Knowledge Base: Verse, Line Breaks, and White Space

When including poetry or other kinds of text in which line breaks are significant, you’ll want to keep WordPress from flowing the text from line to line based upon the width of the window, but instead place the line breaks yourself.  Simply pressing the “Enter” key at the end of each line, however, makes each line its own paragraph, which adds white space between the lines and looks ugly.  For example, here is one of my favourite Dorothy Parker poems formatted this way.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporania;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.

— Dorothy Parker

Ugly, isn’t it?  To indicate a line break without starting a new paragraph, hold down the “Shift” key while you press “Enter”.  This will result in single-spaced text within a single paragraph.  Here is the poem re-set using Shift-Enter.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporania;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.
— Dorothy Parker

Much better!  If a poem contains multiple stanzas, use Shift-Enter between lines of a stanza and the regular Enter between stanzas.

Now, how did I indent the poet’s name at the end?  This involves a somewhat sneakier bit of skulduggery.  When entering the poem, I switched to the “Text” editor tab in the composition window and entered the author’s name as:

<span style="margin-left: 6em;">— Dorothy Parker</span>

This inserts white space with a width of 6 “M” characters to the left of the text enclosed in the span.  You can use this gimmick anywhere you’d like to insert white space, for example in poems by E. E. Cummings that use eccentric spacing for effect.

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Knowledge Base: Citing Books in Posts and Comments

ISBN barcode 978-0-934035-63-7When you mention a book in a post or comment, with just a little bit more effort you can make it more convenient for a reader who might be interested in buying the book to find it and, at the same time, generate some revenue to support hosting the Ratburger site or line your own pocket.

Suppose you should mention my own classic and highly collectible 1989 book, The Autodesk File.  Note that the title of the book is in italic type (as book titles should be; magazine articles are in roman type surrounded by quotes), and that it has a link which, when clicked, takes you to the page on Amazon.com where you can empty your bank account buying a used copy.  Here’s how I did that, and how you can too.

First, you need the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for the book.  If you have the book at hand, you’ll usually find it on the book’s copyright page and often the back cover.  This is a 13 or, for older books, 10 character code which looks like 978-0-934035-63-7 or 0-934035-63-6.  The punctuation is irrelevant, and may be ignored.  The last character of a 10 character ISBN may be the letter “X”.   If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can look it up on Amazon.com, which will give you, under “Product Details”, the ISBN-13 of the book, usually in the form 978-0934035637.

Now that you have the ISBN, go to the Fourmilab ISBNquest Web page.  Enter the ISBN in the field with that name and press “Query”.  You’ll get back a page with lots of information including, in the “Book Information from Amazon.com” section near the bottom, a link to the book’s page on Amazon, which will look something like “https://www.amazon.com/dp/0934035636/?tag=fourmilabwwwfour”.  For convenience, this link is “hot”, so you can click it to display the page or use your browser’s “copy link address” feature to copy it to the clipboard.  Now simply apply that link to the book’s title in your post or comment, and the title will take those who click it to the Amazon page for the book.

The “tag=fourmilabwwwfour” field in the link causes purchases made through the link (and subsequent purchases in the same session) to be paid a commission to Fourmilab’s Amazon Associates account, which is used to (partially) defray the costs of hosting Ratburger.org, which are commingled with those for Fourmilab.ch.  If you have your own Amazon Associates account, or know the account tag for a business or worthy cause you wish to support, fill its tag in the “Amazon associate tag” field in the ISBNquest request form and it will be used instead.  See the description in the ISBNquest page for details of the request form fields and results from a query.

(If you’re interested in reading The Autodesk File, don’t waste your money on a decades-old out of print copy.  The current Fifth Edition, with more than twice the amount of material, is available on the Web for free.)

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Knowledge Base: Scheduling Posts

When you write a post for Ratburger and press the “Publish” button in the post composition window, the post is immediately published to the home page.  But sometimes you’d like a post to be published at some specific time in the future.  For example, if you’re writing a post for the Thought of the Day or one of our weekly series of posts, you may want the post to be published on the appointed day at a time when you might not be at the computer.

You can set a post to be published at any time and date in the future by using the “scheduled post” feature.  When you’re composing a post, in the “Publish” box to the right of the composition area (or below it on a narrow screen device such as a mobile phone or tablet), there’s an item which by default reads: “Publish immediately”.  If you press “Edit”, this expands into a set of fields which allows you to enter a date and time:

Scheduled post specification

Enter the date and time at which you’d like the post to be published and click “OK”.  The “Publish” button will change into a “Schedule” button which, when pressed, will queue the post for publication at the specified date and time.

The date and time must be specified in Universal Time (UTC), the standard used by the Internet, the Unix operating system, NATO, and Ratburger.org.  Universal time avoids social constructs such as time zones, the international date line, and silliness such as summer and winter time.  You can convert between UTC and your local time zone with this calculator.

