Free Website Security Certificates (a/k/a Free SSL Certificates)

If you have a website, you almost certainly need to secure it. Even for a simple WordPress blog like this one, security is a real problem; sites get hacked all the time, and even a site like this one can draw hundreds or thousands of hack attempts per day. Sometimes, it’s because hackers discover a new vulnerability. Usually, it’s an old one that just hasn’t been patched yet. But there’s more: hackers can steal your login info and take over your site just by monitoring your traffic over a wireless network, like in a typical coffee shop or airport.

The solution for this is to get a security certificate (commonly, but no longer correctly, known as an SSL certificate). Typically, these cost $100/year or more, depending on what you need. But there’s good news.

The free option for today is StartSSL.com, which will give you a very basic certificate for free. It still requires some technical know-how, but not much; whoever handles your website maintenance now should be able to handle it pretty easily.

It’s about to get a lot easier. In mid-2015, Let’s Encrypt is launching. Let’s Encrypt is a project of the Internet Security Research Group, which consists of some real heavy-hitters in the tech world: Mozilla, Akamai, Cisco, the EFF, and IdenTrust. It will allow you do secure a website with, basically, one click. For free.

So, cost is no longer a barrier to securing your website. Go do it!

How to Make Pretty Blanks in Word

The Problem

If you ever work with Microsoft Word, you have probably needed to insert a blank line or a block of text in a filled-in blank. For example, maybe you want a blank like this:         . Or maybe you want a blank with text in it,      like this     . If you just try turning on underlining and typing a lot of spaces, you don’t get any underlining at all. There’s a right way to work around this that always works, and a wrong way that often results in unprofessional-looking documents. This post will show you the right way.

What many people do is the wrong way around this: they use a combination of underlining and underscore characters, so they end up with something ugly ____like this____, or even worse, ____like this____. The broken line looks unprofessional. The doubling up is just awful.

The Solution

To insert pretty blanks in Word, you can insert a non-breaking space. In Windows, you can do this by pressing Ctrl + Shift + space. For Mac, use Option + space.

An Example

Say you want to type this:   Hello  . The exact key sequence (in Windows) would go like this: Ctrl + U (to start underlining), Ctrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + Shift + space, H, e, l, l, oCtrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + Shift + spaceCtrl + U.

More Uses

 

This is also very valuable for preventing awkward line breaks. For example, in legal writing, you usually want to keep the section symbol (§) with the following text, so you can put a non-breaking space between the symbol and the next character.

Ch-Ch-Changes

As many of my readers know, I have a lot going on right now. We’re expecting our first child, Catherine, in May!

Face 2 Color - fixed

Profile - fixed

Meanwhile, my wife and I are selling our current house in Houston later this week and moving to a Houston suburb (more house, less money, good times). Things are a little busy.

That said, I am going to try to post here a lot more frequently. After all, I started this blog almost 14 years ago, back when “blog” was barely a word, and not one I’d ever heard before. Feel free to hold my feet to the fire! I really want to make more use of this space.

Want to follow what’s going on here? Subscribe by filling in the box on the left, and I’ll keep you posted!

Cereblitz Cart is Coming: A Shopping Cart for Customizable Products

I am very excited to announce the formation of Cereblitz LLC and, with it, the upcoming launch of Cereblitz Cart!

Cereblitz makes the first fully-customizable cart for customizable products

Cereblitz Cart is the First Cart Available to the Public that Supports Truly Customizable Products

Cereblitz Cart is a completely new take on the traditional ecommerce model: you can sell absolutely anything with it.

Traditional carts limit you to items with a few choices – maybe a few colors or sizes – and are basically one-size-fits-all. If that doesn’t actually fit your needs because your products are complex, tough luck.

Cereblitz Cart is different. It is a completely customizable shopping cart, and it supports completely customizable products. With it, you can sell anything, no matter how complex. Need to allow customization, like a custom image or imprint? No problem. Option A is incompatible with Option Q? No problem. Need to allow more than one way to customize the product, price customized products differently, give all the many possibilities their own product codes, and do it all instantly and online? No problem.

Cereblitz Cart is All-Purpose

Obviously, many stores sell customizable products. There are lots of imprintable t-shirt stores, print-your-own-card stores, and so on. Here’s the catch: those are all one-off solutions. They are typically developed in-house, often at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and completely out of reach for small business.

Cereblitz Cart is different. It can handle everything from mom-and-pops to selling a passenger aircraft, and from selling stock items off the shelf to custom web design packages. Really, the only limit to what you can sell on this platform is your own imagination.

And. It’s. Awesome.

We’ve worked hard on this. In fact, creating Cereblitz Cart cost at least $200,000 worth of developer time.

Before working on this software, I’d spent 15 years developing solutions for customers who have unique products: customizable products with countless variations, special limitations, multiple pricing schemes with discounts and add-on fees, and so on. I’ve even owned and run a business that specialized in selling such products. This cart reflects all of that knowledge from the trenches. And we’re committed to making it better all the time.

