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Filed in:b2evo

What's in the b2evo Category?

March 4th, 2005  · stk

For those that don't know, b2evolution is the blogging engine that we use to write these pages. It is a php-based, open-source (free), multi-linqual, multi-blogging software program, developed by François Planque.

A great feature of b2evolution is that it can be customized. Of course, a source of frustration is that it can be customized. ;)

To learn more about the software, visit b2evolution.net.

Because I've been getting emails from people asking how to do this, or do that, I've decided to create this b2evo category. It's really a "HOW TO" section, containing step-by-step instructions (with code) about some of the customizations that I've done, utilized or know to work. It's purpose is to serve as a resource for the wider b2evolution community. Each article will be self-contained (although may link offsite for 'more information' or 'details'. The items here will be supported (if you have questions, email me and I will answer them & help you with your website).

This is my way of 'paying it forward' and saying thanks to the developers & those that have helped me. I hope that you find this section useful.

-Scott

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Feeding George

March 2nd, 2005  · stk
Alex feeds george of the jungle

If Alex has a 'best buddy', it ISN'T Tuxedo (our cat, who flees from Alex). No, it's a rather well-worn, stuffed monkey named "George" (after "Curious George" or "George of the Jungle" - take your pick). He's almost as tall as Alex, when erect, which isn't too often. He's usually slouched over, somewhere in the house, arms akimbo and tail drooped. He's missing an eyebrow (oops, I just noticed that he's now missing BOTH eyebrows! A rather recent change). His smile is rubbed off & his 'fur' ratty and worn. To top it off, George isn't very 'curious' anymore. "Why?" Because he was sprayed by Rachel's parents cat, "Pushkin", once, which made George rather incurious and precipitated multiple washings (and further wear)! He may not be curious anymore, but least he smells decent again.

Poor George has been around the block a few times. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, George is almost 'REAL', so loved by Alex is he. He's beed diapered, well - sort of. He's been dragged, tossed, hugged, kissed and thrown down the stairs. But until recently, he had never been fed. Poor George had NEVER had a proper meal.

Leave it to Alex to remedy THAT problem! Watch the video, as Alex 'feeds' George a bowl full of "Oh's" (short for Cheerios).

PS: When I posted this video, I showed it to Alex. She SCREAMED, she was so excited! When Rachel started talking, she yelled out, "Mommaa!" Then, recognizing George ... she made a monkey sound. THAT melted my heart and made all the time it took to get a video solution TOTALLY worth it! What a cutie.

Because we are evaluating this product, it is important that we know about any technical difficulties. IF you're having problems viewing the video, please tell us what is happening (or NOT happening) HERE. Thanks in advance for taking the time to let us know.

About the Video: This video was made using a trial version of Riva Producer (though it could have been made with their Lite version). This choice is a superior solution to the "Blue Pacific" video we published a few days ago in two ways:

1) Streaming: This means you don't have to wait for the file to be fully downloaded before play begins. It utilizes a new file type known as 'flash video' (FLV). For most broadband users, this means that the video begins playing 'immediately' (though there may be a delay, locating the file on the server, which has more to do with our service provider, than the video). Dialup users may still experience problems, as the download probably won't occur faster than the video plays. (In an effort to be more forward-looking, we've made the decision to offer better quality content, aimed at the majority of current computer users (i.e. - faster data connections). However, we appreciate ALL visitors and invite dial-up users to DOWNLOAD the video instead (700KB-AVI) and view at your leisure.

EDIT (3/12): Originally, the FLV file size I posted was on par with the AVI file for download (just under 697KB ). After viewing it, we decided that the quality was not good enough for broadband and pumped up the quality (and file size) to the version you see here. File size has more than doubled, but remains under 2MB (1.66MB - 15% more than fits on a standard 3.5" floppy diskette).

2) Preloader Using the Riva Producer program, we were able to construct a SINGLE video, which shows the downloading progress, when you hover your mouse over the video window. (For the last product, we LOST the preloader progress bar, because it was hidden behing the 1st video, which loaded the MAIN video in the background, before playing. Annoying.)

Now that we have a solution, we hope to bring you even MORE videos of Alex, or whatever other video we might happen to capture using our HP 735 digital camera. We hope you enjoy watching Alex "Feeding George".

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Filed in:Alexandra

Alex on Art

March 1st, 2005  · stk

We try to expose Alex to something new, each day (whether it's big or small, no matter). We've been keeping some of them in a growing list, which you can read HERE.

Yesterday's project was a 'first' for Alex ... a bonafide 'art project'. I confined her to (er, sat her in) her high chair and placed before her, a bevy of highlighters. She promptly grasped the idea (as well as few pens) and using her artistic flair, put her vision on the canvas. She had a good time of it, but did need encouragement.

