A little blog refresh

I’ve refreshed my blog’s look again! I’m pretty happy with the Twenty Eleven theme and how easily I can change colors and images and such.

Here’s how my blog looked this morning, with its pink background, Gibbs Gardens header, and profile pic from last May:

pixelscribbles screenshotAnd here’s how it looks now, with header and profile pic from Sunday’s trip to Little River Falls:

pixelscribbles screenshotI’m not sure how long my blog was pink, because I don’t seem to have screencapped it when I updated it. The last screenshot I have is from 2013, when I put a Sweetwater Creek photo from 2012 in the header. I do know that Gibbs Gardens photo was taken in August of 2014, so that sort of dates it, I suppose.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a new look every now and then.

New blog header

I got tired of looking at Roche Abbey (no offense, lovely site of my birthday picnic of 2009!), so I put up a photo from last year’s jaunt to Sweetwater Creek State Park. Here’s how my blog looks at time of writing (click to embiggen):

pixelscribbles screenshot

A new look, again

I’ve removed the Christmas customizations I had made to WordPress’ Twenty Eleven theme and replaced them with a look based on a photo I took at Roche Abbey in England. Here’s what the Christmas theme looked like:

121209-blog-thumbI actually forgot to screencap the design before I changed it, so I had to guess on the background color and link color, but this is essentially what it looked like. I created the header in Photoshop using this photo of our Christmas decorations. This look went live on December 9, 2012.

Here’s the new design:

blog screenshotThe background color is #3a3d3f, the link color is #1c67b2, and the color scheme is Light. I made the header in Photoshop featuring this photo from my birthday in 2009, which was spent with my friends Brooke and David and the Kenmore family at Roche Abbey in South Yorkshire, England. It was a wonderful day of picnicking and exploring and kicking a soccer ball around. :)

Since I’m not sure if I ever actually archived the other looks my blog has had this year, here they are. First up is my fall theme, which went up on October 16, 2012:

blog screencapThe background color is #47240E, the link color is something like #CA3026, and I made the header in Photoshop based on this photo I took on a walk to Kroger in North Augusta in November of 2008. My profile picture is a crop of this photo of me from AJ’s birthday.

Before that, this is what my blog looked like, starting July 15, 2012:

blog screencapUnfortunately I don’t have a full page version of this one, so you can’t see all my sidebar stuff. The tiled background and large graphic element in the header came from a site that I really want to credit, but I can’t find the link now. Just know that I did not create them. My profile pic is a crop of this photo from the 4th of July.

Before this design, I had left Twenty Eleven pretty much alone other than swapping out the header. Here’s a picture I used for quite some time; it’s the view from the front yard of the family farm.

farm blog headerThe Internet Archive hasn’t grabbed a snapshot of my blog since July of 2011; I don’t know if I have messed up a setting or if something else is going on, but I’ll try to fix that, because I really like being able to step back into my design history. I’ll also keep trying to archive my designs myself.

Sidebar fun

I’ve added a few things to my sidebar! Webcomics came first, after obvious things like archives and search. Today I  made a cute Welcome box that explains what I write about and includes a picture of me.

I also added a random assortment of my latest photos from SmugMug and a list of the most recently updated SmugMug galleries. This way, I can avoid blog posts that are nothing but one or two pictures. I always felt that picture posts detracted from my writing, but I was never sure how to solve the problem. With WordPress plugins it was quite simple to place my pictures in the sidebar.

Similarly, there was no easy way to incorporate an RSS feed into my FTP-published Blogger blog. Now all I have to do is drag a box to the right and add a link…so I’ve put a list of my latest blog posts on SparkPeople on the sidebar.

Back in the day I would post whatever came to mind here on pixelscribbles, because I wanted this blog to be wholly representative of who I am. I feel a little like I’m compartmentalizing my thoughts about health and fitness by putting them over on SparkPeople. But I don’t want pixelscribbles to turn into a weight loss blog. I don’t feel that health, fitness, and weight loss are “who I am” in any respect. Yes, I want those things, but I don’t want to become some sort of guru. I don’t want people to know me for those things. I just want to lose weight and feel better so I have the energy to concentrate on the things I truly enjoy–“writing, photography, travel, language, Japan, and the web”, as it says in the Welcome box ;>

Writing about my weight loss “journey” (as they say) has been helping me, though, and I want to keep it up. Plus, I adore feedback. So I’ve decided to actively blog about the process on SparkPeople. Hopefully the sidebar listing here will earn my thoughts some eyeballs and comments.