The result is, frankly, an awesome product that supports:

  • Unlimited products
  • Unlimited customization
  • Special fees and discounts by product, product group, customization, customer, and more
  • Gift cards
  • Easy-to-use themes – use a pre-packaged one or roll your own!
  • An easy-to-use plugin system
  • Internationalization – support as many languages as you like, and handle different date and currency formats automatically!
  • Flexible sales/use/VAT taxes – collect whatever you have to collect, however you need to do it!
  • Built-in split testing (a/k/a A/B or multivariate testing)
  • Lightning-fast load times (most requests load in 1/20 of a second on a very basic server)
  • Secure transactions – security has been a priority from day one
  • Unlimited flexibility
  • And, most importantly, it supports your business, whatever that may be.

You are going to be able to license all of that for pennies on the dollar.

Interested?

Now, it’s not quite ready. Some lucky customers are using it in a private beta, so we can make sure it’s 100% ready to knock your socks off in the next few weeks.

But, if you sign up for our mailing list now, you will be eligible for an exclusive discount when we go live. (We won’t spam you, I promise.)

So, go check out cereblitz.com and get ready for the revolution in flexible ecommerce software that meets your business’s needs!

A good reminder: Hackers are out there

A site I occasionally help out with was on the receiving end of a brute-force attack today. Nothing subtle about it: a single IP address in Europe sent nearly 50,000 attempts to log in using a single user account. Hackers are out there, people, and they are persistent.

For securing WordPress sites, I highly recommend the Wordfence plugin. I have no affiliation with the product, but I will say that even the free version is truly an excellent piece of software.

TAMES Search Bookmarklet for Searching Texas Cases

I have created a little bookmarklet for searching for Texas cases in the Courts of Appeals and Supreme Court. A bookmarklet, if you’re not familiar with that term, is a “smart bookmark” that does some action when you use it. It’s actually a little program, so you can do pretty handy things with bookmarklets.

How this Bookmarklet Works

When you select a case number (e.g., “01-02-00345-CV”) and click on the bookmarklet, a new window will open with the TAMES case page for the case number in question. In my example, that would be this page.  So, for example, you can highlight the case number in Westlaw, then click this bookmarklet, and it will open a new window with the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court page (as appropriate) for the case. This makes it easy to check petition/writ history, motions for rehearing, and the like.

Features

  • Works with all Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Texas cases. It doesn’t work with the Court of Criminal Appeals, which uses a different website structure than the other courts.
  • Understands sloppy highlighting. For example, it’s okay if you highlight “No. 01-02-00345-CV.”  The “No. ” and trailing “.” will be ignored.
  • Understands en-dashes. For example, it automatically converts “01–02–00345–CV” to “01-02-00345-CV”.
  • Automatically fixes “incomplete” numbers.  For example, it automatically converts “1-2-345-CV” into “01-02-00345-CV”.
  • If you haven’t selected anything or if what you have selected isn’t a valid case number, it takes you to the main TAMES search page.

How to Use It

Here is the link to the bookmarklet: TAMES Case Search

For instructions on how to add it to your browser (at least for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Opera), please see the instructions on this page. In general, you should just be able to drag the link above to your bookmarks toolbar.

Source Code

For those who are interested, here is a formatted version of the bookmarklet’s code.

Terrible Experience with Auslogics

I just had a terrible experience with Auslogics. If you are not familiar with them, they make an excellent tool for defragmenting hard drives (faster and better than the Windows native tools) (edit:) a popular but possibly malware-ridden disk defragmenter.1 They also make a product called BoostSpeed, which cleans up various things on computers that slow them down, such as excessive temporary files, broken registry entries left by programs that installed or uninstalled themselves incorrectly, broken shortcuts, and so on.

In January 2013, my (now dead) laptop was having some serious performance problems, so I decided to try out BoostSpeed. I downloaded the then-current version (5) and tried the free tools. They worked well, so I decided to pay $49.95 for the full version. It worked fairly well over the last year, although I am not entirely convinced how much better it was than the free version. It was hard to tell, because my computer was clearly having some hardware issues at the same time.

Last month, I got an email stating that my annual subscription was about to renew for $49.95. Because my experience so far had been good enough, I decided to let it renew. On January 16, it did. On January 28, my laptop finally bit the dust, or at least I called the time of death after a long struggle against the inevitable. I began installing my daily-use software on a different computer. Naturally, I figured I would download BoostSpeed again, enter my subscription key, and be on my way.

Come to find out, there is now a new version out, BoostSpeed 6. It also sells for $49.95 for a one-year subscription, but my BoostSpeed 5 key, renewed less than 2 weeks earlier, doesn’t work in BoostSpeed 6. In fact, there’s not even a link to download BoostSpeed 5 from the Auslogics website anymore. They did, however, offer to let me upgrade my 12-day old subscription for an additional $9.95.

So, time to contact the company. The Auslogics “Contact Us” page, however, is absurd:

Auslogics Contact Screen
Auslogics Contact Screen — apparently, customers have never needed to contact the company.

