Now that I’ve updated this site from WordPress 2.0.2 to version 2.6, and completed migrating my theme changes from the old theme, I thought I would devote an article or two to some of the things I learned during that process — and at the same time, relate my early impressions of the new version as well as some of the plugins I’ve installed, most for the first time. Since I made such a long version-leap, I don’t know that much about how and when some of the new features came about; to me, it’s all new to 2.6. And I’m not going to cover everything that’s new; instead, I’ll include those things that have caught my attention so far while maintaining this site, or maintaining the new one, my afewgoodlenses.com photoblog.
I installed version 2.5 on afewgoodlenses first, as a "from scratch" installation that I took on mainly because I had never loaded WordPress to a host myself, and wanted to learn how to do it. My older site, this one, had originally been a Yahoo! one-click install, and as a result I had no idea how the installation process worked. I’d been poking around for about six months, digging up whatever I could on what I might expect upgrading the Yahoo! install myself. While there’s a lot of information out there, the key to a successful Yahoo! install or upgrade is spelled out in this article on the WordPress Codex:
The short version is simply that Yahoo! doesn’t set up a user’s MySql database with access rights that allow a WordPress install or upgrade to run successfully, and this article explains how to address that. For those who are squeamish about such things, I’ll just say that I’m a database novice in many ways; while I have plenty of database design experience and can poke around and write some SQL queries, I had no idea about the database that drives WordPress or about database administration utilities like "phpmyadmin." Nevertheless, by reading this article (several times!) and following it carefully, I was able to set the database rights correctly, install WordPress on afewgoodlenses, upgrade afewgoodlenses from version 2.5 to 2.6, and upgrade the original Yahoo! install of this site from 2.0.2 to 2.6.
I did both upgrades using Keith Dsouza’s WordPress Automatic Upgrade (WPAU) plugin, a heaven-sent plugin if there ever was one. I sat here at my desk one Friday evening deciding, finally, that if WPAU upgraded afewgoodlenses successfully, I was going to dive in and try it on this site. Both upgrades, obviously, were highly successful. I do mention a couple of quirky things that happened in the previous article — but they were minor and didn’t stop the show from going forward at all.
Since this site’s old theme worked quite well with WP 2.6, I spent a long time (days, in fact) trying out different themes until I found one I really liked. I had previously chosen a theme (called Munch) developed by miloIIIVII for afewgoodlenses, and found many of her themes right up my alley from a design perspective. I ended out choosing a second miloIIIVII theme for this site, the Garden theme. I couldn’t be more pleased with the appearance and functionality of both sites, and I certainly hope my visitors like them too.
While trying out different themes, I found the WordPress theme preview function (that runs automatically when you select a new theme) very useful. Once I started migrating changes from the old theme, however, I used a great plugin called Theme Test Drive by Vladimir Prelovac. Theme Test Drive lets you activate and use a new theme while you’re signed in at the admin panel, but visitors to your site see the original theme. With Theme Test Drive, you can make changes and apply them to your new theme, leaving the old one intact until you’re done. And unlike the WordPress theme preview, the theme as presented by Theme Test Drive is fully functional, so you can test as much as you want before committing your changes.
I had quite a few customizations to my old theme, more than I realized. I had about thirty distinct changes to move over, and it took a few hours but was really quite painless. I still have some tidying up to do on both sites, but both are fully functional. I don’t have any significant advice to give about migrating customizations, other than take your time and be patient … and, before you start, make sure you have a copy of the unmodified theme so you can, if necessary, easily replace a file. My fingers flutter all over the keyboard a lot, and you’d by surprised how easy it is to accidentally paste something over the entire contents of a theme file and hit save before you can stop yourself. The backup is good insurance, and it’s a good idea to do it again after you’ve migrated your changes and gotten the site running. Oh, and remember to indicate in the file itself where you’ve made changes, to make them easy to find if you need to change or remove them. Just keep in mind that any comments you key in may be visible to anyone who uses a function like "view page source" in Firefox when they access your site.