I may add more items to the sidebar–I haven’t addressed the issue of my blogroll yet, for example. But for now I think it’s shaped up pretty well.

The shift has been made…sort of

If you’re reading this, you can perhaps see that I’ve switched my blog to WordPress and also moved it from pixelscribbles.com/journal to plain old pixelscribbles.com. Both of these changes have been long in coming; I’ve thought about doing them both for years but just never had the motivation. Blogger’s ending of FTP support changed all that, and last night I slapped everything together in something of a rush.

This is not the template I’ll be sticking with, though I do like it. I’m hoping to design my own. This, of course, will take time; in the meantime you may see this blog cycle through various looks. My first order of business, though, is to see if I can’t do something about a few lingering problems.

My old post URLs don’t work anymore. This is sad, since many of those URLs had been around for years and years and years. I’d like to fix this problem, but to do so I will have to cope with three things.

  1. I need to redirect links including /journal/ to the root directory. [done]
  2. Blogger removed articles (a, an, the) from post-title URLs; WordPress doesn’t do that.
  3. Blogger permalinks had .html at the end; WordPress permalinks don’t.[fixed with redirect]

I’m thinking I will need to do some sort of mod_rewrite to solve these problems, which is a bit beyond my knowledge at this point.

The next issue is post images. My posts have pictures from three sources: this server, from back when I uploaded and embedded everything manually; SmugMug; and Blogger uploads that were sent via emails from my phone. The first source isn’t a problem; I simply left all the images on the server as they were in /journal/images, even though I don’t use /journal for anything else. Similarly, all the SmugMug images are still where they were before, so no need to change anything there.

But the Blogger uploads are quite the issue. When I was publishing via FTP, all the images saved into a folder on my server called uploaded_images. It would have been ideal had I left things this way, but alas, last night I was in a fit of “good grief I’m tired of looking at Blogger’s ‘We will no longer support FTP’ notice”, and I impulsively moved everything to Blogspot. It was only after that shift was done that I realized I really, really prefer to have my blog on my own server, where I can control things like .htaccess.

Unfortunately, Blogger’s migration tool was quite thorough, and it copied over all the Blogger-uploaded images and changed the URLs in the posts that referenced them. So now I have 1200 posts (apparently) that are pulling images from Blogspot.

I’ve left cosleia.blogspot.com up for now, so I shouldn’t have any broken images for the time being. Comments are disabled over there; that blog is a relic that maybe I’ll delete and maybe I’ll save for fun. Regardless of what I do with it, though, I need to somehow get rid of all the Blogspot images over here. I’m guessing this is going to involve a lot of manual searching and editing, but who knows? Maybe there’s a plugin out there that can help.

So that’s the state of pixelscribbles for now.

Despite all the pressing issues above, I’m thinking my first moves really ought to be to restore my blogroll and webcomics [done!] lists…I miss them!

Edit 3/16/2010: I’ve solved one issue with a redirect. And webcomics are back, baby.

Changes are coming to pixelscribbles

On May 1, Blogger will no longer support publishing to FTP, which is how I currently publish this blog. Sometime before then–hopefully this weekend–I will be migrating either to Blogger’s hosted solution or to WordPress.

I’ve thought about shifting to a different platform for years. The reason I’ve stayed with FTP publishing for so long is that I felt comfortable and safe with two copies of my blog in existence: one in Blogger’s database and one in static html files on my server. With this duplication of my content, essentially an automatic backup, I was confident that I’d never lose my posts. That made me reticent to change blog software.

Now that my hand is being forced, I’m leaning towards self-hosting. Frankly, I trust my webhost, pair, more than I trust Blogger’s servers. This may be a misguided view, but in the eight or so years I’ve used both services, I’ve only ever had problems with Blogger.

