Category Archives: wordpress

Back to Ecto

Dammit, I’m just going to capitalize Ecto from now on. Why live like an animal?

So clearly I’ve made my choice. Although “choice” isn’t the right word. Just as I sifted through a half-dozen blog services and CMS’s and then said “Right, I’ll go with WordPress and see if that works out” I’m going with Ecto and seeing if I prefer an offline editor to WordPress’ standard visual thing.

I mean, WP’s editor works just fine. In fact, it’s probably about 80% as good as Ecto or any other desktop app. I see a lot of similarities between the layout of the editing tools.

But that extra 20% might be a big deal. I’ve rarely included images in my blog posts because they’re just too much trouble. In Ecto…well, they’re still too much trouble. At least it’s an improvement. The point is that when the limits of your tools causes you to place limits on your creativity…that’s no good.

Oh, and I have a theory about Ecto’s bulleted-list tool. Let’s do an experiment:

[Experimental stuff deleted.]

Nope. Dammit. I thought maybe you’re supposed to type out the whole list, select it, and then click on the List tool. I’m now prepared to call this a defect.

I should mention that Ecto also has a pretty ambitious Scripts tool, supporting all of the usual suspects. Given that I’ve written loads of BBEdit scripts for automatically creating, formatting, and inserting content…well, that could be a Very Big Deal for me.

Methinks I’ll fire off a little email to the good folks at Ecto to get their comments. I wonder if I can nudge them into improving the Media tool. At the very least they can tell my how the holy **** to get the list tool to work…!

Methinks I’ll also have to do something to fix those two test posts. See, this is why I want a decent image tool: as-is, both Ecto and MarsEdit did something so weird that my WordPress theme doesn’t know how the hell to make these images fit inside the template.

Warlord of MarsEdit

Continuing my first impressions of offline Mac blog editors…I’ve now moved on to MarsEdit.

Hmm. Already I’m liking it less than ecto. Although as I typed that last word I have to give MarsEdit’s developers proper respect for being unafraid to use the “Shift” key when naming a product. Every type I type “ecto” I feel like I’m using an open-source product or something.

Whereas MarsEdit feels like an open-source product when I’m actually writing a blog post with the thing.

I mean, oh dear. Let’s see if I can insert a shot of the editing window so you can see what I mean:

Picture 43.png

(Note: after posting this, I had to go back in and manually resize the pictures. It was screwing up the layout of the blog.)

So the good news is that MarsEdit does indeed allow me to upload an arbitrary file. The bad news is that it doesn’t offer any integration with iPhoto or Aperture at all. The good news is that it does let me access my Flickr stream, viz:

The Long View

…And I certainly dig that. But the bad news — I know, I’m violating some sort of rule about nested Good News/Bad News loops; let’s just press on — is that it apparently doesn’t resize these images.

Hmm. The best answer is a hybrid of both ecto and MarsEdit. To put a finer point on it, I want ecto’s approach, with additional support for both Flickr and arbitrary files.

I also want this new solution to do something that neither one can apparently handle: the image should be scaled down to 400 pixels wide, and clicking on the image should open the full-rez version in a new window. I was able to code that up in less than an hour with my old AppleScript blogger. Why is this such a mystery?

But I digress. If you look at the MarsEdit window, you essentially see the exact same thing I used to see when I was using BBEdit as my post editor. There’s a preview window behind it, but why on Earth wouldn’t they support visual editing? They are aware that this is a Mac product, and not something intended for a Sun workstation, right?

And I don’t see a tool for italicizing text. Let’s go look for it…

…Yup, but it’s under the “Post” menu, and not under a “Format” menu, which is a standard Mac UI standard. And of course, it just wraps what you write in HTML tags. Like this. But then after you’ve typed the word you wanted to italicize, you have to move the cursor past the closing tag before you can continue editing.

Dear oh dear. This won’t do. This won’t do at all.

I command-tab back to ecto. I note that on top of all of the goodies that I already miss, I can easily flip between that rich, visual editor and the actual, raw HTML. Not merely tags, but complex formatting. So it would appear that anything I might want to do (like those iTunes divs) would be a piece of cake.

Even cakier, in fact: ecto allows me to define my own styles.

MarsEdit is nice enough to include an “Edit in BBEdit” command, but for $29, should I really need to have a second app already installed to share the load?

I note that ecto costs ten bucks less.