Because the WordPress developers are utter nincompoops, you cannot schedule a Private post for publication in the future, because Private and Scheduled are different post status values, not orthogonal to one another as they would be in any sane design.

Pursuant to the Interdimensional Convention on Chronology Protection, it is not possible to schedule posts to be published in the past.

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Knowledge Base: Uploading Video and Audio Files

Since inception, Ratburger.org has allowed you to embed video and audio hosted on a list of public sites such as YouTube and Vimeo simply by including the URL for the item on a line by itself.  See the Knowledge Base article “Embedding Media in Posts and Comments” for details.  But this isn’t much help when you wish to include a video or audio clip of your own, for example the latest screwball antics of your pet iguana or the latest track by your kazoo and sitar band.  Sure, you could create an account on one of the public video or audio hosting sites, upload your content, and then include the URL, but that’s a lot of fussy work and you may not want to make the item available to the general public.

In addition to images, Ratburger’s Media Library allows you to upload video and audio in a variety of formats and include them in posts and comments (but not in groups, which are basically text-only discussion boards).  You include these items much as you do images.  Use the “Add Media” button, select the video or audio file you wish to upload, wait for it to upload, and then click “Insert into post” to include a player for the clip in the post or comment you’re composing.

The type of the media file is determined by the extension or “file type” of the file you upload.  Video files may have the following extensions which identify their formats (most people can ignore the technical details in parentheses).

  • .webm (WebM, vp8.0/Vorbis)
  • .ogv (Ogg, Theora/Vorbis)
  • .mp4 (MPEG-4, H.264/AAC)

Audio files are identified by the following extensions.

  • .mp3 (MP3)
  • .ogg (Ogg, Vorbis)
  • .wav (WAV, PCM)

Unfortunately, due to patents, proprietary squabbles among manufacturers, and other speed bumps and potholes on the Information Rutted Road, there is no single format which is guaranteed to work everywhere.  “Power users” can upload multiple formats and make them available in a custom video or audio shortcode entered in the Text composition tab or by editing the media player item in the composition window, but this is beyond the scope of this document.

Uploads are limited to 32 megabytes.  This is usually not a problem for audio, but video clips should be short and small.  This is a not a video hosting site: we have neither the file storage space nor Internet bandwidth for lengthy, high-resolution videos.  To post them, you’re going to have to use one of the public hosting sites.

For example, the following is a two minute video I recorded in July 2009 at a concert of our village brass band.  This was compressed into 360 pixel Ogg video format yielding a file of 6.9 Mb.

This is a an audio clip of the finale from the 1999 movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which figured in my 2006 project CSI: South Park.  This is a 545 Kb MP3 file.

___________________________

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Knowledge Base: Excerpts

When you write a post and publish it, by default only the first two paragraphs will appear on the Ratburger home page.  To read the balance of the post, a reader needs to click “[Read More]”, which will display the complete post and its comments.

This is done to allow visitors to the site to skim through the titles and start of posts and decide which they want to read in their entirety.

The definition of “paragraph” is, as with most things in WordPress, a brutal hack based on looking at the text and guessing what constitutes a paragraph.  The way the code is implemented, a heading at the start of the post or a photo is considered a paragraph.  This means, for example, that if you start your post with a heading and a photo, visitors to the home page won’t see any of the text of the body of your post without clicking “[Read More]”.

You can avoid this infelicity by placing an explicit excerpt mark in your post.  This indicates the portion of the post which should be shown on the home page and which subsequent material should only appear if the user clicks on “[Read More]” or the post’s title to read the whole thing.

Post composition toolbar with excerpt marker highlighted

To place an excerpt mark, click on the line which marks the break and click the “Insert Read More” icon (which looks like a two lane road).  It will put a break in your post where the material above will be shown on the home page and that below only to those who “read the whole thing”.

For example, in my Monday Meals post for 2018-08-13, I have a heading, image, and first paragraph which I want to appear on the home page, so I inserted a “Read More” break after the first text paragraph.  If I hadn’t done this, the automatic excerpt generator would have shown only the heading and photo, which would have been less than ideal.

WordPress “shortcode” features which are used for such things as spoiler warnings and including mathematics in posts do not work in home page excerpts.  If your post contains such things, you can use explicit “Read More” breaks to ensure those who visit the home page will not see them.  When a user clicks through to the full post, they will be displayed correctly.

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General Thoughts on Comments and Posts

Ratburger.org is a place to exchange ideas and debate issues. Since we are not all the same, our views differ. You get to disagree with others and they get to disagree with you. In that disagreement negative words are often used. Why? Because people think their ideas are better therefore your ideas are bad. Mild negative words will often be used such as strange, crazy, illogical, fallacious, etc. This is normal. Take this in stride.

