January 20, 2018

Review: WordPress 3 Site Blueprints by Heather R. Wallace. Packt Publishing

The recently published book, WordPress 3 Site Blueprints by Heather R. Wallace and published by Packt Publishing is an ambitious project that belies the slim volume that it is.

According to the author, the book is primarily geared to a “self-learner” or a “WordPress consultant” who is “interested in exploring all that this open source software has to offer…” The book’s premise is to provide a “blueprint” in the design of 9 different types of WordPress websites. Each blueprint or chapter walks you through the process of configuring a sspecific WordPress Theme. The types of sites  (blueprints) discussed are:

1.Migrating a Static site to WordPress
2.Building a Community Portal
3.Building an E-Commerce Website
4.Building a Local Classified Ads Website
5.Building a Consumer Reivew Website
6.Building a Job Board Website
7.Building a Micro blogging Website
8.Building a Local Business Directory
9.Building a Membership Website

In addition to the 9 blueprints, there is an appendix that presents several WordPress plugins that the author feels may be of value such as WP-DB-Backup, Akismet and several others. Another appendix provides a guide to installing WordPress Themes and plugins.

I found the first two chapters to be very helpful. Chapter 1 describes the process of migrating a static HTML site to a dynamic WordPress site. Although the author does not provide specific instruction as how to actually install WordPress, she does direct you to online resources to accomplish that task. A concise discussion gives you the information you need to add appropriate WordPress specific code to your HTML files to turn them into a working WordPress “theme.” Resources are also provided for free and premium ($) themes.

Chapter 2 shows you how to integrate bbPress, BuddyPress and WordPress to enable you to create a community portal site. bbPress provides a forum component, while BuddyPress enables users to interact in a facebook-like manner. The basics are covered but novices may require additional hand-holding to undertake such an ambitious project.

The other blueprints are covered in a similar concise fashion, providing the basic information you would need to get the specific type of site up and running. Each  blueprint presents a suggested way of configuring settings and adding specific plugins suited to the particular blueprint.
This slim volume covers a lot of ground. The author provides a lot of additional online resources which is helpful.

What I found most disappointing was that several of the blueprints require “premium” themes or plugins that cost real money. In some cases the plugins or themes are relatively pricey and this may diminish the ability for some people to carry-out the projects.

Overall, WordPress 3 Site Blueprints gives the reader a good idea of where WordPress can take you. It abolishes the notion that WordPress is only for blogging. In fact, WordPress is fast becoming a viable platform for just about any type of CMS site you can imagine. All it takes is the right combination of themes and plugins.

I do wonder whether the book is going to satisfy the inevitable quesitons that a novice will have while the more adept user may desire a deeper exploration of the mechanics of WordPress and plugins.

Poor iPod Touch – iPhone battery life after iOS 4.x upgrade

I’ve got a 2G iPod Touch. It’s 22 months old. I had been running OS3 on it ever since OS3 was released and my battery life has been quite good. I’d be able to go several days before needing a charge. That all changed immediately following my updating to iOS 4. I was shocked at how quickly my battery lost its charge. I’d notice in the evening that I had 75% charge and in the morning it would be almost nothing. I never completely shut down my iPod but let it sleep instead. I also noticed that startup time took nearly 35 seconds where in OS3 it was more like 15 seconds to startup.

I began to research this issue and discovered a lot of other people voicing similar complaints with iPod’s and iPhones that had been upgraded to iOS 4. And a check in the Apple Forums uneartherd numerous threads with many people also complaining about the greatly accelerated draining of the battery with iOS 4. Here is an excellent forum with extensive discussion on the battery life issue

Numerous suggestions were offered to improve the battery life. Some of the suggestions were…

  • In Settings>Fetch New Data, turn Push off.
  • In Settings> Wi-Fi, turn Wi-Fi off.
  • Make sure you do not have multiple applications running.
  • Sync and backup your iPod.  Restore the iPod to factory settings by going to Settings>General>Reset. Re-sync to restore your apps.

