2017, week 30

Something I’m wanting to do is to keep an online journal as part of the function of this website. Obviously it is public so some things would not be appropriate to publish here, but considering how much of what is posted to social media networks can easily become public this is probably not too different.

Downpour

A significant event for our region was the recent deluge of rain and associated flooding last Friday and Saturday. Fortunately our house was not affected in any major way beyond some leaky spouting and a very muddy back yard. We did bring one of the rabbits (Cloud) inside overnight on Friday as his hutch was leaking and he had become a bit wet. He got a dry cardboard box of hay in the pet playpen for the night and once the rain eased on Saturday I moved all three of the rabbit hutches onto the concrete driveway to get them out of the mud.

(The image shows the Leith Stream on Saturday 22 July above, then at it normal flow two weeks later below)

Blog housekeeping

Despite the lack of new writing on the blog, I have been busy cleaning up all the old posts that I imported a few weeks ago. This involves fixing broken links, editing for obvious errors, adding images back, fixing fussy things that annoy me such as correct hyphens and ellipses. I’ve also tried to clean up the categories and tags to enable some of the older stuff to be found by association, though there may not be many people who actually navigate website by following tags and categories like I do myself.

Other website work has included tightening up security of the site and trying to speed up the loading time of the site. Slow site loading is one of the prices to be paid for the convenience of using WordPress and bringing that time down to something acceptable takes a surprising amount of work. So far I’ve managed to get it to something I’m satisfied with, and while there is still room for improvement what remains to fix would take a lot of time and expertise that I don’t currently have.

Trampoline

Last summer our 5+ year-old trampoline got a small hole in it, which steadily became bigger and bigger until it could no longer be used. We promised the kids that we would get another trampoline for next summer. Heather recently won an auction on TradeMe for one at a good price so we picked it up a couple of weekends ago and despite the cold weather it was an instant hit. For our kids the trampoline is a great way to get them moving and active after crouching over computers watching Youtube for hours.

Work

The second semester teaching has been underway for several weeks now, though I would not say we are run off our feet setting up labs as yet. That will come in a few more weeks.

Moving House

I’ve changed this site to use WordPress rather than being static HTML and CSS. This enables easier distribution via RSS and a mailing list, along with participation in the principles of the IndieWeb. It also frees my efforts to focus on writing rather that problem solving.

I have decided to move this website to WordPress. This may seem like no big deal, but it actually means a significant change to how I am approaching and using this site/blog.

My intention for the 2017 incarnation of my website was to use it as a tool for learning html and CSS by coding the site by hand. In some ways I did partly achieve this goal – I have learned a lot. However, I also found that I wanted to use the site as an ongoing repository and record of my writing, plus to find a way to syndicate it with social media feeds as I move away from using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter as the place I post thoughts and instead write first on my own site. I have an inherent distrust of companies that make their money off the data gleaned from the users of their services, and I hate all the advertising that I’m barraged with on the big social media channels.

Recently I stumbled across the ‘IndieWeb‘ folks who embrace a similar ideal of pushing for an open web as opposed to the ‘walled gardens’ of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies. Many of the people behind this movement are programmers who code their own solutions to enable interaction with other on the open web and I’m certainly not in that sort of league. But they have also created tools to make life easier for average bloggers like myself, tools such as WordPress themes and plugins – stuff that I am able to implement (if I use WordPress to drive my site).

Discovering these plugins and themes added additional weight to a problem I was facing in having a completely static website; how to notify people of new articles posted on my site. The typical mechanisms to do this are via RSS feeds or email lists, both of which are tricky (as in not possible for me) to implement using html and CSS, the only development tools I have mastered enough to do anything useful with. I did try using a flat-file CMS called Grav last week, but after a lot of fiddling to move my files across to it found that it is still not straightforward to use as a non-programmer.

Another factor in favour of WordPress is that having used it for many years now it takes hardly any thought for me to maintain a blog with it and I really want to put more focus into actual writing and creating content, not spending most of my efforts in trying to get my site simply functional. The articles I had on my static version of the site were mostly ones I had written in the past and I found that there was some good stuff in amongst the trivia I have written over the years. This is the big advantage of cultivating a discipline of regular writing – if I write a lot there will end up being something good produced occasionally. I want to get back to this.

