Tag Archives: geek

Learning PHP

I’m sandboxing PHP today (not to be confused with playing with the “Sandbox”:http://plaintxt.org/themes/sandbox theme from the fine folks over at “plaintxt.org”:http://plaintxt.org), working on learning the code so that I can start coding the stuff from scratch, instead of just being able to hack other people’s work. I’ve been wanting to do this for awhile now, and well, I have quite a bit of free time on my hands these days, so this seems like as good a time as any to learn a new skill. I’ve got the PHP tutorial up in a tab, and I’m working through it step by step.

I’ve got at least a couple of plugins I’d like to write for WordPress, things that I haven’t seen anyone else put together yet. Trouble is, I don’t know enough yet to write these plugins myself. I plan to change that. And heck, maybe I’ll even be able to add my own weight to some of the WordPress development somewhere down the road.

Anyway, time’s a-wasting. Back to the tutorial. So far, I’m finding PHP coding to be pretty straightforward. But then again, I learned C Programming several years back. This really isn’t all that much different. It’s fun!

Code Geek

I am a WordPress god! Ok, not really, but I _am_ enjoying the fact that I can now manipulate a WP theme pretty easily. It’s true – the more you use CSS, the more you play around with web design, the better you get at it.

I host a number of different websites for myself and for friends on my shared account, and I’ve been helping a guy who maintains one of those sites tweak a WP theme to force it to behave. He’s done most of the actual template work, taking an existing one and hacking it pretty heavily to change it to a very different look and feel. I spent a couple of hours IMing with him last night adding additional tweaks to the theme – like adding a navbar at the top of the header, dropping the sidebar completely from the theme (since it’s going to be essentially a static CMS once everything’s in place), and changing a number of other small elements. It was fun to realize once all that was done that it was a lot easier now than it had been the first time I tried to change and manipulate a WP theme back a year or so ago. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable both with how individual WordPress elements function as well as with CSS itself in being able to position and affect various things on the page.

From the first time I started teaching myself HMTL about 10 years ago until now, I’ve always enjoyed playing around with web page design. I’m pretty much self-taught, which is also why I don’t know nearly as much as I’d like to. I’m pretty well-versed in HTML and CSS now, and I know enough about PHP to be able to hack the code, though I don’t know enough PHP to write pages from scratch, much to my chagrin. But sometimes I don’t wonder if I shouldn’t go into the information technology business. I love playing with server-side utilities, I love hosting websites, and I love just building things out of code. It’s a hobby that I’m pretty passionate about. I’m just afraid that if I ever turned such into a business, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

I don’t know if I’ll ever actually step into the IT business – it would probably require me to find both the time and the money to pick up formal training to finish filling in the gaps of my coding knowledge, and that’s not something I’m sure I’ll ever be able to do. But the prospect of being able to go freelance sure is appealing to me. I’ve always wanted to be self-employed. There’s plenty of time, though, so it’s an option that I’ve not completely ruled out yet.

I’m starting to think, though, that it might be time for me to create another WordPress theme. Anyone have any suggestions for layout and features?

WP 2.2

Just updated with the latest version of WordPress again (2.2). Painless as always and I like the new features. I played with the RC1 version last week and enjoyed having widget support built in and automatic disabling of plugins that’ll generate fatal errors. It’s also a bit faster, but that’s something you might not notice. If you haven’t already upgraded, go do it. You won’t be sorry.

Coming Changes

Dang it. I’ve learned my lesson. It _is_ possible to have too many toys, especially when some of those ‘toys’ involve badly written code.

Sometime in the course of the next week, I think I will be giving Writer’s Blog an overhaul. For starters, I’m going to trim my number of plugins being used down to a somewhat more manageable number – the current count stands at 46 active. A fair number of these will stay in place as they are, though I’ll be looking to see if any have been updated, since I use them on a daily basis as integral parts of my blogging process. The rest, however, will get trimmed away. Most of them are sidebar fodder, anyway.

The reason behind this decision is because at least one of these plugins is built on bad coding. As a result I’ve noticed that my site’s service keeps getting interrupted while the CPU resets itself. Apparently, a script somewhere keeps overtaxing my server by not shutting itself off when it’s supposed to. I’ve checked the error logs, but no one thing seems to stand out. This is a pretty new problem that’s started only the last week, so I have to assume that it has something to do with one of the more recent plugins I’ve installed. Either that, or traffic to my site has increased quite a bit, but I find that explanation less likely.

