There is no such thing as a free…..

When I started experimenting with WordPress about three months ago a big part of what led me to use WordPress was the astonishing number of free themes. I still think that the free themes are a great idea but I’m a lot more cautious than I was three months ago about what I use.

First – I read this blog which worried me a bit.  Following Siobhan’s instructions I started to check what I was downloading a bit more carefully. I was already downloading from sites that were recommended by some reasonable source (eg Smashing), so I didn’t find as much bad stuff as Siobhan did – but there were things I didn’t like.

Here are the six things that I use regularly now:

To take those in reverse order, turning on debug (just change the flag from ‘false’ to ‘true’ in the wp-config.php file) threw up a few errors I was surprised to find – for example uninitialised variables. I know PHP ‘forgives’ these but I think they are usually a pretty good indicator of sloppy code.

Using the W3C validator also picked out invalid HTML (usually missing closing tags). The CSS validator found a few incorrectly set properties – nothing major but stuff that might be annoying to find and fix.

The theme-check plugin was the most useful – in one case it found dreamweaver files (bad enough in dreamweaver, exceedingly annoying in a WP theme).

None of the themes I looked at failed TAC or the Exploit scanner – but I’ve listed them here because I’d always use them.

None of what I found was too terrible – but it did make me think. Would I buy a paid for theme from a company that released a free theme which didn’t pass these basic checks?  Not a chance!

That doesn’t mean that I think all free themes are bad – there are some great sources (listed in Siobhan’s blog) – but now that I’ve looked at a few I think I’ll be starting with Sandbox and rolling my own in future. At least all the mistakes will be mine :-)

Why do you need a website?

If you have a business it is likely that you need a website. Things change fast in this business and the behaviour of consumers has changed to take advantage of technology. People are less likely to find your business through the ‘phone directory and much more likely to cruise around on the internet. If they find a reference to your business – say in one of the online directories – the next thing they will want to do is look at your website. If it doesn’t exist they will move on to a business that has one.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your business is, even if you’re a one or two person outfit and even if you are not selling anything online you probably still need a website.

It’s more than just needing a website – you need a good one. Think of a website as a different sort of shop window – it needs to reflect the character of your business and invite potential customers to step into your shop. Finding your website may be the first interaction that a potential customer has with your company – a poor site may mean it’s the last one.

Websites aren’t just for customers either – they provide a way for potential employees, business partners and investors to gain an impression of your business.

Over the next few months I’ll write a few short posts on your options for establishing a website – I’ll try and avoid jargon but do feel free to mail me if you have any questions.

Things I thought I’d never do: Photography

When I started building websites my plan was to do the programming – PHP, CSS and HTML. If the problem is programming I know I can solve it, I may not know how long it will take but I know I can rearrange 1s and 0s in an acceptable fashion. I did not want to do artwork or photography – I’m not much good at either and completely unqualified .

The problem is that it just doesn’t work like that. The person that I’m working for at the moment has a fabulous collection of period costumes for hire, she had the artwork for the site but she needed photographs and without them however good I am at fixing PHP the site still won’t look that good.

With some reluctance I decided that I ought to try and learn how to take photographs. Luckily  I have three nieces and a daughter who all love dressing up, I have a decent camera and we all had a free day on the 27th of December.  We assembled at the Worn to be Wild shop in Alresford to find that my client had laid out several complete sets of costumes – including accessories ranging from a stuffed snake to a saxophone – it was a wonderful day.


The quality of the results probably owes more to the costumes, the models and Gimp than to my skill as a photographer. The collection of clothes is really stunning – the catsuit in this shot is is an original 1970′s number  – anyone remember Diana Rigg at Emma Peel in the Avengers?


The rest of website is coming along and I’ll put some images on the ‘WORK’ pages in the near future, the layout is pretty much done but there is a lot more wording to do and this is really up to the client to provide. I think she realised that I couldn’t help with that when I thought a Yoda costume was ET. In my defence they are both some sort of small sci-fi film creature – aren’t they?





Colour me stupid!

Finally – I read the book on HTML5 and CSS3 that has been sitting on my desk since I bought it at JAX London. Well, alright, truthfully – I have read half of it.

Reading books is a good way to learn  – but I find  that technical stuff doesn’t sink in unless I apply what I read somehow.

Since I struggle a bit with the ‘art’ side of web sites I wrote something that makes it a bit easier for me to visualise what colours and fonts will look like when you put them together in a standard sort of ‘blog site’ . It’s beginner style HTML5 so for goodness sake don’t copy it (read the book) ; I used Jan Odvarko’s jscolor library for picking colours.

Here is a link to it – let me know if it’s useful or fun or you can think of more stuff it should do. I hope the usage is self evident. Caveat – it has not been widely tested, if it doesn’t look right in your browser try Chrome or Firefox :-)



Now I need to read the rest of the