On Twitterology and WordPressery

I have a Twitter account.

I barely use it. I always forget about it. Yes, I have crossposters to move content from my blog to Twitter by Tweeting a link back to my latest post. Yes, I have a widget for Opera that lets me access Twitter easily with a nice windowed interface.

I forget about it. It happens. *shrug*

I’m not sure how valuable Twitter is, to be honest. But it’s there.

What brings Twitter to mind is that I upgraded the WordPress plugin I use — WP To Twitter — this morning and crashed my blog for about three minutes. I’m not sure why the blog crashed, but it did. White screen of death, which suggests a function conflict somewhere. I deleted the files for the plugin off the server, went to WordPress Extend, downloaded the version of the plugin I’d upgraded from, and tried again. All was well with the world.

The one thing WP To Twitter didn’t do, however, was to provide a sidebar of Tweets. The blog theme I currently use, Brian Gardner’s Core theme, has a Twitter sidebar widget built in, but the functionality was limited. It couldn’t exclude Tweets, like the links back to my blog content.

Alex King’s Twitter Tools, however, does do that with its sidebar widget. And while it can push a Tweet with a link to my latest blog post, it can’t do what WP to Twitter does — it can’t let me write a custom Tweet for a post. Twitter Tools can attach a hashtag, but it won’t let me write a Tweet that is something other than the post title and link.

Thus, I’m thinking of using both plugins. Let WP to Twitter handle pushing Tweets to Twitter — post title and link if I want that, a custom string if I want that. Let Twitter Tools handle the importing of Tweets to my blog’s sidebar. It’s overkill to do that, I know, but to achieve what I want it looks like, for the nonce, that this is what I must do. :tired:

And, to completely baffle long-time Allynologists, this post was written in Firefox. Yeah, I know. Crazy, innit?

On the Christmas Weekend

A hectic week at the office this shall be. I can already sense it, like a great disturbance in the Force. There’s nothing wrong with that; staying busy is a good thing. :)

It was a LEGO holiday. My sister and her husband gave me the LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary, which will prove invaluable in writing a LEGO Star Wars novel.

I also received two Christmas LEGO sets — a snowman and a Christmas tree.

This is interesting. LEGO emoticons.

On Saturday, I ventured out to the mall.

Now, I was in retail for a very long time. I’ve worked many Christmas shopping seasons. I’ve been there to the bloody end on Christmas Eve, I’ve been there before the crack of dawn on the day after Christmas.

I don’t remember it being that insane. The stores in the mall were like locusts had descended upon them.

There were only two things I wanted to do. One, get a LEGO book I’d seen at Borders on Thursday. Two, cash out a long-ago pre-order at GameStop, since I’d dug up my old receipt and I didn’t want to take their store credit.

In reality, I wanted to do number two (cash out pre-order), then number one (buy LEGO book). Howsomever, number two was impossible. Not because they wouldn’t let me cash out the pre-order, but because I couldn’t get in the damn store!

GameStop was packed. I vaguely remembered this from my years of managing EB stores in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A line stretched from the register. The store was narrow, and it was impossible to move past the counter to get in line. The shelves were trashed, the store looked terrible. I decided getting my money back for Fable II (which I bought in June from my friend Tina in her store in North Carolina) could wait until another day.

Borders was barely better. They’re closing, sometime after the New Year, and the store was picked over in some regards. The only thing I wanted here was a book on LEGO Castles by DK. I’d seen it on Thursday when I’d gone in Borders after work, in search of a last-minute gift or three, and decided it could wait. Fortunately, on Saturday, they had two copies left.

And an issue of BrickJournal, with its sixty or so pages of LEGO Castles. If you’re at all interested in LEGO castles, the new BrickJournal is pr0n. Big castles. Small castles. Designing castles. Building castles. Good stuff! Really good stuff!

I also got caught up on IDW’s Doctor Who comics.

Finally, I changed my blog’s color scheme from blue to green.

Some may think that I’m already looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day in March or Bloomsday in June. Or that it’s a political statement, like Andrew Sullivan turning his blog green in solidarity with Iranian student protesters or that I’ve gone and joined the “left of the left.”

While there may be some truth to any or all of those — Guinness! Joyce! political protest! political protest! — the truth is, I wanted to tinker, and changing the color of the graphics and the links was an easy way to tinker for an hour.

