Monthly Archives: May 2005

Memorial Day

I don’t intend to stray much from work-related stuff here in this blog, but today is an exception. It’s Memorial Day.

There are a lot of soldiers and sailors out there giving their lives, limbs, and sanity for what they believe in. No matter what you think of the Bush administration’s handling of this war, the troops deserve our support. Even more so if you (like me) don’t think the war was the right idea; if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that this means the troops are getting a raw deal from the government and deserve even more support from us.
If you’re thinking about buying one of those car magnets that say you support the troops, please don’t unless you actually have given time and money to support them or their families. Otherwise you’re really just saying “I support the company that made this magnet.”
Of course, if you’ve already served, that’s different. I salute you, and I salute the families of those who have given their lives.
But most of us have not, nor will we ever, put our lives on the line for what we believe in. Shouldn’t we at least put some time and money on the line instead? If you don’t know where to start, try a google search for charities that support the troops. Or take a look at this list.
If everyone spent as much money on actual support as we spend on flags and car magnets, I bet things would look a whole lot better for the troops. They’d still be in harm’s way, but at least they’d really know we were behind them.

No FAQ this week

There won’t be an FAQ this week; I’ve been buried in the systems programming side of my job for the last couple of days. I’m glad my schedule gives me three-day weekends, even if that means extra-long days Monday through Thursday. I like programming, but I can’t do it too many days in a row anymore.

I’m probably going to have jury duty sometime next week, by the way. The next part of the stylesheet tutorial may be delayed a while because of that.

Changing blog colors, part 1

OK, I’ve been meaning to post about this for a few days now. The trouble is, changing colors and other style attributes requires more than basic HTML knowledge; you have to get into what’s known as “Cascading Style Sheets” or CSS, which take a bit of explanation. If you are careful, though, it’s not terribly hard, especially if you keep a backup of your blog’s stylesheet so you can recover from any experiments that go awry. I’ll start with a general overview of stylesheets and then get down to the nitty-gritty about how you use them to change the look of your blog. Part one will end with a concrete example of how to change the colors of links in your blog; later, part two will show you how to apply that technique to other aspects of your blog.

Stylesheets have a lot of options and technicalities, but basically they boil down to a list of rules for how different HTML elements should be displayed. For instance, if you want all bold text to look red, you can set up a rule that the B tag has the color red. You can actually change much, much more than colors; stylesheets let you control all sorts of things like font, text size, margins and borders for just about everything, and even the position of items on the page.

I suggest taking a look at your blog’s stylesheet at this point. Open up a separate browser window and log in to the blog admin page. Go to your blog’s control panel and click the “Templates” button in the sidebar. Look for the Stylesheet entry in the index Templates list, and double-click it. Before doing anything else, back this template up; copy everything in the large text box and paste it into notepad or some other text editor (Word is OK as long as you save as text and not .doc format.)

If you decided to skip that step, I seriously suggest going back and doing it right now. If you don’t, you may regret it as soon as you start making changes.

Once you have backed up the stylesheet template, take a closer look at it. The top section should look much like this:

body {
margin: 0px 0px 20px 0px;
background-color: #8FABBE;
text-align: center;
a {
text-decoration: underline;
a:link {
color: #8FABBE;
a:visited {
color: #8FABBE;
a:active {
color: #8FABBE;
a:hover {
color: #006699;

These are the first six rules in the stylesheet. (Each rule starts with a name, and inclides one or more attributes inside a set of curly braces.) The name of the rule defines what HTML elements it applies to; the first one is the BODY tag, and the rest are for the A tag. Those of you at least somewhat familiar with HTML will know that the A tag defines a link; all the different A rules here control the appearance of various states of a link, i.e. before it is visited (the a:link rule), after it has been visited(the a:visited rule), as it is being clicked on (a:active) and as the mouse is hovering over is but not clicking (a:hover).

We’ll use these as examples to work with. You probably want to change more than the colors of links in your blog, but that will be covered later after we have a basic understanding of how colors work in stylesheets.

Take a look at the “color: #8FABBE” line in the a:link rule. That 8FABBE encodes a color, expressed as a combination of red, green, and blue. Now, I could spend paragraphs explaining hexadecimal encoding of RGB colors, but there’s an easier way to get the encoding for a particular color. has created a tool called the colorizer that makes this process fairly painless. Go there and play around with the settings until you have a color you like (it’s probably easiest to click on the “Red” selection, move the red scrollbar up or down until you see a color you like somewhere on the color grid, then move the pointer on the color grid to that color.)

Once you have picked a color, copy the Hex value from the top of the three boxes to the lower right of the colorizer. Paste that in place of the “#8FABBE” in the a:link rule; be sure you include the pound sign. Now hit the Save button below the template text box; after a moment the page will refresh and a “Rebuild” button will appear in a yellow area near the top of the screen. Click that button to complete the process.

