Tag Archives: discussion-forum

bbPress

I’ve been rather eager to give “bbPress”:http://bbpress.org a go. I’d downloaded a copy a while back – around version 0.4, I think – and set it up but wasn’t overly thrilled with it at the time. It was still too new, too limited, with little plugin or theme support. It’s at version 0.8 now with a bit more plugin support than it had before. Themes are still a little harder to come by, unless you want to take a stab at hacking out your own (which I could probably do but which would probably take me forever and a day until I could figure out what the heck I was doing).

Trouble is, I also don’t really have much use for a discussion board at this point. I’m already “running one”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum that sees zero traffic these days since all the regulars sort of lost interest and moved on to other things. So most of the things I would use a discussion board for now I accomplish through this blog or any of the handful of others I currently run. Still, I think it would be fun to set bbPress up, figure out how to integrate with my primary “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org installation, which is something I’ve always wanted to have – use the blog as my primary sounding board, have a bit of discussion start out there, and then as new content goes up on the main page, move discussions over to the forum. But that’ll likely never happen.

Still, the geek in me warms to the idea, so I may yet hack around and see what I can come up with. I’ve been kind of waiting for bbPress to go at least version 1.0 and hopefully see it take off enough that developers start building new plugins and themes to really make it to discussion boards what WordPress is to blogging.

I _am_ curious, though – is there any topic (or set of topics) that would draw you to a particular discussion board?

A Noticeable Shift

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a noticeable shift in focus on my blogroll. A lot of the blogs I’ve been reading that deal with faith and spirituality issues have been thinned a great deal while my writing-related blogroll has expanded substantially. I’m actually rather amused by the shift because it says something about my interest levels in these two types of blogs.

The trimming of faith-related blogs from my blogroll is not indicative of any disinterest in the topics and issues of the Christian faith. No, I’m still quite interested in such topics, and I continue to keep the “Open Dialogue forum”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum running in the event that anyone would care to use it for discussion, as still happens occasionally. The trimming does, however, reflect my dissatisfication with the vast majority of faith-based blogs on the web these days. Most of the ones I’ve read seem to ultimately only spin their wheels in an endless cycle of philosophical and theological rumination. Except that, instead of digesting truth and processing it to some worthwhile end, most of these individuals seem to prefer to spit it back out onto the ground, a warm, soggy mess that, in the end, never yields any kind of spiritual nutrition.

I guess you could say that I’ve grown frustrated with the seemingly endless process that most Christians today go through of spending entirely too much time wondering aloud about the nature of our relationship with God and what we as Christians are to do about it. It could be that these folks are, indeed, physically active in their churches and communities trying to apply the truth of Scripture to their lives and reflect Christ to those around them. If such is the case, however, it is not reflected in the content of their blogs. What I see are continual arguings and bickering among folks who are supposed to be of like mind, rehashing issues and ideas and topics that have been hashed over and over again, seemingly with no ground gained. I find this both troubling and particularly frustrating to watch and be a part of. They never leave the communities of their local churches because they’ve become mired in the process of “figuring things out” rather than taking the Good News to those who’ve never heard. They’ve lost sight of what they are to be about and what it is they are here to do.

For a while I lent my voice to the din, expressing my thoughts and sharing in the process of learningm, but in recent weeks, I’ve opted to back out and back away from most of these ongoing discussions. The words, actions, and reactions of so many involved – Christian and non-Christian alike – have served only to exacerbate my cynicism toward the American church. So, rather than continue to involve myself through this medium and risk losing myself completely to such negative attitudes, I’ve backed away and left them alone, choosing instead to take a more personal, one-on-one approach with folks via email, IM, and face-to-face encounters. And these I find much more satisfying.

In the vacuum this change has brought, I’ve begun to more aggressively pursue my writing, and so my writing blogroll has expanded to fill the void left by the trimming of my blogroll’s other half. Writing has given me that creative outlet my inner artist has so craved and proven to be much more refreshing than I could have expected. I still don’t get to write nearly as much as I’d like to yet, but I’m becoming more and more involved in the writing community. In the process I’m getting to kill two birds with a single stone – I get to write all these fun stories while being able to periodically talk about faith-related issues with interested people.

