Tag Archives: WordPress

The Historian’s Sketchbook

sketch
n.
1. A hasty or undetailed drawing or painting often made as a preliminary study.
2. A brief general account or presentation; an outline.

I find artists sketchbooks fascinating. Not only do they capture little moments in time, they are also experiments in technique, color and form. Often sketchbooks are graphical diaries and provide a look at the interests and emotions of the artist. The word “sketch” is also used to describe short biographies – something we family history types know well.

Historically, researchers are known for their notebooks. In addition to quotations, rough maps and source references, you might also find an occasional photo or clipping stuck into the pages. Thanks to the boom in mobile digital devices – many with cameras – the historian’s notebook is less likely to be paper and it’s beginning to look more like a sketchbook.

The ultimate digital sketchbook is Evernote. It supports both desktop and mobile platforms with apps, plugins and widgets and thanks to its amazing handwriting recognition capabilities even your handwritten notes can be deciphered and made searchable. Using the Evernote app on your mobile device lets you capture both photographs and paper notes/sketches while the Penultimate app for iPad even lets you draw. And don’t forget the audio note either. A little imagination and you can build a sketchbook full of rich, multimedia moments.

Day One journal entry

Journaling apps like Day One [iPhone – $4.99, Mac – $9.99] let us capture photos, videos and text along with location, date and even weather conditions. It’s easy to use yet, by supporting the Markdown standard, insures our captured moments won’t be left in the old technology heap. Android users might take a look at A Day in Life [Android – $1.99]

And, don’t forget mobile apps for blogging platforms like Tumblr or WordPress to document and share your world – both publicly and privately.

As family historians we are documenting today’s family as well as researching those who came before us. A couple of decades from now, an email postcard such as this may be a valuable treasure to future generations. Today we’re delighted to have a journal, some letters or a photo of our ancestors. Think of the rich media treasures we can leave for those coming after us.

 

Protect Your WordPress Blog From Attacks

There is a “brute-force” botnet attack on-going against self-hosted WordPress sites. They are using programs they have installed on other compromised blogs (that’s the botnet) which logs in to your blog’s “admin” account over and over again thousands of times using a different password each time, hoping to find one that works. If they succeed, then they will install a backdoor so they can use your blog to attack other sites. Security firms are speculating that the WordPress attacks are being used to build a bigger botnet “force” which can later be used for a more massive attack on someone – or some thing – else.

My site has been very slow and even inaccessible several times in the last week which probably has to do with this attack. Although I can’t stop them from attacking my blogs, I can take steps to prevent them from taking them over. You can do the same.

First, I don’t use the default “admin” name for my blog’s administrator account. That way an attacker needs to figure out my account name as well as my password. If you are using the default, then create another user account with a name that does NOT identify it as an administrator (something like BobJones, maybe), set the Role for this account to Administrator and make sure this account has a very strong password (a minimum of 8 characters combining upper- and lower-case alphabetic characters with numbers and special characters). Now, log out and log in again with the new account. In the Users section, edit the old admin user and change its Role to Subscriber. While you’re at it, update the password to something hard to crack. That way, if someone should hack into the admin account, all they can do is look at its profile.

Regardless of what your blog’s administrator account is named, you should always have a strong password assigned to it. Even accounts with lesser roles should have strong passwords and everyone’s passwords should be changed regularly. WordPress.com has some very good recommendations for effective passwords.

Don’t allow your blog to become a botnet used to attack others. Take steps now to protect your blog and the content you’ve created.

 

The Society Blog Network

Network Blog Example

You’re looking at the front page of the Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society’s blog. You’ll be surprised to learn that none of the articles presented on this page actually reside at the MCOHS site. When you click on the title of any of these articles, you’ll be taken to the article at the blog site where they do reside. This is the hub of a blog network.

If your society is lucky enough to have members blogging about their families or their research, using the society’s blog to spotlight them not only keeps your blog’s content fresh but gives your blogging members the special attention their efforts deserve. The toughest part is choosing which articles to spotlight and when.