Hmm. This little contest appears to be going to ecto, in an utter blowout. In fact, I’m finding MarsEdit so difficult to like that I wonder if I haven’t simply overlooked a separate user mode. You know…a mode which causes MarsEdit to work the way I’d expect a blog editor to work.

If you folks have anything illuminating to share, then comment away by all means. Keep in mind that I’m literally commenting on what I’m experiencing as I’m creating this blog post. So these are the impressions of someone with just fifteen minutes’ worth of experience with MarsEdit.

But for now…I mean, ick.

Ecto Plasmer

Nothing to see here, folks. I’m just testing out a couple of offline blog editors.

I like WordPress’ visual editor. I just wish it didn’t have a little black lump of chilled steel where a human heart should be.

(Assuming for the purposes of this post that WordPress’ visual editor were a human being. But if it were, I wouldn’t waste time making analogies about its insensitivity to my needs as a fellow person. I’d just start slapping it right away, and I wouldn’t let up until it promised to finally behave.)

It does what it says it does: when I italicize something, well, by God, it looks like it’s been italicized. But it also does things that it doesn’t say that it’ll do, namely: completely screw up any formatting that I’ve socked between DIV tags.

Given that every single day this month I’ve posted something with big, complicated styled DIV blocks, this problem is seriously dampening my élan.

Actually, it’s giving me a keen sense of nostalgia for my old blogger. The big deficiency of CWOBber (my AppleScript blogging app) was that once a new post was published, editing it was frustratingly complicated. It’s the same deal with these “iTunes Advent Calendar” entries. If I so much as open one of those posts up for editing, it’ll be grabbed by the Visual Editor, which will then attempt to “help” me by automatically reformatting everything I’ve already styled.

And the only way out of that one, dear friends, is to trash the entire block and rebuild it from scratch.

So at some point in this little pageant, I sighed, reflected once again that Mankind is born unto trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward, and unchecked the “Use Visual Editor” option in my user profile. I’m back where I was before.

I dunno where I’ll go from here. I’ve got Ecto — oh, did I mention that this post is being written with Ecto? Sorry, prolly should have mentioned that straight away — and I’m likin’ it. But I’ve also got MarsEdit (oooh, cool; when I clicked on Ecto’s “link” tool, it automatically inserted the URL I had in the Clipboard. Ten points to Ecto), with Qumana in as a dark-horse candidate. I’d never heard of it before and it’s possible that it’s an ad-insertion tool with a posting tool grudgingly included.

Well, let’s wrap things up with Ecto. Hey, let’s throw in a picture and see what happens:

DSC_0666

Hmm. Not a dramatically good inning for Ecto. Here’s what I want a blog image tool to do:

  • Allow me to arbitrarily choose a file from my desktop. Ecto apparently needs the photo to already be in my iPhoto or Aperture library. Which is fine with photos of my beloved niece, but when I want to put an Ecto screenshot into the post, this behavior forces me to open a whole big app to perform a function that I don’t need it to do (take a one-use picture and incorporate it into my permanent library).
  • Resize the photo on the fly. I mean, come on people…this isn’t rocket surgery. The original file is 10 megapixels. This would seem to be somewhat overkill for a blog post. Can’t you automatically resize it to a width of 500 pixels? Or at least do the proper ratio and insert a set of scaled-down dimensions into the Image tag?
  • Oh, dear…and it appears that there isn’t an obvious way to end a bulleted list, either. Do I just click the tool icon again?
  • Nope, that just increases the indent level. Click on the “left justify” icon?
  • Nope. Okay, to the Help System I go.
  • “Help isn’t available for ecto.” Whee!
  • Why don’t I just click “post” and let this bulleted list be my last memory of this test of ecto.

Edited: Okay, I told you guys that this was my first post with Ecto. It turns out that Ecto does indeed have nearly all of the image tools I wanted to see. They’re just not as visible as I’d expect them to be. To resize a photo, you have to click on a tab in the Import panel to reveal a new pane.

The label of that important tab is “Upload.” There’s already an “Upload” button at the bottom of the panel, so I sure wasn’t expecting such a basic function to be hidden under what I logically concluded was a redundant tab.

You can also import arbitrary image files. But you have to do it through the Media Manager tool, which also allows you to resize.

So: I was wrong about this being a missing feature. But if you’ll excuse my use of a hockey metaphor, the person who designed Ecto’s UI deserve an assist on my mistake.

