Catastrophic hardware failure

HostRocket, the company that hosts this website, sent me an e-mail in July stating that they had “catastrophic hardware failure” on one of their servers, resulting in  “a complete data loss.”

My website was completely erased with no chance of recovery.

I’ve restored the database from a backup, but the most recent backup I have available is from March of 2014.

All the photos will have to be re-uploaded. It might take a while. I had a thousand or two.

I do intend to resume writing, though. Stay tuned.

Writing or lack thereof

I haven’t been writing here because I’ve been writing for a creative writing workshop. I hope to share some stuff later.

I don’t write creative fiction very often, and have a few things kicking around, including some that have appeared here. It’s interesting to hear others’ opinions about it and to get constructive feedback. My class is very encouraging.

I’ve upgraded WordPress to 3.8 and am trying out the new default theme. It’s okay. I didn’t meet my goal this year of designing my own theme.

Small innovation

As a follow-up on my last post: I find I sometimes run out of novel things to write about, or sometimes it’s hard to develop my thoughts into a full-blown essay. I’ve also never been big on posting status updates (“I am eating cake.”). I have been lately been posting my less-developed thoughts (you may find them formatted as “asides”) as a sort of compromise.  So I have a new idea for this blog: posting things I remember from the past. This may have something to do with getting older. I’ll have to ponder that over a bottle of hard cider.

Blogging update

I am now upgraded to WordPress 3.5. The main improvement to this version is supposed to be the media handling, always one of WordPress’s weaknesses. This version is incrementally better. It used to be that groups of photos were only available as galleries in the posts you uploaded  them to. Uploaded photos were dependent on the post to upload them too (they are considered “attachments”). The new version works the same way but I now have some more flexibility to choose which photos go into a gallery on each posts. It works nicely but that’s about it. There’s still no good way to embed uploaded videos within WordPress without using clumsy plugins. I’m thinking about opening up a YouTube channel and then embedding them in my posts.

On another front, I’d like to go back to designing my own website. As I’ve mentioned before, WordPress themes (the files that control how the website looks) are difficult to customize. However, there is a stripped down version of a theme that I can work with. To that end I’ve installed a mock server on my computer with a dummy version of WordPress. I’ll be experimenting with it this year and I hope the website will look a little more original, as it had in the past.

I like to engage in periodic navel-gazing about blogging and this seems like as good a time as any. Adam’s artificial habitat is well over 10 years old now. I first designed it on AOL when I was home from work with firefighting injury. I moved it to TerminalMoraine.com a year or two later. I started blogging on LiveJournal in 2004 and then migrated the posts here when I made WordPress my content management system. I have posted at least a couple of times a month since I started blogging (there are over 1,400 published posts here now).

I think nine years is a good run for a personal blog. A lot of them don’t last so long. While I was searching for design inspiration, I found some websites that rated, for example, the 50 best personal blog designs, but links to many of the examples were already dead after a year or two. In other words, they looked great but ran out of content or staying power. I’m not sure if it’s because of the changing nature of technology or simply because it’s human nature to try things and then move on.

I’ve never thought much about why I keep at it. I originally started blogging because I wanted to practice writing. I also thought it was a good way to add content to my website and to keep my family and friends up to date. It’s my main creative outlet and it’s easy. And I like it.

Upgrade default theme to Twenty Twelve

Screen shot of web page with a black rhino photo in the header.
Aah version 10.0 Black Rhino

I upgraded the default theme to WordPress’s Twenty Twelve. As you can see it’s pretty neat and clean. I’ve made a couple of customizations, mainly adding my photo of the black rhinoceros enclosure from the Denver Zoo (an “artificial habitat” if I ever saw one) into the banner, and a matching background color. More will come later, I hope.

The new default theme, Twenty Twelve, uses an open source web font, Open Sans. I was not familiar with this until now, but Google hosts a whole collection of open source fonts for the web. You can link your web page to Google’s web font API the same way you would link it to an external style sheet. The font available to the user whether or not he has it installed on his computer, because it’s delivered over the web. I like using serif fonts for the main body text, so I’m trying Droid Serif, the companion to Open Sans, by the same designer.