In my example above, I’ve interspersed local (society) content with external (member) articles. I can do that thanks to the magazine-style theme I’m using. WordPress is better suited for a network blog thanks to its category system for organizing posts. I can set up one or more categories for these member articles and use those categories to create sections within the blog site.

Network article

Here you see what a networked article looks like in the editor. The most obvious difference is the post title – it’s a link. Yes, unfortunately, it has to be crafted in HTML but there’s a quick and easy way to do that. Set up your title in the editor screen, add the link, then change your view to HTML before you copy/paste it into the title.

Even though clicking the title will take the visitor straight to the member’s blog, I still like to put a bit of content into the article. This content is what will be distributed via your blog’s RSS feed to those reading by news reader. The excerpt section below the main article is used by WordPress to display the teaser text/image you see in themes that support it – such as the Under the Influence theme I’m using at MCOHS. Choose a category for this article – Network in this example – and publish.

Notice that the Excerpt section is also HTML only. I copied the image code from the main article and pasted it here, then just changed the size to fit into the area available in the theme. If you’re just using text for your excerpt, you don’t need to include any HTML.

One other very nice thing about WordPress is that the site publisher can display a list of categories as a site directory and when a visitor clicks on a category, WordPress creates a special index page displaying just the articles assigned to that category. Your theme will determine what that index “page” looks like, but most use excerpts if they are available.

Now that you see how easy it is, here are some possible uses . . .

  • Use this to present a “guest author” with an article on a topic of interest. The blogger writes the article on her own blog – where she is most comfortable – but gets the extra visibility of a spotlight from the society’s blog.
  • Create a journal blog and have members “submit” their articles for inclusion. Actually, the journal doesn’t have to be a separate blog, but could be a category within the society’s blog.
  • Are you spotlighting a specific topic or location? If your members have posted articles related to that topic, ask if you can spotlight them at the society blog.
  • Introduce an upcoming speaker by spotlighting one or more blogs from his/her site.

Building a network blog is a win-win situation for all involved. The society gets the benefit of additional content with minimal effort and the bloggers get more visibility at their own sites. And, since you are only introducing their articles and linking to the originals, there are no copyright issues.

If you’re looking for ways to add a spark to your society’s site, consider creating your own network blog. It’s not something you have to jump into all at once. You can start with a guest post here and there to get a feel for it, and if you like it, build from there. The toughest part is getting started.

DISCLAIMER: Moultrie Creek Online Historical Society only exists in my imagination. The society site is used solely to demonstrate some of the ways a genealogy or historical society can use a blog – especially a WordPress blog – to attract members and keep their interest.

WordPress’s Mobile Apps

WordPress offers mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows phone, Blackberry and several other devices. I have the mobile app on both my iPad and iPhone and everyday I discover another reason to love it. Although I seldom try to write an article on the iPhone, I do use it to check stats and manage comments. The iPad app is becoming an important tool in my blogging toolbox. And, with my Logitech Keyboard/Cover, even typing is a breeze.

20130113-171333.jpg

As you can see here, I manage a few WordPress blogs. And on the iPad, they’re all in one easy-to-reach location. One of the nicest things is that when I add a blog to the app, I set up my login for that blog once and from then on I can easily move between blogs without constantly having to log in. LOVE IT!

It’s a great place to manage comments and reply to them – when they happen. The app sends a notification when a new comment is added and tapping on the notification takes you right to that comment in the app. From there all you have to do is tap the check mark to approve it. Of course you can reply very easily too.

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There are some down sides. As you can see in this screenshot, your toolbar appears in the onscreen keyboard and is quite sparse. When using a bluetooth keyboard, the toolbar sits alone at the bottom of the editing screen. There is no visual view of your article – it’s always the text view showing the HTML. The biggest problem with me is that a lot of the articles I write include desktop screenshots and require referencing other web sites. It’s a lot easier to do that on a desktop, but I’ve been know to grab the screenshots and create a post on the desktop, add some basic notes, dump the images in there and save it as a draft. Then I can work on it whenever I have a few minutes – either on the desktop or on the iPad.