The Blog Slouches Towards Bethehem

I haven’t talked about the transition to WordPress in a while because the transition is pretty much complete. I had hoped to have this Celestial Waste of Bandwidth complete by the time my new iPhone book came out, but I can’t say that I’ve reached the “Golden Master” stage yet.

The stages of project development are as follows:

  1. Recognize how much better your world would be if [state your desired result].
  2. Define your desires in terms of an articulated goal.
  3. Break down a series of steps that you can complete, in sequence, to realize said goal.
  4. Explore the tools that you’ll need to complete each step.
  5. Successful proof-of-concept, confirming that all of your preceding choices are sound ones.
  6. Developmental deployment.
  7. Project achieves functional stability.
  8. Private beta deployment.
  9. Project is feature-complete, but still awaiting fine-tuning and incorporation of as-yet-unknown bugfixes and new features.
  10. Assemble input from beta group; evaluate data collected thus final re-evaluation of what defines “success” in this deployment and what’s required to get there.
  11. Widening from a private beta deployment to a public beta deployment.
  12. Official public release.

I am currently at Step 8. The Celestial Waste of Bandwidth isn’t finished yet, but I’m tempted to get out a Sharpie, jot a simple phrase on a Post-It note, and slap it down over Stages 9-12.

That phrase is “**** it; let’s just go with what we’ve got and add things as we go.”

If the Linux community had a company store, you could buy pads with that phrase pre-printed for your convenience.

Here are the major Action Items that are still open:

I still need to wire up a navigation bar under the header.

Ranking: Critical.

I’ve been playing with Tigra Menus and I think that’s going to be my solution. I was hoping I could find plug-in that would reduce this thing to an utter no-brainer. I mean, to my delight, I’ve found that this is usually the case. I’m about to crack my knuckles and rock out some JavaScript or PHP, but nope…all I actually need to do is download some scripts and copy them into a directory.

That is, there are indeed some WordPress horizontal navigation thingies. But none of them seem to be as simple to use or as flexible as just pasting Tigra’s mostly-JavaScript mojo into the theme templates.

I need to commit to a structure for the whole site.

Ranking: Critical. 

I do want the Celestial Waste of Bandwidth to have various sections, and based on things that are happening right now and things that’ll be happening soon, I know what some of those sections are going to be. But if I make sloppy choices early on, a year from now I’ll have a navigation menu that contains about 40 sub-items. And the menu next to it will contain just “About This Site…” and “This site: About it.”

Alas, this is a critical part of product development. It costs nothing to sit down and figure out the answer to the question “What is this thing supposed to do?” but there’s nothing more expensive than a wrong answer.

I need to retool CWOB.COM as a “magazine cover” for IHNATKO.COM.

Ranking: Important.

I’ve been mulling over the problem of choosing an “official” domain for the new site. When I first set it up, I used “ihnatko.com” because I wasn’t actually using it for anything else. I bought the domain years ago chiefly just to take if off the playing field. I get so much email addressed to “Andy Inkato” and “Andy Inhatko” and “Andy Ikanato” that I never had the slightest inclination to use it as an official domain or email address.

Now that the site has been up for a few months, I must say that I rather like seeing my name in the URL. You can’t buy publicity like that, you know?

But from a practical standpoint, CWOB is a much better name. If you hear CWOB.COM in a podcast or somewhere, you’re 97% sure to type it in correctly; that goes up to 99.99% (I have research; excutive privilege prevents me from releasing it to the public) if you hear the name of the site, too.

Plus, I’ve been going back and forth about what people should see first. A big “Welcome to the frabjous land of Andrew Fillmore James Ihnatko” page with some sample content and a link to the blog? Or just dive people right into the corn crib of delights known as the Celestial Waste of Bandwidth?

So, two birds with one stone: CWOB.com will be the “front page” of IHNATKO.COM. Which makes sense. The folks who are the most likely to type CWOB into their browsers are people who have just heard me mention the site in a podcast, so they’d be the most interested in learning just what the hell any of this is actually about.

Come up with a custom site theme.

Ranking: Need to get to it eventually.

Meanwhile, I’ve made practically no progress in building a wizzo custom site theme. I’ve started learning the basics but haven’t written a scrap of code.

Clearly it’s gonna have to happen sometime but it doesn’t look like I’m going to have enough free time to really work on this. So I’ll stick with what I’ve got an keep modding its built-in stylesheets as desired.

I do wish I hadn’t been so hasty about choosing a layout format. The final version needs to be wider, methinks. I still don’t know if I wanna go with two columns or three.

