Couple of things I’ve been working on…

techsupportcatSo this past weekend I thought it was high time I take another crack at designing my own WordPress theme. I figured I’d keep it simple and just adapt the one I used to use on ExpressionEngine over. It’s ugly, but it’s me.

As you can tell by looking at it, I ended up just switching to someone else’s premade theme. It didn’t occur to me that it’s been almost 4 years since we made the move to WordPress (November 7th, 2009) and a lot has changed in that time. Not only do I still not have a good clue how to make a WordPress theme, but all of the tools I used to use to create my crappy HTML have dried up gone away.

I used to use a specialized HTML editor called Homesite which was originally produced by a company named Bradbury Software which was bought by Allaire that was acquired by Macromedia which itself was eventually bought by Adobe. Adobe decided to stop selling Homesite in, as it turns out, May of 2009. I’ve yet to find a replacement editor I like as much and I’ve never mastered WYSIWYG systems. I’d use my old copy of Homesite, but when I bought it it was a digital download and have long since misplaced my copy and its activation key.

The other major tool I used to use was a image editor called Ulead PhotoImpact. It was a moderate skill editor that could do both raster and vector graphics and I’d been using it since 1996 when I created my first website. It’s arguably the one image editing program I’ve ever really mastered. Ulead was acquired by Corel in 2006 and eventually they discontinued development of PhotoImpact in 2008. I have a copy of the last version produced someplace in my mess of CDs, but I haven’t been able to locate it. Fortunately Corel still sells PhotoImpact even if they’re no longer developing it so I can at least pick it up again at some point.

Not having spare cash at the moment, I spent a good chunk of the weekend playing with various free/open source HTML and image editors to see if there was anything that felt close to what I was used to. I’ve been using Paint.NET for awhile and it’s not bad, but it doesn’t open Ulead image files which I ended up using for a lot of SEB’s graphics back in the day. I’ve tried to learn Gimp, but I think it’s way beyond my skill level as it Photoshop (which I could never afford anyway). There’s a couple of OS WYSIWYG HTML editors out there and I haven’t a clue where to begin to figure them out. Most of the text based editors seem to have HTML as a secondary consideration or go so way beyond HTML that they’re full of stuff I don’t need. So I ended up giving up and playing Black Ops II instead. I may take another stab at it in the coming week as I’d really like to bring back the old Halloween layouts, but I’ve not even started on figuring out how to plug the WordPress codes in I’d need to make a template work. The way things are going I wouldn’t hold my breath if you were anticipating my craptastic HTML coding skills to be put to use anytime soon.

bearhookersSo the other thing I’m working on involves trying to offer my tech support skills to a wider audience. Google just started a new service calls Helpouts which makes use of their Hangouts service to allow folks to provide services for free or for a charge. I was invited to be a service provider and I thought I might offer it to help folks dealing with viruses or other technical issues where their PC is still operational enough to handle a Hangouts session. In addition to support video and audio it’ll be possible to grant me access to remotely control your machine to make changes. I’ve not set up a listing yet as I’m still trying to decide what things I could help with or what kind of tutoring I could offer and how much to charge and what hours I’ll be available and so on. A few regulars have asked me for help from time to time over the years and this seemed like a good way to facilitate making it happen more often. It would require folks to have a Google+ account so some might not want to go that route, but for those who don’t mind it’s a flexible option.

I’d love to hear your suggestions on what services you’d think you’d like me to offer and what rates you think would be reasonable. That is assuming there’s still enough folks hanging around with an interest in having my assistance from time to time. I could even help with getting up and running with blogging, though creating custom WordPress themes is obviously out of the question at the moment. Let me know what you think.

Preliminary SEB templates are in place.

As you can see, if you’ve stopped by the site instead of reading its RSS feed, I’ve got a half-assed port of the old SEB template moved over to WordPress. It’s missing a few things here and there, but it appears to be functional so I wanted to try it on the live site and see how well it holds up. I may yet try to make use of one of the frameworks instead of doing it this way, but for now this feels more like home.

