Tag Archives: Sandbox

Gravatars

WordPressOne of the things I like about WordPress 2.5 is the native support for Gravatars, globally recognized avatars. The idea is pretty simple: register with your e-mail address at the Gravatar site, upload a picture (I used a photo of myself, but that’s not a requirement). Once your account is set up, anytime you leave a comment on a Gravatar-enabled blog, your e-mail address is sent (using the magic of cryptographic hashing) to the Gravatar server. The server then does what servers do best: it serves; specifically, it serves your globally recognized avatar to the requesting blog, which then (typically) displays said avatar next to your comment.

Here’s a sample comment from my WordPress 2.5 upgrade post:

Blog comment with Gravatar.

That [handsome] fellow in the corner of the comment should look familiar, and if P.G. Holyfield had a Gravatar account his comment wouldn’t display the generic “Oh, no, I don’t have a Gravatar!” image ((Or perhaps the “Oh, no, I provided a fake e-mail address in the blog comment form!” image.)) in the upper left:

A comment from a user who does not have a Gravatar account.

Each Gravatar has a content rating—G, PG, R or X—and WordPress has a “Maximum Rating” option that determines whether Gravatars of a given rating will be displayed. I try to maintain a family-friendly blog for the most part, so I’ve set the Maximum Rating to PG, which won’t prevent people with photos of “Lando and the Ugnauts” as their Gravatar from commenting, but will prevent said photo from displaying next to their comment. Seriously, put that thing away before you get us all killed.

Originally, I was going to use a WordPress plugin to handle Gravatar-wrangling, but when I discovered that one of the features of WP-Gravatars made my blog spew green pea soup (or lose its database connection; I forget which), I started poking around for alternative solutions. As it turns out, I didn’t have far to poke: Sandbox, the WordPress theme that serves as the underlying framework for my custom blog theme, had recently released a new version with Gravatar support. Once I had the latest version of Sandbox installed, it was just a matter of tweaking the CSS to style the new Gravatar-enabled comments the way I liked and voila, one Gravatar-enabled blog.

If you start browsing through old comments on the blog, you’re going to notice something: most of the people who comment here don’t have Gravatars. ((Or perhaps they have naughty Gravatars and I won’t display them.)) That’s fine; I’m okay with adding a feature just for folks like Jason Penney, Sam Chupp and Cynthia Armistead, especially if knowing that their smiling (or illustrated) faces will show up on my site encourages them to comment more.

Should you use a Gravatar? It’s up to you. If you’re worried about your e-mail address being used for nefarious purposes (like flooding your inbox with ads for Lando-enhancement products), consider this: Gravatar is owned by Automattic, the same folks who make the spam-comment-killing Akismet plugin (the very plugin that has backhanded nearly 110,000 spam comments on this blog and kept it from becoming a nightmare to maintain). You think they’re gonna sell your e-mail address to spammers?

Sitestuff: Theme work in progress.

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I spent a good deal of time this weekend fiddling around with the Sandbox theme from plaintxt.org. Plaintxt.org is the brainchild of Scott Wallick, and he describes it as “[m]inimalism in blogging: an experiment out of control”. In the two and a half years since I installed WordPress, I’ve used at least three of Scott’s plaintxt.org themes: Barthelme, plaintxtBlog and now Sandbox.

Where Barthelme and plaintxtBlog are both fully developed from a visual standpoint, Sandbox is more like a blank slate upon which a design can be built; think of it as an unfrosted cake ready for anything your imagination (and your skill with a tube of colored frosting) can throw at it.

If you’re familiar with the old look of the site, it might appear that all I’ve done is shift the left sidebar over to the right, and there’s good reason for that: my goal was to, in essence, recreate the basic look of Brian Gardner’s Blue Zinfandel theme, but with two right-hand sidebars instead of one on either side of the main column. Ultimately, the changes to the design will be significant enough to fully distinguish it from Brian’sI’ll start by designing my own post-separator graphic., but I thought it would be interesting to see if I could mimic at least part of his crisp, clean look using Sandbox as a base.

I’m pretty pleased with the outcome so far. There are areas that still need work (the far right sidebar has a tendency to drop out of place when viewing a single post with Internet Explorer, for example), but the basic look is coming together nicely. I’ve had one person tell me they’re not a fan of the dual sidebars on the right-hand side, but I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.

As always, I encourage anyone with an opinion on the design to share it with me in the comments. I know that the archives and library pages are a mess right now, and I’ll post an update when I’ve fixed them, but if you see anything else that seems out of place, needs improvement, or is just plain ugly, let me know.