Techie Tuesday 1.0 Plugins

I’ve had this blog since 2007 and one of my favorite topics to write about is this blog. I am fascinated by the versatility of WordPress. I admit that once my little guy arrived, a bit over a year ago, I stopped caring much about how many posts per month I wrote. At the minimum, I’ve written at least one every month because I don’t want to see months missing on my archive page. Back to blogging, once I found the Fantastic Flowery 1.2 theme, I stopped looking and changing behind the scenes of this blog. I’m in the process of setting up a second blog which I was forced to start at WP3.0.1. That in and of itself isn’t a problem, it’s just that I haven’t looked at how themes function, what plugins are available to download through WP instead of a separate download and an ftp/ssh up to my host. While I was dearly attached to each plugin I used, I’ve found that there are better options today. This list is basically a comparison of what I’m using on this site versus what I’m using on the new site. I’ll start installing new ones here and deleting old ones that seem to function better.

Plugins I’m using

  • Akismet-spam catcher
  • Article Templates-default templates for posts/pages like my signature file
  • CyStat-statistics plugin
  • Exec-PHP let’s me easily pop code into posts and not break things
  • Fast Secure Contact Form
  • Feed Pauser-let’s me post live but not the feed
  • Smart 404-tries to redirect user if webpage is not available because of typo or other error
  • Yet Another Related Posts Plugin-I had to tweak this one a lot, so I’m on the lookout for something else

Plugins I’m trashing

  • Blix Archive-replaced 3 plugins with one new one
  • Compact Archive-replaced 3 plugins with one new one
  • Simple Yearly Archive-replaced 3 plugins with one new one
  • Batch Categories-no longer available?
  • Blog Copyright (by BTE)-I can tweak my copyright statement with the theme I chose
  • Dday-it was less than ideal
  • Favicon Manager
  • Now Reading-I can’t be bothered to keep up with it, I may still use it for craft books

Plugins I’m replacing

  • All in one Favicon-pops in favicon code, replaced Favicon Manager
  • Batch Cat-replaces Batch Categories, it lets me update categories for multiple posts
  • Smart Archives Reloaded-one replaces three without any tweaking. I had to tweak the others so much that I’m not sure how much they still resembled the original
  • The Events Calendar-replaced Dday

Plugins that are new idea for me

  • After the deadline-a spell check grammar check of sorts
  • Bulk Post Creator-one text box, each new post is on a new line, a lot of drafts started in once clikc
  • WordPress.com Stats-I used this before and I’m trying it again
  • Twitter-I have a bunch downloaded but not active, I need to update my twitter feed and see if I like any of these.

I would not have found any of the new plugins until the old ones stopped working or broke my theme. I think I’m going to put it on my calendar at least twice a year-check for new plugins. How do I know what I need if I don’t know I need it? Obviously if my plugin stops working, I need a different one, but what about one new archive plugin to replace three old ones? Would I have known to look for that? Did I know I wanted to create blog posts in bulk? I know now because I’ve already mapped out my topics for this month so that I stand a chance at actually completing NaBloPoMo.

What plugins do you use? What can’t you live without?

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Library Plugin gone wacko

I have used a WordPress plugin called “Now Reading” for several years to track the books I’ve read. Though it is designed to be more for my library collection, I use it generically. Some of the books I list I own, many I borrow from the library or friends. After the latest “upgrade” the plugin broke. I’m not heartbroken, but I am bit upset as I have over 150 books listed as read, reading or planned to read since Nov. 2007. Less than 10 books are listed as reading or planned to read. The error I get is, “You are not authorized to perform this action.” Creating a new users on my blog with admin privileges didn’t change the problem. I did find that if I worked backward from the blog to the plugin I could edit “currently reading” books, but received the same error if I tried to add a new book. Part of me things it’s a WordPress problem as my WordPress hiccuped a week or so ago, but I also upgraded this plugin around the time it hiccuped. I didn’t notice the hiccup until Friday. I do have a work-around since I know how to edit MySQL databases but man is that a pain. The plugin wrote a nice little interface that runs information across 4 databases in one little form. I’ll keep using the silly thing until I’m too annoyed with the upkeep and then I’ll switch. If anyone out there uses something similar, I’m taking recommendations.

Ok, after setting my categories and scrolling down the page, I can say it’s a WordPress problem. WordPress has merged my admin account with a contributor account, grrr. I thought I fixed this last week.

Well, after deleting all author/admin/contributor accounts except the admin one, I have had no luck in forcing Now Reading to work. Maybe it’s time to uninstall and reinstall or just replace it with Now Reading Reloaded. I seem to have fewer consistent errors with the new plugin. It’s written by someone else but based the original plugin, so it works with minimal effort.

It seems to be stable now, 20 minutes later. I’ve had to disable another coolie plugin as the install went totally wacky after a recent plugin upgrade-YARPP-yet another related post plugin. As of Aug. 28, an updated release of YARPP seems to have addressed the issue so I have reenabled the plugin and fixed the template to show the related posts on the index as well as the single post pages.

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In which I finally fix a theme

The more time I spend digging around themes, the more I learn about WordPress, PHP, and CSS. I am consistently downloading themes that don’t work correctly with my Gallery2 plug-in. Don’t confuse this with the new, built-in WordPress gallery. This is the independent application with a plug-in that powers my photos page. With few exceptions, the themes I download consistently break the footer on my photo page or the sidebar on my library page generated by Now Reading. I really like the current theme, Fall Season 1.1, but the footer on the photo page was not playing well with the plug-in. For a while, I wanted to blame the two previously mentioned plug-ins, but they both play well with WordPress Default theme. That fact lead me to the logical conclusion that the themes are broken. I have also started to “fix” the themes that don’t come with dynamic (changeable) sidebars. I downloaded Fresh Editorial today looked to be dynamic when I grabbed it, the proper code was in place for the functions file, but was absent in the sidebar file. I think I understand why, it was a bit complicated to make the sidebar look the same after updating it, but with a little tweaking, it would be possible. I have chosen not to spend more time on it at this point, as their site doesn’t support FireFox 3 so i am unable to leave comments unless I visit their site with Internet Explorer. See comments for why I was unable to leave a comment. I also found a wonderful Christmas theme, Winter Red. Winter Red will need tweaking as both the library page and the photo page are seriously out of whack.

All this to say I think I am the only one getting anything out of metablogging, but in the hopes that someone else using WordPress and these themes happens to search for how to fix things, I’d like to have an answer for them.

The wonders of GIMP

GIMP is a GNU image manipulation program, does that explain enough? Probably not, it is a graphic editing/creating program that is available free for Windows, Linux and Mac. Last night while surfing for holiday WordPress themes, I went to wiki to find out a list of all the holidays in the US and happened upon a site for free and paid PhotoShop tutorials. So I followed one of the tutorials using GIMP and created the above graphic. Since I didn’t find as many themes as I had hoped, one for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Winter, and St. Patrick’s Day, I decided that I would create a few graphics to substitute in current themes. Unfortunately, when I created the above image, I did so in a rather small resolution in case I didn’t like the result, so I can’t enlarge it. So now I need to redo it all, grr, in a larger size.

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A lesson in WordPress

You may not have noticed there is an event countdown widget1 in my sidebar. Since no one has complained, I gather that no one is particularly upset that I countdown to a few select events and birthdays. Really, it’s a reminder to me that it’s coming soon because I do tend to forget things.

Yesterday, I discovered a small bug in the display of the events. I’m not sure if it has always been there and I’m blind or what, needless to say, I live in GMT-5 time zone give or take a little daylight savings time, it’s lovely here. The weather is ever changing, there are interesting birds and animals. However, the code as written doesn’t address possible time zone issues. The code assumes that the host computer is in the same time zone as the event, which is not always accurate. In an ideal world the plug-in/widget would ask me to input my desired time zone and adjust accordingly, someday I may sit down and “fix” it so that it does inquire. In my case, the server hosting this application lives in California, GMT-8 give or take a DST. What does it mean? My events calendar is about 3 hours off when it displays an event. For example, it’s midnight in GMT-5 and an event occurs at 8:00AM. As the code is written, the event is is not 8 hours away, it’s 12 hours away. In another example, an event that happened 2 hours ago is listed as one hour in the future with the code as written.

I don’t write PHP from scratch, I just read it, usually understand it and then alter it to suit my needs. But this time, I really just wanted a quick fix. This particular code was written in PHP and WordPress, so rather than trace the code from top to bottom across two files, I chose the one file I knew I needed to change and went to work. I changed random and not so random numbers and hoped that I would find it while refreshing the events list. Chaos ensued. After spending too much time, I gave in and read the code across the two files as well as comparing it to the two web pages that are produced from those files. One file is the admin interface page where all events are entered into the php database and stored as variables in the table. The other file waits to be called by a widget or page, and then pulls data out of the database, applies code to it, and displays it. All I have to say for my efforts is, “DUH!”