My resistance to using a whole lotta columns is that I’m regularly shocked (seriously: afterwards, I can’t feed or bathe myself) by the sight of incredibly popular blogs that are buried in multi-column clutter. And these sites are making lots of dough! They can afford to pay someone to make it look nice, right?

It’s taken a while to figure out how I’d use a third column. Left gutter would be stuff related to me (my upcoming appearances, my books, my Twitter and Flickr feeds, etc.) Right gutter is for stuff related to the blog (calendar, search, popular tags, RSS links).

But to make that happen, I’d have to make a bunch of changes. It seems like the sort of thing that will either take twenty minutes (five minutes to select a new layout from the theme menu, fifteen minutes to make whatever little tweaks are necessary to make it look nice) or twenty days. And I won’t have time for anything ambitious until the end of next month, y’know?

If I were thinking “wide layout” earlier on, I also would have designed a wider masthead. So back to Photoshop for a few hours to figure out what to do with the extra space.

(A masthead redesign would give me a chance to fix something that’s been bugging me for weeks: the top of my head should poke up above the rest of the masthead, shouldn’t it?)

Anyway. So there’s where we are right now. I’m still 100% convinced that WordPress was the right choice. It’s a great system to work with and (here’s the dealbreaker) it’s clear that if my needs ever outgrow WordPress, then clearly it’d be a time for me to hire professionals to design and build a site for me.

and until the end of January at

Head Games

Behold, the new Celestial Waste of Bandwidth header image. I had a little time last night (rather, I had something else I really needed to be doing instead, but couldn’t get started on it) so I started launching stuff and playing with some ideas.

The fonts are all from the fabulous Comicraft font collection. My name is in DigitalDelivery, the Waste of Bandwidth is Spills, and the big word is Sentinel (tarted into 3D by Adobe Illustrator).

Boy, it really is the little things that matter. I’ve been working on this blog off and on for more than a month and it’s always seemed like something that’s been firmly in beta and barely a blog. But now I click the link and instead of a generic default header with a PHP-generated title, I have a proper masthead just like a “real” website. There’s still lots and lots of work left to be done (I need to either build a new theme or heavily restyle the one I have now, plus I have to set up all of the subpages and the navigation thereto) but oddly enough this small patch of visual fluff makes me feel like this thing has moved forward.

For all that, I’m still trying to decide whether I’ll go with two columns or three. I hate the clutter of sites that keep adding column after column instead of taking a step back and figuring out how to make a cleaner and more accessible site.

WordPress Embedding

Dear Andy of Yesteryear:

You have the right idea. You’ve known for years that when it comes to web development, the best way to learn is to see how other people did it. Bravo on taking it to the next level by actually taking a peek at the future state of your own blog and stealing from your Future Self.

No, I’m not mad…not at all. Time is merely an illusion and if Past, Present and Future Andy put our heads together and work collaboratively, we can get this new site finished in no time. Literally.

Anyway. I found out something astonishing yesterday: it turns out that WordPress’ visual editor, while not full of crap, definitely could stand a good scrubbing out with a 15% bleach solution. You know all the times you’ve clicked into the “Code” tab, pasted HTML code into a post (to create some fancy formatting, a YouTube embed…that sort of thing) and WP screwed it up?

Yup, that’s the Visual Editor causing trouble by trying to be helpful. It adjusts the code when you switch back.

So I’m hoping that you’ll read this post before I wind up wasting lots and lots and lots of time downloading lots and lots and lots of plugins for embedded content. I know it’s reasonable to assume that you need one — because for God’s sake, what’s the point of having a Code editor if all the code is going to be ruined once you click back and continue writing your post? — but you really  don’t. All you need to do is NOT return to the visual editor before you publish the post.

No need to thank me, Past Andy. I figure that instead of wasting hours on this problem you’ll spend that time cleaning our office, and I’ll finally be able to find the red iPod Nano that I lost track of last month.

Oh, and be sure to shave before you go out to run quick errands on October 18…you’re going to bump into a girl you briefly dated and you won’t feel quite so awkward without the three-day beard.

More WordPress info

Hello, Andy. Andy From The Past here. I’ve just come across a couple of WordPress links that I think you’ll find useful, now that it’s November or something and you’re cracking your knuckles and sitting down to create an all-new theme and lots of CSS and even a bunch of custom scripts.

  • Headzoo has a super Theme generation cheatsheet, which I’m sure you’ll want to print and keep handy. They also seem to have some nifty plugins, including one which ought to make it easier to embed MP3 and QuickTime players.
  • And here’s a Wiki that collects a bunch of resources in one convenient locale.

