Managing my Library

A few days ago, I decided to take down the Library pages on my blog. Formerly, I was using the Now Reading plug-in to power the library aspect of my site. Ultimately, the plug-in was more work than it was worth – it didn’t have the greatest interface in the world, adding books was a pain, and every time I changed my theme I needed to tweak the templates to match the style of the new theme. I ended up spending more time messing with the library page layouts than I did reading.

I figured using a separate site to tracks my books would be easier, so I played with LivingSocial for a while after I joined FaceBook, since it was there. It was ok, but didn’t offer a way to note when you finished a book, which I liked about Now Reading. Being able to see how many books I read in a given year, or the order I finished them in, was nice.

That’s when I turned to Goodreads. Like LibraryThing, Shelfari and many other sites, Goodreads is a social cataloging site where users can track books they’ve read, are currently reading, or would like to read, and can share that information with other users. Each book is added to one of three “shelves” (to-read, read, or currently-reading), and can be added to any number of other shelves of the user’s creation. Additionally, users can record the date they read the book, the number of times they’ve read it, who they would recommend it to, who recommended it to them, and their rating and review of the book. Those features alone make Goodreads quite handy, but there are a few more ways to extend it that I like. You can display your Goodreads library on Facebook or a blog via apps and widgets, and there’s a bookmarklet for adding books to Goodreads directly from Amazon.

Hopefully now I can actually spend more time reading, rather than just queueing up books that look interesting.

Photo Gallery Showdown

When I decided to go with Gallery2 rather that Zenphoto to power my photo gallery, I promised to go into more detail later, but “later” never really happened. I figured with the recent updates to both Gallery2 and Zenphoto, it might be beneficial to revisit my decision and follow my thought process, starting with what I personally want from a photo gallery, and re-evaluating the list of photo gallery options I compiled. Continue reading “Photo Gallery Showdown”

A Blog of Many Colors

I am constantly amazed at how flexible WordPress is. Little over a year ago, I had only heard of WordPress, but had no real idea what it was. Then my husband started his blog, and I discovered it was like LiveJournal (which I had used for nearly 5 years), only better. Whereas LiveJournal was hosted, and locked you into a limited number of options, with WordPress you could host your own blog, and customize it however you saw fit. With a little CSS and PHP knowledge, you could change the whole look of your blog.

Even if WordPress was only used for blogs, it would still be worthwhile. After all, it’s free, highly customizable, easy to use, and can be hosted at your own domain. But with the large community of WordPress users providing plug-ins, you can use WordPress for more than just a blog. For example, at least 2 of the webcomics I read, Applegeeks and PvP, use WordPress to publish their comics. Using the YAPB plug-in, you can easily convert WordPress into a photoblog, allowing both photo posts and regular text posts. However you want to use WordPress, someone before you has probably already thought of it, and built a plug-in to do what you want. That freedom is what I like about WordPress; no matter what you want to do, you can probably manage it with WordPress.

A New Project

Earlier in the month I posted about looking for a reading list type plug-in for WordPress, and finding Now Reading. I’ve since installed it, and finished customizing my library. I’m happy with how it looks (for now), and have decided that in an attempt to both read and write more, I’ll post my thoughts on books as I finish them. Not quite as ambitious as the “52 in 52” meme, where bloggers attempt to read & review a book a week, but a decent start, I think.

Frustrations with Tagging

As some of you may have noticed, I finally got around to implementing tagging a while ago, via the Simple Tagging plug-in. The categories in the sidebar are more like a table of contents, and the tags work more like the index at the back of a book. Generally, I’m very happy with the tags; I love having the list of related posts show up on the single view, and the Tag Cloud on the archive page makes it easy to find posts by specific topic.

My only problems are minor formatting issues, really. I want the Tag View page (the page you go to when you click a tag) to display just like it displays all the other archived entries. It does, mostly; I’ve made it use the same template that I use to display archived entries. The only problem is in the number of posts it displays at a time. I installed the Custom Posts Per Page plug-in ages ago, to dictate how many posts show up on given page views. On the home page, it is supposed to show 4 posts. On the daily view, monthly view, and search result pages, it’s supposed to show no more than 10 posts per page, and for all other views it’s supposed to show 999 posts. For whatever reason, the tag view page thinks it’s the home page, and displays only 4 posts.

The other minor bug relates to the footer. The 5 most recent posts and 5 most recent comments show up at the bottom of the page; on the tag view pages, the 5 most recent posts for that tag are displayed instead. The 5 most recent comments show up correctly, though.

I suspect the quirks may be related, but I don’t know for certain. My reasoning is that since WordPress thinks the Tag View is the home page (as the query property comes up true when I check if it’s the Home view), it’s using that same query to get the 5 most recent posts. I can create a workaround for displaying the proper number of posts on a tag view page, but I’ve exhausted most of my ideas for fixing the Recent Posts in the footer. Any ideas out there?

