Skip to content

Going forward, my site uses HTTPS encryption for greater security. I'm not engaged in eCommerce here, but who doesn't like more security in webbed environs? Besides, my webhost (Reclaim Hosting) made it too easy to ignore.

Homepage for Reclaim Hosting.
Reclaim Hosting's homepage. Take control is right!

I made a few changes to some basic files, activated the SSL Insecure Content Fixer plugin across my WordPress sites, and voilá!

Where I had been feeling a little out of touch before, I've now made the move over to secure encryption.

My best guess is that https will become relatively automatic in the coming years. Reclaim did most of the work for me by setting SSL Certificates as the default on hosted domains. I just needed to tweak a couple files, add a plugin, and relax. If it's that easy now, it will become even simpler down the road - or so I hope.

I can't recommend Reclaim highly enough! Their focus is really on hosting for people in educational environments: students, faculty, institutions. They offer free migration if you have a host. Their customer service is personal, rapid, and robust. These folks even reach out about possible issues they see and suggest adjustments before problems occur.

I've launched my Spring 2014 courses with a new WordPress theme. It's been a long time coming. While I started my install of a Network WordPress running courses in the Twenty Ten theme, I have resisted the move to X-Eleven, X-Twelve, X-Thirteen.  Laziness?

I don't know, really.  It can't quite be laziness. Customizing sites with a theme requires production of a child theme, which IS some work if one wants a color palette that works off a main header graphic.  WordPress installs offer no easy color picker WYSIWYG CSS styling. But perhaps it was inertia.  Twenty Ten was something I could modify (lightly) without too much effort.

Anyway, after four years it seemed time to move on.

The big disappointment for me has been the pseudo-footer widget feature.  I "thought" I'd actually get to write some custom text into the real footer of the WordPress theme, something I had to hard code into the footer.php file with Twenty Ten.  But the "footer" widget isn't really putting content into the footer.  It makes a bogus footer above the real footer.  Think of it as "ankle socks" for the theme.

Not sure how long I'll hang with Twenty Fourteen.

I'm teaching an advanced humanities seminar called "Doing Humanities Digitally" this coming term. New course, new materials, and an open field in which to run. I've been working on some connections to pull in some TEI coding, some archival interactions, and even some collaborations with the natural sciences (think HASTAC). I have mostly settled on some work with the Digital Thoreau project, am toying with a foray into the Transcribe Bentham project, critical reviews of extant DH projects, a student-developed remediation of a prior humanities project (course paper), AND a digital exhibit project.

Omeka logo

I've been familiar with Omeka (developed by the CHNM at George Mason University) for a couple years now, and I've browsed through some of what the tool offers. I have always wondered whether it is really better/more powerful/more suitable/etc. than something like WordPress, a CMS/blog tool I use regularly and that is pretty easy to manipulate for a range of purposes.  This DH course, particularly the idea for a project that brings environmental science research together with some archival work, forced my hand and left me no choice but to get serious about evaluating Omeka for our purposes.

  1. First idea: Grab a free Omeka.net account and try out the tool. This couldn't work because the free account doesn't include the Geolocation plugin that enables users to locate items on a Google Map.  (There are some workarounds, I now know, but that's a different story.)
  2. Second idea: Grab the open source Omeka CMS and install a test version within my domain. Complete control, full front and back end control. Not wanting to spend money on a sandbox arrangement, I went with this second idea.

A Preliminary Review/Evaluation

Installation was not as easy as I had hoped. This isn't Omeka's fault, really. It had more to do with some php settings that I didn't know how to tweak/adjust. But I would estimate it took about 12 hours over several days to actually get the CMS to behave in a way that enabled me to test the tool. WordPress, in contrast, is included in many webhost packages, making it a truly one-click installation.  (The WordPress Network install is another matter.)

