Thoughts

Are you subscribed to the right feed for my site?

A lot of my readers are still subscribed to the standard site feed, at

http://www.raoulpop.com/feed/rss2/

but that may become inactive, as I’m making some changes on the server side, so please make sure you’re subscribed to

http://feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul

which will continue to stay the same for the foreseeable future. Check your feed readers and make the change so you can continue to receive updates from me.

By the way, I’d like to apologize for the frequent and recent server outages. I’m looking into what’s causing them. They started happening as soon as I upgraded to WordPress 2.9. I’d hoped they’d go away with 2.9.1, but they’re still here… I made no other changes on the server side before or immediately after the upgrade, so the only thing I can think of is that 2.9.x has some issues. I disabled all but three essential plugins: Akismet, FeedBurner FeedSmith and WordPress.com Stats, and while my server crashes less frequently now, it still does.

It’s the strangest thing though. The server doesn’t run out of memory, my other sites stay up, Apache stays up, mySQL stays up, and yet raoulpop.com goes down. I’ve tried tweaking and re-tweaking Apache2 and PHP5 and mySQL settings to no avail. The only thing I need to do to bring my site up is to reload Apache2, but it is a very annoying thing indeed. If I had to deal with this thing long-term I’d schedule a cron job to restart Apache every once in a while, but I’ve got something in the works that should eliminate the need for that.

If anyone is having this problem and you’ve got it solved, I’d love to hear how you did it.

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How To

How to display recent photos from your SmugMug feeds

I was asked by a reader (Andrew M.) how I display the most recent photos from my SmugMug galleries on my home page. He was aware that I use the SimplePie plugin for WordPress, but wasn’t sure how to get the same look when starting from scratch.

Before you read any further, keep in mind this is a very specific tutorial about WordPress, SimplePie and SmugMug. It has other applications, like for other image feeds and with some code tweaking, for other blogging platforms, but if you want to do those things, then Google is your friend.

recent-photos-screenshot

The thing that makes things a little complicated in my situation (as opposed to other image feeds) is the somewhat non-standard structure of the SmugMug feeds. For one thing, they don’t provide a URL for the image thumbnail where you’d expect it to be, and for another, they provide the image description instead of the image title. (To check this, mouse over a SmugMug thumbnail, and you’ll see the description pop up over the image.) But as long as you’re willing to dig into the feed code and find the names for the fields you need, then you can plug that info into SimplePie and go from there. Thankfully, I’ll do it for for you below. Lucky you.

Just a quick general disclaimer before I start though: I don’t do handholding. I’ll provide the instructions for how I did it. But in the unlikely event that things still don’t make sense to you, do me a big favor and read the SimplePie Manual, before you ask me questions. I did it and it helped me work things out. It should do the same for you if you use a little elbow grease. Thanks.

Okay, onto step 1: find the SmugMug feed URI. SmugMug provides several feeds for each user account. Go to the bottom of your gallery page and click on the Available Feeds link to see all of them. We’re going to use the Recent Photos Atom feed. In my case, it is:

http://www.raoulpopphotography.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=nicknameRecentPhotos&Data=raoulpop&format=atom10

smugmug-available-feeds

Step 2 is creating an Images Only template for SimplePie. If you’re not sure what this is, you need to read through the SimplePie documentation. The location where you need to place the new template is:

[WP Install]/wp-content/plugins/simplepie-plugin-for-wordpress/templates/

This is not arcane info, btw. It’s provided in right on the SimplePie general settings page, which is what I’ll talk about in Step 3 below. Now let’s talk about what you’ll put in the template file. This is where the digging through the feed code part comes in. I kept things simple, and this is what my images_only.tmpl file looks like.

simple-pie-template-files

images-template-code

As you can see, the code is minimal, which is the way I like things. I am specifying a simplepie class in the code, but as you can see from my CSS file, I’m not styling the div in any way. I’m letting the rest of the CSS code and the other divs handle the way the images flow within this particular section.

Step 3 is adjusting the general settings for SimplePie. Now that we’ve created an Images Only template, we need to let SimplePie know that it should use it. Go to the WP Admin Panel and locate the SimplePie settings. Match my settings as you see them below.

simple-pie-rss-general-settings

I’m telling it to pull the latest 18 photos. You may find you need to pull less or more. It’s really up to you. Use the caching option, it’s faster, but know that you’ll need to create a cache directory where SimplePie can store the images. It’ll walk you through it when you say Yes, and you may need to adjust privileges on the server side. Check out this chmod tutorial from WordPress if you’re not sure how to do that.

