Are You Ready For The New Year, 2016?

Abraham-Lincoln-hustle

In just a few more days we’ll close the lid on 2015 and usher in a new year. Are you on track to achieving your most significant goals for 2015? And have you started or even completed your goals for 2016 and a plan of action to achieve those goals?

I’m writing this post from Meaglent Hotel in Accra, Ghana. I came here some three weeks ago for what has become my end of year ritual: to formulate a plan of action for the coming year, and complete the still lingering projects that I don’t want to carry along into the new year.

This ritual also includes a whole lot of closures: of personal pet projects, of once-glittering-but-now-dull business opportunities, and of relationships — in both the personal and professional arenas. I even drop gurus to make way for new ones. I try my best to keep my plate as clean and shiny as possible, so I can have full energy and clarity to enter the new year.

So what’s on the table for 2016? Unlike previous years when I made a long list of goals, this time around I’ve picked just one area to focus all my energies with gazelle intensity. I’m spending 2016 to nurture, develop and make to shine what I consider (and have been reminded by close friends in a recent survey I did) to be my number one natural gift: TEACHING.

Like Jonah in the Bible, after years of running away from my calling and endlessly chasing my own tail, I’m finally settling down to being whom I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to do, and living the life I was meant to live — the life, on my death bed, I’d regret not living.

That’s a mouthful and a very deep statement, but that’s exactly what I’m doing in 2016 and beyond. In fact, I’ve been tooling up for a while now. The WordPress course I announced recently is a piece of the puzzle — though a very tiny piece of the whole.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. What about you? Are you ready for the new year, 2016?

10 Reasons Why I’m Building My Own Info Products

10 Reasons Why I'm Building My Own Info Products

I couldn’t wait for someone to discover me and write about what I’m doing, so here I am letting the cat out myself: I’m building my very first digital product — an informational product targeted at the awesome WordPress® community; specifically, the folks I like to call Accidental Webmasters.

I’m not entirely new to making money on the Internet. It’s nearly ten years since I purchased georgeappiah.com, and I’m very certain I built a site or two before purchasing my namesake domain name. Back then AdSense was this monetization model made in Heaven, and I made the best I could of it with the dozen or so websites that I built (and sold or abandoned). This, in spite of my peculiar crime of being resident in sub-Saharan Africa.

But it’s 2015 now, and while advertising still powers a large portion of the Internet, it’s extremely difficult now for the little guy in pyjamas to make any meaningful income by simply slapping Google AdSense or advertising banners on a little website.

So after identifying my WHAT and considering several options, I’ve decided to devote the rest of this year and the whole of next year to a brand new pursuit: developing my very own info product line and building an awesome tribe around everyone’s favorite content management system, WordPress®.

Here are the 10 reasons (in no particular order) I came up with that finally got me convinced that building my own informational product line is the right career move:

  1. Learn valuable skills: I’m a life-long learner, and developing my own product gives me an unprecedented opportunity to learn a whole lot of new skills including idea generation and validation, product development, product launch, shopping carts, order fulfilment, and customer support. On the sales and marketing side, I’m already learning about lead magnets, landing pages, mailing list, webinars, upsells, down-sells, cross-sells, one-time offers, online advertising (Google AdWords, FB advertising, PPC advertising, etc), traffic building, etc. It’s been an incredibly rewarding journey so far, and this pursuit has become my favorite escape from the little big World War raging on in my little backyard (more about that in future posts, or maybe not).

    While I don’t expect to become an expert in all these, I hope to know enough to know what I don’t know, and how to get help with these known unknowns or conscious competencies.

  2. Help more people: I’ve always deemed it a privilege to be called upon to help, and whenever I’m able to, I readily share my time, knowledge and skills with those who ask for it. But here’s the undeniable truth: it’s just me, and I’ve only got 24 hours in any given day. In other words, putting myself out there to help in person just doesn’t scale.

    But by packaging my knowledge and skills into products, when people come to me for help I can simply refer them to these products (free or not), with 100% assurance that the product indeed will help them solve their specific problem. This way, I can help more people and more causes without being there in person.

