Regular visitors may have noticed that I have changed my blogging theme. I don’t know; I think this is a temporary thing. I actually did this with no real purpose — aside from stripping the older Thesis theme and the book widgets which I put on the right sidebar. I liked featuring indie ebooks and recommended links and alternative navigation paths, but I had a come-to-Jesus moment 2 years ago when my Google analytics revealed (to my astonishment) that over 50% of my site visitors were viewing it on a mobile device. Here’s what it shows for last year:
The sidebar stuff only worked on big screens, and it probably was distracting. The Thesis theme (which I have been been using for more than a decade) has always looked pretty great and serves a mobile-friendly theme. So I can’t really complain about it. But I wanted to update the look a bit — so I jumped right in and installed the default WordPress 2023 theme.
The default theme is minimal indeed, and the front page uses a magazine-style layout of posts (which I don’t like, but I can at least modify it). Also, it messes up my navigation and headings. Apparently this theme lets you modify the block elements using the realtime style editor. That’s good, but has a fairly complex interface in WordPress, so it was always a problem figuring out how (and where) to modify it.
Front-page looks awful — and in fact I don’t even like the thumbnail view. Ideally I would like to create a composite front page consisting of both the latest posts and some static content for navigation. I have always had a fondness for the long front page consisting of 5-10 full posts, but perhaps it’s time to move away from that.
One advantage of the sidebar is that you can create navigation aids; one of my favorites sidebar widget contained my most popular posts. I don’t mind creating manual navigation to call attention aids to certain landing pages. On the other hand, it would be nice to have these elements persist regardless of what web page you landed on.
For about a decade, blogs occupied a privileged place on Google search results (and thus the Internet). Google spidered through them and noticed that they were noncommercial and tended to point to “good links.” Eventually big corporations figured out how to game search engine optimization, and indeed sometimes blogs themselves were gaming SEO with keywords, link farms, etc. At that point blogs started to fade away in search results, and indeed search engines were starting to become mostly useless. Eventually SEO mattered less than popularity on social media and what order in the endless scroll the algorithms of mobile apps are using.
How do people discover web content? Who knows?! Who cares!? But it’s clear that content developers can’t rely on big tech companies to help people learn about their content. Site owners have to do that themselves. Perhaps social media uses algorithms to help people find engaging content, but content creators have no input about that. Better tagging and labeling can do wonders, but ultimately site owners have to hard code enough browsing paths for the user to follow.
Ironically, preparing for my upcoming ebook Non-crappy Things from my Blog will force me to improve the findability of fun blog content no one knows about. Stay tuned for that.
For this month I will be collecting links about WordPress, CSS, typography and Git.
I’ve been really enjoying the articles and video by Oliver Schöndorfer. See the ideal line-height and the best font-size. Off-topic, my main takeaway from his articles is using a background-color for blockquotes — which really improve readability of academic texts.
I’ve currently investigating an overall slowdown of my PC. Can’t figure it out. Most of the behavior occurs in Chrome (because that’s where I spend most of my time) and in Windows Explorer. Everything just slows down, and latency issues cause keystroke mistakes to multiply. Some symptoms:
- Malwarebytes scans reveal nothing. Nothing is unusual on Task Manager.
- I thought Grammarly was interfering with browser behavior — maybe adblock plus. I still haven’t decided. Killing Chrome doesn’t seem to solve the problem (sometimes it improves it).
- Edit windows in browsers tend to have the biggest problems.
- Hard drive has enough space.
- Switching Windows causes the most problems. (I do this often).
- A reboot solves the problem completely.
- Facebook/Amazon/Google Docs often have the worst problems
- I only use Windows Defender for Virus protection. I don’t run Outlook.
- No unusual devices.
- Also: I have a known video driver issue which sometimes messes up display of videos in full size.
One problem is that I always keep too many damn windows and browser tabs open. I can’t help myself. Sometimes when things get too sluggish, that causes me to open even more damn windows so I have something to look at while waiting for the PC to settle down. Possible culprits:
- Syncing with Google Drive/Dropbox. Google Drive seems to mess up Windows Explorer often.
- I notice a huge amount of sluggishness on the URL bar in Chrome when Google Search is the default search engine. Restarting the browser often will fix this effect.
Wow, I swear there are hundreds of articles online about how to choose WordPress themes and practically none that offer useful information. Almost all are clickbait with generic recommendations (“Choose a simple theme” “Don’t choose a bloated theme” and “Make sure it is compatible with your WP Plugins” etc). I want to know what features are available and what features I really want.
WordPress really has a complex ecosystem, and it’s a struggle finding basic information. I will try to include the most useful:
Update 1: Even though there’s a learning curve involved, I think I will stick to the 2023 theme and learn it backwards and forwards. Besides being free, it has some nice defaults and variants — plus it is a good way to learn about its deeper features. The good thing about it is that it’s mostly GUI-based, so I mostly don’t have to mess with CSS and Php. But I want to figure out if it’s easy or possible to use breakpoints for my customizations.
