As we are about to leave 2011…

Phew… that was one busy year! Lots of things happening, but mostly working my but off! I’ve built and launched quite a few websites and fortunately they were well received. So it’s time for a little break during the Christmas period to catch my breath and play with a lot of things that I have not been able to play with … (hehe)

One of those is to finish a website for a friend of mine – she’s running a small yoga business and tho we’ve set her up with the default WP theme – we sure can do better! And please don’t mention my own website.. haha.. I know .. it is way overdue. But I hope that I will be able to upload some more of my illustrations and artwork and then I may switch to a portfolio type template.

Other things I am involved in…

Reviewing of a book on Inkscape. I think I am way too critical tho – so not so sure if they’re happy with me. The book is targeting the beginning Inkscape artist, the same group for whom I write Inkscape tutorials on verysimpledesigns.com. And those that know me in person know I set pretty high standards.

I am also trying to complete some more tutorials for that same verysimpledesigns.com. It has been way too long and I know it.

And finally I am working on vector illustrations and creating a stronger identity there. There are so many talented artists out there Β and the internet provides such a nice opportunity to see what others are doing and how their styles developed over the years. I love the galleries that show earlier as well as recent work. Β It also proves that it is very hard to put your own mark down and do something that is very unique. I know I am overthinking that tho πŸ˜€ – it is clear from my work that I like weird and unrealistic worlds in happy colours.

Waiting in Anticipation

I am currently in one of those moods… lots of plans and unable to start with any of them. I got some new domains to work on, with the idea to use them to distribute some of my graphics for creative purposes (cutting, crafting and whatever one sees fit). Somehow I cannot seem to finish my website designs and bring the sites live.

Inkscape 0.48.2 has been build, but not yet “formally released”. Waiting on that too… there is not much going on at VerySimpleDesigns.com and that has to change too. The site still has a decent amount of visitors, even with no content changes since last February. I feel a bit guilty about that too… I created some cool prim colour filters and never shared them, I even created a cute design for a tutorial with these filters and never published it. I just got to kick myself into creative mode I guess…

Then Joomla! version 1.7 was released. VSD runs at 1.5 and I have been planning to update the site and give it a fresh look for a long time. Some of the components I use are not available for version 1.7 and one of the most important ones had to do with SEO. There is an update now and I am currently testing the components to see if I can update the site soon. I am looking into the styling too, as the site mainly features tutorials and I would like to have a bit more control on numbering of steps in a tutorial. It needs a bit of rethinking but it is cool to work on.

I have picked up 3d modeling and rendering again – slowly – but also that brings a lot of fun. It is just that I have too many things I want to do .. how to fit that in into just a 24 hr day? πŸ™‚ Ultimately I want to bring out models as content creator for the 3d community – but I am still a long way off from sharing anything worthwile.

Change of Weather

Finally! Summer is near! The temperatures are slowly going up and for the next few weeks it will be ‘comfortable’ – that is just before it becomes too hot and I need the airconditioner to feel comfy. I am still not used to the Australian weather. Funny thing is that ‘Sydney people’ try to deny that it is cold – many houses do not have heating systems and some of my friends seem to think it is quite normal to sit indoors with your coat on. I miss the comfort of a central heating system on cold days! I have had a serious cold / flu / sinus infection and been sniffing and coughing for weeks. So glad I can work from my own home!

Work-Life-Play

Life here is not really so different as to my life in the Netherlands. Sure the weekends are awesome – bushwalks, beachlife and enjoying a laidback lifestyle – weekdays are business as usual. I really like the work and the complexity is slowly growing. As I wrote in my earlier post – I feel I am a full WordPress developer now. We deliver a few websites a month and are expanding our range of services. I am focussing a bit more on extending skills with particular frameworks such as JQuery. All in all very cool and a job perfectly suitable for a geek girl.

Joomla and Very Simple Designs

I finally found some time to do a major update on our Inkscape tutorial site verysimpledesigns.com. The site runs on Joomla! 1.5 and I was hoping that by now version 1.6 would have been released. Not so – and that might as well be ages away again – so I finally found the courage to update all components to the last available version.

