New Year, New Look

No, not me, the blog.

As you have presumably noticed, there’s a new theme in place here. This wasn’t planned. Some very old themes don’t support mutliple screen sizes very well. In particular they tend to be designed for PCs rather than tablets or phones. Modern themes are designed with portability in mind. Now you can get clever stuff that will adjust your theme for mobile devices (in the Jetpack plugin, WordPress veterans), but that is being retired this year.

There are a lot of sites that I manage, and many of them use a themes that are up to 10 years old and which need an update. Also many of them are text-heavy, and most modern blog themese assume that every post will have an associated image. So finding a replacement theme that a) works on a text-heavy site; b) is free; and c) isn’t likely to become unsupported in a year or two; will not be easy.

This theme is Penscratch which looks specifically designed for a text-heavy site. It is also created by Automattic who own WordPress so it is likely to stick around for a while.

The header image is from Pixabay. It has cats and books, which seems kind of appropriate.

I will probably fiddle with the look of the thing for a while yet. In the meantime if you spot anything that is not working in the theme (not broken links, there are bound to be lots of those) then please let me know.

Jetpack Update

Sorry folks, seems like I was wrong about how Jetpack generates the menu for the mobile theme. It doesn’t use the inbuilt WordPress menu. It does it by finding all of the public pages you have, whether they are linked into your site’s navigation system or not. This is a VERY BAD THING. Consequently I’m disabling the Jetpack mobile theme and goning back to WPtouch.

WordPress Wrangling

Some of you may have noticed the additional share buttons on this blog. That’s part of my experimenting with Jetpack, the official WordPress plugin that is seeking to supplant many commonly used independent plugins.

My initial experiences are fairly positive. Jetpack has replaced three existing plugins I was using. Automatic export to Twitter and Facebook now work, though Jetpack doesn’t do Google+ and is less good at Facebook than HootSuite so there’s room for improvement. It also has a better mobile interface than WPtouch, which is mainly because it takes advantage of the new menu system in WordPress (that won’t happen if you have an old theme that doesn’t support menus). There are other aspects to Jetpack that I still have to test and which look interesting.

Part of me worries that, once most of the independent plugin people have gone out of business, we’ll suddenly find we have to pay $50/month to carry on using Jetpack, but then plugin compatibility has been a nightmare for a while now so it is good to have it simplified.

Twitter & WordPress – The Other Shoe Drops?

As if by magic, Automattic, the people who own WordPress, have suddenly announced an upgrade to one of their plugins that includes export to Twitter. I shall give it a try and see if my site is suddenly OK again.

I should note in passing that the more people use WordPress, the more important it becomes that plugins be reliable and regularly upgraded. I’m not surprise that Automattic want to take over many of the more popular plugin features themselves. It will probably be good for their ecosystem in the long run. But if I were a successful plugin writer I’d be a bit peeved.

In Training

Kevin and I are on vacation in South Devon. The primary purpose is to allow Kevin to ride lots of trains that he has not been on before. There may also be history and good food involved. It is a little damp, and our digestive systems are not in the peak of fitness, but other than that things are going fine.

I have two important things to mention. One is that last night I noticed a problem with my blogs not sending updates to Twitter. Friends in Australia using the same WordPress plugin reported similar problems. I don’t have time to troubleshoot right now so I’ll try to work around it manually. The other is as follows:

Game 7: GO GIANTS!!!

Tinkering with WordPress

One of the good things about WordPress is that it is continually being improved. Unfortunately this conflicts with one of the other good things about it – the large amount of third party support. That is, when WordPress releases a new feature, you often find that it conflicts in some way with a third-party feature you are already using.

So, today’s source of irritation is threaded comments. WordPress now supports them. I want to test them. But doing so requires me to mess with the existing theme for this site. Also the updated comment code appears to conflict with the comment preview system.

So, for now, no previews (and it was buggy anyway), but we do have threaded comments. I’m going to test the system on this post so you’ll see how it works. Assuming it does, you can have a play too.

We Are Mobile

One of the things about having an iPhone is that you suddenly start to care much more about how your blog looks on that device. Of course you have Safari available, but really the iPhone screen is a bit too small to do justice to a standard blog layout. Thankfully WordPress has plugins. So, all you iPhone users out there (and possibly Android users as well, I don’t know), you can all now check out the new phone-friendly appearance of this blog. Please let me know if you see anything weird (other than my witterings which I’m afraid don’t get any less weird just because you have an iPhone).

Options for LJ Refugees

I see from LiveJournal that a mass panic is going on following a substantial numbers of layoffs at the LJ offices in San Francisco. Personally I can’t see LJ going away. They still have their Russian operation, which is the head office, but I guess they may be less responsive to English-language customers in future.

Anyway, if you are looking for a new place to blog, one of the easiest options is to sign up at WordPress.com. You’ll get a free blog with vastly more functionality than LJ, and better free themes as well. The free blogs do have some ads, and a wordpress.com address, but if those things irk you then there are premium account features available. Alternatively, if you are web-savvy and already have a site of your own, you can download the software for free and manage your own blog.

I’ve been using WordPress for several years, and I’m very happy with it. If you have any questions about it, please ask.

