Why Short URLs are blocked and how to un-block them

URL Shortenings are mainly used by services like twitter to reduce the amount of character in URLs. Since you can only put 140 characters it make sense to be more economical about the number of characters in your post. For example the article about URL Shortening at the Wikipedia is : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/URL_shortening (42 characters long) when shortened it can be one of the following : “http://bit.ly/urlwiki“, “http://tinyurl.com/urlwiki“, “http://is.gd/urlwiki” or “http://goo.gl/Gmzqv“. All of them direct you to the same location. (If you happen to click this short links from Ethiopia, for some reason the first two will not work and the last two will work).

Other than being economical, short URLs are prettier to look at and are useful to disguise the underling address.

Okay that said, let’s say am one of those government type who proudly say I can decide and choose whatever my citizens would like hear, see, eat, sleep with ….. and one day I decided to block site X. Because according to ME, site X is talking bad about me, criticizing every move I make. So I say site X is bad, it’s out of my control, and citizens should not see that site no more. Bang! Site X now say “The connection was reset..” or according to Google Chrome “Oops! Google Chrome could not find X”. Success! but hey what if the people over X get smart and put their address http://sho.rt/x and share it with facebook and twitter? bummer! why not block the whole http://sho.rt URL all together? but wait what about all those great sites shortned by the sho.rt?? Well, I don’t care. Let the smart asses find a way to that.

I guess that was what the people at the ISP or whatever discuss among themselves before blocking several short URL giving services like bitly.com here in Ethiopia. dumbs!

Okay, creepy right. I know. I would say: block whatever you want but at least be smart about it.

Let’s find a solution. I guess spending more time on how to solve the problem would be helpful than crying about the poor thinking out there. Keep in mind that am not trying to figure out a way to unblock X here, all am going to show you is trying to Unshorten your URLs (good ones 😉 or all of them ). There are handful guides out there to do unblocking and other stuff on google.

My Solution will include a handful of add-ons, websites and other methods. I will go through 2 here. Choose the easier you find and stick with it. Enjoy!

1. Use a URL un-shorten services online

This solution involves copying the short URL and past it to the site that will give you the full address of that short URL. Then you can open it without no problem. If you are lazy to google, here are 4 examples of such a service.

Explore your options, some may support all shortner services, others may not.

2. Install an add-on/extension to your browser

This might not be an ideal solution for all of you out there. Either it will be too technical to have to install extensions or you may be using variety of other devices with different kind of browsers. If you are on Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox chances are there are browser extensions to do just that. Again if you are lazy enough to google I will put some of them here.

  • Firefox
  • Google Chrome
    • URL Expander
  • Internet Explorer
    • [I need help on this one, I don’t have IE on my machine if someone get a solution please email it to me]

My ultimate solution is to use Greasmonkey and here is how I finally find the solution.

Greasmonkey is a firefox add-on, it allows other developers to write script that changes how websites function. Install Greasmonkey and add the script that will always give you an option to unshorten any URL on any page and replace the link and the text (which is great). The problem with few other unshorten plugins I checked was they change the text but not the actual link, which means clicking on them won’t work.

After installing your Greasmonkey, install a user script from here. Restart FF, Bam! your problem is solved already

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Hosting at EthioTelecom

I recently hosted a website at Ethiotelecome. It wasn’t easy or nice. What usually take less than a week on other hosting companies it took me more than a month to set up.

You wouldn’t have any choice if you like to go with the “com.et” domain.

The big problem I face was lack of information. There are no guide or documentation on how to do things on the official site. I had to email the “support”, wait for a couple of more days, technically I had to beg for the documentations.

Once the hosting was done I uploaded a WordPress installation and learned the hustel was far from over when I get the “white screen of death”, that is, once you finish installing the WordPress all you will get is a blank white page. I enabled debugging mode trying to figure out the problem, turns out a bunch of PHP functions were disabled for “security” reason including the famous “phpinfo()”. I pulled my hair.
Warning: fwrite() has been disabled for security reasons in /emcdata/www/[domainname]/www/wp-includes/class-http.php on line 839

The other annoying glitch is you cannot reach your site unless “www” prefix is appended onto the URL. Without the three Ws followed by a dot your site is non-existence.

Email service is the other annoying thing you would get at Ethiotelecom, here is common error message you will get when you try to send an email to the ethiotelecome hosted email:

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification
THIS IS A WARNING MESSAGE ONLY.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO RESEND YOUR MESSAGE.
Delivery to the following recipient has been delayed:
fname.lname@domain.com.et
Message will be retried for 2 more day(s)
Technical details of temporary failure:
DNS Error: Domain name not found

If you are planning to have complex site with a lot of server side programming like Perl, PHP or Python, Ethiotelecome isn’t a place for you. If you answer “yes” to all of the following questions then Ethiotelecome might be a hosting company for you:

  • Is Speed is an issue and your site’s only visitors are only from Ethiopia?
  • Is your site only consists a few static pages with no server side programming?
  • You just want to have the domain name for yourself and have another site you can forward your visitors to?

My suggestion is whatever your answer is, you should pass on and spend your money and effort somewhere else who seriously consider the hosting and domian name business more seriously.

Ethiotelecom is a company that consider time like nothing, money like it come for free and who has no respect or whatsoever for their client.

I have a “free” subdomian and hosting plan at Awardspace and it is 100 times greater ET.

Guides you might find helpful I get from the “ethiotelecome support” download them, DNS webhosting and email configuration manual (PDF), Email Configuration Manual (PDF), Webhosting and Database manual (PDF)

Online Rich text editor with built in Amharic Input Method

Online rich text editors are editors that work from a browser software. They are useful to get comments from your visitors, edit your web page, do a basic word processing online …

In this post I will indicate how you can easily setup your own basic rich text and enhance it a bit so that you can have a pre-built Amharic Input Method functionality.  I used a simple markup editor, markitup! the input method you can add on top of your markup editor can be easily setup from this website. You would love their desktop application Keyman Desktop too, check their website.

The major drawback to this simple editor is, it’s not meant for an offline use. I will come up with a simple editor for offline users on the next few weeks. Check the demo here and enjoy.

Currently has an issue on Chrome and IE, only works on Firefox. Working on to resolve it.

Click on the screen shot to visit the Demo