This is getting quite long (no surprise to any of my regular readers, I’m sure), so I’ll break here and pick up on the plugins in more detail tomorrow, along with more on WP 2.6. I ended out installing about a dozen plugins that I could never use before (either because of the database issue I described above, or because they weren’t compatible as far back as WP 2.0.2). All of them give me much more control of the site’s appearance, navigation, links, and functionality. I’m sure I’ll add more as time goes on, but the one’s I’ve got running so far have made it possible to do things with both sites that I had wanted to do all along with this one, but never could….
Stay tuned… and thanks, as always, for stopping by….
Last night I updated this site to the most recent version of WordPress. I ran the WordPress Automatic Upgrade plugin with great success, first using it on my still-under-construction photoblog — afewgoodlenses.com — then holding my breath and taking the plunge on this site. I had installed WordPress for the photoblog a couple of months ago to learn about setting up a site from scratch on my own (as opposed to using the automated install Yahoo! provides), and it was an update from version 2.5. I had no issues with that upgrade, with the minor exception of being unable to log in toward the end of the upgrade (when the tool attempted to reactivate plugins). Clearing private data in Firefox solved that problem.
Upgrading this site — which was at version 2.0.2 and was a Yahoo! install originally — also went quite well despite a couple of minor problems. The plugin wouldn’t activate at first, though I’ve experienced that on occasion with other plugins so I know it has nothing to do with the plugin itself. It’s either a Yahoo! hosting issue or a WordPress 2.0.2 issue, which, strangely, seems to happen more often when I access the plugin panel with Firefox rather than Internet Explorer. So even though Firefox is my default browser, switching to IE got the plugin activated and I was able to continue.
The upgrade plugin does two backups at the very start, and provides links to download the zip files it creates to your computer. The links didn’t work; Yahoo! kept returning a 404 page-not-found error, so I used FTP (FileZilla, an excellent FTP utility) to locate and download the zip files myself. After this, the remaining steps in the upgrade completed normally, in about five minutes.
I was surprised — though I’m not sure why — that the theme I’m currently using still worked. I hadn’t expected that, had chosen a new theme to replace it, and will probably still do so when I can spend a few hours (or days, which is more likely) customizing it.
I did run into two problems that required correction. First, I was unable to navigate the site using the “previous” link at the bottom of the page, which turned out to be a problem with the permalinks. I don’t know why this problem occurs, but I think it has to do with the way Yahoo! handles permalinks, which are structured as “friendly links” containing the day a post is created and the post title. Recreating them didn’t work, though setting them to the WordPress default style did work. Switching to the default permalink style, however, meant that all my internal linking was busted, and any external links to posts or pages on my site would no longer work. I found a solution to the problem here…
Updating Permalinks when moving to WordPress 2.5
… which consisted of installing and activating the plugin Tony Adam describes and recreating the original permalink structure. I have no idea what “canonical redirects” are, but the solution worked great!
The second problem, a strange one, was that none of my category descriptions came over from the old version of the site. The WordPress categories panel showed a couple dozen blank lines instead of the categories, and even displayed the number of posts in each (blank!) category. I wasn’t able to find a solution for that problem that I understood how to employ, so I ended out deleting all the blank categories, creating fresh ones, and reassigning categories to each of the posts. With about 90 articles on this site, it took me a couple of hours to get it done, which wasn’t too bad but certainly wouldn’t have been an appealing option if I had hundreds of posts.
So… overall I think the upgrade was a smashing success, and, with that (and quite a bit of non-blogging life-stuff that has kept me busy for the past few months) behind me, please stay tuned while I catch up on my networking activities and start churning out some new content.
Thanks, as always, for reading and for stopping by….
I’ve made a few site updates and learned some things in the process, so it seemed like a bit of sharing was in order.
First, you’ll now see "Print this" at the top of each article. The print capability is made possible by the WP-Print WordPress plugin developed by Lester Chan. It does a really nice job of formatting posts for printing, and has three configuration options that let you choose whether or not to include comments, images, and a list of all links referenced in the article. I looked at several other options before choosing this one, and I’m very satisfied with it. I use it personally when I’m writing a new article based on some previous content, since I find it easier to work from a printed version — especially in the case of some of my longer articles. If you’re a WordPress blogger and you want to provide your readers with print options, check out Chan’s plugin page where there are several versions you can download.
