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Blog optimization update: WordPress, CDN, Speed, Caching, Accessibility

Keep Calm and Clear Cache

Keep Calm

I’ve continued to do some research on optimizing the blog responsiveness, and I’m pleased with the results. Anecdotal tests this morning, with no local caching, showed a 2 second load time with a 1.2 second DOMLoaded event. That’s pretty good. Here are a few notes on things I’ve been working on:

  • Google’s PageSpeed Tools offered some helpful insights.
  • Minifying some of the text assets – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – is working well, though I’d like to be more easily able to toggle this for debuggng.
  • Using the Rackspace CloudFiles caching with WordPress lacks a good automated tool on the WordPress side to keep the cache synced with changes. I’ve been using the SuperCache plugin for local speedups, and it supports a variety of CDNs. The CDN-Sync-Tool plugin is no longer available on the WordPress.org site, and several forks on GitHub all seem to be out of date. It’s unclear, so far, where the problem is. The WP cron jobs are failing. Whether that’s an internal configuration problem, or unsupported calls to an old API, I haven’t worked out yet. Next time I try this, I’ll look at some deeper pilot testing for CDNs with better WordPress support.
  • Inspired by “Why Bother with Accessibilty” by Laura Kalbag, part of the excellent 24ways series, I did some initial accessibility testing. The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool tests your site for accessibility, an essential feature these days. Accessibility makes your site more understandable and easier to navigate for all users. Disabilities aren’t someone else’s problems; they are a state we will all pass through at one stage or another.There are a few glitches in my templates that I will work to rectify. A larger problem s the observation that my style choices have lead to a rather low-contrast site.

Notes from Seacoast WordPress Developers Group, 4-Dec-2013

Seven people attended the December meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Developers group, held at the AlphaLoft coworking space in Portsmouth, NH. The main topic was “Best Business Practices,” which was a great topic but, as always, the conversations and netwokring and recommendations that went on around the main topic were also very helpful and informative. Among those tidbits:

  • The Ewww image optimizer can reduce the size of images and speed webpage loading with minimal quality change.
  • Matt Mullenweg delivers an annual “State of the Word” speech with lots of interesting insights.
  • Open question: What topics would YOU like to learn about? The group is about YOU. How can we get YOU to attend?
  • Which SEO are people familiar with? WordPress SEO by Yoast was the most popular mentioned
  • Question on speeding sites, and a recommendation for the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler

On to the main topic: “Best Business Practices” can easily degenerate into a “Client Horror Stories” session. Kudos to organizer Amanda Giles for keeping a tight rein on the discussions and getting us to focus on covering as much as possible. Andy provided a redacted proposal he had written up for a client and we reviewed and discussed it. There was a lot of good back and forth. Andy had some very insightful item in his proposal that made it clear what the client would see at each phase, what items were optional or deferred to a later project phase, and how client decisions could affect the outcome in terms of schedule and cost. This was a great launching point for a lot of discussion on terms, contracts (my stance: pay a lawyer for a few hours to draft a good contract!), how to handle open-ended items like design reviews and never-ending revisions, terms for stock photos and graphics, and so forth. The discussion was very worthwhile and everyone felt they had their questions answered and learned a few new things. What more can you ask for a meeting?

Our next two meetings are scheduled for TUESDAY (not the normal meeting night) January 7th and Wednesday, February 5th. Please consider joining the Meetup group to keep up on the details on upcoming meetings.

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New post testing CDN support on WordPress

DSCN1940 So, the Content Distribution Network is in place and several tests indicate it is working well — page loads are much faster, the URLs of the CDN content are re-written properly — but the next question is whether new materials will be automatically added to the CDN. The picture at the left (and yes, this is an excuse to post a cute dog picture, too) should appear with a link to the high-resolution (1.8 Mb) image. On the blog itself, that link should be of the format http://blog.tedroche.com/wp-content/uploads/2003/12/NameOfPicture.jpg, while if the picture is picked up by the CDN synchronization software, it should upload to the CDN and the URL be rewritten to http://static.blog.tedroche.com/etcetera. Let’s try it out and see what happens…

Woah. Success first time. Pretty cool.

Some details on what I’ve got set up: I’m using the Rackspace Cloud Files service as the CDN. I had worked with Rackspace before on some hosting projects, and have a friend working there, so I thought I’d try them out first. It appears that their CDN services are in an early stage and don’t have all of the features of soe of the more mature products. In particular, it appears that the blog software is reponsible for pushing any new or updated content to the CDN. By contrast, the Amazon S3 offering has an ‘origin pull’ feature that will pull content from the original source when it is first requested, and subsequently cache it.

