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Any Brave Souls for Beta-Testing?

My new theme isn’t 100% ready for prime-time yet, but I’ve been plugging away at a new blog design. I’m not actually happy with the colour scheme and some of those bits yet, but it’s growing on me some. It’s more legible than my current/outgoing theme, which is now a year and a half old. The pages are much lighter as well, so should load faster. Not all the page loads are snappy yet, but I am planning to upgrade WordPress and disable a bunch of plugins as I make the change over to the new theme.

I must say that I am happy with some of the functionality that I have working in the new theme… the home page layout shows three large “feature” posts, followed by seven older ones which are compressed into a 2×4 grid. The number of sidebars changes as you browse, and there is dynamic content which appears there as well. I’ve got a passel of “chicklets” for people to use for subscribing via their favorite online reader, but it’s normally hidden so it’s completely inobtrusive until you want it. There are a few banner ads still, but they shouldn’t offend anyone. I’ve got random words in the comments and a bunch of fun things… at least to a geek like me, anyway! For a lot of bits, I could find WordPress plugins to accomplish various tasks, but I just built the functions into the template instead. I will probably release the template for free download once I’m happy with it. It’s not widget-ized, but anyone wanting to make that change can take it the next step.

Along with the updates, I’ll be doing away with the link/sidebar blog and adding full tagging support, but some of those changes need to wait until the new template is live, as I don’t want to break the old one just yet.

That’s the whole preamble to say, anyone wanting a preview, you can have at it right away! All you need to do is scroll down in your browser and search along the sidebar on the right until you find where it says “Themes.” Click on “Influence 3.0″ and you’ll be greeted with my brand-spankin’ new theme! (You’ll be able to switch back by doing the same thing in the new theme and clicking on “Subversive Redesign”.) Do not click on any of the other themes, or the sky will fall down around you. No, not really — you’ll just need to manually delete a cookie to get back to my default theme (if you’ve already done this, email me or leave a comment and I’ll help you undo it). I’ve been using the new theme for the past couple of days as I keep tweaking, so I don’t expect any major issues… though so far I’ve only seen it on Linux.

I’m looking for feedback — leave a comment on this post to report anomalies. There are things I’m still tweaking and messing about with, most of which are obvious (e.g., anything with tags just has placeholder text)… but if there are any serious errors especially, let me know. To help me out with troubleshooting, tell me what browser and version (if you know) you’re using and what operating system (and version) — Mac, The Evil Empire, or The Chosen One (Linux). But let me know what you think!

I should say that once it’s all done, it’s headed over to Media Temple to a higher-capacity, higher-bandwidth system… I’m actually straining the server that I’m on right now. ;^)

10 Responses to “Any Brave Souls for Beta-Testing?”

  1. Matt Wiebe Says:

    Ah, self-theming is oh so fun, isn’t it? Or am I confusing fun with insanity?

    Are you looking for bug reports or (hopefully constructive) criticism? Because I have none of the former and some of the latter…

  2. sonja Says:

    I took it for a spin around the block and it looks real spiffy.

    Technically … I’m running on a Mac OSX (Tiger) using Firefox. The only sore spot I could detect were your buttons at the top of the page weren’t rendering very clearly. The text was too large for the buttons.

    Esthetically … it’s very clean. I like the 3 on top … however many on the bottom. I like the columns and how you’ve set them up. They seem to render clearly. They’re a little squished, but I’m on a small laptop too … so.

    But … can I say that it’s a little too clean? That I love your current theme and the map background. To me, it’s part of your identity. Brother Maynard is a wayfaring monk who needs an old, crinkly map. So, I’m a little bit sad to see this go. fwiw …

  3. Erin Word Says:

    Um your linky-poo “Subversive Redesign” isn’t active – did you take it down when you heard I was coming?

    Seriously, I’m always up for geekishness, I’ll check back in a bit.

  4. Steve Sensenig Says:

    I like it. I’m currently viewing it in Firefox 2.0.0.4 on Windows XP (sorry…I wasn’t on the Linux side of my dual-boot when I read this post) and it seems to work great.

    I would definitely be interested in learning how to do the handful of “main” posts and smaller 2-column display of older posts. That’s pretty nifty, and I would like to modify my current WP theme to do that, as well (or at least to experiment with it).

    I’m sure I could guess how to do it, but I’ll just cheat and ask you! ;)

  5. Rodney Olsen Says:

    It’s simple, clean and practical. I’m looking forward to the finished version.