Second, I’ve changed content in the far right side for my Flickr photos, so that you can now choose to view the photographs as slideshows like you could before, or can also view the related Flickr page as a complete collection. It occurred to me that some folks might not care for the slideshows, so this was a good way to link to the photo pages by collection rather than always defaulting to slideshows.
Finally, as my friend Audee notes in her comment on my article about Zoo Atlanta, I’m now sending my site through FeedBurner and have incorporated various "feed flares" at the bottom of each article. You can also now subscribe to my feed by e-mail, and subscribe to posts and comments. I’m still experimenting with some of the flares as well as the advertising, so different elements may come and go as I check out some of the sites I’m now encouraging people to submit my articles to.
I did discover, unfortunately, that there is a known issue using FeedBurner with Yahoo! web hosting. Attempts to use my old feed URL, which was:
should automatically redirect to the new FeedBurner URL:
but it doesn’t, and displays a "document has moved" error which points to the old feed URL (going nowhere, therefore). As you can see from the description of the problem on the FeedBurner forum, there is no solution available yet. I found that this meant two things for my site.
First, if anyone was subscribing to my feed with the original URL, it would no longer work. If you’re one of my subscribers, and that happened to you … my apologies. Had I realized this was happening, I would have posted something announcing the change first.
Second, my account on services like MyBlogLog and Blogcatalog needed to be updated. MyBlogLog uses the feed URL to fetch new posts to display on its site, so I had to update my account to point to the FeedBurner URL. Easy.
Blogcatalog, however, uses RSS autodiscovery to locate a site’s feed, and that was a bit of a problem since autodiscovery tried to use the old feed URL — which should have redirected to FeedBurner but did not. I don’t really understand how all this works, but I’ve concluded that the WordPress code normally handles the redirect, yet something about Yahoo’s hosting prevents that from working normally. I ended out adapting the RSS autodiscovery tips and modifying WordPress’s header.php file with the FeedBurner URL hardcoded. Hardcoding like this is never the best solution, but it will hold me up until a permanent fix becomes available. In any case, it appears to have worked; my account page on Blogcatalog was reporting an error finding my feed, but has since updated to show a successful discovery and also shows the FeedBurner URL as the feed URL.
Got a headache yet? I do … this stuff never seems to just fall into place quite right, does it?
I’m a little disappointed that this is another quirk I’ve run into that’s specific to Yahoo! web hosting and their WordPress implementation. While I have to be fair and say that I’ve never had a problem with my site or its availability at Yahoo!, site performance and availability is but a minimum requirement for a web host these days. In my opinion, Yahoo! oversold their hosting service to newbie WordPress bloggers like myself by making it so easily available, by implying that they would update the WordPress installation but never doing it, and by nearly running from the room screaming if you call their support line and even use "WordPress" in a sentence. They could have a kick-ass blog hosting service, if they’d just make an effort to actually support WordPress users — something that might even make then unique in the industry. Are you listening, Yahoo!? Call me, let’s talk about it….
Oh, well, enough about that … the weekend’s here and Atlanta weather is supposed to be sunny with temperatures in the 60s … what could be better than that?
From Brad Feld’s blog Feld Thoughts comes word that Newsgator is now making all of their feedreader software products available free of charge. Feld explains Newsgator’s reasoning in this article, and provides several links to related articles by Newsgator employees as well as links you can use to download the products or get more information.
I’ve used both Newsgator Online (which has been free all along) as well as FeedDemon (which used to cost 30 bucks annually) for over a year now, having switched to the Newsgator products from Bloglines. I’ve never regretted the switch at all, and both the online and installed versions of their readers are fast, full of useful functions and navigation capabilities, and just fun to use. And they synchronize with each other, so you can keep up with your reading from any computer anywhere, and either tool will always know how you handled your feeds with the other.
I also use Newsgator Online to build and maintain the My Blogroll and My News pages for this site. You can read more about how to do that in these two articles:
Creating a Semi-Automatic Newsgator Blogroll on Your WordPress Blog
Spreading the News
Check out Feld’s article, poke at the links a little, and give Newsgator a try. You can even subscribe to afewgoodpens just to see how things work!