In order to get the contents of my local blog to sync with the CDN, I added the CDN-Sync-Tool plugin. A lot of web searching seemed to indicate I could find this in the WordPress Plugins directory online, but the tool has been pulled from the directory. Apparently, it is undergoing some redevelopment. The version I found was on GitHub under https://github.com/WDGDC/CDN-Sync-Tool and installation was not more complex that downloading the ZIP and unzipping it in the plugins folder. Bear in mind that you should be comfortable with using the command line and have the skills to review the files you are installing on your machine, as there has been no review by the WordPress folks, and the code is currently under development and you may need to deal with bugs, incompatibilities and support problems. So, this isn’t the path I’d recommend for less-technical WordPress developers, and likely isn’t the path I’d recommend for a client looking to put a CDN into production use.

Note that most cache programs and their CDN features are set up in such a way that logged-in users may see a slower site, but more up-to-date, site, and that in order to test caching you’ll need to log out of your WordPress session.

 

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Seacoast WordPress notes, October 2, 2013

The October meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Meetup was held on October 2, 2013, at the AlphaLoft coworking space. Thanks to owner Josh for encouraging groups to use the space!

Of course, you never get techies together when they don’t just jump into talking about what they’re up to! We had a question on using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to improve responsiveness for an international site. David talked about his experience with CloudFlare. A quick Google showed that there were a number of plugins that claim to offer some CDN functionality, and that initial offers the member had gotten might have been inflated.

David also showed the Dynamik theme add-on to the Genesis theme that generates a set of media queries to support mobile devices.

We started off the more formal meeting with a round of introductions: Amanda, Chris, me, Jim, Laurel, Dylan, David, Andy, Tina, and Tom.

Off we go into questions and comments. One member did some troubleshooting of a plugin-laden site using P3, the plugin performance profiler. Others offered their opinions that excessive plugin use can be the source of a lot of compatibility and/or performance problems.

The main presentation of the evening was from Amanda Giles and the Canvas theme from Woo Themes. Wow! This theme can do a lot, lay out in a number of different ways, and has great administrative functions off the dashboard to make lots and lots of changes from within the interface, and not having to fork off a child theme and mess with the code directly. The Premium theme is $119 for developer version or $99 basic. Both include a year of support and upgrades. The Developer version includes PSD files for designers to customize the theme in PhotoShop. A yearly upgrade is obviously what Woo would like everyone to do (who wouldn’t?) but Amanda indicated it’s okay to stick with the version you buy in perpetuity or until they come out with a compelling feature you want.

The number of features were remarkable. Here are a few I remembered to record: easy file structure, lots of hooks, extensive admin functions, support for short codes. Amanda set up a website for attendees to follow along with the various pages of the dashboard and do a little experimenting. Obviously, the access can’t be made public to the entire internet. See www.canvas.client-look.com. We worked our way through many the Canvas options, for an hour! If you don’t have Photoshop, check out pixLR.com for an online utility that will do many of the basic functions.

Woo Themes also includes “templates” within the theme that allows more complex layouts: Magazine has a full-width slider, followed by full-width article, followed by a grid of articles. Also, a second template, Business, with a different layout.

In the header of the Woo Themes dashboard, “View Theme Documentation” takes you to the WooThemes web pages of documentation, which are extensive!

Amanda reminded us that WordCamp Boston will be happening at the NERD Center October 25-27. Well worth the effort to attend. Seacoast WordPress folks will try to get together for a birds-of-a-feather session or lunch; watch the Meetup group for details.

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Keeping up: theme changes

Astute readers (and I know who you two are!) will notice a change to a newer theme. I’ve switched over to the WordPress Twenty-Eleven base theme, with a few of my own tucks, nips and tweaks. I wanted to check out the new theme and test out the new functionality and keep up with the latest stuff.

Child themes are a piece of cake to create, and a child theme lets me override the original without messing with the original source, so updates will not erase the changes. While they are not so difficult to do manually if you are familiar with the command-line, they are even easier with the plugin One-Click Child Theme.

With the child theme in place, I was able to shorten the gap between the site description (the motto) and the header picture, just by adding CSS to the style.css in the child theme (that’s the cascading part of CSS). I added a paper-curl edge effect based on the work of Craig Buckler, published on Sitepoint.

I was disappointed that my site was not valid HTML5, according to the W3C’s validator site. Category tags used in REL links aren’t standard, so I deleted those. The Creative Commons plugins want to use Dublin Core XML namespaces, and there are issues there I’ve got to clean up. And the “generator” REL tag on the bottom of the page isn’t too standard, either. Overall, though, the pages are relatively clean of excessive markup or poorly-formed structures. Stay tuned as I tweak the last few elements into line.

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Seacoast WordPress Developers Group, April Notes

On April 6th, the Seacoast WordPress Developer’s Group met at the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center to talk WordPress. Networking and casual conversation started around 6:30, with the meeting formally starting at 7 PM with a round of introductions:

Dave – former Cold Fusion, ETL, new to WordPress,
Carl Eric Johnson – web developer, WordPress instructor and eveloper, fan of Thesis framework.
Amanda – BIL doing Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress
Sharon, Rye Public Library, Technology Coordinator, just launched a freshened site on April 1st using WordPress and Atahualpa theme/framework.
Will, a graphic designer in a print shop who’d been encouraged to learn web design and now WordPress.