Well, none of those suggestions helped improve my battery life. To clarify, if I don’t have Wi-Fi on, my iPod becomes pretty useless for the things that I use it for so turning Wi-Fi off was no solution. Same with turning Push off.

The point is this: with no change in my usage pattern, my battery life plummeted with the installation of iOS4 leading me to conclude that there is something inherent with iOS 4 causing my iPod to suddenly suck battery power. It might be as simple as this… here is what I’ve learned about iOS4 compared to iOS3;  iOS4 has a persistent Wi-Fi mode which means that prior to iOS4, Wi-Fi turned itself off when the iPod Touch was locked. Not so with iOS4… Wi-Fi remains on even when your iPod is locked so that may explain my precipitous drop in battery life. I haven’t had enough time to investigate this further but in the coming days I will try to make sure I turn Wi-Fi off wen I absolutely don’t need it to see it helps. It certainly should because Wi-Fi definitely will use more power than not having it on in the first place. If that turns out to be the main reason, what a pain in the butt it will be to always have to turn Wi-Fi off when not needed in order to save battery life compared to pre-iOS 4 days.

I felt that downgrading to iOS3 would be the most logical thing to do but when I called Apple Support to inquire about this I was told that Apple does not directly provide a way to downgrade to a prior OS. The tech implied that it was possible to do via an unsupported Apple technique but I have researched and concluded that I don’t want to attempt that myself. If you search for it on Google, you’ll find tutorials explaining how to do it but there is some risk that you’ll mess up your firmware and you may not have a positive result. I’d rather not attempt that, your mileage may vary.

I have AppleCare so that leaves me with about 2 months of AppleCare extended warranty coverage. I decided to walk my iPod to the Apple Store near me. Once there the Genius ran some diagnostics on my iPod and concluded that the battery itself was nearing the end of its useful life. I realize that Li-Ion batteries have a limited lifespan that diminishes according to how many charge cycles it has gone through but I just wasn’t completely buying his conclusion since my battery had been holding a charge very well and it was only after upgrading to iOS 4 that the accelerated battery drain took place. The Genius on the other hand smirked at me and told me that my battery was 2 years old and was shot. He felt it was merely a coincidence that my battery life seemed to be less with the iOS4 upgrade. He recommended I replace the iPod and since I was under AppleCare I went with that option.

It’s a fact that eventually my battery will die completely so at least I’ve got a newer battery. After one last sync with my computer and Mobile Me, I handed over the nearly 2 year old iPod 2G and received a new replacement (still 2G though.) That’s a great reason to have AppleCare since it would have cost around $80 to have Apple to replace the battery. The peace of mind that comes with having AppleCare, for me, makes it a good thing to do. And I’ve still got 2 months left so if this doesn’t fix my battery drainage issue, I can go right back to Apple within the next 2 months and pursue this further.

Has it solved the battery drain issue? I don’t know yet. I’ll know the answer to that in a few days and will follow up with an update to this post. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your experiences with iOS 4 and your iPod and iPhones. Have you noticed any difference in battery usage since you upgraded to iOS4?

Review of Planet Bike Superflash Tail Light

When I’m cycling, I’m most concerned about traffic coming up from behind me. I want to do all I can to ensure that distracted motorists will be able to easily see me. To help make sure this happens, I always use a tail light.

One of the best tail lights I’ve found for cycling is the Planet Bike Superflash tail light. It is extremely bright and can easily be seen even in bright daylight. At dawn or dusk, it is incredibly noticeable.

Typically the light will be mounted on your seat post or attached to the back of an under-seat bag. It runs on 2-AAA batteries and battery life is excellent. I easily get a season out of one set of batteries. It’s diminutive size belies it’s amazing performance. The superflash is about $20 and available from Amazon.com

Remove Sansa Clip+ Duplicate files preceded with ._ in track listing with dot_clean terminal command

I’ve got several Sandisk mp3 players… Sansa Fuze, Sansa Clip and Sansa Clip+. They all exhibit a peculiar issue with track listing names. The “problem” is that there seem to be duplicate track names for all the music that I’ve added to my Sansa by dragging the tunes in from iTunes on my Mac.

