WordPress 3.3 – Woohoo! Much Improved

I like it. I’ve only had it up for a few minutes on one of my sites and I am already loving the improvements. I can’t say that I won’t find something I won’t like at some point but so far, the admin area is much faster and cleaner. I especially like the fly out menus, the new permalink settings (same old but now no performance hit for the one I really like best (the post name and nothing but the post name)).

WordPress vs Static HTML vs Database Driven PHP vs My Serious Lack of Mad Design Skilz

I’m not gifted with mad design skills. I’m not blessed with any design skills at all, frankly.

That’s not to say I’ve never designed a website that I didn’t like, or that I’ve never managed to be satisfied with something I’ve created from scratch. However, those sites are few and far between and I don’t hesitate to admit, the designs for those sites took at a minimum a month apiece after reworking the designs until I was sick of them.

These days I try to use templates and themes to help out, but I struggle with the idea that I should be able to create my own designs and code my own sites, because that’s where the fun is for me when it comes to working with my websites. Knowing my sites are exclusively my work is where I get the most satisfaction.

This is one of the core reasons why I struggle over the WordPress, static html, or custom dynamic database site issue. I want the ease of updating the content that comes with WordPress, the simplicity of picking a pre-designed theme, and the security of a frequently updated software, but I also prefer not having to update WordPress and that only comes with static html or a custom database site.

With all that in mind, I’ve finally decided how I want to use this website. I want it to be a place where I can discuss the things I learn about web design that other ordinary people like me might find useful.

This site isn’t for the graphically gifted, nor for those who won’t hesitate to buy or borrow graphic work from talented friends. This site is for people who want to do it themselves, all of it, from coding their html pages, creating their own WordPress themes, to designing crappy graphics for their sites even though they know their work is never going to be good enough for some.

It’s good enough for us, and if we work at it long enough, we do end up with presentable web sites. And we don’t care if any one else agrees. :)

Finally, I also plan to continue to update about the progress I’m making toward my goals of doing some kind of web work to make a living. Although I’m still working my part-time job, I’ve recently been pushed into a situation where it has become important for me to make some real progress.

Abandoning Akismet for Privacy and Control

I’ve recently switched the particular anti-spam plugin that I use on my websites (those I run on WordPress anyway). I deleted Akismet when I discovered that I was having some of my own comments deleted before I ever saw them, because Akismet was treating them as spam.

Not all comments were deleted or treated as spam, mind you, but any comments where I had tried to use a URL that didn’t lead directly to my homepage.

There are instances where not linking to the homepage makes more sense, for example, when I am posting on a topic specific blog but my blog is more general in nature. In those cases, I prefer to link to a relevant category or tag page (because I use categories and tags in VERY specific ways on several sites, so I can better organize and share my content). Occasionally, I like to link to a specific page on WordPress too, when that seems more logical.

Akimet seems not to care about logic, only controlling the web and who and how we comment on blogs.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter how grammatically correct you are (most spam fails a grammar test), how coherent you try to be (again most spam completely fails in this regard), or how relevant you make your comment. Akismet doesn’t like links that don’t go either directly to your homepage or your /blog/ index.

I found this out the hard way when a friend and I (who often exchange comments because we have the same interests and find each others’ material comment-worthy) were penalized because we had not linked directly to our homepages in the Author website field. My comments ended up in her spam box, and her comments ended up in mine.

So, as someone who isn’t above holding a grudge, I deleted Akisment and went looking for a better alternative.

I found Growmap’s Anti-Spam Plugin, installed it, and haven’t had a “spambot” comment make it through yet. GASP put me back in control of comments and I like that.

Check it out if you’re interested in an Akismet alternative.

I use Simple Trackback Validation (with Topsy Blocker) to handle trackback spam.

CSS Stuff that I Needed to Know but Didn’t

Ran across this CSS tip today, when I was researching an issue. I wanted to override a width in an element but the element already had a lot of styles applied to it and I didn’t want to create an entirely new ID.

