On creating themes and going out of your comfort zone

I have always been a WordPress girl, but you have to admit that there are instances where you just have to use something that specializes in that area.

I’ve recently overhauled Last Leaf and turned it into a lifestream. I have stopped blogging there since the start of the year and have always thought of turning it into just that but I haven’t because creating themes for another CMS seemed intimidating.

At first, I thought of writing my own lifestream, it should have been my way of learning more about RoR but until now, all I have in my folder is the basic install (which I have forgotten how I was able to produce) so I turned to the next best thing: Sweetcron. It’s been months since I have looked at Sweetcron, I remember that I found it so unfriendly to customize to one’s needs before. Turns out, all I really needed was to read a good documentation, a lot of focus and plenty of time to test things out. It’s a pleasant exercise, and it’s something I know I’ll do again.

And so, with the intro done and over with, I suggest that you try and do something you haven’t tried before once in a while, if you’re not yet ready to commit full-time to something really big (RoR for me) then do some little things (like theme customizations, I think I want to try Drupal next) and so, here are the notes I made myself remember while writing Last Leaf’s theme:

  • Base your first theme on one of the default ones

    Most of the time, you already have almost everything you need in the default theme, the developers won’t include that otherwise, I think. Trying to edit the defaults also make the learning curve more enjoyable because you know you won’t just break something because it acts as your guide in the process.

    My first WordPress theme was something based on WordPress Classic, I have little to no knowledge in CSS that time and that’s the best thing I could come up with. It helped me get familiar with the CMS’ templating system (man, I sound so pretentious) as well as taught me what this CSS shenanigan is. With Sweetcron, I used the Boxy Theme. As soon as you were able to stop the nauseous feeling whenever you see a PHP snippet, you’d realize that it’s pretty straightforward.

    Social Media I had a great time styling the individual boxes, it got a little confusing after a while though, what with all those accounts, so I made a separate file for each one of them like what you can see on the image, it made _activity_feeds.php less cluttered and made isolating the problem easier.

  • Experiment

    I wanted to get just the image within the post because I’m not planning on directing people into the single page of every items and all I really want to show sometimes are the interior decors I love. At first I used this: <?php echo $item->item_data[$item->get_feed_class()]['image']['m']?> which is something you need to call the images you uploaded in Flickr but won’t work anywhere else. Thankfully, somewhere in the _activity_feeds.php file is <?php echo $item->get_image()?> and that’s what I used for my Tumblr and Google Reader posts.

    However, I don’t post images there all the time so I need a way to retrieve the text if the image doesn’t exist and so, there goes the only thing I’m good at, if-else statement:

    <?php if ($item->get_image() == ''):?>
         <?php //display your text here ?>
    <?php else: ?>
         <?php //and this is for your photo ?>
    <?php endif; ?>
  • Search and then ask

    I would’ve probably given up on Sweetcron the second time have I not found that Nettuts tutorial, all you really need to do is keep your cool if you can’t find a solution to your problem. And if you can’t find the solution through searching, go to the usergroup/website of the CMS.

Sweetcron is still new and AFAIK, there’s only one developer so it’s understandable if there’s no documentation on the site like: is there a way to retrieve the tags I added in my starred items in Google Reader? How do I truncate the title? (<?php echo word_limiter($item->get_title(), 20) ?> doesn’t work :() Is it possible that I could host the images in my own server instead of relying on other sites? However, the community behind it is very, very friendly and you’re sure to find answers you’re looking for there, unless you’re too shy to ask for it. :P In the end, go and get these Sleeklens free presets for your photoshop.