The WordPress mobile apps are free and available at the iOS App Store, Amazon’s App Store and the Google Play store.

Archive Your WordPress Blog

It’s the end of the year and a good time to make an archival copy of your WordPress blog. It’s really a very simple procedure, but it could take some time depending on the size of your blog site.

wpexport

In your workspace, choose the Tools > Export command. A screen similar to this will appear. Make sure the All content option is selected, then click the Download Export File button and sit back while your blog data is compiled into what WordPress calls an extended RSS file. The file will contain the data from all your posts, pages, comments, menus, categories, tags and more. It will not contain theme or platform data. You can look at the results in a text or HTML editor app, but it will appear more like a database than a web site.

While an end-of-year export gives you a text-based archive that will last as long as plain text is a functional data standard – it has been for more than 50 years – it’s also a good idea to export your blog site every quarter as a backup in case something should happen to your online blog site. Last year, I lost a veterans site I maintain because the hosting company’s servers where taken out by tornados. Fortunately, the site wasn’t updated often and I had a recent export that could be imported as soon as the host came back online.

Build a Network Blog with WordPress

More and more family historians have taken to blogging as a way to document and share their family history. Savvy societies can take advantage of these opportunities in a way that benefits both the family history bloggers and the society. Creating a network blog to spotlight your members’ posts give members more visibility and may well attract others to your association.

A network blog is a blog site that spotlights articles written by other bloggers. The network blog contains posts introducing articles that network members have posted at their own blogs with links back to the original post at the member’s site. The member’s content remains at his or her blog site. The network blog serves as a virtual table of contents for its members.

There are several advantages to a blog network:

  • The network blog is a central location for articles related to its members’ research efforts, areas of interest, location or family group. The network can be focused on one topic – local families, for example – or it can be organized to cover multiple topics.
  • It helps researchers find others interested in their areas of research.
  • It gives both the individual blogger and the network blog more visibility.
  • It’s a cheap and easy way to provide additional services to your society’s membership.
  • It allows distant members to be more active in the society.
  • It can attract new members who discover the network blog and find its content relates to their own research.

The society decides how to choose articles for the network blog: 1) have network editors choose articles from the member blogs, 2) have members submit their articles or 3) do a combination of both options. Your choice will depend on both your goals and the skill-level of your editors.

One of the easiest ways collect and post the featured articles from around the network is to use WordPress’s Press This bookmarklet found on the Tools > Available Tools screen. Drag the bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmark bar and you’re ready to go. Now, when you find an article you want to spotlight on the network blog, just highlight the content you want included in your feature post then click the Press This bookmarklet.
pressthis01

A post screen similar to the one shown here appears over your browser with the highlighted text already included. It also automatically adds the bottom line shown here pointing back to the original article and blog site. You can edit the captured content and even add your own comments if you wish. Click on the image icon just above the toolbar and the bookmarklet displays all the images included on the original post. You can select one or more to include in this post. Once you’re ready, select the appropriate category for this post, add any tags you wish to include then click the Publish button. Your feature article is sent to the network blog and published. If you want to schedule when feature articles appear on the network blog, you can click the Save Draft button which saves it to the network blog without publishing. Someone will then need to visit the network blog to update the draft post to schedule it for publishing.

While the society will need to set parameters for the type of content included in their network blog, review requirements, publishing schedule and other operational factors, WordPress provides easy-to-use tools to make the technical side of a network blog very manageable.

WordPress Plugins – J ShortCodes

[jcolumns]One of the most useful WordPress features is shortcodes. These are simple codes surrounded by square brackets that call in more complex functions. You are probably already using shortcodes to simplify the insertion of media items such as embedded YouTube videos. Instead of copy/pasting a strange embed script, using a shortcode, all you need is the link to the video page.

