My Favorite Tools For Information Overload Management

Does this sound familiar?

  • You read a 140 character tweet from your favorite Twitizen…
  • Which leads you to a post on their blog where they comment on another blog with a link to the original post… (They also refer to a book you might be interested in.)
  • You now have 4 browser tabs open where each one has at least one other link to a topic you might want to read…
  • Pretty soon your in over your head, it’s lunch time and you haven’t done a damn thing.

At least it was fun and maybe your learned something.

It happens to me all too often. Here are a couple suggestions you could try to manage this problem.

Give in and read it all

Of course in a perfect world, I would indulge myself and consume it all. If you had enough time, money and an infinitely large bladder you could just sit and read posts all day, but few of us have that luxury.

Unless you choose to live like Howard Hughes, there has to be a limit.  Fortunately, there are other methods you can try.

Pull the plug

Paul Graham, author, startup founder and angel investor has a great essay which describes his approach to this problem. He solves it by maintaining a secondary computer which isn’t connected to the internet –a work computer where he actually Gets Things Done.  He forces himself to get up and walk over to a separate computer where he checks email and internet browsing.

Overall, it’s a good idea, but also has the flaw (for me) that you might just as easily sit at the wired computer and get sucked in, rather than ever return to the unwired one.  It requires discipline. If I had any of that, I wouldn’t have this problem to begin with.

Save for later

There are a bunch of ways to save your post. You could bookmark it in your browser, but that takes a few seconds to direct it where you want and it may saved only on your local computer.  I  started using XMarks to alleviate the second problem, but it still takes too much time at the rate I go.

Posting it to a bookmark site like Delicous, same problem. I reserve this for technical stuff that I may want to use over and over, like reference type sites.

A great tool I love is Instapaper which allows you to easily save any page using by simply clicking a bookmarklet.  It’s fast and easy.  It’s great when you have 5 or more tabs open but have to go do something else or actually get some work done.

The interesting thing is when you return to some of what you saved, you might find yourself better able to pick and choose what you actually want to invest your time reading rather than feeling compelled to take it all in.

Stem The Tide

If you hadn’t noticed, I provided a fair number of links in the post.  So I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite. Sorry.

Rather than cursing me, maybe you can try to practice some of the tips above.  Please leave a comment and let me know how it goes.

Happy 2010! We’re Moving To A Faster Host

Thanks to all my visitors during 2009. I appreciate the traffic and feedback.  Every time I hear from you, this blog gets better so please consider leaving comments if you found something useful or not.

Look for a lot more, better and more useful content during 2010.

Most Importantly

The performance on my original webhost was bad. To be honest, it sucked.

I am in the process of transferring over to a new, better, faster web hosting provider in early January 2010.  I expect much better speed and reliability.

Possible Downtime

I’m doing my best at moving my blog with no downtime, but there may be glitches here and there so please be patient.  I’ll do my best to make it pain-free!

Thanks again!!  I’ll send out an update when everything is final.

If you want fast updates, you should be following me on Twitter here.

Add A Favicon To Your WordPress Blog

Visual appeal helps when trying to get readers on your blog.  You don’t need to add animated logos and flashing text to do this. There are more subtle ways that have become quite easy to implement if you are willing to invest a few minutes to use the tools available.  If you are looking for an easy way to improve your blog’s image for your readers, consider adding a favicon.   Continue reading

Thesis Theme Review

I’ve been an avid WordPress user since I started blogging. This is due in part to the large user base, ease of installation and use, and the cost of software (Free!). Like a lot of people, I was excited about WordPress because of all the free custom themes available. I confess I have spent way too much time playing around with new themes I’ve found. But you have to be careful about what you download or you could end up with something unpleasant.

As a website designer, I created websites for others, but I just had a hard time finding the time to get my own blog up and running and after a lot of work, I wasn’t happy with the free theme I had chosen, in spite of all my customizations.

I had already seen a lot of positive reviews about the Thesis theme and had considered it early on, but I hadn’t wanted to pay for a theme [horror!] — yet.   Only after spending a bunch more time working with other themes, did I decide to make the purchase. After all, how much is my free-time worth?  The irony of feeling like I was actually losing money just doing “research” on all these “free” themes irked me, so I finally plunked down the cash. I’m happy I did.

Thesis theme has enough included bells and whistles that it seems to be that it’s worth it’s cost right “out of the box”. Once you get into customizing it, it shines even more.

Frameworks Versus Themes

If you download a theme, often times it was designed the way the author wanted to use it, so they’ve tweaked column widths for their layout, altered button sizes to match their headers, hard-coded single-row navigation bar because they have three pages on their blog.  I’ve even seen navigation bars hard-coded, requiring you to name your pages exactly like the original author did in order for anything to be displayed.  These all add up to more work.