The main uncertainty in my mind at this point is WordPress. I’ve seen so many WordPress blogs get hacked and wonderful content get destroyed, notably the several times it happened to Sushicam. If, after losing all my offline writing and photos in the fire, I lost all of this too, I would be completely decimated. I do not want to go through that feeling again. I want to continue to be able to travel back in time through my writing and remember what I used to think about and how I used to feel. This blog is really all I’ve got left of my life before August 2005. I can’t lose it.

Obviously, I’m still thinking about what I want to do. But a decision will come soon, and then my blog will move. When that happens, the design will probably change.

I’ve also made a change to my photo posting recently. For awhile there I was emailing photos from my phone directly to this blog, to quickly and easily share what was going on. However, I was never really a fan of doing things this way. For starters, it saved the photos here on my server instead of on my photo site. For another, having a bunch of posts with nothing but one or two photos in them took up a lot of space and pushed text content–my thoughts, the real purpose of this blog–down the page.

So I’ve started using SmugShot again, the SmugMug application for iPhone. Now I simply send the photos I take directly to the proper album on my photo site. So far I’ve sent photos to February 2010 and March 2010.

When I switch my blog to whatever I switch it to, I plan to pull my latest SmugMug photos into the sidebar, so blog visitors will know I’ve uploaded new photos without having to scroll past them to get to my real content. I’m pretty happy with this solution and look forward to implementing it.

Once all these changes are in place, I plan to really get back into writing here. I miss it.

A little extra work

Two weekends ago I went on one of my photo adventures, hitting various scenic spots around the area and taking pictures. I spent a whole Saturday exploring and snapping, and then on Sunday I began processing the photos.

This time, rather than simply saving off the camera and uploading immediately, I tried editing each photo using some tricks I read about online. I was extremely pleased with the results; I feel like I’ve taken my first step out of casual pointing and shooting and into real photography.

First I evaluated each photo, rotating and cropping where necessary. Then I applied Image > Adjustments > Match Color > Neutralize, which I read about here on Sitepoint.com. I had used the other option mentioned in that article, Auto Color, before, but wasn’t always happy with the results. Match Color > Neutralize really helped make the color of my photos look natural. I was especially happy with the Color Intensity slider, which helped me bring out color without affecting detail.

For most of the daylight photos, Match Color > Neutralize was very beneficial, but it wasn’t necessary on all of them.

After rotating, cropping, and normalizing the colors, I went through a variety of adjustments. My friend Don posted a link on Facebook to this technique used by a photographer to enhance colors on his images. I ended up modifying the technique a bit, depending on the photo I was editing.

To begin with, I didn’t use the High Pass filter at all. Most of my photos were shot in bright daylight, and all that filter did was cause weird halos that didn’t add anything to the scene. However, I made heavy use of Blend Mode. I would duplicate the background layer, then change its blend mode from Normal to Soft Light (or, in a very few cases, Hard Light). Sometimes I’d Desaturate the top layer; other times I’d leave it the way it was.

I also fiddled with the opacity on the top layer to get the exact contrast and color pop I wanted, and on some photos I played with Curves and Levels to get richer contrast effects.

By the time I got to the last location, Thurmond Dam, the sun was setting. I had never managed to get a really good nighttime shot before, and I’m open to suggestions about shooting at night. For the shots of the dam from the Georgia side of the river, I propped my Nikon D60 against the side of a tree.

The editing methods listed above didn’t work quite as well for the low light shots. High contrast tended to destroy the details and it was hard to pull out color without making the photo look grainy. I’ll be interested to research and try out different techniques for night photography.

Any thoughts on the techniques I used for these photos? Do you know any shooting or editing tricks?

Here’s where I am

Sorry I haven’t written up my blog redesign process yet. I have been extremely busy at work and that has drained me for the rest of the time. All my projects are suffering because of it. But I’m not discouraged, really; I know that after this craziness is over I’ll have more time and brainpower. Of course, I’m going to England in under two weeks, so it may be awhile before I’m back to a decent routine.

