Widgets and sidebars

An article in today’s New York Times (free registration required) discusses the many, occasionally-confusing widgets a reader of a blog might encounter and suggests that a blog author would do well to explain them to his readers. Being the nice guy that I am, that seemed reasonable to me, so I thought I’d give you a brief tour of this site so that you aren’t in the dark about what these little items are. Today is an appropriate day to do that because I’ve just added a new one in the sidebar that I’ll explain in a moment.

Perhaps the place to start is to explain that the column of things at the left is the sidebar. It is a permanent section of the blog where I can add various things that could prove useful to you as you read my blog. Beginning at the top, there is a search box. If you remember that I mentioned something and wish to find the blog post where I mentioned it, then just type in the word you recall and click on the search button. Because that is potentially the most useful tool, I’ve placed it at the top.

The second item down, labeled Meta, is there mostly for my convenience, though it may have value for you too. With it I can switch to the Site Administration panel of my blog or login as the administrator if I need to.

Below that Meta section, there is a section titled “From my RSS feeds” that will change several times throughout the day. I use this section to alert you to things that I have read that I found interesting but didn’t choose to write a whole blog post about. By using this strategy, I avoid burdening your inbox with an email from me whenever I see something of interest that I want to share. You can click on any of the links inside that box and it should take you to the article I wanted to point out. Or, if you like, you can click on the “Read more” link at the bottom of the box, and that will display a whole page that contains either all of or part of each of the articles I referenced in that section.

Moving on down the sidebar vertically, the next thing is the calendar. It’s primary benefit is that the days on which I have made an entry are displayed in a different color font (gray as opposed to black). If you click on a date, the post for that day will be displayed. In other words, the dates are links. And beneath the calendar, you’ll see a link to previous months so you can go back. Today that link goes back to December and if you click it, you’ll see that in December I allowed my blogging frequency to slip, whereas in January I have been more diligent about making a post each day (though not every day).

Next is a section labeled “Pages.” Those are other permanent pages on this site. You can visit them, as you see fit.

Update:Since I changed the theme on January 20th, these links to Pages became redundant, given that the pages now appear as navigation links across the top of the blog, a better place for them in my opinion, I’ve removed this section from the sidebar.

The next section, called Archives, should be self-explanatory. Those links lead back to previous months and to my first posts since I moved my blog to my own hosted server in May of 2006. Those of you who are regular readers will recall that prior to beginning to use Dreamhost as my hosting service, I had a blog at WordPress.com. And even before that, I had my blog on Blogger.

The next section, Categories, are the topical categories that I have set up to apply to each of my posts. They can be used to filter the content on the blog to show only those things you might be interested in. The default category I use here is Technology, since that’s what I write most often about. So clicking on it won’t do much filtering, in that most, though not all, of my posts are about Technology. On the other hand, if you are a family member and only want to see posts that are tagged with Family, just click on that and the blog will redisplay with only those posts that have the tag (or category) “Family.” This filtration is not permanent, meaning that if you navigate away from my blog and come back later you’ll once again get the entire blog rather than the filtered content.

The final widget is the new one. At the bottom of the sidebar, I’ve added a widget called ClustrMaps. Today it doesn’t show much, just a map of the globe, but in the future, it will track visitors to this web site and put a dot on the map to signify where the person logged in from. Once those begin to show up, you can click on the map for an enlarged view. I can already see this information in my tracking logs, but I thought it might be interesting to display it on the site for a while and that you might also find it of interest.

In looking at my tracking logs in the past, I’ve been puzzled why I might be getting visitors from around the globe, until I finally realized that many of those visits are from spammers. Yes, blogs get spam too — in the comments section. Fortunately, I have a tool called Akismet that catches much of that so that it doesn’t make it into the comment section. As of right now, Akismet has caught a total of 2,273 spam posts to my comment section since I installed it back in May of last year. Using that tool and holding all comments for “moderation,” meaning I must approve a comment before it appears in my comment section, has spared you all the Viagra, penis enlargement, Rollex watches and XXX site spam that would have otherwise appeared in my comments section. Once I have approved a comment you have made here on my blog, however, any future comments you make will show up immediately.

One final thing. I’ve also added a plugin called WS Tooltips that uses Javascript to display a fading tooltip when you hover your mouse over a link. I often use these to add a title that further explains something about that link that might help you determine whether you want to follow the link. Check it out by hovering over the link in this paragraph.

So, there you have it. Maybe knowing what these widgets are there in the sidebar and a little more about the topography of the blog will contribute something to your enjoyment of visiting here. At least, I hope so.

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