Notice the new look

Yesterday, I went to post my blog entry, and discovered that a
lot of links on my blog didn’t work. I eventually discovered
that it wasn’t an isolated problem, but was an instance of this
attack.

Before I found that article, I had already done most of what
Lorelle suggests, except that instead of doing it in
situ
, I had moved from the web host (hostrocket) where I’ve had all of laymusic.org for several
years to the one where I’ve been putting SerpentPublications.org
(dreamhost). And done some
fiddling with the theme.

So I now have a brand new installation, with a different look,
and the same blog content.

I’m planning to move the whole laymusic.org content to the new
site, using the wordpress blog as a content management system.
I hope to finish this by mid-October, as that’s when I would
have to pay hostrocket some more money. That isn’t a hard
deadline, as of course I can move content as is from one host to
the other.

In any case, let me know what you think of the new look. If
there’s something you really like better about the old site, let
me know.

It felt like a lot more work than this, but what I did was set
up a child theme based on the Thematic theme, and modify
it to have:

  • A header that looks a bit more like the old
    one.
  • A sidebar that looks something like the old one,
    only better, I hope.
  • Slightly larger type, in the Arial font instead of Georgia.

Some pages are now being redirected

I have the new site up at serpentpublications.org.
Since I will no longer be maintaining the music portion of this
site, I am now redirecting the automatically generated pages to
the equivalent pages on the new site.

I’ll deal with the written pages as I get to them.

In general, the new central place for information about all the
pieces I’ve published is the
new By Composer Page.
Let me know what you think of it.

Site Redesign Progress

I finally got started on the site redesign, so this has to be a
short one.

It’s the kind of project that every time you solve one problem,
three others pop up, so I suspect it will be at least days if not
weeks before I have it ready even for friendly perusal, let
alone to loose on the unsuspecting public.

I’m starting with the thematic wordpress
theme framework. It allegedly lets you customize almost
anything, but that turns out to be only true if you know CSS. I
learned a bit about it the last time I did site redesign, and
actually sort of liked the look of the site I did for the Boston
Recorder Society (they changed it when I stopped maintaining it,
so you can’t see it there). Anyway, I have the mechanics pretty
much the way I want them, and the look something like the old
BRS site, so now all I have to do is:

  • Write the content for the new pages, including the new
    search form.
  • Fiddle with both LaTeX and Gimp to get the banner at the top
    of the pages right.
  • Fiddle with the wordpress stuff so the sidebars and footers
    are the way I want them.

My accomplishments for yesterday included:

  • Finding where the home page on the new hosting site should go. I
    broke accessing it altogether twice yesterday afternoon trying
    to be too cute about that.
  • Setting up a test environment on my home machine. There’s
    still work to do on this, because I used the Ubuntu wordpress
    package to do it, so I have to fiddle with permissions and
    ownership and groups and maybe links before it really lets me
    work on it right. But I made substantial progress.
  • This morning before breakfast, I installed keyring and now I can do openssh to both the old
    and the new hosting sites without entering passphrases.

I was frustrated enough yesterday when I had access to the new
site broken and hadn’t yet figured out how to customize anything
in thematic that I considered just going to bed and reading
trash fiction, but I have persevered, so far.

The most inspiring story I learned in high school was in the
history of English literature book. Thomas Carlyle had spend
several years writing the history of the French Revolution, and
he gave the only copy of the manuscript to his friend Macauley
to see what he thought. Macauley’s maid (at least, she had to
take the rap) thought it was trash and put it in the fire.
Carlisle went to bed and read trashy fiction for a week and then
got up and wrote the book over again.

I admit that story has more often inspired me to go to bed and
read trashy fiction than to write the history of the French
Revolution. But it’s really true that there are times you just
shouldn’t be doing some things, and it was looking like
yesterday afternoon was the wrong time to be slaving over a hot
computer.

Website redesign (part one)

I have hitherto avoided inflicting my technical problems on the
readers of this blog, but this subject is what I really need to
think about, so it doesn’t really make sense to go finding other
things to write about the way I did yesterday. I’ll
try to keep the tech talk understandable to the lay user; let me
know if I fail.

This post is going to discuss only the basic functionality of
how the transcribed pieces are described, and how the user finds
them. The other parts of the site will be discussed in future posts.

Why a redesign?

Because the original design has gotten unwieldy both for
me and for the users.