Oh, and while you’re at it: find the first bastard who ever claimed that Linux is just as good as any commercial OS and insert a shrimp fork into a creative and amusing place on his or her person.

Yes, for all the usual reasons, but also because I’m typing this on my Ubuntu machine and as always, every time the edge of my palm violates the airspace above the trackpad, it registers as a stroke and a mouseclick and as such, the editor’s insertion point keeps teleporting around erratically and spraying this post with keystrokes.

I think the shrimp forks are behind (not inside) the Rubbermaid organizer in the silverware drawer. Actually, I’ll go into the kitchen right now and make sure they’re where you can easily find them.

Flexible Upload Plugin Test

Just testing out a new plugin, sensation-seekers. “Flexible Upload” sounds like what I’m looking for as a picture-posting tool (a simple tool that automatically scales and centers images) but it doesn’t seem to be working properly, viz:

tigra-red-batgirl-statues-fixed.jpg

. So I’m making some screenshots and documenting what’s happening so the author can figure out what’s going wrong.

Like Buttering An Ocelot

It’s not much of a title but it’s the best I can come up with after the past two or three hours. I wound up doing some productive goofing off tonight, though I use the term “productive” advisedly. If the purpose was to put off doing actual, paying work, then put me in a flightsuit and hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background as I stroll out to meet the cameras. If I was truly hoping that any of the WordPress-ey things I researched and installed would actually work, though…not so much, no.

I’m doing lot of research and that always involves a certain amount of outright stealing. “Hey, a ‘Most Popular Posts’ thingamabob in the sidebar!” I think, after drifting across a support page for something or other. “Cool, I’ll have that.”

So I look for a WordPress plugin and wind up installing the OWA Most Popular widget, which seems to be just the thing. Failure. Oh, right…I bet you need to install Open Weblog Analytics to make it work. Download and install OWA…and now the whole site’s spitting out fireball-like errors.

“Drat and blast,” said I, and I meant it. Were I a properly-licenced Londoner I would have added “With knobs on” for maximum effect.

Once again, I’ve been skeezixed by tool that claims to be zero-configuration, but isn’t. Some other night I might have time to figure out precisely what’s going wrong, but it seems as though I can score a cheap but very real victory by simply deactivating those new plugins but a win’s a win. I depart from the Admin page garlanded with glory.

It was dumb to consider OWA to begin with…my host has an analytics package already installed. I actually hadn’t ever used it before. I opened the correct URL and gorblimey! Despite my having published the URL to this test blog absolutely nowhere, lots of you seem to be finding the place all right. If Pets.com were getting these numbers, then the sock puppet wouldn’t be battling Gary Coleman for dumpster scraps behind the iHOP.

I’ve never had blog stats before. There were ways of figuring out how much traffic my AppleScript blog was pulling, but I was never interested in seeing the data. It seemed that if the numbers were too low or too high, it’d affect the experiment, so to speak.

But I can see that I’ve been missing out. Someone typed “philosophers are morons” into a search engine, and they landed here. I’m also pleased to learn that there are apparently a large number of Swedes reading this.

Howdy, Swedes! I don’t feel that there are enough people out there sucking up to your fine nation and soliciting your patronage. Allow me to correct that immediately. The next paragraph contains a valuable tip that will increase the performance of any PC or Mac by a minimum of 40%, via a simple four-minute installation of a component that can be purchased at any corner store for less than three dollars:

You will not be able to read the above text unless your IP address resolves to a .se domain.

Moving onward: I downloaded a WordPress plugin that’s supposed to work with my analytics package and no, that didn’t work either.

The rest of the evening was spent in matters of philosophy. A message board continues to be a good idea, but I might have to talk to the admin of my server to get that up and running because the instructions for installing bbPress (for example) make the whole procedure look like home dentistry.

But I think I need to start looking hard at what’s out there and settling on a board app because the more I think about it the better this idea sounds. I think an Ihnatko board would attract dozens of posts a month rather than hundreds or thousands, but it would make me feel good to know that I have message threads set up for people who want to get support for my books or have other kinds of interactions that can only clumsily be handled via podcasts, blogs, and emails.

And then I revisited the hoary First Page question. I think I’ve settled on a layout for this here blog. I have it all drawn up on a sheet of notebook paper and everything.