While each iteration of WordPress’s default theme has an increasingly minimalist appearance, the complexity of the templates increase proportionally as well, making them very difficult to customize. Every little element has a style attribute so changing one element doesn’t necessarily change the style of other similar elements that ought to match. The more I customize the more I have to hunt around for little styling inconsistencies. A good example is the variety of link colors in different parts of the website. It often frustrates my ambitions for making the site look more original. WordPress is definitely a platform for geeks.

Styling tweaks

I was getting a little tired of the plain look for this website so I’ve added the banner photos back into the header. Now that my photos are better organized on my computer I realize that I had plenty of nice ones that were getting forgotten about. They are set to display randomly on most of the pages for now. I added a lot, like a couple of hundred. If any of them look really bad please let me know.

I’ve also changed the typefaces to Verdana and Georgia, not the most attractive fonts but very readable. Verdana may be overused as a main body typeface but it’s bold and sturdy for headers, labels and other short strings of text. We’ll try it out for a while.

I also rearranged the site title and navigation menu so that the banner photos would cooperate better with WordPress’s default parent theme. I did away with trying to display the excerpts of the “short form” posts in the sidebar of the home page. They will display the post titles again and you will have to follow the link for the rest of the post.

Some minor rejiggering

I’ve updated to WordPress 3.3. I’ve added “share” buttons to the posts again. I’ve also added an option for subscribing by e-mail.

I added “Photos” to the header menu to display posts with photos in them. I know I’ve done that on and off before but now I’ve gotten the posts to display how I want them to. Later I might try to make it more of an organized photo search page.

Upgrade to WordPress 3.2

Screen capture of a minimalist black and white themed website.
Aah Iteration 9 Theme

Adam’s artificial habitat has upgraded to WordPress 3.2, which comes with a new default theme, Twenty Eleven. I especially like the variety of post formats and the showcase template for the home page.

I have made a few changes to Twenty Eleven but, despite its minimalist appearance, it is sophisticated enough that it’s very difficult to modify. It took some gnashing of teeth before I could get the roll of short form posts to look the way I wanted. I am having a lot of trouble getting the modifying the display of recent posts.

Overall I think I’m finally going to give up control over all the little functional details. The theme template files are getting too complicated and I can’t untangle what controls what. As far as the appearance goes, I like the sparseness of it (Lore says it’s “very contemporary”). I’ll probably recolor it at some point and maybe add an illustration to the masthead but I think I’m going to leave the giant banner photo out. I always felt it took up too much space.

I renamed some of the categories. The opinion category Adam Says (I always hated that title) is now Fallible Reasoning, inspired by a quote from James Madison. Travel is now National Me-O-Graphic. A while back I renamed the category about work Paid in Sunsets, after an old ranger saying and even whiler back I renamed the everyday stuff Quotidiana. I hope I’ve finally recaptured some of the cleverness of the old sections titles (like Right Brain) I had on this site before I converted it to a blogging platform.

I’m also using a new plugin to add links to Facebook. It’s actually called Add Link to Facebook. It works better than the last one, which I could never figure out. I’m futzing around with the settings.

Enjoy.

Restyling update

Screenshot of a website in grays with a colorful header photo.
I used grays to be more versatile with different header photos.

Adam’s artificial habitat was way overdue for some restyling. For almost a year, it looked barely different from the default theme. Now it’s less barely, but I like the grays with the colorful header photo. I still have a number of things I want to change, but this will do for now.

The header photo is of the children’s activity table at the Contemporary Museum of Art in Chicago, taken during our visit last September.

Some updates

If you noticed the Snack Bus theme is gone, it’s because I need to bring my template files up to date with the new version of WordPress. I’m not tired of the snack bus already, but I decided to make my website work better before I make it look better. I may bring it back later.

In the meantime I’ll be using  the default WordPress theme, which is what you see now. The picture in the header is mine, though. It’s from the tile wainscoting inside the Colegio Nacional de Monsterrat in Córdoba, Argentina.

Snack bus theme

Instead of writing I’ve been updating the site’s appearance. The solemn “Capuchinos” theme is no more.

Screen capture of website based on soft colors of stone cathedral columns.
The Capuchinos themes was based on a church I like in Argentina.

The new theme, “Snack Bus” is based on my photo from Maui. I like it because it is cheerful and has lots of colors to play with. I still have a punch-list of corrections to make but most of basic changes are out of the way.

One of the bigger functional changes I want to make is uncluttering the sidebar by making the menus collapsible. This will allow me to add more menu choices without forcing the reader to scroll all the way down. I also hope to incorporate the content from my remaining static pages (“About” and “Contact”) into the sidebar somehow, and eliminate the site map.

