The State of the Place

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m now into my fourth week of updating at least once daily. Yeah I know, I’m as astonished as you are! I’m not sure where this flurry of blogging came from – maybe I just needed to recharge my batteries for a while. I’d certainly bottomed out during the first three months of this year.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep it up. I’ll surely miss a day sometime in the next month, perhaps when I have a really busy day at work and gaming or a baseball game or something scheduled at night. Who knows?

I’ve been getting a very small uptick of visitors during the flurry of activity. I’m not sure whether it’s significant (i.e., actual new readers) or just happens to coincide with more people happening to come in via search engines. My guess is probably the latter.

I know that FP will likely never be a popular blog. When I started journalling blogs were still called “journals”, and they were mostly chronicles of the authors’ lives. In the early 2000s they started getting more specialized, and it’s pretty hard to write a popular general-interest journal these days. But every time I think about trying to narrow my focus, I think, “Well, I don’t want to write about just comic books, or just science fiction, or just music.” And I know I don’t write often enough to keep a multiple blogs going with enough content for each one, so splitting up into several blogs won’t work for me. I also want to write about my personal life from time to time, since it’s often handy to go back and see what I was doing around thus-and-such a date, or when I last visited thus-and-such a place.

It’s slightly vexing to me that I haven’t gotten at least a little more traffic from my comic book entries, which I’ve been writing weekly since I started this site. Of course, that might be because they suck. :/ (I do get a fair amount of search engine traffic from people who find the cover images in my reviews.) That’s dissuaded me somewhat from following my original plan of also doing occasional music reviews here – particular because I find it very difficult to write meaningful music reviews – although I’ve been thinking about dusting off that plan in the near future.

Anyway. I’ve also gone back and added tags to all my old entries, which I find kind of nifty (tags for an entry are listed below the title, on the line after the categories). I might add a tag cloud to the sidebar, too; I haven’t decided.

My next medium-term plan is to come up with a new visual look for the site, as this one is wearing a little old. I might go with a more minimalist style, although I do like having some color around here.

Anyway, as always I mainly write here for myself, because writing entertains me and helps me organize my thoughts, and as I said it’s nice to have a record of these things. But it’s nice to have readers, too. My blog isn’t going to be all things to all people, but I do like to connect every now and then with someone new who shares some of my admittedly-peculiar tastes. Doing so has resulted in some of my most rewarding experiences on the net.

Welcome to WordPress 2.5

I upgraded FP to WordPress 2.5 tonight. I’d been thinking about doing it for a few days, but I was moved to act when I read that Technorati has decided to stop indexing blogs using WP 2.3.2 and earlier. Now, I don’t really care about whether Technorati is indexing my journal, but I figure Technorati at least has their act together enough to know whether the security hole in 2.3.2 is serious. Not conclusive evidence, but enough to make me make the jump.

It’s going to take me a little while to get used to the new admin interface. It’s shiny and flashy, but of course all the pieces have been moved around a bit.

At least the plugins I’m using all seem to work. Indeed, Fold Category List has a new version which works with the WP 2.3 and later database format.

Anyway, it seems to have gone smoothly. Let me know if anything seems screwy. Hopefully this won’t make any difference to you at all!

Blog Maintenance

I’m upgrading FP to WordPress 2.3.1 from 2.2.1, which seems to have broken the category list in the left sidebar. Hopefully I can get it fixed up fairly soon. I also upgraded a bunch of the plugins. Everything else seems to be working properly as best I can tell. Let me know if you notice anything else that seems broken and I’ll take a look.

I’ll also probably move off the Atom 1.0 for WordPress plugin sometime soon, which means the feed might get spammed with some extra posts at some point (especially if you’re reading it through the LiveJournal syndication feed, since LJ seems to be remarkably stupid at figuring out that a post is just one it’s already syndicated with some minor edits). Hopefully it won’t be too bad, though.

Fun fun.

Coming Soon: Full-Text Syndication Feeds

An entry to read if you read FP via its syndication feed (especially the LiveJournal feed).

I’m planning to upgrade FP to use full-text syndication feeds sometime soon. Although my reasons for using partial feels are still relevant, I’m thinking there’s some chance of getting more readers if I use full feeds, and the more I think about it, the more the chance of that seems like a compelling reason.

