New Website Features

By Shamus Posted Saturday Dec 15, 2007

Filed under: Projects 123 comments

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.


From The Archives:

123 thoughts on “New Website Features

  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:

    how about “Whatavatar”?

  42. Boingophile says:

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

  43. 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…

  44. Alden says:

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

  45. Alden says:

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

  46. Shamus says:

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

  47. Shamus says:

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

  48. Kristin says:

    Testing wavatar! Neat!

  49. 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.

  50. Ian says:

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

  51. Yet another shameless wavatar check.

  52. lazybratsche says:

    Gotta see what wavatar I pull out of the hat.

  53. Mystyk says:

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

  54. 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.


  55. Steve says:

    Well that could have been worse :)

  56. 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.

  57. Kotenku says:

    Oh goodness, this wavatar is entirely unacceptable.

  58. Dank says:

    I really like this feature. :)

  59. 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.

  60. Chargone says:

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

    … … it’s kinda freaky… …

  61. Jim says:

    Ooh I want to play too.

  62. Bear says:

    yep, yep… just checking wavatar. cool addition.

  63. Davesnot says:

    Well.. my gravitar ain’t workin’… but I wanna be one of the cool geeks!! I want my Wavatar!! .. (drumroll).. and my wavatar is…

  64. Davesnot says:


  65. wildweasel says:

    Alright, let’s see if my gravatar works. It didn’t last time…

  66. Snook says:

    Let’s see what mine comes up with on my hotmail…

  67. Snook says:

    Nice, it looks constipated. :S How ’bout my campus e-mail?

  68. Chris says:

    Let’s see what I get for a wavatar. Also, I think I got the easiest anti-spam ever. It was just standard green text on a plain whiteground. Can’t believe computer’s can’t read that yet…

  69. Mr. Son says:

    Now that you have a theme switcher, I don’t suppose you could do a theme in soft blues? My eyes would love you muchly.

    Also, test post to see what avatar my email gets me.

  70. Turgid Bolk says:

    Awesome! I like the black theme, however when I clicked your link to I noticed a problem…the “sidebar” still has a white background, but uses the light grey text. Very jarring and hard to read.

    Anyway, I thank you profusely for the great site design and great site content!

  71. Varil says:

    Demi-lurker jumping on the Wavatar bandwagon…

  72. Varil says:

    I look like I’ve found Zen. Ohhhhmmmmm.

  73. Cal says:

    I don’t need a wavatar to give me an identity, and those posting just to see what they get should be ashamed.

  74. Cal says:

    Octagon! Score!

  75. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Thanks for the gravatars link Shamus.I too more easilly recognize someone by their avatar than their nickname.Although I kind of liked that grumpy triangle,the succubus suits me better.

  76. Steve says:


    Testing my new Gravatar…

  77. Steve says:

    Okay it’s me again (hexagon with glasses)

    Can someone with more computer knowledge than me tell me why my gravatar is not working?

    I’ve set one up.. uploaded the photo.. added it to the email account that i have used here?

  78. kocoro says:

    -_o Well that could be worse. :p

    Liking the themeswitcher.

  79. Z!re says:

    I have no free will, bandwagon here I come!

  80. Stubby says:

    Unable…to…resist..posting any longer….Must…see….wavatar.

  81. Don says:

    Let’s see what I get with a different email.

  82. Don says:

    I think I prefer my gravatar.

  83. BVB says:

    As long as my gravatar works soon, I’ll be alright. I really do not want to be an… overly happy pink triangle.

  84. Kennet says:

    To those people who have made gravatars that still do not show up: give it time. It seems like it takes a little while from you make it until it actually starts showing up. Mine did and I have seen a couple of posts asking why it doesn’t work with shiny little gravatar sitting right next to it, which makes me believe that t didn’t work when the post was made, but kicked in a little later.

    Shamus, Wavatars is a brilliant idea! I can’t say that I care much for the designs of them. Once you release will you make it possible to do your own designs? I assume this would be fairly simple, which is why I am asking.

  85. BVB says:

    Ah, all good now. @ Kennet: Good advice… I was just a bit impatient (pink is not my thing)

  86. Clyde says:

    Let’s see what the wavatar gods decree!

  87. Clyde says:

    Yipes! Looked constipated. Back to the gravatar!

  88. Greg says:

    OK, let’s have fun and see a wavatar :P

  89. Greg says:

    Uh oh, looks like everything’s broken again :X (Or it could just be me. Seeing “Warning: mkdir() [function.mkdir]: Permission denied in /home/shamusyo/public_html/twentysidedtale/wp-content/plugins/wavatars/wavatars.php on line 331
    Unable to create directory with mask 777!

    Warning: mkdir() [function.mkdir]: Permission denied in /home/shamusyo/public_html/twentysidedtale/wp-content/plugins/wavatars/wavatars.php on line 333
    Unable to create directory at all!” instead of any gravatars or avatars.)

  90. Shamus says:

    Yeah, I’m working on the plugin at the moment. Frustratingly, I can’t test this on the local machine, so the only way to work on it is to put it up here and let it spew errors all over the place.