FWIW, here are the settings I needed to tweak on a Lunarpages-hosted installation:

  • php.ini - needed to comment out some "disable_functions" code in the file located in my public_html folder to get ImageMagick and Omeka communicating.
  • Path to ImageMagick isn't so easy to locate on Lunarpages, but it's here: /usr/local/bin/
  • I'm still sorting through a fileinfo module "warning" that Omeka spits out at the first install screen, but the CMS itself seems to work even with that problem/warning.
The theme options are still pretty limited (Omeka is in 2.0.x right now), but that's a CSS issue that shouldn't stop one from using the tool. Any self-respecting library or museum using Omeka for real exhibit purposes would almost certainly get some custom styling on the site.  I haven't looked at the CSS yet, but I imagine it's pretty easy to adjust.  It's probably comparable to WordPress in that regard.
Dublin Core baked into Omeka makes it scream "legit" DH tool. This feature alone puts it ahead of WordPress when considering a course whose goals include some engagement with DH standards for describing archival materials. In fact, the entire process of adding materials to Omeka foregrounds good description practice. It isn't sexy, but the GUI effectively tells users to get their Dublin Core metadata in first.  This isn't required, but the order of presentation signals its importance.
I'm still very much toying with Omeka, but I think the ability to present multiple exhibits lends itself to a range of points of emphasis. WordPress could easily accomplish this using subpages in a nav structure, of course.  But the exhibits model in Omeka also offers users ready-made templates for presenting pages within an exhibit.  One could build a photo gallery, a mix of images and text, a text-only page.
Geolocation is available in Omeka. This is less exciting than it seems at first, really, since Omeka doesn't import the geolocation metadata from images on upload, and it can't handle KML/KMZ imports of GIS data to display in a map.  But it is still pretty nice. I even managed to embed a custom Google Map into an exhibit page, effectively enabling one to pull GIS data loaded into a Google Map into an Omeka exhibit. Of course, it's all running on embedded Google Maps, and WordPress handles that just fine.
I'm going to run with Omeka for the project, not because it's better than WordPress (it isn't - yet). I'm going to use Omeka so my students have the EXPERIENCE of using a hot new DH tool that is legitimate and still under active growth and development. I'm also going to use it so that I can help my colleagues consider including digital archival and exhibit projects in their own humanities courses. WordPress would be much, much easier for me.  But why do the easy thing?

Acknowledgements

I have to thank my colleague Pam Morgan for a series of conversations that yielded the idea that would draw together some of the data she (along with her colleagues and students) has collected on the Saco River estuary, research on the uses of the Saco River, and historical photographs and documents at the McArthur Library in Biddeford, Maine. I must also thank Renee DesRoberts, the archivist at the library, for her willingness to really open up their collection of glass plate negatives for our project. I'm really looking forward to this project!

I also want to thank the tech support at Lunarpages and patrickmj from the Omeka Dev Team for offering me some help on the features and limits of the Geolocation plugin.

It's taken a little while for me to take it up, but I finally broke down and upgraded my WordPress install to the latest version. I'm only just starting to get to know this version. Still, it's pretty clear that the WP team has made some good additions.

Drag and Drop Media Upload

Right away, I noticed a simplified media upload mechanism. WP is getting smarter. It can now detect the media type you want to upload and sort it appropriately. Even more interesting is the drag-and-drop functionality for media uploads. I gave the tool a quick test drive by uploading a header image, a shot of my backyard pond, below.

Header for Spring 2012 English Composition Course
Backyard Pond.

Flyout Menus

Anyone who spends time with WP knows that the dashboard sidebar menu structure is a bit long.  On a laptop, it's not uncommon to see the menu run below the fold, forcing a scroll just to locate the settings options.

Flyout menus changes all that.  It's easy to see your menu options on hover, saving the extra click and streamlining the look of the text in the dashboard sidebar.

Why Update?

Good question. When is something good enough?  I can't really answer that question.  There are security issues to consider, of course, and the newest version closes some vulnerabilities. In all honesty, the security concerns weren't enough to move me to the upgrade.

I needed a little down time on my running sites to feel comfortable with an update.  The semester break created that down time for me.  (I didn't want to break course websites midstream.) But that wasn't even enough, really.

In the end, my desire to create an option for users to subscribe to Page updates through RSS led me down a path that required the update. RSS Pages for WordPress 3+ required an update to my WP 3.  That update went well, although the plugin page indicates that it had not yet been tested with 3.3.1.  Consider this a leapfrog moment.  I installed the plugin and it seems to be working just fine.

