The Daily News: GIMP, usability, and WordPress

I decided that I would start rounding up interesting links each day and pass them along to my readers. I will still be publishing my own articles, but find that I don’t have as much time to get them out as often as I would like. So expect a semi-daily round up of cool links and once a week an article that I will write.

Today we’ll start with an article from Ar-bent-ing on places to submit your articles. The author correctly states that many of the main stream sites for social traffic really aren’t that great for niche blogs. I have personally seen that stumbleupon drives a few hundred visitors on the days that I get stumbled but there is not an increase of subcriptions to my feed and the bounce rate is high. I test submitted an article yesterday and saw about 15 people hit the site and around 3 new subscriptions. I would go through the list and start submitting your articles to some new sites.

Second up is a post that presents a new plugin for WordPress called the Homepage Excerpts Plugin. It really just gives you more control over how the content is displayed on you your homepage but can also make things easier for people that land on your homepage. I will probably install this over the weekend and start to make use of it to clean up my homepage.

I know for most of us Photoshop is the end all in photo editing but there are some pretty good Open Source tools out there as well. The most popular is the GIMP. Over at Noupe there is a post linking to 30 great GIMP tutorials.

Finally today is a post on usability (funny enough it on the usability post blog). The post details 7 usability mistakes often found on websites. A good read for anyone in web design cause if you’ve fallen into bad usability habits now is the time to break them.

News Round UP

Here’s the weekly news round up culled from the stack of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

Starting off is a great post from Just Creative Design that lists all of the WordPress plugins used by Jacob Cass. They range from spam filters (Akismet) to SEO tools (All in one SEO Pack). Many of these tools I already use in my WordPress installations for clients but there are a few that I will probably start installing for clients. I generally install Google Analytics for clients, though most never use it, but I will also probably start to use the Ultimate Google Analytics plugin for my own tracking and really it’s easy to install so having it for clients to reference is easy.

Second up is a post from NETTUTS on the ultimate ways to fight spam. It goes over many of the common ways that are used to fight spam. One, keyword black lists, are used here on this blog. I have a number of "off limits" words that if you try to leave a comment with it your comment will be rejected. The post ultimately recommends Akismet which was developed by the people that developed WordPress. I do have one small exception to this post’s information. It calls Akismet a new service but as far as I know the service has been around for quite a while. There have even been ways to port the service into phpBB bulletin boards for quite a while so I’m not actually sure what it new about it. Regardless Akismet saves you from a bunch of spam so if you don’t want spam install it.

Next we look at position:absolute, which I have mentioned a few times. This post discusses XHTML strict validation and is sure to get some people in quite a twist. This post can be summed up by saying that not everything needs to validate just make sure it is well written. I agree with the theme of this post. I do my best to code all of my sites to XHTML strict. I do allow for failing the validate if there is a good reason. As stated in the article, target=_blank is not a valid attribute in XTHML strict so you have to use a bit of JavaScript to make it work. I really try to stay away from javascript to make things work so am totally fine with using the target=_blank attribute if it is needed. Ultimately if there is a good reason for the failure then I am fine with it.

Finally a post from Smashing Magazine titled 7 Ingredients of Good Corporate Design. This post covers such topics as logo design, typography in design and colour in design, all with a bent to corporate branding. Good for designers of all experience levels to read through and brush up on corporate brand design.

That’s it for today.

Tuesday News Round Up

As I was digging through my RSS feeds today I found a bunch of useful information that I thought I would pass on.

Starting off there is a great article on the implementation of sIFR3. It takes you from a discussion on how to implement it to the what if questions regarding the lack of Flash plugins or javascript. The post includes all of the info including links to file downloads to get you going.

Second is an article on choosing colours that match your brand. It provides resouces for finding out which words are associated with certain colour types and a number of links to additional resources for learning to choose colours appropriately.

Third is an article on acceptable cross browser differences. While we strive to have a website look the same in all browsers at time we do need to just accept a difference. This is a list of the differences that the author believes are acceptable. All of the things listed are totatlly acceptable differences in rendering of websites.

Finally is a great article form Blog Design Blog on how to disassemble a free wordpress theme. As the author states, most wordpress articles are written for people to design a new wordpress theme from scratch not how to dig into an existing one and modify it as needed. If you have found a good design and just need to tweak it keep and eye out for this series of articles.

Enjoy the reading.

Changing the default ‘required’ in cformsII to an image

I recently had a client request a red asterisk instead of the default (required) that comes with cformsII the wordpress plugin. As it was actually my first time using cformsII in any fashion I started with a quick search to see if there was a documented work around to make this happen. While I did find a way to change the default text to a * which I could then have applied a colour to I wondered further if I could do it with an image. I realize that an image was not required for my circumstance but since I was digging into the CSS a bit I figured I should find out if this was possible just incase it ever came up in the future.

If you’re going to do this start by copying the CSS from cformsII into the stylesheet for your site. I learned through a few trials that this is way easier especially if you’re using a code editor with a built in FTP client for editing remote files. Once you have picked through the CSS and styled the code how you like it we’re off to the races.

The (required) text is surrounded by a span and class as seen below:

Code Snippet
<span class="reqtxt">(required)</span>

In the stock CSS you will find that there are a few lines of CSS to display the look of the required text. I deleted all of them and combined the styles to simply:

Code Snippet
span.reqtxt, span.emailreqtxt {text-indent:-5000px; display:
inline-block; background: url(http://filepath/asterisk.gif)
 no-repeat; width:15px; height:15px;}

This is partly things I learned from the CSS Sprites technique (text-indent) and partly trial and error. I had actually tried the same code while I was trying to edit CSS from withing cformsII and it didn’t work inside there. I am not sure why but I assume that I made a typing error the first time. You have to set the display value to inline block or the images will collapse and not be seen. Also don’t forget to define the width and height of the images.

I also tried to set the font-size to 0px but found that in IE it rendered small lines that was the text. After I realized that I tried text-indent again and it worked. I did find that a negative text indent number was required as with a positive one the (valid email required) text did not indent.

This method will allow you to display any image in place of the (required) text on the page. If your client decides to add more (required) fields at a later date it will also continue to work with the new fields. The only thing I was unable to get client proof was the legend. I hand coded the legend at the bottom of the form. This means that if my client adds a new form it will not automatically show the legend at the bottom. I feel this is only a minor draw back as the symbol is widely used for the same meaning and the implementation of a legend at the bottom of the form is marginal in time taken.

You can see the technique in use here.If anyone else has better options for implementing an image replacement for the (required) field I would love to hear about it in the comments.

Moving a WordPress Blog

Over the next few weeks I will be moving this hosted blog to a self hosted site as part of my continued effort to improve my search engine optimization and marketing. I thought that it would be fun to take you along. So….

After doing some research (this is my first wordpress implementation) I decided to download and install a free naked theme…Which really means I went over to Ellliot Jay Stocks site and downloaded the ‘starker’ theme.

Now that I have started off on a clean slate I will be adding some styling over the next few weeks (hopefully sooner). In my research I also noticed that Chris Coyier over at CSS-Tricks did a series of screencasts on designing for wordpress so I will be watching those as I head down this road.

If anyone has any suggestions please feel free to leave a comment.