It’s an interesting ride, to say the least, and I feel content in being able to have, in some ways, the best of both worlds.

Front-End Updated

The “front page”:http://open-dialogue.com of my website has been updated. The splash page I had there was simply too difficult to keep current, since it involved those roll-over graphics. And since I’ve taken some parts of the site down and added others, it was just simpler to replace the splash page with another “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org blog and use it as a content management system. That will be the place to check for all new site updates, including announcements of new stories at “Flashes of Speculation”:http://open-dialogue.com/fs, changes or upgrades (or simply _activity_) at the “forum”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum, and new articles here (but of course, you’re already subscribed here, right?).

I have a wiki on this site, as well, but I haven’t really figured out what to do with it yet. I’ve primarily been using it as a place to archive some writing that belongs to a friend of mine, but I’ve been considering working on expanding it into an archive for writing resources – links, how-tos, etc. That, however, will be a much larger project than I can ever do alone, so I won’t even bring the wiki to the surface unless there’s a certain level of interest from others in helping out with something like that. And there may not even be that much of a need.

So, just out of curiosity, anyone interested in helping build a Writer’s Resource area?

Total Geek

Ok, bear with me for a few moments. My inner geek needs an audience.

Those of you who have been reading me for a while know that I’m an avid Halo/Halo 2 fan. A little while back, I was invited to join the writing staff for a relatively new blog for gamers called “Dead Man’s Hand”:http://deadmanshandblog.com. The guys (and gal) who ran this blog were members of a Halo 2 clan called the “TTL Gunslingers”:http://tiedtheleader.com. At the time I joined the staff, I was the only writer for the blog who was not already a Gunslinger.

Earlier this week I finally completed the application process for the clan and received my invite. And in purusing the “clan discussion forum”:http://forum.tiedtheleader.com, I noticed that the software they were using was not the popular “phpBB”:http://www.phpbb.com/. It was a relatively new forum software called “Simple Machines”:http://www.simplemachines.org/, and it didn’t take long in playing around with it to be very, very impressed – so impressed, in fact, that I have since converted my own discussion board – “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum – to the SMF(Simple Machines Forum) software.

Here’s where the gushing comes in – the features in SMF(Simple Machines Forum) are, quite simply, amazing:

  • The installation of SMF(Simple Machines Forum) had a significant “WordPress”:http://wordpress.org feel to it – upload the files, run the install, complete the very simple form, and let the install program do its thing. All I had to do at that point was sit back and watch. It _did_ take a little longer to install and setup than WordPress does, but then again, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) has quite a few more files and tables.
  • I was hugely impressed with the fact that the SMF(Simple Machines Forum) installation actually paused several times throughout the process. The reason for this is to give the server a break by not chewing up all the site’s bandwidth. It was a very conscientious touch on the part of the programmers, and I was very impressed with the foresight and consideration put into that bit of code.
  • One of the things that discussion forum administrators dread when switching from one forum software to another is converting the old forum into a format that is usable with the new one. It’s not generally a simple process, and things almost always end up looking and acting screwy. The conversion from phpBB to SMF(Simple Machines Forum) was every bit as easy, clean, and simple as the installation process itself was. You can browse the forum now and never see any indication that it started out as a phpBB site.
  • Adding modifications to SMF(Simple Machines Forum) is likewise a breeze. With phpBB anytime a modification or hack is added, you have to follow a rather complicated and time-consuming process. Half a dozen or more files have to be opened, specific bits of code located and either modified or have new bits of code added around them. It’s always a rigorous task and not much fun. And the downside is that whenever the forum software undergoes an upgrade to a new version, all those modifications are overwritten and have to be put back in place. With SMF(Simple Machines Forum) the modification folder is simply uploaded to the ‘Packages’ folder inside the forum directory structure, then click the ‘Install’ button in the admin panel, and within second the modification is active. No files to open, no code to hack, and the modifications are persistent through upgrades. I was nearly weeping for joy at this point.
  • In phpBB the admin panel is an almost completely separate environment from the forum itself. It sometimes feels like you are interacting with two completely different websites whenever you have to go into phpBB’s admin panel to take care of some issue in the forum. With SMF(Simple Machines Forum) the admin panel is actually built right into the forum itself. The headers and footers are all there, and the level of administrative integration is astoundingly comprehensive.
  • phpBB includes only the basic and most commonly used features in their base installation. Everything else has to be added as a hack or a mod. SMF(Simple Machines Forum) has a lot of those extra features built right in. For instance, you can easily print a printer-friendly version of any discussion thread. You can email a friend with a link to a particular discussion right from the thread itself. Offensive posts can be quickly and easily reported to a moderator. Private messages can actually be sent to multiple recipients at the same time. SMF(Simple Machines Forum) even has RSS built in. All this is automatic, with no additional work aside from the installation needed on the part of the forum administrator. Did I mention that I was impressed?
  • One of the things that I have always wished phpBB could do was have sublevels of certain discussion boards. For instance, an entertainment and media discussion board could be broken down further into a music board, books and literature board, games board, and so on. Again, SMF(Simple Machines Board) has this feature built right in. Any board can have child boards, which themselves can have child boards, etc. It’s a great way to organize specific types of discussions and keep them all together. I’ve been working on reorganizing much of the content on “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum in a more logical fashion.
  • SMF(Simple Machines Forum) also gives both administrators and users a higher level of control. Users can select their own custom titles, attach files to forum posts for ease of sharing, and create custom text to display beneath their avatar. Administrators jobs are made easier by automating certain functions. If a user selects an avatar that is too large, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) will automatically resize the image to manageable dimensions. No more need for people to play around in Photoshop to crop the image just so.

