Nineteenth birthday

On February 22, 2005, I sat in my office at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva (Illinois), and wrote my very first blog post, “Requiring the seven principles.” There were already forty or so other UU blogs out there. So I was a latecomer to Unitarian Universalist (UU) blogging. This was enormously freeing for me. The other UU blogs could do the heavy lifting of representing Unitarian Universalism to the world. I could just sit back and write whatever I wanted to write.

That was then. There have been huge changes in intervening nineteen years.

The peak of UU blogging was probably around 2007. (My blog peaked at about 3,600 unique visitors a month in May, 2007.) Then came a long slow decline, as people turned to commercial social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. By 2020, most Unitarian Universalists had migrated to commercial social media.

Today, UU blogging in the United States appears moribund. I believe that I’m now the only U.S. UU blogger still posting at least once a week. It’s hard to be sure because unfortunately UUpdater, a site that used to track UU blogs online, has ceased operations. Blogger Scott Wells — one of the last of the regular UU bloggers, and a smarter and better blogger than I’ll ever be — has dropped to an irregular schedule. Patrick Murfin is still blogging daily, but most of his posts are on history, not UUism. Outside the U.S., the United Kingdom still has a few Unitarian bloggers who post regularly. I follow Still I Am One, where there are links to a couple of other still-current blogs.

Given that UU blogging is moribund, why should I continue with this blog? I guess because blogging turns out to be a good medium for some of the things that most interest me. I’ll give a couple of examples, so you can see what I mean. I’m interested in the history of local congregations—but local history holds little interest to serious scholars of UU history (and rightly so), so really the only publishing outlet for local history research is on the web. I’m interested in the ongoing saga of misconduct by clergy and lay leaders within Unitarian Universalism—but this is a topic that is mostly avoided elsewhere (we UUs are willing to take on racism and anti-LGBTQ+ bias in our midst, but not so willing to take on misconduct by our leaders), so again the only publishing outlet for reporting on misconduct is on the web.

In addition, there are a few other topics which interest me where web publishing is the best option for my writing. Mind you, I won’t promise another nineteen years of blogging, but I do plan to stick around. And I’m grateful to all of you who continue to read this blog.

See you here at least a couple of times week — as long as the creek don’t rise, and the good Lord’s willing, and there ain’t no meltdown.

Screenshot of this blog as it appeared back on the old AOL blogging platform
(from the Wayback Machine)

More problems with captchas

A reader emailed me saying that he had been prevented from entering a comment by my captcha plugin (Simple Cloudflare Turnstile); he got a message saying he had to verify he was human but was not given a problem to solve. Reading the online forum for this plugin on WordPress.org reveals that others have had this problem, too. Then today I got shut out of logging in by exactly the same problem. That did it. I logged in from another computer, and disabled the Simple Cloudflare Turnstile plugin.

Most captcha plugins for Wordress use Google’s recaptcha service. I refuse to use Google products because of their evil practice of stealing user data. However, there are now WordPress captcha plugins using the hCaptcha service, which has a much better privacy policy: “Our systems are designed from the ground up to minimize data collection and retention while maintaining class-leading security. The best way to protect user data is not to store it at all.”

It’s too bad I had to do this. Simple Cloudflare Turnstile has a lot of potential — keeping bots at bay without making everyone solve a stupid captcha puzzle. But when it blocks me from logging into my own blog — well, that’s something I just can’t accept.

I apologize in advance for making you (and making myself) solve a stupid captcha puzzle.

Internet criminals

It’s been a busy couple of days for me. Another one of my websites started misbehaving. The problem turned out to be that the site had been compromised by some bad actor, presumably for nefarious purposes. While I was working on that problem, my younger sister told me that this site was down. Now I had two sites down at once. Yikes.

My internet service provider quickly brought this site back up. He described the problem:

“…When a group of processes, in this case the PHP Interpreter php-fpm, experiences high memory pressure, it kills the entire group. The cause of the pressure is too many criminals attacking too many sites simultaneously. They’re stupid, running scripts which very rapidly request php pages with vulnerabilities, hoping to find one. When too many of them are doing this at the same time, we get this problem…. It’s irritating to me that literally more resources have to be devoted to fending off criminals than providing the actual service….”

As for my other website, I’m converting it from a dynamic site run on WordPress to static HTML. It’s kind of funny. I started out building websites by writing HTML in a text editor. That was too time-consuming, so I switched to using WordPress as a CMS. And now for this one small website, I’m switching back writing HTML in a text editor because it takes less time than dealing with all the security needed to keep WordPress from being compromised.

Email notifications

Every once in a while, someone asks me if they can get notified by email when I post something on this blog. There are several solid email notification solutions for WordPress that charge a fee — but I can’t justify spending any more than I already do on this website. And all the email notification solutions I’ve found take time to set up and maintain — but I’d rather spend the limited amount of time I have on writing blog posts rather than on maintaining an email list.

These days, most of the web is devoted to making money. Websites are either trying to promote a business or a nonprofit, or websites are trying to show you advertisements. Those people who make money from their websites — by showing you ads, or by promoting goods or services, or by soliciting donations for a nonprofit — are more likely to have a marketing budget and staff time they can devote to their website. But on this website, it’s just me, with no marketing budget.

I wish RSS were still a viable option for reading blogs, but it’s not. I guess your only option is to check this site regularly for new posts.

But even if there are no email notifications here, there are no ads, either. And no gobbling up your personal data and selling it….

Blog index

I’m in the process of bringing the index to this blog up to date. I maintained the index up until 2012, then let if fall into disuse.

You might wonder: who’s going to bother looking at an index when you can just use the search function? But I feel that a blog index can do two things. First, just as when browsing a physical library, a reader might stumble across topics they didn’t even know they were interested in. Second, I think the index will serve as another additional little piece of search engine optimization, exposing search engine bots to yet another mention of obscure names and topics.

If you happen to use the index, and come across any problems, please email me or leave a comment.

Slight change

For many years, the tagline of this blog read: “A post-modern heretic’s spiritual journey.” I finally decided a more accurate tagline is: “A post-modern heretic’s journey through ecological spirituality.” Maybe that’s too specific… but for now it feels like “ecological spirituality” is a better descriptor.

Update, 1 Aug 2023: I changed the tagline back to the original one.

New approach to defeating evil spammers

I’m trying something new.

For some years now, this blog has used a WordPress plugin called “CaptchaBank.” This plugin forced you to solve an arithmetic problem before you could comment (and I have had to solve an arithmetic problem before I could login). It was a great plugin that kept the spammers at bay. And it wasn’t based on Google’s horrible “reCaptcha” which steals your data and has an appalling user interface.

Alas, Captcha Bank is no longer being maintained. I finally had to deactivate it.

Fortunately, Cloudflare has released a new form of Captcha which they call “Turnstile.” You can read about it here. They don’t steal your data. And Cloudflare is a company that I have at least a moderate amount of trust in (as opposed to Google, which sadly I can no longer trust at all). So I installed a plugin that runs Turnstile on WordPress.

With luck, everything will run smoothly and you won’t notice a difference. But if anything goes wrong, this will explain why you’re unable to comment. If that happens, please let me know (you can find my email on the About page).

News

It’s public now. I’ll be resigning from the UU Church of Palo Alto as of July 31. I’ll post my resignation letter below the fold. The congregation that hired me hasn’t posted this on its website yet — when they do, I’ll post that info here.

Continue reading “News”