David Artiss

Author: David (page 63 of 111)

Another satisfied customer!

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After a mild rant back in December about some of the support queries I get (with regard to my WordPress plugins), I’m happy to say that I’ve had the pleasure to work with someone who has actually been helpful, responsive and, more importantly, replied to his emails 😉

A Dutch gentleman named Bas de Meijer reported a couple of problems via a comment on one of my plugin pages. One I was able to resolve quite quickly and update the relevant plugin, the other was, erm, more difficult to pin down. This was related to another plugin and turned out to be due to me using a PHP command that didn’t work in PHP 4 (which he was using). As far as I know this command is the only one of this type that I’d used and it was a simple job to modify it to something else and get the compatibility. However, to actually work out what it was I had to send Bas a number of different versions of my plugin, each with more and more debug output being added.

The result was the two plugin releases announced last night – indeed, even adding Technorati to Simple Social Bookmarks was his idea. Thanks Bas. But, then again, he seemed to enjoy the experience just as much….

Thanks again for the great job you have done. Not only by designing the plugin, but also by spending a lot of time to debug it with me. It is much easier to say ‘it should work, so you must be doing something right’ or ‘well, upgrade your system’. But you really wanted to make it work. That suites you.

It was a pleasure helping you. I know from myself that I rather would solve the problem, than to switch to something else.

So come on, those who have a problem, report it, but never respond back to me – I don’t bite!

Elvaston Castle

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Elvaston Castle, just outside Derby, is a fantastic 19th century house set in 200 acres of woodlands, parkland and gardens. It’s open to the public and I’ve been going there since my eldest daughter was young.

Unfortunately, it’s under threat. Derbyshire County Council, who own it, are threatening to sell it to a private company to be made into a hotel with much of the grounds to be used as a golf course.

Naturally, as soon as I heard I signed the requisite petition.

However, speaking to a friend, who has also visited the grounds on many occasions, I was set thinking. He believes that selling it is the only way to ensure the house doesn’t crumble away and that DCC doesn’t just end up having to pay hand-over-fist. But surely that can’t be it? Surely there must be a way to save it for the public?

Well, a quick look on the internet proved there was. The Friends of Elvaston Castle are a group dedicated to saving the buildings and grounds for any such private ownership. And reading their site shows that things aren’t always what they seem. They have some grand, but sensible, plans hampered generally by DCC who, amongst other things, won’t release financial details. Yet one of the main reasons for DCC wanting to sell it is because of the costs (and, indeed, my friends main argument).

But let’s just stop there a second. Why should the fact that it costs money each year be a problem? Isn’t that what we pay our council tax for? Should everything pay for itself? Or as the Friends of Elvaston Castle put it…

This must raise the question as to why the Derbyshire County Council can no longer finance the annual maintenance costs of the Country Park when these costs should surely have been budgeted for when the authority annually sets its ratepayer’s council tax for the provision of Countryside Services?

They believe that a not-for-profit trust should take over ownership, ensuring that the house and grounds remain available to the public, yet doing what DCC hasn’t done – promote it! It gets 20% of the annual footfall that Alton Towers does, yet charges a small fee for parking and has nothing but a small cafe and gift shop on site. If DCC is losing money, it’s not trying very hard to prevent it. I guess the handsome income from selling to a private company is more appealing!

So, apologies to my friend, selling to a private company is NOT the best approach. Maybe if all other avenues have been exhausted then it could be a final route to take, but it’s quite obvious that this has not happened. But we mustn’t think that because a local council can’t support a local amenity, then this is the only solution – there are usually groups of people willing to take on such a challenge.

In the small village that I grew up, stands the last working windmill in Nottinghamshire. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve spent there. But today it stands desperately in need of help. For something like this, there probably isn’t a private option [1]unless somebody wants to have the sails removed and turn it into a house. In this case they are already run by a “Friends” group, but even they are struggling. Local fund-raising isn’t enough and a recent theft of metal from the building has left them even worse off. Consider the millions of wasted pounds every year from government and you wonder why this kind of thing is allowed to happen in the first place.

But I’ll leave the last words to The Friends…

Through our own research and enquiries, we believe that the Elvaston Castle Estate, run on sound business practices which have been proven successful by both trusts and local authorities in other areas, will not only protect vital public open space but also contribute to giving our citizens an improved society in which to live.

References   [ + ]

1. unless somebody wants to have the sails removed and turn it into a house

Secure Gmail & how to get Notifier to work

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For some time Gmail has offered the ability to default to using HTTPS, for more secure access. However, they have now announced that it is to be made the default.

One thing this will lead to, assuming you use it, is Gmail Notifier to stop working.

