12 Witnesses

Let these stones be a witness to what we have done here this day.

Better Blogging: NextGen Picture Gallery

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This is a post of a few more artistic images that I took at Bonnie’s Graduation, but it is using the the NextGen Gallery plugin, with which I am experimenting. It is highly rated, but this is my first time using it, so I’ll have to write again later to let you know how it is.

Also, it came with slideshow and gallery link widgets to put in the sidebars, but I’ve opted not to include them in order to keep the load time down.

‘Nuff talk. Here’s the gallery:

[update]

Well, I couldn’t resist the slideshow widget, which is not a very big load and doesn’t slow the rest of the site down. I really like the plugin. It is highly configurable and works tons better than the gallery that comes with WordPress 2.5. The slideshow will continue to pick up all photos I put up from now on. 5 Stars.

Better Blogging: The Theme or Template

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blogIf you are picking this post up in your rss feedreader, then you might consider popping by the main blogsite at twelvewitnesses.com. The template here has changed significantly for the first time since the original inception back in September of 2005. Oh, we’ve had a name change and the template has been tweaked from time to time, but it has always been black background/white writing and the orange links and accents have been around for almost two years.

So, aside from just changing to change, why do such a dramatic revolution? There is nothing happening here that hasn’t been happening on most other blogs/themes. No video boxes in the sidebar and even the lens flare outer space graphic header has been exchanged for simple title graphics. What’s the benefit?

Actually, there’s a lot of benefit, and it all rotates around the idea of simplicity, which translates to streamlined for search engines, browsers and actual people.

This blog is not graphics intensive, which simplifies the load process on any browser. I just loaded it in Explorer (with nothing cached) and it loaded in .389 seconds. This is mainly for people who drop by. People who have to wait for a page to load, don’t like to visit it. That simple. It is something that will never change. In fact, because the internet is so much faster now, waiting is more aggravating than ever.

I achieved this three ways. First, there are no complex graphics, like the former header. Second, the graphics that are here are simplified and compressed so they are small. Very little load on the system. Finally, only the top article is featured on the main page. This means that I can use graphics on every post, but the person visiting the home site only has to download the graphics of the top post. it makes for a very speedy site.

The next thing I did was to make it a little more readable. This is a four column blog, rather than a two column blog, so the content on the main page does not take time to scan. Very few people have small screens anymore and most have wide screens. This blog LOVES the wide screen. But even if you don’t have that, the column widths are fluid, which means that they adjust to your screen. If it is wide, then they all spread out. If it is narrow, then they compress and make the page a little longer. Also, the far left sidebar (in the middle of the blog) drops out when you click on an article, so the article can spread out even more.

In order to create a little more readership, I placed a very large rss icon in the top right corner of the blog. It drives me nuts to look for rss links on blogs that I discover and then I can’t find the feed link anywhere. I’ve actually had to go to bloglines and have it search for a feed because none was there. Don’t do that to people. Most aren’t as determined or even proficient as I am. Make it very easy to catch what you are throwing. That’s the point, right?

Finally, I put the content on the left side of the blog where people and search engine bots can pick it up quickly. It makes it much easier to be found by search engines and people like it, too.

Oh, and the archives at 2.5 years now don’t stretch down the page. There is a page for them now, and I love the way it lays out. It gives the title of every post in chronological order. David Phillips turned me onto this with a plugin called kgarchives. You’ll need to create an Archives page and with the html editor (not the visual editor) put in this tag: <kgarchives />

That’s it.

Hope you are digging it. I did keep a little of the old site around with the orange, gray and black, but just a hint of what has gone before.

Phriday foto 04-18-08/Better Blogging: WordPress 2.5 Media Upload

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Be on the lookout for a massive Link Load coming today and if you like these fotos, you can see more on my Photoblog.

Wordpress LogoToday I am combining several things into one mighty Phriday foto: My tech series on blogging and WordPress, my pictures, my trip to Vietnam and a tribute to Joe Kennedy, whose photography I love – especially the pictures of food. No. Not because its food and I’m fat. Because of the texture, perspectives and colors.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

So, I am uploading these pictures, after compressing them with Faststone freeware image viewer as mentioned in Better Blogging: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), with WordPress 2.5 media uploader. The media uploader was giving me some problems, but David Phillips helped me to to install the Flexible Upload plugin and that has settled it down. It only works on pictures though, but if I were uploading video or audio (the other options) I would use Podpress, so I don’t need it for anything else. *Note to David, who is very busy – I’m not tinkering. I promise.