One thing that has been bothering me is the fact that the design of my blog right now is not the design I wanted. It’s more like a design I conceived and never finished in 2004. When I put this thing together, the look was secondary to getting the structure workable. Now that I have the blog set up with an external stylesheet, I will hopefully be more easily able to change the look.

A redesign of this blog will need to take a backseat to other things, though: my website project with Mike, my webcomic project with Sam, the redesign of and new shopping cart implementation for my parents’ business website, etc.

I’m also rereading (or rather, reading, since I never actually finished it) Getting Things Done. Hopefully I will learn some techniques to better organize my time and keep from stressing out over everything I want to do!

New "Latest Links" item in right menu

I’ve added an item to my sidebar called “Latest Links”. It pulls the 15 most recent items I’ve bookmarked on Delicious into this page. Now it’s easy for you to see what I’m reading and looking at online.

I’ve been doing a lot more reading lately, and there are plenty of interesting things out there to share with everyone. However, I didn’t want to become a link-poster on Twitter. Twitter’s not about sharing links; it’s about giving people a window into your life, and working on crafting succinct, evocative prose. At least, that’s what I want to use it for!

In the old days I used to post link roundups here on my blog, but I didn’t want to go back to doing that either. I often don’t have much to say about a link other than a brief observation, and I don’t think that warrants a blog post. If I do have a lot to say, of course, I’ll post it…but I really don’t have time to discuss the minutiae of everything I see.

Delicious suits quickly sharing content perfectly.

I first tried the service in 2005. Back then I was trying to use it to organize permanent bookmarks, not to share interesting links. I didn’t really get it, and I ended up quitting pretty quickly. Now, though, I realize that it does exactly what I need!

You can find me on Delicious here.

Getting there

I’m pretty happy with this color scheme. I’m going to be working on the sidebar and top/bottom navigation, so those aren’t final yet. I’m also going to be adding a graphical header. But I like how it’s coming along :)

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Webmaster Jam Session 2008, Day One

It’s not quite over–there’s still the informal gathering over at the Sheraton–but I wanted to go ahead and post my notes from the first day of the 2008 Webmaster Jam Session.

PHOTO: Webmaster Jam Session sign on Courtland in Atlanta

The following notes are organized by session name. They haven’t been edited (much).

Making Accessibility Sexy

can you have a pretty design and still be accessible? try.

What accessibility means

don’t create separate sites for each person…make one site that works for everyone

don’t coddle, just remove barriers

accessibility is for everyone!

it doesn’t mean plain and boring!

it doesn’t take too much time.

Designers are afraid of the idea of designing for the blind. But you can use the same back-end code and create infinitely different designs.

The biggest problem with flash accessibility is keyboard controls. Build external controls. (You can use the API to control Flash externally)

Captioning and descriptions get indexed and help people find your video.

the answer is not to sell people on it…it’s to just do it.

EXAMPLES:

http://icant.co.uk/easy-youtube/? <--put YouTube link here http://www.csszengarden.com/ live.yahoo.com blogdeafread.com/abcohende/2008/02/15/yahoos-live-deaf-chat-room/ Yahoo search – style the label on the radio button Viddler allowed timed captions; YouTube is starting with annotations

Universal By Design

“NUI” = Natural User Interface

Johnny Lee’s experiments mentioned.

Haptic devices: feedback based on touch

Quote of the session: “For those I-beams that come flying at you.”

Buzzword: metaperception

Going Social

“I MUST have the secret to WEB 2.0!”

People try blogs without thinking about creating quality content.

Companies don’t make viral videos; people do.

Trends don’t necessarily translate into value.

People hate advertisers on social networks.

It’s not about ADVERTISING. It’s about bringing quality content to the user through avenues they alreay use.

Don’t just slap social media stickers on old school advertising packages.

Social media is about people connecting.

Diversify. Create different places where ideas are talked about.

Who am I trying to reach? What are their interests? Reverse-engineer based on these questions, rather than general-interest “broadcast” ads.

“Socializing with purpose”

Stand Up to Cancer had lots of traditional promotion, but barely any online word of mouth. Came up with “The Virtual Standup” – getting people to submit videos of themselves saying they stand up. Had top bloggers participate. Twitter was a huge factor in the spread.