It’s a new week, the last of 2009.

And when the week’s over, it’s 2010. The year we make contact. :h2g2:

On Finishing Up the Redesign

A couple of people have asked whatever became of my blog redesign, which I started working on about two weeks ago, give or take.

Well, it’s done, actually. I didn’t felt any need to announce to the world, “I did new stuff with WordPress! Come take a look!” :lol:

I know, that’s so unlike me. I finished up the coding that weekend, when the snow fell.

The major features of the redesign:

  • I decided that I needed to have links to some of my work on the front page of my website. If you visit the front page and the front page only, you’ll see a short bio and blurbs, with cover art, for three publications. If you reach any other page in the website, these won’t appear. Figuring out that code was fun. :) On the other hand, the CSS code was easy; I pilfered that from solucija‘s free Internet Sharing website template.
  • I dropped the number of posts WordPress displays in the blog from 10 posts to 5. The people who will notice this the most are readers on the iPhone, Droid-powered phones, and other mobile devices. People reading this site on an RSS feed won’t even notice.
  • There’s a feature I don’t know quite how to describe, because it’s not presently active, as there’s no content in a particular category at the moment. I have tested this, however, and when I start using it, it will be particularly neat. That said, people on mobile devices or readers through RSS feeds won’t notice any actual difference; it will just be a different kind of content as a blog post.
  • I reinstated the tagline for my website.

A lot of work, for a couple of aesthetic things. I’m pleased.

On Afternoon Coding

The snow continues to fall.

I spent part of the day working on PHP and CSS code for the website. I have the first segment of the design coded and the graphics made. I’ve done a test to make sure the code works, and it does. It looks like I want it to look. I’m content with that.

I’m moving on to the next coding challenge — multiple WordPress loops. The “loop” is what calls the content from the WP database and puts it on the screen. It’s completely invisible to you, the reader. It’s completely invisible to me, the writer and sometimes coder. Fortunately, the WordPress Codex article on the Loop has provided me with sample code to look at.

The next step is to code the CSS to handle the formatting and the PHP to call a specific category. Wait, I should probably figure out what kind of information I wanted outputted first

I’ve also realized that one of my initial thoughts — serve this “front page” as a WordPress page isn’t going to work, as doing so will play havoc with people on mobile devices, like the iPhone or the Droid phone.

Which reminds me.

As near as I can tell, I’ve had my first visitor to my website from a Droid phone.

I have no idea who it is; it may have been a one-shot reader from Paris, who surfed in through a Google search. The user-agent string in amusing; the phone names itself as “Cupcake.” :lol:

In any event, I have no set timetable for finishing up the website redesign. It’s not urgent.

In other technogeekery, pointless to anyone but myself, I’ve worked up a print stylesheet.

I’ve always preferred having a print stylesheet, on the off-chance that anyone wished to print something out they read on this website. Fancy sidebars and dropdown menus may look fantastic on the screen, but they’re of no use whatsoever on the page. The important thing is the content, and the print stylesheet strips everything down, and outputs something that’s designed for the screen in a format that’s better suited for the page.

On Design Decisions

The new issue of The Writer came in the mail a few days ago. It’s been sitting, sadly neglected, on a pile of magazines atop the dresser ever since, and this morning I put it in my briefcase to read on the train.

As I read through the magazine, a long-dormant idea resurfaced.

I keep meaning to redesign my blog. :)

I sketched out, about a year ago, what I wanted. I tried to implement in on top of the Tarski theme I was using, but the code never worked right. Part of the problem could have been the way Tarski works under the hood; it has so many hooks and routines that replace and enhance the standard WordPress function calls that it’s occasionally difficult to do things that should be simple. Like when I tried to implement dropdown menus. That really didn’t work.

Then the idea went away to some extent. I didn’t forget about it, per se, but it wasn’t that important. Did I really want to spend my time working on PHP and CSS code? And I some longtime Allynologists will tell you, I change my website theme as often as the eighth Doctor loses his memory or some people lose their socks, so it never makes a lot of sense for me to do a lot of work under the hood on the code; I’ll just move on to something else because it looks shiny and cool.

And does it make a lot of sense to alter the method of presentation? A fair percentage of my regular readers get their content through feeds; changing the look of the front page, which is what I had in mind, isn’t going to affect my regular readers at all.

