A Fresh Coat of Paint

It’s strange to think that I started this blog 4 years ago. I designed it myself in the summer of 2007 and started officially blogging on it in August during medical school orientation. I based the design on the Default WordPress theme, which was in-turn based on the venerable Kubrick theme. Last year, after many years of updates, WordPress finally retired its Default theme with the vision of creating a visually refreshed default theme, which they dubbed Twenty Ten. The idea was that WordPress developers should design a new theme every year.

It was about the same time that I began to notice some of the cruft in my own design. But my design had a personality to it that I liked. Plus, the design took a considerable amount of work on my part, and this was neither something I was willing to throw away haphazardly nor something I had time to recreate from scratch in a more modern fashion. And so the cruft lingered on and got even cruftier.

Encephalosponge New Design

Encephalosponge: New Design

A few months ago, a stunning theme called Duster appeared on WordPress.com. I knew this would be the theme that I based my next site design on. Little did I know that WordPress developers had the same idea, and they recently released their new default theme, Twenty Eleven, which is based on Duster. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visually refresh my site based on a WordPress default theme that I love. In the new design, I wanted to highlight some personal changes that I’ve gone through over the past 4 years, and I also addressed some things I learned along the way. The timing is right, too, since I am transitioning from medical school into residency.

Encephalosponge Old Design

Encephalosponge: Old Design

WordPress has changed a lot for the better over the past few years. I’ve been able to keep up with most of the major new features, but keeping up with new features can be a time-consuming job. Now using Child Themes, I can customize my WordPress theme without altering the original. When I created my last site design, I basically copied and altered all of Kubrick. This meant that when any fixes or upgrades were released, I had to do them manually, which usually meant they didn’t get done. With a Child Theme, the Parent is automatically kept up to date without messing up the customizations that you’ve made. Additionally, many WordPress themes now include easy ways to customize the theme’s background, header image, link color and fonts. This provides an easy way to make your site look unique without having to create an entire theme. By adopting a well-maintained theme, I will also get the benefit of having new WordPress features added without any additional work. These themes are also generally designed appropriately so that plug-ins work well and so that they work across multiple operating systems and browsers, including mobile browsers.

Over the past few years, I’ve embraced Free Software and the Creative Commons. With my old design, I used graphics and fonts that were licensed under restrictive copyright terms. This made redistributing my design impossible. I now use a free computer operating system, create graphics in a free graphics suite and choose images that are free to redistribute and remix. For my header image, I found a macro photo of some Brain Coral that I remixed to fit my color scheme. It doesn’t have as much personality as my previous design, but it works well with my new, more reserved one. It is also easily replaced if I come up with something better down the line. I also use Google’s Web Fonts project to bring my design to life with open-source typography and not embedding my non-traditional typography in images.

My final revisions are a work-in-progress. I am refining the content of this site to be my primary blog, but not my primary online point of contact. I set up my own site on Blackhall Family Sites, where I would like to host a more appropriate bio, contact page, and stream of personal news. I will continue to use this site for blogging about interesting topics and I will reserve that site for information about me. I would also like to continue to refine the content of this site to a more narrow set of topics and types of posts.

So as the content of this site undergoes revision, I thought it was a good time for it to get a good facelift as well. The archive isn’t going anywhere, but I thought everything could use a fresh coat of paint and a good buff to shine. Let me know how it looks.

Now Optimized for Linux Viewing

When I first designed this site, I was using Windows and MS Word full-time. The fonts I chose were Windows-centric. Since I had ubuntu-restricted-extras installed, which includes many Windows fonts, I didn’t notice any differences on Linux. However, after re-installing Ubuntu on my desktop, I decided to steer clear of ubuntu-restricted-extras and just installed Adobe Flash by itself. Therefore, I have recently updated my website to give preference to free Linux fonts if you have them installed. I’m not sure how many of them come standard with OpenOffice.org, but you may only need that installed to see the new fonts. If you’re not a Linux user, you’ll continue getting the same fonts as before. I’m not quite sure what Mac users see. I should look into that… Anyway, they’re not much different, but overall improved. I especially like the comments’ font.

Updated Blogroll

It’s been a while since I updated my blogroll. A “blogroll” is a list of links to blogs that I read regularly. I took a few old ones out and added these:

  • Aaron TenHarmsel’s photoblog: Aaron is a friend from Rush that takes amazing photos. I recently convinced him to start a WordPress-powered photoblog. He’s an awesome photographer.
  • Binary Impact: My old pal Jon Saed from UIUC has a new WordPress-powered blog with lots of techy goodness.
  • Flickin’ Spit: Chris Byrne (Sadie’s cousin) has a pretty good site of music reviews. It’s got a lot of not-so-mainstream stuff, and it’s the first place I go if I find a new group I like, such as Fleet Foxes.
  • Smarterware: Gina Trapani recently stepped down as lead editor of one of my favorite tech websites, Lifehacker, and started her own blog.
  • xkcd: This is just silly because it should have been on this list long ago. xkcd is the best webcomic, and it comes topped with a heap of geeky goodness. It covers everything from escaping from velociraptors to linux to science and space to school to DRM. It’s simply amazing. I wouldn’t blame you if you went and read the entire archive right now!

Do you have a blog or website I should be reading? Let me know and I’d be happy to add you!

Joining the Facebook

After holding out for about 5 years, I finally joined the infamous Facebook over winter break. Although my 2 cousins and sister helped me set up an account, I made the conscious decision to join a few weeks earlier but never got around to it due to finals. My decision to join was definitely not made out of any enthusiasm to their service. Rather I started feeling like I was socially isolating myself from my peers in school, and this is something I want to change. If you’re reading this, feel free to add me as a friend.

I still don’t think I’ll use it too much, but at least I’ve joined, which is half the battle. One thing I have found is a nifty little application called Wordbook, which allows you to add new posts at this blog to my Facebook feed. This will hopefully bring some new blog traffic for me and get some of the people stuck in Facebook out into the real web. Anyways, a more thorough post (rant) of my thoughts on social networks like Facebook and why it took me so long to join is forthcoming.

I’ve been slacking

So I realize I’ve been slacking with this website. Turns out med school was a lot more work that I imagined, and a lot of my free time has been spent working on the RMstudents website. Fortunately today we completed our move to ANhosting and there should be more time for development. Anyways, here’s my vow to do better on this website. Plus I’ve added Asides (short “side notes” that aren’t really full-fledged posts), which should be fully functional once I get the customized theme up. More to come in the next week I think…

WordPress 2.3 Released

WordPress 2.3 “Dexter” was released today. Despite the appeal of its new features, I’m going to wait to upgrade for a week or two until the plug-ins to get their kinks worked out. This big upgrade is part of the reason I’ve been slow to start adding features to my new blog. I think WP is going to be better than ever here in a week or so though…