One of the options of the Media Uploader is that you can insert several images and it will create thumbnails and an intermediate picture. The other option, on display here today, is the insert gallery function, which will create a gallery of thumbnails through which you can navigate, like a mini-photoblog on your post.

Rather than give you the rundown myself on how to do it, I’ll link to Matt Mullenweg, a fellow Houstonian living elsewhere in the world (California, where there is no decent BBQ), telling you all about WordPress 2.5 media upload at WordPress.org. PS – Matt is one of the first ever bloggers and is (one of) the creator(s) of WordPress, which is to say, he’s had some help, but he is the primary cause of its existence. He might know what he’s talking about.

So here it is a picture gallery of food from Vietnam, created in WordPress 2.5: (click on a thumbnail for the full size picture)

Better Blogging: Tweaking Firefox

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Firefox is the best internet browser around, but did you know you can tweak it? You can make this browser more efficient and adapt it to your own interests. There are two ways of doing this: Add-ons and Scripts. An add-on is an additional program that gets, wait for it, “added on” to the basic Firefox code. Scripts work within Firefox to cause it to act differently and are more susceptible to malware (malicious software) written by hackers and act like viruses. Avoid these by checking the downloads of the scripts on the download page to make sure plenty of others have gone safely before you.

You can cruise the add on section at Firefox for some that you might enjoy.

Here is a list of the ones that I have installed. Feel free to share with the class some of your favorites.

Adblock Plus :: Firefox Add-ons – Blocks Advertisements in articles and on websites. I never see the dancing mortgage ads at Yahoo anymore. Huzzah!

Auto Copy :: Firefox Add-ons – Automatically copies to the clipboard anything I highlight, saving me extra clips. This plugin is essential to efficiently putting together a “Link Load” post with tons of links to interesting things. It saves 2-3 extra clicks per link, and is used in combination with a couple of other programs for great speediness. Just call me Speedy Gonzalez. Andele!

Better Gmail 2 :: Firefox Add-ons – This add on kicks into gear when you log on to your gmail account. I don’t use gmail that much, but if you do, go to the home page and review the features to see if it’s for you.

CoLT :: Firefox Add-ons – This add on is a power blogging must: Copy Link/Text. When clicking on a link, this add on adds a couple of items to your right click pop up menu: 1) Copy Link Text and 2) Copy Link Text and Location as… The second option has an arrow and gives you several choices. The first choice is “as HTML” which, when selected, will produce a fully formed html coded link in the clipboard and it saves you TONS of time and energy. This is the primary way I was able to produce all of the links that you see in this post in just over five minutes. The typing next to the links, a little longer.

del.icio.us buttons :: Firefox Add-ons – Inserts a button in the toolbar of Firefox that will let you bookmark a page in del.icio.us. If you don’t know what that is, it is a place to store your bookmarks online, so that you can access them anywhere without having to be at YOUR computer.

Digg This! :: Firefox Add-ons – Adds a “Digg This” item to the right click menu so that you can easier submit things to Digg. By the way, if you want to be read, you want to be dug. If you and your friends will start digging each others interesting posts, they will start reaching a much wider audience.

Download Statusbar :: Firefox Add-ons – Replaces the download window with a status bar at the bottom of the page. Easier to keep up with and not as much hassle with a pop up window.

DownThemAll ! :: Firefox Add-ons – Allows you to download multiple files instead of one at a time. Very useful.

Fasterfox :: Firefox Add-ons – Makes Firefox more efficient and helps it to load pages faster. it can do nothing about slow connections, so if you have one, a slow internet is what you will have. If, however, you have a highspeed connection, this plugin makes Firefox seem even faster than you would have guessed.

Forecastfox :: Firefox Add-ons – Puts a radar screen and weather alerts in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, as well as current temps and the forecast for the next two days. Also alerts you to dangerous weather when watches or warnings are released.

Greasemonkey :: Firefox Add-ons – More on this one in the next section, but this plugin allows you to insert scripts.

MinimizeToTray :: Firefox Add-ons – Minimizes Firefox windows to the system tray.

Skype Sidebar :: Firefox Add-ons – If you use Skype to webchat, this gives you some tools in Firefox.

Web Developer :: Firefox Add-ons – Tools for Web Developers.

Now, to the Scripts that you can add.