  3. Feeling of making a contribution: Some say contribution, a sense of service and focus on helping others through giving and support, is the most important of the six basic human needs: Certainty, Variety, Significance, Connection, Growth and Contribution. A secondary benefit of being able to help more people through my own products is that I’ll be able to contribute to the lives of more people the world over, and consequently feel a higher sense of contribution myself.
  4. Connect with influential people: One of the common refrains I hear from people all the time is “to whom you know”; implying that all the good jobs, contracts, and opportunities go to people who have “connections” in high places. Even if this were universally true, I’m also convinced that such “connections” with influential people can be grown from the ground up by anyone, even someone like me who grew up on a cocoa farm in the middle of nowhere and has a strong inward-directed personality.

    Sure, you don’t have to create your own products or start a business to make such connections. But these are certainly credibility boosters and can serve as the key that opens the door to some close-knit guru networks.

    My goal here is to make a dent in the universe make valuable connections within the WordPress and Internet Marketing communities.

  5. Sense of Accomplishment: I’m not lazy. For that, even my biggest detractors, of which there are many, will agree. But I often feel like I’m just spinning on wheels. After walking, talking, and ‘working’ all day (and most nights), I go to bed feeling like I accomplished nothing. And it appears the more hours I put in doing the same old same old, the less sense of accomplishment I experience.

    That’s why, for my next year’s activities, I’ve cut back 90% of all engagements. Sorry if you received that mail from me, but this ship was headed for the rocks and I had to do something. By cutting back on these fruitless engagements, I can now devote more time to develop my own products: something specific with a clearly defined beginning and end, and with most of the key steps under my own control.

    The sense of accomplishment that comes with succeeding at this task will help me exhale, breathe deeply, relax and sleep soundly. My mind will then be free to focus on other pursuits, and I have no doubt instead of feeling like a cog in a wheel, I’ll go to bed with a high sense of accomplishment and wake up feeling re-charged, in balance and ready to face another day.

  6. Develop momentum for higher pursuits: Nothing succeeds like success. The little baby accomplishments I’ve made have been my greatest motivator and momentum builder. After all these years of dreaming and not doing, getting something out there would be success in and of itself.
  7. Have a story to tell: Whenever I tell someone I run my own business, they always want to know what I do, how I do it and how it’s going. The last question is always difficult for me to answer with my current haphazard consulting practice that takes so much of my time, stresses me up all day, and brings in so little income. With my own product out there, I’ll always be able to articulate what I do and know for sure how things are going. I’ll also be able to tell a tale or two, and the best part is that I get to determine the story’s chapters.
  8. Build my brand. Being known for something is awfully powerful, and what better way to build a personal brand than to develop a line of products around software that powers 24.5% of all websites on the entire Internet  (and 58.9% of all websites built with a content management system).
  9. Make money: For years I got sucked into the “do what you love and the money will follow” mantra, and only kept doing what I loved. Unfortunately, the money never followed and all I got back was burnout. Turns out the money doesn’t just follow magically. At some point while doing what you love, you must also ask for the money. But I missed the memo on this completely, and for years I toiled and toiled for free — but never had product or service to sell.

    All that is changed now. While I still offer tremendous value to people and organizations for free, I am now being very strategic in this (cutting down whopping 90% of my engagements) in a bid to leverage the goodwill I’ve built over the years and reinvent myself into a profitable teaching practice.

  10. Reinvent my life: I’ve started and sold (or abandoned) several websites over the last 10 years. I’ve also engaged in various offline entrepreneurial ventures: sometimes as a solopreneur, other times in partnership with other fine people. Some of these ventures have been very successful, others drained away all my previous financial gains. But every time I exit a company or website project, I’m presented with an opportunity to reinvent myself all over again.

    I’ve also always been a teacher at heart (no, not the chalk and talk type). And with the Internet being my playground, I’m now focused on leveraging my God-given talent as a teacher, acquired knowledge and skills, and my favorite medium of the Internet to reinvent my life once more, to deliver valuable life-altering lessons to hard-working people all over the world, and build a new career in the process. The current project at hand is only the beginning of this journey.

So the die is cast and the hard work of developing a new product has just begun. Subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed or my join my mailing list and ride along with me as I develop a new info product from idea to launch and cha-ching!

