Masthead
One of my photos

Under the bonnet

I have just heard that I will have my anorak confiscated if I don’t list all the technology which makes this whole thing possible. There is a serious purpose to this though. Over the years I have noticed neat things on other sites that I wanted to do on mine. Sometimes the sites have provided information about what they have done, sometimes I have asked the owners and they have helped me, and sometimes I have had to look into the source html to get some clues. The idea is that if anybody sees something they like on my site and is wondering how it is done, they might find the answer here without having to do any detective work.

Also I find it handy as a checklist to make sure everything is in place and working after upgrades.

So here goes:

WordPress
The obvious starting point is WordPress v3.8.1 which does all sorts of clever things with MySQL databases so I don’t have to.

Plug-ins for WordPress

  • The Akismet plug-in which comes with WordPress
  • Configurable Tag Cloud is what puts all those tags down the left-and side. Loads of options- after all, it is configurable.
  • Easy Tube is brilliant. It means I can embed YouTube clips in a post really easily. Without it I have to jump through all sorts of hoops. WordPress 2.6 introduced of this functionality but I still use this instead.
  • Get Recent Comments displays recent post comments in the sidebar, with options to choose how many comments to display. Much better than WordPress’s built-in equivalent except it does bad things since WP 2.5 and needs a bit of manual tweaking and frigging about for it to display properly now.
  • GZip Output is supposed to speed things up in clever ways. I think it gzips the pages and sends the compressed files to be decompressed in the browser.
  • Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam is yet another anti-spam measure I am trying. It is a sort of captcha program, but you can customise the list of words to use
  • Random Quotes and Random Quote Widget is what puts those lyrics in the right sidebar. It created a new table in the database to hold all the quotes. Nice piece of work.
  • Sociable is a plug in that adds all those social networking links at the end of a post.
  • Subscribe Me is a plugin that provides a widget for various feed subscription links.
  • TDW Combobox Links is what lets me have drop-down lists for links instead of a three-foot long list of them in the sidebar.
  • Twitter Widget Pro is a widget that displays a twitterfeed in a box in the sidebar. Lots of customisable options.
  • Wordbook cross-posts blog posts to Facebook.
  • WordPress database backup is an on-demand backup of the MySQL database
  • WordTwit sends a Twitter update of new blog posts, including a short hyperlink that can be based on your own domain or a service like bit.ly or tinyurl
  • WP-Footnotes adds a footnote capability ((Like this)) You just put a comment in double brackets and the code turns that into a footnote for you. Simple and effective.
  • WP-Polls manages all the polls and and the WP-Polls Widget that comes with it lets me put them in the sidebar easily using the widget feature of WordPress.
  • WP Super Cache is a caching program which is supposed to be even better than WP Cache
  • Cutline theme. Not a plugin really, but another way to extend the basic WordPress. Nice theme available in 2- or 3-column varieties, widget-friendly, and easily converted to do random header images. One day I may list all the little customisations I have done to it.
  • Rijkswidget Also not really a plugin. It displays a different picture every day from the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – so always a chance of a Rembrandt, Vermeer, De Hooch or similar.

And some plugins I have de-activated for various reasons.

  • Admin Theme Preview lets you preview installed themes,
    (Some of this functionality was introduced in version 2.6 of WordPress.)
  • Bad Behavior is supposed to block attempts to inject spam comments
    (De-activated because it used to cause a lot of database problems for me.)
  • Comment Quicktags is what puts the toolbar on the comment form for doing html tags.
    (I can’t remember why I de-activated this.)
  • Cryptographp adds a captcha test on comments.
    (Worked like a treat at preventing spam comments. And then I upgraded to the newer version which is more complicated and I couldn’t be arsed to RTFM so I installed a different captcha plugin instead.)
  • Edit n Place lets admins edit posts from within the post rather than from the admin pages.
    (Another plugin that is redundant now as the functionality is built into later versions of WP.)
  • Paged Comment Editing is one that helps the administrator manage comments.
    (De-activated as this function seems to be built in to WP 2.1)
  • RAZ-captcha puts a captcha field on the registration screen.
    (Downloaded by mistake as I thought it did comments. I don’t have a problem with spam registrations but if I ever do I will activate this in a flash.)
  • Real WYSIWYG adds more functions to the TinyMCE editor.
    (WordPress seems to have built in everything now)
  • Spam Karma is a brilliant anti-spam plugin which looks complicated with loads of options, but will run straight out of the box.
    (Not needed as the captcha and Akismet seem to be keeping spam at bay sufficiently)
  • Subscribe to comments is what allows users get notified of follow-ups to their comments by e-mail. (De-activated as it didn’t agree with WP 2.1 when I upgraded to that. A new version is available which I will look into some time)
  • WP-Cache adds a caching facility to WordPress to speed up page loads for users.
    (Superseded by Super Cache)
  • WP Minify compresses js and css files to improve load time. Also stuffed the site when I enabled it. Haven’t got round to looking into why that happened.
  • WYSI-Wordpress changes the Write Post to give you more options, like changing text colour. It includes Image Manager 1.4.1. Seems to work better under WP 2.1 than it did before, even though its not on the list of compatible plug-ins.
    (Not needed now as newer version of WP have all the functions)
  • Flickrrss displays photos from a Flickr RSS feed in the sidebar. It can take a feed from either a person or a group.
    (Seems not to work since the WP upgrade to v2.x.)