Update: I just wanted to add a link to this post by Nick Bradbury, the creator of FeedDemon, highlighting some of the differences between using a desktop and a web-based feedreader. As Bradbury points out, one of the great strengths of FeedDemon is the way it functions as a full-featured browser, allowing you to switch from reading feeds to visiting web sites instantly within the same session and windows. I originally used the online version more than the desktop version, but have recently switched, preferring the speed and flexibility of the desktop version when I’m on my computer at home, and typically using the online version only when I’m on a computer where I can’t install the software locally.
… well, not programming exactly; we (meaning: I) have spent way too much time on that today as it is. However, I have gotten the load time on the home page of this site way, way down … from about 16-18 seconds to a pretty consistent four or five. Considering that there’s still a lot of content here, that’s pretty good. I might as well confess that the main thing that motivated me to do this was that I was getting annoyed accessing my own site, which is a pretty strong indicator that my visitors might have felt that way too.
So navigating here is a little different now. The Newsgator blogroll and news headlines are each on their own separate pages: My Blogroll and My News, and there are navigation links from the header and from both sidebars — plenty of places for you to click to get there and take a look at the work of some very fine bloggers. My Blogroll links will take you directly to site home pages; My News shows excerpts from some of the most recent articles in each category, all with links you can click to read more. If you’re interested in links or news only from a particular category, see the “My Blogroll” and “My News” listings in the sidebar, from which you can go directly to that category. You can use your browser’s back button or click the category heading to return to the home page.
More on this later perhaps, but I should mention that belonging to the BlogCatalog and MyBlogLog communities is introducing me to a whole lot of new and extremely good blogs and fascinating people that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise — but I’ve not yet added them all to my Newsgator feeds so they don’t show up on the new pages. I think I’m still trying to figure out the best way to pull all these resources together in one place (or a few tied-together places); or at least, trying to figure out the best way to spend my time between newsreaders, blogging communities, social networks, stumblingupons, diggs, twitters, and a few other things. Still, I’m comfortable with the idea of just jumping into all these activities and sorting out the priorities as I go along. If you’re reading this, and you’re a blogger, and you haven’t joined BlogCatalog or MyBlogLog, please do so, and let’s connect.
A couple of lessons I learned from this last set of tweaks:
(1) if you’re an Amazon associate and are including Amazon links in your site like I am, watch out for the “Product Reviews” script. The script is new (I think) and provides a small window with product and review information when you mouse over an Amazon text link. It’s very nice, actually, I liked the way it looked and the images and info it provided — but I removed it from my site after numerous tests showed it was adding as much as three or four seconds to the page’s load time. Your experience may certainly vary, but I would experiment with that script before using it.
(2) If you’re modifying your WordPress templates …well, don’t even think about changing anything until you’ve made a copy of the files you’re planning to change. I’ve always been obsessive about saving work-in-progress with tools like word processing and spreadsheet software, but for some reason haven’t been doing that with files like sidebar.php. Believe me, ignore this advice and just one time accidentally paste something on top of thirty lines of code and realize it just as it’s too late to stop yourself from pressing the save button … and you’ll wish you had that copy! It’s great to have nice, clean home pages … but not so great when they’re nice and clean because most of the content isn’t showing… yipes!
I’m going to be making a few changes to the home page of this site over the next day or so, so apologies in advance to anyone who stops by and notices some wonky behavior. I plan to move the Blogroll and My News sections out of the sidebars and to their own pages, with various links from the main page, to improve load times. Right now it takes as much as 16 seconds for the entire page to load on a DSL connection — which is way too long. I expected that would probably happen when I embedded the Newsgator blogroll and headlines scripts to begin with, but I wanted to watch it for a while and see how things went.
Here’s a nice article with some tips on speeding up your load time, where I learned about Numion’s Stopwatch tool — a nifty utility that can show you how long it takes to load any web page. Another one I came across does a in-depth diagnosis of your page and displays optimization suggestions; it’s the Web Page Analyzer.
It was interesting to try the tools with several browsers, and see the performance variations. Firefox consistently came in as the slowest — by four to six seconds, sometimes more. Internet Explore was next, and Opera — which I just started using on occasion a couple of weeks ago — was the fastest by far, loading my main page nearly 50% faster than Firefox. Firefox still rocks, though.
