Register Your Site With The Web Filter Companies

Trend Micro Site Safety Center
 
Among the many simultaneous technical projects at the Connecticut-based healthcare company where I work, we’ve rolled out a fairly significant medical imaging solution providing mobile and web access for referring physicians and others.  For aesthetics and marketing purposes, we chose to launch this Internet-facing platform using a new dot-com domain name rather than use a subdomain of our existing web presence.  From a technical standpoint, all of this is very straightforward so far.

Recently we began hearing that our new domain name and web site were being blocked by the web filtering products used at two hospitals, one of which may be the most well-known health system in the state.  So I began talking with the technical folks at the first hospital system.  Initially I was told that we’d need to secure the signoff of one of their Department Heads or Vice Presidents in order to get an exception added to their web filter that would allow their users to access our site.  Of course I found it a bit curious that they would trust the algorithms and definition files of a faceless security vendor over the judgement of their rank-and-file staff.  At any rate, they eventually relented and granted the exception.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that most hospital systems, corporations and schools trust software from companies like Websense, Barracuda and Sophos to properly scrutinize and categorize web content and either block or allow it.  An internal administrator using one of these products typically allows or blocks whole categories of content at a time rather than concern themselves with individual sites.  They might allow news or healthcare categories while blocking access to gambling, pornography or hate speech.  So I decided to go to the source(s), and try to get our new site properly classified.

The following is a list of the web security vendors that I contacted, hyperlinked to the relevant page as of the date that this article was posted.  Feel free to add additional web security vendors as comments.  Bottom line, after launching any new web site, it may be worth a few minutes to contact these services that act as gatekeepers within thousands, perhaps millions of organizations.  And if you hear that your site has been blocked, try to identify the product that is blocking it, and work directly with that security vendor for a resolution.  This effort will have a much wider impact than trying to work with the IT team at every individual institution that can’t access your content.

Happy New Year

list of networks

Snnyc.com received traffic from these networks and many others in 2013.


 
The Snnyc Blog had a good year in 2013.  Visitors like you landed here 21,362 times, coming from 134 countries on 6 continents.  Traffic was up 373% percent over that of the previous year.  Google Analytics reported incoming visits from all of the networks listed in the illustration above, and thousands more.  So, thank you for making this occasional endeavor the rewarding pursuit that it is.

Quick Recap
For technology professionals, constitutionalists and civil libertarians, 2013 will likely forever be remembered as the year of Edward J. Snowden.  While some may have instinctively known it before, Snowden finally made us all face the harsh reality that the US government and others have the means and the motive to monitor just about any electronic communications anywhere.  We learned that President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Senator Dianne Feinstein and others are willing to intentionally mislead the American people about it.  And we learned that many elected representatives in both parties don’t care much for the spirit of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As a legal matter, it’s far from settled, of course.  U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon recently called it, “almost Orwellian”, and likely unconstitutional, while days later, U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled it lawful.  And now there’s something of a shadow over the US cloud computing, social media and mobile industries, with potentially billions of dollars in revenue at stake.  At least we’re not ditching our iPhones en masse and moving to cabins in Montana.

Looking Forward
For starters, I hope to do a couple of substantive product reviews this winter.  I have it on good authority that a second-generation iFusion SmartStation compatible with the iPhone 5/5s/5c should finally be out soon.  I’ve been living with an iPhone 4 that’s well past its prime so that I could keep using my first-generation iFusion SmartStation at the office.  Meanwhile, I just put in an order for a product that takes a different approach to a desktop handset experience for your mobile phone, the BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone.  While more expensive than an iFusion, it should sync with every smartphone out there.

There are also a couple of personal documentation projects that I’d like to work on when time allows.  The first is to share how to implement end-to-end encrypted e-mail on mobile devices and popular desktop platforms, one at a time.  Whether or not programs such as DROPOUTJEEP have hacked all our devices, I’d still love to see end-to-end encrypted e-mail become the norm and not the exception.  At least among the can-do tech crowd.  It’s not necessarily as hard as it might sound.

As for resolutions in the new year, I resolve to do more writing about technology, and less writing about writing.  So here’s to a successful 2014 for all of us. Happy New Year.