AN Hosting
All this is hosted by AN Hosting of Chicago in their Utah datacentre. Loads of file storage and effectively unlimited bandwidth for a low price. Support is very responsive – although they still can’t find out why I get such heavy spam sometimes. I am running this on a Linux machine under a shared hosting package.

Compaq
The computer itself is a Compaq 1140. It isn’t very fast but it was cheap. 8GB RAM, AMD processor and 1.5TB hard drive. The graphics are shared, but there are VGA and DVI ports so I can run two 20″ monitors. A selection of external USB drives back up my data.

eMachines
Sometimes I use an eMachines laptop. Not sure what model, but it has Windows 7 on it, which is nice. Not as good as the desktop but fine for surfing.

Telewest Blueyonder NTL Virgin Media
I started with a dial-up connection from local company, Pinnacle, but moved to a Blueyonder cable connection when broadband came along. After several upgrades it got up to 100Mb/s but that was shared by several computers in the house , none of which had a network adaptor capable of getting the full throughput, so I downgraded back to 60Mb/s.

Sony Experia J
I am not a big fan of mobiles, but I finally got an Android phone. All the usual apps are installed but are largely unused since I prefer using…

Google Nexus 7 tablet
This is what I mostly use for keeping up to date with Facebook and Twitter updates and news feeds.

Canon EOS 1000D
Digital SLR, for taking pictures to liven up the site. Came with an 18-55mm lens but I also got a Tamron 70-300mm telephoto with it, and a Sigma flash gun. I have since got a Canon 50mm prime lense which is lovely.

Fujifilm FinePix E550
Compact digital camera for when its a bit awkward to cart around the Canon. Used for all the photos on this site up until Nov 2008. Still in use for when its awkward carrying an SLR around and for taking short video clips – until Feb 2009 when it was lost/stolen.

Canon Powershot A590
Replacement compact camera when the Fuji went AWOL. Lovely. Chosen because it has an optical viewfinder and takes normal AA batteries and SD cards – it was the best of the few cameras that meet those conditions. The battery thing means I can take some spare rechargeables with me on days out and neve get caught with a dead camera.

Flip 8GB 3rd generation
A freebie from Amazon. Great for making short films and uploading them to Youtube or Facebook.

PhotoFiltre
Its a bit like Photoshop, but obviously with fewer features as it is freeware. PhotoFiltre is French, as the name suggests, but is available in English. I find it great for retouching photos, adjusting levels and contrast and the like, cropping, resizing and doing basic effects.

Photoshop Elements 5.0
A birthday present from the Mrs. I still have to explore the possibilities of this. So far only used to clear up red-eye and straighten up images.

PaintShop Pro X4
A freebie from Amazon. Nice because it has dual monitor support and built in features for HDR processing and fake tilt-shift effects.

FileZilla
I used to use WS-FTP for updating my websites, but I was using the really old free version of it, and when I started installing WordPress I found it a bit limited and decided to try FileZilla, which turned out to be fantastic. As well as transferring files, you can manage directories easily, set permissions and do all sorts of other stuff. Its another piece of free, open-source software.

FireFTP
And sometimes I use the FireFTP add-in for Firefox instead of Filezilla

Notepad
I’m a bit old-fashioned. Apart from this blog, I have some other websites of varying complexity, but I still use Notepad for creating all the pages. It keeps me familiar with HTML, which comes in useful for editing the templates on WordPress.

Flickr
I use Flickr to keep copies of my photos and share them. Its also handy for hosting larger pictures and is a sort of backup for me. Tagging facilities and sets makeit easier to find photos tha on the PC sometimes.