I spent an hour or so this evening browsing around on Blogcatalog, where I recently set up an account. I’m still getting used to using sites like Blogcatalog and MyBlogLog, so I haven’t done that much with them yet. But I do like being able to look for interesting blogs by zooming through their categories, or by noting what blogs are associated with folks who have interests similar to mine. Tonight I paged through Blogcatalog’s history category, and ended out adding four history-related blogs to my Newsgator feeds and to this site’s blogroll. The blogs, and the things that got my attention from each one, are briefly described below.
From Civil War Memory, an article on the tension over memorializing individuals — in this case, a potential plan to create a monument to recently deceased black civil rights attorney Oliver Hill — when the very act of memorializing seems to conflict with dominant political or social leadership and their influence. While I’ve studied quite a bit about the Civil War, my ongoing interest in Civil War history tends to revolve more around issues of this kind, and the difficult challenge of handling historical memories … whether related to the Civil War or other key (especially controversial) historical events.
From Clio and Me, an article asking questions about a pair of dramatically different stereo images from the First World War. The meaning of imagery like this and how we relate to it in terms of historical memory and contemporary culture is, to me, something we would do well to understand more about, as more and more of our world is represented to us in pictures and video, rather than text.
From Ponder and Dream, wonderful original historical illustrations that just make you think. See for example, this one, which is prefaced by a Longfellow poem. Or just start with sites home page and look at as many as you can.
From The Victorian Peeper, an image and article about a Victorian “dinosaur theme park,” originally intended to demonstrate themes in evolution. I’m pretty much fascinated by all things Victorian — European and American — and by the connections between Victorian England, Victorian America, and our contemporary culture. Such connections are much more compelling than our stereotypical view of the Victorian period tends to encompass, a topic that I hope to cover in future articles.
A few site updates and some housekeeping notes….
I’ve added the social bookmarking button available from the Add This! site to each post.
I’ve also added a Mybloglog “Recent Readers” widget to the sidebar. I’m not entirely sure what to do with Mybloglog yet, but I’ll catch on soon enough. My posts are now appearing there, and I’ve also set up a profile.
In addition, I think I’ve come up with a way to replace my sidebar Blogroll with my Newsgator feeds. Actually Newsgator already lets users generate a script containing their feeds, but it doesn’t take the folder/feed structure into account; it simply creates a list of links. From what I see in Newsgator’s support forums, there have been requests for this feature, but it doesn’t exist yet. I should be able to pull it off anyway with some creative cobbling, and may try it over the weekend. If you happen to stop by, the site should be fine, but the Blogroll may be unstable at times.
Finally, following David Airey and his list of Top 5 Essential WordPress Plugins, I attempted to install a feature I’ve seen on several sites and liked a lot. It’s the Subscribe to Comments plugin, by which anyone leaving a comment can elect to be notified by e-mail when additional comments are posted to the same topic. Unfortunately, activating the plugin causes this WordPress database error for me:
WordPress database error: [Access denied for user to database 'blog']
ALTER TABLE wp_comments ADD COLUMN comment_subscribe enum(‘Y’,'N’)
I take this to mean (and a few searches around the Internet seems to confirm) that the way I’m set up with my web host doesn’t allow me to alter the structure of the WordPress database via this plugin. So, while I like the function a lot and I think it’s a fine plugin, I’m not so sure I should even inquire about changing whatever needs to be changed to make this update possible.
I have to admit this sort of thing frustrates me a bit, and reminds me of a recent article from Lorelle on WordPress, Bloggers Are Not Webmasters and Webmasters Are Not Bloggers. While I have enough passable HTML knowledge that I’ve been able to modify this site’s various templates and can even poke at the PHP code a bit to make it do my bidding, I’m way over my head when issues surface that have to do with MySQL or the WordPress database. I’m pretty fearless and fairly patient about trying different things and learning from what works and doesn’t work, but I have no context within which to translate a database error and correct it. Lorelle’s article is a good reminder that even though I might find a solution to the problem with additional research and some phone calls to my web host, that’s not how I should be spending my time. So … I’ll give some thought to what I wanted to accomplish by installing the plugin, and take a look at alternatives, whether they’re plugins or something else.
