WP Plugin Confusion

The world of WordPress plugins is a stew of confusion to a new WordPress user. Thousands of options are available for use with your blog, an amazing array of interesting features to add useful capabilities. From this, you are trying to choose what works for you. You really do need a few plugins to add key features.

For Darker View there a number of things I have determined I need to get working… Spam comment filtering, backup capability, statistics, social site support, threaded comments, and a decent photo gallery. I have the backup utility working now using the very nice WordPress Database Backup by Austin Matzko. Social site functions and statistics from Jetpack work smoothly.

The latest experiments center around getting a decent gallery function integrated. Two options appear to be worth considering… NextGEN Gallery seems to be the standard, but I had read that it was flash based, and I want things to work on an iOS device. In a later experiment I found that it does work on my iPad, so it is back on the list.

In the meantime I have experimented with DM Albums. This is a straightforward plugin with a decent interface. Just load the photos and put a single tag into the post. I like the effect, it seems to play well with my theme. The result is a nicely functional gallery.

DM Albums does have some sizing issues in the full screen mode, pretty annoying issues. The package has seen very active development lately, with two major releases already this year as they clean up the bugs and get everything working. Thus I am not giving up on this package just yet.

This issue is not done yet, I am just out of time to play with it for now.

[dmalbum path=”/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Hawaii 100/”/]

SB 2104 on Electronic Harrasment

This has been the year for internet legislation in the Hawaii legislature. First there was the terrible HB 2288 that would require complete records of all personal internet activity to be kept for two years. This bill has been deferred, and is hopefully dead, after active opposition in the press, social media and pressure from internet service providers. The measure received nationwide media attention, overwhelmingly negative attention, when it was first proposed.

The current focus of attention is on SB2104, which attempts to address online harassment. The bill defines electronic harassment as follows…

(g) Makes any form of electronic communication, as defined in section 711-1111(2), including electronic mail transmissions, that is directed at a specific person and causes emotional distress to that person and serves no legitimate purpose. SB2104 as of 10Jan2011

Other island bloggers have posted on this measure. Interestingly with opposite takes on the issue. Tiffany has come out in wholehearted support of SB2104, while Damon has come out in opposition, citing free speech issues.

I usually side with free speech, even in the face of offensive speech. I am particularly sensitive to anything that threatens our use of electronic communications, a tool that is increasingly important in our society. It is the net that has facilitated true social opposition and organization to counterbalance the abuse of governmental or corporate economic power. It was the stunningly rapid response on social websites and blogs that halted the SOPA and PIPA legislation in the US Congress. A clear example of the power available to our communities through these new media.

With that in mind I have some real problems with the language on this one. I can all to easily imagine this sort of legislation being used to stifle legitimate comment and opinion. While I applaud the intention, to limit cyberbullying, I am not sure if this can be addressed like this without impinging on freedom of speech.

Style.css and Templates

I have spent much of the day, between doing yard work, working on the style sheet for Darker View. I have solved a few little issues, put a header image in place, and learned a great deal about the intricacies of CSS and WordPress. I still have some problems with tables and the favicon, I will just attack the issues one-by-one.

I have also learned a bit about WordPress templates, making a few modifications here and there. Good progress, the whole thing is looking much better.The major bug of the Blogum theme seems to be putting a ‘Read More’ at the bottom of every post, even if it has nothing else to read. This one will be a challenge. Otherwise I have figured out date formats and many of the other WordPress function calls.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please comment!

Update… The Read More bug is fixed!

Mucking About in Themes

Yes, I have changed the theme. Sorry.

The theme currently displayed is Blogum. I think this is the way I want to go. The original appearance was back on white. Not really appropriate for a blog called Darker View. I have edited the CSS for a gray on black appearance closer to the original DV. A few things do not work quite right, particularly the tables I had so neatly laid out for the earlier theme. Just more work ahead, bear with me.

Site Appearance

Yeah, I am not happy with the appearance of the site either.

The current theme just has a number of annoying “features” that just bother me. I am experimenting with another theme, one with an even cleaner and more minimalistic layout. So expect the appearance to change some time. In the meantime if you happen to stop by Darker View late some night to see an entirely different look… It is just me working on another layout.

Darker View is now on WordPress

It has been a decision that has been brewing for quite some time.  I have changed Darker View over to using WordPress as the underlying software.

For the last four years Darker View has run on Serendipity (known as S9Y) as the underlying blogging software.  The software has served me well, it is easily customizable and has proven quite stable.  Unfortunately it is also beginning to show some signs of wear.  It is getting slower and slower as the size of Darker View’s databases have grown.  Any number of new technologies and features I would like to add to DV are not available.

Serendipity is not supporting the blogging community to the degree that WordPress is.  The development behind WordPress has reached such an overwhelming critical mass that it is hard not to make this switch, if just to avail myself of the features and support available from the WP community.

When my father asked me to setup a blog for him I knew I would use WordPress to do it.  Using WP to setup NordicQuest.com allowed me to get a good hands-on look at the software.  I was expecting a good experience, what resulted was even better.  I was consistently pleased with the features and ease of use offered by WP.  This cemented my decision to convert Darker View to WP as soon as possible.