Site Journal

A summary of progress when I was hand coding this site. (It is now run on WordPress)

A Working Contact Form!

30 May 2017

For weeks I’ve been wanting to get a contact page set up on this site since that will be the only feedback I’m likely to get without having comments working. Today I found a very good tutorial based on the Bootstrap framework that I now have working successfully on the site. This is a big milestone for me, giving at least some possibility of interaction with anyone who reads the site and hopefully also a way for any problems I don’t know about to be brought to my attention.

The tutorial is on the Bootstrapious website, written by a guy named Ondrej. The tutorial was easy to follow, logical and had demo files all ready for download. In fact this tutorial made the process so easy it feels a bit like cheating. But this is an important thing for me to get right, especially the php and javascript parts which I’m not at all familiar with yet.

Other stuff I’ve been working on over the last week is adding more actual content to the site, in particular lists of the poems I have read and books I read in 2016. These can be found under the reading category.

I have also been using Bootstrap 4 CSS for new material I add to the site. There remain a couple of formatting glitches which I want to resolve before changing everything to Bootstrap 4, this is why you may notice the nav bar changing colour as you move from page to page; the dark nav is Bootstrap 3, the light grey one is the latest version. Obviously the actual colour is a trivial thing, it just makes it easy for my to know at a glance which style sheet each page is using. What makes the transition between the two a little complicated is that the classes do not match us exactly between them so the html has to be changed to use the new CSS classes, some of which I’m still figuring out.

Bootstrap

22 May 2017

The website template I am using for this site uses the bootstrap framework. This is very complex to my beginner’s eyes, but does all that I want to be able to do, and a whole lot more. Over the last couple of days I’ve been trying to learn about what all the CSS classes within Bootstrap do and realising that many of them are not useful to me. So toay I began eliminating some stuff that I will not be likely to use. Then I discovered that I have been working on version 3.3.7 which uses a grid system, but there is in fact an alpha of version 4 available which uses flexbox. Having seen how useful flexbox is, I’m going to try to use this on my site, even though it is still at alpha stage and so could have plenty of bugs in it yet.

Stuff I’m removing:

  • Carousel; I don’t foresee a need for this and they do not comply with accessibility standards.
  • Modal box; These annoy me on other sites and I have no immediate use for them.
  • Progress bar styles: no immediate use.

By removing stuff I don’t need I reduce the size of the file and potentially speed up how quickly the site loads. I also have to learn about each CSS class before I decide if it is needed or not. If I delete something important I will learn from the mistake, and if I need something later on that I have removed it is not difficult to add it back in.

A Brief Fling with WordPress

16 May 2017

Over that weekend just gone I caved in to temptation and had a naughty weekend affair with WordPress

I had been adding some of my old blog posts to the site and quickly tired of needing to update multiple pages each time I added a new page to the site. The reason why most modern sites use a content management system (CMS) becomes obvious when you have to manually update or add links to new content in multiple places. Tools like WordPress make this so easy that I have never given much thought to how many internal links my blogs have had (internal links are good, just tedious to do by hand).

In theory I could use a static website generator to build this site which would cut out a lot of that tedium, but unfortunately none that I know of can be installed on the Chromebook I use at home, and at work I do not have full Admin access to my computer so cannot install a them on there either. If I really wanted I could put a request in to IT to install a site builder such as Jekyll on my work machine, but then I’d be restricted to only being able to make updates to the site from there, whereas the way I currently have things set up I can even use my phone to make minor changes if I want to.

So, I did get to wondering if perhaps just using WordPress would be easier – it is. However, it also massively slowed the site down. I know there are ways to improve the performance of WordPress sites, but the difference in response compare to this plain old static site amazed me, and also my reason for building the site this way is to learn. So it was only a brief affair and it is over now, I have returned to html and CSS.

Reset Rabbit Hole

3 May 2017

Trying to position the site header and navigation on my test page I found there is about a 10px gap between the two of them which I don’t want but this is not due to any margin that I’ve set. Tried a universal reset of * {padding: 0; margin: 0;} but this mushes the entire page together (I guess it overrides all margins and padding). So now I’m heading down the rabbit hole of CSS resets and how the universal selector works.

After becoming convinced tha the universal selector is not the best way to go and reading about CSS resets, I fiddled around with my own styles using the Safari Web Inspector and Chrome Developer Tools (different names for the same sort of thing really) and narrowed the main problem down to <p> margins being set by the browsers at about 8px, accounting for the irritating gap between elements in my page header.

To resolve this, and other potential annoyances, I have set the margins for paragraphs and headings to 0. This is a commonly used reset according to a series of three articles by Michael Tuck, starting with The History of CSS Resets.

1 May 2017

I’ve encountered a small problem, on my ‘Test’ page – the footer is moving up the screen as I scroll down the page on desktop (Safari 9.1.3). Oddly, this is not happening on mobile Safari so I didn’t notice it over the weekend while checking the site on my phone.

Solution: I had added a <main> div to enclose the article, it’s heading and it’s footer, leaving the main page heading, footer and site navigation outside of this div. This caused the site footer and navigation to adopt the <body> styling. To fix the issue I added a <div class=”container”> as an overall page wrapper. Currently the only styling this div has is {display:block;}.

Beginning with Basics: Typography

28 April 2017 to ?

I am currently reading a lot about basic website design principles, fonts, typography and such like. Expect the site to regress to a very basic layout in the near future as I play around with getting a good readable font and making the text layout optimal. To me this is one of the really important aspects of a good website, it should be easy to read and easy to navigate, with no distractions. Time will tell if I can master this!

2 May 2017

Back to reading about typography. I have set the max width of the main content (text) column on my test page to 40em, which equates to 640px as this give in the region of 15 to 20 words per line which is a comfortable reading length.

A ‘Cheat Week’

20 to 27 April 2017

Got frustrated with fiddling around with layout issues so found a blog template to use so that I can focus on publishing some real content for a bit rather than having pages full of ‘Lorem ipsum’. I’ve been using a template called ‘Blog Home’ and ‘Blog Post’ from Start Bootstrap, written by David Miller. While a useful way to quickly make the site useable, this setup is more complex than I need or understand currently so will not remain in place for long.

‘Internetting Is Hard’ Tutorials

3 to 14 April 2017

Working through the excellent tutorials written by Oliver James over at InternetingIsHard.com, especially the ones on layout and flexbox. Working through the exercises here made me aware of why using an external CSS style sheet is much easier and cleaner than including the styles at the top of my html files.

Tidying up

31 March 2017

Today’s progress:

  • Used RealFaviconGenerator to make better favicon, Apple icon and icons for Android and Windows devices.
  • Added more comments to my code to make it easier for me to follow
  • Made all pages the same CSS style

Flexing CSS

30 March 2017

Learning about CSS flexbox and grid layouts

Today’s progress:

  • Started with a simple layout of CSS3 Flexible Box from w3schools.com
  • Once I understood the ideas behind flexbox, changed to a layout from Jake Archibald on About and Home pages.
  • Created and uploaded my own favicon and Apple icon images

Becoming Responsive

28 March 2017

Learning about CSS media queries to make styling of index page more responsive on small screens.

Today’s progress:

  • Adjusted CSS to provide different styled views for screens that are larger than 600 pixels wide.
  • Added CSS styling to Journal page.

Centered, shadowed and rounded

23 March 2017

Learned how margins, padding and centering works in CSS and html. Used an example by Kroc Camen to create a cool shadowed box on my homepage with rounded corners.

Semantic Elements

22 March 2017

Learning about Semantic Elements in HTML5. These make better sense to me than the old generic <div> element.

Today’s progress:

  • Added <header> and <footer> elements to index page
  • Learned a way to display < and > without them being interpreted as code
  • Added margins around body element
  • Began adding some CSS styles to text elements

Small Tweaks

21 March 2017

Today I did some reading to get a better handle on some of the html tags I’m using and the ways to organise my site file structure.

Today’s progress:

  • Put the file for this page in the correct place!
  • Link the two pages of the site together
  • Inserted the script and code for Google Analytics

Hello World

20 March 2017

This website is an experiment. I am using it as a way to learn html and CSS and whatever other web coding takes my fancy.

