Theme Update

Over the weekend, I finally sat down and updated my blog theme. I have been using Kubrick (the old default WordPress theme) ever since I got this domain and migrated my blog from Blogger. So it’s been over 4 years without a theme change. Actually, that’s a lie – I did change the header image back in 2008 but that hardly counts. The funny thing is, I always intended to clean things up some more – only I never actually got around to it.

If Valve has openings, I think I would totally fit into their corporate culture. I already operate on their time, and I love all their games. I’m a shoe in!

While I was tinkering with the design, I discovered something rather interesting. Well, interesting to me at least. Chances are I might be the last WordPress user in the world to discover this, but I will tell you anyway. Did you know that you can actually preview how your blog will look in a new theme without actually activating it? All you need to do is to add the following to any URL:

/?preview=1&template=themedir&stylesheet=themedir&

Where templatedir is the name of the directory in /wp-content/themes/. You can then click on any link, move around and see how everything looks. For example, here is how my blog used to look under the old theme.

The nice thing about this little feature is the fact that it allows you to mess around with the theme on your live installation without actually affecting how the site looks for visitors. There is just no need to install a test blog, you just use the preview URL and do your thing.

The changes are not just superficial. I finally fixed my tags/categories mess, which was driving me crazy for like 2 years now. You see, when I moved to wordpress, categories was a new thing to me. I started using them the way you use tags these days. I would assign multiple categories to each post, and create new ones for just about anything. So in the past you could have seen a post filed under “programming, software engineering, web design, web 2.0, php, scripting, lamp, mysql”. I ended up with like a quintillion categories on the sidebar, and since I had so many of them, there was really no consistency to how I was using them. When WordPress finally got a tag feature few years ago, I realized I could make things much, much neater and easier if I consolidated a lot of my categories, or converted them to tags.

The way I now understand the category/tag distinction is that you ought to have a few general categories (like programming, entertainment, humor) that indicate general topics you will be talking about. Tags on the other hand, are for specific, narrow topics that you write about frequently. So for example if I was writing a post about doing something in Java I would file it under the programming category and tag it with Java.

This is precisely what I did. I sat there, merged all my categories, converted them to tags (and vice versa) and deleted just about anything that had fewer than 3 posts under it. Right now I have 15 categories (all of which have close to, or over a hundred posts) and few dozen tags and I’m pretty content with this setup. I could probably consolidate few more categories, but this will do for now.

Part of this effort was just me trying to have a better organization, but there was something else that also motivated me. You see, I sort of want to have custom headers for each category. So if you are reading about programming there would be some code there, if you are reading a movie review there would be something movie related, and so on. This could only work if I had a manageable number of categories and would refrain from filing posts under multiple ones. So this is sort of where I’m heading.

Anyways, how do you like the new design? Do you like the category-based-header idea? Does anything seem broken after the theme update? Let me know in the comments.

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23 Responses to Theme Update

  1. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    I like the old theme better. Laptop header seems off.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    :( Do you mean “off” as in off center, out of alignment or “off” as in “does not fit in with the theme of the blog”.

    As I mentioned, I’m planning to mess around with the headers and have different ones for posts in different categories so this will likely change.

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  3. jambarama UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I like it. I’ll have to get used to the new header image, I was fond of the prior one, but I’m sure this one will become just as familiar. Actually, with the improved tags & categories, the biggest beneficiary may be your search results! Nothing looks broken, so nice work on the upgrade!

    You sounded like you wanted some feedback, so I’ll play armchair critic with emphasis on “I could never do any better.” I don’t understand what the “archived posts” category is. The “technology” one seems like it deserves to be broken down, but retagging stuff is such a chore, I don’t know that I’d bother. The tags are nice, but without some handy way to access them, like you’ve got with categories, I don’t know how much they’ll be used. The background fits with the theme well, though I’ve never been a fan of the “non scrolling” backgrounds. I really like the larger reply box.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ jambarama:

    Archived posts are posts written prior to my move to WordPress and thus before I had categories. I never actually bothered to go and tag/categorize these.