I still need to fix a few things: use of an older version of JComments has resulting in commenter’s names and email adrresses disappearing. Of course I have back-ups so I can restore the table – but one has to do that aye?

I am not sure what is keeping the release of the new version, a new beta version is released every 2-3 weeks and they have carefully mentioned a possible RC1 with the next release. But c’mon – that has been a way too long development cycle! (and yes I am aware it is open source, depending on volunteers etc…). Anyways.. I am working on an overhaul of the template we use on verysimpledesigns.com – for use with Joomla! 1.6. We will migrate the site when the release of Joomla! is production ready. A specific point of focus is to number the steps in a tutorial better to improve readability.

Inkscape

Inkscape 0.48 has been released a few weeks back and an update is in the making. Whilst all the developers work hard on fixing issues – some regression has occurred and the release of 0.48.1 is pushed back a bit. There have been a few cool but not so noticable additions to the program – and I am way overdue in writing a tutorial about that. Gonna try to fit that in next week or so.

More play

So is it all work and no play? Of course not! Like I said – the weekends are for relaxing and enjoying the Australian lifestyle (bushwalks, beachlife, meeting up with friends and of course steaks and such on the barbie).

I also picked up another skill – I did a course in textile printing. The very simple vector designs I create are very suitable for fabric printing and I figured I might as well add that skill to my set. The course ran at the Sydney Community Collegue and was led by a very enthousiastic instructor – Ro Cook. The course comprised of screen printing and relief printing.

In the screen printing part we created our direct stencils by cutting our designs from a a coated material. The results are pretty good – but I must confess that I am not crafty enough to spend 2 hours cutting an intrinsic design from a piece of (coated) paper. So back to automated techniques: we obtained an electronic cutter. At the moment that buy seems to be a failure as the software that drives the machine is not doing its work – it is unable to cut our own created SVGs. An update of the software has been promised a few times and is about to be released (this week). But counting the empty promises sofar I do not keep my hopes up too high.

Oh and tomorrow is the day of the Metallica concert πŸ™‚

Big things to come…

WordPress Developer

Sometimes all things seem to happen at once. I have been working hard this week – creating a new WordPress template for one of our clients and slowly I feel more like a WP developer.

I had a discussion on such matter before – some years ago. This was with a former collegue and we talked about skills, skill levels and just knowing a bit more than anyone else, and particularly clients, and that is how we make a living but in the back of our heads we are scared that one day it may all come out and we will be tagged as fakes. Don’t get me wrong – I know quite a bit of everything, but I do not feel a specialist in any particular field – I like almost all work I do (which is fortunate as there are many people that hate whatever they do for a living). I have done quite some coding over the years – in several programming languages, I have done database development, I do graphics design and if you have ever visited Very Simple Designs you know I write tutorials for graphic design too. I have built and maintained quite a few websites, and I can read and breathe HTML and CSS. I worked with several CMSs, but that was more a matter of technical implementation and tweaking of existing templates. So when I got hired as web developer for a company that uses WP – I knew I had to build more skills. My motto is “yes I can” but I had to work hard to extend my skill set. Both the WP Codex as well as Google were my friends – and as I said in the first sentence – I slowly feel more like a WP developer.

It is interesting tho – I used WP for years as blogging software. This site uses it. I did not have a lot of requirements at the time and figured I could get away with the standard configuration. And I did not even bother to create or install a fancy theme – it is a very simple one – one that had a colour scheme that I liked already and I just uploaded a new header. How lazy can one be? But the company I work for actually (tries) to use WordPress as CMS. What can I say? It is NOT a CMS – it is blogging software – no matter what people claim. Its architecture is not suitable for complex site managment. For Very Simple Designs we used Joomla! which is a full fledged CMS with many more options – better configurable and certainly more suited for customizations, extensions and reusability than WP in its current state. But I am learning to overcome WP’s limitations and to cope with the restrictions that the business put upon development (as for an unsatisfactory explained reason the use of widgets is not allowed). So indeed – I am a WP developer now and there is a lot more to learn yet.

So what’s the big news?

This week both Inkscape (my all time favorite vector editing software) as well as Joomla! (a favorite CMS of mine) both released statements about upcoming releases.