News From The Hive

It’s nearly three months since my last post on this website. Despite my desire to write more often, Life keeps getting in the way. And it appears that the harder I try, the bigger, badder and meaner becomes the roadblocks that Life erects in my way.

Facing Your Own Mortality

I spent most of the past three months frantically battling an incidence of foreign body stuck in my throat. This was brought on by my own stupidity, that I know. But due to unnecessary delays caused by healthcare providers who simply can’t be made to care, the little strand of wire migrated into soft tissues of my neck. And, tell you what, it’s not been fun at all.

And when just when I thought I’d gotten my own situation under control and could go philandering, the little one also got stricken with a terrible bout of common cold.

I hear you… common cold is common enough and nothing to worry about. Except when the patient is an eight year month old baby who is yet to learn basic survival skills in life, like talking or breathing through the mouth.

And once again, Ghana’s healthcare system [1] let us down completely.

Oddly enough, the knowledge that I cannot depend on even the nation’s highest-rated healthcare providers has become a most powerful driving force in my life, constantly urging me towards making positive lifestyle changes. Gone is my short-lived addiction to Lucozade Original, no more sugars in bed, and hello mindfulness. I’m even looking into various financial instruments and talking to used car salesmen life insurance companies.

Turns out, that which does not kill us makes us stronger; and facing our own mortality can help us make conscious choices to live more fully.

NOTES

[1] use “healthcare system” rather than naming individual hospitals because I’m convinced the problem is a systemic one and is endemic everywhere. In both cases cited above, we dealt with multiple hospitals and clinics,

Why Using Nulled Scripts Is A Dumb Idea

In a recent blog post, I talked about how CryptoPHP, a backdoor malware bundled with nulled CMS plugins and themes, got on my servers and how I wasted an entire weekend cleaning up the mess.

Bad Idea

While sending out a notification email to the clients whose servers were infected, I discovered that, way back in November 2014, I sent out an alert to all clients about this very malware. And before the recent CryptoPHP infection, I had spent innumerable hours detecting and cleaning up various rogue PHP code hidden in nulled scripts installed used by some of these clients of mine (or their clients); and after each clean-up I’d send out a strong warning about the ethical, legal and security implications of using nulled scripts.

For those who need a refresher on the terminology, nulled scripts (or nulled code) are commercial web applications that are offered for free download at various pirate websites. These nulled scripts have been modified to remove the protection implemented by the original developer so the script can work anywhere without a license key.

Even though there may be pirate websites out there that provide nulled scripts with no strings attached (so to speak), these “clean” nulled scripts are the exception rather than the norm. In most cases these nulled scripts are more than the original scripts minus their protection: more often than not malware are also hidden inside the scripts. By publishing pirated themes and plug-ins free for anyone to use instead of having to pay for them, the actors behind these nulled scripts are social engineering unethical site administrators into installing the included backdoor on their server.

These backdoors (hidden malware code) are then used by the ne’er-do-wells behind them to command the websites and servers where the backdoors are installed to perform various nefarious and illegal activities such as email spam, unethical (aka backhat) SEO, or denial of service attacks. Increasingly, massive numbers of these infected websites and servers are drawn together by criminals into massive “botnets” and commanded to undertake largescale attacks.

If you think about it, why would anyone go through the trouble of acquiring hundreds or even thousands of these commercial scripts, setting up and maintaining a website, and uploading these themes for you to download for free? Are they merely anti-capitalists, or simply altruistic? No, and no. I’d wager that 99% of the time they do so because they hide their own malware in these downloads, so they can use sites that install them for various nefarious deeds.

So if the ethical and legal walls haven’t stopped you from stealing other people’s works (which is how I see using pirated software of any kind) in the past, here is hoping the serious security risks mentioned here will. As for my own clients (and their clients), none of these have stopped them from using nulled scripts, themes and plugins in the past and I’m not holding my breath this time.

How to Detect and Remove CryptoPHP From Your Webserver

CryptoPHP is a backdoor malware hidden in pirated commercial themes and plugins for popular content management systems (like Joomla, WordPress and Drupal) which are offered for free download at so-called “nulled” sites. By publishing pirated themes and plug-ins free for anyone to use instead of having to pay for them, the ne’er-do-well behind CryptoPHP is social engineering unethical site administrators into installing the included backdoor on their server.