Greasemonkey refers to the shade tree mechanic who used to lift the hood and tinker with his car to make it just a little faster, just a little better. These scripts are computer programming’s version of folks lifting the hood of Firefox and tinkering with some great help in efficiency and some just fun applications.

First, you have to install the greasemonkey addon, then you can install the scripts. Here are a few that I’ll recommend.

Akismet Auntie Spam for WordPress … If you’ve ever gotten much spam caught in the anti-spam plugin, Akismet for WordPress, you probably have been frustrated while looking for legitimate comments among the pages of spam. This is especially tedious when the spam is several thousand words long with a hundred some odd links to sites hosting medicines without prescription, porn and investments. This script recognizes that you are in Akismet and collapses all the comments into one line entries. You can expand the entry with a click if you think it is legitimate and verify. It collapses pages of spam to 1/10th the size.

WordPress Comment Ninja This script does two things. The first thing it does is allow you to reply to comments from the notification email you get when someone comments on your blog, providing you are reading the comment in Firefox. The second thing it does is to create links to do the same thing from the comment section of wordpress. Although I use Outlook to receive my email for 12 Witnesses, I have used this script to answer comments from within the WordPress.

Amazon – Denver Lookup 1.2.6 When looking at a book on Amazon, this script will form a link under the title that will take you to Denver Library’s information about the book – usually more than what Amazon has to offer.

Google Image Relinker This script will allow you to click on an image from Google Image Search and it will go straight to the image, rather than to the framed version of the original website. This is if you don’t like Greased Lightbox below.

Download YouTube Video III Allows you to do just as it says, download videos from YouTube.

Greased Lightbox (v0.16) Now here’s a great script. When you search for images on Google Image Search and click on one, it will launch the large picture against a black background. You can then navigate VERY QUICKLY through the page with the arrow keys on your keyboard.

Flickr Photo Magnifier Creates bigger pictures from smaller ones on flickr.

Google Doc Download GM Script Allows you to download documents stored on Google Docs, and when combined with “downthemall” allows you to get all your Google Docs quickly, which is handy if others have been editing them.

GZoom Allows you zoom in on Google Maps beyond what you normally could.

Google 100 Instead of 10 results from Google, you get 100 results on a page.

Facebook Auto – Colorizer Colors Facebook pages to blend with the main picture on the page. Somewhat fun.

Facebook Fixer A collection of enhancements for various aspects of Facebook eg. showing bigger profile pictures, making it easier to view albums, showing people’s age and sign, auto-reloading error pages, changing redirecting links to direct links.

Pearl Crescent Page Saver is a free FireFox extension that you can use to capture images of web pages as PNG or JPEG files. You can capture an entire web page or just a portion of it.

Here are a few pages full of other scripts that you can explore for yourself.

25 useful Greasemonkey scripts you should take a look at

This list is in no particular order from best to worse, it’s written just as I’m going through my plugins!

Best of: Greasemonkey Scripts

This post is a compilation of the best and most popular Greasemonkey scripts available to its users, broken down into category for easier reference.

Top 10 Greasemonkey scripts to improve your productivity

“Greasemonkey extension (with the help of Stylish) can do wonders for your productivity”

I got the basic gist of this from the video of Lorelle Van Fossen’s address at Wordcamp 2008, a convention of bloggers who use WordPress listening to the pros talk about specific aspects of blogging and WordPress. If you check out the video (at just about an hour long) you will hear a couple of other things that I will reference in later posts in the Better Blogging series.

WordPress 2.5 and plugins

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Wordpress LogoIf you are new to blogging or don’t know much about hosting a blog on your own site vs. blogspot or even wordpress free services, you can check out my rundown from last year that will give you the basics. There are a few changes of specific info from then, but just a few.

I am really diggin’ WordPress 2.5. Kevin Bussey said he hated it over on Marty Duren’s blog, but I think he just hates change. He’s such a stick in the mud, he probably still likes his worship with all hymns and just the 1st, 2nd & last verse sung to a Hammond B3 Organ with the vibrato wailing.

:D

Anyway, 2.5 is awesome in a lot of ways, but I’ll just tell you a few of my faves.