This will not be without a lot of pain.  There are over 2350 postings, hundreds of images, and a lot of history contained in the databases of Darker View.  I have attempted twice to automatically convert the mass of material contained in the S9Y databases to WP.  Both attempts were dismal failures, resulting in a couple FTP and SQL sessions needed to delete and clean up the resulting morass.  Thus I have simply setup a clean WP install and started afresh.  I will probably make an effort to cut and paste the most significant articles over to the new platform.

I will leave the old blogging software in-place for now.  All of the old links and articles will remain online.  Fortunately the choices I made when structuring the site years ago when installing S9Y will allow me to run both blogging packages in parallel.  But for 2012, all new material will be on the WordPress platform.

Better with a Photo

Blog posts just read better when a photo is included. While a psychologist might argue, my guess is that the effect of a photo is due to our visually oriented minds. We simply like photos, the images give an immediate context for the article that is processed before we even complete reading the first sentence.

Quarter Moon
A 53% illuminated waxing Moon, afocal w/Canon G11, TV-102 & 32mm Plössl
The photo can be anywhere in the posting, to either side, across the bottom, as long as it is visible with the top of the article. It helps if the blog layout is clean, without too much visual clutter from other images or advertisements. Even worse is a background image that distracts from the primary article and images.

The extreme example are blogs that include a photo no matter the subject. One of my favorites is Photo Attorney by lawyer Carolyn Wright. This is a great blog covering the legal aspects of copyright law and the business of photography. Carolyn often includes a photo with every post. And while the post covers some legal aspect of photography the image is usually a dramatic wildlife photo taken by Carolyn. The juxtaposition is sometimes interesting, hawks or lions while talking about courts and plantiffs. There is no denying the effect of the photo, you just want to read the posting.

I make it a practice to include a photo in most postings. Even if it means reusing a photo that has been published before. After a while any blog begins to accumulate quite a collection of photographs. This provides a ready set of “stock” photos which can be used to illustrate any posting.

Astronomy Q&A

I get email. Unlike some more controversial folks on the web, this does not normally contain hate mail. My messages are usually fun to read. A regular feature of my mail are astronomy newcomers asking the usual questions…


I found your site while hunting around Google for an answer to a question. I wonder if you can help.

My telescope was bought during the winter of 2011. I’m new to hunting and finding stars and planets. This morning like many mornings I was out and about around 5:38 am. I live in the northern hemisphere, on a farm. As always I look around for any stars that might still be out before the Sun rises fully. If I look hard enough I can find a few. One always sticks out. It is to the south, high in the sky and very bright. At first I thought it was Saturn, but my star chart tells me Saturn would be closer to SSW at 5:35 in the morning. Being I’m not using a compass, I wonder if indeed I’m not facing true south. I’ve read it could be Sirius, but I don’t believe it is, maybe I’m wrong.

Are you able to give me some idea’s as to what star I’m looking at?

Thanks, and I hope you don’t mind the crazy question.

One more question. In the spring when I was looking at Saturn I could have sworn I was able to see the rings of Saturn tilting, or better stated moving up and down for lack of better wording. Am I correct in that? I am using a Celestron AstroMaster 114. Not the best but it was affordable, just in case star gazing was not for me.

[Name withheld]

Saturn 22Apr2010
Saturn with Titan above, Philips ToUcam PCVC740K on a C-14 w/2x barlow, stack of 550 frames selected from 1200
With a message like that I just have to respond…

[Name withheld],

Looking up whenever you walk outside is a good sign that you are indeed a stargazer at heart. I find myself doing the same any time I am under the night sky, even when walking across a supermarket parking lot I look up to see what stars or planets are visible.

Learning the sky simply takes a curious mind and a little experience. The patterns of the sky are regular and predictable. Keep learning and you will be able to recognize any bright star any time you step outside.

A remarkable early morning star could indeed be Sirius this time of year. This is the brightest visual star in the sky and can be quite striking. A quick look at the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major will also reveal the bright constellation Orion just to the north.

Each morning a fixed star like Sirius will rise about four minutes earlier, about one degree higher in the sky each day. The cycle repeats each year with the same stars visible in the same positions in the same season. By fall Canis Major and Orion will be in the evening sky and they will disappear into the Sun’s glare come spring.

Your description of Saturn is interesting… The angle of Saturn’s rings does change, but only over the months and years as the the Earth and Saturn orbit the Sun and the angle from which we view the planet changes.

It may not have been your imagination either. You may have been experiencing what astronomers call poor seeing. This is due to the air above, through which we view the heavens, distorting the light. the effect is the same thing that gives stars a twinkle or can cause the image to shimmer over a hot road. Normally the effect will blur the image slightly, coming and going with moments of clarity. When really bad the image of a star or planet can move about in the eyepiece. I have seen Jupiter look like a bouncing rubber ball under bad seeing conditions.

Keep looking up!