I had already determined that the problem existed because the of host server being in a different time zone and hoped to alter the script to tell the host server to pretend it was in my time zone. That didn’t work so much, so I read about what the different time statements were. I spent some time at PHP-Date.com and PHP.net reading about various date/time functions like current_time(), date_default_timezone_set(), date_default_timezone_get(), gmmktime(), strtotime() and a few more. The solution turned out to be very simple once I read the code and looked up what each command did. In my defense, there are nine variables but between the two files, the order is constantly rearranged so I had mixed up four of the variables, thinking they held values they didn’t hold. I discovered that current_time() was a WordPress function and MYSQL function. The actual line I tried to alter was current_time(timestamp, $gmt = 1), the however, I don’t know how variable for $gmt is used by WordPress nor what the possible values are beyond 0 and 1. I tried to alter it up through 10 and didn’t find the correct value, I added single quote/apostrophe around timestamp, I tried using mysql instead but that seemed to break it the most. Dates were displayed as seconds, rather than years, months, weeks, hours, minutes, and seconds. Why on earth would that happen? Well, Unix/Linux uses a time system based on the Gregorian calendar and midnight on January 1, 1970, also referred to as Unix Epoch. All dates/times are expressed as seconds before (negative values) or after (positive values) that date. Fun factoid: The 24 hours (a.k.a. 86400 seconds) representing August 5, 2008 are through . The previous timestamps are generated using the php command strtotime() because I desperately need to something to show for the last 24 hours. Should you like to experiment with this, I recommend using using your favorite search engine and looking up the terms “unix time” or “POSIX time” along with the word converter. Please be aware that based on the command used to call the timestamp, results will vary so you may not get the same result across several different converters. I didn’t count them all, but there didn’t seem to be a shortage of unique commands to call time for various purposes, such is the nature of UNIX/Linux. One of the reasons for the difference is a problem calculating leap seconds. I’ll spare you the details.

As I just mentioned, strtotime() was a php function. While searching, I found that the php-date.com page had an interactive strtotime() box, strtotime() was used several places in the timestamp section. I could display the current GMT time, then practice using different commands to alter the displayed time. After reading that, I wondered why both strtotime() and current_time() were used. So I changed current_time() to strtotime(‘+ 3 hours’) because I knew it would display the correct time based on experiments at php-date.com, at least until DST ends. Solving it this way seems crazy because somewhere in California the current time is converted from GMT to GMT-8 and I basicall changed it to GMT-8+3. Some day I’ll learn how to use the time zone things and just use GMT-5, but all it did today was break the plug-in, so I’ll leave it for now.


1 A widget is a piece of code inserted into a spot on the sidebar to perform a function. There are many widgets that have been in my side bar including a search bar, the answer to why this site is orange for August 2008, a random image from my photo gallery, and Now Reading (a list of books).

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Triquetras

A few years ago I was struggling immensely with my faith, as one is wont to do occasionally. On an upward swing, I found a ring in one of the bookstores I was known to frequent. It was a complete impulse purchase, but I had hoped to turn it into a daily reminder of my allegiance, less tacky and noticeable than a WWJD or similar. It wasn’t that I didn’t want others to know or understand, it was to be something to remind me of my commitment and focus on a daily basis. Sometimes I look at my hand and remember, other times I look at my hand and the thought doesn’t even enter my brain. It was lost of a few months, then it returned to me.

The symbol on my ring is a triquetras, which is “Latin for three-cornered.” ringWhile it has been used my many groups of people over time, one of the accepted meanings is the Trinity of Father, Spirit and Son. I had seen the symbol elsewhere before purchasing the ring and did some research as to the meaning. Upon discovering this, the shape increased its appeal and upon seeing it as a ring, well, I’ve told that story.

Why am I telling you all of this? I was searching for some information on WordCamp in Dallas, a coolie conference on WordPress and much more. I knew one of the speakers was Lorelle and after finding what I was looking for I browsed the rest of the page. I found a recent blog challenge to find a symbol, write a blog post about it and include its history. I knew its name before this challenge, which made finding it in the encyclopedia easier, so the challenge offered an interesting topic to share. I present my answer here.

In which I have an idea or two

I began making static pages for topics and dividing, then subdividing, the analyzing and over analyzing the results. While trekking around the house this afternoon, I decided I would rather make blog posts about topics, not static pages. We all know how to use the search bar, I think. At least, most days I remember how to use one. I am going to make a series of posts in which I list the podcasts I listen to and why, the knitting blogs I read and why, the non-knitting blogs I read and why, and then the plug-ins/widgets I have tried with WordPress 2.x. If I no longer use the plug-in/widget I will attempt to explain why, if I remember. If I don’t remember, maybe you can help me out with a suggestion or two.

My other bright idea involves advertising. My wonderful brother-in-law, the younger one, keeps sending me computer clients, of which I am immensely grateful. I need to do a bit more for myself from the advertising perspective. I’d like to be reasonably busy three days a week with clients, 3-6 hours each day.

Stay tuned for multiple posts over many days to arrive at this info finding a new home and for new photos. I have to admit, I’m starting to wane. A photo a day sounds fun until you’ve done it for 23 days. Some days I have three great photos and others none. I try to remember the other two I didn’t use on the days I can’t find any.

And there was much rejoicing!

