About the Author
Mass Effect
Final Fantasy X
Batman:Arkham City
Borderlands Series
Weekly Column
Champions Online
World of Warcraft
DM of the Rings
Good Robot
Project Frontier

New Website Features

By Shamus
on Saturday Dec 15, 2007
Filed under:


I’m doing a large update to the site right now. If something breaks, that’s why.

8:45am Step 1: I’m deleting a bunch of old plugins, removing orphaned files, removing a bunch of themes I’m not using, and a bunch of other fussy stuff.

9:00am Step 2: Some changes to the theme. The monthly list of archives is replaced with a much-shorter yearly list. The category icons are a little nicer. Some other minor tweaks to spacing & placement. Gravatars are gone for the moment, but I’ll put them back later.

9:15am Step 3: Wow. I managed to get this far without breaking anything. Check out the sidebar on the right, and you should see the new theme switcher, wich will allow you to change between white and black layouts.

9:45am Step 4: What a pain. I made a plugin to generate little smiley face avatars (for people who dont have Gravatars) and it worked great locally, but failed in a dozen different ways once I made it live here on the server. Between different versions of PHP and file write permission problems, I had to make all sorts of goofy changes. Boo.

10:00am Step 5: Okay, the fallback icons (I’m calling them “wavatars”) are working again. So, if you have a Gravatar it should use it. If you DON’T, you should get a unique avatar generated by your email adress.

10:30am All Done: The “wavatars” was going to be a plugin for public release. I thought it was ready for distrubution, but the problems I encountered just installing it on my own server indicate that I need to add some version checking. I REALLY wanted it to be seamless and useable for non-technical users, but I see there is no way to avoid it: The user has to be at least savvy enough to set directory permissions to 777 for the thing to work. PHP can create the directory, but not set it to 777. Dang.

I still do plan on releasing wavatars, although I need to test it a bit better to make sure it can fail gracefully instead of puking PHP errors all over the comments when something goes wrong.

Comments (123)

1 2

  1. Shamus says:

    This is a test comment for the new theme.

  2. James says:

    The Gravatars seem to have disappeared!

  3. BVB says:

    Hey, cool. Shamus’s comments are highlighted in red (and I’m pretty sure that that didn’t happen before.)

  4. Ingvar says:

    BVB: Shamus’ comments have been highlighted in red for at least a few days. The theme selector seems to work, but kicks you back to the front page.

  5. Rhykker says:

    Alright, black bg theme!

    Thanks, Shamus. I know you did that for your readers and not yourself, based on what I remember of your preference.

  6. i am deliberately using a different email than my usual to test a hunch…

  7. and now i’ll try my usual email…

  8. Fuloydo says:

    Let’s see what the generic avatar looks like….

  9. RPharazon says:

    What if you run out of images? Eventually, you’ll run out of avatars from all the unique commenters who never visit again and it’ll get all mangled.

    And I’m too lazy to set up a Gravatar. >_>

  10. Sharpie says:

    Interesting, lets see what fancy avy I gots.

  11. Shamus says:

    “running out” isn’t a problem. It creates them on demand, based on your email. There are 7 faces, 3 backgrounds, 8 eyebrows, 14 eyes, 10 pupils, and 16 mouths. That’s 376,320 unique SHAPES.

    Taking color into account, there are 21,676,032,000 (21 billion) possible avatars, or about 3.5 avatars for every human being on Earth.

  12. McNutcase says:

    Looking good in Firefox on OSX here. I’m liking the procedural avatars bit; procedural content is a Good Thing. Someday I’m going to point you at my thoughts on how to make CRPGs less predictable using procedural content…

  13. Shamus says:

    The real problem is that it caches the avatars as needed – and they tend to accumulate fast. Assuming every page on your blog gets viewed, you’ll end up with an image for every unique commenter on your site. At the current size, they average around 4k each. If you have a lot of comments this can add up quickly.

  14. Uninverted says:

    I hope I get a good one!

  15. SimeSublime says:

    The black background looks nice, but I find the white much friendlier on the eyes. Now the wavatars look great. I’d be curious to see what I got, but I went and set up a gravatar the other day. Oh well.

  16. Henebry says:

    I like the xhtml hints. I tried to use strikeout in a comment yesterday, but didn’t work.

  17. Tango says:

    Wavatars? W-Avatars? Does the “W” stand for something I haven’t figured out yet?

  18. Nathaniel says:

    I like the black background, very nice. Heh, just noticed that it has the d20 showing 1.
    Also seeing what Wavatar I get.

  19. Shamus says:

    Tango: The “W”avatars stands for “W”hat the hell do I name this plugin?

    I just picked it because it was easy to pronounce and likely not taken.

  20. Mari says:

    The black is nice, Shamus. Thanks for going to the trouble of making it available to the few freaks like me that prefer it this way.

    Oh, and I figured wavatars was for “Wah! I don’t have a Gravatar!”

  21. ShadoStahker says:

    4k each in cache, eh?

    I figure you could get around that by having the script generate them on the fly instead of caching. Base it on the email’s hash to ensure the same email always gets the same one.

    I have no idea how much CPU time that would take up, though.

  22. Thijs says:

    It looks even better than before… I really like how the comments are now easy to read

  23. Vegedus says:

    I sure do hope I get a nice avatar.

  24. ElmoFromOK says:

    I really like the changes you have made here. I think it displays the information in a very easy to parse way. The eye can find what it needs quickly with having to stop and think about it. Nice.