I was fortunate to have an extremely helpful and knowledgable chat session with a Sandisk support person named “Apollo D.” In conjunction with that chat session and some additional Googling this issue, I have finally found a solution for this vexing problem.

Basically the “._” in front of the track listings is a result of the way that Mac OSX handles filenames. When you drag your iTunes tracks into the Sandisk player, the “duplicate” file names get created as a result of this MacOSX naming issue. What is bothersome is that you cannot delete the files directly from the player because as soon as you click on one of them, the player scans to the next “real” file and begins playing it. So you never get the chance to get to the delete menu on the player to delete the “duplicate” file name. Furthermore, these duplicates are not really music tracks anyway and don’t play. You also cannot see these files when the player is hooked up to your computer so you are not able to delete them this way either.

The solution is relatively painless and here is what you want to do to rid your Sandisk player of these files. If you must know more, then just Google…there are many places that discuss the “dot_clean” terminal command.

1. Make sure that the System Settings > USB mode on your player is set to MSC.
2. Hook your Sandisk player up to your computer via USB.
3. Launch the Mac OS terminal (Applications>Utilities>Terminal.)
4. At the prompt, type in the command:dot_clean
5. Hit the space bar one time to insert a space after dot_clean
6. Locate the icon of your Sandisk player on your desktop and drag the icon of the player into your terminal window. This will copy the path of your Sandisk player into the terminal window.
7. HIt Return
8. That’s all there is to it. You terminal window should have returned you to a new line after completing the command you just issued.
9. Unmount your Sandisk player.

Now after the player refreshes itself after it has been disconnected from your computer, you will notice that all the “duplicate” tracks have been removed.

If you add new tunes to your player after doing this the first time, you will have to follow this procedure again to rid the newly added files of the ._ track names.

Review of Ultra Light Bike Mirror by D+D Oberlauda

I have a love/hate relationship with cycling mirrors. Most of the ones I’ve tried, and I’ve tried quite a few over the years, just haven’t worked out well. I think I’ve finally found one that works pretty well and is fairly flexible in where it can be mounted.

On my road bike I found three areas where it seemed to be good. I mounted the mirror in three different locations; At the end of the bottom of the bars, around the brake hoods and just below the brake hoods on the handlebar. My video review will demonstrate these three positions.

The mirror is very light, weighing about 2 oz. The light weight of the mirror makes it less prone to vibrating. The mirror surface is convex which results in a distorted view and that makes it hard to judge distances using the mirror. However the convex shape gives you a wide angle of view and seeing approaching vehicles is much easier with this type of mirror.

I paid about $25 from Performance Bike and think it’ll do the trick for me.

Some of the other mirrors I’ve tried but didn’t like for various reasons were the…

CycleAware Reflex Mirror: This is a helmet mount mirror and it vibrated quite a bit. Also, it was always getting whacked out of shape when I’d take my helmet off. I found it difficult to adjust and the mirror gives a very small field of view. It takes some getting used to.

Blackburn Road Mirror: This mirror has a bracket that mounts over the brake hood. I didn’t like it. The mirror vibrated and the extra thickness around the brake hood just bothered me.

Everyone will have their preference, but right now I like the Ultra Light bike Mirror by D+D Oberlauda. I got mine at Performance Bike.

Review of CMS Made Simple 1.6 by Sofia Hauschildt

I’ve been absorbing the most excellent book on CMS Made Simple published by Packt Publishing. Written by Sofia Hauschildt, a tutor, consultant and programmer, CMS Made Simple 1.6 is a beginners guide to learning the basics and so much more of CMS Made Simple, an open-source, content management application.