The reason I didn’t add new pieces to the site for over a year
wasn’t that I wasn’t transcribing new pieces, it’s that the
procedure for adding things is quite clumsy. After I changed
computers and ISP’s in August it was clearly going to need an
unknown amount of debugging. The debugging turned out to be small
when I finally got around to it, but adding a piece that’s been
transcribed and proof-played should be just an easy couple of clicks.

For the users, the one-page By
Composers
listing is an increasingly unwieldy way to find what
they want, and doesn’t include all the information they need. For
instance, one of the most-requested things is a way to find pieces
by number of parts. It would also be good to have some idea of
the ranges of the parts.

The original site design did have both number and ranges of parts
when you got to the page for the piece,
but it happened by displaying short excerpts
from each of the parts, which
broke fairly early on, and wasn’t really the right answer for
doing searching anyway.

So here’s my picture of how the site should look:

  • The primary entry to the collection of transcribed works
    should be a search page that allows selection by composer,
    dates, number of parts, instrumentation, country, language, or
    any combination of those things. That is, if I’m looking for a
    trio for voices in German, I should be able to just say, “Show
    me all the three-part vocal pieces in German.” Or if I want to
    know what there is by Billings, I should be able to just request
    that.
  • The current static html pages which are generated from the
    database by a script I wrote, should be generated dynamically
    from the database. (If that doesn’t make sense, see below.) This will make adding a new piece much
    simpler. You don’t want to know what I do now; what I’ll do
    then is run one script which will add the piece to the database
    and upload the files.
  • I think it might make sense to leave both the current search
    pages (By
    Composers
    and By
    Date
    ) there, but of course have them dynamically generated.
    The idea is that for browsing, having a way to look at what’s
    been added or changed since the last time you browsed, or at
    what the distribution of stuff by composer is, is easier than
    just dealing with the search page. Possibly it would make sense
    to add other pages like that, such as “By Country” or “By number
    of parts”.

Static and dynamic

It looks like the major technical jargon I wasn’t able to edit
out of the above was the static/dynamic distinction. So here’s
an explanation.

In general, if you go to a page like www.laymusic.org/directions.html,
it’s static. HTML is a markup language, so the person who
authored the page just wrote text, and then put in some commands
to say things like, “Here’s a new paragraph,” or “Display this
image here.” Then they put that page on the site, and kept
track of where they put it so that they could refer to it from
other pages, or from emails.

If you have 500 pieces, or a couple of blog entries a day, this
might not be such a good idea. So the way most of those sites are
done is that the information you want to maintain about each
individual item is in a database, and
the text you see when you look on the web at that item is
generated by a program from what’s in that database. For
instance, each piece on my site has a title, a composer and a
list of files someone might want to download
in the database, and there could be a program that gets run on the
server every time someone says, “I want to look at that piece,”
that would display that information.

It was even at the time wierd, but when I designed the site, I
did put the information in the database, but instead of having the
program on the server to display it, I have a program that runs on
my own computer that writes an HTML file to display it. This
means I have to rerun that program every time the information
changes, and run the program that generates the “By Composer” and “By
Date” pages every time I add something. This was fine when there
were only a few pieces, but it’s getting tedious now that there
are more than 500, with another hundred or so that I haven’t yet
put up.

WordPress upgrade

If this blog looks different to you, it’s because I upgraded to
WordPress 2.7 on Sunday, December 21.

It mostly went pretty smoothly, although there were a couple of
scares:

  • Some pictures disappeared. This turned out to be because
    I had ended up deleting wp-content/uploads. Be sure to follow
    the instructions about backing up your blog before doing an
    upgrade (I had), and you will be able to fix this kind of
    problem. I’m still unconvinced that the automatic upgrading is
    going to work on my system, since a bunch of other allegedly
    automagic stuff doesn’t.
  • The silly “>>” bullet style came back. That’s just editing
    the default .css file, but I should get myself a style that has
    a good bullet style to start with.
  • It looked like the raw-html input wasn’t going to work, so I
    tried a plugin called WP Unformatted, which has very little
    documentation and what there is is pretty incomprehensible. It
    seemed like it would work ok for new posts, but would
    necessitate going back to the old posts nad setting a custom
    field in all of them. Also, I have enough trouble remembering
    to set a category, I don’t want to also have to set a custom
    field. In general, anything you can do in emacs (like the
    start-raw comment) is preferable to anything you have to
    remember to do in a GUI.
    So I went back and tested the old raw-html plugin, and
    it seems to be working OK. Let me know if you find any problems
    that matter.
  • One of the good things I did during the upgrade was switch
    to managing my sidebar with widgets instead of editing the
    sidebar.php file. Unfortunately, the “monthchunks” plugin I was
    using doesn’t work for 2.7, and I haven’t found a good
    substitute. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
  • The quotes plugin I was using has been superceded by a newer
    and probably better one. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to write
    a program to convert the database, so I had to spend some time
    putting the quotes into the new database by hand. But you can
    sit on the page and grab a new quote without reloading the whole
    page now. Isn’t Ajax wonderful?