Obama’s “open campaigning” – apply collaborative, Wikipedia-style approach. Puts message out on various platforms and lets supporters spread it. Video fact-checking. Twitter updates. YouBama – voters say what they want.

Cost effective way to build brands by letting people do the talking.

Find who’s influential in the area you want to impact, and see if/how you can work with them.

Design Lessons in Chess

I. Two parallels

A. CHRONOLOGY

Chess Chronology: Opening, middle game, end game.

Website Chronology: Information architecture, visual design, build.

First you develop a strategy. In chess you study your opponent; in websites you talk to your client about goals.

Then you work on tactics. In chess you decide what moves to make; in websites you decide where you want everything.

Finally you build. Find inspiration in the details. Be precise; you have few options. Cautious and clever people have the strongest endgame.

You don’t think about just one phase at a time. You evaluate as you go.

B. OPPONENTS

Relationships you have with your client is similar to relationships with chess opponents. End users are too.

If you’re playing chess well, you’re controlling all the moves. You’re guiding your opponent to their defeat. In design you want to guide users to the information they’re looking for. Limit options, create a clear path.

With a chess opponent, it’s a matter of creating problems for each other to solve…same thing with clients.

Chess opponents enrich each other, and so do design colleagues.

I. PRINCIPLES

A. CONTENT IS KING

You always have to keep the king/content in mind. You can get too excited about other things (presentations, the queen)

B. KNOW YOUR HISTORY

Studying what was going on in the world when chess games were played can tell you a lot about how people were thinking and why they made the choices they made. Make history relevant to design work, too. Understand how design develops in other times and how it develops now. Understand what time period you’re trying to evoke.

Understand technical limitations in former time periods.

C. THINK AHEAD

Think several moves ahead–the decision tree. Possibilities. How would you repond? Future-proofing the site is an example. Think about what people may need down the road.

Jason Santa Maria – thinking ahead about navigation

D. DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED

A lot of chess players get enthralled by the queen…they’ll shoot themselves in the foot to protect her, rather than the king. It happens in design too. You’re sketching out ideas and you see something you like, so you run with it without continuing to sketch.

“If you see a good move, look for a better one.” -Emanuel Lasker

E. WORK WITH A PURPOSE

“One badly-placed piece makes your whole strategy bad.”

Notes on how he prepared the slides: Futura Light: geometric font, all line thicknesses the same. Associate multiple lines of text with what they share in common.

Intuition does play a role in design. We can’t necessarily understand it. But if you try to examine your choices, it’ll help you grow and determine your method/process.

F. OBEY CIRCUMSTANCE

Every move creates a whole new world. You can’t decide all your moves at the beginning. You have to respond. It’s the same with new clients.

Prefab solutions != design

People who are willing to rely on solutions they created in the past are just ripping themselves off.

G. PRINCIPLES ARE YOUR FRIEND. EXCEPT WHEN THEY’RE NOT.

Chess players seem to follow a similar path. Their ability is discovered and then they’re groomed. These players know the rules so well that they know when the rules can be broken.

Web designers backgrounds are all different. No one went to school for this! As a result, approaches and attitudes are all different. It’s polarizing. People are either too pedantic, or not pedantic enough.

Traditional graphic designers: “Rules?! You know who I am? I don’t need the rules!”

H. THE JOURNEY IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE GOAL

Some chess players focus on one “fatal move”. But all moves are related. Likewise, every step of the way in design is important, and they can all teach you something.

“What I do is not play, but struggle.”

Process of elimination leads you to your finished product…but you learn from the stuff that doesn’t work.

Learned lessons: Get half up front ;)

“Lose as often as you can take it.”

