A Beginner’s Guide to Blogging with MovableType

Just in case some of you are thinking of spending the weekend deploying a blogging tool as a content manglement system (CMS) for your church web site … I though I might turn you onto a tutorial on how to create a blog using Movable Type (MT) based on a recent DigitalEveJapan workshop. A kind of “blogging for dummies,” it is aimed at the beginner and assumes little knowledge of website design/building. However, programmers and other web gurus unfamiliar with blogging may find it useful.

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Lakeshore Baptist Church in Lakeshore Mississippi

The secret to effective parody is its similarity to real life. The comedic effectiveness is in large part determined by the timing and delivery of the satirist. The other part is how well the joker knows the material.

Proof of this can be found on the “spruced-up/special page” Don Elbourne created when he got wind that I was going to review his church web site as a good example of an effective church web site. About the only thing the parody is missing is the gratuitous Flash animation and Mystery Meat Navigation. That said it comes dangerously close so some true-to-life sites I’ve reviewed here in the past.

But seriously folks, what made this page especially funny to me was the fact that Don does indeed know how to create a simple and effective church web site that I believe captures some of the personality and purpose of the Lakeshore Baptist Church in Lakeshore Mississippi.

Let’s start with the home page. No fancy splash page to get me in the mood. Instead a page that offers an easy-on-the-eye color scheme, with a subtle, simple yet highly effective banner along the top. Followed by an obvious and easy to use menu to the left, and some blocks of data of things that might be interesting to both a visitor and a member. I personally like the tough of the “Recommended Reading.” I also like that he managed to cram all this, a schedule, a picture and some other essential information all “above the fold” of my 800×600 screen. This is very good management of the page layout.

Because he’s using what appears to be a BlueRobot tableless layout, the site deprecates nicely for those using a lame browser; Netscape 4.78 I my test case. The CSS driven rollover menu on the left merely displays as the unordered list that it actually is. And the fancy block titles show as the <h2> and <h3> tags that they actually are. Still, I might take further advantage of sever side includes for them handy text links at the bottom of the home page for the rest of the site.

His menu selections are much different than those I’ve created, but I like them. He starts off with Jesus using the free content offered the folks at Grace To You. I like the pastor page though I would prefer a bit more content, but Don is being modest, so I can’t knock it too much. I really like the beliefs page. Very important information clearly detailed to any potential visitor.

There are no sermons online, but there are devotionals by way of Spurgeon.Org. The pictures page tell a warm and friendly story. And I like how the image of the church on the location page is rendered (and doesn’t give the impression that the pastor is buried in the front lawn). The prayer request page is inviting. He offers some interesting links, though I might add a sentence or two about each one.

But one of the pages I liked the best was his Vacation Bible School page. No, not the one he links off the home page, but a fun one he created using MIVA script that renders unto Ceaser a fun example of a simple ‘ROT13‘ encryption cipher to go along with this year’s Lifeway VBS theme of “The Great Kingdom Caper.”

Don shared the MIVA script with readers of the Churchsite-Chat news group on Yahoo, but being an old school obfuscated C fan, I prefer such work to get done in one line. So here are two lines of code, one in each of a popular scripting language, which will help you create your own crypto pages.

Perl
$s =~ tr/a-zA-Z/n-za-mN-ZA-M/;

PHP
$s = str_rot13 ($s);

Hackery aside, the key to Don’s success is in using some bleeding edge technologies to provide a simple and easy to use site by all users of all browsers. And while it appears he didn’t want to create a huge site, Don definitely avoided one that came across as was rinky-dink. Instead, through understated elegance he creates a page that is inviting to seekers and informative to church members. In other words, the site very simply proves that less is indeed more.

Speaking of effective simplicity, here is a little Perl that will help those of you trying to unencode the Lifeway’s “crack the code” challenge.

$s = “JTLQCMKA TO RKGTKMK TO GTMK TO”;
Perl
$s =~ tr/a-zA-Z/rfokpzluxdesvhtwcbyivagnqjRFOKPZLUXDESVHTWCBYIVAGNQJ/;
PHP
strtr($s,”abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ”, “rfokpzluxdesvhtwcbyivagnqjRFOKPZLUXDESVHTWCBYIVAGNQJ”);

print “$s\n”;

For the rest of you, give Don’s church web site a visit, and drop him kudos or three.

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Opinion: SCO-Microsoft conspiracy theory

A while back on /., I had speculated in a comment that I thought Microsoft might be behind all the SCO litigation. Now this article in the Aussie versin of Computer World: Opinion: SCO-Microsoft conspiracy theory by Nicholas Petreley of LinuxWorld.


The SCO Group vs. IBM lawsuit gives off a subtle, unpleasant odor I couldn’t quite place. When SCO set its sights on Linux distributors and even Linux itself, the source of the stench became unmistakable — Redmond. It was too early to make an accusation when the suit was filed since any such claim lacking even circumstantial evidence would be nothing more than a conspiracy rant.

