WordPress for Aggies, Part 3: The Infamous Five-Minute Install

WordPress comes in two basic flavors: wordpress.com and wordpress.org. They sound similar, but they’re as different as vanilla and licorice. In this series, I’ll be talking about wordpress.org. But first, I’ll say a bit in passing about the dot-com, so that you can choose the flavor that fits your online tastes.

WordPress started out as a blogging platform. But early on, the founders realized the same platform could build a website as easily as it could build a blog. The major difference is that a blog consists mostly of pages that keep changing, while the pages on a website are mostly static. Today, one in every five websites uses WordPress. Everyone from lowly Texas singer-songwriters up to big media companies like Forbes and CNN.

WordPress.com is primarily for bloggers. It offers them several advantages: It’s free. It’s easy. And it hosts thousands of blogs, which increases the chances that you might pick up a few new readers, who stumble blindly your way while they’re reading on a related topic. If all you’re looking to do is blog, quit reading right now and point your brower to wordpress.com.

Truth be told, you can also host a website on the dot-com version of WordPress. But you probably don’t want to. For one thing, it’s likely to end up looking like a blog. It offers a limited number of templates, and limited options for changing design. You can get more options by shelling out a few shekels. But in that case, why not pay to set up your site on some other web host, where your options suddenly expand into the tens of thousands? Depending on your degree of geek spirit, you can control every last detail, and produce a site that doesn’t look at all like a blog.

That’s where wordpress.org comes in. It’s for serious website designers. It’s got every resource you could imagine: documentation, themes, plugins and widgets. Most important, it contains the basic WordPress software, which is the foundation on which all the other resources build. What it doesn’t have is an easy way to install the basic software.

Here’s the hard way: You can download the latest version for free, as a zipped file, and install it on your existing web host. WordPress.org boasts about its “Famous Five-Minute Install.” If you already know what an SQL database is and how to create one, you might actually be able to get WordPress up and running in five minutes. If you know such things, you have no business reading this blog. For me, as soon as I looked at the instructions, I realized it would be like installing Windows, one file at a time. If I ever figured out the instructions at all.

So I did it the easy way: I had my web host do it for me. Most web hosts offer some older version of WordPress, among the add-ons available on the Site Manager or Control Panel. It’s not the latest or greatest. But once it’s installed, it’s easy to upgrade to the newest version. A lot easier than installing any version on your own.

Here’s how I ended up installing WordPress: I logged on to the Control Panel for my website, found my web host’s stone-age version (It was about 2.5 – It’s now up to 3.5.1), clicked on it, and sat back. It was automatically installed on stevebrooks.net.

One choice wasn’t automatic. I chose to put all its files in their own folder: stevebrooks.net/wordpress. Keeping the WordPress website in a separate folder allowed me to keep my old website alive while I built the new one. This turned out to be a good move, since building the new one took me four months.

When I opened the freshly-installed WordPress, the first thing it asked me was whether I wanted to upgrade to the latest version. It took one more click. By the time my WordPress was up-to-date, the entire installation had probably taken five minutes.

I took a few more minutes to learn about the Dashboard. Then it was time to move on to the backbone of my website-to-be: Choosing a Theme.

(To be continued…)

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The Honkalong at the Sky-Vue Drive In

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An hour south of Lubbock, the town of Lamesa lives up to its name, which translates from Spanish as “The Table.” Since 1948, the horizon of dusty cottonfields has been broken by the big screen of the Sky-Vue Drive In theatre. Sam Kirkland, the present-day owner, started jerking sodas at the bar 55 years ago. Back in those days, local bands used to set up on the roof of the projection booth and play to the parking lot, as it filled up for a weekend movie. Among those bands were an aspiring yodeler named Don Walser and a bespectacled Lubbock native named Buddy Holly.

Fast-forward fifty years, to 2005. The Sky-Vue was still going, but the band tradition had blown away like the topsoil. Until a local poet and professor named Connie Williams started Forrest Fest – named not after a nonexistent forest, but after a park south of downtown. Connie recruited me to come play on the roof of the Sky-Vue. It involved hauling my PA up a ladder and standing alone against the sunset, while the prairie wind whistled through my jacket and across my microphone. As I launched into an entire set of car songs, I suggested to my listeners that they honk if they loved Steve. From my perch, it would be easier to hear than applause. Then, inspiration struck. I got to “Road Hog,” a singalong that makes fun of people who drive SUVs. I turned it into a Honkalong, and the parking lot went wild. The gig and the Honkalong have turned into an annual tradition.