Now view your blog. If you’ve done this correctly, any unvisited links in your blog will be the new color, instead of the default grayish-blue. If it didn’t work, go back and check that you followed the directions exactly; there should be only one “color” line within the curly braces that follow the “a:link” name. The word “color” should be followed by a colon, a space, a pound sign, the six hexadecimal digits you copied in, and a semicolon. Every time you make a change, remember to save and rebuild.

If you can’t get it to work, or if it does anything weird that you weren’t expecting, just copy the “color” line from one of the other rules in place of the one you changed, so you get back to “color: #8FABBE;”.

Try this with some of the other A rules. Play around with the colorizer some more until you get the hang of it. That’s all for today; tomorrow I’ll talk about how to change the colors of other page elements, like the banner, the background, and so on. If you have any questions, post them as comments here and I’ll answer them for you.

Hope this helps, and happy blogging!

WOU Blog Server FAQ, Part 2

This is a reprint of the FAQ sent out on Friday, May 20. Please feel free to comment or email me questions!

Hello, everyone–
We’ve gotten some more questions about running blogs on our new Movable Type blog server, so this week I’ll address them, and say a bit more about some features that may be of interest even though people haven’t asked about them.
* I saved a blog entry but it doesn’t show up when I view my blog! What’s wrong?
Most likely, you saved it as a draft. All entries default to draft status, which means they don’t show up even after you save them; this is useful when don’t have time to finish an entry and want to add more later without posting it right away. When you are ready to add text or change the entry’s status from draft to Publish, you can edit the entry.
* How do I edit a blog entry?
Whenever you save a new entry for the first time, you are automatically taken to the edit page for that entry. You can get back to it later by clicking the “Entries” link on the sidebar of your blog control panel. (Remember, you get to the control panel by clicking on your blog’s name after logging in at
The edit screen is basically like the entry screen, only with a few more fields at the bottom. The most important is Post Status, where you can change the entry from draft to publish, or vice versa. (The Future option in this menu also prevents the entry from being displayed.) The other important ones will be covered below.
* How can I notify people when I have posted something to my blog?
At the bottom of the edit screen for any saved entry, you can choose to send a notification to your predefined notification list. You can type in extra text if you want, and choose to include the entire text of the entry, or just an excerpt. All users in your list will get an email notification when you click the Send button.
* Who is on my notification list?
Click the “Notification” link on your control panel’s sidebar. At first, your list will be empty, but you can use the form on this page to add email addresses. Unfortunately, you can only add them one at a time; we understand that this makes it difficult for professors to add all their students, and are working on a way around this. You might also consider contacting Paul Lambert ( and getting an email list created, and just entering that address into your notification list.
* What if I want to keep people from commenting on a specific entry?
Near the bottom of either the new entry or edit entry screen, you will see a “Comments” menu. Normally this is set to “Open”, meaning that readers of your blog will be able to both read comments and post their own. “Closed” means that no more comments may be added, but any comments already left are still visible. “None” hides all the comments and prevents any from being added. For a new entry, set this to either “None” or “Closed” to prevent all comments.
Note that there is a way to force people to leave a name and email address when posting comments, and to be notified whenever a comment is left; these and other options will be discussed below.
* How do I delete a comment I find offensive or inappropriate?
When you edit an entry, near the bottom of the edit page you will see a list of all comments that have been made on that entry. From here you can delete any comment.
* How can I post links that stay on my front page?
You can do this by editing your index template. This requires some HTML knowledge; the better you are at HTML, the more things you can change. It is possible to change the look of your blog in almost any way, but that is beyond the scope of these FAQ’s. However, in my blog, I have posted a fairly simple way to add links to your blog’s sidebar. You can see this here or just look for the entry titled “Sidebar Links”.
* How can I change the colors or font of my blog?
This can be done by editing your blog’s stylesheet; again, the more you know about stylesheet code, the more you can change. The possibilities are almost limitless, but I don’t have room to talk about them here; I intend to post some basics in my blog fairly soon, probably early next week.
* How can I change the name of my blog?
After the last two questions, you’ll probably be relieved to hear that this does not require any HTML or CSS knowledge. First, click the “Weblog Config” link in the control panel sidebar. As you might expect, this takes you to the Weblog Config area, which has many options. The first page you will see is “Core Setup”; the first item there is the name of your blog. Please note that it is extremely dangerous to change any other settings on this page! They can completely mess up your blog. (Well, all right, you can change the time zone if you really want, but there’s no reason for it to be anything other than Pacific Time.)
* How can I change the description of my blog?
If you are already in the Weblog config area, just click the “Preferences” link near the top of the page. The Preferences page has many more options than the Core Setup page, and they are much less dangerous; however, you should still not change anything if you don’t understand what it is even after reading the help text.
The very first option is the description of your blog; you can change it to anything you want, but I recommend keeping it fairly short.
* What other preferences can I change here?
Well, any of them, really, but I don’t recommend mucking about in here unless you know what you are doing. If you do change things you aren’t sure about, make sure you make note of the settings that were there before, so you can change things back if they have an effect you don’t like.
One setting that might be useful is the “Default Post Status”; if you find yourself saving entries as drafts too often, and having to go back and edit them to make them visible, you can change this setting. Just remember that this can lead to the opposite problem of saving things in publish mode by mistake when you meant to save them as drafts!
Other useful settings can be found near the bottom of the page, in the Comments section. You can make people leave a name and email address wen commenting on your blog, control the way comments are displayed, and get email notifications whenever someone comments.
* Where can I go for more information?
I already mentioned this last week, but you can find the Movable Type user manual at Also, look at my blog at; I will post more tips and tricks as I discover them!
That’s it for this week; feel free to post questions as comments on my blog, or just email me at
Thanks as ever for your time and attention!