Nevertheless, a few of us on VarLinux.org discussed the possibility that this was all about destroying Linux, and pondered a Microsoft involvement. A motive is clear. Microsoft perceives Linux as a great threat, and is therefore pulling out all the stops in its war against Linux. I offered the opinion that, if Microsoft has a hand in this at all, it would probably show up as a seemingly unrelated deal.

Sure enough, within days, SCO announced that Microsoft licensed Unix for an undisclosed amount of money, and that SCO now supports Microsoft Active Directory. There was the smoking gun.

It was simpler for me. Basically, where would anyone but Microsoft get enough cash to sue IBM over Linux?

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Flashination : a pre-intro

Flashination is a term I give to (church) websites that seem to be overly fascinated with Macromedia Flash. It’s a toned-down version of a slightly-more ‘R’ rated term Vincent Flanders offers for said practice.

Regardless of what name this stinky petunia goes by, what many church web servants fail to realize is that “.. fancy media on websites typically fails user testing …” at least according to Jakob Nielsen’s recent AlertBox entitled “Low-End Media for User Empowerment.”

It’s not that Macromedia Flash itself is inherently evil, but that people, especially church people, seem to get carried away with shiney objects and flashing lights … which manifests itself on their church website in the form of useless splash pages, mystery meat navigation (MMN) and sin of all sins, replacing HTML altogether with Flash-only sites.

Or as the previously mentioned ‘Father Flanders’ put it in a recent compendium that includes some dastardly Flash implementations:

Using Flash as a replacement for HTML is like putting a Ferrari on the back of a flatbed truck and driving the truck. I don’t see much that wouldn’t be better with HTML.

I realize ’tis the season for youth ministry summer interns to turn your page into a multi-media extraveganza, but don’t do this. As Nielsen reminds us:

Simple text and clear photos not only communicate better with users, they also enhance users’ feeling of control and thus support the Web’s mission as an instant gratification environment.

Expect me to post some church web sites here in the near future where “Flashination ” is a problem.

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MagpieRSS

Over at blogs4God, I’ve been building an aggregator for the moderators. And with all the Perl I example around here, you would think I would hack out a solution that would make Larry Wall proud.

Ha! Fooled you! I’m using PHP instead. Sure, I could have produced glorious output via Perl with some help from Lincoln Stein’s CGI.PM library. And yes, I could have combined LWP::Simple with XML::RSSLite to get the job done, but I noticed that much of the work I needed to do had already been accomplished with a PHP class named MagpieRSS.

MagpieRSS provides an XML-based (expat) RSS parser in PHP. MagpieRSS is compatible with RSS .9 through RSS 1.0, and supports the RSS 1.0’s modules. (with a few exceptions) . It does this by employing an ultra-liberal approach to rss parsing. Which is exactly what I needed to build an aggregator that took into consideration such a garden variety of RSS, RDF and XML syndication feeds sported by the various blogs at blogs4God.

Besides, I’ve been neglecting you PHP guys (and gals) lately. So here’s a tool you can sink your teeth, or in this case, beek into.

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The Value of Weblogs for Lawyers and Law Firms

Ernie the Attorney writes:

Jerry Lawson has an interesting article online at LLRX entitled: Weblogs for Lawyers: Lessons from Ernie the Attorney. The comparison of my weblog to the big law firm websites is intriguing, I suppose, but I’m not sure that it’s really as significant as some might take it to be. I think it will be interesting to see law firms use weblogs for their websites (maybe they are already, but maybe you can’t see it).

For example, our lawfirm has a website with a News & Events page where we make announcements about lawyers in our firm. You wouldn’t know it unless I told you, but that page is actually a weblog (run with Moveable Type); and it has an RSS/XML feed. The firm website has a Legal News Page that covers legal news (it also has an RSS/XML feed).

Exactly a point I want to expand upon next week. Using blogging applications to support the dynamic portions of our web sites, be they sites of the law, or of “The Law.” just makes good sense. Forging tool such as MoveableType into a content management system allows gives your non-techie church secretary or minister a powerful backend mechanism for change whether indirectly employed using server side includes, or directly as what I did for Redland Youth Ministries.

Yet there are other benefits as well, which are listed in the by Jerry Lawson article cited by Ernest E. Svenson:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Low cost
  3. Greater audience reach through the use of RSS and news aggregators
  4. Better search engine visibility
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Moving Data from one Database to Another with PHPAdmin

Moving from one blog to another can be a real pain. Especially if you don’t want to write a conversion program, or are limited to using a tool such as phpMyAdmin.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to move data from table to another, via a third interim table. Why? The interim table gives us the opportunity to make changes both to the data and/or the table structure without fear of destroying production dasta. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a real backup as well. To do this, selected the destination table within the destination database using phpAdmin. Once the table was selected, I choose the “Operations” tab/screen and copied the structure to the source database.