Media placement isn’t the only use for shortcodes. The multi-column layout of this post was created using a columns shortcode from the J ShortCodes plugin. This delightful plugin gives me the ability to add columns, boxes, tabbed content, buttons and much more. One shortcode that gets a lot of use over at Moultrie Creek Books is the box. I use it to spotlight the details about each book. Here’s what the box looks like.

shortcodes02

And here’s what the code looks like in the WordPress editor.

shortcodes01

Yes, it’s really that simple. Visit the J Shortcodes detail page to see the complete specs for each shortcode included in the plugin.

Tech Notes – 9 Nov 2012

Sunset on the Marshes of Glynn – Jekyll Island, Georgia

The election is finally behind us and it’s safe to answer the phone again. Unfortunately, the recovery efforts in the northeast are still moving slowly. You can help the Salvation Army and Red Cross help storm victims through your donations.

Sunday is Veterans Day. In our household it’s a day to celebrate the many people, places and events that were part of our military service. Not every veteran has seen combat, but each has had a part in protecting our country and continues to serve by supporting those currently on the front lines. My days in uniform ended more than 25 years ago, but I’ll always be an Airman who was fortunate enough to serve alongside some truly amazing people – including that very special Soldier I married.

Updates

Automattic has released Jetpack 2.0 giving self-hosted WordPress sites even more WordPress.com goodness. Included in this update is a new publicize feature which makes it easy to connect to a number os social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Yahoo!) to announce your new posts. With Jetpack, you can also post by email and there’s a new Photon feature that will automatically adjust images to fit within the new layout when you change your blog’s theme. I can’t wait to start playing with that one!

At WordPress.org, they have added a reviews tab to both the plugins and themes so users can add comments in addition to ratings. This will make finding the right theme/plugin a lot easier.

Evernote 5.0 for iOS brings a beautiful new interface to the iThings. They’ve added a new Places view as part of the new design and there’s both a What’s New page and Getting Started tutorial to get you going with the app and its improvements. Premium users have a section within the app specifically to manage their premium features.

The Kindle Paperwhite also received an update this week. Version 5.3.0 has improved the Baskerville, Futura and Palatino fonts so your text will look even better. You can turn off the recommended content display on your device’s home screen and you can now get to your device settings from within a book. They have improved the transition from sample to book when you purchase it after reading the sample and they’ve improved the reading experience for comics and manga. The update is being pushed out via Wi-Fi or, if you can’t wait, you can download and install it yourself from the update page.

Readability, the free iOS app for reading selected web pages, has received an update that includes a new grid view – giving it newspaper-style look to the collection screens.

Cool Tool

This week’s cool tool is something iPhonographers will love – the Olloclip 3-in-1 lens. This clip-on lens combo includes a fisheye, macro and wide-angle lens all in one neat package. It’s a two-sided lens that slips over the phone’s camera. There is only an iPhone 4/4s version at this time with a $69.95 price tag.

Tech Notes – 2 November 2012

HMS Bounty arriving in St. Augustine – April 2012

There have been many tragedies in the last week – including the loss of the HMS Bounty, her captain and one member of the crew. Our prayers and donations can help those suffering from the devastation this storm has brought. You can help the Salvation Army and Red Cross help storm victims through your donations.

Application Updates

Apple released iOS 6.0.1 yesterday with several bug fixes for issues with iPhone 5 and Passbook. Most iOS devices can be updated via the Settings > General panel, however, iPhone 5 users must first install the iOS Updater utility.

Apple desktops get a couple of updates – Safari gets security updates and iPhoto’s update improves several things related to sharing photos and using Photo Stream.

Evernote has released a public beta of their new Mac desktop app with a complete overhaul of the user interface and it is beautiful. Adventurous users can download the beta from Evernote, but it’s not available if you got your app from Apple’s App Store. Readwrite has the details and lots of screenshots.

