Archive for the 'Technical' category

Drupal Blocks - Error Causes Display Problems

I just about destroyed my Drupal-powered allergy website today. I made one small change to the HTML in a block, and the whole website came up blank. With a blank website, I did not have admin access to the menu that changes the blocks!

Rather than panicking, I reasoned that I had made a fundamental typo in the HTML in the block I had just changed, and that must be in the database somewhere.

It was.

Using phpMyAdmin from the account back-end, I looked through various likely tables. The most obviously named, “blocks” was not the right table. It lists all blocks, along with their display status, display location etc.

Boxes is the correct table. It contains the content and title of all blocks that simply contain HTML.

Sure enough, I’d failed to close a quote in the HTML in the block I had just edited. Other things to look for: unmatched tags (especially the <DIV> tag, and unmatched angle brackets. I fixed it in phpMyAdmin and now the allergy website works again.

Improvement Ideas for the WordPress Shopping Cart

I recently set up an ecommerce website using WordPress and Instinct Software’s ecommerce plugin. I have already written briefly about customizing WP Shopping Cart for WordPress. I explained how I had to hack the system to get the look that I wanted.

I a simple suggestion for improving how WP Shopping Cart outputs its HTML so that the process of customizing the look becomes much easier.

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eCommerce Digital Download Wish list

I recently wrote a post about setting up an ecommerce system for digital downloads, specificaly my frustrations with finding an ideal platform, and my choice of wp shopping cart for WordPress as the closest fit, even if it really is not ideal.

The good news is that Dan at Instinct Software is monitoring comments about the software that he and his company have created, and are willing to do something about it (see comment on related article about ecommerce).

This post is for the benefit of anyone developing an ecommerce platform, especially Instinct Software who which to improve their existing system. Feel free to add comments if you are either a developer of ecommerce software for digital downloads, or if you want a better platform for selling digital download products.

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rel=nofollow pros and cons

nofollowI recently ran across another article about whether to use rel=nofollow in links from your visitors comments. Jonathan, the author, advocates installing the Dofollow Plugin For WordPress, which removes the rel-nofollow attribute in comments.

Is this a good idea?

In a previous article on this blog, I commented that using rel-nofollow may improve the quality of comments. While this may be true, it may also discourage commenting in general, certainly among the link-savvy. At the same time, it may discourage comments for the sake of a link to the commenter’s blog.

I think I have a solution to this for anyone who wants to develop a plugin to make the following idea happen.

Extending the publish/delete comment function in a blog, how about being able to publish with or without rel=nofollow? This way you can reward on-topic comments with links to a related blog, but still publish comments that are a bit off-topic, or do not link to a related blog. Such a plugin would flag which comments are which, and publish your rel=nofollow policy next to the comment form.

I have not yet installed the dofollow plugin, but I am considering it.

What is your opinion about rel=nofollow? Would you like to be able to rate the comments left on your blog and reward the most relevant ones? Are you more likely to leave quality comments on a blog which does follow links back to your blog? Your comments please!



More articles about rel=nofollow:

Burry rel-nofollow - clearly against it.

eCommerce for Digital Downloads - Finding a Platform

I started looking into ecommerce solutions a while back, and wrote about my initial research in an earlier article about ecommerce systems for digital downloads, in which I discussed a few systems I have run across.

So far, I have not found the ideal system. All of them have something that is not quite right, often very not right.

Zen cart, OScommerce and the like could work pretty well, but they are designed for a complicated store with physical products, and this sort of system is not really ideal for digital downloads in my opinion. I felt that it would take a tremendous amount of work to learn the system well enough to get the template and buying process to work the way I want it to. I already know a fair bit about WordPress and Drupal, and want to build on that.

Drupal has two options, and a third on the way. Neither e-commerce, nor Quickfile really have a properly thought-through buying process that is ideal for the buyer. E-commerce really would be good with some streamlining, and probably I will roll up my sleeves and do just that eventually. Mean while, it has a very long list of unresolved bugs which makes me leery about investing time and energy into adopting and deploying it. Ubercart looks very promising. Handling digital downloads is on their to-do list, but it does not sound like a priority for the development team, unfortunately. I suspect it will be pretty good though, when it does become available.