Inkscape

The Inkscape team completed the goal for the bug hunt and is now making the final decision on items that will be included in the upcoming 0.48 release. They also announced the winning design for the new Inkscape 0.48 splash screen. The alpha release for Inkscape 0.48 will follow soon, in the mean time check out the Inkscape download page for nightly builds and feel free to experiment with the development releases and participate in the testing to make this a kick-ass release.

Joomla!

The Joomla team finally released Joomla! 1.6 Beta. I am very excited about this as it will bring plenty new features, amongst which a new access control system, unlimited depth organisation model (no more struggles to put subcategories under categories – the category tree can be fully user defined), a simplified process for updating extensions, and also better XHTML semantics in layouts. I will be using the beta release and migrate the VSD website to it on a virtual machine – just to see how much these new features will mess with the current content. But there is no doubt in my mind that we will migrate to Joomla 1.6 soon after production release is available.

Other things that keep me busy

  • I am customizing some WP plugins to make them more flexible (re-usable) in our projects. Some of that work may be released here in near future.
  • We managed to get tickets for the Metallica concert in November – long way ahead but we are looking forward to it.
  • The kitties are growing fast – naughty as ever. We are still a bit worried as Moogie is very particular about her food and still very skinny tho the vet says she’s developing alright. Dax is wild and eats like a beast – food disappears in seconds and then she tries to steal Moogie’s food. Sometimes she eats too much too fast and that makes her sick. She meows and announces that she does not feel well but before I finish clean up she is running around like nothing happened. The worms are gone – and nothing serious to worry about now.

Not a nobody no more

A long time ago I wrote a post with a question.. how do people find the way to my blog (and why would they want to find my blog as it contains mostly personal stuff)? At that time I had a vague notion about search engine optimisation – SEO – but no real knowlege. I read up on a few things, saw the numerous amount of scams around that promiss top rankings within hours and I also read that in this day and age Google pagerank is less important in terms of search engine visibility than it used to be. So I mothballed my thoughts on SEO.

Then we started with our tutorial site verysimpledesigns.com. Of course it is no fun to write tutorials if no one ever reads them. So I read up again, found some very useful pages explaining that SEO is no magic but mainly comes down to a good layout, good content and hard work. I just made sure that the template on VSD was as friendly for the human reader as for the search engine bot – I checked the generated XHTML with the text browser Lynx. As the site runs on Joomla! I enabled mod_rewrite on the server and installed the latest GPL version of sh404SEF to create search engine friendly – SEF – links to all pages.

I started to add page specific meta tags – apparently also less important these days – but I figured it takes minimum effort and won’t harm. I did *NOT* write keyword targeted articles. I absolutely see no use in luring people to a site finding a generic 250 word article that appears as a useful site in the search engine results but contains only superficial information. What I did was the otherway around – I wrote an article, a tutorial, and cherry picked a few keywords from that article and put those in the meta fields. I have not optimized my articles and keywords, which is an effort that I should start about now too.

Link building is another effort – and I can tell you that I suck at it. I am in general way to busy to go around and put my name and website in a zillion other blogs. But I do follow quite a few good blogs and where I thought comments were appropriate I added them using full details. I then also learnt about “do follow” and “no follow” links. VSD has “no follow” links by default in the comments section, so has this site. But I am contemplating in changing that. The comments on both sites are moderated and if someone with a website to cheap crap links with an unrelated comment or just “awesome” – I am free not to publish it πŸ˜€ – in the mean time it would allow me to link properly to sites that are useful and do contribute to a better web.

Anyways.. there is now a nice daily flow of visitors to verysimpledesigns.com. This is mainly because of the Spiro Swirls tutorial for Inkscape – which has been visited over 28000 times – the site got noticed and some awesome sites linked to either the homepage or directly to the tutorial page. The Alexa ranking is going up daily, and since this week we have a Google Page Rank of 4 on the Very Simple Designs home page and quite a few tutorial pages. The index page for tutorials and other resource pages such as Photoshop Brushes got a PR of 3. And the funny thing is that this blog receives more visitors too, altho the number is quite modest and it got a PR of 2. I am not a nobody anymore (at least not according to Google’s pagerank algorithm).