Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

A new look

11th October 2021

Things have been changing on here. Much of that has been behind the scenes with a move to a new VPS for extra speed and all the upheaval that brings. It also gained me a better system for less money than the old upgrade path was costing me and everything feels more responsive as well. Extra work has gone into securing the website as well and I have learned a lot as that has progressed. New lessons were added to older, and sometimes forgotten, ones.

The more obvious change for those who have been here before is that the visual appearance has been refreshed. A new theme has been applied with a multitude of tweaks to make it feel unique and to iron out any rough edges that there may be. This remains a WordPress-based website and new theme is a variant of the Appointee subtheme of the Appointment theme. WordPress does only supports child theming but not grandchild theming so I had to make a copy of Appointee of my own so I could modify things as I see fit.

To my eyes, things do look cleaner, crisper and brighter so I hope that it feels the same to you. Like so many designs these days, the basis is the Bootstrap framework and that is no bad thing in my mind though the standardisation may be too much for some tastes. What has become challenging is that it is getter harder to find new spins on more traditional layouts with everything going for a more magazine-like appearance and summaries being shown on the front page instead of complete articles. That probably reflects how things are going for websites these days so it may be that the next refresh could be more home grown and that is a while away yet.

As the website heads towards its sixteenth year, there is bound to be continuing change. In some ways, I prefer that some things remain unchanged so I use the classic editor instead of Gutenburg because that works best for me. Block-based editing is not for me since I prefer to tinker with code anyway. Still, not all of its influences can be avoided and I have needed to figure out the new widgets interface. It did not feel that intuitive but I suppose that I will grow accustomed to it.

My interest in technology continues even if it saddens me at time and some things do not impress me; the Windows 11 taskbar is one of those so I will not be in any hurry to move away from Windows 10. Still, the pandemic has offered its own learning with virtual conferencing allowing one to lurk and learn new things. For me, this has included R, Python, Julia and DevOps among other things. That proved worthwhile during a time with many restrictions. All that could yield more content yet and some already is on the way.

As ever, it is my own direct working with technology that yields some real niche ideas that others have not covered. With so many technology blogs out there, they may be getting less and less easy to find but everyone has their own journey so I hope to encounter more of them. There remain times when doing precedes telling and that is how it is on here. It is not all about appearances since content matters as much as it ever did.

Turning off Advanced Content Filtering in CKEditor

3rd February 2015

On one of my websites, I use Textpattern with CKEditor for editing of articles on there. This was working well until I upgraded CKEditor to a version with a number of 4.1 or newer because it started to change the HTML in my articles when I did not want it to do so, especially when it broke the appearance of the things. A search on Google revealed an unhelpful forum exchange that produced no solution to the issue so I decided to share one on here when I found it.

What I needed to do was switch off what is known as Advanced Content Filtering. It can be tuned but I felt that would take too much time so I implemented something like what you see below in the config.js with the ckeditor folder:

CKEDITOR.editorConfig = function( config ) {
config.allowedContent = true;
};

All settings go with the outer function wrapper and setting the config.allowedContent property to true within there sorted my problem as I wanted. Now, any HTML remains untouched and I am happy with the outcome. It might be better for features like Advanced Content Filtering to be switched off by default and turned on by those with the time and need for it, much like the one of the principles adopted by the WordPress project. Still, having any off switch is better than none at all.

Turning off the full height editor option in WordPress 4.0

10th September 2014

Though I keep a little eye on WordPress development, it is no way near as rigorous as when I submitted a patch that got me a mention on the contributor list of a main WordPress release. That may explain how the full editor setting, which is turned on by default passed by on me without my taking much in the way of notice of it.

WordPress has become so mature now that I almost do not expect major revisions like the overhauls received by the administration back-end in 2008. The second interface was got so right that it still is with us and there were concerns in my mind at the time as to how usable it would be. Sometimes, those initial suspicions can come to nothing.

However, WordPress 4.0 brought a major change to the editor and I unfortunately am not sure that it is successful. A full height editor sounds a good idea in principle but I found some rough edges to its present implementation that leave me wondering if any UX person got to reviewing it. The first reason is that scrolling becomes odd with the editor’s toolbar becoming fixed when you scroll down far enough on an editor screen. The sidebar scrolling then is out of sync with the editor box, which creates a very odd sensation. Having keyboard shortcuts like CTRL+HOME and CTRL+END not working as they should only convinced me that the new arrangement was not for me and I wanted to turn it off.

A search with Google turned up nothing of note so I took to the WordPress.org forum to see if I could get any joy. That revealed that I should have thought of looking in the screen options dropdown box for an option called “Expand the editor to match the window height” so I could clear that tickbox. Because of the appearance of a Visual Editor control on there, I looked on the user profile screen and found nothing so the logic of how things are set up is sub-optimal.  Maybe, the latter option needs to be a screen option now too. Thankfully, the window height editor option only needs setting once for both posts and pages so you are covered for all eventualities at once.

