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a Run Through the Jungle of Software Development and Unrelated Sagas

WordPress Blogs I subscribe to

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Here’s the exported list from my Google Reader:

btw, if you’re wondering how I generated this list, I exported my RSS list from Google Reader & ran it through an OPML -> HTML parser & just pasted that HTML here. Here are the latest articles from the combined feed. (I think) You can subscribe to the whole list from there.

My WordPress Twitter list: http://twitter.com/CADbloke/wordpress which is (presently) in its infancy.

Written by CADbloke

October 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Wot I use

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WordPress Plugins wot I use

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It’s pretty easy to go overboard here. Don’t get carried away (oh, the irony). Every extra plugin is extra work for your web server and database to do before it serves each page to each client. A caching plugin will alleviate this somewhat. Some plugins in areas such as admin and behind-the-scenes management won’t affect performance much, or at all.

I have tried plenty. My current favourites amongst the somewhat less-famous plug-ins are

  • WP-minify is a good speed-up tool. It shrinks and combines, then compresses (gZips) your JavaScript & CSS files into one file for each which speeds up page loads by having less http requests and less data to transfer. Some plugins don’t play well with this model so sometimes you have to exclude a few files. Cases like this are why you need a sandpit site (or a thick hide) to experiment a little to see what breaks and how to fix it. Do your homework
  • wp Super Cache should be no stranger to anyone who runs a self-hosted WordPress blog. I found this to be the most plug-and-play of the caching plugins. I didn’t go through too much torture-testing when I was looking but it sure works for me. Response times in my Pingdom panel halved as soon as I installed it. It seems to play well with everything I have
  • another speed-up plugin, particularly if you have a lot of images in a long page is jquery-image-lazy-loading. It waits for the user to scroll down to an image on your page before it is fetched from the server. I had some issues with it and WPtouch and wp-minify. I posted my solution to that in the WordPress forums. Once I got those things resolved it works like a charm, even on an iPhone, which is handy because any time & bandwidth saved on a mobile device is a good idea.

Other plugins I use which are for functionality rather than speed, aka" I could also have called this section Slow-Down Tips."

  • Smart-404 catches 404 errors (links to non-existent pages, posts etc.) and tries to make it happen for you. If it finds a likely match it will redirect to that page. If it doesn’t find an obvious answer it will load a page with search results of the link the user was trying to find and a ready-to-go site search. In either case it is a much nicer experience than "404 – page not found"
  • Ozh’ Admin Drop Down Menu makes getting around your admin page a lot nicer. It also gives you more working space by moving most of the menus you’d find down the left-hand side to a toolbar at the top of the page
  • SEO Smart links grabs key words and turns them into links around your site. It’s a great plugin to make up for all the internal links you keep forgetting to add. You can add phrases to the list and the links just magically appear. Great for SEO and stickiness but I suspect it could get expensive in terms of performance so perhaps a caching plug-in is a good partner for this
  • Subscribe to Comments could keep readers interested in a post they have commented on and keep a conversation alive for longer. A couple of good companion plugins to this are WP View Subscriber info (too see who has subscribed to what) and Subscribe to Comments Now to allow users to subscribe by email to a comment thread without having to leave a comment themselves first. These are basically for the RSS-unsavvy.
  • WordPress Database Backup is a must, really. You’re mad if you don’t have some sort of regular backup routine in place. This one emails me a compressed backup of my database every week
  • WP Ajax Edit Comments is for people like me who can’t type of always forget something when they leave a comment. Now you can go back and fix it. It even works with wpTouch, the iPhone theme.  There’s a paid-for version – I just use the demo for now [EDIT} – I upgraded to the paid version. It’s pretty slick and the developer’s support is very good. You can find it at http://www.ajaxeditcomments.com/ You need to tweak WP-minify to get it working properly. (see below)
  • Yet another Related Posts automatically finds related posts – handy once again for SEO & stickiness
  • WPtouch is the same iPhone theme that WordPress.com uses. It works just fine with all of my plugins.
  • WP-Prowl sends instant push notifications to your iPhone for a user-selectable variety of new comments, posts, pages, updates etc. You can also tailor what the messages will look like and include links in them. Very handy. If you’re running WPtouch then make sure you set the push notifications in WP-Prowl and untick all the relevant boxes in WPtouch. This plugin has a wider assortment of settings and notifications than WPtouch.
  • WordPress Mobile Edition serves up very lightweight sites for Nokia & other non-touch phones. While it appears to have been abandoned (no updates since June 2009, Not much support in the forums) it is still, IMHO, a much lighter and less-bloated alternative to the mysteriously more popular WordPress Mobile Pack. I tried them both at http://ready.mobi/launch.jsp (good site for testing your mobile format in non-iPhone formats). Mobile Edition was much lighter and it also gave me a more relevant page. Mobile Pack based its home page on my desktop theme’s home page and was pretty-much empty an empty page but it was a lot, lot larger download. #FAIL. Also, Mobile Edition is supported by Super-cache
  • Dave’s WordPress Live Search starts searching as you type. For busy sites this may increase your traffic but I don’t think that will be a concern for me in the near future