How to Detect and Remove CryptoPHP

Having been installed on a webserver CryptoPHP is then (currently) used for illegal search engine optimization, also known as Blackhat SEO. What’s more scary though is the extensive communication and C2 (command and control) infrastructure built into this malware which allows the actors to remotely control all instances of CryptoPHP and compromised servers, making it easy to use the infected servers for any purpose the actors so wish (send spam, distributed denial of service attacks, etc).

Detecting CryptoPHP infection is relatively simple. Inside a nulled theme or plugin there’s a little line of code that looks like this:

[code language=”php”]<?php include(‘assets/images/social.png’); ?>[/code]

If you’re a PHP developer you will immediately recognize this as looking strange: here we have a PHP directive to include an external file containing PHP source code, but the file is actually an image. Hmmm. But inside this image file is actual PHP and the code is obfuscated (hidden through scrambling) to try and hide the fact that it’s malicious. Clever, isn’t it?

How to Scan Your Server for CryptoPHP Infection(s)

FOX-IT, the Delft, Netherlands-based security firm that brought this malware to light in November of 2014, has built a free Python script to detect CryptoPHP. Once detected, you can then manually remove the offending file(s).

As this is a Python script, you need to have Python on your server to run it (duh!). So to check your server for possible CryptoPHP infection, login to the server, confirm that you have Python, and download FOX-IT’s CryptoPHP detection script with your favourite download tool. I’m using wget here:

[code language=”bash”]$ wget https://raw.githubusercontent.com/fox-it/cryptophp/master/scripts/check_filesystem.py[/code]

Next, make the script executable:

[code language=”bash”]chmod +x check_filesystem.py[/code]

And that’s it: now you’re ready to scan your file system to detect CryptoPHP. To scan your whole system (it can take a while), run this command:

[code language=”bash”]./check_filesystem.py[/code]

Or you could scan a specific directory. On properly configured cPanel/WHM servers it might be enough to just scan /home (or wherever cPanel users’ files are stored). Run this command to scan /home:

[code language=”bash”]./check_filesystem.py /home[/code]

However you run the script, it will scan your files and either report a suspicious or confirmed CryptoPHP shell. Here is a sample output after scanning /home on one of my clients’ cPanel webservers:

File matching patterns: [‘.png’, ‘.gif’, ‘.jpg’, ‘.bmp’]
Recursively scanning directory: /home/
[code language=”bash”]/home/XXXXX/public_html/ellon/wp-content/themes/XXXXX/images/social.png: CRYPTOPHP DETECTED! (version: 0.3)
/home/XXXXX/public_html/excel/wp-content/themes/XXXXX/images/social.png: POSSIBLE CRYPTOPHP! (version: 1.1)
/home/XXXXX/public_html/excel/wp-content/themes/XXXXX/images/social.png: POSSIBLE CRYPTOPHP! (version: 1.1)
/home/XXXXX/public_html/wp-content/themes/XXXXX/images/social.png: CRYPTOPHP DETECTED! (version: 0.3)
/home/XXXXX/public_html/wp-content/plugins/XXXXX/images/social.png: POSSIBLE CRYPTOPHP! (version: 1.1)
/home/XXXXX/public_html/wp-content/themes/XXXXX/images/social.png: CRYPTOPHP DETECTED! (version: 0.3)[/code]

Online CryptoPHP Scanner

What if you suspect CryptoPHP activity but don’t have shell access, or can’t access there server where you are? CryptoPHP is not new: in fact its been around since 2013, but was brought to the world’s attention in November of 2014. So chances are your favorite CMS security tool (you use one, right?) already has CryptoPHP scanner and remover built in. For WordPress users, Wordfence will do this for you.

If you don’t have such a security tool or your tool of choice doesn’t detect CryptoPHP, there’s still hope for you: use the website scan.cryptophp.com to check if your site is infected with this malware. Be forewarned though: this online scanner doesn’t do such an awesome job of scanning your site. I gave it the root of a domain with a KNOWN CryptoPHP infection, and it didn’t detect it. That’s because WordPress is installed in a sub-directory, and the scanner couldn’t crawl the entire domain to detect the infection. But it detected it when I entered the actual sub-directory where WordPress is installed.