I’ve added a new feature to the far right sidebar, My Flickr Slideshows, which will run Flickr slideshows for each of my photo sets. The slideshows will open in a new tab or window, depending on your browser, and you can either click the slideshow link to go my Flickr site when you’re finished, or close the session to return here.
I’ve also added a new section called Featured Books. Unlike the books shown under Current Reading and Recent Reading — both of which are images of books that I’m reading or have read but haven’t necessarily discussed here — I’ll use Featured Books to highlight some that I write a post about or take the time to formally review. Like the other books displayed throughout my site, clicking the book’s image will take you to Amazon.com via my associate’s link — by which, of course, I’ll get rich. In addition, I’ll include a link under each book’s image back to the relevant post on this site, so you can read what I have to say about it.
The first book I’m featuring is The Landscape Design Answer Book: More Than 300 Specific Design Solutions for Your Landscape by Jane Bath. Bath is a landscape designer from the Atlanta area, and I heard about her when she approached a friend of mine here in Grant Park, and asked to photograph his home for the book. If you have the book, his house is shown on pages 57, 196, and 312, along with Bath’s comments on various elements of his property that she found exceptional.
I’m writing a discussion post about the book that I’ll publish in the next couple of days. For now, the “More about this book” link will take you back to this entry; when I get the review written, I’ll update the link. In the meantime, if you stumble across Bath’s book at a bookstore, spend some time with it; the writing and the photography (along with the instructional format Bath used to highlight key elements of each photograph) are excellent.
This evening, I replaced the site banner with a new picture I took in my back yard. The old banner, below, was a crop of an orchid from my Atlanta Botanical Gardens pictures, which you can find in my Flickr collection.
The flower buds in the new banner image are close-ups of some pink Kalanchoe that I planted in pots and placed on the steps leading to my back yard. I’ve taken so many pictures, especially close-ups, of flowers and buds back there that I barely have time to look through them all. I cropped five for possible use as a new banner, and settled on the Kalanchoe because, if you look closely at the bloom that’s the focal point of the picture, it looks like there’s a tiny face in there … the face of a garden sprite, I have no doubt.
Two of the other candidates were these yellow and black ladybugs. Considering how small they are, the pictures came out quite sharp, showing decent detail of the black spots on their yellow wings, and even — in the second picture — the eyes and mouth. Well, I guess that’s what they are, anyway.
I like this picture quite a bit; I took it in March just as my Japanese Maple was putting out some new leaves. It seems evocative of spring, I think, especially with the slightly blurry nature of the leaf’s edges and the way it caught the sunlight. This wasn’t an accident, of course; it was total creativity. Totally….
This fine fellow appeared at the edge of my pond shortly after I moved into my house three years ago, and he’s been back every spring since. I’m not sure where he goes all winter long, and I was pretty lucky to get this shot that shows the detail as well as it does — especially the look in his eyes. You can’t really tell from the image, but his body is about the size of a man’s large fist.
He’s not easily intimidated by my presence, not even a little bit. Late last summer, he was resting so still in the ivy behind my pond that I thought he was dead and picked up a six-inch long stick to poke him with — you know, as a test. He flipped around, grabbed the stick out of my hand with his mouth — jumped with it still in his mouth, into the pond. I almost expected him to surface with the stick and throw it at me….
The 2007 Early Spring Buds Collection is now available for your viewing pleasure. Taking snaps like these has become one of my annual rituals. Even though they’re not especially beautiful in the traditional sense, they do mark the end of the Dark Ages as move from winter into spring.
Preparing the Collection gave me a chance to play around with some camera settings and lenses while taking close-up and macro shots. Experimenting with the A100 DSLR is a blast; it’s great to return to photography the way I remember it from my fledgling 35mm photographer days. Zooms and closeups, especially, are real treats. And essentially no-cost experimentation is an added bonus.
Additional collections you can look forward to:
The 2007 Middle Spring Buds Collection
The 2007 High Spring Buds Collection
The 2007 Renaissance (Early Summer) Plants and Flowers Collection
The 2007 Modern Period Plants-Gone-Wild Collection
And all this goes in on my back yard!
By late summer and early fall — when everything needs excessive attention and dies anyway — I’m usually over it. So no need to expect a Post-Modern Period Collection; there probably won’t be one….