Believe it or not, all of the above plugins(and more – 26 in total at the time of writing) seem to co-operate quite nicely **Works on My Machine**. Please let me know if you find otherwise on my site.

[EDIT] Here are the tweaks to get WP Ajax Edit Comments working well with WP Minify, even on the iPhone. Replace yoursite.com with the path to the relevant places.

JavaScript files to exclude from minify (line delimited)

CSS files to exclude from minify (line delimited)

[Edit May 3, 2010] – I removed all of the exclusions for ajax-edit-comments and all seems well wp-minify version 0.8]

[Edit Oct 13, 2010 ]– I’ve stopped using wp-minify for now. To really get the best out of it you need to focus on only minifying a core set of of CSS & JavaScript files, otherwise you’re simply downloading a new set for each page-type in your blog. This is because CSS &/or JS may vary depending on the page. Any change in the contents will generate a new minified collection of them for that specific page’s contents. I’ve decided to take the initial hit on the first view with an empty cache and rely on client-side caching to keep the traffic down for subsequent page views.

I find using Safari is easy way to simulate a few different user-agents to test mobile themes. The option is per-tab and it is in the dropdown menu – Develop – User Agent. Just enter "Nokia" in the "other" Section. Don’t forget the Capital N – User Agents seem to be case-sensitive for the Mobile Edition plugin user-agent list. Use the Web Inspector to see what is going down the wire. Chrome has a web-inspector too. Firebug is still my favourite but changing user-agents in Firefox is tricky. The advantage of using Safari or Chrome or whatever as an alternative test-browser is that you are probably not logged into your site in that browser so you will see what yer average visitor will see.

Hope this helps.

Written by CADbloke

October 13, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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Optimizing images on your website is a RIOT

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RIOT, the Radical Image Optimization Tool is a great FREE app for reducing file sizes for JPEG, GIF and PNG images. When you upload a blog post to WordPress, multiple versions of the images in the post are generated in different sizes by the WordPress blog engine. The WordPress image generator has nowhere near the sophistication of RIOT’s Algorithms so those files end up being quite a bit larger than they have to be. By shrinking them you are saving yourself bandwidth and your page load times will also be faster.

The example here is from Safari, using an iPhone user-agent on my other blog. I was mucking about with the WPtouch iPhone theme for WordPress at the time The page is http://www.cadbloke.com/using-acne-with-excel-2007-or-2010-and-windows-7/





As you can see, the image file sizes halved.


These ones  are all PNGs optimized to a 256 color palette. That’s plenty good enough for screen grabs. They are almost indistinguishable from the originals. You’d really have to look closely to spot an differences. RIOT also processes GIFs and JPEGs.

How long did optimizing the 120 image files that WordPress generated for that post. It took less than 5 minutes, including downloading and uploading time.


Step 1 is to download the images from your blog to a local folder so you can process them. If you’re using a blog hosted at WordPress.com you can stop right here. You’ll need FTP access to upload the processed images. This only works on self-hosted blogs. You can still use RIOT to optimize the images before you insert them into your posts but after that it’s out of your hands.

I used Beyond Compare to create a folder sync between a local folder and the image folder on my web server I wanted to process. You could just as easily use an FTP client to download the images to a local folder, it’s probably no harder. For FTP I tend to use FireFTP which plugs straight into Firefox.

