanks for the details about the IE7 problem, everyone. Obviously everyone should use Firefox, but just as obviously not everyone does — and I’m a believer that the content provider should at least make some reasonable effort to make their content readable to everyone.

  • http://www.earlymodernweb.org.uk/emn/ Sharon

    Sean, there’s a ‘secondary div ul’ class in the CSS which has a left margin of -40px. I have a strong suspicion that IE7 is using this for the margins in your sidebar classes sb_links, sb_about, etc. What I think you’ll need to do to fix it is to specify the margins for list elements in sb_links, sb_about, et al (they don’t seem to have anything defined at present). There might be another way, but that’s what I’ve done in the past with similar problems.

  • http://www.badastronomy.com Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer

    Sean, what kind of traffic do yuo get on a given day? I’m curious, because I use BlueVirtual.com, and they have some good packages. I share my server with bautforum.com (the bulletin board for my site and for Universetoday.com) and so I got a dedicated server. It’s a lot more expensice but it rarely has problems.

    WP can be a bit of a CPU hog because you send out each page dynamically. There is a WP plugin called wp-cache which caches the pages, and it has saved my blog many, many times when I get slashdotted. Seriously, go get it (it’s free) and install it. This will most likely solve your CPU woes.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Sharon, thanks! That’s the kind of specific advice that’s hard to come by on the internet. We’ll give it a try … sometime soon.

    Phil, we get about 3,500 hits per day at the moment, ballooning of course when a monster site links to us. I’ll look into wp-cache, that also sounds like a good idea.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    I just installed wp-cache, so we’ll see if that helps. Still working on the IE7 problem.

  • agoodspellr

    The left margin of the text in the sidebar (on the right) is offset too far to the left in IE7 here. Varying amounts under each heading.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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