Found CryptoPHP on your server? The best action is to perform a complete re-install of the CMS, since other backdoors may have been left in other part of the the CMS installation. If a complete re-install is not feasible immediately, at least remove the offending plugin or theme.

Also, check your database to see if any extra administrator accounts were added and remove them. Really do login to your database management application and check the appropriate user tables, as the hackers could hide the extra administrator account in the CMS’s dashboard.

Finally, reset the credentials of your own CMS account and other administrators (they were most likely compromised) as well as your database and control panel accounts, as an attacker may have gained system wide access.

And how do you prevent this kind of infection in the first place? If you’re a web host providing shared hosting service, there’s really not much you can do to prevent your users from uploading nulled scripts. But for you wannabe web developers and designers who upload such scripts, for security, legal and ethical reasons PLEASE STOP installing any kind of pirated (nulled) content.

How a Bunch of Thieves, Cheesy Clients, Ne’er-do-wells and CryptoPHP Ruined My Weekend

Instead of fussing with my woman, toiling for my kids, or just roaming about the heavens all day like the lucky old sun, I spent most of the past weekend working like the devil day and night to keep several of my clients’ web servers online and my phone line calm.

How a Bunch of Thieves, Cheesy Clients, Ne'er-do-wells and CrytoPHP Ruined My Weekend

Trouble started brewing early Saturday morning when I started receiving “high server load” alerts from one server via my caveman’s notification system. Before I could even take a peek into the server, a stream of “excessive resource usage” alerts also started pouring in, all pointing to one website on this same server. I initially thought the site in question, a sports website, was simply getting swarmed with real user traffic — it was weekend after all, and people have time to catch up on the various league fixtures — So I did zip — absolutely nothing — and just continued in my slumber and folding of the arms.

But when the high server load remained for an hour, I could see poverty coming after me like the robber — so I finally jumped out of bed to do something. Still thinking it was real user traffic, my first line of defense was to turn on Cloudflare and configure Cloudflare’s Page Rules with long expire time — which would create full-page caches and serve them directly to vistors, totally leaving the server to continue its usual sabbatical.

When this didn’t solve the problem I gave up all hopes of a blissful Saturday, fired a session to the server, and started looking deeper. My initial analysis made me suspect this abnormal traffic to be an inside job: that some rogue script on the server was causing this, something no caching or CDN can fix. This suspicion was deepened when I started seeing similar activity on other websites on the same server, and finally confirmed when other virtual machines joined in the fun.

I’ll spare you the golly details of what happened and only tell you the results: it turned out several of my clients’ servers were infected with some malware called CryptoPHP.

What Is CryptoPHP?

Here is a direct quote from Fox-IT, the Delft, Netherlands-based security firm that brought this malware to light in November of last year:

CryptoPHP is a threat that uses backdoored Joomla, WordPress and Drupal themes and plug-ins to compromise webservers on a large scale. By publishing pirated themes and plug-ins free for anyone to use instead of having to pay for them, the CryptoPHP actor is social engineering site administrators into installing the included backdoor on their server.

After being installed on a webserver the backdoor has several options of being controlled which include command and control server communication, mail communication as well as manual control.

Operators of CryptoPHP currently abuse the backdoor for illegal search engine optimization, also known as Blackhat SEO. The backdoor is a well developed piece of code and dynamic in its use. The capabilities of the CryptoPHP backdoor include:

  • Integration into popular content management systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla
  • Public key encryption for communication between the compromised server and the command and control (C2) server
  • An extensive infrastructure in terms of C2 domains and IP’s
  • Backup mechanisms in place against C2 domain takedowns in the form of email communication
  • Manual control of the backdoor besides the C2 communication
  • Remote updating of the list of C2 servers
  • Ability to update itself

FOX-IT release a full CryptoPHP whitepaper at the time of the discovery, which has even more beef:

“While investigating the ‘nulledstylez.com’ website we found that every pirated plug-in, theme and extension contained the same backdoor. While making a mirror of all the content published on the website we found some ZIP files with a similar comment as the one from the initial incident but referring to a different domain. This website ‘dailynulled.com’ was similar to the ‘nulledstylez.com’ one in that it also published pirated themes and plug-ins for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. All these websites publish similar content, these plug-ins are available from multiple websites. Which are managed by the same actors. All content provided by these websites is backdoored with CryptoPHP.”