Step 2 is to Open RIOT. Set the image format you want and tweak your settings, particularly for JPEGs or transparent GIFs. If you have mixed file types then you will have to process them one type at a time because RIOT, amongst other things also can convert between formats.

Step 3 is the batch process. After you’re happy with the output settings go to the tools menu in RIOT, load up your list of files and hit Start. A tip: set it to save the optimized files in a new folder instead of overwriting your existing images. You will kick yourself a lot less hard if when you mess it up. Keep the originals until you know you’re happy with the results.

Tip: You can select an entire folder tree for a batch process in RIOT so you could download your entire image library from your server you can optimize the whole lot and send it back

Step 4 is to upload the optimized images over the top of the old images on your web server. Try to remember not to upload the originals – check your FTP client has been set to the folder full of optimized images.

Step 5 … you’re done.

These instructions are a little light-on. I only wanted to introduce you to RIOT. I think it’s worth checking out. It does far more than the simple process I have described here.

RIOT is also available as a plugin for Irfanview. You can use it via the “save for web” option in the file menu.

Written by CADbloke

September 13, 2010 at 8:52 pm

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Speeding up Self-hosted WordPress

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Following on from the most excellent presentations at the Sydney Business Technology User Group here are a few WordPress things I have stumbled across along the way. These Tips only apply to a self-hosted WordPress blog – you don’t have this level of control at WordPress.com.  Jodie Miners wrote a good blog post about customizing a WordPress.com page which is well-worth a read.

Warning - serious Tinkerage follows. Tread very carefully.
If you break your site remember - you touched it last! I didn't do it!
If the thought of tinkering with your sites innards scares you
then perhaps this is not for you.

I have inflicted the following on http://www.CADbloke.com, in case you wanted to assess the damage. For the record, my site is hosted on a shared server by ICDsoft.

Yslow is a good way to assess the effects of what I am writing about here. So is this graph of my Pingdom response times …

graph of Pindom reponse times. Dramatic drop when I optimised my site

Set up a test site on a sub-domain. If you’re brave, you could test these things on a live site but expect it to break pretty often while you tinker. If you’re running a caching plugin you’ll have to clear it quite often, or temporarily disable it. I leave it on to make sure it is co-operating.  To set up a test sub-domain or 2, or 3 …

  1. Create the subdomain
  2. password-protect the folder / subdomain so unsuspecting visitors don’t stumble into it. This may break some AJAX functionality which is really annoying if you forget you have done this
  3. copy all the files from your live site – with the structure intact
  4. copy the database & rename it.If you do this go to your test wp-config.php and update the details for the new database. Do this before you do anything else otherwise you are messing with your live database
  5. alternatively (to step 4), export the pages and posts from your original blog and import them into your test site. This is easier.
  6. or you could just generate some test content with something like the lorem-ipsum-post-generator
  7. There will be more than a few hard-coded links back to your original site – you may want to hunt these down. Try to make the test site look subtly different so you don’t go messing with the wrong site
  8. Block Google etc in the Settings ->Privacy. You don’t want to be famous for your sandpit site.

I prefer this method because I replicate what you are running live so I can mess with it and know my tinkering is relevant.

Speed up tips

A couple of months ago I had amazing results from http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/web-optimizer/ It worked with Hybrid News, WPtouch and Mobile edition all alongside each other. Other users have reported disasters of varying proportions so definitely try this on a sandpit site first and back up along the way. I did.

I have since gone off web-optimizer – it got too clever and too hard to keep it reliable & it kept trying to bookmark my pages in Firefox. Too hard. I am presently using http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-minify/ and Super-cache. I set the cache expiry for both to a couple of days. Once I stop tinkering (breaking things) I may set the times even longer. It’s not a busy site. I find Super-cache makes for faster page loads as long as it isn’t building the cache for the first viewing.

Dancing with the Devil – .htaccess

Something that has made a huge, I said H U G E, difference in page-loading times is setting long client-side expiry on everything I can and pre-Gzipping as much content as possible. These are set in .htaccess so you will need access to that. Be CAREFUL – even the slightest typo in .htaccess will take your whole site off the air – instantly! Always keep a backup / original working (!) .htaccess ready to roll-back to in a moment’s notice… if you’re crazy enough to experiment with it on a live site. Who me?

