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Something is Stirring

Posted Oct 01, 2011 in Hope for the Future Comments 1

Stay tuned for a tweaked design and a new plan for regular updates.

Ah, Textpattern, I’ve missed you so.

Migrating Textpattern Designs

Posted Sep 29, 2009 in Design and Web Design Comments 4

Textpattern is a content management tool for blogs and small websites. It allows site designers to exercise a great deal of control over the layout and functionality of websites through a highly expressive template language modelled on XML markup tags.

One downside of TXP, however, is that the templates are all stored (along with page content and sometimes the CSS file) in the TXP database have to be constructed almost entirely inside TXP’s administration interface:

Now, editing code directly in browser textareas isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it’s not a lot better than, say, using Notepad on Windows. At least Notepad lets you use the tab key. And when you have to move a design from site to site, you have to recreate each template page and snippet (reusable snippets of template code are known as “forms” in TXP parlance) one by one.

However, I’m not here to critique TXP’s minor functional limitations. Instead I want to share a small but fairly advanced trick I discovered as I was trying to think of a way to move a fully working and complete design from a TXP install on my localhost up to the install on my production server. And it’s here that TXP’s database-centric template system becomes a significant advantage.

All TXP template pages are stored in a database table called “txp_page”. All TXP forms are stored in a database table called “txp_form”. So potentially, all you need to do to initiate an updated design on a TXP site is to over-write each of those tables in your production MySQL database with two exported tables from your local database.

Easier said than done, right?

Well, unless you’re really comfortable with command line MySQL, you’ll need, at minimum, a working version of PHPMyadmin on your server and some kind of database tool on your development machine. I use Sequel Pro, which makes finding and then exporting the requisite database tables as a “.sql” file very easy. Remember, you have to export each table separately for this to work.

As an aside, a real MySQL pro could probably tell me a much faster way to do what I’m describing. And I hope they do! But I’ve tried this method and it works a charm.

Important note: It should go without saying that you really have to back-up both your local and production database before you attempt this trick. I once lost several weeks worth of posts when I ran a database operation that I shouldn’t have. Though in my defence, it was a dodgy TXP database plugin that I was using AND I thought I was hitting the “run backup button”. Always double-check every action when you’re messing with databases.

So, once you’re in PHPMyadmin, select the first database table you need to update. Choose “import”, select the .SQL file on your local machine, then hit “go”. Once that’s merged into the database, choose the next table, import again, and, whammo-bammo. You’ve got a whole new Textpattern template live, without having to cut and paste into a single textarea. Pretty neat, huh?

Posting Interface Size

Posted Sep 09, 2009 in Technology and Web Design Comments 2

Nice post comparing the interfaces of a number of blogging tools. Adam Mathes compares Movable Type, Blogger, and Wordpress and finds that they all come up short compared to Twitter:

This is why anyone – even confused celebrities who barely comprehend technology – can actually use this product. You show up, there’s a box at the top, you type in it, and it shows up below with other people’s stuff you can read.

Textpattern’s posting interface has a bit more complexity, but it does one thing right. On logging in, you’re always presented with a big box for typing in and a prominent “Publish” button.

(Yes, I am on a bit of a Textpattern kick again, why did you ask!)

update: Post discovered via the inestimable Waxy Links.

Textpattern 4.2.0 Released

Posted Sep 07, 2009 in Technology and Web Design Comments 0

Most beloved of CMS tools, the mighty Textpattern, is now version 4.2.0.

Check out the release notes.

HTML5

Posted Jul 06, 2009 in Web Design Comments 0

It’s clearly well past time that web developers started to pay real attention to HTML5, the forthcoming new HTML specification. I’ve been keeping half an eye on its progress for a couple of years, alternating between hope and fear. Hope, from the promise of better semantics (header and footer container elements), fear, from the apparent dropping of alt attributes.

Simon Willison has being doing good work highlighting new technical developments and raging arguments about the new standard.

App Store Reviewers Suck

Posted Apr 21, 2009 in Technology Comments 0

Via Daring Fireball, a pretty depressing tale from Garrett Murray, developer of a stats app for the iPhone.

Irsquo;m far more likely to get 15 one-star reviews when something goes wrong than I am to get 15 five-star reviews when everything goes right. Perhaps itrsquo;s just frustration speaking here, but when Apple ties my hands behind my back and lets users punch me publicly in the face without allowing me to at least respond back, itrsquo;s hard to get excited about building an app.

I sympathise, but I have to wonder how much actual attention most people pay to reviews on the App Store. The average buyer must have figured out by now that most reviews are written by homophobic twelve-year-olds on sugar highs and adjust their expectations accordingly. Furthermore, I guess one upside of the current pricing model is that it’s easier to take a risk on the app if it takes your fancy, despite clearly negative reviews.

Fluid Images Posted Apr 19, 2009

Fluid Images via Stopdesign.