Creating a new ID was my first instinct just because I don’t work with CSS nearly as much as I did when I first discovered it. I’m comfortable with the layout of most of my designs and just haven’t felt the need to more than tweak in years.

Really useful info, so check it out if you like to play with your CSS sometimes but want to keep it as streamlined as possible. http://css-tricks.com/multiple-class-id-selectors/

What I Want is What I Get

You know how when you have a site and it’s your site you can do anything you want with it?

That’s what I have here.

What I don’t want to do is keep updating this crappy challenge thing. All right. Yes, I know. I sound like a quitter. But sometimes you’ve got to quit the things that are making it hard for you to stay focused and do what needs to be done.

I prefer to think of my website empire in the making as my own personal thing. Making it public was a bad idea in the way I’m making it public, and frankly, I’m not comfortable with it. I prefer to feel free to talk about my sites and not worry about all the crap that I’m worrying about with them.

This post might not ever see the light of day, but getting it down here is helping me to realize a few things.

I’m not cut out to publicize my life.

I like my privacy.

I like to make decisions and then reevaluate and having a “challenge” like this is interfering with my methods.

I’m bored with this site. :)

Sorry, if you’re reading this, this is the last post on this site before I gut it and do something else with it.

By the way, read You Are Not a Gadget if you have a few hours. It’s quite interesting. It’s unrelated to the topic of this post, sort of, but it did have something to do with my sudden desire to change things up.

You Are Not a Gadget

0307269647-you-are-not-a-gadget

Jaron Lanier

Google books has pages available to read if you just want a taste of the book.

Tried Pligg On a Site But it Failed to Live Up to My Expectations

Here’s the thing, I’m always first in line to call others out for complaining too loudly about the limitations and bugs you find in free software. Don’t get me wrong, though, because I love using open source software for my websites and on my own computer. The thing is, however, there are a lot of times when I get all excited about what a piece of software is promising to do for me and I go to the trouble of installing it and playing around with it and discover to my disappointment that the software just doesn’t work well at all for what I want it to do.

I should say now that I’m a controlling, exacting webmaster. :) I know what I want and I want software that’s reliable, fast, secure, and relatively easy to work with.

So, on that note, I read a lot of good things about Pligg and thought some of its features would be perfect for a site I’m developing (or trying to develop). I installed the software on a test directory, and after it looked promising, gave it a whirl on a domain of its own over a 48 hour time period during which I spent ENTIRELY too much time at my computer.

What I discovered was that the concept of Pligg is wonderful, but the actual software, not so much.

I found the Category Administration extremely buggy. I found the modules lacking, unless you want to buy some, but even those didn’t look like anything I was interested in. I found the customization of the default templates to be awkward.

In summary, I found that it just didn’t meet my expectations. All this really means though, is that I have to move on to something else that might work better for me in the long run. It’s like my trial run with Joomla a few years ago, except this time I didn’t build 3 complete websites before I discovered that I and Joomla didn’t get along. This time I only built one and a half. :)

Here’s my toast to figuring things out in a hurry.

Finally, have I completely abandoned Pligg? Probably.

Safari has found a new user

This weekend, I began playing around with Safari. I’ve had it installed on both my computers for months but I’ve never used it for anything more than to check the usability of my websites in the browser. Friday, I decided to really give it a test run, and I was very surprised to find that I really liked the way it made websites and fonts look.

I’ve been using Firefox for years and for a while, I was using a lot of plugins. That isn’t the case these days, though, so there isn’t really much I’m missing from just the basic install of the Safari browser as compared to Firefox. 

Now, I admit, my decision to keep using Safari is at the moment based entirely on how things look. :) Maybe that’s not the best reason to switch browsers, but it works for me right now.

Have you used Safari lately? What do you think of it? Is there anything I should know about it?

