Email Subscriptions and Theme Changes

Subscribe by EmailThose of you who receive post updates in your inbox will want to take note of some changes. Up until now, I have used Feedblitz to manage email subscriptions. However, in order to streamline services and make things a little easier for me, I am discontinuing support for old Feedblitz subscriptions as of one week from today, July 8. At that time, I will delete my Feedblitz account. If you would like to continue to receive posts in your inbox, please visit the blog at huffenglish.com (assuming you are receiving this post in your email), and look for “Subscribe to Blog Via Email” in the sidebar on the right of the page. Enter your email address and click the “Subscribe” button. You might receive posts twice during the one-week grace period until I delete Feedblitz. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I have been dissatisfied with the Feedblitz option for some time, and it is my hope that if you want to continue to receive posts via email, this option will work for you.

In other blog-related news, after many years, I have changed the blog theme. If you are interested, I have installed the Twenty Eleven theme from WordPress. I like the font and the clean look. I have streamlined some of the sidebar content. You can also now find my links, categories, and a tag cloud on the bottom of the page.  My links area used to be on the upper left hand side under the disclaimer. I link to several social networks and other sites, such as the English Companion Ning, and some of my website content that for whatever reason I didn’t want in the navigation bar on the top.

Let me know if you are having any trouble finding things. I hope you will find the site just as easy (perhaps easier) to navigate.

Image via derrickkwa

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Tech Frustrations

I'm sitting here in pieces, and you're having delusions of grandeur!I hate it when I become dependent on a piece of technology and its creator decides to stop updating it. I feel kind of lost and directionless. I have been frustrated trying to find methods of keeping up with replies to comments I leave on blogs without subscribing to a bunch of comment RSS feeds that will clog up my feed reader. So as a result, I feel like I have just dropped out of the conversations I start. I used coComment‘s Firefox extension. It was great. Every time someone replied to a comment thread in which I had left a comment, the little coComment button turned orange. New comments! I could easily go check them and see if any of the replies were to me, and I could continue the discussion if they were. After Firefox 4.0 came out, coComment was broken. It’s been like that since March, and despite several comments in their help forums, no one representing coComment has said whether they intend to update the extension or let it die. And I can’t find an alternative. You know of one? If so, please, please tell me about it. Some folks allow you to subscribe to replies via email, but not everyone has that feature enabled on their blogs.

Another frustration: I used to use a WordPress plugin called Apture to add links to all kinds of content. I could click on a button in my post editor, and I could search for information on the Web using a variety of search engines and easily link to books on Amazon or Wikipedia articles. I thought it was great because it made writing posts a snap. Then Apture decided not enough people were using the plugin, and they pulled it. It didn’t even work if you already had it installed. I was not alone in my frustration on this one, but it looks like the folks at Apture felt that what users liked most was the Apture Highlights, which allow readers to highlight text and search right from your page without leaving it. Well, I don’t care because I can always open a new tab rather than leave a site. What I liked was the ability to easily create posts that had links to relevant material. I found a great Amazon plugin called WordPress Amazon Associate that enables me to easily link to books and other items for sale at Amazon the same way that Apture did, but there is not another plugin that does everything Apture did.

I think a lot of Delicious users had a similar panic attack when it was announced that Yahoo intended to “sunset” Delicious. After Chad Hurley and Steve Chen acquired Delicious, users had a reprieve from losing a social bookmarking service they loved (I had moved on to Diigo and cross-posted links at Delicious so that anyone subscribing to my Delicious bookmarks would still receive them).

It is anyone’s prerogative to take their toys and go home, I guess, but I just find it frustrating when I really enjoyed playing with those toys and can’t find any like them to have for my own. I also don’t know how to build them myself—which is a fixable problem, but a one that will not be fixed without a whole lot of work.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pinkpurse

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My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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Blogging Tools: Beyond Content Management

ToolboxIf you have a blog and have already chosen a platform (if need help with this, click here or here), this post might just make some aspects of your blog richer for you and your readers.