As I’ve said, SMF(Simple Machines Forum) is a truly remarkable and impressive bit of software. The only modification I wanted that didn’t come standard was a spoiler tag, to hide spoiler information in certain movie, book, and video games threads on the site. And the activation of the modification was so simple I couldn’t believe how quick and painless it was. I’m looking forward to using this software more and trying to get the forum active again.

I’ve been considering broadening the scope of the board to include more than just theological and philosophical discussions, though I do still want that to be an important board. I tend to think that there might be interest in a board that does more, and now that I have the ability for child boards, I think managing a higher level of content will be a much more manageable process. So, come on over, check us out, and please offer up suggestions of new boards that can be added and what sort of directions “Open Dialogue”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum should go in. It’s a community project, an open marketplace of ideas, and the more people who share in it, the better and more successful it will be.

I’ll keep the door open and the light on for you.

Reformat

I’m curious – if you were to partake in an online discussion forum, what kinds of topics would interest you enough for you to participate in the discussion?

I’m considering reformatting my “discussion forum”:http://www.open-dialogue.com/forum a bit, trying to get it somewhere close to marginally active again, but I’m not sure what direction to take it. I still want to keep a significant portion of it dedicated to deeper issues and higher levels of thinking, but I think I would also like to add some other sections dedicated to fun things, as well (not that discussing faith and philosophy aren’t fun; they just aren’t everyone’s cup-o’-tea). Any and all input is welcome.

Restructure Complete. Mostly.

I’ve finished up this version of my website’s restructure. I’m always hacking around with it, though, so I figure that eventually something else will get added and changed, but hopefully it will all still be able to fall under the navigation system I’ve set up. Perhaps the most noticeable change to my site is the replacement of the portal on my “front page”:http://www.open-dialogue.com with a simply splash page that easily lets users navigate to any of my main five (so far) projects – three blogs, a wiki, and a discussion forum (which itself may get overhauled a bit in the near future, depending on what I end up deciding to do with it).

Each project itself – with the exclusion of the forum – has been altered slightly to include a navigation menu back to the front page and to each of the other projects on the site. Essentially, I want my readers to be able to partake fully in each of my projects, if they so wish, without having to always navigate back out to the front page to get around. I expect I’ll be adding a photo gallery eventually, as well, but that generally requires that I actually _have_ photos to share, so that project has been tabled for the time being. Feel free to surf around all the projects if you wish – join a discussion on the forum, subscribe to any (or all) of my blog feeds, comment on one of my stories, add some info to the wiki, whatever you want. And I’m always open to suggestions for new things to try out, so don’t hesitate to offer some feedback.