Google themselves, hidden away in a help screen [1]read the section in the yellow box, offer a solution to this in the way of a downloadable registry change that will force Notifier to use HTTPS too. Simply download the zip file, uncompress it and run the file named notifier_https.reg. There’s a second file in the folder too – notifier_https_undo.reg – this is for restore Gmail Notifier back to how it was.

References   [ + ]

1. read the section in the yellow box

Displaying WordPress short codes

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I’m in the process of writing some instructions for a new plugin – one which uses WordPress short codes. They’re the useful codes that you put in square brackets and are replaced by something else.

The problem is then documenting, because your plugin then wants to convert your text to the appropriate output.

Thankfully, my solution is quick and simple – and it involves another short code!

Open up your themes function.php file and add the following lines of code to it…

add_shortcode('showme',show_me');
function show_me($paras="",$content="") {return $content;}

Then, simply wrap [showme] and [/showme] around any short codes that you don’t want to be interpreted but do want to be displayed.

Where is my Knitted Character?

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Early December, I came across a company that was hand knitting and supplying Harry Hill Knitted Characters. I thought it would be ideal for my 7 month year old daughter.

Sadly, although I paid for a guaranteed “before Christmas” delivery, it never turned up.

Unfortunately, and you only find out when this situation arises, the only way to contact “BMG Burp” is via an email address. But I did and received no response to my enquiry. I emailed them again and, this time, my email bounced with an error.

Their website is still taking orders and, indeed, they’ve updated the site today with their latest “testimonials”.

And I’m not the only one – there’s a blog and Twitter account for those people who haven’t received theirs yet. The author ordered theirs the same day, but appears to have had a bit more of a response from the company than myself.

Now, I’m not reporting this to stop people buying – I don’t think the company is dodgy. My older daughter received one from them, and it was ordered the same day. However, when ordering online, it’s always worth checking the process for if problems do occur – just an email address is not sufficient. I’ve tried “Googling” for a phone number, but I can’t find one.

All I’m left with now is to attempt, via Google Checkout, to get a refund.

Update #1: Google Checkout contacted BMG Burp and they immediately updated my order status to say it had now been despatched. I wonder how I now go about getting a refund on the “guaranteed for Xmas” postage?

Update #2: I got home a few hours after writing the above to find it had been delivered. Strange that the status had only been set to “despatched” after it had turned up. None-the-less, and if you read the comments for this post, you’ll find that it was not send until the 31st December and the postage was a lot LESS than what I paid. I, and many others, have been taken for a ride!

Happy New Year

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Yea, I’ve been AWOL over Christmas and New Year. Who can blame me though? Spending some time with my family, only occasionally catching up on email.

But, now it’s 2010 and it’s time to get back to some work.

First off, some resolutions. No, not those “get fit” type of resolutions that don’t survive January. In this case, it’s my resolutions for what you’ll find coming up from this site in the coming year….

1. Less personal rants, unless it’s about customer service.

I think I’m a pretty fair minded person, and I think I’m not overly harsh with those who give bad customer service. None-the-less, more news-worthy rants (political, etc.) are going to reduce. Why? Well, take a look on any forum discussing similar subjects these days and you’ll find a plethora of ignorant views being spouted by people who think they know better than anyone else. And I don’t want to end up sounding like one of those people.

For example, I don’t wish to get into the recent announcement that people paying fines are going to pay £15 to subsidise support for victims of crime. Don’t get me wrong, I believe victims of crime should be supported and helped all they can. The thing is, people recieving fines rather than going to court are generally not those leaving behind victims. If I speed a little and get caught on a camera I’ll end up paying. If I speed and run someone over, I’ll end up in court and not have to pay. But which one involved a victim? Another well thought out piece of legislation.

Equally, I’m not going to rant about driving north up the M1 last Tuesday at 11am and finding that during the 20+ miles of 50mph restricted motorway there was not ONE workman present. Just some skips and temporary huts.

But I will rant, for example, about Phones4U who attempted to sell me a new mobile phone, claiming to buy out my existing contract and all for a fee no different to my current monthly cost. Only to find out later that they wanted to clobber me for a ridiculous amount each month in insurance.

I’ll also rant about Carphone Warehouse and Marks & Spencer, both of whom have not responded to customer service emails that I sent, oh, about 2 months ago.

That kind of thing.

2. More Android

Well, I still plan to get an Android phone next month, so expect lots of reviews and suggestions for accessories and software – the kind of thing I did when I got my Netbook.

I was thinking of turning my hand to Android apps, but I believe that they’re written in Java so I’ve suddenly gone off the idea.

