Category Archives: Tech News

WordPress – The ‘white screen of death’ and how to avoid it.

The ‘white screen of death’ is something that you have come across in either trying to customise your site or you wouldn’t have come here for answers!

On a brand new installation of WordPress it can be extremely annoying to suddenly find that your site doesn’t work. The actual site may be online, but it isn’t much good if the first post simply says ‘Hello world!’ and you can’t change it, or worse still you can’t see anything!

So what causes this?

Problem 1

Well I’ve had the same problem twice with the same installation. The first solution was reasonably simple to fix. The mod_security() settings server side needed changed. This can be done very quickly by your host (assuming they have a dedicated support team and it isn’t a bedroom reseller host) and will resolve the white screen issue in minutes. They simply need to add your domain to their server whitelist.

WordPress doesn’t tell you what the error is by default, but you can force it to provide error messages so at least you know where the error occurs in scripting.

The first thing to do is to create a log file. Do this by creating a file called debug.log in the /wp-content/ folder.

You then need to modify the wp-config.php file to include the following three lines.

define (‘WP_DEBUG’, true);  // Turns on debugging

define(‘WP_DEBUG_DISPLAY’, false); // Set the debugging to NOT display the errors on the live site

define(‘WP_DEBUG_LOG’, true); // Record the errors in a debug log file</code>

 

Make sure that this code is placed before the line which reads             /* That’s all, stop editing! Happy blogging. */ in the wp-config.php file.

This will log all errors and record the actual error in the log file you have created. Although this means you will not see the error message on screen, you will at least be able to track it down and look for further advice when you have found it. The reason for doing it this way is to ensure that error messages are not displayed on the live site. To display the errors in real time (I used this while the site was in dev and therefore not public facing) then simply change the display flag to true.

Problem 2

The second error wasn’t so easy to track down. It manifests itself in exactly the same way when you click ‘customise my site’ from the dashboard, and the white screen is all you get. I eventually narrowed this down to the plugins. Plugins can be very useful. I use several (spam trapping, cookie policy display on first visit, contact form) but the way they interact with the main template can be an issue. The fix for this error is REALLY simple.

If you need to customise the site (either through the dashboard or by changing the code) then start by going to the plugins screen from the dashboard and deactivate ALL plugins. Then make the changes you need, and when you have saved all the changes and are ready to log out, go back to the plugins screen and activate all plugins. This should ensure that the white screen doesn’t affect you, and while it means the plugins won’t work for a short time, this is much more preferable then not being able to make any changes at all. This last point is useful for ANY changes, even adding new posts to the site.

Microsoft to ‘force’ Windows 10 on those yet to upgrade

Microsoft have decided that everyone should be using Windows 10, whether or not they want it.

Early in 2016 a round of updates will include the W10 download for Win 7 and Win 8/8.1 users. This will download the required installation files without prompting from the user. Considering the download is at least 3.5Gb, those users with capped download contracts should be aware that this is coming. They may want to schedule any updates so that they don’t run out of bandwidth at the end of the month when they are only halfway through the update.

Once the files have downloaded, there will then be a prompt ‘inviting’ those users to update.

Microsoft currently have Win10 installed on 110 million machines. They want to make that 1 billion machines very quickly and this is a comment provoking way to do it. There are numerous posts around the internet expressing disgust that Microsoft are pushing this without asking although a substantial portion seem to be people who have tried to install and have had issues.

If you want to avoid the download then the only way to do so is to switch off automatic updates. Bear in mind that doing so means that NO updates are installed, including those Microsoft deems to be required such as security patches.

Google pushes ahead with Project Loon

So Google are nearly ready to bring us Project Loon. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it?

Google announced in 2013 that they had an impressive plan to surround the Earth with large balloons which would provide internet access. This was a project designed to bring high speed internet access to places with little or no infrastructure for net access. At the time it was viewed as a fanciful notion that would never get off the ground (pun intended).

