Community websites on the cheap

websitescollageI have been in Round Table for a few years now, and really should have known better than to admit  I worked in the computing industry – I got “volunteered” to manage the existing website.  Me and my big mouth… But after a while I decided I would like to modernise the rather traditional and static website that I had inherited. The main constraints of this revamp were (a) it had to be cheap, and (b) I’m no web designer! In other words – no money and no talent. The reason for “cheap”, by the way, is that Round Table is a voluntary service organisation – we have a good time doing all sorts of things, but primarily we raise funds for charity and help out in our community. For more information on Round Table and what we get up to, follow this link.

So my challenge was how to put together a community website using – ideally – one of the free or very cheap services out there “in the cloud”. It had to look reasonably good, and also include an email infrastructure to help keep the 200+ members in touch.

This article describes the software and services used to create and manage a modern community website,  and the reasons for choosing them. I describe the basic steps to get up and running quickly, including optional links with Twitter and Facebook. There are doubtless a number of alternatives, and I make no claims to my solution being the best or being suited to the needs of everyone. But in explaining the choices made I hope to at least help guide those who want to do something similar.

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More on Google Maps in WordPress

A quick follow up on the post a couple of months ago about my quest to find a simple way of embedding Google Maps in WordPress blogs. Just to recap, the main issue I had was finding a way of embedding custom maps.

While I still have yet to find a solution to self-hosted WordPress blogs like this one, there is a good solution for anyone who has a blog hosted at WordPress.com. For those of you that don’t know, this is a site that looks after thousands of WordPress blogs for free. They run their own specific version of WordPress – you can’t get at the PHP code or install your own plugins. But it’s a great way to host sites at little or no cost. I run a couple of community sites hosted there, both for the Round Table organisation – see Long Eaton Round Table and also the Area 14 sites.

That version of WordPress provides a tag – “googlemap” – that can take any Google Map reference including custom maps and embed them in the page properly. It works really well – for an example, see the About page on my Area 14 site. Instructions for using the tags can be found here.

Now all we need is the same thing on the regular version of WordPress, and I’ll be a happy bloke.

Blog makeover

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Just a quick note to describe some recent changes to this site.

I’ve changed the template from the attractive but not easily configurable “Feather” theme to Chris Pearson’s “Cutline 3 column” one. The initial advantage of this was it was easy to set up my own header images to be my own photos rather than someone else’s. All the headers are my own.

While it was nice to have each individual page type (posts, archives, pages, about etc) have their own header image, Chris posted a simple mod to the header PHP file that randomly selects an image from a set. Every time you visit the site or refresh a page you’ll get a different header. I intend updating the image set as often as I can. If you read further down this post I have described the header images currently in use.

But there have been more changes than this.

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Google maps in WordPress

I have been creating my own Google maps a lot recently, largely in support of an upcoming attempt at the 3 Peaks 24 hour challenge – hiking up the three highest mountains in the UK all in 24 hours. I’ve got various maps for the three hiking trails, plus a few put together to help plan training walks.

I’ve been scratching around for a while experimenting with various ways of sharing these maps, and embedding within a WordPress blog seems a good thing to do.
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Posing Robin

While out walking one chilly morning in Attenborough nature reserve I spotted this Robin. Luckily for me he was in posing mood and I managed to get pretty close with my 200mm lens. The image is uncropped – I got within just a few feet of him.

I got some nice comments on the image from the people over at Flickr.com, and thought it worthwhile to post here too (see the links panel for more of my pictures on Flickr). I’ve also recently been getting into Flickr a lot, and this was an opportunity to link my gallery straight to this blog for a bit of a test. Regular readers will have noticed that at long last I have chosen a different theme – the header images are all mine, although I plan on randomising the set to add a bit of variety.

Hopefully this hooking together of online galleries and WordPress means I can keep my earlier promise of updating this site more frequently.

Sign of a bad blog….

The sign of a bad blog is that it hardly ever gets updates. In other words, this one!

Long Tailed Tit'

It’s hard to believe that six months have gone by without a single new posting, which is rather poor of me. My only excuse is that I have a life, and finding time to write some coherent thoughts on things, at the expense of other activities, is often too hard to justify.

And yet there is lots I would like to chuck out there, and lots of things I have been experimenting with or starting to use. For example Fogbugz (a software management tool), how do you choose an online gallery, and DIY desktop mixed reality. So here’s hoping I get the chance.

The picture introducing this post is a Long Tailed Tit I spotted while walking in Attenborough nature reserve, using my new Canon 80-300mm IS (Image Stabilised) lens. It was pretty much a reaction shot – the bird did not sit still for more than a few seconds, and I have several pictures showing empty twigs with just the blur of a tail feather exiting the frame. Click on the image to see a bigger version via Flickr (since this was originally written I’ve been getting to grips with this online gallery).

I’m pretty impressed with the lens so far, even after just a single brief outing. I got it for wildlife and sports/action photography. I still need to experiment with the image stabilisation feature to get the best out of it.

Blog title change

I’ve changed the title from the rather inane “Greg’s Techie Stuff” to the snappier “Bytes & Pixels”. No particular reason, other than it is better than “Bits and Pieces”, and I have a rubbish imagination for things like titles. Any suggestions welcome – not that anyone actually reads this site…

It also reflects what I want to concentrate my writing on – computing, digital imaging, and computer graphics.

I also aim to find a snazzier template, rather than the default WordPress one. Not that there’s anything wrong with it – just that for a site talking about imagery there is a remarkable lack of any pictures here! Of course, you could always click on the Gallery link on one of the widgets at the side of the page.

Update 19th July – Changed to “Feather” theme for a while. Looks quite nice, but the heading styles don’t go deep enough for me so I’ll probably change again soon.
Update 5th April – Or not!

Another Update – Inspired by Parny, blog name changed to “Pushing Pixels”. Thanks Steve!

Formatting code in WordPress

What a pain in the rear! WordPress appears nice as a blogging tool, but my attempts to format some code snippets was painful beyond belief.

Every time I pasted some code in and surrounded it with the code tags, the generated HTML had extra paragraph markers and line breaks, and screwed up the position of the closing code marker.

Even a search for plugins did not cure things. I installed one or two “code formatting” plugins that made things a little better, but still required a lot of post-paste editing of code to get anything like presentable.

It turns out that the Rich Text Editor in WordPress 2 is to blame – it completely messes up. So my advice is to disable this from your user profile.

The thing that rankles is that the rich editor is enabled by default. I did not even know it was optional until I did a Google on code formatting in WordPress. It all just seemed much much harder than it should.

Anyway, hopefully this snippet will save others the problem in the future.