Yet, I pulled out my clipboard and notebook paper, and began making rough sketches.

A little more than a year ago, as a proof of concept for a project at work that never came to fruition, I put together an interesting little WordPress theme, and there are some elements of that theme that I wanted in my new homepage. There’s no reason why that code can’t carry over; unlike the Tarski addition I tried to make, I know this code works.

Interesting fun fact. I called that theme Sherrinford, after Sherlock Holmes’ oldest brother, even though there was nothing especially Victorian about the theme. :holmes:

What I’m looking at is a bit of a hybrid. It would have some magazine-like features and some blog-like features. To someone reading on an RSS feed, there won’t be any apparent difference. To someone landing on a page deep in the archives thanks to a Google search, there will be absolutely no difference. But to someone coming in to the front page, there’s going to be some major differences in the way content is presented.

I may stay with the theme I’m using and then build the front page on top of that, taking elements from the Sherrinford code. Or, I may start from scratch with a different theme’s code base. I haven’t decided yet; I see possibilities in both directions, and I know the second theme option if that’s the route I go.

This is not a priority, and I don’t expect to do any coding this week. I’ll sketch out some more, and figure out exactly what I want to do. Then when I’m ready, I’ll put some Barenaked Ladies in the stereo and start to code PHP; there’s just something about BNL that just makes coding that much better.

It would be so much easier if I had any sense of design. But I don’t. :lol:

On October’s Web Stats

Before we start looking forward to November, let’s take a look back at October and what people wanted to know from allyngibson.com. :)

First up, I had 10,925 distinct visitors for the month. Which works out to roughly 360 a day, give or take.

Wednesday is the least visited day of the week, versus Saturday which is the most visited.

Our top 10 search phrases, counting down…

10. “Doctor Who fob watch metal.” I have the platic fob watch from Underground Toys, though I did have to take it apart to disable the lights and sound; the lights are cool, but the sound is really and truly not. I would love to have this as a metal watch, because it’s super-cool looking, but it’s also an expense that I don’t need.

9. “Abducted by the Daleks.” Ah, the evergreen search. It’s the Dalek porn. Here’s my review. This is why bootleg DVD dealers at conventions exist, y’know?

8. “Stephen Fry Doctor Who.” Another evergreen search. Stephen Fry was the Minister of Chance in Death Comes to Time. He was approached to write a script for the second season of the revived series.

7. “Green Street Hooligans Book.” I liked the film. Haven’t read any books on hooliganism, though.

6. “WordPress blogs.” Yes, this website runs on WordPress. I mostly like WordPress. I think it’s gotten a little too complicated under the hood. I’d like to see a stripped down version of the software.

5. “Heliocentric Model of the Solar System.” Ah, students. Try this — Galileo and the Heliocentric Model of the Solar System.

4. “Allyn Gibson.” These words, they seem strangely familiar…

3. “John Lennon Personality.” This is the college paper you are looking for.

2. “Doctor Who LEGO.” We wants it, Precious! We needs it, Precious! Ahem. LEGO needs to produce Doctor Who LEGO. It’s just that simple.

And, the most-used search phrase for the month of October is…

1. “Anakin Skywalker’s Father.” Qui-Gon Jinn. ‘Nuff said.

Glancing quickly through the search phrases for the month, there was some interest in my Doctor Who story, “The Spindle of Necessity,” though I wonder how many of those searchers were students trying to puzzle out their Plato. I don’t know anything about GameStop lawsuits, I have heard Dylan Hears a Who (which is super-fab), I really do like The Leisure Society, and we should all celebrate the feast day of St. Cedd because that’s what Douglas Adams would want.

And the winner for my favorite search phrase for the month? “i would like to find out about star wars and indiana jones but this silly computer won’t let me” :)

The top ten pages for the month…

10.On the George Gershwin/Brian Wilson Collaboration.” Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, is taking some of George Gershwin’s unfinished pieces and creating new songs from them. The album is due out sometime next year, I think. Personally, I think this sounds super-fucking-cool. :)

9.On Website Fun.” I upgraded WordPress to the 2.8.x branch and put up a new theme, which I’ve since recolored.