Step 4 is placing a code snippet on the home page. Now that you’ve gone through all that fun, you’ve got to wrap things up. Go to your home page template in WordPress, and where you want the images to appear, place the following code snippet — it’s what triggers SimplePie to pull your SmugMug photos feed and display the feed items how you want them, in accordance with the code in your Images Only template.

home-page-simple-pie-codeSee the highlighted text, but you only need to worry about the php code line. The rest is my own code that specifies the div and section styles. Use your judgment about how to style the thumbnails, and how you want them to display. It may take a bit of trial and error until you get it right, but if you persist, it’ll look good in the end.

Hope this helps!

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Reviews

Installed and used the SimplePie RSS plugin

Installed and used the SimplePie RSS plugin for WP on my regular site at raoulpop.com. Its name is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s neither simple, nor “easy as pie” to begin with. Sure, after you check the documentation carefully, a light goes on in your head and you realize how to use it, but there’s a learning curve. I do agree, however, that the things it lets you do are quite nice. For example, I used it to rewrite my SmugMug recent photos feed and show only the thumbnails of the latest 10 images uploaded, each linked directly to the original image. I really like the result, but it took a bit of figuring out.

screenshot-home-page

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Reviews

Google Reader translates posts?

Yesterday morning, I added a new feed to my subscriptions in Google Reader, and noticed what I thought was a new feature: the ability to translate posts automatically, within GR. The feature was actually launched in November of last year, and it works through the normal drop-down menu. A new option was added there, and it looks like this:

Google Reader automatic post translation

Isn’t that cool? The translation technology used is the same one found in Google Translate. What’s also cool is how the languages are detected. I assume the translate option with GR uses the language setting saved in the GR settings or in the Google Account settings, and then it either uses the auto-detect capabilities built into Google Translate to figure out the language, or it looks at the language setting encoded within the feed itself.

Google Translate

It’s an incredibly useful feature, because it allows people to read blogs in other languages without worrying about copying and pasting the text into a separate translation tool. Just think, if I write a post in Romanian and publish it on my site, the auto-translation tool within GR will allow you to read it as if I’d written it in English! Granted, the translation is machine-generated so it won’t read fluently and might even miss a few meanings here and there, but it’s certainly better than nothing, which is what we had before.

I’d also like point out that if you’re reading articles on my site instead of the feed, I’ve recently added auto-translation capabilities to each post via the same Google Translate technology. You’ll have the option to translate any of my articles into several languages, by clicking on a particular language, right under any post title, as shown below. I hope this will prove useful to my readers from other countries.

Post header showing auto-translation capabilities

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Thoughts

FriendFeed now supports RSS enclosures

See this post on FriendFeed, from 1/26/09, where Benjamin Golub from FriendFeed discusses the difference between media RSS and RSS enclosures. He mentions that they’re working on a way to accommodate RSS enclosures in addition to media RSS tags. A day or so later, they pushed the upgrade to the live site, as he states in this post.

While this is great news for the feeds from my photography catalog, it’s also great news for everyone else who uses RSS enclosure tags in their feeds. It means their photos and potentially other media, such as audio and video files, will be readily displayed on FriendFeed, making for a more interesting feed browsing experience. More specifically, it means that people who use the RSS module for Gallery 2 in conjunction with FriendFeed, like I do, will be able to readily display thumbnails of their photos in their FF streams.

The thing that makes me happy is that I didn’t even have to lobby for this. I didn’t have to bug them. Ben jumped in to help me just because he’s a nice guy. Did I mention that Ben is also the one who pointed me to SliceHost when I had problems with my other web hosts? What can I say but to offer him a big thank you for all his wonderful help!

By the way, FriendFeed now also has a way for users to test their feeds before adding them to their accounts. It was back on 12/12/08, a month and a half ago, that Ben mentioned they were working on that feature at FF in an email to me. I’m really glad to see it has become available.

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Thoughts

Please check to see if you're subscribed to the correct feed

This is an important message for my feed subscribers.

It’s been over a year since I changed my feed URL and domain name, and I now see, inexplicably, that over 35% of my subscribers still show up under the old ComeAcross feed.

My feed traffic has been redirected (with a 301 status message, which indicates a permanent change) for that same year, which means that if your feed reader hasn’t already changed your subscription over to my new feed, you’ll need to do it manually.

The old feed will go down in the very near future, possibly within days. It was set to be deleted one year after the redirection. Please check your feed readers to make sure you are indeed subscribed to feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul, which is my main site feed, or you will not receive future updates from my site.

For historical reference, I talked about the feed changes on 1/16/08, and on 1/29/08, I explained how I did the transfer of the content.

I also want to give you advance notice of another possible change to my feed URL, which may happen when I transition my feeds from FeedBurner to Google within the next 1-2 months. You may recall that Google bought FeedBurner in 2007. Now they’re at the point where they’re moving FeedBurner publishers to the Google infrastructure, and I’m not sure how they’re going to manage the process.

