Help and Support


All fixed now

November 13, 2018 in bugs by Matthew Brown

There was a problem but we are all fixed now.

I’m going to duck away again and hope nobody saw that downtime.  If you did, then please rest assured that our hosts have taken care of the issue and there should not be a repeat of the problem.

train crash
Pictured: All the things happening at once

Thus continues the joys of running a website. 

I hope NaNoWriMo is going well for everyone. Back to the grindstone for me. 

New features coming

September 10, 2018 in wordpress-development by Matthew Brown

Author Buzz has some exciting new features coming soon. I have been working on the largest plugin yet which will add a unique game to the author buzz family. Initially, it will be limited to a new blog that we will create to play the game. However, once that phase of testing is over, any of our blog admins will be able to add the plugin to their blog.

What game?

Author Buzz UK Dev Site QR CodeThe game will allow our blog owners to organise treasure hunts that range over geographic areas. From a single museum to an entire county.

At the centre of this game are QR codes. If you have ever seen a square made up of dots and thought, “what’s that?” That is a QR code. Every phone with a camera (and most tablets, and anything else) have a lot of (usually free) QR code readers in their app stores.

QR codes can contain URLs. For example, the one shown to the right links to this website. Your phone can use the QR reader to open your web browser and navigate to the link given. This is the basis for the game.

A custom post type (QR Hunt Item) with a custom taxonomy (Game) allows the creation of posts with secret content (well, secret if you use the custom archive and item templates). The content is only revealed once the QR code has been scanned. This earns points to track progress and “gold” to track overall success across games.

Sticker album

The game archive shows you which items you have found and which are still needed to complete the set. However, it is possible to create “secret” items that do not show up until after you have found them.

Here’s a demo from my home test rig.

Each of the found item’s lead to a full page which includes further clues as well as information, links, and other interesting content about the found location. How interesting this is, well that depends on the person that wrote it.

Each of the remaining unknown items leads to a page giving you only a subtle clue. The quality of the clue is limited only by the imagination of the person that writes it.

High Score Table

A shortcode allows you to display a high score table for any given game. I’m still working out the best way to format this and exactly what it should display but here is a screen grab of the high score table from my dev rig.

High score table for QR hunt dev edition

Birthday Beta

I have created a treasure hunt in my home which will be limited to people using my WiFi. The game will be tested during my birthday party at the end of the month. As I will be turning 42, the party theme should be guessable from the usernames in the high score table.

A public beta should follow not long after that.

Creating the archive “sticker album”

By far the hardest part was the archive view. I had to not only figure out how to make it look nice but how to change the item sort order too.

Non-standard archive sorting

Normally archives start with the newest and go back in time. My first design used items in alphabetical order and the newer sticker album view uses oldest items first.

To do that you have to hook “pre_get_posts” and supply a callback function.

[php]function cqh_alpha_order_items( $query ) {
if ($query->is_main_query() ) {
if( $query->is_post_type_archive(‘qr_item’) || $query->is_tax( ‘games’ )){
$query->set( ‘order’, ‘ASC’ ); // older posts first
$query->set(‘posts_per_page’,20);// 20 divides by 5, 4, and 2
}
}
}

add_action( ‘pre_get_posts’, ‘cqh_alpha_order_items’ );[/php]

You can also do things like this:

[php]$query->set( ‘orderby’, ‘title’ );[/php]

Which the view by title method was using.

Making it look nice

I am not a designer (I’m a coder and writer but not a designer). As such, I had the hardest time making an archive that looked nice.

I tooled around with all sorts of CSS trying to get an image that filled the space from top to bottom but used only a fixed width so that the title and clue of unfound items could show up (or the title and a success message for found items).

The best I managed set the thumbnail as a background with a fixed width and a percentage height. That left us with a deformed image.

During that process, I discovered that you can add theme options from a plugin.

After some sleep, I hit on the idea of a gallery look.

The “add_action” this time was “after_setup_theme” and with a little logic to check what was already going on, I added three square thumbnail sizes and another callback so I could give those sizes pretty names. I’m not sharing that code because it is pretty ugly and I am not sure it is a good example to learn from.

Template logic

I chose a thumbnail size that was 800 by 800 on the grounds that it could resize down to whatever the screen needed. I added a CSS file that gave different percentage widths for the containing DIV according to viewport size and thought I was done.

It was true that the layout adapted to different screens (this is a plugin that expects almost all mobile traffic). However, it was not true that all images were square. You see, 800 by 800 only works if the thumbnail(featured image) was over 800 in both directions to start with.

That was when I added the medium and small sizes.

Of course, then I had to pick the largest available square thumbnail. I’m not convinced this was the easiest way to do things but it did work, so I was happy.