8.On the Born Chicago Cubs fan.” I talk about the Peanuts comic strip that ran on the day I was born. Charlie Brown, his losing baseball team, his pre-game “rituals.” I think all of these combined to form a sign. A sign that I should be… a Chicago Cubs fan! :cubs:

7.On a Biblical Bonfire.” In Canton, North Carolina last night, a Baptist Church held a bonfire and burned books. Like Bibles, because they’re not King James Version. (If you scroll down here, there’s an eyewitness account of what happened. Namely, that it didn’t.)

6.On a Trip to Big Lots.” This one was really popular, and I don’t know why. I went to Big Lots. Saw they had Christmas stuff out. That was it. A random slice-of-life.

5.i am he as you are he as you are me: A John Lennon Personality Profile.” The result of the number 3 search phrase for the month.

4.On the 2009 Baltimore Comic-Con.” In mid-October, I went downtown to the Baltimore Comic-Con. Spent some money, met some people, ate a great burrito, walked around and saw the sights.

3.On LEGO Doctor Who.” The number 2 search phrase for the month. :)

2.Galileo and the Heliocentric Model of the Solar System.” Ah, the number 5 search phrase for the month.

1.On Anakin Skywalker’s Parentage.” Unsurprising, since the search phrase that leads here was the top search phrase for the month. :)

Windows remains the top operating system. Twice as many people accessed allyngibson.com with Windows Vista than they did with the Mac. Three times as many people accessed the site with Windows XP than with Vista. Ten times as many people accessed the site with Vista than with a flavor of Linux.

The top browser was Firefox 3.5.3.

And that was October.

On Formatting for the iPhone

Mobile devices, capable of browsing the Internet, are becoming more and more commonplace, and to make it easier for people on a mobile device, like an iPhone, I’ve had a mobile plugin for WordPress in my install, the WordPress Mobile Edition plugin, to reformat the blog into something mobile friendly.

Earlier in the week, I read this blog post about how WordPress.com was giving users of that service access to two different mobile formats — one iPhone/Touch specific, one for more generic mobile devices. The latter was done through the same WordPress Mobile Edition plugin I was using, and I was curious about the iPhone-specific plugin they were using, WPtouch.

I knew that there are about a dozen people who read this website through an iPhone, from London to Buenos Aires, from New York to Chicago to Seattle. I liked the screenshots in the WP.com blog post of what a WordPress blog looked like using WPtouch; more bells and whistles, a more inviting layout.

I downloaded the WPtouch plugin, uploaded the files, and set to configuring it.

For once, I was glad I had Safari on my system, so I could use its Developer Mode to see my website the way it would look on an iPhone.

There was actually very little to configure. I created an icon for the website, which is my first name written in Tolkien’s Tengwar alphabet. Then I had to select which pages I wanted to show in a dropdown menu and select the icons that went with each.

The options in the configuration page were generally straightforward. I overlooked the option to have comments show on static pages, and that was quickly rectified. I made one coding change under the hood; for commenters without Gravatars, I wanted the WPtouch theme to default to custom Wavatars instead of a faceless body.

It looks good, in Safari anyway. Hopefully the dozen iPhone regulars here will agree. :)

On Website Fun

I have no idea what someone visiting my website this afternoon might have seen.

I needed to upgrade WordPress. When WordPress 2.8 dropped, I uploaded the files, and found my Dashboard (that’s the admin panels I see when I blog) completely trashed. WordPress 2.8, in its initial release, was a total freaking memory hog, and it required more memory than my server was willing to give it.

I bit a bullet. I downgraded back to 2.7.2, and I decided I could wait until the clear problems with WordPress’ memory bloat — and let’s be blunt, it is memory bloat — were sorted.

2.8.1 came and went. So did 2.8.2 and 2.8.3. And then 2.8.4 came out, and it was absolutely urgent, hair on fire urgent for anyone on a previous version of WordPress to upgrade. Security flaw of some sort.

But was the memory issue dealt with? I had no idea. I couldn’t find out.

So I waited. I searched hither and thither on the ‘net. I couldn’t find an answer. Mostly because the problem of memory bloat wasn’t seen as a problem — a solution was offered, but it wasn’t a solution, per se. It was a workaround. (Allocate more memory to WordPress. That’s not a solution.)

Finally, I said, I’m going to upgrade. I knew that 2.8.x worked on my server, even if the Dashboard was fucked. And then I could ask my host to increase my memory allocation. That seemed like a plan.

