Simpla Way: Widgets

SimplaWayThis is the third in a series of posts about the current appearance of this blog. The first post explains why I’m blogging here at WordPress.com, and using the Simpla theme. The second post explains the custom CSS I use.

This post is about the sidebar widgets I use. For example, there’s the popular Categories widget, which does what you’d expect: lists the categories in use at the blog.

Most of the widgets I use are what I would call “HTML widgets,” but which go by the official name of text widgets. Such a widget gives me a box into which I can type heading text, and a box into which I can type HTML.

At the top of the sidebar is a widget with the heading “My Identity” and HTML including an image from, and a link to, claimID. Rather than having lots of About and Profile pages for the multiple blogging and other web services I use, I want to have one main place, and claimID currently seems to me to be as good a host as any for that. I find it strange to call things like this “text widgets” because, apart from the heading, there is no text in this particular widget.

Right under the categories widget is… another text/HTML widget. Under that comes the Search widget. This blog is part of a family of blogs, and it probably makes sense to direct most search at the family rather than only at the currently active member. I’ve used Google to create a custom search engine to do just such a search.

Google provides code to include custom search engines on web sites. Unfortunately, this code includes javascript, and so is not allowed by WordPress.com. My workaround for this is to provide a link to my custom search engine page, and to put it in a text widget. There was a recent discussion about this at the WordPress.com forum.

Right under the text widget linking to the custom search is the Search widget, which provides search of the current blog.

The widget with the heading Subscribe and the feed symbol is another text widget. No, it’s not the RSS widget. You use a text widget to put your feed in your sidebar. Yes, I too was confused at first.

The Share heading and the Creative Commons license comprise the last text widget in the sidebar. There is a Creative Commons widget, but it’s not available at WordPress.com. I wish that it was.

So now we’ve reached the end of the sidebar and, for now, the end of this little series. There will probably be a fourth episode of the trilogy, especially if anyone actually reads the first three. Thank you for reading this far.

Simpla Way: CSS

SimplaWayThis is the second in a series of posts about the current appearance of this blog. The first post explains why I’m blogging here at WordPress.com, and using the Simpla theme.

This post is about Custom CSS. Although blogging at WordPress.com is free of charge, there is a charge for custom CSS. For me, control over my blog’s style sheet is well worth the ~US$1/month; for others, it’s not worth it. If you have a WordPress.com blog, you can go from Dashboard to Presentation to Edit CSS, and preview the feature.

Note that: “Your stylesheet will be loaded after the theme stylesheets, which means that your rules can take precedence and override the theme CSS rules.” Most of my stylesheet came from cutting and pasting from the Simpla stylesheet, and replacing values.

But the CSS for images came from the stylesheet for my previous blog. I like images at the right of posts, with a little room to breathe.

#content img {
float:right;
border:0;
margin:10px;
}

I wanted the main heading for the blog to be more prominent than the Simpla default, so I made it twice the size of the post heading.

#header h1 {
font-size:4.4em;
}

I wanted the date of each post to be formatted consistently with the post metadata that appears at the foot of the post. In fact, I think that the date is post metadata, and as such belongs with things like the category. But CSS doesn’t control the placement of text, just the style. So the best I could do was copy and paste the formatting from the post metadata to apply it to the date.

.entrytitle h3 {
font-family:Georgia, "Times New Roman", Times, serif;
font-size:0.9em;
}

Turning now from the content to the sidebar, the Simpla CSS gives too much separation between the items on the Blogroll list for my taste. So I took out the dotted line it uses as a separator. But I used it to separate sections of the sidebar from each other.

#sidebar h2 {
border-top:1px dotted #ddd;
}
#sidebar ul li {
border-bottom:0;
margin-bottom:0;
padding:0;
}

Mention of the sidebar brings me to sidebar widgets, and to the third post in the series.

Simpla Way: Theme

SimplaWayThis is the first in a short series of posts about my “moving in” to WordPress.com as my main blogging home. In particular, the series focuses on the current theme of Changing Way.

I’ll start by noting why I moved here from Weblogs.us, where the parent of this blog still lives. I didn’t import the old content into this blog because it is my experience that moving or converting data usually gives rise to weirdness, and I’d rather spend the time on things other than coping with such weirdness. The experience in question is with data and software in general, rather than with WordPress in particular, by the way.

Here are the main reasons I moved to WordPress.com:

  • Everything is taken care of: upgrades, backups, security, etc
  • Your blog is on dozens of servers, so it’s highly unlikely it will go down due to traffic

I quote those reasons from the FAQ comparing WordPress.com with WordPress classic (as I tend to call WordPress.org). The main reason against moving to WordPress.com is that you have less control over your blog.

Having decided to move to WordPress.com, I needed to find a theme for the new Changing Way. A WordPress theme is “a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog.” That definition is from the WordPress Codex page on Using Themes. From it, you can find a list of lists of themes: the WordPress community has published about a thousand themes.

My criteria for a theme were as follows:

  • Available on WordPress.com. Not all the thousand themes are available there. That may be a mercy.
  • Simple and clean, partly because that helps as a starting point for customization, and partly because I wanted to end up with a simple and clean theme.
  • One sidebar, on the right. This makes content prominent relative to sidebar stuff.
  • Widgetizable. That non-word may be as superfluous as it is ugly. I think that all the WordPress.com themes support sidebar widgets.

Simpla meets all of those criteria. In fact, it exceeds the second by a rather large margin; it goes beyond simple and clean and all the way to elegant. Link-outs to the designer, Phu Ly, the Simpla page, and the blog post announcing the theme. As you can see from the comments on the latter, I am far from alone in admiring and using this theme.