So how did CryptoPHP get on my clients’ servers?

That’s easily explained. As mentioned above, the CryptoPHP malware is hidden in pirated commercial themes and plugins which are offered for free download at these so-called “nulled” sites, so it’s easy to conclude that someone — my own clients or my clients’ clients — uploaded one or more of these backdoored themes or plugins to the server. And after scanning and detecting the specific backdoored themes and plugins, it was easy to know fore sure who these people were.

So there you have it: how a bunch of thieves, cheesy clients, ne’er-do-wells and CryptoPHP conspired in a grand way to ruin what could have been a perfect weekend for me and little Elvis.

“CWNP Is Going Green,” Or Are They?

It’s quite funny when otherwise amazing companies insult their users’ intelligence and try to pull off stunts like Google recently did with the upcoming shutdown of SMS notification for free Google Calendar users, or make some dopey gimmicks in the name of going green and saving the environment.

I just logged into CWNP.com website to see the message screenshotted below:

CWNP Goes Green. Really?

Really? Wow! Now, I haven’t been through any of CWNP’s certifications, and I’ve no idea what’s included in this “certification kit”. And I could be wrong, but I’ll go on a limb to say that this is the package sent out to newly certified professionals, and that individuals holding current certifications can could request this kit any time, at no cost.

So far, so good. That is, until some bean counter crunched the numbers and somehow concluded that giving out these kits for free was destroying the environment. The environment! So the solution? Let folks pay for the kit instead, you know, to save the environment. And there you have it: CWNP.com’s grand plan for going green and saving the environment!

What’s the biggest outright lie, bizarre advice, or dopey gimmick in the guise of going green and saving the environment have you come across? Poor George would love to know.

A Trip Down My WordPress Memory Lane

George Appiah's Trip Down Memory Lane

Today, 15th of June, 2015 is exactly ten years since I discovered this little software called WordPress. Ten years is a long time, yet I remember the day ever so vividly — as if it were just a day ago — because of other incidents that were happening in my little life at the time.

At the time, I was working as a Cellular Network Planning & Optimization Engineer with Ghana Telecom (this was before the Vodafone theft takeover), during the reign of the Norwegians (Telekom Malaysia had just been kicked out, and Telenor of Norway had been brought in to manage the network), with managerial oversight over swapping the then ONEtouch GSM radio network in the five southernmost regions of Ghana — Greater Accra, Volta, Central, Western and Eastern — from Motorola to Alcatel.

But my discovery of WordPress had nothing to do with my day job though. Alongside my professional RF career, I’d been teaching myself website design, and had been building free websites for friends and local NGOs using Mambo CMS. (I’m not sure which I was worse at at the time: design or persuasion; maybe I was terribly bad at both — or perhaps I was too far ahead of the time — as I couldn’t convince a single local newspaper to accept a free website. Oscar Ugoh, are you still in Ghana, and is BusinessWeek Africa still alive?)

And then bam! The Mambo thing happened. Even as a rookie web developer, back in 2005, I could see trouble brewing ahead and I certainly couldn’t see any bright light at the end of the Mambo tunnel. So while people far wiser and smarter than me were busy re-organizing themselves to create a fork of Mambo (which became Joomla), I started looking for a new CMS I could count on to keep my pet projects running. In the process I discovered WordPress.

The Early Days

The first WordPress version I used was 1.5, code-named “Strayhorn” after American Jazz composer, pianist and lyricist Williams Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn. I don’t remember which domain I built this first WordPress website on, but it couldn’t have been this site because it was not until November 14th that I purchased my namesake domain name.

George Appiah's profile on WordPress.org

George Appiah’s profile on WordPress.org (I lost access to my first account and had to create a new one, hence the October 17th, 2005 date)

WordPress 1.5 had the simple administrator dashboard shown below. There were those who felt this simplicity was too limiting; but for me this simplicity was a welcome relief from the kludge of confusing menus and submenus that I was used to, coming from Mambo.