I deactivated my plugins. I turned WordPress back over to that wonderfully awful WordPress design, Kubrick. I hate Kubrick. It’s worse than Moveable Type’s default style, Vicksburg.

Of course, it take for-fucking-ever to upload WordPress core files. And my server decided to disallow an FTP connection about midway through. Joy.

Files were uploaded, I logged into WordPress and upgraded my database, and…

I had to restart Opera. It refused to let me enter the admin areas; instead, it kept showing me a cached “You must upgrade your database” screen.

Not a big deal. I love Opera. :)

Except for when Opera fucks up e-mail synchronization. That’s frustrating as hell. Especially because it didn’t use to do that.

In any case…

Much to my surprise, WordPress ran in 16 megabytes. The dashboard wasn’t fucked. I could access everything.

I’m trying out a new theme, Brian Gardner’s Core Blog Theme. It’s pretty plain, but it’s good for a change.

The grungy theme I had for a few weeks? Yeah, it didn’t do it for me. That happens.

I’m upgraded, and things don’t appear to be broken.

That’s a good thing. :)

On the Questions People Ask

In the next day or two, I’ll put up a complete breakdown of August’s webstats for allyngibson.com, but in the interim, I thought I’d point out a couple of interesting things I’ve seen come through from Google in the past week or two of search phrases people are using.

alan moore star trek. I don’t know what Alan Moore thinks of Star Trek, and I have to admit that I’m incredibly fascinated by what Alan Moore might do with Star Trek. Chances are, it would be something that would make Roddenberry roll in his grave and the skin of some of his acolytes crawl. :)

edgar allyn poe. It’s a misspelling, but I like it! :party:

teaching faust. Long ago, I blogged about a school teacher who taught Faust, with puppets, to some elementary school students. Interesting idea, but it didn’t fly in Colorado.

difference between palatino and book antiqua. A font question! Book Antiqua is Microsoft’s near-copy of Palatino Linotype. I prefer Palatino, and I’ve used both enough that I can spot the differences in most cases. The S is wider in Book Antiqua, and the descenders on K and R aren’t as well formed. To me, Palatino text is beautiful to look at.

pooh and friends allyn. I really don’t know what this means, except that I do like Pooh bear. I haven’t seen the new series My Friends Tigger and Pooh.

the doctor’s daughter spin off. Yeah, I’d watch Georgia Moffat as Jenny every week. But I don’t know of any plans to bring her back.

jason todd’s current status. He appeared to fall to his death at the end of Batman: Battle for the Cowl.

elbow live bootleg. I have several, actually. I have one of their Glastonbury Festival performances. I have the show I saw in DC earlier in the month. I have their concert with the Halle Orchestra in Manchester.

ronald reagan in the dark knight returns. Yes, yes he was.

who should play mary marvel in a movie. Anna Popplewell.

write like hemingway. I’ve done that.

writing a screenplay on microsoft word. Try ScriptSmart from the BBC. It’s a group of Word templates that will take some of the drudgery out of the formatting. (I wrote a teleplay using WordPerfect 5.1 many years ago. Talk about not fun.)

cow tipping video. Try this.

turn guinness green. I do not recommend it.

And that’s just a small sampling of the things people wanted to know, thinking that my website had the answers, the past couple of weeks. :cheers:

On New Visitors and the Like

For reasons that pass beyond my understanding, I’ve recently seen a 250% increase in the traffic to my website.

I’m looking at my own behavior, as regards the website, in the past two or three weeks. I changed the website theme. I’ve been posting less. Could these be reasons?

One’s choice of website layout can have an effect. When I used the Hemingway WordPress theme about eighteen months ago, I saw my website stats plummet. While it was interesting to use from a coding standpoint — I learned a lot about php code, because the theme was old, outdated, and no longer supported — clearly, it wasn’t the right theme for bringing visitors to my virtual doorstep.

And posting less? I’d posted something new and different every single day for two years, about 750 days, and then I realized I didn’t have to do that. I took a break. Now, I post when I have something to say, not because I have to say something.

I find it difficult to believe that I’m suddenly, within the past week, more interesting. Like the Chewbacca Defense, that does not make sense. ;)

But if you are new to my ‘net doorstep, pull up a chair, make yourself at home, and feel free to ask questions. I might even give you answers.

And for people interested in such things, I’m now using the Opera 10 Release Candidate. I do love Opera so. :grin: