Trying Out New Themes

So while I think about the beginning of this book I’m trying to write, I’m still working on my websites. I now have only two of them to keep track of. I dumped the contents of all the others, even got rid of the databases for them. I am such a digital hoarder. I admit that.

Anyway, the theme I have been using is one I kinda did myself based off one of the original ones from many years ago. I like my CSS stylesheet to be neat and tidy, not the mess they have it now. And it was working just fine, but more and more plugins were getting hard to get to work if I needed them to run on a page vs run in the background.

“They’re Just Words” (my official site) has had a “real” theme for a while now but it is all pages and very static. “Thought Patterns” however, has a lot going on. Or it once did. Anyway, I’ve looked at a bunch of themes, tried them out. I didn’t want one with flashing crap or rotating images or rolling news feeds. I wanted:

  • light colors
  • two columns
  • right sidebar
  • single image across entire top
  • OR right sidebar that goes all the way to the top
  • custom colors
  • custom anything else I could do

Oh what fun it has been finding any to fit all that. Then to trial them and see if I could figure them out. Some were so funkily CSS coded, I couldn’t find anything! One looked good but was very, very widget dependent. If it wasn’t a widget, I don’t think it could go into the sidebar. I tried putting a line of text inside some code to see where it would appear in the sidebar and it…well, it was a mess. Another was beautiful but you could only have 3 custom menus for the entire design. Just three??

But I think I like the one I am using now, called Catch Evolution. A little to bright white for me so I may gray it up a bit. And the upper right menu bar, the title of it is in black inside the brown and can’t be read. I need to dig through the CSS and find it.

Let me know what you think.

Oh, and the plugin found close to 1600 broken links. Not surprising for a blog that’s been around for almost 11 years. I got almost all of them on the main site and will slowly work through them on this one. So anything that is faded and has a line through it is a broken link.

It’s Alive!

I think. I hope.

They’re Just Words (main part, professional part)
Looks ‘xactly the same and should have no issues. You will notice two differences immediately. One may be annoying and please let me know. All external links will have the “external link” icon next to it. If you find that distracting, tell me! Personally, I’m not fond of it but it’s something I am trying. The other difference will be some links with lines through them. That means they are broken and I need to fix them. Of course there may be a few other things here and there that are new. Like a new “captcha” for comments I’m trying.

As far as things being broken still, there’s a few pages with specific purpose, such as the sitemap, that are not working since they are plugin or code dependent. Those still need to be fixed. Most of the major changes were behind the scenes. WordPress is an awesome software and luckily this site has a “real” theme with very few changes to it.

Thought Patterns (the good, the bad, the fugly)
The problem with good old Thought Patterns is it’s been around a loooong time. Which means a huge database with lots of stuff that I wasn’t sure was still needed or not so I was just leaving tables still there. So the blog was getting slower, taking up a lot of room, and just asking for trouble. Which was surprising it was not the one hacked. Or maybe the hackers just didn’t want to deal with all the clutter and went for nice and neat TJW instead. We’ll never know.

Once I figured out what I was doing and got the other half working, I got to work on this one. Which wasn’t easy. The theme I use is based off one of the original themes from way, way back and is so customized, I’m surprised it still works with each update. The CSS file, bless its heart, is what holds this site together. It’s a strong beastie.

So. Plugins. Outdated. Wow were they. Replacing some many most of them was impossible. Luckily I’d found replacements for the important ones when doing the other so all I had to do was either find something for the others or decide if I really and truly needed whatever it was that plugin did. I opted for the latter.

Which means some things no longer exist. If you were subscribed to be notified of new posts, that no longer exists. I can’t find one that does what I want without also notifying you of everything else under the sun (like if I update a page or log on). And there’s going to be some older posts with some missing stuff in it. Broken code, missing images, etcetera. Get over it.

Anyway, I could go on and on about what is working and what is not. But I’d rather go sit out in the sun with my dog and my honey. So have fun with the “new” sites and let me know what you think. And let me know if anything is not working.

A Long Time Bloggin’

I realized the other day that I have been online “blogging” for over ten years now. I remember the first time I heard of it. I was hanging out online at a writers forum called “Forward Motion“. Most folks back then were using LiveJournal or one of the others. I poked around with all of that for a short while but didn’t like being locked in to a box that wasn’t mine or mine to control.

So I learned html and tables and made my own dang box! It was ugly but it worked for me. I had my own website anyway by then (good ol’ and I just put it there. I eventually learned a little bit of CSS and used that as the basic template. After several years of that (yes, years), I stumbled across WordPress with my web host and switched to that. Open source? Done! Copy/paste-ing all that stuff was a major PITA but I did it. Nearly all of it is here. Somewhere in all my files is the original html files. I shudder to look at the mess it was. I think I may be missing some here and there. December of ’03 starts rather abrupt. There’s got to be some missing.

Most of what I wrote in this blog thing was for myself. Noting down progress or the lack thereof. Being accountable to my invisible minions. I don’t think anyone but me was reading it. They told me it was a web log, shortened down to the word “blog”. So, that’s what I made it. A log. Part diary, part daily log.

Software for Writers

I am making a big effort to get much more seriouser about being a writer.

First, I had to decide if this is indeed my “job” or was it a hobby, something to keep me sane(ish)? I decided that yes, writing is my job. A job that I love but a job nevertheless. I need to treat it as such.

Second, I had to look at my habits (most of them bad) and do some changes. I realized I needed to set a schedule of sorts. Not a day-to-day schedule, but a monthly and yearly one. Perhaps goals is a better word to use than schedule. Whatever.

Third, I had to look at the tools I use. Are they sufficient? Detrimental? Top notch?

Fourth, I have to get better organized. I have so many copies of drafts and rewrites and all that. I am a digital hoarder. I don’t need that many. Sure, they don’t take up much room but it’s a PITA when I need to find something or figure out which is the best version, the last version, the original, etcetera.

To accomplish these goals, I started by looking at the tools I use and trying some new ones. I briefly tried index cards. So many Big Name Authors use them that surely they were a useful tool. And I am sure they are. But for me, not so much. I don’t write by hand very well. Not only is it barely legible even to me, but I have a bad habit of gripping the pen so hard, my hand cramps before I have the first paragraph. Instead, I think I will carry a stack with me so I can do some thinking away from the desk. I have notebooks but sometimes the space needs to be bigger. Flipping over the page with a line saying “refer to x” isn’t as good as keeping it all on the same index card or even numbered index cards.

Years ago, I used a software for mind mapping / brain storming called Inspiration. I really enjoyed it and have done some cool brainstorming with it. I decided to look back into it and to also poke around to see what else is out there. Inspiration has come down in price ($40USD). I downloaded a trial version of it since I have no clue where my original disks are for the version I had. I also downloaded a trial of NovaMind 5 and another called FreeMind.

FreeMind is very simplistic yet complicated. There’s not much on the screen which keeps it uncluttered but then you have to poke around to find what you are looking for, which is not good. But it is free, which is great.

Inspiration hasn’t changed much, at least from what I remember. It is easy to use, very user friendly. This is because it is geared toward educational purposes, not business purposes. They have a slightly more grown-up version called Webspiration but I wasn’t impressed and I don’t need to collaborate with anyone. And what if I don’t have internet access? Inspiration is $40 for the boxed version and the download version. WebspirationPro is a monthly fee from $6 a month for one person, $15 per month for 5 months for mid-sized projects, and $39 a month for 12 months for larger projects. Not sure how the project size is determined. And the per month fee for the last two are per user, up to 99 users.

NovaMind frustrated the crap out of me. The only help I could find was via videos. I didn’t want to listen, I wanted to read, skim, and go right to what I was looking for vs analyzing the speaker’s Australian accent. I went to their forum to see if there were any written documentation. I found it and quickly figured out how to do what. Once I got the basics, I knew which one I wanted.

I bought NovaMind. It’s expensive. The “platinum” version is $150, the “pro” is $80, and the “express” is $40. I got the “pro” because it had almost all of the platinum and what platinum had, I don’t need.

I also am demo-ing Scrivener, a writing tool that lots of writers use. I really don’t like it. I am what they call an “organic” writer. I sit down and write. I don’t plan much ahead of time. Sometimes all I have is a title, other times a concept, other times just a “what if…”. So a software that helps me to organize ahead of time as well as as I go just is too much work. And learning it isn’t that easy. I just want to open a document and start typing. Figuring out where it should go is not what I want to do. Nor waste time doing.

Same problem with yWriter. Too many bits to keep track of. My brain just does not work that way.

What I have come down to is I will continue to use OpenOffice. I love it lots and lots. I will also use TimeSnapper, a time log/use whatever program. It will help me to track what I do during the day while sitting at the computer. It tracks whatever the active window is doing by taking screenshots and keeping track of time spent. It even gives percentages. I wrote about it a while back. Of course, I still have WordWeb (excellent program!).

I will spend this weekend getting them all to meld together with me in the middle. On Monday I will start my new job. My basic goal is to have at least 50% of the day (sitting here at the computer) working on writing. Anything over that is a bonus.

Below are links to the programs I mentioned.

Mind mapping software:

Word Processing / Writing software


    TimeSnapper – $25
    WordWeb – $19 for single user, $59 for “language” pack. Also has additional dictionaries available individually or as a “bundle” for $99 (this is the best deal).
    F.lux – screen dimming software, easier on the eyes – free
    Lexia font by K-type – love this!

Staying All Connected

In case you don’t visit my Facebook page, Lorna and I finally got “smartphones” a week ago. After much thought (and procrastinations), the final decision was based solely on money. The Samsung Galaxy S III is way way cheaper than the iPhone 4S. As in we got two phones, upgraded Lorna’s plan, added my phone, got two cases, two memory cards, and two screen protectors for less than half what the iPhone would have cost us without the accessories.

The biggest warning we got a while back was “There’s a big learning curve between Android and the iOS.”

So, is there? Granted, we’d not used an iPhone before other than to borrow my bro’s for a moment here and there. But we’ve had iPod Touches for years and years so we’re familiar with all that part of it. Back at the question: is there a learning curve? The answer? Um, no. It was what I thought it would be like.

Go to contacts, tap the contact, tap the wee little phone icon, and call them. Wow. Hard man, really hard.
To flip between the screens on the S3, the user must swipe their finger across the screen. Oh, wait, iPhone does that, too.
To move icons around the screens, the user must hold down the icon then drag it. You guessed it, iPhone does that, too. (but Android does it better because you can put an icon anywhere on the screen vs right after the previous one)

Perhaps the biggest learning experience has been how the music works. At first, I was NOT happy with that part. I wanted a smartphone for several reasons. I wanted one device instead of two or three. Music, phone, games/entertainment/productivity. Not all of my cool games on my iPod are available as Android but enough of them that I’m not in withdrawal (no Zombie Gunship, though!!). Phone, yeah, it does that. But music? It was annoying. It sorted differently than I wanted it to (alphabetical order? within an album? really?). I wanted to stomp my feet and demand they fix it. Instead, I left it alone and messed with everything else first. Then came back to the music when I was ready. And…it works. I figured out how to do a playlist, how to put it in the order I wanted. The sound (without headphones) is much clearer than on my 4th gen iPod Touch. The sound WITH headphones is phenomenal difference. Lorna loves it. She had my old old 2nd gen iPod Touch so her jump in clarity was wider.

The screen size difference between my Touch and the S3 is fantastic. There’s about the same amount of room for icons and the like, except it is all bigger. Everything is bigger. And more detailed. Not image detail, but fine points detailed. The ability to add tasks to the calendar. The ability to check off those tasks. Being able to switch between calendar views.

But perhaps the biggest difference between the iOS and the Android? Editing text. With my iPod Touch, if I wanted to edit a word, I had to delete the entire word. I couldn’t choose the middle of a word to add a space or delete a single letter. But I can now. That aspect alone has me now drooling over the idea of an Android tablet. I wouldn’t have to lug my laptop to do simple brainstorming while eating pizza at Blue Mountain. Or to the laundromat while doing editing or re-reading. Cut and paste is a little tricky on the Android but I think I got it figured out finally.

And the final thing is how well Lorna is doing with hers. She’s going through the large pdf user manual on her own, learning as she goes. She’s doing great. The only problems she’s had is how to set up stuff like email and all the “Sign up for this and that” stuff. But even then, once stuff is set up, it’s done. She has even figured out how to text!

– Do we like them? Yes.
– How is it as a phone? Lorna’s biggest problem with her cell phone was it would drop calls. She had the LG Rumor and she hated it. But now, even on the route and with just one itty bitty bar, she can call the house and I can hear her clearly. Some skipping but no dropping.
– Music? Getting better. I tried to import our playlists and they didn’t translate well. Starting over with that is no big deal, now that I understand the magic.
– Games? Lorna’s not into that although she’s already said she wants to get BeJeweled 2 for it. Some of my favorite games to play while waiting or whatever aren’t available in Android. No Zombie Gunship. No Solebon Solitaire. I haven’t found a card game yet that has that level of graphic clarity.
– What we love is one thing in our pockets. Just one. No cell phone AND mp3. One device. Loving it. Lorna didn’t think she’d care one way or the other but she’s enjoying it.

Below are some images of my iPod Touch (left) and my S3 (right). Click the image to see the larger version.

The game Train Conductor 2.

The game Zombie Highway (some major difference in the menu, not sure I like it)

The calendar

An app called iHandy Carpenter (we use this a lot)

File Sharing Software

My brother was here visiting back in early August. One day we were talking about computers and the like and I mentioned the difficulties I’d been having with network file sharing. I used to use a decent program called Network Magic by Cisco/Linksys. It allowed file sharing, maintained the network, and did it well. Except it was flaky at times and then they stopped supporting it with no warning at all. It did great in keeping intruders out of the network but the file sharing was non-functional. When I got the laptop just prior to the GCLS con, I tried one more time to get it to work but gave up. I had been using MS Win 7 “homegroup” thing but it would, at seemingly random moments, kick everyone off the homegroup and I’d have to start over again. Plus the “share this folder” didn’t always share everything in it. And the homegroup only worked when you were, you know, home.

He said he uses a free program called Ammyy and some other program I have since forgotten the name of. VNS? VNDS? Something like that. That one he had used for a while but it was not reliable. He had just recently started using Ammyy and loved it. While on field trips, he can access files on any of the work computers that have it. Or grab a file on a computer in another part of the building without having to go to it and move it via a memory key. As long as the computer you are using and the remote computer have internet access, it connects. The only problem he has had (and I do as well) is it keeps forgetting the “contact book”. You can export the .bin file then just import it back when it has a brain fart.

No software is actually installed. There’s the initial file to download but it doesn’t install, it just runs the .exe file. Open it, run it, and it finds your IP and gives you an access code unique to that computer. You then go to Computer #2, do the same thing. Once it is “installed” and running on both computers, you access them via the unique code. He said it was a pain at first because you need both computers in the same room/building or someone at the one you aren’t. The program needs permission on the remote computer at the time of contact.

Then….done. You can view the entire computer. Open files, transfer files, run programs, everything. The only that that does not show up is the background image. No matter what the setting is, it changes the remote computer to the Windows 7 Basic color scheme. As soon as you disconnect, it goes back to whatever you had it on before.

I installed it that night on all 3 computers. Worked like a charm. (except when I got the codes mixed up and opened a connection to the computer I was on. It opened the window then had the image in the image in the image….cascade effect. Like a mirror aimed at a mirror.) The next day, I went to their cabin and could access my desktop (via the Internet) at home. Cool. I moved files, opened files, even played a game. If you click the X on the connect box, it closes it completely. If you click the minimize, it goes to the tray. It will not wake one up (like laptops that go to sleep) but it will work if the remote computer is in screen saver mode. The program has to be running on both computers before it will work. Since it isn’t installed, you have to open it again if you turn off the computer. For this desktop, that’s not a problem since I rarely turn the poor thing off.

One problem I’ve had (besides the contact book issue) is it is very sluggish. Even opening an OpenOffice file, it was moving slow. I don’t think I could actively work on a document that is on another computer because it would drive me nuts after just a few minutes. And I doubt you could play a graphic intense game (like WoW).

You have to be careful which keys you use, though. The Ctrl and the Alt keys on your keyboard won’t always work on the remote computer. There’s icons at the top to use instead.

You can’t drag and drop a file from one computer to the other. You have to use the ‘File Manager’ which works a lot like a FTP program. Easy to do.

I’ve used it a lot since I installed it. If I leave the house and know I’ll have the chance to work, I copy the latest files from the desktop to the laptop and off I go. Then, when I get home, I copy them back. You can sort the File Manager by date which makes it quick to compare time stamps. It also helps me in keeping backups of files on both computers. If I need another file that I didn’t update, and if I am somewhere that has Internet access, I can get them. Way. Cool.

Contact book

File manager

Main screen options