Ask the Astroengine Community a Question

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In an effort to enhance the Astroengine.com community, I’ve now added a rather exciting new feature to the site. If you scroll down, and look at the right-hand side bar, you’ll notice an “ask a question” panel. This gadget is driven by Google Friend Connect, so this should appeal to the majority of readers.

What makes this even more exciting is that the panel is specific to each page you browse on Astroengine.com, so you can ask a question about a certain article and interact with other readers who might have a link or explanation to help you out. For example, I posed a question on the recent article “Mystery Blob Detected 12.9 Billion Light Years Away,” asking what people thought the “blob” was (and my hope that it’s a supermassive black hole… cue a bit of Muse awesomeness).

So, have a play, keep it clean and have fun! Any problems, drop me a comment and I’ll see if I can help.

Thank you Avi for bringing my attention to this great little gadget :)

Cheers, Ian

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Astroengine 3.0

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Now we’re cookin’… Welcome to the new-look Astroengine.com!

As you may have noticed I’ve been a little patchy with blog posts of late and now you can see why. I decided to migrate the entire Astroengine installation to a brand new server after the site suffered some serious downtime after a recent article (“Where is Planet X? Where is Nemesis?“) was slammed by Digg traffic. Now we are on a sparkling new server with a brand new design. I told you this year was going to be a big year for Astroengine, this officially marks the beginning of a new era

After asking readers about suggestions for a new direction in design, it was Darnell Clayton (Colony Worlds) who came up with the winning suggestion. He pointed me in the direction of the designs by Elegant Themes and once I saw a design called StudioBlue, I was hooked. A few modifications later and I arrived at what you see here, Astroengine 3.0. It has a fresher, more magazine/blog vibe, so I hope you like it.

With all the technical stuff calming down, I can now get back to what I’m here for. Expect a tonne of space science articles over the coming months – 2009 is going to be a big year.

Thank you for your support (and patience!).

Cheers, Ian

A Change Is Coming…

Apologies for the break in Astroengine transmission, a change is brewing.

I’m currently migrating my WordPress installation over to a brand new server. This is primarily due to the huge increase in traffic Astroengine has been experiencing in recent months. All great news, but something had to give and it was my shared hosting account that eventually broke.

To celebrate the new server and faster delivery of content, I’ve also been working on a redesign. Expect a big change sometime between now and whenever I finish uploading the thousands of files to their new home (hopefully within the next day).

Thank you for your continuing loyal support.

A new era for Astroengine.com awaits…

Cheers, Ian

Astroengine Data Gathering

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Astroengine needs a new look

Every few months, I think it’s healthy to reassess the design of Astroengine and develop it where necessary. In response to recent user feedback, I’m finding that the biggest weak spots of the site are firstly its speed and secondly its cross-browser compatibility.

Unfortunately visitors to the site that run Internet Explorer 6 see a mashed-up, messed-up Astroengine. It turns out that many of IE6 users are not using this out-of-date browser out of choice, it appears to be the staple of office computers the world over (system administrators really should think about updating their software once and a while).

In fact, I even had the chance to see Astroengine through IE6′s eyes a week ago, and I felt a little light-headed – It. Was. Nasty! Although I will always test sites that I build with a variety of browsers, I can’t test my site on old browsers (and therein lies the problem). The number of IE6 users are quite small, the numbers are significant according to my stats, so I’ve decided to act…

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Digg Effect Destroys Astroengine (But Healing Now)

Wow, what a stressful day! On writing One-Way Mission to Mars: Top 5 Items to Pack last night, I had no idea about the consequences. This morning the article exploded onto the front page of Digg.com, sending a flood of traffic into Astroengine.com. Although my bandwidth is more than capable of dealing with the situation, the server was quite literally paralysed, causing the technicians at GoDaddy.com to pull the plug (can’t blame them, apparently all the other sites on the shared server were knocked out).

I’ll post a more detailed post soon, but should anyone want to know the best course of action when dealing with an uncontrollable flood of traffic, here’s what I had to do:

The first measure was to stem the flow of traffic from the referrer causing the server outage. Once the relentless barrage of Digg users were blocked, the GoDaddy admin staff were reassured the problem wouldn’t reoccur if they put Astroengine.com back online. The second measure is a longer-term solution until I migrate the site to a better server. WP Super Cache creates html versions of Astroengine’s php pages, thus bypassing the execution of php scripts every time someone visits the site (vastly reducing the load on the server).

Thanks to Fraser (my publisher at Universe Today) for helping me out and giving these tips when dealing with a Digg explosion.

So, now I am going shopping. It’s fantastic to have these bursts of visitors, but the time is coming when I’ll need to upgrade. I’m either going to go the route of buying virtual-dedicated or a dedicated server. Any suggestions for which hosting providers have the best service/price? I’m most likely going to stay with GoDaddy, but I’m open to suggestions.

Apologies for dropping offline today, hopefully this will be the last interruption to service!

Cheers, Ian

Astroengine is Now Bulletproof: Upgrade to WordPress 2.6.2

WordPress released a minor upgrade today for any blog running version 2.6. Although it’s not a huge deal, it is worth doing if your WordPress installation allows open registration. Although this isn’t necessarily a security risk, there is the possibility that a hacker could exploit a WordPress function to reset admin passwords to a randomly generated one, therefore freezing the administrator out of their website. The hacker doesn’t know the new password either, so this loophole is more of a frustration than anything else. Still, it would be a bugger if that happened, so Astroengine is now bulletproof with v2.6.2…

Once again, I used the automatic upgrade plugin created by Keith Dsouza and it performed flawlessly, backing everything up and then installing the whole lot over the top. Superb.

Astroengine 2.0 Launches!

Astroengine v2.0

Astroengine v2.0

After much deliberation and planning, I made the decision to give Astroengine.com a complete facelift. Although the black-background/off-white text had served me well, I noticed that the dark colour scheme was ageing pretty quickly (and giving some of my readers eye strain!). As the traffic has increased 100-fold in the last six months, I thought it was a good time to launch a brand new image, using a professional template that I could easily customize…
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