I first started using CMS Made Simple to build web sites about 5 years ago. I have also used WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, RapidWeaver and hand-coding to build websites. But CMS Made Simple is one of my favorite tools to use because you can get started with it very easily and produce a great website without knowing much about what goes on behind the scenes. Documentation has always been hard to come by though. The wiki and user forums are the best places to visit to glean information and ask questions. But the developers have clearly stated that CMS Made Simple is geared to web developers and not so much to neophytes who need a lot of hand-holding and who need relatively basic questions answered.

CMS Made Simple 1.6 is the book that neophytes need. It takes a very measured and slowly paced approach in presenting small doses of information to enable almost anyone to get the CMS installed and operating in no time at all. This is done as a ‘case study” whereby you build a CMS Made Simple website with a capable tutor by your side… Sofia Haushildt.

The methodology used in this book is straightforward and effective. You are told what you will be doing, you are guided through the process of doing it, then you are told what you just did. It is this repetition of information that facilitates the learning process, especially for block-heads like me. I learn best when I am able to observe someone doing something then doing it myself. That is exactly what this book does… it teaches you by doing. There are ample screenshots at every step of the journey to further illuminate the tasks. Furthermore, there are quizzes that test your comprehension of the material covered. If you diligently follow through in a linear fashion, you will learn all the basics and so much more of how CMS Made Simple can be used to build a great web site.

I was particularly impressed with the aplomb in which Sofia approached Smarty. Smarty is the template engine used by CMS Made Simple. Without an understanding of what Smarty is and how it works in your templates and pages, you would be at a huge disadvantage when approaching a web design project. Her treatment of the subject leaves you with a very good understanding how Smarty functions and gives you many ideas of how you can use Smarty tags to simplify site design by harnessing the power of Smarty.

As you continue through the book you are gently guided into more advanced topics and taught how to incorporate various features into your website such as form pages, inserting YouTube videos onto pages, learning how menus and sub-menus work and are displayed and so much more.

There is an excellent discussion of how just about any web template can be converted to work with CMS Made Simple and it is surprisingly easy when you apply what you learned about Smarty tags to that task. You also learn how to build a template from scratch as well as how to import templates obtained from other sources.

Many code snippets are presented in the book. Unfortunately the book does not include a CD containing code snippets by chapter. But the publishers website has all the code available for download in a zip file so that is a big help since it obviates the need to tediously type error free code from the book.

If you want to learn CMS Made Simple, get this book. It’s as simple as that. What you learn in these pages will save you hours of frustration and question asking in forums. This is arguably the best introduction to CMS Made Simple that you will find. The book is not just for beginners either. People who have been developing web sites with CMS Made Simple already may likely find valuable tips and information that they did not previously know. This book is not a reference book on CMS Made Simple however, so if you are looking for a comprehensive reference book, this will not satisfy that need. In spite of that though it actually is quite comprehensive in that it does cover every important area of using CMS Made Simple in a really well written way. Sofia writes clearly and in a very straightforward, uncomplicated way. I have shelves of computer books and this is what I would consider a top-shelf book.

I’d like to give a plug to CMS Made Simple as well. I know that WordPress is all the rage. I build many sites using WordPress myself. But if you are not building a blog-centric site, WordPress is not always the best way to approach building a page-based website. CMS Made Simple is a worthy consideration. It is very easy to learn and use. It is under continual development and has an active user forum. I like it a lot and it is so much easier to get your head around than Joomla, Drupal and other CMS’s. Check it out and see for yourself.

Now if you’ll excuse me,  I need to try and persuade Sofia Hauschildt into writing a book about Magento

Sylvania Light Flute – LED task light

Sylvania light fluteOsram Sylvania Products Inc 72261 Led Light Flute – SilverWhile strolling the aisles of BJ’s the other day, I discovered this great LED task light called the Light Flute. It’s made by Sylvania and it is just one of the coolest LED lights I”ve seen. What makes it so great is its overall design and functionality.

The case of the light is made of anodized aluminum which is light and strong. It feels very sturdy and the end-cap unscrews to reveal the 3-AAA batteries that power 4-white LED lights. The innovative mounting base allows for several different mounting options… magnetic, adhesive and screw mounting.

