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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― William Morris

Top Blog Tool: WordPress

Posted: March 20th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

WordPress Logo

Blogs are a part of our daily landscape now. Almost everyone I know reads them regularly, even if they don’t know it, and a good chunk of my friends blog. For a while now I’ve been using Blogger, one of the earliest and most popular online blog tools that lets you log in to their site, write a post, and either have it published to your web host or hosted directly on their “BlogSpot” site. MovableType was another early popular favorite, and it offered something Blogger didn’t – the ability to host their open source software on your server – so you could hack/improve/integrate the code any way you wanted. A more recent arrival on the scene is WordPress, not that recent mind, but late enough that the team behind it got to look at the landscape and cherry pick the best from what was there, and cherry pick they did.

WordPress, like MovableType, offers two ways to run your blog with their software – you can either host it on their site (WordPress.com) or download their free, open source software (from WordPress.org) and host it on your own server. Both approaches offer their own advantages, but where WordPress really wins out is when you host it yourself. The beauty and simplicity of the code’s design has made it easy for a fanatical base of developers to create any number of plug ins, that quickly and easily extend the power of the basic WordPress blog. You can change your site into a PhotoBlog, plug in support for third party tools like the ubiquitous gallery software, or even create an eCommerce site (although those plugins are less full featured than focussed software right now). The choice is yours. Can’t find what you need? Then write your own plugin, and if you feel like it – share it with everyone else.

Plugins are only one part of WordPress’ genius. The admin interface is simple to use and cleanly designed. A range of beautiful templates are provided out of the box and many more can be downloaded, many for free. Search Engine Optimization is provided out of the box – with human readable URLs. The admin interface easily lets you create pages outside of the central blog and with a simple plugin you have something akin to more ‘powerful’ content management systems. Oh, and if you want to create a multi-user blogging environment, they even offer a multi-user version – the same as they use to run their commercial site (and soon expect official support for a user written plugin that makes the whole install an out of the box social network). Phew.

There is so much there to recommend this software, and the best part is it’s free and just keeps on getting better. So without hesitation – WordPress is my current recommendation should you want to create a blog or even if you want to just create a simple, dynamic website.


Firefox – Missing JPG Images Solved

Posted: February 26th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

For a while now I’ve been noticing that some sites suffer from missing JPG images in random ways. The image won’t appear when the page is rendered fully with the site CSS, turn off the CSS using the wonderful Web Developer Toolbar and a broken image link appears. So surely it’s just a broken image? Well that would be true, except when you put the image URL from the HTML directly into your browser – and the image appears. Most concerning, especially when you’re working on some HTML that needs to be finished.

Missing JPG images screenshot

An example of this behavior is at the site of my local yoga studio – Centre Luna Yoga. When I visited their site the header image wouldn’t appear, as you can see from the image above. However the image itself loads just fine. Hmm. From a bit of searching on the web, the most likely culprit was an add-on as the Mozilla/Firefox core is well tested and stable, so using that old standby of starting Firefox in safe mode I checked the page again – lo and behold, the image appeared. Hmm.

By a quick process of elimination I decided the most likely candidate was the AdBlocker, so I disabled this and restarted. Bingo. The image appeared. Then by a further process of elimination I found the guilty filter: /banners/banner. Yes, somewhere in my auto filter download someone had decided that /banners/banner was only applicable to Advertising. Doi. The URL for the home banner image at my local yoga studio’s site had this in it: /banners/banner_15.jpg, so problem solved. The guilty filter was disabled and all is good in the world again.


Weak Wireless Signal on MacBook Pro

Posted: November 20th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

My MacBook Pro is lovely, but even Macs have problems. Yes, it’s true. Recently I was traveling in England and stayed at a lovely B & B in Edinburgh (The Sandaig which I highly recommend!). There was free wi-fi, always a bonus, but unfortunately I could rarely seem to get on it for more than a few seconds before it booted me off. My partner’s laptop, a MacBook, seemed to connect just fine with rapid connection speeds even with only two bars of signal. This situation was highly frustrating – as we’re both excessive Internet users, so only having one active laptop was a pain. I mean, what were we going to do instead? Visit Edinburgh’s beautiful sights? Pah.

The solution turned out to be a non-solution, but rather a clarification of how MacBook Pros work. It turns out from a bit of research that the beautiful aluminium case that surrounds the MacBook Pro forms a Faraday cage – which is relatively impervious to radio waves such as wireless internet connections. Ah. Apple’s solution to this was to leave a ‘hole’ in this cage, where the laptop is not made of aluminium, and that is the rubbery looking strip you see just underneath the laptop screen. That strip is your wireless antenna.

Now compared to a normal MacBook, which can pick up un-impeded signal from all directions, this means your new MacBook Pro not only has a very small area through which to receive signals, it is also highly directional. Ah hah. So now you have the following options to improve your wireless reception when you have a weak signal:

  1. Plug in your MacBook Pro: When you have a power supply connected the wireless power ramps up and you’ll see a huge improvement in reception. Unfortunately you can’t seem to configure this manually when you don’t have a power supply to hand, so I guess it sucks battery super fast.
  2. Point your MacBook Pro in different directions: Use your laptop like a divining rod to find the direction of strongest signal. Given the small window available this can yield good enough results but it is a pain to move around.
  3. Move closer to the wireless source so you get a stronger signal. Obviously not the most useful solution but sometimes the only one. In my case moving outside of our room, past a solid brick wall, gave four bars of signal and perfect internet.

Come on Apple – next generation of MacBook Pros admit your short fallings and add a nice external connector for an antenna or similar. I’m sure your legions of product eco-system partners will jump on the opportunity to create many beautiful and functional designs, something this time you omitted to do.


Intelligent Image Resizing

Posted: August 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Graphic Design, Technology | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Thanks to researchers who recently presented at SIGGRAPH, we may soon have intelligent image resizing in Photoshop to help fit photos into any size and scale area. The technology looks at an image and tries to work out where the important parts are – so that when you re-size the image, it knows which parts can be reduce or expanded with minimal impact to what the image is trying to convey. Very clever indeed. The movie below gives some great examples of this.

And why might this soon be in Photoshop? Well Adobe has hired one of the co-creators to join their team so expect cool stuff like this in the future. Perhaps they’ll even release some kind of image server that lets you define important image areas and then vend right-sized thumbnails or reduced images on the fly without having to go through the manual slog of intelligently cropping it yourself. That would be pretty cool. [From Wired]


CSS Learning: Link Rollover not working in IE 5

Posted: August 22nd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , | No Comments »

A random CSS thing: there are many reasons why rollover image replacement fails to work in IE, when it works fine in Firefox et al, however I just found a new one; if you forget to put the HREF into the anchor link (<a&rt;) then both Firefox & IE render the link correctly – but Firefox will activate the :hover state and IE won’t. Simply putting the HREF back in again makes it work.

In this case you could argue that Firefox is at fault, as a link without a destination isn’t a link. Either way it was a waste of time finding it.