The idea of creating a site like this, hand coded without relying on software like WordPress, has been on my mind for quite some time, but I would like to credit Tom Bennet and a post he wrote called Hand Coding A Personal Website which gave me a final nudge to make this happen.

I am using a basic template (HTML5 Boilerplate) as a quick way to get me started. I am only using parts of the code that I actually understand, so currently there is not much functionality to the site. This is very much a work in progress!

Today’s progress:

  • Organised webhosting
  • Changed nameservers for my domain
  • Created an index page
  • Created a ‘Site Progress Journal’ page (this page)

A Personal Blog

Blogging is dead, why blog? From my perspective, the short answer is, ‘because I want to’. As a longer answer I will give some backstory and explain why I am starting a personal blog.

Over the years since the end of 2009, I’ve had a number of blogs on various platforms (WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Squarespace and Ghost) in combination with half a dozen hosting providers.

My enthusiasm for blogging and frequency of posting has waxed and waned over the years. For a while I published new posts three times a week, more recently it has been less than once in six months. Four months ago I made a deliberate choice to take a complete break from blogging or even thinking about blogging for at least three months, with no expectation of returning to it. The idea behind this was to give myself a break from the blogging mindset in order to assess whether it was truly something I wanted to do or if I was just feeling obligated to maintain the blog I already had.

During that time I also managed to change jobs from one that was exacting a heavy toll on both me and my family to one that is much less stressful and has better working hours. I have also read fourteen books in fifteen weeks over this time which kept my mind busy. Now that my head has had a chance to reboot I’m finding a rekindled desire to express myself in writing and so the motivation to keep a blog has returned.

Several significant mental shifts have occurred for me during the time I stepped away from blogging. I’ve recovered from a severe and prolonged period of depression, and I’m no longer actively job seeking. Both of these had a large impact on what I thought and what I was willing to publish. Now I’m thinking more positively and am not worried about what a prospective employer might read on my blog so I can feel free to write about any weird oddball topics I want to. One of my ambitions in life is to be an eccentric old man so I need to start practising!

Having had time to consider what I want to write about and whether to simply pick up one of my two existing sites to move forward with, I’ve decided to make a clean start. This will be a blog with no niche, posts will be about whatever I feel like writing or is taking up my brain space at the time. This is a personal blog, the connecting theme is stuff I am personally interested in, no other criteria needs to be met. And because I am entering a new phase of life myself it seems appropriate to start fresh here and let the rest of the story emerge as we go.

April in Review

A look back at what I’ve learned in April 2015.

I have recently begun reading Emily Freeman’s blog Chatting at the Sky. Emily has a practice of looking back at the end of each month to review what she has learned before plunging into the next month. I like this idea so am trying it myself. As an insatiable learner it may help consolidate what I’ve learned and give some insight as to where I should focus in the upcoming month.

1) Bible reading

I read an average of 4.3 chapters of the Bible per day in April. This is a little below my target of 5 per day but close. Some days I did not read the Bible at all and this is something I’d like to improve on because reminding myself of the full story of redemption and the encouragements, commands and prohibitions in Scripture is important to build up my faith.

2) Blogging

I joined the Clumsy Bloggers workshop for NZ$2 at the beginning of April using a 99% off coupon. So far the course has covered: Design & Layout; Consistency & Content; Titles, Formatting & Comments; Images; and Social Media. Mostly it is revision for me but good reminders to put work into some of the basic building blocks of my blog.

3) Evil abounds in this world.

At the very beginning of April Al-Shabab attacked a Kenyan university, killing 148 people. Later in the month ISIS released a gruesome video of the killing of 30 Ethiopian Christians. There are many horrifying reports of the slavery, rape and torture of women and children by ISIS fighters. Other news reports featured Burmese men being used as slaves on fishing boats in Indonesia. Slavery is also rampant in the clothing industry. I would like to do more than wring my hands in despair.

4) ANZAC Day

In commemorating ANZAC day, our family learned more of what our grandfathers experienced in the second world war and also some details of the Gallipoli campaign that caused me to question some of the stories we have been fed about the history of our nation.