The slender light is 8.5″ long and about the diameter of your little finger. It can be mounted just about anywhere and is great for mounting under your desk when trying to re-route cables. It could also be used as emergency lighting, as an under-counter light, closet lighting… the list could go on and on.

The Light Flutes were sold as packs of 2 for about $17 at BJ’s and are also available from Amazon.com.

I haven’t had them long enough to comment on how long the batteries will last, but LED lights are generally pretty efficient so I would expect a minimum of 10-12 hours of continuous light and perhaps much more. I’ll update this post once I have a better idea of battery life.

Quix app packs a lot of tools into a small footprint

Quix logoQuix, authored by Joost de Valk, is a huge productivity enhancer for webdevelopers, and anyone wishing to have easy access to a plethora of handy tools.

Quix is am extensible bookmarklet that you simply drag into your bookmarks toolbar in Safari, Firefox and several other browsers. Then by invoking Quix, a command line opens up in a small window into which you can enter easy to remember default commands to perform a variety of functions. Since it is extensible, you can create your own custom commands as well.

Quix command-line window

For instance, say you want to quickly check what your ip address is… you would invoke Quix, type in “myip” in the command line and hit enter and you’ve instantly got your ip displayed in your browser window. Another example is if you want to measure the size of an element on a webpage, you’d invoke Quix, type in “ruler” and a cross-hair appears on your screen with a dimensions palette next to it and you can easily measure a graphic or any area on the current webpage you are on.

I haven’t counted all the functions available in Quix but there are surely over 60 of them and most are easy to remember… “ruler” for the aforementioned ruler tool, “gs” for Google search, “a” for Amazon search, “bitly” for bit.ly URL shortening, you get the idea. The complete list is located on the Quixapp website

It’s a real time-saver and obviates the need to have lots of add-ons since so many functions are taken care of by Quix. Joost admits that the inspiration for Quix came from another similar app called Shortwave which was created by Shaun Inman.

Check Quix out. It may be one of the handiest tools you have at your disposal. You can get it from quixapp.com

Update: I’ve also created a quick tutorial on the installation and usage of Quix.

HP dm3-1030us touchpad freeze and unresponsive after waking from sleep

hp-dm3-1030usWhat to do about the HP dm3 touchpad that freezes and becomes unresponsive after waking from sleep. I purchased a HP dm3-1030us laptop from Staples recently. For the inquiring minds, I paid $499 after rebates, a price that I am quite content with. All things considered, this is a very nice laptop for the money and I plan to give it a full review soon.

One problem I immediately encountered however had to do with the touchpad becoming unresponsive once the computer awakens from sleep. No matter how much force was applied to the touchpad or whether the left or right buttons were depressed, the on-screen pointer wouldn’t budge, or would only move a slight amount. And in some cases it would change to a magnifying glass icon and be stuck in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Even more strange was that this issue would sort of resolve itself after 5-10 minutes. After that period of time, the touchpad would simply begin working normally. This was really aggravating behavior and I was just about ready to return the laptop for a refund. But I have since spent some time Googling this issue and discovered some good conversation about it in the HP Support Forum.

What my experiences have unearthed are several ways to work around this problem. I’m not a big fan of workarounds as I’d much rather have a solution that is not a workaround, whether that means a driver update or whatever. But in the meantime these suggestions may help resolve your touchpad issues.

In no particular order since they all seem to work for me…

  1. Before putting your laptop to sleep, depress the button between the space bar and the touchpad to disengage the touchpad altogether. This essentially turns off the touchpad. You’ll know it is turned off because the indicator light will change to an amber color. Once the touchpad is turned off, you may safely put your computer to sleep. When you wake your computer from sleep, enter your password if necessary and then depress the button again to turn the touchpad back on. The color of the indicator light will change from amber to white and you should be good to go. This method has worked for me consistently.
  2. In lieu of turning the touchpad off before putting your computer to sleep, you can try this instead. Open up the control panel and navigate to the Devices and Printers menu, right click on it and choose Mouse Settings. When the Mouse Properties window opens, click on the Multitouch Gestures tab and deselect all three checkboxes. Apply the changes and close the window. This method also stopped the freezing problem for me, but this method disables multitouch gestures so that may be reason enough for you not to choose this method if you plan on using gestures on the touchpad.
  3. The simplest fix and one that has also worked for me is to simply have a bit of patience. When you wake your computer up from sleep, just chill for about 10-15 seconds before you touch the touchpad. It seems that just waiting for 10-15 seconds may be enough time for the touchpad to resume normal operation upon waking from sleep.

