Author Archives: pftaylor61

Theme for an Encyclopedia

Cyclops screenshot

Cyclops screenshotEverybody loves Wikipedia. It might have its drawbacks, but it is still a very convenient place to start research on a topic, even if you never want to quote the actual Wikipedia entry.

Wikipedia uses a content management system called MediaWiki. Anyone can download this system, and build a site based on it. There are several examples out there – such as the LibreOffice Help system. However, MediaWiki is notoriously difficult to administer, configure, and, most of all, make secure. I was using MediaWiki for a site called Malacandra, which was intended to be an encyclopedia about C.S. Lewis. But the site was so easy to damage, and very difficult to secure. At one stage, that site was causing four times more “traffic” than all my other websites combined, despite being a minor part of my operations – really just a hobby. So the MediaWiki site had to go.

I am much more familiar with WordPress – and its better cousin ClassicPress – than I am with MediaWiki. So I thought that it would be good to create an encyclopedia site based on a ClassicPress installation. I soon found an excellent plugin called Encyclopedia Lite (and there is a paid-for Pro version, to which I might well upgrade). A little practice determined that this was the plugin that I needed, but my current interfaces did not suit the material. So I decided I needed to make a new theme.

I soon found the Basic Bootstrap4 theme, which has been designed as a “starter theme”, for developers to amend as they wished. I love it when developers do something useful like that! So I got hold of it, and started tweaking it, to make it work as a front end for my encyclopedia. It did not need a lot of amending, I can tell you. So the new theme is called Cyclops, and it works really well with the Encyclopedia Lite plugin. So this is the combination that I am using to build a whole new Malacandra website. Enjoy!

Preparing for Wordpress 5.0

Gutenberg vs Classic Press

Wordpress 5.0 has to be the least welcome update to the classic content management system for over a decade. As most people know, the new version will include the hideous Gutenberg editor, replacing the classic page and post editor. The old adage says “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” The classic editor ain't broke.

For that reason, a number of Wordpress users have forked the application (as they have every right to do, because it is open source software). They are putting together an application called ClassicPress, which will be compatible with the current version of Wordpress (4.9.8), but will be developed and updated separately. It may take time before I am able to migrate my sites to using ClassicPress, so in the meantime this is what will happen:

Wordpress have released a plugin to maintain the classic page editor for a limited period. All my sites will use this plugin, until such time as I can migrate to ClassicPress. You will notice no change whatsoever to the front end of your sites.

Starting to Use Customizer in a WP Theme

Kirki Github Page

Customizer makes things easy and more difficult at the same time. Customizer is great for your clients to use on their websites. It means they can easily adjust things like color schemes, logos etc in your themes. But it can be hideously difficult for us developers to add such features to our own themes.

Kirki Code ScreenshotNow there seems to be an answer, which I am enjoying exploring and working with. It is called Kirki. Kirki is an open source plugin, so you could add it to the Wordpress site really easily, and just get working with it. However – and this is the bit that I really like – Kirki's developers have made it so that you can add their code into your own themes, and then, with a few extra functions in your theme's functions.php file, you can integrate everything nicely into your theme. And that is precisely what I have started to do with my Columcille theme, which I have built for my son's ESL training business.

I have recently changed my themes' workflow. I developed a base theme, some while ago, called Qohelet, which is actually rather ugly, but it was really intended for building other themes from. Qohelet was not original. It really involves my tweaks onto another developers' theme called Quark. In its turn, Quark was developed from Underscores (_s), and incorporated Biolerplate, Normalize, Modernizr, and Options Framework. But even the developers of Options Framework are now suggesting it is obsolete, and that we should concentrate on Customizer. So I added Kirki into Qohelet.

Now, I originally started building other themes by simply copying Qohelet and adding more code. But this seems wasteful. So I am now concentrating on all my new themes simply being child themes of Qohelet. Columcille is a child theme of Qohelet. So the basic Kirki code is in Qohelet, but its actual use in making panels is being added to Columcille. It is a fun process, and I am confident that i should shortly have got all the extra features I want in Columcille so that they can be edited easily by my clients from the Customizer.

I'll try to keep you up to date with how it works.

LibreOffice 6

LibreOffice 6

I have been a fan of LibreOffice for quite a while. In fact, I have used it on Windows since the old days of Sun System's When the Document Foundation forked the project to produce LibreOffice, that was my route, as I found there was a lot more support there.

When I took the plunge to use Linux on my laptops (one running Ubuntu 16 and one running Mint Sylvia), my existing experience with LibreOffice made the learning curve gentler. LibreOffice 5 had proved, on both Windows and Linux, to be a formidable alternative to Microsoft Office, and was in no way an inferior product.

So, this weekend I noticed that the Document Foundation had released LibreOffice 6, and I knew I had to try it out.

Unfortunately, the update did not appear in the Linux update panel. Fortunately, I found a website that had clear easy instructions on what to do. Linux Mint normally makes installation and updating of software easy, using the Software Manager, or at the least using the Debian Package Manager to install a downloaded .deb file. However, neither of these easy options is available with LibreOffice, because of the sheer size of this office suite. So, the installation has to be done through the terminal – UGH! Worse still, I found that it was necessary to uninstall version 5 before installing version 6. What a risk! What if version 6 did not work. So I checked that I had a backup installer for version 5, and went ahead with the instructions to uninstall v5, and then to install v6. Before I go further, here is the website with the instructions.

It is difficult to cover all the changes. I was pleased to see that the main interface for all the LibreOffice apps had not changed substantially – though the icons are much more attractive. But I was pleased to find that, under the hood, many features had been made easier and more powerful. Special characters are quite important in my work, so I was delighted to find the management of special characters has been greatly improved. Also, a quick examination of Calc suggests that there is very little this app can now not do that is available in Excel. Powerful spreadsheet features seem to work easily.

Impress is, in my mind, a better tool than Powerpoint, and has been for some time. The tweaks in version 6 keep LibreOffice Impress ahead of the game.

So, my first impressions, after no more than an hour, are good, but as I use the software regularly over the next week or two, I will make some notes, and report back again.

And remember – you don't need to use Linux to benefit from LibreOffice 6. The Windows version is just as good, and a worthy competitor to Microsoft Office, despite the fact that LibreOffice is still open source, and still free.