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3 March 2004

Harvard Weblogs support leaves much to be desired

Here’s my gripe.  I have contacted every person at Harvard’s
Berkman Center to get some help with the following problem, including
Dave Winer, since he’s the guiding light.  I’ve contacted the blog
support group, the webmaster, the webmaster’s alternate contact, and
I’ve done the whole Manila users’ group over at Userland’s
website.  I have asked for help in every possible forum, and I
have received little assistance.

What chaps my hide the most is that the problem (as I point out) seems
to be with the Harvard weblogs servers, but no one at Harvard will
respond to tell me how I can engineer a fix of my own, whether they are
working on it, or any status whatsoever.

I’m not averse to doing my own coding and all that, but I’ve got no
idea where even to start, especially since it seems like a localized

If some of the Harvard weblog people weren’t so busy leading a
“revolution” (against what?  with what results?  It’s a good
question that remains largely unanswered), and they might actually do
some server maintenance.  I’m annoyed because I’ve been asking for almost two weeks now!

What’s even funnier about all of this is that it’s an open-source
software project that has the rendering bug.  Knowing a bit about
the ideological predilections over there (I read their blogs, so I
think I’m safe in making this supposition), I’m surprised that they
have allowed a rendering bug to affect only open source software packages!  Commercial packages from MS and Netscape work just fine.

But I want to support the open source movement as much as possible, so I’m trying to move away from those packages.

So, if anyone has any suggestions for how to get someone’s attention
here or how to fix the problem I have (you can read its full
description below), please tell me.

I do much
of my work in the latest generation Mozilla browsers (Firefox and Mozilla
1.6), but I can’t work on my blog in them, as my theme seems to
incorrectly render the site in these two browsers. I’m using the
Manila Modern theme
. In
you can see what it does. More than just being an annoyance,
the browser won’t provide full lists of news items or photos, puts some
text entry boxes in the wrong places, and just acts annoying.

I can
provide some more examples of stuff that doesn’t work correctly:

  • News
    Item creation
    , where the text entry field overlaps the sidebar
  • Turning off WYSIWYG editing does
    Which doesn’t really solve the problem.  The news panel render
    better, but the text entry boxes are still misplaced, i.e., when I click
    on a text entry box, such as for the subject or url to assign to an
    entry, the cursor does not end up in the box, but several lines above,
    blinking in the black background area (so I can’t see what I am
    entering).  The green arrow points out highlighted text that should
    be in the “title” box.

should make it clear that in that first picture linked above, there’s a
huge gap between the main news text and the sidebar, where in IE, NS, and
older versions of Mozilla (1.3 and below) the main column and the sidebar
column are flush with one another.

Of course,
the other common Harvard blog themes do not seem to have this problem in
the later Mozilla browsers. Just as a check, the MMM theme that’s at works fine in Mozilla, but the theme as installed at has the same problem as I am encountering in my blog.

Any ideas on how to fix this?

Thanks for any help others might have.

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5 Responses to “Harvard Weblogs support leaves much to be desired”

  1. vernica Says:

    Hi, Nate. I wish that I could offer a solution, but sadly, all I can do is agree with you. I use Mozilla to edit my weblog, and at first, I was able to do so without problem. Lately, however, there has been some strange and erratic behavior (very similar to the problems you have described). My situation is particularly troubling because the theme that I use does not work well with IE, making posting and editing a nightmare.

    The user support problems are ongoing, and I have commented before on how this has a negative impact on the project, so I won’t elaborate here. If you do hear any news (good or bad) about the Mozilla problems, I hope that you will post the updates to your weblog.

  2. Nate Says:

    It’s good to know that I’m not the only one and this is affecting other people in the community, whose thoughts, participation, and ideas are vital to the well-being of the HU Weblogs project. (You’re not the only one I’ve heard from….)

    Anything I hear, I will post here.

