by Caleb Jaffa

Archive for May, 2008

Moving Back to WordPress

It seems to be a familiar tune to see a blog powered by Ruby on Rails to switch from Typo, Mephisto or Simplelog to WordPress. WordPress may not be as new or exciting, but it has features that really matter. It’s stable, it’s actively developed and it’s not resource intensive. Also it’ll work great with my favorite blog editor MarsEdit.

I first blogged on a WordPress blog. When Textpattern came out I switched to it. Then I switched back to WordPress when Textpattern didn’t quite scratch my itch. Then came a long flirtation with blogs built using Ruby on Rails. First there was Typo and it was good, but it didn’t work well on shared hosting. It became more and more bloated and harder to deal with. Next I switched to Mephisto, which was good, but it required using the Liquid templating language, which severely limited the ease and power of the templates. Then came Simplelog which is slick and most of what I want from a blogging engine, but development has stopped. When I’ve looked at the code intending to implement the features I want, it becomes a toss-up if I should just start from scratch or try working them in. All the time WordPress has been sitting quietly on the sidelines with all the features I want, it just doesn’t have a useless yellow (or should I say Ruby) vinyl sticker that makes it seem cooler to this web geek.

The Heroku Gem and Git

I signed up for the Heroku beta and got in months ago. It was fun to kick the tires, but I never did more than that. The web interface to edit your application is indeed a technical feat, I’d much rather develop with the tools I know and love. Heroku sort of got pushed off in the back of my mind. Today I came across an article talking about playing with heroku by Josh Nichols at his blog Technical Pickles.

Digging around proved that I never did subscribe to the Heroku blog and that it was time to give it another spin. I’ll refer you to the above article for a good overview of the new features. The skinny is that there is a Heroku gem that allows you to interact with your account. Then you can use it to create a local git repository of an application. After editing locally, committing and pushing your changes Heroku will update your application, run any migrations and restart the mongrel process. This certainly make Heroku more appealing to investigate further. The best part is that with git and rails you aren’t necessarily tied to them, should their eventual pricing plans not suit your tastes.

Appropriating Design

The other day I was browsing around the Ruby on Rails sphere. I came across a site that I normally only read on the blog aggregator PlanetRubyOnRails. I followed through to their site to see ‘their’ new design. It was immediately apparent they had borrowed heavily from another company’s site in the Rails sphere. Now the borrower did try to make the design theirs, but they failed as it still looked like their competitor’s site. They failed even more with garish color choice, no regard to typography or even how to properly code the CSS to make the design work.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

Appropriating design is not a new thing on the web. However there are ways to make it work for you and not against you. I used to work for a creative type who was not much of a web designer. However that didn’t stop him from making good web designs. His secret was that he spent time browsing around and taking screenshots of sites he liked the design of. Then when it came time to design a new site he’d look through his catalog to find what he as a designer thought worked. Sometimes when he would turn over the Photoshop files for slicing and dicing intoHTML/CSS one of the bottom most layers would be the screenshot of the site. Other times we knew it came from a screenshot cause the DPI was 72.009, the DPI Macs used to take screenshots at. While there were offending designs that screamed of the original site, which he got criticism for. However most of the time he took the other site and made it his own. Sometimes the only proof his inspiration was an existing site was the screenshot layer hidden by the background layer.

It’s interesting though to watch the fallout of misappropriated design. How defensive the guilty can be. Though a lot of times people can own up to their mistake and work to rectify things right away. It’s a battle every developer and designer on the web faces, between being inspired and copying. It can be a hard line to draw. Usually it helps to see what colleagues think and be ready to be humble enough to accept the criticism that may arise.