[php] if ( has_post_thumbnail() ) {
$image_data = wp_get_attachment_image_src( get_post_thumbnail_id(get_the_ID()));
$size = min($image_data[1],$image_data[2]);
if($size>800){
the_post_thumbnail( array( 800, 800 ) );
}elseif($size>500){
the_post_thumbnail( array( 500, 500 ) );
}else{
the_post_thumbnail( array( 200, 200 ) );
}
}[/php]

I added an else and a fallback image for posts without a featured image but that is hardly something new.

Initial public beta

The first public beta will be run by a charity called Thanet Creative and will be focused on locations in and around Thanet, Kent.

Right, back to the grindstone for me.

Updates

August 28, 2018 in progress by Matthew Brown

I thought I would post an overview of the updates I’ve been running.

Themes and plugins

It is not terribly exciting. A month’s worth of bug fixes and security updates but no new features to speak of.

The only really important news is that we have been silently keeping on top of updates to keep everyone safe and secure. As they say, no news is good news. I’ve not broken anything lately.

Author Buzz progress

I’ve talked about the plans we have for Author Buzz before. I’m sorry to report that I’ve not been too well and those plans are not proceeding quickly.

It turns out that there are a lot of platform specific things to learn about WordPress. For now, I am mostly tinkering and trying to make sure the network runs as fast and efficiently as possible. Part of that tinkering led to the opening up of blogs and groups for public registration. Progress, as they say, is being made.

Most of the work has gone into making sure that your activity stream looks good. I am still slowly working towards a custom theme to bring out the best Author Buzz UK has to offer. I’d rather get it right and have something you can use than rush things and make a mess

Limits and gotchas

One of the limits that our users currently have to contend with is that groups are not passive. Without regular interaction or updates posted by a human, some features will skip pulling outside data. That’s not entirely a bad thing I think.

That’s all for now…

That is all the news from behind the scenes. Now you are up to date back to the grind for me.

Sites outage – confession of a silly dev

June 18, 2018 in bugs by Matthew Brown

Hands up here, the outage of all sites was my fault. If you are interested, this post will look at what went wrong and how it was fixed.

How the outage happened

Author Buzz is set up on a secure dedicated server. The domains are registered with a trustworthy registrar and will need to be renewed in another year or so. Everything is handled in-house and the only dev with root level access is me.

In theory, nothing can possibly go wrong.

Except, it did.

You see I had missed one tiny part of the chain – DNS. DNS is this fiddly thing that makes domain names and websites work. The specific DNS config for Author Buzz is what allows the WordPress setup to provide vanity web names like matthewdbrown.authorbuzz.co.uk or dev.authorbuzz.co.uk.

To keep things “clean” I used another domain name for the name server. The name server has worked flawlessly. However, I registered this other name a while ago. Long enough ago that my debit cards all expired and were replaced. So when the trustworthy registrar tried their best to renew the name server domain, guess what happened?

Yeah, you guessed it. The bank – quite rightly – refused to let that happen. Expired cards should not be used to facilitate payments. That is why cards expire in the first place.

How I fixed the outage

In many post-disaster reviews, this section might have a lot of technical details. However, the fix was really simple – I whipped out my card and paid for the renewal.

That gives me a full year to figure out if I can set things up with slightly fewer moving parts. It was a silly mistake and I feel very silly for having let it happen.

What I learned from the outage

This outage taught me one thing – you only need to overlook one thing for everything to come crashing down for a while. If anything this has increased the respect I feel for the devs that run Twitter and generally keep everything online. Likewise, the mavericks that innovate online technology businesses.

I am definitely open to partnering up with others to deliver our vision of a launching pad for UK writers. If only because with more of us on the project, there are more of us ready to catch silly mistakes like that one.

And on that note, I think it is time for me to stop beating myself up and go and put the kettle on.

GDPR – Privacy and Data laws

June 2, 2018 in progress by Matthew Brown

GDPR is something that we bloggers need to take seriously. At Author Buzz, we’ve been looking at options to help our members comply with the new rules.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will be enforced from May next year, requiring all organisations that handle EU residents’ data to abide by its strict terms. As Brexit has not yet happened. British blogs still need to undertake this process.

While the JetPack cookie notification widget will probably cover your GDPR requirements, I felt that a stronger effort than “probably” was called for.

Which is why we have installed a dedicated GDPR plugin. I’m currently testing it out in order to write a full guide for the Author Buzz blog.

To use, simply activate the GDPR plugin and then fill out the details. If you are unsure which external sites you might be sending data to the plugin can profile your blog. It’d be best not to leave it profiling too long as that will slow things down. The chances are that you will only be using JetPack and maybe an anti-spam service.

GDPR compliance with your blog is the responsibility of the blog owner. While there is every chance you could get away without doing anything I strongly recommend that you at least have a written privacy policy.

For more on what the GDPR means and what you need to do to comply, try this blog post.

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