WordPress 2.7

So far so mixed. This site is now upgraded and appears to be working fine, though I haven’t done anything to enable the new threaded comment system. Emboldened by that, I tried another site that I manage, and it was a complete train wreck. Fortunately I take backups, but I’m not going to have to test every site offline before knowing if it is safe to upgrade. Also as the admin interface is very different I need to give Kevin a chance to check it out before upgrading any of the SFSFC stuff.

Oh, and I’ve uninstalled Zemanta because it keeps putting itself back at the top of the right hand side bar after I have moved it down. Very naughty of it.

We Have The Technology

So, because I am an incurable geek, I now have my latest tweets showing up in the sidebar on this blog, and I can generate a tweet every time I make a blog entry. I haven’t yet turned on the tweet digest in the blog feature because it is still apparently experimental, but I might do if the twittery stuff turns out to be fun. All this good stuff is courtesy of Alex King who is something of a WordPress guru.

Now I get to find out what the notification tweets look like…

WordCamp

So, that was a bust. By the time I got to the convention center it was 12:30. Signage was pretty much non-existent, but I found Registration because a) it looked exactly like a Registration table and b) the girls behind it were wearing WordCamp t-shirts. Somehow they hadn’t managed to print a badge for me, even though I’d been registered since Tuesday, but at least they had my name on the printed list. They also had a program. And as it turned out two of the four sessions I wanted to see had already happened, and the other two were not scheduled until after I had to leave to get to SF in SF.

Had I been able to see a schedule in advance it might have changed things, but as I would have had to settle for 4 hours sleep last night in order to be able to see anything I was interested in I suspect I might have blown off the conference anyway.

I guess I could have stuck around to see if there was free WiFi and blogged about it immediately, but it was a lovely day in San Francisco and I wanted to get back to Market Street while my MUNI ticket was still valid.

Ah, Software!

I have just spent an hour or so trying to puzzle out why I can’t add podcasts to the blog any more. I have finally tracked it down, I think. WordPress 2.6 does not work with PodPress. If you upgrade to 2.6.1 then you’ll be OK. I think.

(And if you are wondering why I didn’t upgrade to 2.6.1 the day it came out, it is because it is a non-essential upgrade and I’ve been very busy. Also, security upgrades aside, I tend to wait a day or two just in case there’s some awful bug discovered in the new version.)

WordCamp & SF in SF

Tomorrow I will be spending the day in San Francisco. The day starts with my first ever attendance at WordCamp – a convention for WordPress users. It doesn’t seem especially organized. It is the day before the event and they still don’t have a full schedule upon the web site. If it was an science fiction convention the blogosphere would be aflame with indignation, but so it goes. The main problem is that I don’t know if I need to get there early. The one data point that they do have is that registration will begin at 8:00am, but it isn’t clear when the sessions actually start, or who will be on first. Besides, 8:00am might be OK for gung-ho blogging entrepreneurs, but us lit crit types (Farah excepted) are barely awake at that time of day, and I have to shower, breakfast and take bus, BART and MUNI in order to get there. I’ll be there when I can.

Anyway, the web site does mention that the WiFi is being sponsored so I’m hoping it is free. I’m taking the Asus (and my audio and video recorders) and I’ll see what I can find. I’m hoping to catch Kathy Sierra, and the session on secure programming. I know most of you folks will be much more interested in the LOLCats guy, so hopefully I’ll get to see him too.

But I may have to duck out early because in the evening I have to be at the SF in SF reading with Michael Shea and Michael Blumlein. No rest for the wicked, as my mother tends to say.

Nice Blog, Gordon

It seems that having a WordPress blog is becoming quite popular. Some chap from London called Gordon Brown has just launched one. He has named it after his house. Apparently he’s quite big in UK politics, which is odd because the site is full of stuff from YouTube, Flickr and Twitter. Anyone would think that Tony Blair was still in charge (although he’d probably be using Facebook instread).

Another One Goes Live

I’m feeling slightly more awake today, so I’ve been able to get yet another web project live. This one is for the SF in SF Readings series. Many thanks to the excellent Mike Dashow for the fabulous artwork, and of course to Jacob and Rina for asking me to do it in the first place.

(Sharp eyed people will notice that the site is currently on a re-direct to the SFSFC site, where the new site is being hosted. I’ll be moving the domain when I get back from Worldcon.)

What I Did on My Weekend

Well, lot of things actually, most of them to do with paid work, which I’m not at liberty to discuss. I did, however, spend a few hours getting a web site up and running. Kevin and some other folks at SFSFC have drawn the short straw and have bravely offered to bid to run a Westercon in 2011 – a year in which there is expected to be a west coast Worldcon sucking up much of the available talent. So, in my role as technical consultant to the SFSFC Board, I helped them put together a bid web site. I see that Kevin has credited me with doing the “heavy lifting”, but this sort of thing isn’t really that hard once you know what you are doing. Still, it was useful to be able to use Skype and LogMeIn to work together. It was almost like being in the same room, but without the cuddles…

I note from elsewhere that people are paying between €550 to €1500 to have WordPress sites built for them. That’s not bad money for a few hours work. However, I suspect that what they are actually paying for is the sort of thing that Tony does. People are always prepared to pay more for something that looks spectacular. The sort of thing that I do with WordPress is mainly behind the scenes code. Even when that’s quite complex – for SF Awards Watch, for example – it isn’t immediately visible so it doesn’t seem impressive. Still, that’s the way the world is – there’s no point moaning about it.