With a distraction-free editing option, I am not sure why someone went for the full height editor too. If WordPress wanted to stick with this, it does need more refinement so it behaves more conventionally. Personally, I would not build a website with that kind of ill-synchronised scrolling effect so it is something needs work as does the location of the Visual Editor setting. It could be that both settings need to be at the user level and not with one being above that level while another is at it. Until I got the actual solution, I was faced with using distraction-free mode all the time and also installed the WP Editor plugin too. That remains due to its code highlighting even if dropping into code view always triggers the need to create a new revision. Despite that, all is better in the end.

Setting the PHP version in .htaccess on Apache web servers

7th September 2014

The default PHP version on my outdoors, travel and photography website is 5.2.17 and that is getting on a bit now since it is no longer supported by the PHP project and has not been thus since 2011. One obvious impact was Piwik, which I used for web analytics and needs at least 5.3.2. WordPress 4.0 even needs 5.2.24 so that upgrade became implausible so I contacted Webfusion’s support team and they showed me how to get to at least 5.3.3 and even as far as 5.5.9. The trick is the addition of a line of code to the .htaccess file (near the top was my choice) like one of the following:

PHP 5.3.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php53 .php

PHP 5.5.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php55 .php

When I got one of these in place, things started to look promising but for a locked database due to my not watching how big it had got. Replacing it with two additional databases addressed the problem of losing write access though there was a little upheaval caused by this. Using PHP 5.5.9 meant that I spotted messages regarding the deprecation of the mysql_connect function so that needed fixing too (prefixing it with @ might be a temporary fix but a more permanent one always is better so that is what I did in the form of piggybacking off what WordPress uses; MySQLi and PDO_MySQL are other options). Sorting the database issue meant that I saw the upgrade message for WordPress as well as a mix of plugins and themes so all looked better and I need worry less about losing security updates. Also, I am up to the latest version of Piwik too and that’s an even better way to be.

Tinkering with Textpattern

26th April 2011

Textpattern 5 may be on the way but that isn’t to say that work on the 4.x branch is completely stopped though it is less of a priority at the moment. After all, version 4.40 was slipped out not so long ago as a security release, a discovery that I made while giving a section of my outdoors website a spring refresh. During that activity, the TinyMCE plugin started to grate with its issuing of error messages in the form of dialogue boxes needing user input to get rid of them every time an article was opened or saved. Because of that nuisance, the guilty hak_tinymce plugin was ejected with joh_admin_ckeditor replacing it and bringing CKEditor into use for editing my Textpattern articles. It is working well though the narrow editing area is causing the editor toolbars to take up too much vertical space but you can resize the editor to solve this though it would be better if it could be made to remember those size settings.

Another find was atb_editarea, a plugin that colour codes (X)HTML, PHP and CSS by augmenting the standard text editing for pages and stylesheets in the Presentation part of the administration interface. If I had this at the start of my redesign, it would have made doing the needful that bit more user-friendly than the basic editing facilities that Textpattern offers by default. Of course, the tinkering never stops so there’s no such thing as finding something too late in the day for it to be useful.

Textpattern may not be getting the attention that some of its competitors are getting but it isn’t being neglected either; its users and developer community see to that. Saying that, it needs to get better at announcing new versions of the CMS so they don’t slip by the likes of me who isn’t looking all the time. With a major change of version number involved, curiosity is aroused as what is coming next. So far, Textpattern appears to be taking an evolutionary course and there’s a lot to be said for such an approach.

Changing to CKEditor from FCKEditor for WordPress Content Editing

25th April 2011

The post editor that I have been using on my WordPress-powered outdoors blog has not been TinyMCE but FCKEditor. My use of that editor has meant that WordPress’ autosave and word counting features have not been available to me but that was my choice, as strange as it will sound to some. However, there have been times when I have missed the autosaving functionality and lost work. Since FCKEditor has been replaced by CKEditor, there are plugins available for adding that editor to WordPress’ administration interface. Recently, I got to replacing the old FCKEditor plugin with a newer CKEditor one and that has gained me post or page autosaving. The more cosmetic word counting feature is not active until a draft is manually saved but I can live with that. Other than that, the interface remains familiar with all (X)HTML tags on show in the source code view without any being hidden away from view like in WordPress’ implementation of TinyMCE. That isn’t to see that WordPress is doing something wrong but just that there are alternative way of doing things that are equally valid. After all, why would there be choices if there only ever was one right way to do anything?

Like any WordPress plugins, those replacing the default content editor in WordPress can be vulnerable to changes in the publishing platform and there is one of those in the pipeline for 3.2: a minimalist post/page editor that is billed as being non-distracting. That planned new feature is drawing inspiration from the likes of QuietWrite, where you can write content and transfer it over to WordPress or leave it where it was written. Even with bigger changes like this, my experience never has been that design decisions made for new WordPress releases have restricted to any great extent how I use the thing. That’s not to say that my usage hasn’t changed over time but I have felt that any decisions were mine to make and not all made for me. In that light, I can foresee CKEditor continuing to work on WordPress 3.2 but I’ll be doing some testing ahead of time to be sure that is the case.