Like Bigfoot or the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, though, the Honkalong was a phenomenon that proved elusive to capture. This year, however, Phillip Abbott stationed a digital recorder down in the parking lot while I recorded the mix off the sound board up above. I digitally enhanced the car horns, mixed them in with my tracks, and at long last, I have a live recording. Adding rhythm guitar and harmony this year on the rooftop was western singer Evelyn Roper of Gunnison, Colorado. Enjoy listening to the Honkalong below, and give Sam a Howdy from me if you’re going through Lamesa. There’s time to catch a double feature and still make Amarillo by morning.

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WordPress for Aggies, Part 2: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

WordPress has a reputation as a platform for Do-It-Yourselfers. After three months of doing it myself, I find the reputation a little exaggerated. The great thing about WordPress is that it gives you all the pieces you need to build a website or a blog and put it online, without having to study any computer code. The hard thing about WordPress is figuring out how to put the pieces together. There’s an owner’s manual of sorts, but it’s on a par with those English-language manuals written in China.

Let me elaborate. Here’s what I find good about WordPress:

Themes. No need to design a website from scratch. WordPress offers thousands of free templates for websites and blogs. It calls them Themes. Once you’ve picked a theme, it’s done all the hardest work for you. It’s created a basic layout of empty pages, which you can fill with your own content.

Content. It’s easy to name your site and add text, photos and videos, without knowing a lick of HTML. It’s also easy to add, delete or edit your content. For me, this was the biggest attraction of WordPress. I wanted to set up a website I could update myself, without depending on a webmaster.

Consistency. WordPress is set up so that every page of your site can have a consistent look, from menu bars and background photos down to fonts and headlines. Thanks to a miracle language called CSS, you don’t have to copy these elements from one page to the next. WordPress does it for you. You can set it up so that when you change a font, it automatically changes on every page.

Modularity. Most themes are bare-bones. But WordPress includes a library of thousands of add-on programs, which let you add features to your heart’s content. Last time I checked, the roster was nearing 25,000. I’ve added to my home page a music player, a box to sign up for my mailing list and a calendar that displays a map of the places I’ll be playing. If you don’t like one add-on – or you discover a better one – you can replace it with a different one.

Here’s the bad:

Inflexibility. Once you start trying to “customize” a theme, you quickly learn that your options are few. It’s easy to change the name of your site or your background picture. If you want to change much else about the design or layout, you’ll have to learn a bit of Web languages, HTML and CSS. That means you’ll be trying to read the documentation.

Which brings us to the ugly:

Documentation. WordPress contains hundreds of How-To files. They cover every conceivable facet of creating a blog or a website. At least, I think they do. WordPress calls them the Codex, which is appropriate for documents that seem to been written largely in dead languages. The largest part of my trial and error involved sifting through these documents, trying to find answers to specific questions. More often, I Googled my questions. The Internet abounds in tutorials that are much more helpful than the WordPress Codex. When all else failed, I fell back on good, old-fashioned trial and error.

(To be continued…)

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WordPress for Aggies

It’s taken me only three months to build myself a new website on WordPress. When I observed that I was now qualified to write “WordPress for Dummies,” having committed every boo-boo a novice possibly could, several of my friends expressed interest. Apparently, there are a lot of dummies out there who want to build themselves websites.

Now that I can see the locomotive at the end of the tunnel, I’m ready to share a bit of what I’ve learned through trial and error, mostly through the latter. But I don’t want to infringe on any trademarks, and besides, I’m from Austin, where we have another popular name for the intellectually challenged. Here, then, is a first installment of “WordPress for Aggies.”

(To be continued…)

Coming Soon…

Steve’s heading into the studio with Jeff Tveraas to start recording the followup to his acclaimed 2010 release Chasing Grace. He’s narrowed down the field to 15 songs, with the goal of ultimately recording 10 to 12. Keep an eye out for his kickstarter campaign.