StatCounter
I use this to keep track of visitors to this site. StatCounter provides limited facilities for free, or you can pay for extra facilities. The free version holds a lot of historical visitor stats but only holds detail for the latest 100 visitors, like their IP address, where they come from, what link or search they followed to get here and so on. I choose not to, but you can make your StatCounter data available to everyone.

Firefox
The WYSI-Wordpress plugin was behaving strangely in IE6 and the blog often displayed without formatting until I refreshed it. Firefox cured all these problems for me and gave me loads of new features to play with, most of which I have not even discovered yet.

Google Chrome
Now using Chrome alongside Firefox. It seems to be faster, but I’m still kind of attached to Firefox and can’t give it up completely.

Feedly
How I manage to keep up-to-date with various blogs – by subscribing to their RSS feeds. A replacement for the sadly discontinued Google Reader.

Montastic
This is a website which will monitor your own site and let you know if it is unavailable. You can do the same thing yourself by never sleeping or going out and staying at the computer all day, but its easier to use Montastic, and it is totally free.

Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Plus
I did try using Open Office but kept running into problems working on files from my proper job, also the Java elements mean that it takes a frustratingly long time to load, so now I have MS Office 2010 – through a special deal my employers have with Microsoft it cost less than a tenner!

Microsoft Office 2013 Home & Business
Only installed on the laptop. Doesn’t seem to be much different to 2010 except for not looking as good.

ZoneAlarm & AVG
Freeware firewall and anti-virus. So far they seem to be doing their jobs properly – although I have now stopped using ZoneAlarm because the Windows firewall is good enough.

SyncBack
Yet another piece of freeware. This one can synchronise files in two locations. At the moment I use it to manage the files on my iRiver but I will set it up to manage data backup soon.

iRiver iHP-200
At least four years old, but still doing everything I want. It won’t play videos or games, but I only want it for music. The only real problem is that I now have more music than will fit on the 20GB hard drive. It made my daily commute on the train bearable when used in conjuction with some Koss ‘Spark Plug’ earphones which isolate external noise for me and prevent my music from disturbing other travellers. I used a little program called iHPTool to manage the database and playlists but for some reason that wouldn’t work on my last PC so I started using iFish now. iHPTool does work on the Vista box so it is back in use. For a while I tried GXTranscoder to make smaller WMA copies of large MP3 files for on the move.

Creative Zen
Flash-based 32GB MP3 player, with Creative noise-isolating earphones. Replaces the iRiver for cycling because it is more shock-resistant than a hard drive player, but the extra 12GB comes in handy too. Can also take SD/SDHC cards for expansion, which I use for podcast listening. It displays pictures and videos but I only use it for music.

Audacity
Another bit of open source software. This is great for editing audio files. When I recorded old cassette tapes into mp3 files on the iRiver I used Audacity to chop the files into individual tracks and clean up some of the noise. It is also handy for cutting down mp3s into shorter samples or loops for ringtones.

Epson SX515W
All-in-one copier/printer/scanner. Bought primarily for its scanning, but it produces very good results on photo paper. Built-in ethernet and wi-fi so the rest of the family can use it without having to turn my PC on. It also has card slots so I can use it to print photos direct from a camera’s memory card.

Spotify
Favourite new toy in 2009. This is nearly always streaming music in the background while I am typing away. If it takes off I shall give Spotify URIs for any songs I happen to mention. Combined with Last.fm which keeps a record of what has been played.

Twitter
Only started playing with Twitter in mid-2009. Used a variety of extras while I got used to it, including the WordTwit plugin listed above, several desktop clients (Twhirl, Seesmic and Tweetdeck) and SMS from the mobile phone. Finally settled on Tweetdeck as my preferred way of using it.

The dreaded iTunes
I still use Windows Media Player (scrobbling to Last.fm of course) for listening to locally-stored music, and anything I rip myself is in .wma format. I eventually installed iTunes purely for listening to podcasts because the iTunes store has a good selection of free podcasts to subscribe to.

PDF Creator
I am spoiled at work, having Adobe Acrobat Professional. I can’t justify that sort of expense at home, so use this freeware to convert various documents to .pdf files. You can’t edit pdf files, annotate them, create web forms, and all those other advanced things – but what it does it does well and it is free and open source.

Surprisingly, all this takes very little knowledge to run. Knowing some HTML tags and syntax helps when customising themes, as does not being afraid to hack around with some of the easier bits of php, but really it all runs itself.