Tweaking Site Layouts Demands Compromises

Hopefully you've found something that you like about my new site layout. There are several things I like about, though I'll have to admit that I'm also ambivalent about a lot of the changes

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The most obvious of those changes is whether to go with the light or dark theme that comes standard with the Twenty Eleven Theme. I prefer the dark theme with the black background when an entry features photographs because it does a good job of setting them off. On the other hand, I definitely prefer the light theme when an entry consists mainly of words because I don't like reading white letters on a black background. Overall, I think I'm favoring the light theme. Let me know if you have a definite preference.

I prefer the new way of listing categories, though I'm rather embarrassed by how many entries are "uncategorized." In my defense, early programs I used to blog did not provide any means of categorizing entries. As a result, any of the entries from the first three years are so are "uncategorized." Of course, procrastination and sheer laziness have also played a part in my failure to categorize effectively. As time allows, I'm going through some old entries and trying to categorize them and make them more accessible. I suppose I really ought to try to move into the present and use "tags," but I wouldn't count on that happening instantaneously.

I also prefer the new way of archiving, though I've noticed that all these JavaScript also slow down the loading of my page. Still, if the reader is actually interested in exploring my archives, the hierarchical approach makes that much easier, though it also makes it obvious that better titles would make my content more accessible.

I wish I'd found the new Blog list plugin that I'm using before I went through the list the other day looking for blogs that were no longer being updated. When I originally installed the plugin it listed the blogs in the order they had been updated (which I prefer), but installing two other plugins afterwards somehow disabled that feature and I haven't been able to get it turned back on. Even before that, it was flawed as some sites would not show up as being updated even when I knew that they had been because I'd read them on my RSS feed. I suspect that it must have something to do with the way Google reads, or doesn't read the sites, because the plugin depend on a Google API key. Needless to say, there was no way I was ever going to resolve these issues.

Behind the scenes I'm quite fond of the editor built into Jetpack, though I've just gone back and deleted the option to check for passive voice. I forgot how annoying I used to find that when using Microsoft Word. However, in the process of adding categories from some old entries, I've discovered a number of silly typos, the kind that are easily caught by an editor, and easily overlooked by a writer, that have managed to slip by me for a long time.

It’s Complicated

I'm beginning to remember why I procrastinate so long before updating my web site. I'm sure that I make updating harder than it needs to be, but all those years of advising yearbook have probably scarred me. I want things the way I want them to be; I want them to be "perfect," or at least pass for perfect.

I spent most of a day learning how to upload pictures for the header, originally substituting my own photos for the photos that came with the theme. That worked for one photo, but it wouldn't allow me to alternate pictures, something I was looking forward to. I had to review file permissions, only to discover in the end that I had failed to switch server addresses when my host switched servers.

Then I realized that the theme was displaying my photos at a reduced size and at a different width than the main copy. That just plain looked wrong to me. So I spent several hours looking at CSS code trying to figure out how to adjust the width. I ended up doing an online search on how to code a fixed width. Once I found that, it was relatively easy to make the adjustments I needed.

Today I went to work making sense out of the blogroll on the side. I didn't have to figure out how to do anything, but it was the kind of work I really hate: boring, tedious, repetitive work. When I started a blogroll years ago there were no RSS readers, so I used the blogroll to visit fellow bloggers. For the last two or three years I've been using a RSS reader. Since it updates automatically, I tend to miss it when some bloggers quit blogging, especially if they never leave comments on my site. Over the years I’ve also added blogs to my RSS reader without adding them to the blogroll, usually so that I can decide if I’m going to go read their blogs consistently. By now, the lists barely resemble each other. To make things even more complicated, when I did check out each site today I had to decide whether the person is still blogging or not. It’s amazing how many people seem to feel guilty about quitting their blog and drop in occasionally to say that they’ll begin again shortly. If someone hasn’t posted for a year, it’s pretty easy to drop them from the blogroll. If they published once in July and once in August I begin to question whether they’re really blogging or have deserted blogging for Facebook and Twitter. I was surprised how hard it was for me to delete bloggers I’ve been reading and enjoying for four or five years. In the end, I compromised and deleted them from the blogroll but kept them on my RSS reader. That way if they start publishing again I'll be able to add them back.

Somewhere in the middle of all this I’ve been fighting problems that have emerged since upgrading to Lion and Aperture, and apparently I’m not the only one having problems with the two not interacting nicely. I’m still not sure if I’ve got the problem solved and I probably won’t publish my latest Rainier pictures, except those in the header, until I’ve solved the problem.

Nothing Stands Still

Notice anything unusual? I've been working behind the scenes today trying to change a few things around here.

Most important of all, I finally updated to the latest version of WordPress, without a single problem.

That inspired me to change themes, something I've wanted to do for quite a while but just haven't felt I wanted to mess around with the site's CSS style sheet, something I have to do to ensure that material I've quoted is set off properly and doesn't look like something I've written.

Things will probably look a little different every day around here for a while. Although I've already managed to change the code that I felt I had to change before I could even change themes, there's a lot more code that I want to change to make this theme feel more like my own.

First, I want to change the photo at the top of the page, but that will entail finding shots that fit that format, which might not be that easy to do.

Then I want to change the background color and the color of the links, and then fine tune the other fonts. I'm heading to Mt. Rainier tomorrow and Vancouver one day next week, so don't expect miracles overnight, but hopefully you'll like the new look and find some of the changes make it more enjoyable to read this site.

Trying to Escape Our Personal Limits

As much as I enjoy pictures of flowers and birds, I don’t like limiting my photographic attempts to just those areas. I’ve always taken scenic shots, of course, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to take more scenic shots. I’ve also taken shots of other wildlife when I observed it while birding, but I’ve also resolved to actively go to areas where I’m more apt to see other wildlife.