If you read FP via the LiveJournal syndication account, you might find your friends list get flooded with entries when I switch over. My impression is that LJ syndication accounts aren’t very sophisticated, and that they sometimes re-post a feed entry when only the text of that entry has changed. If this happens, well, I apologize, but there’s not much I can do.

(What I do hope is that LJ won’t re-post a feed entry just because I make an edit after the initial post, which I sometimes do, usually to correct a spelling or grammatical error. That would suck. But again, nothing I can do. At least, not to my knowledge.)

I know this’ll make J.D. happy! 🙂

Upgraded to WordPress 2.1

FP has been upgraded to WordPress 2.1. For some reason DreamHost‘s one-click upgrade wasn’t working for me earlier, so I shot them an e-mail, and a little later (after dinner and a coffee shop run) got back a “Huh, I don’t know what went wrong, I put through another request for you and it worked this time” response. So the upgrade has occurred.

It looks like my plugins came along for the ride (to my surprise – I’d expected to have to reinstall them), and they seem to be working. The exception is that the category list in the left sidebar is completely borked: It looks like it’s showing my Blogroll categories instead. But if that’s the worst that’s happened, then this has been a smooth upgrade indeed.

That and any other glitches will have to wait until tomorrow evening, at the earliest, for me to look into them. I’d hoped to iron out any lingering problems tonight, but that had been predicated on the one-click upgrade occurring on demand, and since something went wrong there, I’ll need to make time later. So please be patient if anything seems to be amiss. (And a quick e-mail telling me if you find anything else that’s not working would be appreciated, too!)

A Little Trepidation

FP’s hosting service Dreamhost is going to be upgrading PHP to version 5 on Monday. PHP is the language which drives FP’s blogging software, WordPress, and the upshot is that I will need to upgrade FP this weekend to WordPress 2.1 or risk breakage.

I’m a little nervous about this, since it will be my first upgrade of WordPress since I launched the site. While I have customized a few things, none of it was very complicated and hopefully I can get it up and running again fairly quickly. My main worry is that if something somehow goes wrong with the interface to the MySQL database which stores all my content, then I may be screwed, because I am not very MySQL-savvy. But as long as that part isn’t affected by the upgrade, then I should be okay. (This is why I tend to avoid WP plugins which add new tables to the database, because that’s the only part of the package of which I’m not confident in my ability to support.)

Anyway. Hopefully there will be a short outage and/or strangeness sometime this weekend when I upgrade and spend some time restoring any little hacks I need to restore, and then things will be back to normal.

I just had the urge to vent my worry. I doubt any of my readers really need to know any of this.

(And yes, I will back everything up before I start!)

Why FP Doesn’t Have a Full-Text Web Feed

J.D. Roth commented in a recent post that he’d like Fascination Place to have a full-text web feed. In principle, I’d like this too, but I have several problems with full feeds, and while none of them is compelling by itself, they add up to my decision to go with a partial feed. Here’s an edited version of the reasons which I sent to J.D. in e-mail:

  1. Loss of content. Some information doesn’t come through in a feed. For instance, an entry with a YouTube embedded video won’t show the video in the feed. This seems contrary to the promise of a “full feed”. At the least, the feed should include a placeholder for items it can’t render so that people can actually tell that there’s something missing.
  2. Loss of formatting. Feeds often don’t reflect the formatting, e.g. of embedded images or other typical CSS tricks, of the content they’re displaying. For instance, floating images of books I review end up showing up in odd places in a full feed, rather than floating to the right like they’re supposed to. I find this annoying as both a content provider and a content consumer; formatting does matter.
  3. Hit tracking. This is admittedly a completely selfish reason: I like to see who’s coming in and reading which entries, which is difficult to do if people are reading only the feed. (I know J.D. use Feedburner for this, but my experience as a consumer is that Feedburner goes down a lot, and/or has serious performance issues sometimes, so I see it as a mediocre solution at best. I’m also reluctant to use a third party for feeds.)
  4. LiveJournal syndication. LJ syndication is nifty in that it’s fairly well automated, but annoying in that there’s no way (that I know of) to subscribe to the comments on a syndication account. With full feeds, people can (and probably will) comment on my entries and I’ll probably never see them. Using summary feeds essentially sidesteps the issue.

    (Plus, of course, if I switch to a full feed, then the LJ syndication account for FP will get spammed with new copies of all the recent entries available in the feed. Although, that would be a one-time – if ugly – thing.)