Becoming ‘Responsive’

responsive-graphic-640-trans

If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you’re at least as connected with technology as the average American living in 2013.  And probably more so.  Those of us now in our 30s or later can remember a time when we always read the Internet while seated in front of a traditional desktop computer.  Today we’ve got an ever-increasing array of options and devices for browsing the Internet, finding and even creating content.  On an average workday, we may transition from our smartphone to our office PC or laptop to an iPad, and back again, repeatedly.  Instead of trying to use one tool for everything, we’re constantly picking the right tool for the job.

Where Are We Now?
Webmasters are particularly attuned to the degree to which content consumption has shifted from traditional computing to various mobile devices and platforms.  In the month leading up to this post, for instance, 28.31% of visits to snnyc.com have taken place via mobile devices.  While the numbers vary from site to site, readers are often selecting their iPhone or iPad for their casual web reading.  It’s just so easy to grab an iPad off the coffee table and curl up on a couch, stuffed chair or recliner.  And consumers are voting for mobile devices with their wallets.  PC sales are down.  Tablet sales are up. Given the overall diversification of Internet client devices, what do we do about it?

Responsive Web Design
Wikipedia defines responsive web design as, “a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones.”  Ethan Marcotte coined the term and later wrote the book about it.  Essentially we’re talking about a web site that dynamically adjusts itself for ideal presentation on whatever device a person is using.

The Time is Now?
Back in December, Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, with 20 million unique visitors monthly, wrote a piece on Why 2013 Is the Year of Responsive Web Design.  “A million screens have bloomed, and we need to build for all of them.”  And just days ago, Forbes ran the headline, Why You Need to Prioritize Responsive Design Right Now.  Apparently having a separate mobile site is now passé, to say nothing of expecting your readers to zoom in and out on your content to adjust to the physical parameters of their current device.

WordPress Responsive Themes
If you’re not aware, WordPress is a free and open source content management system that underpins snnyc.com and many millions of other blogs and web sites the world over.  A site like snnyc.com consists of a base WordPress installation, coupled with a ‘theme,’ potentially a ‘child theme’ containing further customization, and typically a variety of ‘plugins’ and ‘widgets’ that gives the site its look and feel.  When I first came to WordPress as a neophyte in early 2011, I began with the default Twenty Ten theme, coupled with child theme customizations created by a friend and web developer.  That path isn’t the same one that I’d recommend today.

If 2013 is truly the ‘Year of Responsive Web Design’ that we should all prioritize “right now,” there are much easier ways to go about it.  Especially if you’re already running WordPress.  Many WordPress theme designers have been hard at work creating a variety of responsive themes suited to industries of all types.  The typical theme has a relatively modest cost and allows a decent level of customization.  With some patience, a little research and perhaps some online help, anyone can purchase, install and customize a responsive WordPress theme to suit their particular needs.  And once you’re done selecting colors, layout choices and widgets, your site can still look unique among the millions of others out there.

Becoming Responsive
If you’re a repeat visitor here, you’ve likely already noticed that the snnyc blog looks a little different today.  But just how different depends on what you happen to be using to read it.  If you’re on an iPad right now, you’re in for a particular treat as you rotate the iPad from landscape to portrait orientation, and back again.  Try it.  Narrow screens, including an iPhone or an iPad in portrait orientation, now show all the content in a single column for easiest reading.  Wider screens, such as an iPad in landscape orientation, or a traditional desktop or laptop computer, show a two-section layout similar to what had been here before.  The site detects your device and accommodates it.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday, I looked into, purchased, installed and customized the responsive theme that will be the framework of snnyc.com for the foreseeable future.  You’re looking at the Magazine theme from StudioPress, at a cost $79.95.  Installing a StudioPress theme is easy, particularly for anyone with prior WordPress experience.  If starting a blog from scratch using Magazine, it may well be a completely menu-driven affair using only the WordPress Dashboard.  Because I needed to accommodate certain choices that I’d made long ago, I found myself having to make a few manual code changes to a cascading style sheet.  The StudioPress support team has been quick to answer most of my technical how-to questions, even on the weekend.