  1. Apture
    Apture works with any publishing platform, and it’s easy to install. It allows you to make your site more interactive. For instance, you can embed popup links to Wikipedia articles and Amazon merchandise. This site uses Apture. What do you think?
  2. Delicious or Diigo
    You can share your links with readers by programming your Delicious or Diigo account to post links to your blog. Although I have my Diigo links in the sidebar, many readers who only read my posts via RSS might not see them, so I decided to start posting them to the blog. I hope the links will prove helpful and interesting. You can find instructions for posting links via Diigo here and for Delicious here (you’ll need to be logged in to your Diigo or Delicious account).
  3. Share What You’re Reading
    Many reading social networks have widgets you can embed in your website. For instance, I am a fan of Goodreads and have a widget on the left that displays the last few books I’ve read along with my starred rating of that book. However, other networks like Shelfari have similar widgets. I also have a plugin called Now Reading, which only works with WordPress, that displays what I’m currently reading in the sidebar.
  4. coComment
    It’s easy to leave a comment and forget to check back to see if you have a response, but coComment can help you keep track of the comments you leave and the responses you receive. If you use Firefox, you can download a browser extension that will make using coComment even easier.
  5. Photo Dropper
    If you use WordPress, Photo Dropper is a plugin that allows you to easily find Flickr photos with Creative Commons licenses to share in your posts.
  6. Twitter
    Many ways of integrating Twitter with your blog exist. I use a WordPress plugin called Twitter Tools that is flexible. It allows users create blog posts from my tweets (I choose not to), display tweets in my sidebar (which I do), and notify via Twitter when I update my blog (which I also do). Twitter also has instructions for badges and widgets. TwiTip has gathered together some resources for other Twitter badges.
  7. iPhone Apps
    If you like to blog about iPhone apps or make recommendations for the same, you might find AppsFire‘s widget fun. It enables you to create a javascript widget to display the apps of your choice.
  8. Feedburner
    Google’s Feedburner gives you more control over and information about your RSS feeds. You can find out how many subscribers you have, what RSS reader they use, and the Feedburner Feedsmith plugin for WordPress will help you integrate your Feedburner feed seamlessly.

If you have a favorite blog tool, please share it in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: StevenBrisson

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New Features

When I remembered today that WordPress 2.7 enabled threaded comments, I decided to try to implement them here on this blog. While enabled threaded comments within the content management system involved only checking a box, I realized my theme didn’t support threaded comments. I tried to follow instructions for modifying my theme that I found online, but I messed it up somehow, so I checked out Cutline’s Web site (that’s the name of the theme I use), and lo and behold, they had created an updated version with support for threaded comments. I updated the theme. Now you can reply to commenters as well as to me, and it will be perhaps a little more clear who is being addressed in comments.

I also added some sharing and saving capability. On the bottom of each post, you’ll see a new button with a few familiar icons: the share icon (or at least it’s used by Shareaholic, the Firefox add-on), Delicious, and Facebook. If you mouse over that button, you’ll discover lots of ways to share and/or save the post. Just about every kind of social bookmarking, networking, and note-taking service is included. You can also e-mail the post or bookmark it directly in your browser. I removed the Feedburner FeedFlare, which enabled sharing by e-mail, Delicious, and Facebook, from each post. Essentially the new sharing/saving feature does much more in the way of allowing for users to save and share content that I decided it wasn’t needed. If you care, the plugin I used to create this button is called Add to Any.

The new theme handles a few tiny details differently. For instance, there is now a frame around images inside posts. I kind of like it, so I left it there. If there is some element of functionality you miss that I’ve forgotten to implement again after the upgrade, please let me know.

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Edublogs Offering Domains

In wonderful news for education bloggers, Edublogs is now offering domains to its users.  If you already own a domain (or even a subdomain — for example, my classroom blog, Mrs. Huff’s English Classes is on a subdomain of huffenglish.com), you can map it to Edublogs for just $15 a year.  If you don’t own a domain, you can let Edublogs take care of that for you for just $25 a year.  In either case, it’s much cheaper than running a WordPress install on your own host.  Learn more at Edublogs, and make sure that if you have questions about having your own domain with Edublogs that you leave comments on their site or contact Edublogs, as I am not affiliated with Edublogs and might not be much help.

Last year when I did a quick run-down of various blogging services for educators, I recommened Edublogs most highly.  I’m happy to have even more reasons to recommend them now.