At this point, I had within my Nucleus database an interim table named item2mt, which was based upon the structure of the mt_entry table in my MovableType database. Now to move the data from the source table into the interim table. This mean using the following SQL construct:

INSERT into `item2mt` SELECT inumber, 1, 2, iauthor, 0, 0, ‘__default__’, icat, ititle, ”, ibody, imore, ”, null, null, null, itime, itime, 1, 1 from `nucleus_item`;

The trick here is to make sure that the datatypes and number of columns (fields) after the keyword SELECT match that of the iterim table.
Once this is done, you can apply any host of SQL queries to massage the data to taste. For example:

UPDATE `item2mt` SET icat = 7 WHERE icat = 9;

You can then use phpAdmin’s Export feature, or once again use the “Operations” screen, to get data over to the destination table. Of course, if the interim table is either in, or moved/copied to the destination database, then one only need to run the following SQL to get the job done:

INSERT into `mt_entry` SELECT * FROM `item2mt`;

Yes, I know this is a very geek article, but data conversion happens. Since some of you aren’t code monkies, I figured I’d give you some pointers on how to use a common (and free) tool such as phpMyAdmin to get the job done.

Now for those of you who feel like living dangerously. Here’s how you can do it from table-to-table from the confines of a single database (to another database). All you need is the structure of the source table via the phpAdmin Export features, then …



Of course, if you’re a SQL-stud, you can forego any saftey nets you might gain from an interim table and just table-to-table, database-to-database using the following syntax:


Don’t forget to rebuild. And it might not hurt to back things up first.

UPDATE – MovableType has a table called mt_placement which hooks-up entries with their categories. If you’ve populated an entry table with any of the above methods, than the following query will get you the rest of the way there:

INSERT INTO `mt_placement` SELECT entry_id, entry_id, entry_blog_id, entry_category_id, 1 FROM `mt_entry`
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Movable Type Plugin : Tabs to Tables

I’ve been busy re-engineering a church web site using Movable Type as a content management system (CMS). Until then, a text-formatting plug-in I created to help me finish the job.

One of the advantages of using a tool such as Movable Type, is the ability to create code modules one can plug-in to perform a variety of tasks. One task is converting data in one format, and displaying it in another. This happens quite often in the world of church web sites as quite a bit of information, such as calendars, bulletins and flyers are often generated using office tools such as Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint.

Rather than have someone in the church office try to learn how to convert a MS Word Document to HTML and FTP it to the web site, what I’ve doing is creating some simple plug-ins in which the church secretary can copy and paste data from a document into the entry box, select the type of formating they want from a pull-down menu, hit the save button, and voila. For example, the plug-in below was created so a member of the church staff could copy and paste data directly from an MS Excel spreadsheet into a new entry form, select “Tab2Table” formatting, and voila. Their tab delimited data is converted into an HTML table that suits the website’s formatting and dimensions.
 



Within the next day or two, I’ll have another leg of the site visible for your constructive criticisms and idea offerings. And yes friends, I will document this at some point when I’m all done.

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Aggregator Cornucopia

This is for my friends over at blos4God:

If you blog alot, then you probably spend quite a bit of time visiting your favorite sites to see if they’ve posted anything new, interesting, exciting, which is a real bummer if they haven’t posted anything since Greek Easter. One way to avoid such let-downs is to use a personal aggregator.

Basically, a personal aggregator takes a list of XML/RSS/RDF feeds and periodically checks them, usually at user defined intervals. Good personal aggregators also offer you a little excerpt of the compelling content and a hyperlink to the site via your default browser. More on how this works can be found in an article penned by Jon Udell this time last year entitled “Tangled in the Threads::Personal RSS aggregators.”

Since Jon’s excellent article, several new cool tools have appeared on the aggregator scene, many of them free of charge for a variety of operating systems. Since others have gone to the pains to review, explain and detail them, below, I’m offering a “cache” of some articles and in some cases, a keyword search of some sites (such as Keith’s) that have penned several useful articles on this topic:

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VerseScrape 0.3

Well sometime during the past few weeks, the good folks over at the International Bible Society added an audio hyperlink to their verse of the day javascript which in the past I’ve parsed via VerseScrape into an include file for my javascript impaired friends. That and by scraping the verse, I can then render using my own tags and styles.

The nice thing about the inclusion of the audio tag is that it simplified the token I needed to define the end of the passage and reference. Moreover, the second element of the split, the audio verse, is modified to include the reference verse as a title argument within the hyperlink tag.

The bad this I just discovered at the stroke of midnight, not all their verses include an audio link. So for those of you coming back to leave a comment that the code is broke — if fixed it to handle scrapes with and without audio links:


Oh but that’s not all. While my system was in transition, Glenn over at The Journal modified VerseScrape to his own likings (he also graciously pointed out a typo/bug in mine). Proving once again that with Perl, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

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