But it’s the same question I asked at the very beginning: when someone types “ihnatko.com” or “cwob.com” into a browser, do I want them to wind up right here? Or should I establish a sort of “lobby” that would appeal to first-timer visitors?

I’ve been leaning against the lobby (and told to move along by hotel security; apparently they have a serious “no riff-raff” policy). But while I was loitering there I’d sort of concluded that a separate front page would be a waste of space.

But tonight I saw some of the awesome design work being done by Mule Design Studio and it’s kind of turned me around on the idea. A front page like that — and the front page like the one they designed for All Things Digital — really sells the idea of having a powerful answer to the question “Just who the hell are you people anyway?” You see it and you want to come on in and look around.

Hmm. Yeah, a front page with a quick bio, a highlighted blog post, column, podcast, and Flickr photo, a promo for one or two of my books. That could work. But at this stage I dunno how that page would roll. Would I have to keep updating it manually, or would I have to build some PHP scripts to generate it automatically? Either way, that’s work. More work than not having a front page, anyway.

Okay, well, I’ve managed to waste even more time by blogging about how I’m wasting time. It’s amazing that I continue to claim that this blog is only in beta because it seems to me like it’s just passed the only credible test for a functioning blog.

Still, miles to go, miles to go.

FeedBurned

FeedBurner has, for the moment, been classified as “that which I am powerless to change” in the Serenity Prayer system of nomenclature. I thought I’d set everything up correctly (I created a brand-new account on FeedBurner.com, then downloaded, installed, activated, and configured the FeedBurner plugin for WordPress…but nope, nothin’.

On the plus side, FeedBurner is gamely maintaining a remarkably-accurate simulation of a working thing. There’s a feed there and it works. But every time I try to subscribe to my own feed, I get the WordPress feed and not FeedBurner’s.

All of the official and user-generated documentation on this thing says that the plugin contains 100% of the necessary mojo. No need for me to edit the site’s .htcaccess file or to chalk anything onto the carpet that my former parish priest wouldn’t approve of. And yet…it ain’t working.

In a way, the most frustrating diagnostic problems are the ones dealing with tools that are just plain supposed to work without any addition configuration. If this plugin were more complicated, then fixing it would probably be a piece of cake. As it is, you wind up double-checking that the plugin is active and that you typed in the name of your feed correctly.

And then it’s all down to blinking and sighing until Bongo, The God Of Such Things decides that you’ve blinked and sighed enough and he grants you your boon.

Okay, well, I’ve turned FeedBurner off for now. To be honest, I had two concerns about it. Even if it worked like a charm, I still had to figure out how to best configure separate feeds for all the various kinds of content I’ll be slinging here. WordPress’ build-in RSS generator doesn’t have all the oomph of FeedBurner, but at least it works transparently.

Customizing WP Cutlines by Category

Andy –

Me again. You mentioned earlier that you prolly want to set up your new WordPress theme so that posts that fall into specific categories (like the Sun-Times columns) get their own special title treatments and stuff. This blog post explains how to do that.

Technically, it’s for a specific theme that these folks have put together, but it ought to work with any theme. Just thought you’d like to have this URL handy when you need it.

Fab WordPress Theme Tutorial

A note to Future Andy:

When you do decide to create your own WordPress theme from the ground up, this tutorial is absolutely fab. If it were a book, I’d buy it.

Actually, it explains the strength of printed books over webpages, in certain situations. Writing a theme is somewhere in the same category as writing an entire piece of software. It’s not a simple trick or tip that you can skim through and then use. You need to sit, read, focus, think, and assimilate.

That doesn’t really work so good when the medium forces you to sift the actual content from amongst all the crap that competes for attention on a webpage, makes you click a link to move from page to page and article to article.

If I ever threw out my copy of Danny Goodman‘s seminal “Complete HyperCard Handbook,” then I’m a damned fool. I don’t do a whole lot of HyperCard development these days (seeing as we’re nearing the tenth anniversary of HC’s death, and the fourth anniversary of Apple finally getting around to burying the body). But my copy was a wonderful artifact of an important time in my life. It was probably identical to every other copy of this book ever sold: dog-eared, scuffed to hell, tape keeping the spine together, fingerprints and food stains on every other page…in short, it was a book that bore the proud battle scars of an awesomely useful reference that got used every day and which was read everywhere. I remember taking it with me to my summer job every day. I read it on the bus over, I read it during my lunch break, and I read it on the bus back home.