I hope one of these three methods will work for you and if it does, let me know.

By the way, I did notice that there is a new BIOS update for the dm3-1030us available on the HP site. It is the bios version F0A.

UPDATE: In the HP forum, there has been another suggestion for fixing the touchpad freeze issue, although it makes no sense to me, but the fix is this…
Go to Start menu > Control Panel > System and Security > System > Device Manager > System Devices. Find “ACPI Lid” and right click on it. Select “Update Driver Software” and in the next window select “Search automatically for updated driver software”. It will search for a moment then report that the best driver software for your device is already installed. Doing that will supposedly also fix the touchpad freezing issue. Does it make any sense? No it does not. But people are reporting that it has fixed their freeze issue… go figure.

UPDATE: I have to conclude that the ACPI Lid “fix” is pure rubbish. I turned multi-gestures back on and did the suggested “fix” of searching for a non-existent ACPI driver update and after my computer woke from sleep my touchpad returned to its problematic state of freezing and displaying magnifying glass icon and being generally unresponsive.

UPDATE: There has just been another BIOS update for the dm3-1030us which brings the BIOS version up to F.22 A. This new update is reputed to fix the touchpad issues. I have installed the update and am waiting for a while before concluding that the problems have been fixed.

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What’s the big whoop about Woopra?

woopraHaving the ability to collect statistics on how many visitors come to your website is crucial knowledge. Ever since Google released its free Google Analytics service, the ability for website owners to access this invaluable information has been made that much easier.

Since then there have been a bevy of other companies releasing similar and at the same time more graphically rich and interactive solutions for the savvy webmaster. One of the new kids on the block is Woopra, a powerful, full-featured, statistics and analysis tool. One of Woopra’s most compelling features is its Real-time Tracking. This one feature alone will give you valuable insight to how people move through your website, how long they linger on each page, what geographical region they are from and a slew of additional informamtion. Yes, much of this type of information is available from the standard web stats that most web hosts provide. But Woopra is doing this in real-time. You can actually see people entering and leaving your site and watch them as they click and move from page to page. Yes, big brother is watching and the information to be gained is invaluable.

Woopra is actually a client-based application. You download and install the Woopra application to your computer. The application then is configured to follow the sites that you add to it. In order for a website to be tracked, you also need to install a chunk of javascript, similar to how you would install Google Analytics code. This is a small chunk of code that gets inserted at the bottom of each of your website’s pages, just above the closing body tag. Once installed, Woopra can begin collecting data and providing the real-time analysis that is so powerful.

Woopra chat invitation

Woopra chat invitation

An additional and perhaps even controversial feature is the ability to initiate basically an instant messaging session with a visitor that is currently on your website. You select the visitor you want to target and then click on the “Start a Conversation” button in your Woopra app. The visitor will see a pop-up appear on their screen that says “Webmaster wants to chat with you”, along with an Accept or Decline button. This seems pretty cool until you mis-use it. Many people could easily be put off by such an intrusion into their “private” browsing. Worse, people might suspect this is some kind of attempt to install malicious software onto their computer. Tread very cautiously here.

Woopra has a variety of different plans ranging from free to $179.95/month. Many people will be quite satisified with the free version as long as your site is not generating more than 30,000 pageviews per month. In any case, the free version is certainly the way to go if you want to check out Woopra, which I’d encourage you to do. Once you start viewing the real-time tracking, you just may get addicted.