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.

Typefaces

I remember somebody once making an analogy about singing the national anthem at the beginning of a Cubs game: it is a brief formality everyone observes before “all breaks loose”. Which is how I’ve always viewed choosing a font before I type up a document or design my website.

At least until I saw the documentary film “Helvetica” by Gary Hustwit and read the book “Just My Type” by Simon Garfield. Good designers create and select typefaces with tremendous care; they are not just accidents or afterthoughts. For some important projects, like developing the signage for the London Underground, the designer was in on the plans from the beginning and created the Underground font when no other seemed perfect for the job.

In the film and the book, there is some discussion about whether a font should be “invisible”; if you don’t notice it then it must be doing its job. In “Just My Type”, Garfield uses Comic Sans as a counterexample, a typeface despised by professionals and laypersons alike:

Comic Sans is a type that has gone wrong. It was designed with strict intentions by a professional man with a solid philosophical grounding in graphic arts, and it was unleashed upon the world with a kind heart. It was never intended to cause revulsion or loathing, much less end up (as it has) on the side of an ambulance or gravestone. It was intended to be fun. And, oddly enough, it was never intended to be a typeface at all.

I hate Comic Sans. Hate it. I think it looks unprofessional or unserious, and Garfield agrees, but he points out that it is misuse or overuse that makes it the wrong font, not that the font itself is badly designed. And if I saw it on a Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper it would probably make me smile with affection.

Both the filmmaker and the author argue that the font ought not be totally invisible, that it should contribute something besides legibility and readability, like beauty or meaning, to the text. Many consider Helvetica dated, trite, corporate, and establishment. But there is something clean and concise and strong about it that I like. Or at least the film and my design-minded wife have gotten me to appreciate it, and with my new Mac I get to see it in action more (I’m typing in Helvetica now). Windows doesn’t use Helvetica, but offers its ugly stepsister Arial as a substitute. I couldn’t describe to you the graphical differences (like with many fonts the differences are so subtle) but it’s a like a Kardashian sister that is not named Kim; if you weren’t aware of her pedigree you probably would not turn your head for another look.

I didn’t agonize over my selections of fonts for my blog. WordPress’s present default theme fonts are Helvetica and Georgia, but I don’t use them. Georgia I find a bit blocky-looking, though it and its sans-serif counterpart Verdana (another I don’t care for) are designed for readability on the Web. Windows doesn’t use Helvetica, so it would appear to their users as Arial or another of the browser’s default sans-serif fonts. I’ve used Trebuchet (for headers) and Palatino (for long texts) on this website for a few years. Both are “Web safe” (compatible with different operating systems) and highly readable, which are important to my accessibility goals for this site. And they’re pretty. Palatino has a classy, warm, old style charm and Trebuchet is quirky but compact and fluid.

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.

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.

R&D continues

Research and development on the home page continues. The categorical updates seemed a little wrong since there are a couple of categories I don’t post in very often. Now I am posting excerpts from the last five posts on the home page in what I hope is a more attractive format.

As an aside, I will post my web design notes in Site News more often. However, I still have to find the best way to include raw PHP code into the post without WordPress rendering it into HTML.

New home page

The blog page is now separate from the home page, something I’ve been meaning to try for a while. It helps when I generate lists of pages. A selection of recent posts are excerpted on the home page. It took a fair amount of research and trial and error on my part to make these changes but it looks like nothing, right?

I’ve also been messing around with sidebar widgets, a WordPress automation feature for the menu. Everything I have over there now is customized. The widgets are not so easily customizable, so I’m not quite ready for them, but they’ll come in handy later.