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.

Upgraded to WordPress 2.7

I finally had the time to upgrade to WordPress 2.7 last night. Nothing should be “broken”, but the comments look a little goofy for the time being since I’ve only half-implemented the new threaded comments. I’m posting this from the new QuickPress feature. You can see all the new technical features at the Codex. Look for a more thorough review in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, it rocks!

WordPress Stickers

I’ve been a big fan of WordPress since I started using it in about 2004. It has grown into such a great blogging platform since those early days, and they’re continuing to push the limits of how blogging software should run. Whether you have your own private blog like I do or you have a free blog hosted on WordPress.com, they give you everything you need to get to make a killer blog.

Since I got my new laptop, I’ve been trying to decorate the plain black lid with some stickers from my favorite software. I got some stickers when I became a student member of the FSF, but I really wanted a WordPress sticker to show my love for the best blogging platform. I was sad to see they don’t sell any in the WordPress store, but they give them out at their conferences. Eventually my web search led me to Maya Desai’s WordPress.com blog. If you leave her a message explaining why you’d like some schwag, I think she might be able to help you out. My request for “a sticker” was fulfilled today:

I got a boatload of WordPress schwag!

I got a boatload of WordPress schwag!

Wrangling the Crazyhorse

It looks like a lot of great new features are getting picked up in the next version of WordPress (2.7), due out sometime in the next few months. One of the biggest changes is (again) revamping the administrative interface (my end of this blog), which I am very excited about. I like the current admin interface better than the previous one, but this new one, codenamed Crazyhorse, is promising to be even better. They put time, effort, and money into usability testing and seeing how people naturally expect things to work (with eye lasers!), and they even asked our opinions. This is in addition to a number of other incredibly useful features, such as automatic upgrading of WP software and the ability to browse and install plugins from within WP.

All of this just reinforces my love of WordPress and Automattic. They’re currently leading their field, but are they sitting back on their haunches waiting for someone to challenge them? No way. They’re pushing their software forward at an amazing speed, and doing a heck of a good job at it. No wonder Matt Mullenweg (founder of WP) is on the list of the Top Entrepreneurs Under 30.

Easy Upgrades

WordPress 2.6 came out yesterday (ahead of schedule). It’s got a few nice new features to it, but not nearly as many changes as was found in 2.5. It was certainly more of a fit-and-finish release, but it looks like (as usual) they did their homework and fixed some good stuff. One of the features from 2.5 that’s still working great is the automatic plugin upgrades. Any time a new plugin comes out, I get notified and upgrading is as easy as clicking a link that pulls the latest version right on to my site. Matt Mullenweg (founder of WordPress) had mentioned a similar idea to automatically upgrade WordPress itself in the future. Well as I was going to download the WP database backup plug-in (that I didn’t have installed for some reason), I saw that an automatic upgrade plug-in for WordPress has been implemented (but not by the WordPress team). Once I was sure I had everything backed up correctly (I learned my lesson), I decided to try out this new plug-in. Needless to say, it worked great. It even has automatic back-up features built in for files and the database. If only Drupal made upgrades as easy as WP, it would make maintaining RMstudents a whole lot easier.

So far, WP 2.6 seems to be working great! Man, I love this software. It’s got to be one of the best pieces of FOSS out there. Grab it today!