The general idea is not to be unkind to others but to clearly state different views. After that, it is expected for people to defend their views. Back up views with reasons, facts, and life experiences. Listen to others as they state their reasons. Let them try to find faults with your reasons as you try to find faults with your reasons.

Just because someone does not see it your way they are not bad or lacking in knowledge. More often than not they have a different perspective and might even be right.

As much as possible try not to offend people and try not to take offense too easily. (This is for me as much as anyone.)

Enjoy the site!!!

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Knowledge Base: Following Posts

When you publish an article on Ratburger.org (on the main page, not in a group), you will automatically be set to “follow” that post.  This means that when people like your article or comment on it, you’ll receive notifications which, when clicked, will take you to the post or comment.

When you comment on a post, you will also automatically be subscribed to notifications when people like your comment or make additional comments on the post.

Once you have been subscribed to notifications on a post by either of these mechanisms there is, at present, no means to unsubscribe.  However, most Ratburger posts scroll off the attention span of members within around a day, so it’s unlikely your notifications will be cluttered with likes and comments on posts  dating back to the Silurian period.

A new feature allows you to follow activity on a post without making a comment visible to other members.  If you wish to be notified of new comments on a post but don’t have anything to say at the moment, simply post a comment consisting entirely of the text:

follow
or c4c

(The latter, adopted from other sites, is an abbreviation of “comment for comment”.)  Upper and lower case is ignored, as is leading white space and trailing white space and sentence ending characters.

Such a comment will cause you to follow the post and receive notifications for subsequent comments, but will not appear in the comments when others view the post, nor in the “Recent Comments” in the sidebar.  When you view the post yourself, you’ll see your own follow comment; this allows you to delete it should you wish to cease following the post.  Other users will not see your follow post.  Note that if you’ve followed a post this way and made a subsequent comment, deleting the follow post will not unfollow you, as the latter comment will still mark you as a follower of the post.

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Knowledge Base: Resizing Images

When you include an image in a comment or post with the “Add Media” button, you’ll be asked to select the size at which it will be displayed in a box at the right.  You’re usually given options like:

  • Thumbnail
  • Medium Size
  • Full Size

with the dimensions in pixels of each option shown.  The options shown depend upon the size of the image you uploaded.

The sizes available in the box are not your only options.  Once the image is included in your post or comment, you can click it, which will highlight it and display a series of “handles” which you can click and drag to resize or scale the image.  Usually, you’ll want to use the ones at the corners of the image, which scale the image preserving its aspect ratio (ratio of width to height).  Just drag the handle until the image has the size you wish to appear in your post.

There’s an important detail, however.  You should never re-scale an image to be larger than the size at which you inserted it, only shrink it to be smaller.  When you insert the image from “Add Media”, a pre-processed image of that size is selected.  If you scale it to be smaller, the user’s browser will scale it and no resolution will be lost.  But if you expand it, the smaller image will be blown up to the larger size and will appear blurry.  If in doubt, insert the image in your post at “Full Size” and scale it down to the desired size—this is the age of Extravagant Computing and few people will notice the inefficiency of doing so, while if you scale up a small image, it will look crude and ugly.

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Knowledge Base: Avatars, Profiles, Posts, and Comments

A series of changes recently made to the site are intended to improve navigation around the site and make it easier to keep track of your own activity and that of other members.  For complete implementation details, see the posts on the Updates group, which is usually updated around 22:00 UTC on any day in which the site’s software or configuration has been changed.

Avatars are the small round images which identify users.  Users can upload their own avatars or use avatars posted on the Gravatar site under the same E-mail address they used when registering their Ratburger membership.  Avatars appear on main page posts and comments, and on group posts and comments, along with the user’s name, which identifies people who haven’t uploaded an avatar image.  For likes on posts and comments, only avatars are shown, but you can “mouse over” or “hover” above the avatar to see the user’s name as a pop-up title.  On almost every place you see an avatar on the site, you can click it to display the user’s Profile page.

Profile pages are a one-stop shop for information about users.  A user’s profile shows you:

  • Display name (“John Walker”)
  • Avatar
  • Account name (“@johnwalker”)
  • Time of last activity
  • Description or biography, if any
  • “Party card number” (Order in joining the site)
  • Date joined

Below this information is a menu which allows you to view additional information about the user, including:

  • Activity in groups in which the user participates
  • Profile of the user
  • Friends of the user
  • Groups of which the user is a member
  • Posts made by the user since joining the site
  • Comments made by the user since joining the site

In addition, when viewing your own profile, additional information is available such as Notifications and Messages, plus the ability to edit most of the profile fields.  When viewing your own posts and comments, there are links that let you edit them.