Update: One problem I’ve discovered is the inability to right-click on an image and see the properties for it. Is there some other way easy way to find that info in Safari?I actually use this quite a lot with bookcovers I get from publishers!

Looking for a blogging application for my Palm OS phone

I don’t have cell phone service at my home. I have service about a mile in either direction from my home, but I sit in a lovely little dead zone that refuses to disappear as phones get fancier. However, I do love my new data service for accessing my websites and email when I’m away from home. I would love to be able to blog while I’m out and about too, but so far I haven’t found a blogging application that I’m comfortable using to actually post to my blog, not just create drafts–although drafts are nice!

If you know of a good blogging application I can use with my Palm OS device, I would love to know about it. Just leave a comment here and I thank you greatly for your help!

Testing ScribeFire because someone recommended it to me

ScribeFire is an in-browser blogging tool that lets you write posts, edit posts, and post posts to your blog. Too many posts? Maybe so, but the tool seems promising. I’ve installed it in the past, but never did get round to really using it. At that time I had only a few blogs. I still had a lot of domains, but I hadn’t discovered what a perfect combination blogging was for me. Writing, designing, coding—I get to do it all with blogs, and much quicker than with my static websites.

I’m going to try out many more of the features of ScribeFire before I decide if I want to make it my blogging tool of choice. Although I really liked Windows Live Writer, which I previously blogged about, I haven’t found myself favoring it over the plain ol’ administrator interface in WordPress. WordPress’s admin interface is good—really good and about the only thing I can complain about in it is how not-easy it is to work with images.

See the screenshot? That’s me writing this post. The interface splits the browser window with whatever you happen to have open in the window. Any links you make will default to the address of the open page, although you can overwrite that link.

Truthfully, though, adding that image wasn’t really any easier than doing it in the admin interface, and the image editing capabilities of ScribeFire don’t seem to be even as nice as those in the WordPress admin.

So, back to WordPress for my posts!

Islands and links

I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting ideas I can work with. Today I ran across this post on reader engagement and linking out. The article, interestingly enough, touched on something I’ve been thinking about lately–or maybe that’s simply why the article caught my attention.

I have several older websites that still get email. Those emails are usually nice comments about the usefulness of the site and I always smile a little when I get one. I wonder too, why some of my newer sites don’t see those kinds of comments.

The differences between these sites is simply this: The older site has tons of links that link out to other useful sites I’ve found over the years. The newer sites have fewer links out, and are more heavily populated with my own “original” content. Now, I realize original content is important, but sometimes I know there’s someone out there that’s better able to say what it is I want said. These are the times when link outs make the most sense and when I should be linking out.

Come to think of it, many of the sites I visit aren’t spectacular in and of themselves, but they are able to pull together stuff on the web and make it useful in a way that it wasn’t before.

That’s why I like social bookmark sites. Articles and blogs are all pulled together by tags. It makes browsing easier and more useful.

Aggregators are important tools when it comes to the web, because there’s just so much data available and that makes for some serious information overload. I use up a lot of time online.

I’ve been thinking of doing more aggregation sites like those older sites I still have. I love them and I’ve always thought they served a great purpose. These days you see fewer and fewer niche aggregators–or maybe I’m just not looking in the right places!–but there’s a bigger need than ever for them. Even the small social bookmark sites get overrun with so much content that narrowing it down to a very specific topic is difficult.

In essence I’ve created my own aggregated links within Google Reader. But I’ve still ended up with so much stuff to sift through that I feel a little like I’m going to go crazy sometimes with the speed reading that I have to practice to get through all the headlines.

I’ve also noticed how stingy some sites are about linking out, and I admit I’ve caught myself being that way too sometimes.  Is this really the way I want to be?

I can make this stuff easier for others to digest by pulling it together on some of my sites. Frankly, I’m tired of trying to be an island of content. I’ve said before I have too many domain names and I might have just found a better use for some of them.

If my site is good enough, any visitors I send away will eventually make their way back.