Anyway, let me know about anything you see that you don’t like,
or anything you don’t see that you miss.

In general I recommend staying up to date on important
software, but it is more of a nuisance with software like
WordPress that has a lot of contributions that aren’t integrated
into the core software.

blogging is not a bowl of cherries

Something (or someone) clobbered my wordpress install last night or this morning. I restored the missing files from backup, and reported the problem to “hostrocket.com”:http://www.hostrocket.com support. Their response was that I shouldn’t have world-writable files (I don’t) and that I should keep my software up to date (I’ve been *meaning* to upgrade).

It was clearly more work to get the site really working than just copying the backup directory over the new directory, so I decided this was the day to do the upgrade. It was fairly painless, and I have my sidebar back looking pretty much the way I want it to.

I believe that most of the differences between the new appearance of the site and the old one will be removed when I get around to redoing the changes I had made to the default stylesheet, I will do this soon, but not before lunch.

I couldn’t stand the small type, so I did it before lunch, but it’s now pretty big and clunky looking. But I’ll really have lunch before fixing that.

I have it adjusted some. I may still tinker with it, as the lines seem quite loose, and I haven’t looked in any browsers but Firefox. Let me know what you think.
Meanwhile, I apologize to anyone who finds the type too small; I think the big thing I did to the CSS was to remove all the absolute type size directives so that people (like me) who set their browsers to use larger type sizes than standard will get the larger type sizes.

In any case, let me know if you have problems, and I’ll do my best to fix them.

More site fiddling

Bad Behavior seems to be successfully blocking the comment spam, so I have removed the requirement that I moderate all comments.

I was really enjoying the WIKI stuff I was doing, so I have activated the Textile2 plugin, to see if it makes posting a blog entry more fun. I like writing html with psgml in emacs, but getting there from wordpress is several steps:

* click on the html box
* right click on that and invoke mosex
* move to the emacs window
* get into html mode (for some reason, wordpress gives the file a .txt extension — if it were .html, we would be in html mode by default)
* remove the page template that psgml generates for you
* start typing html.

I still think Ctrl-C Ctrl-E tag name is a lot easier of a way to enter a tag than remembering a lot of different punctuation marks, but for a normal post with only a couple of links and lists, I think the textile markup may well be easier.

t turns out to be easier to deal with textile 2 list formatting if you turn off the rich visual editor.

Anyway, I’ll leave it for a while, but I may go back to emacs.

Some tweaks to the blog

After I posted the report on this week’s meeting of the Cantabile Band, I got irritated enough at the bullet style to do some work to fix it. I had to do some googling to figure out how to do that, and so I did some more reading of one of the helpful sites, Lorelle on WordPress.

She has a list of WordPress plugins she finds useful, and I got inspired to install Bad Behavior and Random Quotes.

Bad Behavior shouldn’t affect you as a reader; just the amount of spam comments I have to deal with as an administrator.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the sidebar, you can see a random quote from my quote database.  Feel free to suggest other quotes to be added.  In the course of looking up some quotes I couldn’t remember exactly, I found quotationspage.com.

Added sidebar to single post display

I had noticed that looking at a single post, e.g. http://laymusic.org/wordpress/?p=267 didn’t have the navigation sidebar, and had vaguely thought that might be a problem.  But then I started using an RSS aggregator (Google Reader)  and realized that everybody who gets to a post that way is seeing the single post layout.

So I edited the single post Presentation file so that it included the sidebar.  This reminds me yet again why wordpress is so popular — the PHP in the  Presentation files for the default style is really pretty easy to read and modify, even though I’m not a very experienced PHP programmer.