WordPress 1.5 Strayhorn

Memorable Themes

In my ten year journey with WordPress, I’ve used dozens of themes for my own websites and for the few client projects that I’ve had the privilege to work on. But two themes that have a permanent place in my rather limited memory are Kubrick by Michael Heilemann (of BinaryBonsai.com) and Trisexuality by Scott Jarkoff (aka Jarkolicious).

Kubrick was originally developed for WordPress 1.2, but became the default theme shipped with WordPress 1.5. If you have been around WordPress and blogging for a while, you’re probably familiar with the famous and ubiquitous blog design below. Huffington Post described Kubrick as “the Blog Theme That Changed the Internet”, and rightly so.

Kubrick Classic WordPress Theme

I can’t say for sure whether it’s the name, the colors or the rather unusual (at the time) layout that attracted me most to Trisexuality. But whatever the attraction, it was strong enough for me to have kept a non-default theme on GeorgeAppiah.com for nearly 5 months (a record for me!) and to still remember my fondness to the theme though I stopped using it nearly ten years ago.

Trisexuality WordPress Theme

Reflections

When I started using WordPress, I could neither code nor design well enough to save my own life (I still can’t, but I’m better now than I was back then, and I’ve become even better at hiding my shortcomings 🙂 ); and as I didn’t know enough about the software, I couldn’t even contribute in the areas of documentation and support. But WordPress was changing so rapidly at the time that every update broke nearly all the existing themes and plugins. So for each new version, we had to manually test individual themes and plugins and maintain plugin and theme compatibility lists – wiki pages showcasing which themes and plugins worked with the particular version of WordPress. This was the only area I could contribute, as I knew how to install WordPress and I had a lot of time on my hands.

Ten years on, I do regret that I haven’t made any meaningful contribution to WordPress, beyond using it for every website I build and telling everyone and their dogs (sometimes even their cats too!) to use it. And while I owe every line of PHP, HTML, CSS and JavaScript that I know to WordPress, I find it inexcusably appalling that, even though I use WordPress every single day, I haven’t committed myself to deep enough study so as to gain confidence in my WordPress and coding abilities.

Part of the reason for the above is my stubborn adherence to the original career path I charted for myself early on, and my refusal to follow any of the exciting forks in my career path that life has so forcefully and benevolently opened up to me (more on that in future posts).

So that’s my 10-year journey down the WordPress memory lane. I’m still at the fork in my career path, undecided as to which direction to turn. Depending on which direction I turn, I may have continue to be a passive user using WordPress for my own short-lived projects, or WordPress will become my bread and butter — at which point I’ll have no option but to learn to become a WordPress ninja and contribute in a meaningful way to this amazing community.

Why Is Google Shutting Down SMS Notifications for Free Calendar Users?

As an early adopter of web technologies, I’ve learnt to live with the disappearance of features, pivoting of products, and even complete shutdowns of websites and the companies behind them. It’s a fair price I pay for the opportunity to play with cutting-edge technologies and the shiniest of online toys, often for free, long before Mr. Joe and Ms. Jane even hear about them.

What’s not so cool with me is when these companies try to spin such shutdowns or removal of feature as a good thing for users. And that cut gets deeper when it comes from a company I love and trust. Take, for instance, this recent mail from Google:

Google Calendar SMS Notifications Shutdown Warning

So come June 27th, 2015, Google will shutdown SMS notifications for all free users of its online calendar service. That includes all Gmail users and grandfatherd Google Apps Free/Standard users. That part I’m used to and I can live with. But note Google’s spin on this: The world has changed. Who needs SMS notifications when apps can give you a richer experience?

Hmmm. Maybe that’s so. Yet, note the rather curious closer:

“This change will not affect Google Drive for Work, Google Apps for Work (paid edition), Education and Government customers.”

Yikes! Apparently paying Google Calendar users (yes, I know Education is free) are living in a cave or something and they’ve not seen the life-enriching experience of smartphones and apps yet. So, for these cave dwellers without smartphones, SMS notifications is still a vital feature. But for all you free riders, SMS is so-so yesterday so we’re shutting it down. Thus sayeth Google.

I smell BS here. I’ve no idea how much it costs Google to send all these notifications for millions of free Calendar users, but one can safely deduce from Google’s mail that it’s all about the Benjamins. Hey Google: if you’re going to shutdown a service that millions of us use everyday for the spondoolies, at least have the courage to admit so.