In order to set realistic expectations, I should mention that patience and a willingness to experiment are still required.  Over the course of two days, I found myself adding and removing several plugins to accommodate various features that I was looking for.  And I may yet replace the JavaScript-based slideshow plugin that I recently started using.  It seems slower in Magazine and currently gets improperly cropped on an iPhone.  So, as it turns out, switching to responsive design is a new beginning, and not really a destination.  No doubt I’ll continue to tweak it here and there going forward.

Bottom Line
If you have or are contemplating your own personal web presence, you may want to look into responsive web design.  This is the year, so they say.  And if you happen to use WordPress, responsive solutions are already available at a reasonable price.  If you’re responsible for the web presence of a large organization, perhaps you’ll consider responsive design in your next major overhaul.

Getting Started With Selenium IDE

As a technology geek, there’s perhaps no greater feeling than learning something new.  Ironically, we may all have times when that feeling comes less often, the further we progress in our careers.  Luckily for me, last Thursday was one of the more eye-opening days that I’ve had in awhile.

In my current role as a Senior Systems Administrator, I’m probably more concerned with setting up and maintaining file, application and web servers than with anything else.  It was in this capacity that I had a visit on Thursday from our Technical Account Manager for a leading provider of information security and compliance solutions.  While working with this vendor’s web application scanning product, an ancillary discussion turned me on to the free utility that we’re going to talk about today.

Selenium IDE is a Firefox plugin that allows one to record and play back any interactions that we could have within the web browser.  Do you need to test authentication to a web site or web application and execute a particular series of steps?  No problem.  Record it yourself and play it back when desired.  Do you need to run it a significant number of times as part of quality assurance or load testing?  Selenium can help you with that as well.  While Selenium wouldn’t necessarily replace purpose-built load-testing software, it’s more than adequate for repeating a consistent series of actions within a web application.  Let’s get started.

We’ll begin by downloading Selenium IDE.  (You might bookmark this page first, as you’ll want to refer back to it.)  After following the link, look for the words ‘Download latest released version,’ currently 1.10.0.  You’ll have to allow Firefox to install it, and then restart your browser.  Once you’ve installed Selenium IDE, let’s also install Selenium IDE: Flow Control.  Allow this installation and then restart Firefox one more time.

Once Selenium IDE and accompanying Flow Control are installed, you’ll see Selenium IDE as another option under the Tools menu in Firefox.  Go ahead and launch it.  Before we go any further, I recommend setting one Selenium option that has proven necessary in every instance of my very limited use so far.  Within Selenium’s Options > General tab, select ‘Record absolute URL’ as shown below.  I’ve yet to change any other options from the defaults.  Once you’ve set this option, go ahead and close Selenium for now.

Selenium Options

Having set our options, let’s talk about how to use Selenium.  When I’m ready to record a series of actions, I start with a blank tab in Firefox, and with Selenium closed.  Launching Selenium brings it up in record mode.  Simply complete a desired series of steps, and then stop the recording when finished.  At the end of the process, we’re left with a script that we can save and/or play again as desired.  Feel free to quickly record a process yourself.

Selenium script

Selenium IDE has recorded a series of web actions.

Now lets say that you want to repeat a series of actions several times without having to manually initiate it each time.  While Selenium supports variables and looping, I ran across a solution as simple as my first day of BASIC programming as a kid.  (Credit for this solution goes to Junior Mayhé via Stack Overflow.)  As we’ve already installed Flow Control, we can simply add a label at the top of a script and a gotolabel at the bottom, as illustrated below.  When Selenium reaches the end of your script, it will go to the beginning and continue.

Selenium labels

Begin with label your_start_point. End with gotolabel your_start_point.

With great power comes great responsibility.  It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to come up with various uses – both good and ill – for repeating a set of web actions ad infinitum.  Voting more than once to name something after Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central may well be harmless fun.  Contacting your Congressman 5,000 times regarding a single piece of legislation may not result in the outcome you were hoping for.

In completely unrelated news, the movie Zero Dark Thirty surged from seventh place to first place on the eve of the Academy Awards in one non-scientific opinion poll hosted by a major US entertainment magazine.