One other advantage is that I’m able to incorporate plugins when and where I want them instead of hoping they work with the theme I was using. You’ll note, for example, that there is now a “preview” and “post” button on the Comment form. Try ’em out and let me know what you think.

As always let me know if there’s any glitches or bits that don’t work.

Playing with SEB’s templates.

No, not on the live site. I’ve set up a test blog with some old SEB content in it and I’ve been working on porting the old template over from ExpressionEngine. So far I’ve got it working pretty well albeit with some differences between them, but it’s still not quite ready for prime time.

The good news is that I’ve learned a helluva lot about how WP handles themes and it’s not quite as horrible as I first thought. The documentation I’ve found out there is for shit, the WP Codex is a pain in the ass to wade through, but by looking at the original WP default theme I’ve been able to piece together the basics and get it working. I do have to say that WP’s templating system is more powerful, if somewhat more confusing, than it first appears to be. The fact that you can make a Child Template, which uses a pre-existing template and just replaces the bits you want to replace, is amazingly powerful and allows for Theme Frameworks to be developed.

The bad news is that I’ve learned just how shitty a web designer I am. The old SEB templates were a hack job when I made them and they only get worse when I re-hack them to work in WP. Both the index and comment pages are working so far even if they are a tad uglier than before, but I’m sure I’m missing some of the hooks that would make integrating some plugins easier. It’s a lot of work and it makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just figure out how to do a proper Child Theme or make use of one of the frameworks already out for WP.

Either way, I won’t be sticking with the Atahualpa theme we’re using right now. Despite how customizable it is it has some serious quirks that I’m not happy with. For example it makes its own custom fields on every entry containing the title for single pages, multi-post pages, and meta information. It does this for reasons I cannot fathom and it does not like it when I use double quotes in titles as a result. I also think it may be interfering with the operation of the various Twitter plugins I’ve been trying to use. Lastly there’s no easy way to add comment previews in with the template as it stands. So despite how flexible it is, it has to go.

I’ve played around with the Sandbox, Thematic, and Hybrid frameworks, but the documentation for them is, again, sadly lacking. Figuring out how to change them so they look like SEB’s old theme has not gone well, but if I keep plugging at it I may be able to come up with something that works. With any luck I’ll figure out which way I’m going to go — do it all myself or make use of a framework — soon and get something a little more familiar back in place before too long.

I’ll be messing around with SEB’s theme soon.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m currently using the Atahualpa theme for SEB because it’s the most configurable one I’ve found outside of Thesis. The latter of which costs money while the former does not, though they do accept donations. Athualpa has a few annoying quirks, but it is amazingly malleable so working with it is worth the effort. I’ve already made a major modification by reducing the layout from a three column format to a two column format as several folks seem to prefer that. I’ll be working on the color scheme as well in the days to come to get us back to a darker look. Alas, this means updating a lot of different sections one by one so as I do it the site will look somewhat funky during the process.

So this is just a note to say that if you stop by and the site looks a mess it’s because I’m working on getting it back to something a bit more familiar. Just so you know.

Mozilla to IE: You will be standards compliant whether you like it or not!

I literally laughed out loud when I read this ArsTechnica.com article:

Most browser implementors are quick to adopt emerging Internet technologies, but Microsoft can’t or won’t make Internet Explorer a modern web browser. Despite some positive steps in the right direction, Internet Explorer still lacks many important features. Its mediocrity has arguably hampered the evolution of the web and forced many site designers to depend on suboptimal proprietary solutions.

IE’s shortcomings won’t hold back the Internet for much longer, however, because Mozilla plans to drag IE into the next generation of open web technologies without Microsoft’s help. One of the first steps towards achieving this goal is a new experimental plugin that adapts Mozilla’s implementation of the HTML5 Canvas element so that it can be used in Internet Explorer.