  3. Nate Says:

    This is some e-mail correspondence I have had regarding this problem: Bob, I certainly understand. I think there are two forces at work (and this is
    speculative on my part).1. There are lots of places to go to get help, and people with real
    knowledge on this list assume that we know where to go or that someone
    else will take care of the problem.
    I have used to great effect before. Lawrence Lee there is
    an extremely helpful guy in pointing out where one can go to get info.
    Yes, I’ve had to learn stuff on my own, such as some XML encoding or stuff
    about style sheets, but I’m willing to do so when it’s about customising
    the blog or when there’s help on getting pointers to the information that
    can help me. It’s akin to research for me — I don’t expect that others
    will do my research, but I do expect that I can get some help from them on
    directions that I can go.
    I guess I expect the same from HU weblogs. I don’t expect them to
    solve my problems for me. Point me where I need to go, and I’ll learn
    (within reason — I’m not going to learn programming to run my blog; I
    have an actual job to do, without becoming a freelance programmer). But
    when a problem seems to exist outside of what I have any sort of control
    over (i.e., it’s not a knowledge problem — I actually have no control
    over Manila code, server maintenance, and all that stuff), I would like to
    know that it’s being addressed, on some level, at least.2. Perhaps HU Blogs (HUB, hereafter) assumes that we all have the
    time and inclination to work all of these issues out ourselves. Like I
    said, I’m willing to do some work, but I shouldn’t have to quit my normal
    job to keep my blog running.
    An analogy: I own a car. I do the stuff it needs to keep it
    running. I fill it up, check its fluids and tire pressure levels, wash it
    every couple of weeks to get the salt off, and all that. I even know
    something more about how it runs, by listening to Car Talk and reading
    the occasional article. But if it develops a problem, I take it to a
    mechanic, as s/he’s a professional whose expertise and skill far exceeds
    my own in these matters. It’s neither reasonable nor efficient for me to
    learn auto mechanics to fix my own car.
    The same applies to computers. My computer is a tool I use to get
    my work done, just as my car is. I keep my virus protection updated, run
    anti-spyware software, update the operating system, clean my hard drive,
    and all the stuff that I should do as a responsible user who wants to keep
    the computer working well, so that I can use it as the tool it is. But I
    don’t write my own anti-virus software, create my own OS, and all that
    stuff. I leave it to others to do those things, for which they have
    engaged in specialization to become more expert than I am.
    My blog is a similar tool. When it does not work well, and I have
    done all that I can, I hope to find others who can help me. I shouldn’t
    have to engage in high-level work to get it to work.

    Similarly, I don’t expect computer people to engage in high-end
    analysis of politics and public life. I do research on these things, and
    then I do my best to explain them in non-technical ways to people who ask.
    I try to add to their basic knowledge, bringing them up to a higher level
    of understanding and explaining. If what they want to know requires more
    than I can give them, I teach them how to get that info. But it would be
    bad pedagogy to do nothing.
    I’d hope that HUB, as a research prject here at HU, also sees
    itself as having a pedagogical role. Weblogs aren’t just about writing
    whatever jumps into your head — they’re also about empowering people to
    *present* their ideas in particualr ways, which can even include nitty
    gritty help on how to manipulate the blog’s inner workings. Should they
    repeat the efforts others made somewhere else in the Internet? I don’t
    see why. But the internet doesn’t contain every answer, either,
    especially when the answers are particualr to a project or piece of
    software. Finally, you’re right about this e-mail list. For too long, it’s
    just languished. I would help people if I could, but many of the issues
    raised here are beyond my purview too. When people get error message
    from the server or other such stuff, they expect that they might be able
    to find help from the people who run the server. But I have this feeling
    that those individuals are either not on the list or just assume that
    someone else will take care of it. I think most people on this list are
    here because they
    want to help and be helped, but there’s the occasional sniping response,
    and that’s unfortunate. But what we have here is a public goods problem, of a sort, and
    the supplier of the good has pulled back from its provision, while still
    making (at least implicitly) promises about its provision. So our
    expectations of help are not unreasonable, on one level, but I don’t think
    that we can really expect much help from this forum. So I say, go to, become a member and
    post a message there. You’ll get some help, if your question is not
    specific to Harvard or some Manila ports. You may have to learn a bit
    more than you thought you wanted to about some simple computer stuff, but
    you’ll be more confident when you do. As for getting help about something
    specific for Harvard, I don’t know what to tell you except not to expect
    too much.Best,Nathan A. Paxton, PhD Candidate
    Dept. of Government Concentration Advisor, Gov’t Dept.
    Harvard University Non-resident Tutor, Mather House
    Littauer Hall, North Yard 77 Dunster Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138 Harvard University 
    There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony. There is time for work. And
    time for love. That leaves no other time.
    -Coco Chanel
    ========================================================================On Wed, 3 Mar 2004, Robert John Bennett wrote:>
    > Hi Nate,

    > I have to say your message really touched me, because I think
    there are probably many people like myself that sympathize with your
    difficulty, because we’ve had to try to deal with something similar
    ourselves. I suppose people at the Berkman Center think that since
    they’re providing all of us with a free service by hosting the weblogs,
    they have little further obligation to offer support. And perhaps
    they’re right. As for the Yahoo weblog support, well, I’ve pretty much
    given up on that as well, after once recieving a really nasty response
    that started out “Hey, Dude,” and pretty much went downhill from there.
    Now I think to myself that I can hardly expect complete strangers to
    spend their time helping me solve my problems.