I finally sat down and started some serious work on a print stylesheet for Across the Disciplines. While there are some kinks in the general printout, and I'm certain that tables, figures, and some other visual elements aren't going to print so cleanly in the current version, The print version of the journal's articles are far more attractive than they were just a few days ago.

We're hiding header graphics and nav, and are actually restyling headings for a black-and-white document. Hanging indents in the References are now carried over into the print articles. And more.

I had planned to write a print CSS for Across the Disciplines soon after I recoded the journal for XHTML 1.0 Transitional back around 2007 or 2008. It had been on the agenda for quite some time. It seemed that every time I thought I'd turn some attention to what is really a fairly straightforward project I found myself working on some other part of the site.

Most recently, I thought I'd finally write the stylesheet in December 2010. But then I spent a good bit of late December and January ensuring that the articles in the journal complied with HTML5 standards following a major site-wide overhaul of The WAC Clearinghouse.  The result is a site that will certainly remain compliant for some time since HTML5 is still just a draft specification. But that work really left little energy for CSS coding.

Lesson: Write a damn print CSS at the same time you write the screen CSS. It's easy enough to do and it's possible that readers will thank you for saving color ink, whitespace, and paper.

WP, Win, MySQL, PHP

Last April, at the Northeast Writing Across the Curriculum Consortium (NEWACC) Steering Committee meeting at Boston University, I agreed to work with Mike Palmquist at the WAC Clearinghouse to get a NEWACC site up and running by the upcoming NEWACC meeting at Quinnipiac University. NEWACC was imagining a website within the Clearinghouse, as well as a blog. Ideally, this would run in a single tool, a CMS with a blog built into it. I started thinking WordPress because of its strong blog platform and its functionality as a CMS. (Obviously, that's not the only option.)

Unfortunately, the Clearinghouse didn't have the back end apparatus to host any of the popular blog platforms. And there were concerns about security in a PHP/MySQL setup. At first it looked like a unified solution would not be possible. But Mike is a great guy who is willing to push the boundaries a bit.  He told me they were experimenting with virtual servers for local projects at Colorado State. After a few months of testing, in mid-September Mike got a virtual Windows Server up and running, with IIS on it.

WordPress on Windows?  Hmm. Generally, Windows and PHP with MySQL don't even belong in the same sentence. My first response was, "This won't work." Then I thought, "This won't work without major hacks, patches, and a major months-long headache." Surprise!

6 Hours Later...

WordPress is notable for its famous "5-minute installation" instructions. Right in the instructions are guidelines for installing WP on Win. Microsoft has a FREE (yes, free) product called MS Web Platform Installer that makes relatively quick work of all this headache. Get it installed on your server and you can manage all the app downloads and installations through checkboxes and a GUI.  Sweet!

It wasn't quite that simple, though I have to take some of the blame because of my lack of knowledge.  I didn't know there was something called IIS until I started trying to run a tool built to run on Apache on a Windows Server.  It took a couple meetings with some web folks at UNE (Al and Neal, thanks!) before I started to get a handle on the Windows Server/IIS thing. My internet access in Maine is pretty spotty, and this really limits file transfer speeds. The first installation of WP went into a subdirectory, and so it was in the wrong place.  And the FTP access wasn't activated on the server until after I poked around.What is amazing to me is that it's running at all. And it is!

WP 3 as a Network

The new power of WordPress 3 is that it can run multiple blogs in a single installation. It's important to activate this feature within 30 days of an installation. I don't know if NEWACC will have a use for this feature, but if we don't do it now we'll find it harder to handle down the road.  So I took on this piece as well.  I found instructions for Network activation on a Windows installation of WordPress at Laura Gentry's site. Smooth as silk.

Next Steps

4.5 months into the project we're set up with server space at Colorado State. We have a virtual server running WordPress 3, a platform that will integrate the NEWACC website with the NEWACC blog, and a tool that can actually scale up to host multiple blog or sites over time. I can now turn my attention to the thing I agreed to do in April.  I can start to build the website for NEWACC!