  1. The Visual Editor is MUCH better and you don’t have to do the shift-alt-v thing to get the extra buttons.
  2. In the Visual Editor, you can post media to your server by uploading pictures, audio or video. I’m still using flickr and podpress for most of this, but I am experimenting and have found hosting the pictures on my own server is a little easier and a lot more flexible than it used to be.
  3. Big fave – You can embed video from Youtube or other similar hosting site via the Visual Editor. WordPress used to really not like you embedding streaming video. You used to have to write it in the html side of the code and publish it immediately. If you ever changed anything in the post, the video would quit. This makes obsolete the embedify plugin that I was previously using to do the same thing, but it only worked with Youtube (I think – I never tried it with another service).
  4. The plugin page will check if you need to update your plugins and will do it for you with the click of a link, rather than forcing you to overwrite a file with ftp.

Well, those are just the top vote getters at the moment.

I also want to give you a new list of plugins that I am using. Joe Kennedy put up a list and it reminded me of a lot of changes that I have made in this area, so here they are:

  • Akismet – The anti-spam plugin that comes with WordPress.
  • All in One SEO Pack – This plugin is a Search Engine Optimization tool that will hlep your posts get found and, hopefully, read.
  • Angsuman’s Feed Copyrighter – Inserts a copyright tag at the bottom of your post when read in a feedreader.
  • Anti Spam Image – This plugin is no longer available on its host site, but might be found if you search for it. It puts the number/alphabet image input box by the comment section to keep spam programs from filling my comment section full of offers for porn and medications without a prescription. Very necessary, in my opinion (The plugin! Get your mind out of the gutter). Other plugins offer similar options.
  • Bad Behavior – This is anther anti-spam plugin that monitors ip addresses for frequent attempts to access and post to your site and shuts them down cold. When it is working, it rocks. Unfortunately, it sometimes messes up, like the time it shut me out of my own blog and I couldn’t even log in to the editor. It’s not doing that right now, but it is corrupting my category tables or something, so it is in time out (deactivated) for behaving badly. Hopefully, an update will patch it up and let it get back to shutting down spammers. I’ve just upgraded to the latest update (Monday night), but it is still living up to its name, so it is still in time out.
  • Countdown Timer – This is a fun little plugin that lets you count down to something that you might be writing about. Our big trip to Vietnam was the last thing I put up. The downside is that the time and date function don’t work right, so you have to figure how far it is off (I think about 2 hours behind) and set your event for the appropriate wrong time so it will show the right time. A little high maintenance.
  • Feed Statistics – Most of our blogs are read in feeds, but they aren’t counted by Statcounter codes that we embed in the page. This plugin lets you see some information about how many people are grabbing your feed, and which posts they pick up.
  • Google Sitemaps – This plugin creates a sitemap for the Google to pick up when it scans your site. That’s beneficial, because it helps Google decide if your post is relevant to searches that others are performing and this will cause relevant searches to rise in the search results.
  • inline RSS – One of two rss feed scrapers that David Phillips installed to scrape the feed of my photoblog and put the titles as links in the sidebar of my blog. If you need help, ask him. He’s pretty cheap tech support. I don’t know which of these scrapers is actually doing the work, but I’ll link to the other one when it comes up. (This is all alphabetical, you know.)
  • Maintenance Mode – This plugin allows you to stop others from accessing your site while you do upgrades or mess with the template.
  • Move Comments – Allows you to move comments from one post to another. This is handy if someone says something brilliant but it relates to another post.
  • PodPress – Plugin that turns your blog into an audio or video podcast. It’s awesome and easy.
  • Slashdiggalicious – This puts a bunch of icons for social networking sites that allow a reader to post a link to your article to those sites.
  • Subscribe to Comments – Allows readers to subscribe to emails updating them on comments posted to an article you’ve written. This is particularly helpful for people who are wanting to follow a discussion, but don’t want to check back all the time.
  • ToDo List Plugin – Let’s you create a ToDo list in the dashboard of your blog, so that you can keep up with stuff that you want to do, like modify some part of your template.
  • WordPress Stats – Keeps track of hits, etc. for your WordPress blog. Doesn’t track IP addresses, if you need that sort of thing, you still need Statcounter.
  • WordPress Automatic Upgrade – This plugin will walk you through an upgrade of WordPress software when it comes out. It works very well, and you don’t have to be a geek to upgrade your software. By the by, upgrade your software, because not upgrading it leaves security breaches that can expose your blog to hacking.
  • WordPress Database Backup – Creates a backup of all your data so if something goes wrong and your host accidentally wipes out your blog, then you can reload it and not lose everything. I have been close on several occasions and have lost a few things that weren’t backed up. Nice to have everything else still here.
  • WP-RSSImport – The other scraping plugin.

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