The solution: use frameworks. Thesis is a framework, which basically means it’s flexible enough to allow you to use it how you want to. Most of the design is general enough that you can have the freedom to create your blog with confidence knowing that long category names, many sub-menus and such will all be handled gracefully.

Cut Your Development Time

If you’ve spent any time laying out web pages, you know that making column changes can be a headache.  But Thesis allows you to switch between 1, 2 or 3 column layouts and select the widths of each at the touch of a (save) button.  This is great if you decided later you want to add a new widget, or display adds in a different place.  Great for A/B testing and just convenient if you want to try out a new look without investing any time.

Much of the work that isn’t handled in the main Thesis control panels can still be done through the control panel Custom File Editor. Just make a change to the custom.css and hit save. Presto, you’ve got your updated change. No uploading .css files or FTP needed. (Especially helpful if you’re ever behind a firewall.)  It’s also great for prototyping designs.

Batteries Included

If you are not interested in spending a lot of time maintaining or updating the look and feel of your blog, you still get a great looking design out of the box. You can basically not add anything and you will still end up with a good system for getting ranked in the search engines due to all the built in optimizations included by default. You don’t even have to know what that means and you will still get the benefits when you write your first post.

Of course, I personally know very few people who don’t spend copious amounts of time getting everything just right. For those of us, there are many customized sidebars and a system of hooks that allow you to customize every inch of your screen.

Your Biggest Support Group

Another benefit of getting into Thesis is that it already has a huge base of existing users. Good luck finding that with most other free themes out there. Not only are your most frequently asked questions already answered most of the time, but you’ll be able to get support from the authors of the theme if you can’t find a specific answer.

Which Version To Buy?

Since I have several websites and thought it would be a good solution for my clients to use I purchased the developer license. This allows you to remove the attribution in the footer as well as use it over an unlimited number of sites. Perfect.

Perfect in the sense that it can be used as a default theme framework for new clients, and that I can get something up and running immediately that works.

If you found this article useful and helped you decide to get Thesis, I’d love it if you bought it through my affiliate link here. But if not, at least drop me a comment on your experiences.

Now, don’t even get me started about plugins. :)

Note: This is not a paid review. I was not given anything free to write about Thesis, I just like it. I hope someone who found this review useful might follow the affiliate link above to purchase their own copy.

Theme Security For Your WordPress Blog

Do you know what code is running on your website?  If not, you may be risking your integrity by offering up links to sites that you don’t even know are on your site.  Worse, you could get banned from the search engines for linking to sites inappropriately.  Think it can’t happen?

Who’s Been Touching My Code?

There was a good post about the hidden risks of downloading free themes from random sites on the internet. (Link below).  There are a bunch of sites who are taking free themes from other sites, adding encrypted code blocks and putting them up as their own work.  While this is obviously shady, it would likely be easy for it to happen without the original authors even knowing.  (Once you download a free theme, would even you know where it came from if all the internal links still point to the original author site?)

What’s Wrong With Free?

The scary part is many of these sites are ranked highly for free themes (of course), giving the impression that they may be reputable. The examples provided in the article are merely inserting their own links, with their keyword anchor text, to various sites on the internet, but just about anything could be run on your server if the authors wanted to.  Ouch!

I scanned the files of several of the themes on a development system of my own and found 3 that contained sections of encrypted code in the footer. Sometimes it was just author links that they didn’t want novices to be able to remove from the footer, but at least one or two contained links to random websites in Germany that had specific anchor text they wanted to rank for.  While not specifically malicious, do you really want to be passing link juice out to sites that you don’t know anything about?

How To Be Safe?

There are many sites which offer reputable verified source code, being an obvious example.

Also there are a variety of paid themes that are not only supported, they also are easy to customize and come with a lot of nice, built-in features that let you concentrate on creating content and less on managing your theme.  This blog runs on the Thesis theme (affiliate link) and I’ve been quite happy with it.

Article Site Links

The original article is located here.   There are a few cool utilities that help you figure out what’s being executed in the encrypted code.  Check out these links to check for any malicious junkware on your system:

Customizing Thesis Theme – Removing Closed Comments Text

On all of my blog theme customization, I routinely turn off comments on specific Pages like Contact and About.  It just seems odd to have comments there, but I guess it’s a personal preference.

I just got the Thesis them and am enjoying playing around with it, but I needed to do a bit of work to bend it to my will.

The Problem

In Thesis, the default theme puts the words “Comments on this entry are closed.” which is fine for a page or post that has had comments and eventually closed them.  But for a page that never has had any commenting, it just seems silly.