Openverse — a nice CC library which can be accessed from wordpress media library.
Kinsta: Discussion of the fastest themes
- Themes: Frost, Avada, Kadence,
- Cognitive WP (WP learning site).
- Video: Jamie Marsland (Astra)
- WT Word Press Themes search
- WordPress on SE.
WordPress Learning Curve
Wow, I’ve been learning a lot of stuff. Here’s my journal of how my learning is proceeding:
4/28 The hardest part is configuring the headings. For the life of me, I can’t figure it out.
4/28. I’m limiting myself to editing the 2023 theme in the style editor (for now anyway). I’ve learned that using LocalWP is a very good way to work on a private test site rather than doing it publicly. (Don’t know how to export my customizations for now.
4/30. It is really hard figuring out where to edit templates. Aha, you have to edit list view on the templates. Aha, the purple things are template parts or reusable blocks. Here is a list of all the theme blocks.
5/2. Breakthrough. I’ve been learning about the Layout features of blocks. I had accidentally turned off Inner blocks use content width. Unless you do that, blocks inside the header, main, and footer templates will be misaligned. Also the dimensions property in the Block Style interface is hard to grok. Basically they hide individual aspects of Dimensions unless you click the + sign (for more Dimensions options). Dimensions are really important when designing a page. Also, I’ve noticed that many block properties have a slider interface where you select 1-5 depending on what you want. At first, this really annoyed me, but I’m warming up to the idea. The key idea is that the WordPress people (or maybe the WP themers) are limiting the customizable properties for layout …and indeed all properties. Sometimes this seems wrong or inconsistent, but it’s also simplifying the design process for geek wannabees like myself.
5/3. I’ve been learning a lot about Featured Images.
5/6. Wow, I have really had a hard time with the limitations of the site editor. Particularly with header and footer, it’s hard positioning two elements on a row so that the left element is left justified and the right element (or elements) is right-justified. To solve that, I ended up adding a Row, then adding two columns inside that row and then justifying both columns separately. You can control spacing and margins and font size, but you can’t set max-width=”200 pixels” or something like that. Also, I was playing around with the Media + Text block. It’s hard to edit the height; the key thing (I learned) was inserting the image first and then resizing the image width immediately before adding the text part. (Once the text part is added, you lose the ability to resize the image).
5/8. I’ve become used to using page templates for everything (including for the site home). But if I use pages instead of posts, how do I create archive-type pages to land to? Query Loop Block is your friend. So far I’ve learned that to create your own archive, it’s best to create a basically blank template page (titled “Rj-archive” ) and then when you create a page, 1)choose the RJ-archive template as the template. 2)While adding content to this page, insert a query-loop block.
5/10. It can be hard to figure out where to edit something. So I’ve prepared this list:
- Front Page — Use a specific page
- Headings/Footers — I would create a separate template part, but then when it’s in good format, I would add it to the default heading part. You can always wipe it clean if worse comes to worse.
- Archive of Posts (or Posts by Category) — I would create a page and then customize it by Adding a Query Loop Block.
- Archive of Posts by Category. You should NOT select one of the preformatted query loop blocks. Instead you should choose a blank template, and then, unselect the option to use template archive. That allows you to filter by category/date/author.
- Author Bio. There’s a block for that. You should add it manually to every post (I think).
5/14. Here’s a useful guide about adding custom html by using the Custom HTML block. Here’s some options about how to add a paypal button to your blog. UPDATE: Turns out I didn’t need to intall a WP-plugin. I just used a button wizard on Paypal and added the code into the Custom HTML block.
5/16. Learning all about SMTP mailers, contact forms, etc. Complicated to set up.
5/25. Setting up a custom Archives of Posts is really really hard.
5/26. Ok, I cheated. Instead of creating a query loop from scratch, I just selected one of the pre-existing outputs from my theme (and then customized that).
To create custom templates, you need to 1.create a custom heading template part with a different name, 2. create a custom template Page and then add the custom heading template part. (Have to wonder — how to set the custom template as a default). Aha, it looks like you should ultimately be importing for customization blocks into the templates named Page and Post rather than creating separate page templates (I think).
There is something called a Style Book — which is hard to reach. I’ve figured out how to find it: Edit Template (or template part) –> At the top bar choose the Yin/Yang Style icon. When you do, a new Style block will appear directly underneath. Click the eyeball icon. That will let you view all the blocks all at once, styled in their unique way.
If you have modified a very important template, how do you restore it to its pristine state? Answer: Go to Manage All Templates (Or Manage All Template Parts), click the 3 dots to reveal a new option: Clear Customizations option.