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Site Troubles

Thanks to the wonderful Ms. Place of one of my favorite blogs, Jane Austen’s World, I discovered that a plugin (WP Super Cache) I installed was wreaking havoc on my site.  The problem is that I ignored one of Donncha’s directives — that fancy permalinks are a requirement for the plugin — so it’s my own fault; however, as I don’t really need the plugin (as far as I know, I’ve never had my site submitted to /. , Digg, or Reddit), I decided to just disable and delete.  I wasn’t able to reproduce one error reported — that permalinks and archives were redirecting to the index page — and I suspect that is because I was logged in and was not seeing a Super Cached page.  I think Ms. Place was seeing a Super Cached page that served up that error with permalinks (my fault for not listening to Donncha) because I don’t think she has commented here before, or at any rate, she has not commented regularly.  In addition, my RSS feeds were broken, or at least were not updating properly, and when I left test comments, I was unable to see the published comment. I also use some plugins that Donncha explicitly said don’t play nicely with WP Super Cache, so what I have learned is to listen to Donncha!

If you are so inclined, I would appreciate it very much if you could test to see if you are having problems with any of the permalinks or archives, RSS feeds updating in your feed reader (if you subscribe), and commenting.  Keep in mind comments are moderated based on the Spam Karma plugin.  Your karma has to reach a certain level before they post automatically — some of you all are already there.

I apologize for the inconvenience.  Also, those of you who follow me on my Feedburner feed, I am going to stop sending you my del.icio.us links now that I have an RSS feed for them in the sidebar.  I hope this won’t be an inconvenience — it is possible to subscribe to my del.icio.us feed if you find them useful.  I’m going to attempt to redirect my other feeds to my Feedburner feed — crossing my fingers that I don’t break my site.  Again.

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Subscribing

Update: You can now subscribe to receive posts via e-mail, but if you were previously subscribed, you will have to resubscribe using this new service.



Powered by FeedBlitz

I am sorry, but I am going to have to discontinue the option of subscribing to new posts via e-mail. Unfortunately, this plugin was causing 500 errors in my database, which those of you who are not technically inclined probably don’t care about.  It looks as though the plugin requires a larger sleep time between queries than my host will allow, or at least that’s my suspicion, and because it isn’t feasible for me to change hosts right now, I will have to disable the plugin, which means if you subscribed to receive e-mails whenever I write a new post, you will no longer receive those e-mails.  However, I would like to invite you to discover the joy that is RSS, if you haven’t already.  If you click on my Subscribe link at the top, you will be able to subscribe to my RSS feed via your favorite feed reader.  I suggest Google Reader, but I liked Bloglines well enough before I switched.  In addition, you can get updates via MyYahoo or iGoogle.

Once again, I apologize for the inconvenience, and thanks for reading my blog.

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How I Built This Site

I received an e-mail from Ashley, but my e-mails in response are bouncing back to me, so I decided to answer her question here.

I use WordPress to power almost all of this site.  This main page, huffenglish.com, is my blog.  I use wikis for a few pages on which I discuss general teaching ideas, and I built some others (notably the webquests and scavenger hunts) using HTML, but it’s all WordPress-powered.  When I started the site, I was using Movable Type, and the main page for a short time was not this blog, but was built using a stylesheet from Movable Type.  If you mean where is it hosted, I use Bluehost.  I haven’t had the kind of major issues with them as I had with my last host, Maxipoint, but I can’t give a glowing recommendation either.  If you have questions about how I created a particular page, feel free to ask.

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Tweaks and Changes

Please let me know if you have any problems navigating the Web site. I have updated my theme to a newer version and added a sitemap. Also, I changed some things around and added a new picture on the About page.

I put a Goodreads widget in the sidebar and removed my LibraryThing widget. I don’t actually use my LibraryThing profile because free users are limited to 200 books; however, Goodreads allows users to add as many books as they like. Feel free to add me as a friend if you have a Goodreads account.

I’m still having the 500 Error problem when I post. I am not sure what it is, but I’m wondering if it’s related to my theme. I have several other blogs that use some of the same plugins, and I don’t have the same issues. If anyone else is using the Cutline theme from WordPress and has noticed these problems, please let me know.

I need to get caught up on Write Beside Them so I can be a useful contributor at the wiki. Tomorrow!

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