    And you are right, technology is a bit broad. My idea was along the lines “everything that is not programming goes into technology” but I think I might convert my “internets” tag back into category or something…

    As for tag access, WordPress does have a tag cloud widget. It just looked kinda ugly on the sidebar. But I think you are right – it might actually be useful to have it there. I’ll put it back and we will see how that works.

    Thanks for the input.

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  5. MrJones Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I do like you new design, though i think the Archives section is way too big. I mean am i supposed to think “man there was this awesome blog entry on terminally incoherent in may 2004″?.

    i think everybody would use the search box, why not put the categories on top?

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ MrJones:

    Good point, I placed categories and tags above the archives.

    Archives section was always this long though. I might reduce it to a drop-down box.

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  7. dawn SWITZERLAND Google Chrome Linux says:

    You went from blue to orange in 2008? In my head, it still is “a few months ago”.

    Anyway, I like the new theme, but the background image bothers me. Why not go all white or, if you really want the main area to stand out, a very light shade of grey/cyan/orange(?).

    Something you could add to your long-term redesign goals would be a mobile version of the theme. It would make reading on a smartphone a little easier.

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  8. Nice. Not that often I actually visit here with your RSS feed still working and all.

    The ads seems a bit invasive, at least on the shorter pages. Then again, that is me not using an ad-blocker in Chrome.

    Still enjoy your content though :)

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  9. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Latter, somehow I don’t associate your blog with laptops. :)

    P.S. Now that there are tags, I noticed you used to write about anime, why did you stop? :)

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  10. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    I’m reading through an RSS-reader’s “content goes here” pane, on a laptop with an already low resolution, giving me a viewing area of around 750×320… and it’s working ok; the sidebar is off the edge of the viewable area, unless I minimise away the “feed list goes here” pane to get some extra width, but the actual content is all in view.

    So that’s good, just don’t make it any wider :P

    That aside, the new theme is pretty inoffensive. Looks nice (and my normal reaction to site’s changing their look is “awghh why did you do that it’s different now it sucks” before eventually coming around to acceptance… this change must be pretty good to not provoke that reaction)

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  11. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    If you didn’t write about it, I wouldn’t have known. I trawl the web via Google Reader. :P

    Been neglecting my own blog though. This reminds me to do some housekeeping of my own.

    Nice theme. Did you design it from scratch or modified an existing theme?

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  12. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    The header logo/menu seems kinda… out of place. It doesn’t quite fit, like it was just thrown in there randomly. I think it’s partly because of the rather sharp black borders and the fact that it looks kinda cut off on the sides when not filling the entire div’s width.

    Other than that I like it =)

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  13. Jenn UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    I’d like to think that our conversation last week helped convince you to do this hahaha…

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ dawn:

    I don’t think I ever had a blue theme… Actually, no. That’s a lie. Back on Blogger I had an alternate blue CSS but that was in like 2005. :)

    @ Tormod Haugen:

    Well… Ads are in the same places they used to be. I like to think they pay for the hosting but…

    Oh, here is a funny story. Last few months I haven’t been getting check from Google and I figured out my add revenue just sucked recently. I was way to lazy to log into my account and check. The other day I went through a pile of unopened junk mail on my desk and I found 3 envelopes with checks in them.

    I really, really suck at life sometimes. :P

    @ Liudvikas:

    Well, the old header hand a keybord on it so I tried to look for orange-ish keyboard images and found that one. I will probably change it soon.

    As for anime: I never really stopped. I just haven’t seen any good anime lately. I guess it just worked out this way somehow. I’m not avoiding the topic or anything. Just nothing good came up.

    Any recommendations?

    @ Matt`:

    Your feed reader shows the sidebar/theme? Most of them just grab the content from the RSS feed and apply their own formating to fit snugly in the content pane. Interesting…

    @ Mart:

    I modified the TwentyTen theme which was simple yet functional enough for my needs. Also, this is actually the first time ever I’m actually using sidebar widgets. Old theme had hard-coded sidebar and I never got around to wigetizing it.