The more I write, the more I tweak the categories, so I’ve added website as a topic, since I write about it more frequently than I should. In an effort to customize the experience as this site is viewed, I’ve been working fast and furious. If you read this through an rss feed, you won’t see what I mean, but my ramblings may still be entertaining for you.

The series function works reasonably well. I can’t remember what the other theme and version of series did that was so horrible, but it seems to be fine here. I finally rooted through the code of this theme, hemmed, and fixed the three columns in the bottom bar and tweaked the “tweak” plugin. Originally, the bottom bar called for three columns, one for my blogroll, the blogs I read and want to share with you. I actually read way more than that, but these are the ones I want associated with my main page. The second column in the bottom bar was supposed to house recent comments. I don’t want to come across as despondent, but let’s face it, I don’t get comments, which is not a problem-just an observation. Back to the point, this theme called for recent comments to be in this mysterious middle column. I refer to it as mysterious because it never appeared. I could see the code and understand mostly what it was supposed to do, maybe. It wouldn’t do it. If I deleted it, the bottom bar would completely break. I would guess that it is either an old command no longer functioning the same in the newer WordPress or I don’t have enough comments to make it work. When I looked at the screenshot for the theme, there was no middle column either. The third column displays and displayed the last x number of posts, which I tweaked early on. The third column, however, was showing itself in the middle and the last column was sadly empty. No longer! I tweaked it, made a new bity icon and placed the calendar there so that I have several methods for posts to be navigated.

I also tweaked the theme so that links in the posts are a bit more visible. Unfortunately, it affects the series formatting as well, so I decided not to underline them. The series of 4 titles underlined with spacing close looked odd and spreading out the list would only look weird as well. Compromises must be made or I will edit this theme to the point where it is no longer the original.

I am also experimenting with the sidebar photo options. I don’t like the icons that accompany the tool, but I like the ease of use for navigating picture directories. Then I can delete the photos index page, it was functional, but not pretty and I would forget to update it.

Once upon a cold, rainy day

I spent the afternoon updating all the behind-the-scenes gadgets for this site. I was originally going to play with my test site, but noticed that things were asking to be updated, ever so politely. Unfortunately, so update I have to download, extract, and ftp the extracted files. The brighter side appears to be an early spring cleaning. More than half wanted updates, and I deleted the ones I was no longer using. Less clutter is better. One of the updates involves a plugin that will automatically link posts/entries in the same series. I originally tried this plugin for my MCF Africa posts, but the theme I was using wouldn’t play well with the other plugins when the series one was activated. I’m going to try it again today by making a series of small posts today and linking them in a series based on today.

Project Day

We had a wonderful time with our small group last night and this morning. Last night we met to celebrate a birthday and game night. This morning we continued our study in James, heavenly wisdom and had a time of games after the study and prayer. Jason and I only stayed a little while, we had left Daisy inside due to temperatures.

I decided we’re having calzones for dinner, so the dough is currently rising, it’s just about ready to roll, stuff and bake. I have also become increasingly frustrated with themes for this WordPress blog. I am enjoying the blog, the writing and changing up the look every now and again. I have blogged before about the plugins not working with all the themes. At first, I was positive the plugins were faulty, so I set about to prove it. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the plugin, it seems to be the theme. I printed out the code behind the current brown, diary theme and discovered that rather than sticking with standard naming conventions, WordPress theme authors are using terms as they see fit, which causes other plugins to display poorly. I am setting out to fix this current theme and documenting as I go so that I can fix others I find. By the time I’m done fixing all the themes I like, it will be time to design one of my own, but I’m just not motivated to tackle that yet. Never mind, after spending several hours pouring over the code, I do not wish to rewrite the entire theme just for a few pretty graphics. I found a theme that is semi-cool and tweaked it to fit what I want layout-wise. I think I will use this one, eventually, as a jumping-off point for other things as I find or create graphics I like.

Hopefully, the weather will cooperate tomorrow. I have accumulated scrapbook pages, stickers and stamps to finally get a wedding scrapbook finished/started. I am downloading pictures from Ruth and Julie so that I can include some of them in the book. As for the weather, I’d like to sit down with Mom Proefrock and select some with her, since she’d like to make a book, too. Mom found a website that prints pictures for $0.06 plus shipping. It seems to be a current sale that may change with time, maybe a special for February.

A quick review of the last week – fun with craft stores in GR with Mom and Julie, I have scrapbooking supplies for the above mentioned project. I spend Thursday in GR catching up with Patty and Angela and drove home in more snow, again on a Thursday. I also upgraded/downgraded another Vista machine to XP. Acers are a challenge, but I’m improving on driver scavenger hunts.

I’ll try to get a few more posts up the early part of the week. Thursday, Jason and I leave for NY for my Grandma’s memorial service.