A word of advice to other bloggers

The past week has been very informative. I have learned a few things about proper website management, and I will share them with you in just a moment.

A little foreword:

I have started SimpleVancouver.com in November 2012 with a simple idea: to document the process of being a student that is trying to settle in Vancouver. I had very little HTML-coding knowledge, and 0 website management experience. The most I have done prior is terrible-looking website with a template at Narod.ru back in 2004 or so.

Since then (well, more since Nov. 2012 than earlier) I have learned a few things, that have I used them differently, would not have an outcome as tragic as it has been (i.e. 95% of the images are gone from my website, backup is pending from my hosting provider).

So, if you are starting your own WordPress-based website, make sure to:

1. Do NOT name the admin user “admin”. Chose a name that is not your name, and not anything related to the website (basically, anything that is not easy to guess). Much better if the name is a mix of letters and numbers, and that it does not make any sense (e.g. 123ihazalotofdough99butimsingel6969).

This will decrease the chance of a password-guessing program gaining access to your site.

2. Use a strong password, that is not a real word or a combination of words, and that includes 24 or more characters. I now use http://passwordsgenerator.net/. A 24-character password will take an eternity to generate.

You should change your password every other month or so, and use a different password for everything. This way if one of them is somehow compromised, the rest stays safe. Try to make each password different and hard to guess.

3. Back it up! Keep at least one recent backup of all files, and at least one recent backup of the database. Files in case they go missing (like they did for me), and database in case something crashes, and this way you would not have to go and point each image to the post individually.

There are Wordpress plugins that make it a lot easier. I have installed WP Complete Backup, but I haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I have also downloaded a 1.2 GB copy of the entire database to store locally (including, but not limited to SimpleVancouver files).

4. Do not display Login or Registration links on the website, unless you know 100% what you are doing. This is what messed me up: bots have created 15,000 subscriber accounts, eating tonnes of traffic, and slowing down the website for legitimate users. God knows what they used these accounts for, but I decided to delete all of them.

For commenting, people can use guest accounts, their WordPress accounts; or you can set comments up through a third party widget, such as Disqus.

5. Use proper plugins:

Akismet plugin to protect yourself against spam.

Block Bad Queries (BBQ) plugin to protect you against malicious requests.

Cartpauj Register Captcha to prevent spam registrations.

Limit Login Attempts to slow down password-guessing (for both programs and humans).

Sucuri Security – Auditing, Malware Scanner and Hardening for better security. This plugin recommends necessary security changes based on what it knows about my site, notifies me each time a wrong login is initiated, a change is made to the post, and what IP address asked for what on my site.

Theme Authenticity Checker (TAC) just because I am paranoid, and want to ensure that the problems are not coming from within.

6. Protect your WP_admin area.

Edit: AskApachePassword is an awesome plugin.

Also, here is a really good article to help you with adding another layer of security.

Day 5: Ngong Ping – Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

DSCN0307On the fifth day I have decided to visit the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery via Ngong Ping 360 AKA Tung Chung Cable Car.

The cable car entrance is located within a ~30 minute train ride from the city, at the terminus station of Tung Chung line. The cost of the gondola ride if HKD$165 or $255 for the Crystal Cabin (with the glass floor). The park is located on the Lantau Island, the island that also houses the airport.

To get to the mountain, where the Buddha and the park is located, you need to take the cable ride, which is approximately 20 minutes long (not including the lineup, which can be avoided if you pre-book the tickets. On the way to the Buddha, you walk through the park, which in addition to the oriental design buildings has an exhibition of cable cars from round the world (but nothing from Canada).

DSCN0336The Buddha is about 34 meters tall, and took 12 years to complete. He sits atop of the 268-step stairs, which is an easy walk if you are fit enough. The view from the top of the hill is breathtaking! Make sure to pack your camera, and have it charged.

After the visit to the Buddha, I have checked out the Temple, which has an adjacent vegetarian restaurant. Mind you, the photography inside the temple is prohibited. At this point I could either go back, or keep exploring. I have decided to see the Wisdom Path, which features 24 wooden carvings, which have the Words Of Wisdom written on each, and if you go in the right direction, you are meant to understand the meaning of the living a little deeper. Of course, not being able to read them, I left as ignorant as I came.

There is an elaborate set of trails that go around the island varying in lengths, ranging from just a few minutes to several hours. The entire visit to the island took a little over 5 hours; and by the time I got home I only had enough energy to go for a dinner at a diner in the Tsim Sha Tsui; and after a brief stroll around the seawall, I went back to the hotel to sleep.

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Dear readers,

With the recent security measures upgrade, I have learned that my website has been under a brute force attack, which means an unauthorized user was trying to get access to my Administrator rights using a password-guessing program. This turned out to be a very common problem for blogs built with WordPress. I have installed several recommended security plugins to prevent certain IP addresses from sending malicious requests to attack my website, and changed a few other things.

Further, I have learned that I have spam subscribers, that significantly slow down my website by sending constant requests to the server, thus immensely slowing down the page loading time for the legitimate users. While the website still works, to increase the responsiveness and to for the better user experience, I have decided to delete all current users, and change the login procedure.

You can still subscribe to the new posts through the form on the right-hand side. In order to comment, please use a Disqus account. If you have already subscribed, please re-subscribe.

I apologize for the inconvenience caused. I really appreciate the understanding and cooperation in this matter.

Hong Kong. Day 4: Zoo, HK Park, Tamar Park, and HK Space Museum

 Wednesday, February the 11th, 2015.

Despite the forecast, the weather did not seem very promising, so I have decided to stay safe, and remain close to home. Besides, I wanted to alternate between city and nature sites; so I have found a zoo and HK city park that is not too far from home (or so I thought).