The “technical support” link is no help; it’s just a canned set of questions and answers, and clicking any link that implies an opportunity to contact the company just takes you back to the absurd contact form above.

Auslogics Technical Support Page
Auslogics Technical Support Page — do they even know that customers might have real questions?

At this point, I got fairly fed up and filled out the contact form with the following message late on Saturday night:

Less than 2 weeks ago, you charged me full price ($49.95 + tax) for a one-year renewal of my subscription to BoostSpeed 5. A couple of days ago, my computer died, so I am setting up a new computer. I downloaded BoostSpeed 6, only to realize that my license key doesn’t work with BoostSpeed 6.

Now, you want me to pay you $9.95 to upgrade to version 6, when the non-upgrade price for the new version is exactly the same as what you just charged me for an outdated version. That’s absurd and, frankly, offensive. Why did you charge me for an outdated version if there is a new version available for the same price?

On top of that, I cannot find a link anywhere on your site that lets me contact you with either sales or technical questions; I just get a database of canned questions and answers.

I am currently extremely frustrated with your company and your product. My hope is that you will make this right by upgrading my subscription to version 6 without charge. If not, I will be cancelling my subscription and warning others to avoid doing business with your company, as I consider my experience thus far to be unacceptably bad.

I received this response this morning (February 4):

Dear Ed,
Thank you for your email.

On Jan 18, 2013 16:54 you purchased Auslogics BoostSpeed and during the purchase you subscribed for an automatic annual subscription renewal. That’s why now, one year after your purchase, you were charged automatically for a license for one more year.

If you don’t want to renew the license, we can provide you an immediate refund of the automatic renewal.

Thank you!

Obviously, no one read my message; this was either a canned, automatic response by a computer (likely) or a canned, automatic response by an incompetent individual who couldn’t be bothered to read even a couple of sentences (also, sadly, pretty likely).

I loathe doing business with companies that are incompetent and treat customers as an inconvenience, when they bother to acknowledge customers at all. I absolutely refuse to do business with companies that charge customers for obsolete products, refuse to make even the obsolete product available to their paying customers, and demand a ransom payment if the customer wants to avoid being ripped off.

I have cancelled my subscription and demanded a refund.  We’ll see how long the “immediate refund” takes. They have a little bit of a grace period simply because they are based in Australia; after that I’m challenging the charge with my credit card company.

Update: This morning (February 5), I received this message:

Dear Ed,

I am really sorry for the confusion. This message is to confirm that we have received your refund request and the refund process has been initiated. Please allow some time for the money to reach your account, which usually happens within 1 to 5 business days. You will be receiving a separate confirmation message from our authorized vendor Avangate, who actually processes the transaction.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I could be of more assistance.

Thank you!

Get our brand new PC speed up eBook «Turbo Windows – The Ultimate PC Speed Up Guide» for free now!
http://www.auslogics.com/turbo-windows/

This offer is a “thank you” for being an Auslogics customer. “Turbo Windows” is also available as a paperback on Amazon.com: http://www.auslogics.com/turbo-windows/amazon/

Best regards,
Alexandra Pokhylko

So, that’s promising.

1 Edit 4/15/2015: I used to recommend this tool, but I cannot anymore. Chrome and a number of antivirus and firewall programs seem to detect a Trojan in it. I personally cannot say whether it does or does not contain malware, but I no longer feel comfortable recommending it and have uninstalled it from my machines.

Ebooks Community on Stack Exchange

Stack Exchange has launched (in beta) a wonderful new community at ebooks.stackexchange.com. It’s a fantastic and free resource for all questions related to ebooks – reading, writing, publishing, buying, selling, and lending. Anyone can ask a question, anyone can answer, and the best questions and answers get voted to the top. I encourage you to come check it out and get involved!

Site Move

This site has found a new home, on a VPS (Virtual Private Server). My prior host had let me down far too often by failing to install current technology and by repeatedly installing spam filters that silently blocked (and in some cases, permanently deleted) only about half of my spam, along with hundreds of good emails over the last few months. This, even though I asked them repeatedly to disable all spam filters on my site permanently, which they swore they had done. Very disappointing.

Fortunately, the move went smoothly. The result: the site is about 2000% faster than it was 24 hours ago. If you run into any problems, let me know!

Fix Quicken 2014 Copy and Paste with AutoHotKey

For no apparent reason, Intuit broke the copy and paste functions in Quicken 2014, such that you can no longer copy text from a transaction or paste into a transaction field. If you use AutoHotKey, there’s an easy fix. Just add the following to a .ahk script:

#IfWinActive Quicken

; Quicken 2014 no longer allows pasting of
; text in most contexts, so fix that
^v::
^+v::
SendInput {Raw}%clipboard%
return

^c::
ControlGetFocus, ctrl
if (RegExMatch(ctrl, "QREdit\d+")) {
ControlGet, clipboard, Selected,, %ctrl%
}
return

; This must be at the end of this section
#IfWinActive