  25. Cadrys says:

    Shameless gravatar check. Thanks for the black background. :)

  26. Jansolo says:

    Good job, as usual.

    The theme switcher is a useless but good option.

    Useless because you had got the right, it’s better the white background.

  27. Phazzar says:

    Yet another person checking for his Wavatar.

  28. Rhea says:

    Okay, I’m curious. Checking out the Wavatar thing. Teehee.

  29. ScottSM says:

    The wavatars look great. It seems like a pain for non-techies with making the directory writeable but I never found an easy way to do it in php. Also last I checked there was no action or filter that you could tie the avatars to so the user has to edit their theme files. Did you find any way around those?

    Also if you want the wavatars to stay the same on different servers (php rand and mt_rand won’t stay consistent across servers), I have php code for a Mersenne Twister random number generator in this file. Got it off the pseudocode from Wikipedia so feel free to use it (it seems to works right).

  30. scragar says:

    doesn’t PHP’s mkdir function default to perms 0777?

    and if not you can always set them as the second argument or run chmod after it, or at the very least umask it.

  31. Ryan says:

    Wonder what I’ll have here until I find the perfect Gravatar?

  32. Kacky Snorgle says:

    Nifty! A black background! My eyes thank you…. :)

    And the new whatsit-avatars are much better than the d20, which tended to look a little too much like the comment-counting dice.

    Everything else is quite splendid too, except for the shortened archives list, which makes it take substantially more clicks to get to old posts chronologically. It *does* save a bit of screen real estate, but still, I don’t much like the cost/benefit ratio….

  33. ScottSM says:

    Good point Scragar about the mkdir. I don’t think chmod will work because chmod can’t modify the permissions unless it can already modify the file. That was the vicious circle I was running into before but just having the script make it’s own directory would work. Funny how you miss the simple things some times.

  34. ScottSM says:

    Oh now I remember why I didn’t use mkdir. To make a directory you have to have write permissions in the base directory so you still have to have the user change the permissions on a directory.

  35. onosson says:

    I want a theme switcher for EVERY SITE on the web!

  36. DGM says:

    Let’s see… I’m a triangle. An orange, upside-down triangle. With a vacant – nay, an outright cross-eyed – expression on his face. And one tooth.

    My God, I’m the inbred redneck hick of the polygon world.

    Shamus, what have you done to me?!? :P

  37. Scott says:

    Now all of my previous posts are a hexagon with sunglasses and tape over his mouth? I do not like the fact that Gravatars are case sensitive!

  38. mookers says:

    I just LOVE the wavatars. What a great idea! My five year old son thinks they’re cool too. Good work!

  39. mookers says:

    You mean I’m a pointy head???

  40. Lanthanide says:

    Wavatar test.

  41. Boingophile says:

    just wondering what my other email address comes up with on Wavatars

  42. McNutcase says:

    Shamus: my musing on procedural content was largely inspired by that blog post of yours. I took it further though; I started trying to work out if it would be possible to run procedural sidequests, along with plausible NPC behaviour such as farmers that actually go out and farm rather then just standing in the yard waiting for Ivor Bigsword to show up…

  43. Alden says:

    Classy. I should see about getting myself a Gravatar. And possibly a Gravatar plugin for my MT weblog. :)

  44. Alden says:

    Now I have a gravatar, hopefully it should show up here…

  45. Shamus says:

    Scott makes a good point. I think I’ll make it convert all emails to lowercase before making a wavatar.

  46. Shamus says:

    For whatever reason, mkdir fails if I try to create it with 777.

  47. Kristin says:

    Testing wavatar! Neat!

  48. Joe says:

    Posting to see my cake, as well as to be happy about the black theme! Shamus works too hard for the masses, calm down dude.

  49. Ian says:

    Okay, Wavatars are officially one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in a blog. Way to go, Shamus! :D

  50. Yet another shameless wavatar check.

  51. lazybratsche says:

    Gotta see what wavatar I pull out of the hat.

  52. Mystyk says:

    Now I’m curious about my wavatar…Here comes the bandwagon.

  53. Steve says:

    I just want to see what my Wavatar looks like since i dont know how to set up a gravatar and i dont have the energy to go back and re-read that post yet.


  54. Steve says:

    Well that could have been worse :)

  55. Kotenku says:

    I am thrilled about the black theme. I tend to check this site out in the mornings when I wake up, around 6 AM, and it’s seriously painful trying to read the black on white crap.

  56. Kotenku says:

    Oh goodness, this wavatar is entirely unacceptable.

  57. Dank says:

    I really like this feature. :)

  58. Chargone says:

    yay for silver/gray on white! so much nicer. theme selector is win :D

    on that note, in the discussion on text/background colour, i seem to remember someone saying the black on white wasn’t as bad on an LCD screen. i now have one. to me, at least, it’s worse. which just goes to show it’s very much an individual person thing.

    other thing was that i had to increase the text size by one to make it legible [could be the resolution I’ve got it at, could be the actual font size, could be anything *shrugs*] with the black background, and the blue text for links could stand to be a shad or two brighter. they kinda blend in a bit.

    all that aside, i like :D very cool.

  59. Chargone says:

    and apparently my gravatar did not take, so i get a wavatar.

    … … it’s kinda freaky… …

1 2

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated and may not be posted immediately. Required fields are marked *


Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun.

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>