8-Bit PNGs and Alpha Transparency

Posted Apr 15, 2009 in Web Design and Technology Comments 0

Just confirming the advice on image formats compiled at YUIBlog. I tested CS3 and Fireworks, and Fireworks outputs an excellent 8-Bit PNG file with variable transparency for web pages.

I don’t think this information has been spread all that widely, so I’ll just do my bit to help out.

Blip FM Issues

Posted Apr 08, 2009 in Usability and Web Design Comments 2

I joined up with Blip.FM a couple of weeks back, but found a dismaying number of privacy and usability landmines in the sign-up and bootstrap process. I shot off a support email to the team right away, but haven’t had a response. I reckon it’s always useful to document some of these kinds of issues in public. Or maybe I’m just a cranky sod. Not sure.

Hi guys,

I’ve just signed up but I have to admit that I find the auto-filling of DJs into my favourites is a bit pushy and unwelcome. I’m given a form to list a few favourite bands with language about how “we’ll find people who play similar music”. There’s nothing to suggest that moving to the next screen then automatically builds a recommendation list and adds it without any chance to refuse or intervene. That’s a big turn-off and is the kind of thing that makes me very inclined to delete my account right away. I recognise that you say it’s “easy to add and remove DJs at any time” but I don’t want to have to perform major weeding on my profile as my first action when using a new service. All you need to say is “add these to my profile: yes/no” and we’d be cool.

I also think that the Find Friends page needs to make it incredibly, indelibly clear that NOTHING WILL BE SENT to any users that I locate unless very explicitly permitted.

Support the relief efforts in Victoria

Posted Feb 11, 2009 in Meaningful Labor and Hope for the Future Comments 0

Sitepoint’s 5-for-1 sale, with all proceeds going to support the bush fire relief effort in Victoria, Australia.

An exceptionally worthy cause, but it only runs until Friday the 13th of February, 2009. Help out now!

CSS Edit and Tabs

Posted Oct 17, 2008 in Technology and Web Design Comments 0

Partly for my own reference, and partly to gather feedback from other developers, I present below an extract from an email I sent to the developer of CSSEdit, to my mind one of the finest web development tools available.

In many ways, I think the tab implementation on CSSEdit is excellent, but I have a few problems with it. Maybe there are some UI options that I haven’t seen to mitigate my problems, but I haven’t found them yet.

  1. Command-W closes the entire window, not the tab. Strictly speaking that’s probably correct but every other application that I know uses tabs maps Command-W to “close tab”. The app doesn’t also remember the existing tab-set after I frantically re-open the window.
  2. I like to have a set of related tabs grouped together – first the CSS, then the preview in the next tab along. Currently that requires a bit of manual re-arrangement to set up for a new project, as you can drop a preview tab onto a CSS file window, but not vice versa. I’d like “new preview” to consistently open to a new tab in the same window but I can’t figure out yet how to enforce that.

Have any other users of CSSEdit found ways around these problems?

Ancient Wisdom

Posted Aug 08, 2008 in Graphic Design and Technology Comments 2

Today, my friend and co-worker Kyle’s iPhone/Touch application Ancient Wisdom went live on the iTunes App Store. Ancient Wisdom is a small and light-hearted tool that displays koans and sayings by philosophers and writers such as Lao Tzu

I helped out by designing a logo and some background art. The rather cute monkeys who help impart the ancient words of wisdom were created by the developer himself, a noted fan of our simian friends.

Here’s the logo in its current state:

Ancient Wisdom logo - weathered with a celtic font theme

I’ll be helping to polish and refine the user interface over the next few weeks. I’m also really exited by the prospect of designing in a technology that perhaps requires fewer compromises than HTML!

lizard on the stairs, arty style

Posted Jul 15, 2008 in Flickr Photos Comments 0

OK, test posting with Flickr. What magic it is.

PNG Graphics Tip

Posted Jul 13, 2008 in Web Design Comments 2

I’m starting to get into using 24-bit PNG files more and more, though I’m reluctant to use large-dimension images in this format as their file sizes tend to balloon. However, it’s hard to resist the charm of a logo that can be seamlessly matted over just about any kind of background.

One trick — which works best with mostly flat-coloured logos — that I’ve discovered is to posterise the logo with Photoshop before rendering out to a transparent PNG. Posterise discards colour information from the file — most people set the intensity level quite high, which results in a visible banding through the image. I’d take that down to about 7-9, which preserves the integrity of the image but makes the colour range more managable. I’ve seen file sizes halve without any serious image degradation.

Here’s a close-up crop of a before-and-after posterise treatment. Can you can spot a substantial difference?

Illustration of the before and after effects of the Posterise command

Jon Tan on Web Typography

Posted Jun 25, 2008 in Graphic Design and Technology Comments 0

I’m only about half way through this revelatory essay on web typography and the paragraph and I already know that it’s the most important thing I’ve read on the craft of web design in years. I think it may completely change the way I work.

Don’t miss the accompanying piece of stylistic treatments.

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