Basically, I think that feeds are still a young technology, with issues yet to be worked out. They’re still tremendously useful, but still require some compromises to be made. So I’ve chosen the compromise that works best for me. (I could probably address some of these issues through coding of my own, but time rarely permits such efforts these days.)

If people know of simple solutions to some or all of these solutions, I would consider them.

(BTW, if you have no idea what I’m talking about here, you can read the Wikipedia entry on web feeds. Two good ways to subscribe to feeds on the Mac are to use Safari RSS on Tiger – which is what I use – or to download NetNewsWire Lite.)

One Full Month

I launched Fascination Place a month ago today. So far, so good, I think! As you can tell from my posting rate, I’m enjoying writing for the new format.

It’s hard to be certain, but I think I left behind about half of my readership from Gazing Into The Abyss when I moved. I suspect a big chunk is due to setting up a syndication account at LiveJournal for the site since I didn’t want to have to keep manually posting over there whenever I updated, and many readers over there haven’t subscribed to the feed for one reason or another (possibly because they happened to miss the posts I’ve made there announcing the syndication account).

Anyway, hopefully continued regular updating will eventually pull in some new readers, and perhaps bring back some of the ones I’ve lost.

I really like WordPress (the blogging software I’m using), and there haven’t been many tweaks I’ve had to make to my layout (other than trying to make it look better in Internet Explorer 6). The next hurdle will be upgrading to WordPress 2.0.5 – my first upgrade of the installation. Hopefully it will be straightforward.

One thing I’m considering adding is a “Recent Comments” section in the right-hand sidebar, like what J.D. has at Folded Space. Apparently his readers really like it.

What do you think of the journal, now that I’ve mostly worked the kinks out? Is there anything you really like, or really don’t like?

Internet Explorer Vexes Me

So yesterday Debbi brought home her Windows laptop from work to show me what Fascination Place looks like in Internet Explorer.

And, uh, it’s not exactly what I’d intended.

The core problem is with the three-column layout: It’s supposed to have three neat columns below the header and above the footer with a fixed-width sidebar running down each side, and a fluid-width column (i.e., column that grows if you make the window wider) in the middle. What appears in IE is that once the central column’s content is long enough to run below a sidebar, it flows around the bottom of the sidebar to take up (nearly) the entire width of the window.

For those familiar with CSS, each column is its own div element. The left and right sidebars are set with float: left or right (respectively) and with fixed pixel widths, and the middle column does not float but is set with width: auto. I’ve tested this with several browsers on Mac OS X, and it works fine in all of them. But it looks poor on IE on Windows, and unspeakably awful in the ancient IE 5.2 which was (I think) the last version available for Mac OS X (and which has many known bugs).

There are a few lesser issues, such as the words “Fascination Place” in the banner not appearing in the large characters I intend, and the text scrolling off the right side of the page. Those aren’t as annoying as the essential column problem, though.

I’ve been doing a little research, and it appears that IE has a number of bugs and quirks in it where CSS is concerned, for instance these bugs, and these bugs, and this box model problem. Debbi’s machine is running IE 6 on Windows 2000 v5.0, and apparently many of these issues have been fixed in IE 7. (Whether it fixes my problems, I don’t know.)

Fascination Place is my first foray into using relatively modern (i.e., this millennium) Web technologies. I’m well aware that the nature of the Web is that not everything works well for all people, and that there are people out there still using Mac OS 9 and Windows 98 (some people can’t upgrade), so not everything will render well for those people. But I’m not sure how much effort I want to put into making FP look good for people using old technology, not because I don’t want them to read my site but because I have finite time, and I don’t have access to most non-Mac or older browsers.

(For the record, I’ve tested with Safari, FireFox, and Camino. I should probably also try Opera and OmniWeb.)

I’d appreciate some input from my readers, especially ones living in a Windows world or on older software:

  • Does FP look like what you expect it to look like, based on what I described above?
  • If it doesn’t, is it at least readable and usable?
  • If you’re familiar with CSS (and/or willing to look at my stylesheet), do you have any tips for improving the experience for other readers?
  • Do I suck at writing CSS, or what? 🙂

I would like to make (as they say) a good-faith effort to whip things into shape. And of course improve my understanding and use of CSS generally. But those of you for whom the page looks really whacked may need to bear with me for a bit.

Sorry about that.