Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

Modifying the RC2005 Theme for WordPress

If happened to be reading this blog between the time the last posting was published and this post, you might have seen that it used the Regulus theme.

Regulus is, by far, the best looking theme (in my opinion) on wordpress.com. It’s probably also the nicest easy three-column — it’s sometimes classified as a two-column, but just count! — theme for someone moving off to independent hosting.

The problem is that it’s not necessarily a great theme for a blog as part of larger web site.

From my experience on desiging systemicbusiness.org , and then isss.org , the easiest way to “plug in” different web-based packages is to have a top navigation bar. like Coolmenus. Apple originated the menu bar at the top of the screen with the Lisa, and then Microsoft put the menu bar at the top of each window with Windows 3.0. People seem to understand (and maybe expect this).

The way that menu bars work on web browsers is through the use of Javascript. This actually breaks the rules for XHTML compliance, as the visually-impaired can’t properly see a Javascript menu bar. On isss.org, I recommended that we conform to XHTML compliance requirements. On systemicbusiness.org (and daviding.com), I haven’t done many design changes since … probably 2002!

Thus, I spent another few hours searching the web for 3-column template with a menu bar at the top. I found one from Radical Congruency. It’s not only got the menu bar on top, but has direct links into Technorati built in. (I was having problems figuring out why someone might want to use Technorati, but now I’ve seen the light!)

The issue to me is that I really like 3-column layouts, but I like the content to be left side, and two navigation bars on the right side. This is because I read some web content on my Palm TX, and I’m tired of opening up a page, only to have to scroll down three times to get past the navigation links. With the RC2005 theme, however, even though the navigation bar is on the left, that’s not the way it shows of you don’t use the native style. (Go ahead, try it. On Firefox: View … Page Style … No Style. That’s the way the visually-impaired probably get around). For this, I think that the original developer of the RC2005 theme, Justin Baeder is a real master.

Even then, I still like to have navigation bars on the right side. From working on coevolving.com on the Relaxation theme, you might think that I had learned to stop messing around with design templates! They burn days at time, even if you’re not picking colours and image!

My personal challenge — and I’ve only seen Simon as the other person that does this — is that I keep my Windows taskbar on the right side of my desktop. (The probably comes from the old days of working with the Metaphor interface). The RC2005 theme is designed for a 1024 pixel (actually 1000 pixel) screen. If I started using RC2005, I could never see my Windows task bar!

Thus, I started looking at the Cascading Style Sheet. I don’t do this everyday, so I can fumble my way through simple CSS, but Justin has done a huge amount of microformatting. There are variances for Mozilla/Firefox, Internet Explorer and even for IE/Mac.

On the second day of working through the Cascading Style Sheet — actually changing a few characters at a time, testing, saving, and backing up, and then repeating! — I got my customizations of RC2005 to work on my browser — Firefox. Then, I happened to try Internet Explorer … and that took a while to fix. Diana’s got a OS 9 Mac, so it took me another hour to assure that. (I see that the right bar isn’t surfacing right on Opera, but I’m going to have to punt on that, for now!)

So, I thought that I could just finish up the style sheet, and change the list of sidebar options, and I’d be done. Wrong.

On closer inspection, I discovered that Justin has done something whereby he keeps WordPress categories and Technorati tags on his web site. (I can’t figure that out, but I don’t want or need to do that). I also discovered that the syndication feeds for RSS and Atom won’t drag-and-drop if only text links are provided. Thus, I had to find some alternative RSS and Atom icons.

Justin had hard-coded in absolute web addresses — which surprised me. It’s generally a better practice to use relative web addresses, so that the next person doesn’t have to muck around in code. I changed the addresses … and then WordPress couldn’t find the icons! The main page normally shows up in the top directory, but when you surf onto a single posting, it changes to the archive directory. Thus, I went back to do it Justin‘s way.

One criticism about RC2005 is that it looks really busy. One reason for this is that it surfaces Technorati tags onto the main page, and I use a lot of tags. (I try to hold the WordPress categories down to one, and sometimes two). It turns out that WordPress looks first for single.php, and if it doesn’t find it, goes for index.php. To create a main page with fewer Technorati icons, all I had to do was copy one over the other, and delete a few phrases.

I now feel that I’ve spent way too much time on this customization, but I’ve done enough modifications that I’ve retitled my version as RC2005-805. I would probably be happy to share with anyone who really wants it, but this isn’t the average download-and-upload-onto-web-site affair. The hard coding means that the user had better be comfortable with XHTML. It takes me a lot less time to change the hard-coded links to daviding.com than to think about how that would be programmed.

Now … I’ve got to replicate this theme from daviding.com to systemicbusiness.org!

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