Reading List Plug-ins?

So, I’ve been checking out “reading list” type plug-ins for WordPress, because I’m getting sick of just keeping a text file on my PDA of books I’ve read, and ones I want to read. Whenever I come across a book that looks interesting, it gets added to the text file, but then I forget about reading anything on the list until I come across a new book that looks interesting. Wash, rinse, repeat. I was searching online, and came across the Now Reading plug-in, which is great – it lets you add books to a “library,” and you can mark books as “Have Read”, “Reading” or “To Read,” along with other details like when you read the book, and your own review. There are some beautiful implementations of it (Example) as well. The author of the plug-in has a nice implementation as well (here). I really like that rather than hiding the reviews away in the library, where someone may never see them, he’s made each review into a post, and linked to them from the book summary in the library.

Of course, the “Now Reading” plug-in made me think about what else I might consider applying it to. It would be nice to be able to create a library of video games; what I have, what I’ve played, what I’m playing now, what I plan to play. And for movies, as well; what movies I’ve seen, what I thought of them, what movies I own, et cetera. Of course, I already have lists of what movies & video games I own; reviews could be easily accomplished by simply creating and using a “Movie Review” or “Game Review” tag. So would I really NEED to extend “Now Reading” to include Movies & Video Games? For how I would use it, probably not.

Archive Complete! And Colophon, too

I finished building my archive, and honestly, it was a lot easier than I expected. The default WordPress theme comes with an archive.php, so I just copied that, and modified it to match the rest of my theme. Essentially, I just copied the index.php and displayed the excerpt instead of the entire content. After browsing online to check out other archives in an effort to determine what I want, I decided that having an “archive” page is the way to go, if for no other reason than it’s convenient for browsing. Basically, archive.php controls how the archives are formatted, but archives.php is the page for navigating. After getting my archive up and running, though, I realized that while I know what plug-ins I’m using to format things, people without admin access have no idea what I’m using. So I figured I’d include a list of plug-ins I’m using, a colophon of sorts, in case anyone out there is curious.

  • Glossy Blue Theme – Not a plug-in, but still worth listing. The theme I currently use, and love. It does everything I want, style-wise. Anything it didn’t do (like archives) I built myself. This is his first theme, if you can believe it.
  • Widgets – For themes with a sidebar, this is fabulous. It lets you easily customize the sidebar without hacking the code. You can also easily downoad other widgets to add to your sidebar, and place them however you like. It’s like Lego bricks.
  • Drop-down Archives Widget – I don’t have this problem yet, as I’ve only had my site running for 3 months, but the longer your site runs, the longer your list of monthly archives becomes. This widget turns that long list into a drop-down menu, to conserve space. Apparently some themes come with a drop-down menu for the archives, but enabling widgets will overwrite that option in the sidebar.
  • Brian’s Threaded Comments – I LOVE this plug-in. I want to be able to reply to a specific comment, and not just have my reply be tossed at the end of a list of comments, so you have to guess what you’re replying to. I’m a huge fan of threaded comments, and this plug-in accomplishes it well.
  • Custom Posts Per Page – This lets you change the number of posts displayed on various types of pages, without editing the reading options on the WordPress dashboard. If you want 4 posts displayed on the front page, but 20 displayed on the archives, this will do it.
  • Clean Archives – This plug-in displays beautifully formatted archives. It breaks everything down by month, and further by day. This is exactly what I wanted for an archive.
  • Polls and more – I’ve not actually used the poll plug-in or widget yet, but I’ve downloaded and installed them just in case. There are actually quite a few good widgets here. Definitely worth exploring.

And there you have it! A complete listing of all the plug-ins and widgets I use.

The search for a good calendar…

So, I’m mostly happy with my blog. I have nested comments working, and some fun plug-ins for stats and polls (assuming I ever want to make a poll). The only thing I’m really lacking, is a calendar. I’m not even so sure I need a calendar, but it would be convenient. I’ve played with different calendar plug-ins before, and most aren’t bad, but seem to lack something. I’ve tried the one from firetree before, and it’s almost perfect. It lets you add future events, multi-day events, and subscribe to the calendar, which is cool. The only problem is how it adds events to the calendar; for whatever reason, everything is added to the calendar by the date of creation. While this is fine for posts, I don’t really want my static pages added to the archives, and I’d rather my events show up only when they’re scheduled, and not ALSO on the date when I created them.

I’ve tried a few other options, with not much luck. I’d like to be able to display and modify my google calendar from the blog, but I don’t know how feasible that is. Has anyone out there come across a calendar plug-in that they are particularly attached to?