(A note on “Party card numbers”: some users will have party card numbers which are greater than the number of members shown in the “At a Glance” section of the Dashboard.  This is because these numbers [formally, within the WordPress software, user IDs] are assigned when an account is created and never reused.  If an account fails to complete registration, is closed,  or is banned due to spamming or other misbehaviour, it will have a party card number which corresponds to no active account.  Like many other parties, Ratburger has “unpersons”.)

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Knowledge Base: Viewing Your Comments

Starting with Build 104 (see the Updates group to see details of changes in each build of the site), you can now view all of the comments you’ve made on the site since you joined, across all posts.

You can access your “My Comments” page from either the main menu (across the top on desktop, or as a drop-down on mobile) or the drop-down from your avatar at the top right, in both cases as a “Comments” item under the “Activity” menu. It shows you the comments you’ve made on all posts since you joined the site from the most recent to the oldest. Comments are shown 25 per page, with navigation links at the bottom to move from page to page.  Each comment contains links which let you view the comment in the context of the post on which it was made or edit the comment. Images, video and other embeds, and shortcodes such as spoilers and mathematics should work within comments on these pages.  The number of likes on each comment is shown.

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Knowledge Base: Specifying Dates and Times

There are many different cultural conventions for specifying date and time.  Some of these are ambiguous.  For example, if somebody writes 4/5/18, a reader in the United States may read that as April 5th, 2018, while their colleague in the United Kingdom would interpret it as May 4th, 2018.   Their grandfathers may have read the year as 1918.

Enough.

There is an international standard (ISO 8601) for writing dates and time, and that’s what we use at Ratburger.org.  Now, when I say that it’s what “we” use, I mean only what the site employs when displaying dates and times.  In your own writings, you’re free to use anything you wish: visit my Calendar Converter and go wild—French Republican Calendar?  Mayan Calendar?  No problem!

But, if you want people to understand what you’ve written, it makes sense to adhere to adopted standards, and they’re simple and make a lot of sense.  To specify a date, write:

YYYY-MM-DD

where leading zeroes are used where necessary and the date is in Universal Time (UTC).  For example, to specify the date of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, you’d write:

1969-07-20

If you need to specify a time, for example for the Moon landing, use Universal time, as follows, according to ISO 8601:

1969-07-20T20:18:04Z

where the “T” denotes the time and “Z” indicates it’s in the “Zulu” (don’t ask) time zone or, UTC.

You’re welcome to use whatever convention you wish for date and time here, but the site will use ISO 8601 and UTC with adamantine persistence.  Why use ISO 8601?  It’s an international standard, and dates written that way are sufficiently unique they can’t be confused for other conventions.  They are independent of time zones and quaint notions such as summer and winter time.  A given date and time has the same meaning for anybody, everywhere on Earth.  If placed in a computer database and sorted lexically (by character order), they are automatically sorted in chronological order.  If you’d written “1969-7-20T20:18:4Z”, for example, it wouldn’t be sorted in order with other dates which had tens digits in the month and seconds fields.

If you really want something free of social construction, you’re free to use Julian Day numbers.

— John Walker, 2018-04-07T23:51:46Z  JD 2458216.494282407

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On Registering to Ratburger.org

Some people have not been getting their registration e-mails. If you are one of these please send me a line at 10cents@ratburger.org. The problems are usually one of the following.

1. The e-mail gets put into a Spam folder.
2. The e-mail is filtered from the service.
3. Older services like Yahoo, AOL, and Hotmail have trouble receiving for some reason.

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Lovin’ the Color Coding in the Drop Down Menu

What an absolute pleasure to use! It tells me quickly the difference between a like, a comment, a group update, and mark all as read.

I have found that I can’t see the bubble and drop down on phones but I can get it on a tablet if I turn the screen to landscape (sideways).

Are you lovin’ it too?

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TOTD 2018-2-17: Phone Navigation

For those of you who have scrolled miles to get where you want I will share my meager knowledge.

To get to the top of the page quickly on your iPhone/iPad. Touch the [Time] at the top middle of the screen and presto you are there.

To get to the bottom my best way is to follow these steps.

This gets me to the “Leave a Reply” box.

Anyone have better ways?

 

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Knowledge Base: Apostrophe

"Its" and "It's"There are few things which make your post or comment appear unprofessional so much as misuse of the humble apostrophe. This is in large part because it’s so easy to get it right. Here are five rules for use of the apostrophe:

  1. If you mean “it is,” or “it has,” write “it’s.” Otherwise, write “its.”
  2. Contractions (can’t, I’ll, you’re) always use an apostrophe, replacing the omitted letters.
  3. Possessive nouns always use an apostrophe.
  4. Possessive pronouns (hers, yours, ours, etc.) never use an apostrophe.
  5. One never forms a plural by adding an apostrophe.

For a deeper exploration of this, including rare exceptions, see my 2008 document, “The Use of the Apostrophe in the English Language.”

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