Natcherly, this was mostly due to Danny’s God-given gifts. The HyperCard Bible is still a standard of excellence that few tech books have attained since. It took you from the fundamentals all the way through advanced techniques, and did so in a way that was always clear and enjoyable to read.

Mad props to Danny, as always. The point is that I don’t know if I and other HyperCard developers would have gained such a broad, deep and holistic understanding of such a beefy topic if we could only consume the knowledge in isolated, individually-wrapped bites…and had to dodge animated offers to punch monkeys and slap sumo wrestlers while doing so.

No Style

Damn and blast. My first tentative foray into customizing the style sheets of this blog’s WP theme (“Mandingo,” if you’re curious) has not ended not in abject failure. But it’s close enough thereto that if I merely changed the word to “abjekt” on the product packaging (cf: “Cheez-Wiz,” “Froot Loops”) it’d still sell just as well and I wouldn’t run afoul of any truth-in-labeling laws.

I dug into the template files and tried to make a couple of simple changes. Trying to change the font of these paragraphs was confounding. Clearly I don’t understand the hierarchy between WordPress’ default stylesheets and the various .css files in the theme’s folder. I’d make what I assumed was a very simple and straightforward change and I’d really have no idea what would happen. The font would change, but to a generic serifed face instead of the Georgia that I’d selected. Font sizes remained fixed, but I could adjust the line spacing. Etc.

The thing is, I have no idea where to insert my style changes. I thought it’d be straightforward (there are a bunch of .css files in the WordPress theme editor) but logic failed me and then trial-and-error failed me and even staring at the screen impatiently had little or no effect.

“Would it be simpler just to build a new theme from the ground up?” I wondered. “I know CSS, I know enough PHP to fit in at a PHP bar on the sketchy side of town, and I’m really, really talented at stealing and using other people’s working code. And building a brand-new theme has always been a long-term goal.”

So I did a little research into theme-building. The answer is: no. No, it would not be simpler just to build a new theme from the ground up.

The only practical answer that I can see (given my goal of making this site 100% feature-complete by the time my iPhone book hits the shelves) is to not muck about with these things at all. To only customize this theme via the large array of options available in its Theme Settings page, and by swapping out images as documented in the theme’s info pages.

It rankles that the best solution (for now) seems to be to only customize the theme in ways that the theme allows. But I grudgingly acknowledge that reinforcing and expanding my own considerable ego is only the second- or third- most important feature of this new site.

Besides, Mandingo is pretty damned customizable. At minimum, I can change the color palette completely and create custom headers and graphics, so I ought to get this site within a nine-iron of where I want it.

MIT Flea Market

I’ve just installed the EventCalendar plugin. It looks like it’ll do what I want…ie, automatically maintain a sidebar thingy that features the next three or four upcoming events that I want y’all to know about.

Hmm. Already I sense failure. I typed the simplest and most to-the-point explanation that came to mind…but maybe I should clarify things a bit. While I certainly do want you to know that you’re going to have to turn your clocks back for Daylight Savings soon, I intend to use this sidebar thingy mostly to spread the word on speaking gigs, books that will be coming out, TV appearances, etc.

The point I’m making here is that a life that centers upon this calendar and this calendar only will be a very Andy Ihnatko-centric one. I’m not sure you’re really up for that.

Take my word for it.

Well. Anyway. So the way this plugin works is that there’s supposed to be a new tool here in WordPress’ editing page that allows you to define an event and then slap it into a post. It’s much like the doohickey that lets you upload and attach JPEGs. When you click “Publish,” blammo: it adds a new event that links back to this same post.

Let’s kick things off by adding the next MIT Flea Market (and the final one of the year). I’m scrolling down now so I can add in the date (October 21).

I’m not seeing any sort of Event thingy.

Okay, now I’m headed back to the plugin’s documentation page.

Umm…

Have I failed to activate the plugin? Let me check…

No, they all appear to be active. I don’t need to download any additional support files, do I?

Nope, it’s all there.

Er…

Drat. Maybe it’s a problem with Version 3.11 of this plugin. It’s a release candidate, after all, designed to fix problems with WordPress 2.3. Which is what I’m running here.

Okey-doke. Let’s just stick a pin it this right here and come back to it later. Damn and blast.

(If you’re actually interested in hearing about the MIT Flea Market, it runs from 9 AM to 2 PM on the third Sunday of the month, at the corner of Main and Albany streets in Cambridge, MA. I’ll be there, furiously taking pictures. My Nikon is my nicotine patch, soothing my cravings while allowing me to leave the Flea without spending more than $400-$700 on geeky goodness.)