    > I know, I know, all of that sounds cynical, but I prefer to think
    of it as simply realistic. It’s the only way I can deal with the

    > I wish I knew more about computers, because I for one would be
    quite happy to give you whatever help and advice I can, but
    unfortunately I know very little about them. What I can offer, though,
    is, as I’ve said, sympathy, because I know exactly what you’re going
    through. I’ve been there, and I know what kind of a painful place it

    > Now, I just publish my little weblogs as best I can with the
    knowledge that I’m on my own and that it’s pointless to expect anyone
    at Harvard to answer my questions or offer any help. Maybe you’ll have
    a different and better experience. Believe me, I would sincerely like
    to think so, because the experience I’ve had I would not wish on

    > Best,

    > Bob Bennett

    > Robert John Bennett

  4. Lisa Nelson Says:

    Hi Nate,
    I think there is alot of hypocracy coming from both democrats and republican. I am a republican, use to be a democrat for years. My opinion is that God has to work in our lives individually. The only way to know God and His desires for us is to read His word. One reason I changed from demo to repub is because I am pro life. God says to choose life. He also made man for woman not man for man. If everyone would follow God’s commandments, we would not be having all this controversy, but sin has been going on since the beginning of time. The wonderul thing is that God allows us to make our own choices, but He also expects us as christians, to stand up for what He says is right. There are alot of screwed up people in both parties and always will be. After all no one is perfect except our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But taking God out of everything is certainly not the answer. After all God made each and everyone of us for a purpose, and His desire is to have a personal relationship with us all. I don’t know if you have read the purpose driven life but it is wonderful. If you have not, I would pray that you do. It is a great help for everyone facing life problems. Our great God gives us the grace to get through these troubled times and one day, we as christians won’t even have to worry about them because we will be with Him. If more people would focus on God and His Word instead of politics, we wouldn’t have all this confusion between both parties. God bless you, and yes I know there are christians in both parties. We all need to love one another like Christ loves the church. Thanks for your time

  5. Nate Says:

    Lisa, I ‘m not sure why you commented in a post on weblog support problems, but here’s my response.
    Your reply makes a number of interesting points, and it’s also
    quite classically Protestant, in the idea that God really isn’t part of
    what goes on in public, that he’s more of a feature of our private
    lives. And you’re actually wrong when you say, “If everyone would
    follow God’s commandments, we would not be having all this controversy,
    but sin has been going on since the beginning of time.” Even if we all
    followed God’s commandements, the implications of those commandments
    are not quite clear. When God tells us not to murder, does that mean
    always? May I then not murder a person in self-defense (esp. since
    Jesus called us to radical non-resistance to evil in the Sermon on the
    Mount? What about war? That’s killing a lot of people. Is murder OK
    then? See, it gets complicated when we assume that the idea that simply
    following God’s laws will make harmony — we will still encounter
    disharmony in our understanding of what those laws mean. Or whether
    they are meant for us. The Word of God is not a book — the Word is a
    Person with whom Christians are called into a relationship.
    Purpose-driven life: Yes, but it seems emblematic of a problem
    that the great sociologist Max Weber pointed out. He proponed that the
    Protestant, esp. Calvinist religious system, helped to create the
    peculiar features of modern capitalism, especially the trend toward
    constant acquisition, as a way of demonstrating grace and vocation. But
    then the capitalist spirit became separated from the Protestant ethos.
    Warren’s book(s) impresses me as just that: the spirit of capitalism
    turned back on the Protestant spirit, whereby the spiritual life can be
    measured, it is about outcomes and production, and its results have
    much to do with what we do. If we are the clay and he is the potter (to
    use a common metaphor), then we really can’t do anything but wait for
    the potter to transform us — we’re not even capable of changing
    ourselves on our own.
    Book for you: God’s Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn’t get it, by Jim Wallis.