I was thinking of using Sandbox, the “theme for themers.” But I like Simpla so much, and feel so pressed for time, that I’ll probably stick with Simpla for the rest of 2007 and beyond.

The next two posts in the series focus on features of WordPress.com that allow some limited control over blog themes: custom CSS and sidebar widgets.

Yahoo Pipes: Currently Clogged

PipesMy feed reader this morning was full of Pipes: several of the blogs to which I subscribe included enthusiastic posts about Yahoo Pipes. For example, Read/Write Richard describes Pipes as an RSS remixer.

Richard refers to posts he made a couple of years ago. Pipes seems a little different from what he was foretelling then, though. It’s not the kind of end-user friendly tool he was writing about in 2005. It may turn in to one, although I doubt it. He also anticipated that Google (i.e. not Yahoo) would be the front-runner, along with… PubSub.

I suspect that Richard and others are right to be perky about Pipes. I am not, at least not yet. I tried using it at work this morning, and found it slow, unintuitive, and prone to giving strange error messages. I tried it on my laptop just now, and found that Pipes is “clogged” due to heavy demand. I’ll give it another try later.

In the meantime, thanks to Darwin Bell, Flickr, and Creative Commons for the photo.

New Camera

Can I Have Some Juice?We recently got a new digital camera, a Canon PowerShot A540 6MP. So far, so good. It’s amazing how much camera you get for a couple of hundred bucks these days.

The previous camera, a Casio, gave up the ghost about the one-year mark. I liked the camera before that, which was a Canon my wife gave me as a present. So we went back to Canon. I was thinking of holding off on the purchase, since Canon are coming out with some new models soon, but it’s hard to be without a camera when one has young kids at home.

Flixster

Flixster is a movie social network, recently written up on TechCrunch and on Read/Write Web. Each of the writeups focuses on Flixster as a social network centered on movies.

That is of course an accurate way of looking at Flixster, but I’m inclined to come at it from the other direction, and look at it as a movie site including social networking. So my main point of comparison is IMDB, which is mentioned by neither TC nor RWW.

RWW does make the comparison with a couple of other movie sites: “the recent hit movie Dream Girls has been rated by 4,600 Flixter users… 5,000 times on… Fandango and only 300 times on AOL Movies.” IMDB has 6,300 ratings of this movie, and so is not so far ahead of Flixster.

I find IMDB annoying, partly due to its ugly layout, and partly due to its requiring registration to see the message boards. Flixster’s layout is more appealing, and it appears to require registration only for the things that it’s really needed for (e.g., My Friends’ Reviews).

So, a tentative thumbs up for Flixster as a movie site with social networking.

Web Identity, ClaimID, Technorati

As someone who has multiple blogs and other web-things, I’ve long thought that it would be good to have one identity. By that I mean at least two things: a userid/password spanning the web-things; and a page linking to my various web-things.

This post is about the latter. I’m currently using claimID. If you click on the link (or, currently, the link under the “About” heading in the sidebar) you’ll see links to this, other blogs, and other web-things. The trouble is, I can’t “verify” most of those links. In particular, I can’t provide to claimID, and hence to people visiting my claimId, that I really am the author of this blog. The claimID verification process requires that I place code in the header of the web page, and WordPress.com won’t let me do that.

Technorati, on the other hand, does let me “claim” this blog by including a chunk of code in a post. So, by pasting in the provided code that links to my Technorati Profile, I can convince Technorati that this is my blog.

So why not just use Technorati for my ID page? First, it doesn’t set out to do what claimID does. That’s not a criticism of Technorati. Second, its record for doing what it sets out to do is rather spotty. That is a criticism. Now, let’s see if it’s currently deserved…

Steve Jobs on Dumping DRM

Yes, yet another blogger weighs in on Steve Job’s Thoughts on Music, published online yesterday. In a word, brilliant.

Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat…

Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy.

No, I’m not claiming brilliance for the familiar and stunningly obvious point that DRM hurts consumers without stopping pirates. I’m claiming it for the spin. Jobs is the good guy, on the side of the consumer and of openness, and DRM is the big four’s fault.

Apple can afford to take this stance given iPod’s dominance and profit margins. DRM gets in the way of acquiring music, and hence restricts demand for players. I’m not sure that Jobs is a good guy (nor am I sure that he’s a bad guy), but I am sure that his coming out against DRM is a good thing.

Wal*Mart Video Downloads, and Cyber-Snobs

Wal-Mart’s new video download service got a lot of criticism on blogs yesterday. For example:

These blogosnobs are missing the point. The fact that Wal*Mart’s video download page doesn’t work in Firefox is irrelevant to 90% of web users, and to at least that percentage of Wal*Mart customers. They get their browser from Micro*Soft*Mart. This majority doesn’t whine when some obscure option doesn’t work, unlike the above-quoted opinionated outposts of openness.

Creative Commons

CCI just added a Creative Commons license to the sidebar, and hence to the content, of this blog. It was tougher than it should have been.

Creative Commons provides a guide to licensing your work, and the guide includes code generation. The WordPress.com FAQ on Creative Commons gives instructions about stripping out some of the code generated. Even so, it took me longer than it should have to get the linked image into a sidebar text widget, since WordPress.com kept on taking a dislike to the code and stripping out some of it.

There is a Creative Commons widget for WordPress. Nathan Yergler, who wrote the widget, also wrote the following:

Now if only WordPress.com would support WpLicense for their hosted blogs, even more happy WordPress users could be happy contributors to the Commons.

My thanks and support go to Nathan.