  6. Brother Maynard Says:

    Thanks for the positive vibes. Steve, I’m glad to know there’s another Linux geek around… my laptop dual-boots, but it’s been months since I had Windows up on it. I just use a remote desktop to commandeer my wife’s PC if I need to ;^) The trick on the split post types basically has to do with running a kind of dual loop, then handling each one differently in the style sheet. I’ll try to email you something on it — shoot me a note via email if I forget.

    Erin, the “Subversive Redesign” is the current “map” design, so if that’s active there’s no link to click. The new one is “Influence 3.0″ and if you’re viewing that then Subversive Redesign will be a link and Influence 3.0 won’t be. I was going for something more clean and easily legible. Initially I thought of something more Web-2.0-ish with the wet floor look and vivid colour, but I just didn’t get there. Too much of a change maybe. Sonja, the first thing my wife said was that she liked the map. I liked it too, and I like your interpretation of it… but I think it might make it harder to read for some people. But “too” clean? I think my wife might have said “sterile.” Not what I was going for. I will see about those buttons though.

    This brings me to Matt… you’ve got a great theme going on your blog, obviously more of a designer than I am! I used to manage designers, but I don’t know how to get what I want out of Photoshop or exactly what tweaks might produce the effect I’m after. I’m more focused on the back end I guess… so if you’ve got some observations for me, I’ll throw it all in the mix and see what comes out. Who knows, maybe I’ll have to bring back the map by popular demand!

  7. Brother Maynard Says:

    OBTW, forgot to say — I don’t use any of the online readers for which I’ve provided subscription chicklets. If anyone uses those, would appreciate if you can tell me that they do or don’t work properly.

  8. Erin Word Says:

    Ok so I was really tired today when I read this post ;-) Doh! I’m really not that stupid.

    Very nice – I like it very much – looks real good. Much faster for me, too. I understand what Sonja is saying about your map-theme, but I wonder if that’s part of why it renders slow for me.

    Little anomalies on some of the links at the top: i.e. “About This”, “Notable”, “Squidoo”, and “Who Is” all have little marks at the bottom of the buttons almost like the top of a word that would be below cut off, and they are all different – I don’t know if I’m being descriptive enough, I can mail you a screen cap if you want. Also the Google Ad at the top of the sidebar is rendering about 40ish px too wide for the sidebar.

    I’m running FF 2, and 1024 x 768.

  9. Matt Wiebe Says:

    Heh, I definitely like the variable on the comments… “quoth”, “retorted”, “intonated” etc. Nice touch :)

    Your site suffers from the common malady of a back-end warrior: information overload. The biggest design suggestion that I could make is to give it more breathing room with paddings and margins, because everything is crammed together. Without more visual separation (whitespace), everything sort of runs together.

    I’d also shrink the font size of all of the sidebar material slightly, to deemphasize its importance relative to the actual blog content. It looks like it’s currently at 90%; I’d set it to either 80% or 85%. Also, the line-height makes it look quite cramped. I’d bump it up to 150%.

    Secondary-level quibbles: the singlepostmeta div has inconsistent link styling as compared to the sidebar. I’d also look towards reducing the number of borders with other visual cues such as color, font-size and/or family hierarchy, and whitespace. Or, try making solid borders in a lighter color, that can produce the same function more subtly.

    So, there it is, hopefully something there is constructive and doesn’t make you insecure or anything. I know my wife’s criticism always makes me defensive…
    Um, there’s some thoughts. Hopefully they’re somewhat helpful!

  10. Brother Maynard Says:

    Matt,
    I think my favorite is “spake thusly” — have to say I had fun with that, will add some more as I think of them. I’m not enough of a PHP coder to work out how to rearrange the line so that I could put random phrases before or after the commenter’s ID. No matter.

    Good thoughts on the tweaks you suggest; this type of feedback is helpful! I’m offline most of this weekend, but as I get back to tweaking, I’ll take a look at incorporating some or most of your ideas. I’m designing on Linux, and one of the quirks I find is that the fonts are always smaller for me than what they are on other OSs. Some sites are too small to read without enlarging… if the fonts all look bigger than they need to be, that’s the reason! If I’ve got room to reduce, I will. You’re correct, 90% iirc. I’m using 150% line-height in the main body and am not quite happy with the link behaviours yet but will standardize both.

    Erin,
    Once you have the map in your browser cache, it shouldn’t slow the page anymore… but I did have the same thoughts, it feels (is?) longer rendering, and the page feels “heavier” as a result. The cut off “bits” on the nav buttons are actually the words that get bumped to the next line… I just cut them off brutally, and part of them shows up in some browsers. I’ll need to fix that up a bit better! ;^) The Adsense ad is too big for the space it’s in (fits the old sidebar), so I’ll just swap it out for a different size.

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