The best (least worst) I have found so far is wp shopping cart for WordPress. It has some problems too, as I will explain, but it 1) works and 2) is possible to provide a pretty good buying process for visitors (with a fair bit of work). It did not work the last time I tried it, but they have fixed a few things since then.

My plan is to start with wp shopping cart for WordPress , then determine if my digital download store concept works, or more to the point, how it works and how to optimize everything from the product selection to marketing to make the on line store really successful. At some point, I will deploy a new platform, probably Drupal-based. At that point it will be worth putting in considerable effort to rework the software to provide an excellent buying experience to visitors.

Customizing WP Shopping Cart

WP Shopping Cart is functional, but fairly ugly out of the box. The trick is to do extensive work on the CSS for both the WordPress theme, and for the shopping cart system. For example, rather than just having links for various functions such as visiting the store or proceeding to the check-out, why not make them look more prominent and more like buttons? I gave various buttons a height, width, background colour and border to suit the prominence I wished to bestow upon them.

Some elements are very hard to specify with CSS, necessitating some code hacks to add classes to some elements. I was able to circumvent much of this by applying additional class tags within the language files.

In the end, I got a system that looks pretty good. (It’s not completely ready, so I am not linking to it from here, not yet anyhow). I have discovered some major technical stumbling blocks with WP Shopping Cart however.

The biggest problem is that the system does not fully automate the buying process. Even though it is a digital download, it will still require my intervention in some cases. When this becomes too time consuming and troublesome, I will certainly switch to another system, but it will be good enough to get started.

Another shortcoming is that if the user has any trouble with the download, there is no way to give them access to the download page.

I have discovered that by looking up the session id in the database, I can provide a link to the buyer’s download page in a very manual, back-end sort of way. If I get many questions about this, I will provide further details on how to go about this.

They system I am setting up is close to ready. More posts to come on this subject.

Does a Labor Shortage In India Spell Hope for Western High-Tech Workers?


The India high-tech zone is sucking away great jobs from Western countries, due to their abundance of skilled engineers and much lower wages. But for how much longer can this continue?

According to Yahoo News, India is facing a shortage of high-tech labor, and this could begin to limit their ability to expand in the future.

There are alternatives for hiring skilled engineers and programmers at lower wages, for example in Eastern Europe. However, this may spell the turning of the tide, and ultimately keep more high-tech jobs at home.

Good Information About Drupal Forums

Drupal-Forum-InformationI am in the process of working out the best way of hosting a Drupal forum on my food allergy website. This sounds easy, but there are a few technical issues to overcome.

I don’t want a totally open public forum, or I’ll get spammed to death! And I don’t want a totally closed forum - I do want anyone with something valid to contribute to be able to join up. And I don’t want to spend all my time administering it either.

I found a good article about setting up forums in Drupal which looks very helpful. It suggests a few modules to control access to forums.

I’ll post again when I get the forum up and running, and explain what I did and how it all went.

Hiding Blocks in Drupal for Administrator

It is a curious oversight in the design of Drupal, that you can not directly control block visibility for the administrator by configuring the block.

The easiest way to hide a block when logged in as administrator, is to follow a modified version of the instructions on the Drupal site explaining the advanced use of block visibility.

This requires PHP, but you don’t actually have to know anything about PHP, just copy and paste the code below, as instructed. (View entire article to see code).

First, you have to set up the block so it will use the PHP code to decide if the block should be visible or not.

Then, you have to copy the code below into the pages field in the Show block on specific pages section.

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The Bleeding Edge of Drupal


When I set up my allergy information website in January, I decided to use the latest version of Drupal, then just released. In deciding between WordPress or Drupal, I chose Drupal over WordPress, because I want the website to be much more than a blog. In this I am not disappointed - when I get the time, I’ll write more about the difference between the two content management systems - they each have their strong points.

Having chosen Drupal, I then had the choice of installing the tried and true 4.7.6, with its plethora of modules, or the latest and greatest Drupal version 5.1, with rather fewer modules available.

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