Refreshing & rebooting this blog

This blog has long been in need of refreshing. The earliest posts date from 2004. For a while, especially around 2005, I was mostly posting comments about material I found on the web and occasional reports of conferences or comments on other happenings. More recently it has been mostly a series of auto-posted daily records of links bookmarked in Diigo with occasional other pieces of more substance. To make that work I had a ‘links’ category set up as the default so that the auto-posts from Diigo landed in a logical category.

Over the years I’ve experimented with various themes. for a good while I used Beautiful Sunrise and more recently (mid-2014) I moved to Dazzling but I was never really happy with the way it insisted on displaying just summaries and compacted the link posts into a blob of undifferentiated text. My problem was that most other themes that I looked at were too bland, too fussy, or spread things out too much and used overly large text. Any satisfactory solution was going to involve some work and time to do that along with (re)learning what I needed to know to make it work.

I got to it yesterday and again this morning and spent most of today to arrive at something I am reasonably satisfied with. For a while I was tempted by the new annual WordPress theme, Twenty Fifteen, and went so far as to begin taking the styles to compress some text. In the end, I was not satisfied with the layout and the way that it handled my attempts at getting an image into the header.

My current solution is Sparkling with some tweaking to achieve what I thought I wanted. I recently revised my personal site using Bootstrap and wanted a similarly responsible theme for the blog. Sparkling provides that, using some Bootstrap features, and seemed to do most of what I wanted. Using the web inspector in Safari I could easily enough identify the CSS selectors and see what properties needed changing in the override CSS file to switch fonts and make the presentation a bit more compact. I had most of that done reasonably quickly.

Getting the content arranged so that the landing page would not present a long list of auto-posts from Diigo was more challenging. Because those link posts for the past year or two have been going into a link category it was easy enough to generate a category page that would present just those when needed. Producing a page of real posts without the link posts was not so easy. The solution seemed to be to create a landing page that would not be the simple list of posts but I did not want it to be content-free either.

The back end of the blog had a couple of pages that I’d created long ago and one of those included some attempts at using WordPress shortcodes to display selected content. That was not working so I began searching for documentation and tools to make it work. I installed the Jetpack plugin but found it did not achieve what I wanted. Fortunately the Custom Content Shortcode plugin was able to get the job done once I worked out how to mix shortcakes with HTML and CSS to build the page that I wanted as my landing page.

In the meantime I had decided that the hierarchy of categories I had built was too complex. That realisation was driven by my need to pull content from everywhere but the links category into the general stream. The Categories to Tags Converter plugin allowed me to push posts from categories out to an uncategorised state with the categories rewritten as tags. Using that with the Bulk Move plugin I was able to simplify my categories and retain most of the metadata in tags. The new structure of the site reflects those changes and is simpler than the old.

With those changes made I refined a page that presents a set of recent post excerpts and set it as the landing page. Unfortunately the Sparkling theme will not display the sidebar on a static page set as the landing page. More searching found a Bypass Sparkling Front Page Template plugin somebody had developed to solve that problem. I read more documentation and then downloaded and installed that plugin.

I really wanted to reduce the size of the button used for ‘Read More’ at the end of excerpts and to show tags with excerpts. Both of those required tweaking of the PHP files that control templates rather than just overriding CSS. At that point I realised that I needed to create a child version of the theme and modify that rather than the original files that might change with an update. That required more reading of documentation and some frustration when the recommended method of importing the parent styles using a PHP enqueue function failed to work. I reverted to the old method of @import in the stylesheet and it all came good.

I’m pleased that I enjoy this sort of tinkering when I have time to play. I’ll probably think of some more refinements as time goes by but for the moment I think I’ve got something that looks fresher than it did and is better structured for my purposes. Now I have to remember to post more often.