A good link to .htaccess info: http://www.samaxes.com/2009/01/more-on-compressing-and-caching-your-site-with-htaccess/

You will notice in the Hybrid etc. themes there are *.gz copies of CSS files etc. If you can serve these then that will cut a lot of overhead. Here’s how to do that (in .htaccess) (lines starting with # are comments)

RewriteEngine on #Check to see if browser can accept gzip files. If so and we have it - serve it! 
ReWriteCond %{HTTP:accept-encoding} gzip 
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Safari #make sure there's no trailing .gz on the url 
ReWriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !^.+\.gz$ #check to see if a .gz version of the file exists. 
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}.gz -f #All conditions met so add .gz to URL filename (invisibly) 
RewriteRule ^(.+) $1.gz [QSA,L] .

I put this rule after the Super-cache rules but before the rules that get the server to gzip something that isn’t already g-zipped. They get gzipped per-request so that can get expensive.

Until I get around to splitting this up a bit and making it more readable, I’ll make it a little less readable by posting most of my .htaccess file here. Warning – this works for me. Your mileage may vary.

RewriteEngine on
#Check to see if browser can accept gzip files. If so and we have it - serve it!
ReWriteCond %{HTTP:accept-encoding} gzip
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} !Safari
#make sure there's no trailing .gz on the url
ReWriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !^.+\.gz$
#check to see if a .gz version of the file exists.
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}.gz -f
#All conditions met so add .gz to URL filename (invisibly)
RewriteRule ^(.+) $1.gz [QSA,L] 

# If they accept gzip and there isn't one - make one
<IfModule mod_gzip.c>
mod_gzip_on Yes
mod_gzip_dechunk Yes
mod_gzip_keep_workfiles No
mod_gzip_can_negotiate Yes
mod_gzip_add_header_count Yes
mod_gzip_send_vary Yes
mod_gzip_command_version '/mod_gzip_status'
mod_gzip_min_http 1000
mod_gzip_minimum_file_size 300
mod_gzip_maximum_file_size 512000
mod_gzip_maximum_inmem_size 60000
mod_gzip_handle_methods GET POST
mod_gzip_temp_dir /tmp
mod_gzip_item_include file \.html$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.php$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.pl$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.rb$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.py$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.cgi$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.css$
mod_gzip_item_include file \.js$
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^application/javascript$
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^application/x-javascript$
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^text/.*
mod_gzip_item_include mime ^httpd/unix-directory$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^cgi-script$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^server-status$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^server-info$
mod_gzip_item_include handler ^application/x-httpd-php
mod_gzip_item_exclude mime ^image/.*

# BEGIN Expire headers
<IfModule mod_expires.c>   
ExpiresActive On   
ExpiresDefault "access plus 7200 seconds"   
ExpiresByType image/x-icon "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType image/jpeg "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType image/png "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType image/gif "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType application/x-shockwave-flash "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType text/css "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType text/javascript "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType application/x-javascript "access plus 2592000 seconds"   
ExpiresByType text/html "access plus 7200 seconds"   
ExpiresByType application/xhtml+xml "access plus 7200 seconds"
# END Expire headers

# BEGIN Cache-Control Headers
<IfModule mod_headers.c>   <FilesMatch "\\.(ico|jpe?g|png|gif|swf|gz)$">     
Header set Cache-Control "max-age=2592000, public"   
<FilesMatch "\\.(css)$">     
Header set Cache-Control "max-age=2592000, public"   
<FilesMatch "\\.(js)$">  
Header set Cache-Control "max-age=2592000, private"   
<filesMatch "\\.(html|htm)$">
Header set Cache-Control "max-age=7200, public"
# Disable caching for scripts and other dynamic files
<FilesMatch "\.(pl|php|cgi|spl|scgi|fcgi)$">
Header unset Cache-Control
# END Cache-Control Headers

# Set the default handler.
DirectoryIndex index.php
# protect the htaccess file
<files .htaccess>
order allow,deny
deny from all
# disable the server signature
ServerSignature Off
# protect wpconfig.php
<files wp-config.php>
order allow,deny
deny from all
# disable directory browsing
Options All -Indexes

## protect from spam comments
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} .wp-comments-post\.php*
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !.*cadbloke.com.* [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} ^$
# Add known spammer ip ranges here
RewriteCond %{REMOTE_ADDR} ^66\.36\.\251.$ [OR]
# end known spammers range.
RewriteRule (.*) ^http://%{REMOTE_ADDR}/$ [R=301,L]
# for Windows Live Writer access
<Files xmlrpc.php>
SecFilterInheritance Off

Good luck with that.