Update: Interesting…there it is now (now = “about two hours after I wrote this initial post.”) Maybe some sort of cron event had to happen before the Event plugin’s tendrils found its way into WordPress’ brainstem.

Okey-doke…let’s see if this works. Push the button, Frank…

Update(2): Cool. The title of the post becomes the title of the event, and it links back and everything. And it sticks a badge with the event date and time into the post. I’ll prolly have to re-style that via css, though.

Scavenger Hunt

Dear Andy,

You need to locate the following things for the blog:

  • A really good image plugin. The mojo that comes with WordPress is okay, but it’s klugey. Your AppleScript tool would automatically scale the image to the right size and it would even center it within the column. Imagine! Centering an image! You ought to be able to find a plug-in or something that works just as well.
  • A guide to widgets. It seems like most of the things you want to put in the sidebar(s) are easier to accomplish with widgets than with the scripts you were going to write. I know you’ve been busy but I bet there’s a master directory, like the one for plugins.
  • A menu package. Like Tigra Menus, maybe. You’re going to need drop-down menus under the masthead for site navigation (links to podcasts, the local Sun-Times archive, etc.) I think Tigra Menus requires that you leave empty space for the menus. Or actually, maybe there’s something even neater than simple dropdowns (wheels? I dunno).
  • Prolly a good idea to at least look around at message board software. A message board is definitely not a Phase 1 thing, but it’ll be easier to incorporate when the time comes if you start preparing for it now, when the site is still being designed.
  • An RSS solution. Feedburner, I think, is your default…but is it really the best choice? You’re still unclear on what, precisely, Feedburner will do for you. Apart from site metrics (which you’re not terrible interested in yet) and allowing the RSS feed to “travel” if need be. WordPress’ baked-right-in feed seems to be working well; already this non-public blog is getting way more search hits than the AppleScripted one you’ve had up for years. But on the whole, it’s time to get less dumb on this particular topic.
  • A calendar widget or plugin or something. Remember how you wanted to be able to have your upcoming appearances automatically populate into a little agenda thingy in Yellowtext’s sidebar? But you gave up when you discovered that (shockingly) iCal’s AppleScript support doesn’t allow you to retrieve the next (x) upcoming events without loading in the entire calendar and then sorting manually. I bet there’s a widget or something that hooks into Google Calendar or somesuch.
  • Maybe it’s time to get an Amazon partner thing. You’re hoping to use the blog to help people to find your books and stuff. Why not get an extra few pennies when they buy ’em by clicking your link? But hmm…probably a good idea to figure out how to make that work through Barnes & Noble as well. They’re giving the iPhone book a lot of play in their holiday catalogue and you don’t want to play favorites.
  • If you can’t commit to a specific design yet, at least decide on a theme generator or template. Again, I know you’ve been busy and I’m glad that you’ve been keeping a list of design notes. You’ve also chosen a great color palette. But if you’re going to have the Celestial House of Bandwidth open “wide” when the iPhone book is released, well sir, the first week of December is going to come up reallll quick.
  • Also a good idea to get an “post via email” solution going. You installed a kewl plugin that gives you full admin access from the iPhone, and that actually delivers 90% of the “post remotely” functions that you wanted. But the day will come when you’ll be glad you had basic email posting wired up and ready to go. I know you couldn’t get it working during the first couple of days but you barely tried.
  • Oh, and look for more Flickr plugins. There has to be a great one out there. You put lots of terrific content upon Flickr and what you’d like to be able to do is simply cross-post an album between the blog and the Flickr stream. As yet, you’ve wired up Flickr’s own “post to blog” feature (which doesn’t work the way a well-designed tool ought to) and you’ve stumbled across a bunch of Flickr plug-ins that let you embed an album. But I think the perfect thing awaits your discovery.
  • Ditto for YouTube functions and podcast plug-ins. Every month you have more video to link to (thank you, CBS) and maybe there’s a better way to do that than just to paste the stock YouTube embed. Something like a gallery or theater? Similarly, it’d be great to drive podcasts straight from the site. Make sure you’re backing a winning horse.

Okay, that’s pretty much it for now, Andy. I know you’ll be kicking into high gear on these things once the Leopard book is finished but it doesn’t hurt to make a list so it’s always handy. Plus, despite the fact that you’re keeping this beta blog low-key, folks might see this list and leave their own suggestions.

Your Pal – Andy.