That’s certainly one way to bring standards to IE, but it’s not perfect by a long stretch as Microsoft seems determined to make it as hard as possible:

Vukićević is confident that a lot of the holes can be filled without substantial effort, but his primary concern is with the challenges posed by deployment. The plugin is designed to snap into IE as a binary rendering behavior, but the browser’s defensive security mechanisms insist on prompting the user before every time it is used. This detracts from the seamlessness of the plugin and makes it difficult to use for conventional web applications.

“Currently, the experience is pretty crappy: you have to click through an infobar to allow installation of this component, then you have to click ‘Yes’ to say that you really want to run the native content, and then you have to click ‘Yes’ again to allow the component to interact with content on the page,” he wrote in a blog entry. “In theory, with the right signatures, the right security class implementations, some eye of newt, and a pinch of garlic, it’s possible to get things down to a one-time install which would make the component available everywhere.”

Let’s hope the Mozilla folks are composed of some skilled witches then. Having a few plugins to help make IE standards compliant would be a welcome development for anyone who codes in HTML.

SEB’s Christmas template is now up.

It’s starting to look a lot like Christmas around here because I felt like it. Slightly different from last year, but same basic color scheme. Was going to try and get a pic of me in my new Santa hat, but haven’t found a good background for it yet. If I get around to it soon I may set it up as a rotating image similar to what I did with the Halloween pics.

We’re slowly decorating the house as well. The tree is up and we’ve got a string of LED lights (a 33% energy savings over standard lights!) across the fireplace mantel. I need to get the outside lights strung up and the animated deer set up as well. Oh, and I finally broke down and bought myself a USB powered Christmas Tree that blinks between several different colors. It was $3.99 at the local Micro Center so I figured what the hell.

How about you guys? You got your Christmas decorations up yet? Are you an early starter like me or do you wait till the last minute?

Bookmark: Ultimate Web Developer Lists - 4000 Web Development Links in 200 Topics.

Every now and then I come across a really useful collection of links on web development. This has to be one of the biggest I’ve found so far. Ultimate Web Developer Lists: 4000 Web Development Links in 200 Topics.

Everything from Ajax, CSS, HTML, XML and more to sites with free fonts, cheat sheets, color pickers, graphics, RSS, site tools, and so on. If you’re always on the lookout for learning more about how to do this stuff yourself then this is a great resource to add to your bookmarks.

Christmas theme is up and man is it ugly.

And I’m not just talking about my picture either. Yes, my sense of color schemes is comically inept and I admit to that. Truth is I’ve been trying to come up with a new layout and graphics for Yuletide and just haven’t been able to pull of any of the things my imagination has cooked up lately. Seeing as this is about all the Christmas decorating I’m going to do this year I wanted to get something up before too much more time passed. I’ll probably still try to come up with something less garish later in between getting ready to move out of the apartment and finding a job, but with as crappy as the last dozen designs I tried to do have turned out I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it if I were you. If nothing else I’ll keep playing with the color scheme to see if I can’t tone it down a bit…

Updated Halloween SEB skin.

I’ve updated the SEB Halloween theme with a new pic of me created by Beau Tochs who is much more skilled with Photoshop then I could ever hope to be. I had attempted something similar myself and it looked damned silly so I’m very grateful for Beau Tochs taking the time to realize my vision for me and allowing me to make use of it on the site. Besides, it’s probably how more than a few folks see me even when it’s not Halloween. If you’re still seeing the zombie pic just do a page refresh and the new logo should show up.

Thanks again, BT.

Comment Previews now working properly.

If you’ve been using the preview function in the comments here at SEB you may have noticed that after hitting preview the first time any subsequent previews didn’t update the display properly even though the changes would take effect if you posted the comment. Well, it’s working as it should now with each click of the preview button updating the page.

Turns out it was a problem of my own making. I have most of the templates set to cache for a period of time to help reduce server load and the comment preview template was one of them. For some reason it didn’t occur to me that this would be a bad idea. Anyway, caching is turned off for the comment preview template so you can preview as many times as you’d like before submitting now.