Unintentional Support

There’s been a great “discussion”:http://open-dialogue.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=279 on my “forum”:http://www.open-dialogue.com about Islam and whether or not it is actually a peaceful religion. A thought occurred to me this morning that I wanted to share:

A lot of attention has been given to the fact that very few Muslims have been speaking up and speaking out against the terror bombings or the riot violence. Accusations have been launched that this means that the Islamic community is actually silently supportive of the violence. The problem with this is that just because someone does not speak out against something that is wrong does not mean that they are supportive of it (though inaction does accomplish essentially the same thing as outright support). How often have Christians in this country performed acts that are completely counter to the teachings and doctrine of our faith, only to have hardly anyone say anything against it? Does that then mean that we support the action?

There _are_ always people who speak up and speak out, but those voices are typically too few. Most people just prefer to let the problem pass by without addressing it, ironically enough, _because_ they don’t support it. Ignore it, and it eventually goes away, right? The problem with this approach, though, is that it does make it look like the entire group is supportive of the extremist fringe.

Just something to think about…

Open Dialogue

In addition to running a somewhat active blog, I have also run a discussion forum for the past year. It’s a great place for people to come together to talk about a wide variety of topics, to bounce their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions around a little bit, and to share in some good ol’ intellectual calisthenics (and so far we’ve been free of any of the knock-down, drag-out fights that are typical of so many similar discussion forums). Most of the discussion is theological and philosophical in nature, but we also do a fair amount of horsing around with lighter, sillier topics. If you enjoy active discussion and great dialogue, then I urge you to join us at “Open Dialogue”:http://www.open-dialogue.com.

Open Dialogue Shoutout

Time to give a shoutout to another project of mine, I think. You’ll notice that Writer’s Blog is actually a subdirectory to “www.open-dialogue.com”:http://www.open-dialogue.com. If you drop the subdirectory (i.e. /blog) from the URL, you’ll end up at a discussion forum I started earlier in the year. It’s geared primarily toward Christian discussion of issues we face everyday–everything from religion to politics to psychology to entertainment, video games, you name it–though it is certainly not limited to Christians, as you’ll see in a couple of the better discussions. “Open Dialogue”:http://www.open-dialogue.com is simply another venue for online interaction, and it’s a place that I strive to hold as a venue for cool, calm, rational discussion–in short, a place of open dialogue, just as the name suggests. So, if you feel so led and if discussion of deeper things is your cup of tea, click on back a level and sign up. We’d be glad to have some new voices.

Exercise of the Mind

Writing is strenuous work. You wouldn’t think it would be just to look at it. But it takes effort and discipline and energy. I often leave a lengthy session of writing feeling fatigued, both
mentally and physically. It takes a lot out of me. Yet it is some of the most satisfying work I do in the course of a day. Right now, I have several writing projects I am working on.

One is a series of in-depth theological discussions on Open Dialogue. A couple of individuals have really made the dialogue very challenging, and I have enjoyed it immensely. Most of my responses involve at least half an hour’s worth of work, yet I leave them feeling refreshed, invigorated, and strengthened in my own faith. Indeed, these discussions have had the effect of driving me closer to my God these past few days than just about anything else (save the encouragement of my wife and a couple of dear friends).

Another project is this blog. I have a series of articles in mind to write based on a couple of experiences from this past weekend. One article
I have already written. The others are patiently waiting in my mental queue. They know I have other things on my mind and on my plate right now.

And then my final projects are in some ways my most important. I have a fantasy novel in progress. I am over halfway done with a science fiction short story. I am beginning to live my dream of authoring, of writing for the purpose of publication. My wife has been extremely supportive of me in this endeavor, and we have found the time for me to write a little bit nearly every single evening. It has already been richly rewarding, and I can’t wait to submit this first short story to a magazine with hopes that they will purchase it. Several friends have already graciously agreed to serve as my first line editing ‘staff’, and so I greatly look forward to getting
their feedback.

I do believe that God has given me a gift to write, along with the desire, the passion for the written word, and I want to use this gift for His glory.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31 (NIV)