Additional note: This can be done in the CSS as well but I wanted to do this without hiding text or setting “display: none” in CSS to avoid the chance of getting dinged by search engines.  This will remove the text from being created in the first place.

The solution

Luckily, we can easily change this in our theme with just a slight change to the scripts.  Even if you’re PHP challenged, you can still make the change by following these simple steps.

First, go to your default Thesis directory (Thesis_16 if you use it out of the box.) and edit the file named comments.php.

Next, locate the section that looks like this:

if (!comments_open()) {
 <p><?php _e('Comments on this entry are closed.', 'thesis'); ?></p>

(Hint: this begins on line 70 in my version 1.6).  Modify it to add the following text in red:

if (!comments_open() && !is_page()) {
 <p><?php _e('Comments on this entry are closed.', 'thesis'); ?></p>

Last, save and close the file. That’s it.

Now refresh your page and Voila! no more bunk text.

Please note that this turns off the text on ALL Pages, which you may or may not want.  I don’t usually have any comments on my pages so it works just fine for me but YMMV.

EduFire SEO Classroom with Neil Patel

After Neil Patel’s tweet this morning I attended his online class Underground SEO Tips for Startups hosted by EduFire. It proved to be very interesting and useful.

I’ve never heard of EduFire but they seem to have a slick system to offer virtual coursework via the net. There were a few technical glitches: jitter, some echoing audio and the worst was a freeze up during Neil’s best SEO linking tips. Fortunately he was nice enough to repeat it for everyone after hearing our desperate sobs.

It was not so much a course as an interview and Q&A session, which is what it seemed like everyone in the chat room wanted.

The interview was hosted by Lily Chiu who did a good job as a moderator.  Overall it was a big win and I’ll put the link up here if they offer the recorded version.  Someone in the class posted their transcript to Google Docs, but darned it if I didn’t forget to get the link. I’m hoping they post a transcript.

I, of course, had to ask a few questions and confirm things I’d heard about Neil and his wealth of knowledge.

Aside from pissing me off that he is only 24 years old, he went into his origins of being known as the guy with all the pirated stuff in high school. He must have gotten a lot of money from cable descramblers and pirated music because he had enough cash in high school to fund at least one business and spend something like $10k.  What the hell did *I* do I high school anyway?

He went into detail on a comment Andrew Warner had made in an interview with Neil on about how he “gamed twitter” basically getting tons of followers using black-hat scripts he’d gotten somewhere.   He also admitted he did the same thing to YouTube having thousands of subscribers to his channel, but he never put up a single video. All very cool and even cooler that ‘d he’d still admit it.

It wasn’t all goofiness, he gave lots of practical answers to questions about on-page SEO factors, some of it pretty much common knowledge but good to hear again. Confirmed that there are no real useable meta-tags aside from the description.  (meta-keyword tags being long gone.) Etc.

There were some other black-hat, white-hat discussions and suggestions that I’ll leave for the recording.  He stated that, to him, everything’s white hat. I’ll leave the interpretation of that for your imagination. :)

He also gave a slap to ad agencies which he said were “a waste of money”, “that you’d be better doing it yourself.  It’d be cheaper and you’d probably do a better job.”

If you weren’t there, there were some good links given out:

All in all and considering the price, it was so worth the time to get an hour of Q&A with someone of Neil’s experience.  Pretty cool. I’ll keep my eyes open for more on EduFire.

Update: Another transcript of a few hilights courtesy of Emil Hajric.

Using WordPress and Thematic As A CMS To Design Websites

This is a step-by-step tutorial for building a website quickly.

Some uses for this project are:

  • Designing a simple to intermediately complex website — it can be as complex as you make it.
  • Prototyping or wireframing a design.
  • As an affiliate theme that can be modified slightly for any need.
  • A starting point to learn: CSS, wordpress theme development.

The tools we will use to do this is:

  • WordPress – We chose WordPress because it gives us a framework to build our website easily. No more hand-coding html, the heavy lifting is done for us!
  • Thematic theme – To make our website presentable we need a theme that allows quick and easy customization. No altering gifs and jpgs. We can add those later.
  • A text editor like notepad or (my favorite) Notepad++.
  • Your own creativity – You provide the content for your pages and a color scheme (if you so desire).

Let’s go!

WordPress is great software if you want to design a blog, but we want to design a plain website that doesn’t include a blog. That’s ok, we’ll just use Pages. A Page is a static entity, like a single traditional HTML file you might have on your server. (WordPress explains the difference well here.) We’ll use these to create our non-dynamic content for our website.

