He’s Got The Look

Programmer At Work

Programmer At Work

Regular readers of this humble website might have noticed that over the past few weeks we’ve gone through several changes in our look. Astute regular readers might have also noticed that on frequent occasions the look of this website was “Basic HTML,” a look where the actual layout was sucky basic lists of posts and navigation with no apparent effort made in layout.

There are reasons for all this.

First, the new clip art. The previous iteration of this website was built on software with limited ability to add images. It was possible, but frequently involved more effort than I was willing to put out. So, I only added photos when they really added to the story. With WordPress, adding images is extremely easy, not to mention that now there is a lot of open quality source clip art available for free. So some months back I decided to add at least one piece of clip art to my posts. As I had some free time, I went back and added clip art to most of my older posts, just because. I do think a nice piece of clip art can set the tone for the the story.

Which gets into the website look. The actual appearance of a website is based upon ”
themes”; a set of HTML files that define the fonts, title layout, headers and footers, and navigation system. In a well designed website the theme will be completely independent of the content and can be changed out relatively easy. WordPress has literally hundreds of different themes available for free, mostly well-written. The styles range from simple to extremely elaborate, and for-fee designs can be even more complex.

I opted for a “minimalist” style when I migrated to WordPress, and chose the theme “Chiron.” I customized it a bit and launched. I also added a set of additional plug-in software modules to increase functionality. Then I proceeded to add new content.

Over the next several months I noticed that on occasion, when I opened up my website, the theme layout was wrong. The layout looked like the theme had not loaded, and all I was seeing was basic HTML. I did some de-bugging, never found anything “wrong,” and after awhile things went back to normal again.

A couple of weeks ago I saw the problem appear again, and decided to change the theme  I was using. WordPress had gone though a number of major software updates over the previous several weeks and I noticed that my theme had never been updated, so I made an assumption that my theme was no longer compatible with the new WordPress software.

Like all good developers, I have a private testing site set-up to experiment on before going live. But, I’ve been a bit lazy these past months on tech stuff and my testing site was way out of date. Thinking that WordPress made changing themes as easy as changing socks I selected a new theme and went live.

Then I noticed that the new theme handled my summary and feature images differently than the previous theme. Summaries was the worse. I prefer to have only an opening paragraph on my home page with a link to the full story. I do this for two reasons;

  1. It keeps my home page cleaner, and provides a quick index to recent posts.
  2. I can get a better set of statistics on number of reads for my stories; not possible when the story is posted in full on the home page.

The first theme I used had an option for automatically adding a “Read More” link. The new theme I selected did not, so all my posts were full length on the home page. The only way to fix this would be to edit each and every post with a tag that manually broke the post with a “Read More” link. With over 200 posts, that I had just finished editing to add clip art (which also did not display as I originally intended) my choice was to try a different theme.

So over the next couple of weeks I changed themes every few days to see what might work better. I learned a lot, starting with each theme handles some function of content differently. Some themes actually “broke” layouts. After several tries I decided I needed to get my testing site back up to a mirror of the real site, and play there.

So I did, and tried out more themes. Meanwhile, my real site, with my original theme, was still not working. So today I decided to use a “minimalist” theme “Twenty Twelve,” a core WordPress theme that gets updated whenever core software changes. Hopefully, this will solve my issues with the theme periodically not working correctly.

The down-side is that this theme does not appear to support automatic summaries, so now I need to go back and edit all posts, again. This is the life of a Webmaster.

 

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Ron Charest

About Ron Charest

Ron is a native New Yorker and 22 year Navy veteran. He retired from active duty in 1996 and went on to build a successful post-Navy career in logistics. Ron currently works for a major Government consulting firm based in Washington D.C., and together with his wife Weifang make their home in Northern Virginia.