The Letter I Never Read (But Should Have)

Have you ever made a big decision in your personal life, career, or business — only to realize soon after how dramatically different your decision, and consequently your circumstances, would have been had you received in time some critical information you knew was coming your way?

That’s happened to me on several occasions (which says a lot about my decision-making prowess!) and it happened again quite recently. Now, I don’t know enough about the present to claim the ability to tell the exact sequence of events into a future that never was. But I’m 100% convinced had I received and read and acted upon the letter below on time, I’d be having a whole lot more fun today.

The LEtter I Never Read

My dear Mr. Kappus,

Much time has passed since I received your last letter. Please don’t hold that against me; first it was work, then a number of interruptions, and finally poor health that again and again kept me from answering, because I wanted my answer to come to you out of peaceful and happy days. Now I feel somewhat better again (the beginning of spring with its moody, bad-tempered transitions was hard to bear here too) and once again, dear Mr. Kappus, I can greet you and talk to you (which I do with real pleasure) about this and that in response to your letter, as well as I can.

You see: I have copied out your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the shape that it moves in with such quiet decorum. It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read. And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.

It was a pleasure for me to read this sonnet and your letter, often; I thank you for both.

And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.

It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time, and therefore loving, for a long time ahead and far on into life, is: solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), many young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.

It is true that many young people who love falsely, i.e., simply surrendering themselves and giving up their solitude (the average person will of course always go on doing that), feel oppressed by their failure and want to make the situation they have landed in livable and fruitful in their own, personal way. For their nature tells them that the questions of love, even more than everything else that is important, cannot be resolved publicly and according to this or that agreement; that they are questions, intimate questions from one human being to another, which in any case require a new, special, wholly personal answer. But how can they, who have already flung themselves together and can no longer tell whose outlines are whose, who thus no longer possess anything of their own, how can they find a way out of themselves, out of the depths of their already buried solitude?

They act out of mutual helplessness, and then if, with the best of intentions, they try to escape the convention that is approaching them (marriage, for example), they fall into the clutches of some less obvious but just as deadly conventional solution. For then everything around them is convention. Wherever people act out of a prematurely fused, muddy communion, every action is conventional: every relation that such confusion leads to has its own convention, how ever unusual (i.e., in the ordinary sense immoral) it may be; even separating would be a conventional step, an impersonal, accidental decision without strength and without fruit.

Whoever looks seriously will find that neither for death, which is difficult, nor for difficult love has any clarification, any solution, any hint of a path been perceived; and for both these tasks, which we carry wrapped up and hand, on without opening, there is no general, agreed-upon rule that can be discovered. But in the same measure in which we begin to test life as individuals, these great Things will come to meet us, the individuals, with greater intimacy. The claims that the difficult work of love makes upon our development are greater than life, and we, as beginners, are not equal to them. But if we nevertheless endure and take this love upon us as burden and apprenticeship, instead of losing ourselves in the whole easy and frivolous game behind which people have hidden from the most solemn solemnity of their being, then a small advance and a lightening will perhaps be perceptible to those who come long after us. That would be much.

We are only just now beginning to consider the relation of one individual to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such relationships have no model before them. And yet in the changes that time has brought about there are already many things that can help our timid novitiate.

The girl and the woman, in their new, individual unfolding, will only in passing be imitators of male behavior and misbehavior and repeaters of male professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions, it will become obvious that women were going through the abundance and variation of those (often ridiculous) disguises just so that they could purify their own essential nature and wash out the deforming influences of the other sex. Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately , more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it. Someday (and even now, especially in the countries of northern Europe, trustworthy signs are already speaking and shining), someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only of life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman. And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.

And one more thing: Don’t think that the great love which was once granted to you, when you were a boy, has been lost; how can you know whether vast and generous wishes didn’t ripen in you at that time, and purposes by which you are still living today? I believe that that love remains so strong and intense in your memory because it was your first deep aloneness and the first inner work that you did on your life. – All good wishes to you, dear Mr. Kappus!

Yours,

Rainer Maria Rilke

For the less read amongst you, this is the 7th letter in Letters to a Young Poet – a collection of ten letters written by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.