Book recommendations:
Amanda praised the Wrox Professional WordPress book.
Carl Eric has enjoyed WordPress: Visual QuickStart Guide to get up and running, and WordPress Bible(Aaron Barzell) from Wiley as a reference.

Main Presentation: Carl Eric Johnson: talk about themes and frameworks
Sitepoint.com Wicked WordPress Themes book has free sample download chapter. Table of contents points out the choices of custom themes, child themes, building a framework.
Child themes: load with parent’s theme files, in your child file, you import the parent, then override what’s different.
In WordPress 3.0, theme TwentyTen has a lot of options built in. Thesis and Atahualpa have a number of pages of options: sizing, features, colors, styles, etc.

Amanda talked about file structures and “the loop” – directories of wp-admin and wp-install are pretty much off-limits, containing the installed WordPress files and overwritten up updates; wp-content contains most everything else, including the stuff you customize. Add your own functions.php and copy the functions you want to override. A theme consists of index.php and style.css as a minimum; you can add as much as you want from there. See the Codex for the hierarchy of theme files WordPress looks for in order to render your content. Consider starting with a “blank” theme if you’re building your own, such as Starkers or Boilerplate themes – essentially stripped-down skeletal themes with all of the style removed.

See http://codex.wordpress.org/Template_Hierarchy for a description of how WordPress selects the correct template(s).

See http://codex.wordpress.org/The_Loop_in_Action for an overview of the loop.

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Seacoast WordPress Developers meeting, 2-March-2011

Five people attended the March meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Developer‘s meetup, held at the New Hampshire innovation Commercialization Center near Pease in Portsmouth. We did a round of introductions and welcomed two new members and discussed what the group could focus on. We discussed the boundaries of CMS and Blogging and Wikis and how they overlap (A professional in education provided us with some great insights on how we think about some of these items), the challenge in finding consultants and clients, and how we can build up a network. We talked about potential agenda items: what should we schedule, what should we have in free-form.
I think an FAQ we ought to be prepared to answer is “What is it that WordPress is?” It’s less than obvious. “A blog” is the wrong answer, as that is a form of document, and not an application. “A CMS” is such a vaguely defined answer that it’s not much more useful than “an application.”

Other questions we started to explore, and possible future topics:

  • What is it that others are looking for on the web?
  • Good resources for learning WordPress: Codex, FAQ, books, etc.
  • WordPress SEO
  • WordPress Security
  • Loop/structure of databases tables, templates
  • Popular plugins
  • WordPress Backup tips: data and files
  • WordPress Community

Finally, Amanda presented her talk on building a plugin. She’d done some excellent research and used clear examples and explained them well. Here are the notes and slides posted to the new Seacoast WordPress Developer’s website, running WordPress, of course, and BuddyPress.

So, it was a great second meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Developer’s group. Stay tuned for more news. Thanks to Amanda for organizing the event, and to the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center for providing the great facilities!

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Seacoast WordPress Developers Group announce March meeting

Organizer Amanda Giles announced a second meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Developers Group:

When: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 7:00 PM
Where: NH-Innovation Commercialization Center, 75 Rochester Avenue, Portsmouth, NH 03801
Why: Let’s get together for another meetup. More details coming soon. Please send me your suggestions or ideas for things you would like to share or see shared.

CMS Learning Curves, artist unknown

CMS Learning Curves

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Notes from CentraLUG, 6-Dec-2010: David Berube, MySQL Operations

Six people attended the December 2010 meeting of the Central New Hampshire Linux Group, held at the NHTI‘s Library from 7 to 9 PM. David Berube was the featured speaker, talking about his experience with large scale high-performance MySQL applications.

David is an independent software developer and consultant. One of his larger projects over the past couple of years has been an application for scheduling actors for auditions. This involves agents and projects, auditions, roles, videos and a number of other entities in a complex and fast-moving application. He’s used Ruby on Rails, PHP, MySQL, a NOSQL database, Amazon S3, A rack of Mac Minis, BSD, Linux, and a number of other elements. He had some insightful things to say about the development process, managing a client project, handling difficult requirements, scaling up million-row databases for subsecond response times and more. It was a meeting well worth attending.

There were a lot of useful tools and reference sites mentioned, and I was only able to take note of a few: Useful Ruby add-ons: New Relic, Query Reviewer, Percona Operations Day, Cacti for data aggregation. An In-depth discussion of NoSQL (“Not Only SQL”) Databases: what are they, what are they good for, what are the liabilities? A good discussion of the trade-offs of using NoSQL, reference to the NHRuby presentation on Redis a few months ago, and more.

Thanks to David for an informative presentation, to the attendees for a dynamic interactive session, and to the NHTI Library for the facilities. Future meetings at the Concord location have been suspended, we encourage our regulars to attend the Manchester ManchLUG meetings. If you haven’t already, consider subscribing to the announcement list so you’ll know when there’s an upcoming meeting. (Subscribers to the discussion list will automatically receive the announcements, too.)

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