    SO annoying.

  91. Joe says:

    OK, that’s a funky thing about the gravatars. Looking through posts, seeing a gravatar that strikes me as very familiar, thinking “wait, I’ve seen that in my google contacts list… Oh, yeah, he’s the one that sent me this site in the first place, so it would kind of make sense that he might post here…”

  92. maia says:

    I really like the theme switcher! Also, checking for wavatar :)

  93. DarkLadyWolf says:

    Yet another person filling up the comments by testing :)

  94. Phlux says:

    Did you do anything to your CAPCHA? The “d20” is showing up in clear text, and there’s some XHTML underneath telling me that I can use these tags, anchor, abbr, acronym, blockquote, code, em, i, strike, and strong.

    I’d copy and paste it exactly, but I’m sure wordpress would eat my tags.

  95. DGM says:

    Hmm… I don’t know if this is intentional on your part, Shamus, but the wavatars keep changing. Or at least, mine does.

    For the moment I’m a blue pentagram with a o-shaped mouth and wide, swirly eyes. Which means I’ve gone from looking like an inbred hick to looking like a bewildered idiot.

    Clearly, I’m going to have to pick a gravatar.

  96. Strangeite says:

    Curious, it seems that the wavatar that people attribute to their email address is not the same wavatar I see attached to their comments. An example would be comment number 38 by DGM. He 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;” however, what I see is a blue pentagon with stoned looking eyes and mouth open in shock.

    Am I crazy or do individual email address show different wavatars on different computers?

  97. Strangeite says:

    DGM, I was just asking about your wavatar? Good timing.

  98. Miral says:

    I admit to being curious about what wavatar I’ll get. (I’ve actually got gravatar support enabled [supposedly] on my own blog, but been too lazy to actually go and set one up for myself.)

    This sort of plugin sounds like fun, anyway. I’d be interested in using it once you’ve got the wrinkles sorted out :)

  99. Grant says:

    What’s mine?

  100. Shamus says:

    I changed the generation system today, which is why comments no longer match what you see. I’m hopefully done messing with it now, so everyone should see the same thing every time. Further, it should now ignore case when looking at emails, so [email protected] will be the same as [email protected]

    I’ll be releasing the plugin later this week.

  101. DGM says:

    Grant: Ralph Wiggum, apparently. :P

    Then again mine also looks like some village’s idiot, so it’s not like I can point and laugh. :)

  102. JP says:

    Just checking my Wavatar too!

    PS. this is a great idea, Shamus! Keep inventing cool stuff for all us to play with!

  103. Chris Arndt says:

    Mental disorder: made me post….

  104. cory says:

    Skipping to the end to see my wavatar. I assume that’s allowed in this thread.

  105. Smiffus says:

    Oh, shiny!

  106. Frank says:


    Try mkdir()’ing the directory and then setting the permissions with chmod(). I found this to work in cases where setting the permission in the mkdir() didn’t. Not sure why, to be honest.

  107. Belzi.ET says:

    Yeah, this new Wavatars are really cool.

    Another great feature for every Blog with anonymous comments.

    But on another note, your theme-changer seems to be patched a lil’bit.
    At the moment every time you switch the theme, he forgets on which blog-entry you’ve been and therefor redirect you to the newest one.
    Not a big deal, but I thought you might wanted to know.

    Oh, and checking my wavatar =)

  108. Althanis says:

    blah blah blah. yay me!

  109. A different Dan says:

    Eh, what the hey… Might as well get in on the wavatar bandwagon :)

  110. A different Dan says:

    Whoa… Evil lookin’ crittter. Let’s see if this one is significantly different.

  111. A different Dan says:

    Did I mention I’ve got a lot of email addresses?

  112. A different Dan says:

    Okay, last one, I promise.

  113. Mario says:

    Well, I can’t very well not check, can I?

  114. Mario says:

    Okay, that was just a little ugly.

  115. Don Monkey says:

    Ha! I am behind on my RSS reading, and I read the first Gravatars post after the Wavatars were in place.

    For a couple of days now, I have been thinking that the Gravatar site must have provided a bunch of geometric shapes for use as “default” Gravatars, and I was wondering how it was that no two people had selected the same Gravatar.

    I was just beginning to wonder why SO MANY people had set up Gravatar accounts and gone with the default geometric Gravatars instead of putting in something custom and unique…

    Everything makes SO much more sense now.

    Also, I am tempted to delete my Gravatar just to see what Wavatar I would have had. But that seems silly to me. :-)

  116. Boingophile says:

    users with gravatars > users with wavatars.

  117. SteveDJ says:

    Don Monkey-> I don’t have a Gravatar, but I got the impression from other comments that Gravatars are case sensetive. So, try mixing up the case in your next post – it should fail to match your Gravatar so you would get to see your Wavatar for the same email address (no need for a different one). But this is just a guess.

    Meanwhile, I had to post to see my Wavatar…

  118. Hermes says:

    I wonder if I get a better one on here than I did on the Ten Doctors…

    Same one. Damn.

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