That’s why I didn’t limit my last outing to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. I also went to the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada and the Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, south of Malheur, both better known for antelope, wild horses, mountain goats and wild burros than for birds.

Unfortunately, I’ve found the picture format I’ve set up here rather limiting, and so far I’ve been unable to figure out how to set up pop-up photos that would allow readers to see scenics in larger format by clicking on the smaller version. So, I decided when I wanted to include a larger format picture, I would include a smaller version here and provide a link to a larger picture at another site I maintain. That way, those who are interested in seeing a larger version can click on the link and other viewers with slower connections won’t be overwhelmed by slow downloads.

Here’s two shots that I think suffer by being limited to 620 pixels width. In this one,

Deer and Fawn in Deep Grass

the deer seem too small for me, but, if I crop to show the deer, the setting is lost, and in this case the setting seems to be as much the subject of the photo as the doe and the fawn are.

I took this shot of a herd of deer from high up on a ridge so I could only include a small portion of the the photo here and still have the viewer realize it is a herd of deer,

Herd of Deer on Grasslands

but, again the grassland setting seemed as important as the deer themselves.

Treading Water

I seem to be treading water around here, and not just the water dumped by the constant clouds here in the Pacific Northwest, though that has kept me from getting my yard back into shape.

No, I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog, as you’ve probably noticed. I did upgrade to WordPress 3.0 this morning, though I still haven’t attempted to update to the new theme which is part of the upgrade. I do plan on doing that shortly, though. Or, at least eventually.

Most of my time behind the scenes has been spent trying to deal with digital photographs. I tried to optimize my fragmented hard drives and somehow ended up unintentionally deleting photos that I wanted to save. That required the purchase of a photo recovery program, which, as it turns out, did too good of a job of recovering deleted photographs. It actually seems to have recovered photos I deleted over the last several years — and that’s a hellacious number of photos. Now I have to go through all the recovered photos and delete the ones I didn’t want in the first place while not deleting ones I do want. Let’s just say I have a 400 GB hard drive that’s now half full, and that’s after spenidng a couple of days deleting nearly 200 GB of unwanted photos.

Now that I’ve started the process, I’m determined to keep going until I’ve deleted ALL the photos I don’t want and backing up the ones I do want onto Bluray disks. I’m thinking there’s no reason to keep old versions of Belted Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, etc that I took five years ago with an inferior camera and inferior lens when I have new shots that are much better. As it is, I’m pretty sure that anyone besides me would look at the whole mess and just delete all of them rather than try to deal with it. Heck, I’m pretty close to the same point. Of course, I’ve long known that, but it’s easier to know something than it is to deal with it, particularly when you going out and taking new pictures is a lot more fun.

It’s amazing how life gets in the way of having fun, isn’t it? I also have several buckets of flowers sitting in the back of the pickup that needed to be planted to replace the ones that died last winter. I’ll have to get to those this afternoon, after Skye’s walk. And then, now that we have a little sunshine I need to mow the lawn again. It’s hard to believe that’s been nearly a week since I mowed it.

Presenting a Public Persona

Shelley Powers’ blog entry Get Used to Disappointments and the discussion of how much we reveal of ourselves in our blogs and Whiskey River’s entry entitled “the I is a multifaceted character,’ particularly the part where he quotes Joyce McDougall as saying

Each of us harbors in our inner universe a number of "characters," parts of ourselves that frequently operate in complete contradiction to one another, causing conflict and mental pain to our conscious selves. For we are relatively unacquainted with these hidden players and their roles. Whether we will it or not, our inner characters are constantly seeking a stage on which to play out their tragedies and comedies.

got me thinking about my public persona versus my real self.

I suspect that it is impossible, even for me, to totally distinguish between my public persona and my real self, though the two certainly aren’t synonymous.

I know I began this blog as an attempt to present my personal views on political events that were taking place. At first, it seemed natural to use a few literary references to illustrate my own public views.

At some point, though, it appears that my old “teaching persona,” a persona I thought I had willingly abandoned some five years ago, started appearing in this blog. I suspect that persona, though it only reflected a part of my personality, did reflect an essential part of who I am. Or, perhaps, teaching for thirty years has actually helped to shape who I truly am.

On the other hand, part of what I really like about writing this blog is that I am free to explore topics I felt uncomfortable exploring in a classroom in a conservative school district. I doubt that I would have ever felt comfortable exploring Kerouac or Ginsberg in a high school classroom, but I thrive on doing so here. So, I have certainly moved outside my teaching persona to establish a new persona for this web site.

Hopefully the persona I present here is closer to my “true” self than the persona I presented in the classroom, but I’m sure that this public persona is not my “complete self.” For me, the very act of writing puts a distance between myself and my immediate feelings. At work, I’m noted for occasionally been frustrated enough to use the “F” word, but I can’t remember ever using it here. Given time to think, it’s not a world I find particularly enlightening or informative.

The truth is that I am both short fused and reflective. I can be totally pissed off at a person one moment, and sympathetic the next. In other words, I get angry quickly, but also get over it equally quickly. I doubt that most of my readers would have gotten that impression of me from this blog. It’s not that I intentionally have hidden it, but neither is it part of the public persona that I try to present.

I also suspect most readers see me as more intellectual than I truly am, ironic when you consider that I purposely rejected a scholarly life for a life more directly involved with young people. One of the reasons I prefer poetry to other forms of writing is that it seems immediate and emotionally engaged, rather than intellectual.

Truthfully, though, I am probably happier building and knocking down Lego towers with Gavin or Kel than I am reading a poetry book. I would certainly rather hike in the mountains than read poems by Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, or even David Wagoner. In the end, it’s the quality of life itself that is most important to me, and poetry simply helps me to enjoy life more fully.