The other bit I think I’m going to do is either find or create a different to use here. I do love the Navigation theme and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Heck, I even built a bbPress theme that will partner with it. And I’m sure I’ll trot it out again at some point down the road. But I think I’d like to find something that’s a bit more minimalistic – plain, simple, and fast. And since I’m already going to be shutting a number of sidebar plugins off to try to help ease off server loads, I might even be able to drop back down to a 2-column theme. I’m just not sure, yet, what sort of layout I want for my blog, so I’m not sure if I’ll be looking for a theme that already exists or if I’ll custom-tailor something. I’ll likely have to grab a sheet of paper and pencil and layout what things I want to appear on the site, where on the page I want it to sit, and what I want it to look like. From there, that should guide my ultimate decision.

Geek Wishes

Geeky things I’d love to learn how to do but haven’t, as yet, found the time or opportunity:

  • Learn how to use Photoshop ((This also demands I acquire a non-pirated and legal copy of Photoshop.)) and GIMP to their maximum potentials
  • Learn how to record and edit audio files
  • Acquire the equipment and training to create “machinima”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machinima
  • Set up and run my own web server from home

I’m sure there are others, but these stand at the top of my list.

FoS Redesigned

I’ve just finished a complete site redesign on “Flashes of Speculation”:http://open-dialogue.com/fs, giving it what is, I hope, a unique and attractive layout.

I built this template – called Speculation (for obvious reasons) – from the ground up, stripping the necessary files down to the bare code to keep WordPress running and then builing everything back up around that. The result is a light-weight, minimalistic theme that serves to display just three categories (four, technically, if you count the announcements field at the top) on the front page in a 3-column format. In this case, I wanted to separate out the three primary genres of fiction that FoS specializes in, give a single-line teaser, and a link to the full post. The archives are structured in a similar manner, albeit in a single column, and the page navigation can be found in the footer.

Unfortunately, this theme will not be offered for public release at this time. Due to the specialized nature of the theme, it’s a beast to configure, and I haven’t the programming knowledge at this point to automate everything in the Dashboard or make the selection of categories and pages in the various places more efficient. That _is_ something I will likely research for a 2.0 release to the public. For the time being, however, simply enjoy the theme on FoS and feel free to let me know of any bugs or glitches you notice.

Tag Filters

I’ve a feature request for all you php ninjas out there, particularly those of you who develop plugins that do strange and wonderful things with tagging:

How about making the ability to tag posts in WordPress a little bit more powerful? For instance, I use “Ultimate Tag Warrior”:http://www.neato.co.nz/ultimate-tag-warrior/ to create a site index here, and it’s nice to be able to click on a particular tag and see all of the entries that fall under it.

Here’s the thing, though – I’d like to see it be possible to filter down still further into those entries. Instead of, for instance, being able to see the entries that fall under speculative fiction only, I’d like to be able to add more tag filters and see all the entries that have been tagged as _both_ speculative fiction and tv shows, or to be able to add still more filters so that I could see all entries that fall under speculative fiction, tv, shows, and heroes, if I wanted to get that specific. It would also be cool to be able to filter by an ‘OR’ command, so that I could sift through all my entries and see all posts that have been tagged as _either_ science fiction _or_ fantasy, for a larger list. I believe that this could easily be done using AJAX to add and remove tags at will. “bbPress”:http://bbpress.org already has something like this in place for individual posts, so I don’t think it would require much effort to modify that script slightly to make it do more and go further.

So, any javascript/php geeks out there looking for a new challenge to expand the functionality of some of useful tools to make them even _more_ useful?

Chess Tactics

I’ve found a new toy – the “Chess Tactics Server”:http://chess.emrald.net/index.php. It’s basically a free website where you go to solve thousands of chess problems. You’re presented with scenario where you have to choose the next best move (or set of moves) before the clock runs out and are rated based on whether or not you found the correct solution. The faster you solve it, the more points you get. Solvers start with a rating of 1500 (based on the popular “Glicko system”:http://math.bu.edu/people/mg/glicko/glicko.doc/glicko.html). Right now I’m hovering right around 1100, so I think I’ve hit my actual skill level at the moment. The goal is to improve my rating by doing more and more of these problems.

For chess enthusiasts rushing over there to check it, take notice that the site works best in Internet Explorer. Tell IE to _never_ check for newer versions of stored pages (Tools –> Internet Options –> Temporary Internet Files –> Settings –> Check for newer versions of stored pages –> Never), or else the clock will start counting down before the board even finishes loading.

It’s kind of fun, and you can solve as many or as few as you like and then go do something else for a while. So, if you like chess, go give it a look-see.