I thought the migration from FeedBurner to Google was going to be fairly smooth, but I’ve already run into a roadblock. One of my feed URLs is somehow in use on Google’s servers, and my migration fails every time I initiate it. I’m not sure how that’s going to be resolved, and I would appreciate any help from Googlers out there.

So, just to be on the safe side, do a manual check in your feed reader and make sure you see feeds.feedburner.com/Raoul. When I hear what the new Google feed URL is, I’ll be sure to let you know.

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Reviews

Funny comics for sucky times

These “fun” times we’re living in call for some cheering up. I’m subscribed to these following comics (listed in alphabetical order), and they put a smile on my face each and every day:

Basic Instructions by Scott Meyer

Geek and Poke by Oliver Widder

Kawaii Not by Meghan Murphy

What The Duck by Aaron Johnson

Wondermark by David Malki ! (yes, the exclamation sign is required)

xkcd by Randall Munroe

I’ll let you discover what each one is about by visiting their respective sites. Enjoy!

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Thoughts

Photos back in the site feed

A few weeks ago, I took my Flickr photos out of the site feed [reference]. Last night, I put them back in. Turns out taking them out cut their views by about 60-80%. That taught me two things:

  1. Showed me how few of the hundreds of people who’ve added me as a contact at Flickr actually care about viewing my photos, which was an interesting realization.
  2. Sometimes the desire to keep things organized and neat is trumped by convenience and practicality. Keeping my photos in the feed allows them to be viewed by more people, and for me at least, it’s no fun to share photos if no one looks at them.

The photos are back in the feed for now. We’ll see how long FeedBurner continues to offer the option to do this, or if they improve it to allow daily photo summaries, as they’ve been asked to do by others (including me). FeedBurner’s site has gone strangely silent lately (after their acquisition by Google), and I’m not sure how long they’ll stay in their current iteration. But don’t let that concern you.

Enjoy the photos!

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Thoughts

Removing photos from my main feed

At least for now, I’m removing my Flickr feed from my main feed. If you are a feed subscriber, you’ve been able to see my Flickr photos appear as separate feed items in my main feed, thanks to a feature at FeedBurner that allows me to splice my site feed with my Flickr photos feed.

But I think the implementation of the feature isn’t well suited to my main site feed, because a separate feed item is created for each photo. Considering that I may publish 3-4 text articles per week but up to 25 photos, this means you’ll see 3-4 feed items for my articles, and up to 25 feed items for my photos, which skews the proportion of my content in a direction unacceptable (to me) for my main site feed.

I contacted FeedBurner to ask if at some point they might put through an enhancement that would allow users to select a “digest” option for the Flickr feed. It would work the same as the “digest” or summary option on their Link Splicer features, which publishes a single feed item with all of that day’s bookmarks. It’s been a while, I haven’t yet received a reply, and I’m not waiting any longer.

So, at least for now, the photos are out of the main site feed. You can still find them in my photography feed (they’ve been there all along), so if you’re interested in getting them along with my photography posts, please subscribe to that feed as well.

Do let me know if you really want to see them here in the main feed. If I get enough responses, I may put them back, but I didn’t want to distract or deter folks who are interested in reading my usual content.

Thanks for reading my stuff!

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Thoughts

Where are the Condensed Knowledge posts?

Good question. Some of you have gotten quite accustomed to those daily Condensed Knowledge posts, and they’ve gone AWOL since last week. On the other hand, others have told me they were distracting, and detracted from the substance of my site.

I’d been giving the matter some thought myself, and in the end, sided with the folks who said I should stick to writing original content. You see, while I enjoy sharing the information with you, and while I also believe that it’s important to highlight valuable content on the Internet, those posts were distracting me from writing. Since I had something to post every day, other than my own writing, I tended to do less of it, and that was not good.

So, for the time being, no more Condensed Knowledge posts. That’s not to say you can’t access them anymore. You still can, but in a separate feed: feeds.feedburner.com/FavoriteBlogPosts. Subscribe to it if you’d like. The feed is actually more reliable than the method I used with the Condensed Knowledge posts, which was to share items from Google Reader, publish them to Twitter, then use the Twitter Tools plugin to collect them in a daily summary. That method was highly dependent on Twitter’s uptime/downtime, and that meant you weren’t getting the full link list every day. With the feed, you are getting everything I share from Google Reader.

I can’t deny I’d rather have the same link summaries present in my site feed, just like with my daily del.icio.us links, and perhaps at some point in the future that’ll be possible, but until then, the separate feed will do just fine.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can answer them.

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