Fast forward to the present day, and now they are announcing that the trials have gone well, and they expect to have a global network in place within months. This will allow them to bring on board paying customers, by which it looks like they mean multi-nationals and Government customers.

The concept behind Loon is not really new technology. The balloons themselves are very similar to those developed in the 1950’s by the US Military and NOAA for weather tracking (although I’m sure they had some other uses during the cold war) and are huge structures made from Mylar and filled with Helium. To date, the longest Google has had a balloon stay up is 187 days, but previously the military claim to have had one stay up for 744 days.

They will circle the earth at a height of approximately 20Km and rather than being stationary they will be allowed to float where the weather takes them. They will be tracked by GPS, allowing them to sync with the rest of the balloons in the network. Each balloon will carry three radios. One each for data upload and download, and a backup should one of those fail.

The benefit for places with a good infrastructure will be negligible. The types of place which should really benefit are places like Indonesia, where a chain of rugged islands has meant building the usual cable based network is extremely difficult and expensive. Google hope that Loon will be a simpler, cheaper option for Governments in areas like this to provide a network which is available to all.

Such areas have missed out on opportunities the rest of us take for granted. Most readers probably won’t remember a world pre-internet, but it wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t have Google, or Amazon or news sites to make life a little easier. Anyone who lived through that era will tell you of the amazing changes that have taken place in the past 15 years or so. The world has suddenly become a much smaller place, with business able to be conducted in real time when the parties are thousands of miles apart. Those parts of the world who haven’t had the same opportunity will explode into life when they finally get the access they need, and the tapestry of life will become just a little richer.

Google to merge Android and Chrome OS as an all in one operating system (or are they?)

So Google have finally taken the leap. They are going to merge Android and Chrome OS.

The Wall Street Journal report that Google have announced a formal move, with the Android OS expected to be tweaked and take over Chrome OS rather than the other way around. It seems the plan is to launch the new OS in early 2017, and we can no doubt expect development builds to appear before that.

Just what this will mean for current users of both systems is unclear, but Chromebooks will no longer be Chromebooks, although the OS is apparently to be opened out to hardware makers so that they can continue to utilise it. The Chromebook OS doesn’t have the same appeal as Android with a lack of apps and a user base which is hardly troubling Microsoft. Android on the other hand isn’t very useful when presented with a keyboard or mouse. The big trick Google will have to pull off is a seamless interaction between all types of devices whereby the user experience remains the same whether on a 3” smart phone screen, or on a 50” IPS display.

This should be a good move for Google. An already massive Android user base which knows what to expect will be hungry for a light replacement to Windows and it’s forced updates (see the previous article). If they can manage to come up with a system that keeps the simplistic usability of Android with the functionality of a full OS working on a desktop, then they might just start a revolution.

No doubt we’ll have more announcements soon from hardware manufacturers, and it will be interesting to see what the web community makes of it all.

Edit: 03/11/2015 – So it appears that Google are now saying Chrome will not be killed off as an OS. A post on the Chrome blog has categorically denied any intention to get rid of the system, saying it is staying and will remain supported for the foreseeable future. It seems the Wall Street Journal may have got the wrong end of the stick from a development post which discussed amending Android to work on laptop form factor. So if you own a Chromebook, then stop panicking, It isn’t going anywhere!

Thinking inside the box – Just what are the bits inside your PC?

If you want to build a PC, then you need to understand the bits needed to put it together. The basics are:

    • A case. This can be a full size tower, or mini-ATX, or even small form factor (SFF). The case size is important, as the interior volume will dictate how many components you can fit inside. Which one you need to choose is going to be dependent on what you want the machine to do and therefore what components you will add to it. Buy an SFF and find that in a year’s time that you buy a game that needs extra RAM to run, but you don’t have any spare sockets then you are going to have a problem!
    • A power supply. This needs to be powerful enough to provide usable power to all of the other components you decide to use. It is always a good idea to provide some headroom in your calculations, as you may want to upgrade or add further components later (unlikely to happen if you go down the mini-ATX or SFF route).
    • A motherboard (MOBO). This is the circuit board which will allow you to plug in everything else to make it work. There are many manufacturers who will generally produce a wide range of boards, each with particular characteristics, and each will be designed for one particular brand of CPU (AMD or Intel). Which one you choose will be a matter of personal preference rather than a particular need, as for the most part, the CPU’s will do largely the same thing. It is only when you need a very specific task carried out that you would need to consider the intricate variances between manufacturer architectural design.
    • A Central Processing Unit (CPU). This is the brains of the operation. The CPU carries out the task of processing all of that code so that you can make the mouse move room one side of the screen to the other. Of course that is an extremely narrow view of what this component does. These days they are multi-core, multi-threading beasts which make sure that everything that you need done, gets done. There are two main manufacturers. AMD and Intel. The CPUs they produce are made using slightly different processes and designs to achieve broadly the same tasks. They are not however interchangeable. You cannot use an Intel CPU on a mobo designed for AMD processors, and likewise AMD will not fit an Intel based mobo. These differences are known as socket variants, and are something you need to understand (at least that the difference exists!) if you want to build your own machine.
    • Random Access Memory (RAM). This is what allows the machine to carry out the processing it needs to do. The CPU will actually crunch the numbers, but to do so it needs to utilise information stored elsewhere (see HDD below). This is where RAM comes in. This is a silicon chip which acts as a file retrieval system for the processor. It gathers and stores the information needed by the CPU, and is used as the processing speeds are so enormously fast that direct reading / writing to and from the HDD by the CPU would be impossible. RAM is volatile memory, so once the machine is powered down, the RAM no longer stores any information. It’s purpose is to facilitate getting information between the HDD and the CPU.
    • Hard Disk Drive (HDD). The HDD is where everything is stored. When you save a photo, or run a program (or app) the HDD is where the information comes from. The CPU takes the information, processes it, and displays it via the GPU (see below). There are different types of HDD. The most recent incarnation is the Solid State Drive (SSD). This utilises chips similar to RAM to store information. The benefits are the small physical size of the drive, and the fact that there are no moving parts to break down. High cost per Gb of storage is the main downside of using SSD. The most popular type of drive in use is the mechanical drive. This consists of a number of magnetic platters which spin inside a housing. While the cost per Gb is lower than SSD, they are noisier and produce more heat (thereby using more power). There also hybrid drives called SSHD. These are a mechanical drive with a small SSD included. The SSD portion is used to store the most accessed programs.
    • Graphics processing unit (GPU). The GPU is used to display the GUI (graphical user interface) which is simply how a program looks on the screen. For most programs, this is a fairly basic static screen, with not a lot of moving pixels. The amount of processing to be carried out by the GPU is therefore quite small. Most decent motherboards will have a small built in GPU, which can handle most basic applications. They will even allow casual gamers to play without any noticeable depreciation in user experience. If however you are editing video files, or playing graphics intensive games then you need more processing power. For these instances, you will want to add a dedicated graphics card. For lower end cards, expect to pay up to GBP50, for mid range up to GBP150 and higher end cards can be anything at all. Some have been on sale recently for GBP4000 or more. If you need one of those cards, chances are you’ll already know all of this though!

    • Other items you may wish to add. There are all manner of additional things you can get. Card readers, DVD / Blu-Ray drives, information panels, sound cards (like a GPU, but processes audio rather than video). Any of these (or indeed other items) would be a matter of personal preference rather than necessity.

If you do decide to go down this route, then you need to plan carefully. You need to ensure that the mobo and CPU you choose are compatible. The RAM needs to be consistent with the clock speeds offered by the mobo. How much RAM will you need? That will of course be dependent on the tasks you expect to do. That should always be your starting point. What is it that I want this PC to do? Once you know the answer to that question, you can then research just what specification you actually need.