Books I’ve read

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace & Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett (Kindle edition)

A chronicle of learning what prayer means when life is a bit chaotic and has squeezed out the ability to have standard issues ‘quiet times’ with God. Micha discusses Benedictine spirituality in an inviting way and at one point describes prayer as like the soothing rhythm of fly fishing, which I particularly liked! Not a ‘how to’ manual but an encouraging read.

Social media posts

A scan of what I have posted on social media channels gives an indication of what caught my interest in the last month:

Looking forward

I noted that I want to do more than feel bad about the evil happening in the world. As Christians we are called to be a light to the world and a preserving factor in society. I’m not going to suddenly turn into a world changer in the month of May, but I can consider how God could be wanting to use me within the sphere of influence He has placed me.

Rant about social media

It is a long time since I have written here, in fact it is a long time since I have blogged at all. I’m not entirely sure why, both inspiration and motivation have been seriously lacking over the last few months.

Whatever the reasons, it has been good to take a break from blogging for an extended time as it has caused me to evaluate this rather odd obsession of publishing personal thoughts on such a worldwide, interconnected and virtually instant medium with little control over who may end up reading it. Most of us who blog have little to contribute in the way of original thinking or profound insights, it is just kind of nice to write and see it on the internet. Yet this applies to the whole phenomenon of social media, of which blogging is simply a subset.

As a form of communication, social media is great. When turned into a profit making device, it sucks. Personally I wouldn’t mind having to pay a small monthly fee to use a social media platform such as Facebook. But I hate ads. They are intrusive and not what I am looking for when I go online. My other bugbear regarding the current trend in social media platforms is the issue of who owns my stuff. If I write about what is happening in my own life, or post photos I have taken, it is absurd and thievery to then claim that content as belonging to the media network.

More and less in 2013

2013 on palmsWell, a new year – time for resolutions, a fresh start, renewed energy – all that jazz. For me it is just another day at work.

However, despite my own cynicism, the start of a new year does mean something more than ‘just another day’ to me. After the draining rush and stress of Christmas and the ‘end of year’ wind up, there is a sense of needing a fresh start, a chance to get things moving ahead on the right foot. Fortunately for us who live ‘downunder’ we get to start each new year in the middle of summer so there really is a chance to nurture new growth, to get out into nature and unwind a bit, or read that book we were given for Christmas.

As yet I haven’t made any resolutions or specific goals for 2013, but I did drag out my old notebook in which I’ve written goals for years already gone by and noticed a few interesting patterns:

  • Some big goals that initially appeared out of reach have been achieved, particularly ones regarding jobs and income.
  • My goals of eating and spending less are the ones I put least effort into reaching!
  • Personal challenges that God has allowed into my life have forced me to work harder on some ‘personal development’ goals that had been on my list but slightly neglected – should have done that work sooner!
  • External pressure is a huge motivator for me to work on my goals; for example, I had a goal of studying the psalms more deeply which was neglected for several years. Then our church began preaching on the psalms and so that year my goal was more than fulfilled.
  • Spiritual growth/disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer are super important, hard to measure, never ‘complete’, and difficult to sustain without external motivation.
  • Small daily steps working on personal values can get me a long way, conversely – neglect of daily discipline can lead to wasted years.

So, goals for 2013?

I’m still not sure what my goals are for this year. There are a few ideas rattling around in my head but I’m suspicious that their origin is more from my own heart than anything God is wanting me to aim for. Last year was pretty tough so there is an obvious desire to try to make this year better, whatever form ‘better’ might take.

An idea which may be worth pursuing is of making 2013 to be a year of ‘less’. Less incoming clutter into my heart, mind, inbox, and hard drives. I’m a compulsive gatherer of information, to the point of becoming overwhelmed by too much to read, listen to, think about, process. I also eat too much and spend too much so aiming for less in 2013 seems like a good plan.

To immediately contradict myself, I also have a goal of more blogging here on Words of Eternal Life. Having not posted anything here for weeks means that ‘more’ should be easy to achieve! Over the last few months I’ve considered a couple of web projects that have diverted my attention from this blog but my focus is now back here and I’m keen to infuse some more life into this site. I’ve got a few plans of what I like to blog about this year but will keep these to myself until the writing has been done!
2013-sand

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