    @ Kim Johnsson:

    Hmm… The black borders were there in Twenty Ten theme and I just left them because they sort of provided some contrast to all the orange. I’m pretty sure the image fills the entire div – I actually checked with an on-screen ruler and the edges align. I think I do see what you are talking about. I think the lighting in the image blends with the background creating an illusion of a gap.

    I’m gonna look for a better image. :)

    @ Jenn:

    Yes, it was the final push. Thank you. :)

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  15. k00pa FINLAND Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Not bad, Still simple and nice. I really like these new comment boxes :)

    However, there is bit too many ads in my opinion. At home I use adblock so I dont have that problem. Do you even get money from those ads?

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  16. Kim Johnsson SWEDEN Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Oh I meant the entire thing, including the black bars. There’s like 15px of white on both sides, which looks weird to me. In my opinion, it’s the kind of header that – if not stretched to the edges – should at the very least have borders on the sides aswell. But maybe that’s just me.

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  17. James Heaver UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    Wow, I didn’t realise I’d been reading your blog so long (I remember the 2008 change, and I’d been reading it for quite a while by then).

    I agree with @ Kim Johnsson that the black bar around the header should atleast be as wide as the white content section.

    With the Archive section on the right is it possible to display the most recent months as they are but collapse previous years?
    If not I would have the archive at the bottom of the sidebar since it is so long.

    Tabbing through the reply from I have to tab through each of the style buttons before I get to the comment box when I really want to go straight from ‘Website’ to ‘Comment’.

    If you resize the comment text box in Chrome it ends up behind the right hand sidebar.

    I also think the background feels slightly too washed out. I don’t know how the image was created, but if you have the full fat image as a layer, and then apply either a filter to it or overlay it with a transparent white layer it might be worth adding some noise to teh layer mask, this will give it some subtle changes in the level of transparency and might make it feel a bit more alive.
    On a 1600*1200 screen it repeats a few dozen pixels from the bottom, a slightly longer image, or maybe mirroring rather than repeating it might look better.

    Clearly Im getting more and mroe picky as I go along. Overall I like it.
    (Although the link to the old theme didn’t work for me)

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  18. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Anime recommendations, ok these 3 are all in my top 5 of all time, in no particular order:
    Haibane Renmei
    Serial Experiments Lain
    Eve no Jikan (This one is kinda relevant to your blog, it involves androids :) )

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  19. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    My reader comes with a setting somewhere to choose between displaying only the contents of the feed, or loading the whole page. I found it endlessly annoying when this meant that half of the comics I read didn’t show the actual comic (just had a link to it) so I changed that setting.

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  20. James Heaver UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    @ Matt`:
    You could always try writing a script or yahoo pipe to pull the comic itself.

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  21. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    In unrelated news, I installed mod_pagespeed. Google tells me my page should load twice as fast. I can’t really tell if it actually worked. It seems a tiny bit faster, but I might be just imagining things because I want it to work.

    :)

    @ Kim Johnsson:

    Ah, that… I think it was by design. Let me see if maybe I can stretch it out.

    James Heaver wrote:

    With the Archive section on the right is it possible to display the most recent months as they are but collapse previous years?

    Not with the widget, no… I would have to write my own widget or hard code it. But I moved it down below categories and tags.

    I will look into the tab order and the chrome thing… The style tags are from a plugin so they really have nothing to do with the theme per se but there might be a way to hack it.

    I will also increase the size of the picture a bit and mess around with the colors.

    @ Liudvikas:

    Oh shit… I think Serial Experiments Lain is still somewhere in my “Unwatched Torrents” folder… Unless I deleted it to make space for something else. Never got around to watching it.

    I will check out the other two. Thanks!

    @ Matt`:

    What reader do you use?

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  22. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Make sure you do, you missed a lot by not getting around to watch it. :)

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  23. About time! :\ Whats scary is that I have been reading your terminally incoherent thoughts for at least two years, probably more ;)

    But I have been learning every time I am here, and its nice.

    I also noticed you changed the amount of blog posts on the front page from 3 or 4 to 2.

    Btw, I found it very hard to create an image that changes for each category http://digitalpatriots.org (click on the different news posts to see the different header images). If you need my code to get it going, mine is a little — hacky — but you can make it work for you.

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