3. More WordPress Plugins

Yes, they will continue and will come as a 2-prong attack.

First, I’ll be continueing to update and maintain the existing plugins – this will include planned updates to Simple Feed List, Simple Readbag List and Simple TTIW List (mainly around caching). I’m sure I’ll also be adding more shortening services to Simple URL Shortener as well.

Second, I’ll be releasing some new plugins.

At the moment I’m working on one to assist with embedding YouTube videos into your blog. Yes, yes, I know there are loads available. Indeed I have one installed for this site. However, all those I’ve come across are either way too complex for simple video embedding OR are nice and simple but have certain limitations (for example, playing HQ video).

And this plugin will not be part of the “Simple” range as it will include, amonst other things, an options screen.

There are a few of my existing plugins that would benefit from an options screen – if I add one, though, they will become a new plugin, developed side-by-side with the existing version.

I’ve also had a few calls for a personal plugin that I use to be made available. If you look in the sidebar (not sure which side, I keep changing it!) you should see a section named “Find me online”. Under that is a number of icons for social sites – click on these to display my profile for that site. I’ll (again) add an options screen and a lot more sites.

If anyone has any requests for any of these, let me know.

4. Updating the Online Tools

That online tools section of my site is currently a little under-utilised. I’d like to fix that, so I’ll be looking to add some more pages. I’ll also be updating those already there, especially the CSS compressor, after a recent review.

5. Arsing around with this blog’s layout

I’ve done it throughout 2009, so I may as well be upfront now 😉

More phone foibles

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Yes, I’m still in the market for a new phone. I’m now 2 months away from the end of my contract which means that if I stick with O2 and Carphone Warehouse I can move contracts now. Except, well, they don’t have a half decent Android phone.

At the moment the HTC Hero is the only one that interests me. None-the-less the New Year looks to bring the Sony Ericsson X10 and the Google Nexus One so, right now, my plan is to ride out my final 2 months and then look seriously at what’s available. If it’s still only the Hero in contention then I’ll jump ship and move networks.

Whilst I’m on the subject of Carphone Warehouse, I received a letter after I had 2 months of remaining contract, saying that I would SOON have only 2 months left. But it confirmed the correct date, indicating that it had already passed. Hmmm. After that, though, I heard nothing for a week until I started getting mysterious phone calls in the evening – if I don’t recognise the number then I don’t answer. Anyway, they eventually rang during the day and I decided to see who it was. The voice was distant and foreign enough to make understanding them quite difficult. They identified themselves as being from Carphone Warehouse, but a few seconds later the line went dead (duff signal I suspect). They never rang back.

WordPress 2.9 and my pages!

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I updated to WordPress 2.9 yesterday. All appeared fine.

That is, until I went to update a page today and found the Edit button didn’t work any more. Neither was the URL shortening for the page. And then I noticed that all the comments were missing.

It appeared that the URL for the page was not being returned correctly. At first I thought this to be a potential WordPress fault but after installing the default page.php into my theme it worked! So I’m slowly converting my pages using them default theme page as a template. So, bear with me as it will take a while to do this (work, Christmas, etc, all getting in the way!).

It’s strange that I haven’t found any reference to any of this functionality being changed…

Update

I found the fault. It was this line…

if (function_exists('simple_social_bookmarks'))

 
..which I use to detect if the current user has editing rights – if so, the edit option is displayed. I’ve now modified the edit_post_link parameter to do this instead.

No mention of this being changed in this way in any of the documentation and it works fine with posts. Weird.

Beeb See Me 2

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I missed this at the time – I also got a mention (and more links) on the BBC Internet Blog weekly round-up.

…blogger David Artiss was pleasantly surprised that he had some BBC bods commenting on his Wii post and more so that we’d linked to him from the blog

Plugin error “cannot yet handle MBCS in html_entity_decode”

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Today I’ve had reported to me that one of my plugins (Simple Twitter Link – but I’m sure this equally occur in others) is generating the error “cannot yet handle MBCS in html_entity_decode”. In fact, it generates it about 200 times.

The problem? Well, it’s a bug in version 4 of PHP, so there’s not much I can do about it (sorry!). It’s fixed in PHP 5, though.

One suggested solution is to force your server to use PHP 5 – many have version 5 installed, but just not set as the default. To do this simply put AddType application/x-httpd-php5 .php in the first line of your .htaccess file.

I use html_entity_decode for the post title. At the moment I do this whether you ask for the title or not – I’ll make a change for the future to ONLY do this if requested. That way you can omit the title to prevent this error from occurring. This will definitely also affect Simple Social Bookmarks and Simple Facebook Link.

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