Go create some pages for your website. In our example, I will create the following pages: Home, About, Contact, Products/Services. If you are doing this for your website, feel free to add images and headers, for your content. I will just be using dummy content.

Next, we will customize how these will display to your visitors, we want to put them in a logical order on our header toolbar (Home, About, Products/Services, Contact). You can do this with custom page order.

For each page, edit them in WordPress and locate the following drop down list. It allows you to change order of display for each page as you create them.

Page Order Caption

Page Order Caption

For our web pages, set the following values:

  • Home – 0
  • About – 1
  • Products/Services – 2
  • Contact – 3

Reload your webpage and verify the menu shows the correct order for your pages.

Display of altered menu list order

Display of altered menu list order

This is great, but you can still see there is a blog post on the front page and not our home page. Since we don’t want to use this as a blog right now, we will assign our “Home” page as the front page of the website. Fortunately, WordPress gives us an easy way to do this.

In your admin console, go to Settings->Reading. Here we see an option to change what the “Front page displays”. Select the radio button for “Static Page”. From the Front Page menu, select which page you want to display as the Home page. We already set up our page named Home, so select this and click the Save Changes button.

Reading Settings

Reading Settings

Again, view our web page. Now our home page is correctly displayed first.

Next we want to change our theme to something that looks less like a blog theme and more like our website. This is where WordPress themes come in handy.

We want our website to have:

  • Top header where we can put our title.
  • A standard horizontal menu bar.
  • The content area on each page.

To do this we install our Thematic theme. Thematic is a wordpress theme that is basically a blank slate you can hang your design on. It works great and is very simple and easy to fix the way we want with a minimum of effort.

Select it from your themes menu in your WordPress administration panel.
Again, view your web page. You can see we now have a good looking web page to display our company information.

Thematic Basic Theme Display

Now this looks good and you can stop here if you are satisfied, but some of the proportions aren’t exactly what I think of as a standard web-site design.

I would prefer my generic website have the following features:

  • Clearly defined sections (header, menu, content) with different colors to distinguish them.
  • Each section aligned to look more unified as a single page.
  • A defined background area with a different color to set off our content areas.

We can do this by creating a child theme that uses Thematic as it’s parent. This allows us to inherit what we like and change only what we need. The great thing about wordpress themes is that they can cascade allowing you to modify only what you need and inherit the rest of the styles and forms from another them or multiple themes. Neat-o!

Create a new folder under webhome/wp-content/themes called child-theme (or whatever you want).

Move or copy the file named style.css from webhome\wp-content\themes\thematic\thematicsamplechildtheme and into our child theme directory.

Open up the style.css we just copied in a text editor and add the following text at the bottom:

body {
background-color: #ccc; /* color to differentiate areas only*/
font-family: verdana, arial, sans-serif; /*specify a font*/

#branding {
background-color: #eee; /*set a color*/
padding: 50px 0 40px 0; /*adjust sizing for removed tagline, make header height smaller*/
/*padding: 50px 0 30px 0; /*uncomment if you add a tagline/description to the blog header*/

#blog-title {
text-align: center; /*center our title text*/

#blog-description {
text-align: center;/* if specified, center our title subtext description*/

#main {
width:940px; /*smaller size to align to the header/toolbars*/
background-color: #fff; /*set a color*/

#access { /*surrounds the main menu bar*/
width: 940px; /*expand bar to fill page size*/
margin: 0 auto; /*center menu bar*/
background-color: #ddd; /*color “behind” the buttons on the toolbar*/

.sf-menu li {
text-align: center; /*I just prefer centered button text. Looks less like content.*/
min-width: 160px; /*I set this if I only have a few buttons to make a short toolbar look more complete
won’t work on IE < 7 if that matters to you, can always use minmax javascripts */

Download the modified style.css. (Rename the file to style.css)

Now view the same website in your browser and see how it has changed to a standard page format and is aligned with clear delineation among the sections.
Thematic Child Theme Displayed

You can now make any tweaks and adjustments to it as you need to (change colors and alignments in the new style.css) and you’re good to go.

What Next?

Obviously, we may want to make additional changes and I will cover these in future tutorials.

  • Add a header banner image.
  • Change the footer.
  • Align drop-down menus with button width.

Are Your Words Turning Your Readers Away? Here’s How To Fix The Problem

Are You Guilty?

I recently read a post about how no one wants to read the stuff that you write (the author used a less polite word, but the meaning was the same). I wasn’t surprised in the least to know this since I already have such a short attention span for reading blogs. (I skimmed that same post to decide if it was worth reading.)

The author’s field of interest is advertising, but the basic idea applies to all writing. Simply put, you must avoid falling in love with your own words so much that you think your readers will too. Continue reading