Turning off the admin bar in WordPress 3.1

25th October 2010

Work on WordPress 3.1 is in full swing at the moment though I initially though that they were taking a little break after 3.0. From what I can see, many refinements are being made to the multi-blog functionality and behind-the-scenes work is ongoing on the administration screens too.

Another under-the-bonnet change has been to make WordPress less tied to MySQL since the possibility of dropping in support for an alternative such as PostgreSQL is now a reality even if it isn’t part of the default package. For now, it looks as if this is going to be plugin territory rather than default multi-database support though that may become a sensible development in the light of Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL and its sabre rattling with regard to Java patents. So far, the change to WordPress has affected my use of its database engine to power an offline version of my online photo gallery but a quick spot of code editing sorted that issue.

One more obvious alteration is going to be the addition of a WordPress.com style administration bar to the top of all content and administration screens for a user who is logged into the system. It is going to be turned on by default but there will be the option of turning it off for those among who prefer things that way. All that will be needed for this is to add the following line near the top of wp-config.php:

define( “WP_SHOW_ADMIN_BAR”, false);

The chance to see new additions like those above and be ready for is my main reason for following WordPress development. It’s best to be ready than surprised though it has to be said that the blogging or CMS platform is a very polished one these days.

Removing a column from a MySQL data table

19th April 2010

My trying out WordPress 3.0 in advance of its final release has brought me errors on the links management page. After a spot of poking around the TRAC, I found that the bug already has been reported and that the cause is an extraneous column in the *_links table called link_category. The change in taxonomy handling over the years seems to have made it redundant so I removed the said column from the database using a command like the following from both the MySQL command line and MySQL Query Browser:

alter table wordpress.wp_links drop link_category;

That seems to have made those errors go away and I hop that their upgrade code takes care of this before WordPress 3.0 is let loose of the general blogging public. Taking out the coding brittleness would do too.

Another look at Drupal

20th January 2010

Early on in the first year of this blog, I got to investigating the use of Drupal for creating an article-based subsite. In the end, the complexities of its HTML and CSS thwarted my attempts to harmonise the appearance of web pages with other parts of the same site and I discontinued my efforts. In the end, it was Textpattern that suited my needs and I have stuck with that for the aforementioned subsite. However, I recently spotted someone very obviously using Drupal in its out of the box state for a sort of blog (there is even an extension for importing WXR files containing content from a WordPress blog); they even hadn’t removed the Drupal logo. With my interest rekindled, I took another look for the sake of seeing where things have gone in the last few years. Well, first impressions are that it now looks like a blogging tool with greater menu control and the facility to define custom content types. There are plenty of nice themes around too though that highlights an idiosyncrasy in the sense that content editing is not fully integrated into the administration area where I’d expect it to be. The consequence of this situation is that pages, posts (or story as the content type is called) or any content types that you have defined yourself are created and edited with the front page theme controlling the appearance of the user interface. It is made even more striking when you use a different theme for the administration screens. That oddity aside, there is a lot to recommend Drupal though I’d try setting up a standalone site with it rather than attempting to shoehorn it as a part of an existing one like what I was trying when I last looked.

Investigating the real-time web

10th January 2010

Admittedly, I have been keeping away from Twitter and its kind for a while now but the current run of cold weather in the Britain and Ireland has alerted me to its usefulness and I have given the thing a go. With public transport operator website heaving over the last week, the advantages of microblogging became more than apparent, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Centrebus, National Rail Enquiries and the U.K. Met Office. The pithy nature of any messages saves the effort needed to compile a longer blog post and to read it afterwards. This aspect makes it invaluable for those times when all that needs to be communicated is short and sweet. Anything that cuts down on the information tide that hits all of us every day cam only be a good thing.

Along with Twitter, there is a whole suite of tools available for various bits and pieces. First off, there’s integration with WordPress courtesy of plugins like Alex King’s Twitter Tools. After that, there are numerous web applications for taming the beast. Though I only can say that I scratched the surface of what’s available, I have come accross HootSuite and Twitterfeed. The former is a console for managing more than one Twitter account at once while also offering the facility to do the same for Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress.com and others too. Twitterfeed may be more limited in scope with offering to turn RSS feeds into tweets but it has its place too. HootSuite might have something similar for WordPress but Twitterfeed is a good more universal in its sweep. Naturally, there’s more out there than these two but I am not trying to be exhaustive here. If I make use of any other such services, I even might get inspired to mention them on here.

  • All the views that you find expressed on here in postings and articles are mine alone and not those of any organisation with which I have any association, through work or otherwise. As regards editorial policy, whatever appears here is entirely of my own choice and not that of any other person or organisation.

  • Please note that everything you find here is copyrighted material. The content may be available to read without charge and without advertising but it is not to be reproduced without attribution. As it happens, a number of the images are sourced from stock libraries like iStockPhoto so they certainly are not for abstraction.

  • With regards to any comments left on the site, I expect them to be civil in tone of voice and reserve the right to reject any that are either inappropriate or irrelevant. Comment review is subject to automated processing as well as manual inspection but whatever is said is the sole responsibility of the individual contributor.