The project was a success and we now have our first, of a long series, of "refrigerator art". And now, as parents, we're now presented with the question: What do we keep? Where do we keep it? Where do we draw the line?

We cherish all the things that Alex makes. Well, maybe not ALL things, cause some of the stuff she makes STINKS! We don't cherish that very much at all! ;) In fact, we often try to pawn THAT chore off on the other. "I did it last, it's YOUR turn," we say, with varying degrees of success. "I've been with her ALL day and you need some 'bonding' time with her!" (one of my oft-employed lines).

We were first faced with this question when Alex returned from her trip to Vancouver, just after the New Year. She returned with her very FIRST drawing (a study in pencil, below). It was just a small slip of paper, her very first, so we kept it in a folder. (We also have decided to keep the paper towel drawing, as it is her very first COLOR drawing. But I tell you, it's got to STOP! Otherwise, we'll be holding on to projects (some of which won't be so small) for WAY too long. (Ask my parent's about a certain "Wilbur the pig" or Rachel's parents about a doll-house that's 4-foot tall and three-feet wide ... though it was Syd's project, not Rachel's, but you get the idea.)

Are we destined to have drawers crammed full of 1st, 2nd & 3rd grade art projects? Is there ANY way to avoid this? (I thought by taking a digital picture and posting it on the Internet, we could just do away with the 'original' ... yet I find myself hesitating). I'm thinking of it more as an INSURANCE policy, in case the precious original is damaged, somehow. If anyone has any suggestions, PLEASE let us know, before we become buried in a pile of momentos that take over a drawer, a desk, a closet, or *eek* a WHOLE ROOM!

In the meantime, enjoy a quiet moment of fine art, brought to you by Alexandra Lynn - a blooming artist ... or is that BUDDING artist?

-----

P.S. - This particular artwork is a one-of-a-kind! Not so much because she'll never make something similar, but rather, because she ATE the tips off of three of the markers ... so she CAN'T make another such drawing. (At least, not until we buy more highlighters. Ack! :roll: )

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Testing Video

February 25th, 2005  · stk

With the better part of an entire DAY devoted to finding a video solution, I believe that I might have finally found one. It's a compromise (as is, much of life!).

FORMAT: The video is in Flash format (like we've done before), but I improved the quality significantly, at the cost of some bandwidth. The final file size is hovering right at 300KB (compared with about 200KB, from the first posting of this video, back in 2003). The picture is larger and quality glaringly superior.

TOOLS: We are evaluating a software package and this one shows excellent promise, for what we want to achieve (Blue Pacific Software's "Turbine Video Editor"). The watermark on the upper right leads to their website and shows only on the trial versions. (Maybe we'll spring for the $$ and purchase a copy, if we can get the preloader/overlay situation sorted out). It is a fairly straight-forward AVI-to-SWF (as well as JPG/GIF to SWF) encoder, with a nicely laid out interface & extra do-dads. It provides a reasonable compression (I'm sure more compression could be achieved, but I think that file sizes are workable. One can 'tweak' the compression, to achieve a balance between file size and viewability. The extra do-dads are nice, BUT (this is our only complaint) ... they can only be implemented one-at-a-time and though they can be combined, added-to and edited - they can't in THIS software. (Because of that, I think they need to provide a tool to simply combine preloaders & overlays, offer more preloader/overlay combinations, or offer a rudimentary editor. (A preloader shows "loading..." activity as the video file is being transferred to your computer's memory, so that low-bandwidth users can get an idea of how long it will be before the video is viewable). Overlays are just that, SWF files that are ovelain on top of the main movie. They're used for the 'controls' you see in our main movie - so you can stop the movie and start the movie).

The compromise is that I couldn't get it into a viewer that fits on the page, but maybe in that, it is a mixed blessing. I've currently got it popping up into it's own window, albeit a small one (video is a bandwidth hog). This short video is the better part of a half-megabyte (380KB, actually). EDIT: As you can see, I've changed my thinking ALREADY on this (AND compressed the file more), as the video is now displayed in this entry. The pop-up window behaviors between FireFox and MSIE are too divergent (I wanted to control the window size, but controlling it in MSIE meant that FireFox loaded it into a full-sized window - >:( UGLY!). So, I've moved it back into the entry.