Hong Kong Zoo [3/5: visit it, if you have extra time].

To all the penny-counters: the admission to the park is FREE. Finding the park is, I’m guessing, not too difficult for locals, but it took me quite some time to locate it. Unless you have never been to a zoo before, you can skip it, and you won’t miss out on a lot. I mean no disrespect to the park keepers, but there isn’t anything that i have never seen before. The highlight of the visit was the baby monkey, who, according to a recent Tripadvisor review, was less than a week old. Unfortunately, I was in “awe” mode when I saw the baby with his mom, so I did not take a picture.

Within a few blocks away is the Hong Kong Park (or significantly more, if you get lost, like I did).

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Hong Kong Park [4/5: check it out, if you are nearby].

[From Wikipedia:] Built at a cost of HKD$398 million and opened in May 1991, it covers an area of 80,000 m² and is an example of modern design and facilities blending with natural landscape.

There is a massive aviary, a few really descent viewing terraces and a large Koi fish and turtle pond. As a Canadian, you may find interesting to see a statue of John Robert Osborn, dedicated to the Winnipeg Grenadiers (which I learned from Wiki after I left the park).

There isn’t really much I can tell you about the park, so I will let the pictures speak for me.

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The building dubbed “The Pandas”


Hong Kong Space Museum [4/5: check it out, if you are nearby].

This just makes my brain boil :)

This just makes my brain boil :)

The admission is FREE on Wednesdays (which I learned about as I tried to buy the ticket). The museum is located on Kowloon side, right next to the Art Museum and the Cultural Center.

The recommended visit duration is ~2 hours, if you want to see all the exhibits and try the simulated moonwalk (not the Michael Jackson dance classes). Mind the restrictions: only visitors between 40 and 80 kg, and 140 to 180 cm are permitted. I was turned away for being too tall (that was my first).

The most I liked the cockpit exhibit, and the documentaries showing how spacemen eat, sleep, keep up their hygiene and exercise.

Tamar Park [4/5: check it out, if you are nearby].

Tamar Park is right next to the Central Ferry Piers, and the iconic Ferris wheel, which you most likely have seen if you have Facebook friends who have been to Hong Kong. And while it does not have the best views of the Kowloon skyline (unlike the Sai Wan Ho Harbour Park / Quarry Bay Promenade, where I will take you the day after tomorrow), the park is still worth the visit if you are in the area (which you will most likely be, as it is within a stone throw from the key transit area of the HK Island).

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Hong Kong. Day 3: Lamma Island, West Kowloon Promenade.

Tuesday, February the 10th 2015.

Hong Kong is situated over 3 primary territories: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon [Peninsula] and the New Territories. The NT accounts for a little over 85% of the territory, and includes the upper part of Hong Kong, and all the outlying islands.

On my third day I decided to visit Lamma Island, which is a 30-minute ferry ride from the Central Pier, HK Island. The ferry ride is a very affordable HKD$17.1 on weekdays or HKD$23.7 on weekends (about $3 and $4 CAD).

Lamma Island. [3/5: Visit it, if you have extra time.]

Lamma Island’s main difference from the rest is the almost complete absence of cars. I think the reason is the elevation, which is very rapid, and the narrow streets. The locals travel on bicycles, and tourists primarily on feet. The workers use single-seat trailers with small-displacement engines to transport construction materials and what-not.

The island is occupied by the fisher-folk, and the people who work at the Lamma Power Station.

There is a pathway called Lamma Family Walk, which actually is an elaborate set of trails, that covers the entire island. I walked the path that is the closest to the shore, and even then, I had a lot of elevation difference. It too me about 7 hours to walk the entire island, including the lunch and picture breaks (and excluding getting lost, that’s how straightforward the island is, especially with the GPS).

DSCN0233First, I went to check out the Tin Hau Temple, which is about 5 minutes away from the ferry. I mean no disrespect, but to me, all the temples in HK looked the same, and I think if you saw one, you saw them all. After the temple I re-routed myself to Lamma Wind station, which powers about 260 households on Lamma and HK islands. There is only one wind turbine, and its not really worth the extra 20 minutes one-way; but I have never seen one in real life, so it was a must for me. The views from the hill are not too shabby either.

After the wind station, I kept on going till my next stop at Hung Shing Ye beach, which albeit not really being suitable for swimming during these months due t the water temperature is a nice place to lounge in the sun. I stayed there just long enough to catch a breath and snap a few pictures, and went back on the trail.

DSCN0250 - CopyMy next destination of interest was Kamikaze Cave of the WWII times; where the soldiers hid waiting for the Japanese warships (none showed up). The cave is about 10-meters deep (now that I think of it I realize I should not have gone inside, but the sign was all stickered, up and I could not read the warning).

After the Cave i stopped at Sok Kwu Wan’s Hilton Shum Kee seafood restaurant (no relation to Hilton Hotel chain) for a crab meat and seaweed soup; and routed myself back to the Family Walk.

A closer look at the cave

A closer look at the cave

A stroll through a few really nice viewpoints, some 200-year old abandoned houses (and some not that old) and another beach, and I was back at the ferry station.

Mind you, I was quite tired after the long-ish hike, so I only spent another hour or so walking around West Kowloon Promenade, till I found the way back home and went to sleep.

Just off the pier

Just off the pier




The not-so-old abandoned building


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DSCN0268 Approaching the fishing village


Remains of the first settlers' housing

Remains of the first settlers’ housing

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Lamma Power station


Even in Vancouver I am yet to see that many bikes in one place

Kowloon at night

Kowloon at night