What to blog?

Tricia raised some good issues in this post in her blog. Personally, I think the content of any blog should be up to its author. If you want to talk about personal stuff, that’s fine. Political opinion is likewise fine. Work-related stuff is also fine. The only things that are not fine are listed in the Acceptable Use of Computing Resources Policy; basically, this means no commercial or criminal activity.

Bill posted a draft version of some guidelines that I think make a lot of sense. Of course, these guidelines aren’t mandatory, nor should every blog here at WOU be considered a “work blog”.

Also, when you have a blog, you should not feel like you have to conform to a certain schedule, unless you purposely set one for yourself. Many blogs are daily, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be. There’s nothing wrong with having a weekly schedule, or just writing an entry whenever you have something to say, without worrying about a schedule.

Just so you know, this blog is mostly going to cover work-related stuff, though I’m not going to limit myself to that. I’ll try to post an entry every day I’m here (which, in case you didn’t know, is generally Monday through Thursday,) but I may skip days occasionally, or post when I’m not here.

A new fraud

A week or so ago I got an email from someone claiming to be “Jerson Estandarte”, a recent high school graduate in the Philippines who needed money for college. This person was trying to reach someone else on campus, but I got their email since they sent it to

I thought there might be a chance they were legitimate and just very naive; I looked around and couldn’t find any other examples of this kind of thing being a scam. So I asked them for some proof, and they got evasive, pretending to misunderstand my requests.

Finally when I asked them to mail actual paper documents to me, I got a reply accusing me of being unsympathetic and saying they would stop trying to contact me. At that point I figured the whole thing had been a scam all along.

I’m curious if anyone else has seen anything like this; it sounds like a new strategy.

By the way, for fraud information with a humorous slant, check out

Sidebar Links

You may notice that I’ve put some links on the sidebar of my blog; it takes a bit of HTML knowledge, but not too much. Read the full entry for instructions.

Here’s how to add links or any other text to your sidebar:
First, go to your blog admin page; the easiest way to do that is to log in at and click on the name of your blog.
Next, look in the middle of the left column of buttons; click the “TEMPLATES” button. This will take you to a list of templates. Click “Main Index” to go to the edit screen for that template.
Don’t make any changes to the top parts of the form unless you are sure you know what you are doing. The important stuff is in the big text box. Before making any changes, I recommend backing it up! Select the entire contents of this box, copy it to the clipboard, and paste it into an empty text document. Save the document some place where you will remember it later. If you ever get this template messed up, you can go back to the file, copy the stuff back out, and replace everything in this text box with the file contents. (If you don’t understand this part of the instructions, you probably shouldn’t be trying to add links to your blog.)
Once you’ve got it backed up, look for the following text, about halfway down:

Below that, paste in the following HTML code:


Of course, you can change the word “Links” to whatever you want, and change the link addresses and text as well! Bill and Joe probably wouldn’t mind if everybody linked to their blogs, but I’m sure you have your own ideas for places to link to. :-}
Make sure to put a blank line below the inserted text, for readability. If you want more than one list of links, just paste in that block of code multiple times. Note that the links may look a bit more spread out in your blog than in mine; that’s because I also messed with my blog’s stylesheet to tighten things up a bit. I’ll talk about some stylesheet tweaks later.
That’s all there is to it! I know some people have requested a way to set up links that does not involve HTML editing; I will see if I can come up with something over the summer.

What’s happening

Don’t forget to check out Bill’s Blog for important updates about UCS and what we’re up to.

I’ve been working on a script to migrate people’s email address books from the old email system to the new one; that took up a lot of my time last week and the week before. Apologies to those of you who are still waiting on other things; however, now that the script is done, I’m working through the rest of my to-do list. If you haven’t heard back from me by Thursday afternoon, feel free to call or email.