PRE-LOADER & OVERLAYS: Though the software ships with 2 pre-loaders, you cannot use either with a control overlay. Further, when you use a control overlay, there isn't a way to stop the movie on the first frame (picture) - it begins to play as soon as the page is loaded. ANNOYING! So take your pick: A preloader & no controls and automatic loading, no preloader, no controls and stop the movie on the first frame (with no way to start it!) OR no preloader, controls and automatic loading! (None of those options work for us) Ack! Of course, if you shell out $899US, you can buy Macromedia MX 2004 and fix this little problem. (Other, lower-cost solutions exist, but each is about $69US and we're not keen on shelling out THAT kind of money to fix such a small problem.) I wrote to Pacific Blue Software, which is a Portugese Company, based in Lisbon, asking if they could combine these into ONE preloader/overlay. We'll see. Hopefully they'll have a solution for us. Other than this complaint, the software works as advertised.

Excellent software. Easy to use & pretty powerful. I'm glad to have nailed down a video solution.

THIS VIDEO: The video on this page is actually TWO videos (to get around the stop/control issue. We load the first (essentially a 1-frame JPG file [12KB], with a fancy 'dustball, scratches & old movie look' overlay, but CALL the main movie, by clicking the first. The main movie is 302KB and loads into the same spot. Two complaints: (1) Because there is NOT a pre-loader, users on dialup are going to get a blank screen after clicking the first movie. (I tried to put a background GIF in that spot, to indicate action, but the "<object>" tag steadfastly refuses to accept rudimentary CSS commands. The lout! (2) I also tried to get BACK to the 1st movie, after the second played, but the second movie is a bit of a stage hog and wants the limelight for itself. It refuses to load any other movies and just hogs the space (which is OKAY, I guess, if you want to see the Oop fall, time and time again!)

Hopefully we'll hear back from Blue Pacific soon. Until then, I'll have to work on posting that video of Alex - dancing (what a cutie).

g'night

LOW/HIGH BANDWIDTH: I ran into a problem, while trying to publish the next Alex video, "Feeding George". The original, uncompressed AVI file is 24,986KB (big). Compressing (using Divx4) gets this down to about 2MB, which is a big improvement. Converting to SWF doesn't really lower it much, but I CAN get it down to about 1MB (but it looks horrid). This is STILL too large for low-band visitors, especially because the data rate requirement (the through-put needed to view the video without interruption) is roughly 4X that of a 56kbps modem connection.

What do we do for low-band users? We don't want BOTH broad and narrow band visitors to suffer through a small, muddy, jumpy & blurry video. We don't have a player that allows you to pick a video version (we could make a shortened, low-band version, rather than degrade quality) - though this might get one sometime the future. For now, I think that we'll let the broad-band users see the video NOW, on our site. The low-band user (Dad, are you listening?) can DOWNLOAD the original AVI file (in this case, about a 2MB download) and view it at home. Neither suffers a degredation in quality, both have access, but the low-band visitor will need to know ahead of time, if they REALLY want to see the video. Not ideal, but the best short-term solution.

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Updated: 26-Feb-2006
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Filed in:Site News

Silent (but Not Idle)

February 24th, 2005  · stk

There haven't been many juicy posts lately. But that doesn't mean that we've been sitting around on our arses! ;)

We've lots to share, but are still figuring out ways to accomplish this goal. I did, recently, revamp the audio button for Alex's animal sounds. The old way (MP3) forced a new page to open and (whatever audio solution you use) to open up. The new way (Flash audio) is a larger file size, but it's streaming, doesn't open a new page (you stay on the main page) AND 99% of folks will ba able to listen, using the same Flash plug-in (a browser solution, rather than a client-based solution). Have a look and please, let me know if you experience any technical difficulties.

We've got video to share (Alex dancing) and would like to get that posted soon. Again, we're looking for the best way to present it. We want a broad-bandwidth/dial-up option, we don't want to force the opening of a new page & we want you to be able to control the play. Unfortunately, the only solution I've found, costs $69US, which we're not too keen on (though we do accept donations :D)

We also recognize that a number of our entries are updated from time-to-time: entries like "Keeping our Toddler Busy", "Computer Tips" and "Alex's list of 'Firsts'" are appended, when there is new information. Currently, once an entry rolls off the front page, it's buried. No one knows that it's been updated. So, I'm working (today) on a way to add a "Recently Updated" list to the right-hand side.

The point: it takes a LOT of working in the background, to bring you all of the information in the foreground. With Alex needing to be fed, changed & supervised ... it's just not happening as fast as I'd like.

We've received lots of positive comments from friends, family and complete strangers. THANKS! We're glad that you like the new format. There has been GREAT interest in my new photo-zoom technique and I'm pursuing the possibility of publishing that solution. Thanks for your patronage and patience, while we iron out some of the website kinks.

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Updated: 24-Feb-2005
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