The astute observers amongst you will note that I added an IP address range selector to the spam protection block just above. That IP range has been spamming this blog so my apologies if you’re in it – get yourself to a reputable ISP. It’s your fault.

Here are some more resources for .htaccess. Remember – tread very carefully.



… and more than you’ll ever want / need to know about .htaccess, right from the source …


To get an idea of what I’m talking about, check my site (http://www.CADbloke.com/) in Yslow (Firefox’s Firebug plugin). Under the “components” tab note that most (hopefully all) of it is gzipped and expires in at least a few days time. Also have a look under the “statistics” tab & note how many requests are needed for a primed cache. If you have a look at the Net tab you can see what is actually being loaded. Try it by loading the page normally once of twice, then Ctrl-F5 to clear the cache and reload it. See how much was cached? That’s what speeds page loads up and takes a huge load off your server.

Mostly unrelated: Irfanview is a free image viewer that has a save-for-web plugin which is very effective and eminently tweakable.

[update: March 24, 2010] Here are a couple more links to some WordPress speed-up tips.

http://wpwebhost.com/optimizing-wordpress-blog-for-speed/ (lots of other resources linked-to from here)



Something else I want to look at is conditional loading of plugins, JavaScript & CSS as detailed in these posts




This would create a few more variations of minified CSS & JavaScript to be cached by local clients but would also take a load off visitors who never visit pages with a contact form or haven’t left a comment or whatever else an unused plug in is waiting to not-do. I’m still thinking about how worthwhile that might be. Perhaps I’m better off controlling this by user-agent IDs to lighten the load for mobile browsers. I don’t want to create too many variations of the locally-cached CSS & JavaScript since that would actually increase download times and use more bandwidth. Oh, the dilemma.

[EDIT] Another CSS speed-up is to optimise your style.css. Wherever you see an @import statement (usually at the top of the file), go find the CSS file being imported and pate the whole file in place of the @import statement. I left the @import statement in place, commented out. I also minified the CSS before pasting it so it is all on the same line. That makes it easier to replace when you update a theme later. This is especially so in the case of child themes when it imports a lot of CSS from the base theme – you will have to go and re-paste the @imported CSS every time you upgrade the base theme, hopefully not too often.

oh, btw – my site is a heavily butchered version of Hybrid News. Any feedback is more than welcome.

Hope this helps.



Written by CADbloke

March 23, 2010 at 10:50 am

Posted in Wot I use

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Cheapness is its Own Reward

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I heard this from a friend in primary school (hello Vince, if you’re reading) and even at that tender age I knew it was one of the most significant things I would ever hear.

You get what you pay for, there is no free lunch … you know the clichés. Computers, AutoCAD, monitors, printers, training, conferences all cost money.

I spend a fair whack of money every year on an AutoCAD subscription, an MSDN subscription, computer hardware (mostly really fast disk drives), Training, conventions like Microsoft Tech.Ed. I haven’t been but definitely plan to attend NAB & IBC in the near future. I take the time to read blogs and follow conversations on Twitter. Why do I spend all this time and money?

  • Because I hate money and just want to get rid of it? Nope
  • Because I like new toys and hanging out with Tech Geeks? Um, yes but let’s move on …
  • Because I want to invest in my business and myself? Yep
  • Because I want both myself and my business to be innovative and educated? Yep
  • Because I don’t want Me, My Work and My Life to be mediocre? Precisely

Mediocrity is my greatest fear. I fear it more than death. To a certain extent I can do more about avoiding mediocrity than I can about avoiding death (and taxes) and I choose to do just that.

You need the right tool for the job, you can’t whip butter with a toothpick (possibly unrelated) etc. etc. Cheapness is its Own Reward

Discuss …

Written by CADbloke

October 16, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Me

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