Category: general

Happy Tweaking

Continuing my ‘HappyTweaking’ series (:D) I spent yesterday doing all the twiddly things to the site that I’ve been meaning to do for a while but never got round to because they seemed too little.1) It occurred to me that the design of this site was very much geared around simplicity and that there was very little to suggest lilesville. Pedantic, I know, but a picture paints a thousand words. I googled and found a nice black and white spiral image which I adapted to make a favicon, a separator (I’ve never liked that grey swirl very much) and a Photoshop brush to embellish the header image. Now I feel like I’ve got much more of a logo and a defining image. Shiny.

2) I added Gravatar support and used the fractal motif as a default image.

3) I bought the domain – you can now reach this site from it. This time next year I shall have to think about paying for hosting.

I’ve also been reading lots of articles on improving blog content and writing quality. Over and over again I read that ‘Good content keeps people coming back’ so I’m trying to update every day and make sure what I write is interesting and relevant, although I find it hard to read my own stuff and critique it objectively. It’s good practice for November though.
One day I would like to be considered good enough for submission into 9rules – but I’m not there yet. I think it would be a nice gesture if the 9rules people offered help and guidance to people whose websites aren’t up to scratch but who are willing to learn and take criticism. They could call it 9schools!

How I built my new site

If you’re reading this, you’ll have realised that townoflilesville has a new home – new hosting and a new address. I have to say that buying web hosting was a very good decision – things work here! No longer shall I be forced to compromise on features because ITS don’t have the mod_rewrite module installed! No longer shall I be inundated with spam because Akismet doesn’t quite work! No longer shall I have to wait 2 weeks for support emails to be answered! (Don’t get me wrong, I support the ITS, and I even like them, but free hosting isn’t their main priority). I have been very happy with my current service – Orion Hosting. The support I have been getting is really impressive.So, how did I do it? Well, firstly, CSS layouts are really not my strong point. They get me frustrated and confused, which is why I’m glad I found layoutgala. It’s a collection of 40 fully validating CSS layouts, in percentage, fixed and fluid designs, and it does all the hard work for you, and a reasonable amount of intelligence is required to tweak them to dimensions which work for you.

Having got the template downloaded, I separated the content and the css, and opened the css file in CSSEdit. This is a truly wonderful piece of software – one of the only pieces of shareware I’ve bought, and it’s indispensable for writing and debugging valid CSS. Version 2 adds a live preview window among other things, and I’m really not sure how I lived without it.

When I had the layout sorted, it was time to fire up Textmate. Everybody loves Textmate, and for good reason – I never knew writing HTMl could be so rewarding. First I used dummy text to create the look and feel of the site I wanted, then I used Brett’s WordPress Theme bundle to effortlessly add template tags. At this stage my computer is a bit old and slow to be hosting a wordpress installation locally, so I just uploaded the whole site and told no-one it existed while I tweaked.

So I’d got a wordpress theme working quite happily – but now I wanted photos, books and ma.gnolia links. Implementing the Flickr badge was quite easy, thanks to Elliot Swan’s Custom Flickr Badge API Documentation, the ma.gnolia links were much more straightforward once I’d found the linkroll output html, and the Librarything widget was more of a challenge, but I got there in the end. I also customised my own feed icon for the bottom right hand corner – I didn’t think orange would ‘go’.

So there you have it. A wordpress-themed site, built from scratch, with all the extras seamlessly integrated. It’s my first try at all this, and I’m actually really quite proud of it, especially since it almost-validates (The one error is due to putting the flickr badge in twice – I can’t work out how to fix that one). The CSS validates fine, but I defy anyone to write invalid CSS if they have CSSEdit installed. Finally, I’m tracking everything with mint, which is fun but addictive, especially with the dashboard widget!

Let me know what you think in the comments 🙂