III. REFERENCES

How Life Imitates Chess – Garry Kasparov

Pandolfini’s Ultimate Guide to Chess – Bruce Pandolfini

robweychert.com

Website Critique

onwired.com – mostly good things, just a few nitpicky comments

[smushit.com can remove a bunch of unnecessary nonvisual information from website images]

icu2.com – can’t figure out what the site is about; small navigation; text in images can be done with CSS; cute “warning” doesn’t match site style.

www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/OHR/coop/ – no www redirect; no 404 page; color contrast issue in top right menu

unisoft.com – move page header, put “in partnership with” over S&T, clean up homepage

Didn’t get to have a critique on any site I’ve done.

dbs.myflorida.com

High Style and Low Fidelity

I didn’t have my laptop open and wasn’t able to take detailed notes, nor did I send notes to Twitter. Here’s the main thing I remember: you can use real-life objects to create patterns and textures. You can age materials with coffee and an oven. Colors set the mood. Contrasting hot and cold has great impact. Gradients are powerful when done well, especially gradients of different tones of the same color. Stay away from default styles. Use drop shadow colors that go with the existing colors, not black. Take photos or scans of real things to create designs.

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An appeal to programmers

Please minimize the use of database calls and dynamic content. If you have a page that’s going to be loaded often but only changed frequently, only update that page when it’s changed…not every time it’s loaded.

Dynamic pages are nifty because changes are instantaneous…but that’s really the only good thing about them. They will drive up users’ load times and your bandwidth costs, and they’re completely unnecessary. A nice static page that gets updated whenever there’s a change is all you need.

Your website, or software, or whatever, should not check the database for changes to every element every time a page or screen with calls to those elements is pulled up. That’s just ridiculous.

Would you like it if you had to rebuild an entire house every time you wanted to add, say, new windows?

You’d think this would be one of the things programmers learn. It’s just common sense.

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Revelation

Did I ever tell you I hate web design?

It’s probably obvious to those of you who’ve noticed I never change my blog template. Most designers change their templates all the time, trying new things. I’ve mentioned several times that I want to make some changes, but for the most part I’ve left it alone…not because I think it’s perfect like it is, but because I dread going into the code. It’s horribly out of date–it uses tables, for goodness’ sake–and if I ever get into a serious redesign, I know I’m going to want to start over from scratch.

I’m not the type of person who can just use a WYSIWYG editor and be content. I have to mess with the underpinnings, make them the best that I know they can be.

That perfectionism makes me despise web design, because nothing is ever perfect. What works in one browser doesn’t work in another. I can’t always do what I want, either because I lack the coding ability, because it’s unsupported by major browsers, or because it’s simply impossible with the tools we currently have. To get certain effects I have to cheat and then be annoyed that the site doesn’t live up to standards. I use JavaScript to do certain things, for example, and I just have to hope that the majority of site visitors won’t have it disabled. There are so many factors to take into account, when all I really want to do is make a nice, pretty design.

Despite all this, for some inexplicable reason I keep taking on web design projects. What’s wrong with me?

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Okay, how about this?

I’ve lived with Apartment Arrangement Option 5 for two weeks now…and I’ve decided I hate it.

My goal was to create comfortable home bases for me and Sean while expanding seating areas for visitors. What ended up happening was Sean would sit on my couch to play video games or watch DVDs. If you remember, I moved his area to be against the wall. That ended up being fine for using his laptops, but not for just relaxing, so he’d lounge out on the big couch when he wanted to do that. I like sitting next to him, don’t get me wrong, but if he feels like stretching out, there’s no room for me.

Another problem is that the loveseat, along the wall next to him, became a dumping ground for stuff while serving zero purpose in terms of seating. It turns out it’s just awkwardly placed, with no decent views of anything.

Yesterday I came home to find Sean and his dad sitting on my couch, and that made me fully realize how inconvenient the layout is. The couch offers the best view of the TV, so obviously guests would want to sit there…meaning I probably get cut off from my laptop, which I don’t really like moving around.

It didn’t solve the problems after all; it just shifted them.

I’d been unhappy for days, but that galvanized my need to do something. So I went back to my Photoshop file and messed around some more. A lot more. Until eventually, finally, I came up with Apartment Arrangement Option 10, a revision of Option 5.

See how Sean and I will have our own departmentalized seating areas? But we can both move to the main couch, directly in front of the TV, and snuggle together if we want. It’s the best I could do, given our ridiculously narrow living room with its inconvenient doors and bizarro closet jutting into the room.

Sean’s agreed to try it, but he said “Not today”. ;> So we’ll see how this does, here in a couple of days. Wish us luck :>