I’ve also given up on a photo gallery page for now. WordPress just isn’t cut out for it. Follow the “Photos” tag to find posts with photographs.

New contact form

I noticed I hadn’t gotten any e-mails through this site in a long time. This is probably because my readership is nearly nonexistent, but also because the form on the Contact page no longer works.

I’ve installed a new contact form. I know it works with Firefox 3.5. If you have trouble with the form in Internet Explorer 8, try viewing the page in compatibility mode. I’m still working out some kinks.

I apologize if anyone tried to contact me and wasn’t able to or didn’t get a response. If the contact form still doesn’t work, please let me know using the comment form for this entry, below.

Thanks for your patience.

The Ed “Cookie” Burns effect

Google Analytics revealed something surprising to me. The most visited post on this website last month was a hasty, mistake-ridden entry from four years ago. The title of my one-sentence commentary on the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams played on his name by mentioning Edd “Kookie” Byrnes. Among other mistakes I incorrectly spelled Byrnes’ name as Ed “Cookie” Burns. Whenever someone searches for the term “ed cookie burns” in Google, that post is the top result. For some reason, November 8, 2009 was a high water mark for visits from people searching for “ed cookie burns”.

While it’s nice to come out on top of at least one Google search, that poorly-written blurb is not the gateway through which I want to welcome readers to my site. I have corrected the errors, and now the searchers of “ed cookie burns” may become acquainted with my blog through this awful bit of meta-commentary. Enjoy.

Trying another photo gallery plug-in

I’ve been trying out NextGen Gallery, a WordPress photo gallery plug-in. You can see a couple of test galleries on the Photos page.
Though it has improved much over the last several upgrades, WordPress’s ability to organize and display photo albums is still limited.

NextGen Gallery has some good features and a lot of potential, except for me it has two problems. It can import the photos I’ve already uploaded but not the titles and descriptions or any other data already entered into my database. So I’d have to re-enter all that for the 800 of so photos I have posted here. I’ve done that a couple of times now as I’ve tried different plugins and I don’t want to do it again. The other problem with plug-ins is that they’re not supported by newer versions of WordPress, so I could be out of luck later if the author stops supporting it. As it is NextGen Gallery’s documentation is pretty sparse. I’ve had to learn it on it my own (which was good because I’ve discovered it’s limitations too).

I’ll keep messing around with it, and hope WordPress comes up with something better.

Back to the drawing board

OK. After accidentally deleting my theme files, I’ve been rebuilding this site, trying for an artsy “magic-marker” theme. It’s not working. I don’t have the graphic design skills to pull it off correctly.

I’ll be getting back to basics and focusing on making Adam’s artificial habitat accessible and sharp-looking again. Thanks for your patience.

Oops

I accidentally deleted my custom theme files. Even though I back up my database and lots of other things, for some reason I never backed them up. So the template files and the style sheet for the nice prairie theme is gone. I do have a screen capture of it so I can remember it:

Prairie theme in green, orange, yellow, and purple.
Prairie theme in green, orange, yellow, and purple.

I can’t believe it. Well, this is one of those crisis-opportunity moments so I’ll be slowly rebuilding and redesigning the site again.

Code surgery

The functions in WordPress 2.7.1 for inserting images into posts are deranged and at odds with my style sheet. After much gnashing of teeth I finally went into the program’s source code and deleted a few short snippets. I don’t like to mess with the source code, but it solved two problems I was having. Usually when I do that it causes more.

More tweaks

Though I’ve separated the home page from the blog, the blog is still the main feature. I need something on the home page that will lead into the blog, so I’ve moved the latest excerpt up to the top and linked it to both the blog and the latest post.

The big photo of me on the home page, as Lore put it, puts me and what I like right in front. Something bothered me about it. It was just stuck there like a big obstacle, so I moved it down and will use it to lead into my new Photos page, which is still under construction but I’m concocting a way to display all of my photos there. WordPress is primarily a writing program and is a little slow to develop its multimedia features, so I will have to either monkey around with the existing functions or write some of my own.

I also simplified the sidebar menu (now completely “widgetized”, or automated), and moved the calendar and the archives, categories, and tags menus onto the blog pages. I hope they don’t get in the way, but I don’t like it when the sidebar gets too long with options.