Waze [iOS and Android – free] – the navigation app with crowd-sourced traffic updates has released version 3.5 with several new features. You can now see estimated arrival times for you and your friends to a destination. There’s a new pickup feature to coordinate car-pooling efforts. Also added are private messaging and privacy controls that let you go invisible on the maps. The maps and interface have gotten some design love too making it an even more impressive application.

WordPress.com bloggers can now embed Instagram images in their blog posts. All you need to do is copy the URL to the Instagram image  and paste it on its own line in your post or page. WordPress will automatically embed the largest size for your blog’s content area. As with other embded media, you can use the Instagram shortcode to customize the image options. Currently this capability only works on WordPress.com blogs.

Paper by Fifty-Three, the gorgeous sketching app for iPad, has just released an update that adds more colors along with a color mixer to the app’s many drawing tools. This component – called Colors – is a $1.99 in-app purchase. The update also adds support for Pogo’s new pressure-sensitive stylus which unfortunately has a $80 price tag.

Roku has added a new search tool that will help you find a specific movie or show across the growing number of media channels served through Roku. Roku Search works with Roku 2, Roku LT, new Roku HD players and the Roku Streaming Stick. You can even search with the keyboard in the Remote tab of the Roku iOS and Android mobile apps!

Tips & Tricks

Did you know that iPhone 4s and iPhone 5 devices with iOS 6 installed can now take panoramic photos? TechHive shows you how.

Dragon Dictate 3 for Mac has added a transcription feature that lets you dictate to a portable device then import the recording and transcribe it with the desktop app. There are limits to how this feature works and MacWorld has an very nice article with all the details.

A new Chrome extension – the Flickr CC Attribution Helper – adds a panel on Flickr photo pages to help provide the proper citation when using photos licensed with a Creative Commons license. MakeUseOf has the details on the extension and how to use it.

That’s the news for this week. Please vote so we can put all this political madness behind us and get on with the business of living.

Multi-Site WordPress

Like a number of other genea-bloggers, I have more than one blog site. In my case, I want the Gazette to be separate from the bookstore and my family stories to be separate from both. On a hosted platform such as WordPress.com or Blogger, this isn’t all that difficult to do. You log in once and easily move between your blogs. When you’re on a self-hosted system, having separate blogs can be a challenge. Fortunately, WordPress offers a multi-site option. I say option, because it’s available in the basic WordPress package. It’s a matter of changing a couple of settings and voilà – you now have a multi-site version.

Like anything else, WordPress multi-site has its pros and cons. On the plus side, it saves space. There’s only one set of WordPress files and only one database. Your themes and plugins are installed once and shared by each site. Yes, each site can still have its own look and feel, but now you’re only backing up one database and performing updates once. I’ll only have to log in once, then I can move from one site to another quickly and easily. On the flip side, not every plugin or theme will work in the multi-site environment. Even worse, you may not find that out until you install it and everything crashes.

I’m using multi-site in the sub-folder mode – meaning all my sites have the same http://moultriecreek.us address followed by their own folder/section (such as http://moultriecreek.us/books and http://moultriecreek.us/gazette). This is the easiest way to set up a multi-site installation. Giving each site its own URL is the toughest. That doesn’t mean I won’t have a few challenges. The biggest one is the move itself. First of all, I can’t have two http://moultriecreek.us/gazette sites running at the same time. So, I’ve set up a temporary site with a selected number of posts, pages, etc. to get the themes and plugins checked out. Once everything’s ready, I’ll use the WordPress export/import tools to move the content.

This will also be a good time to do a bit of redecorating. My current themes are quite old and don’t take advantage of all the whistles and bells WordPress now offers. This part could take more effort than actually moving the data. Why? I’ll have to adjust image sizes and post excerpts to fit within the new design. There’s usually a hiccup or two in these situations so please pardon the dust as the Moultrie Creek blogs get spiffed up a bit.