Behind the Scenes

I don’t know if there is a lot of interest in this, but judging from how many times I get email about different aspects of the site I thought it worth writing up this post. I want to give a good overview and some insight into how I have this site set up — allowing me to reference this post when people ask questions in the future.

Back End Server & Backups

This entire site runs on Media Temple’s Grid Service (gs). It is an excellent service, both fast and affordable. My plan is to upgrade to the (dv) plan in a few months, but you can’t go wrong starting with the (gs) plan. One addition I have made to the (gs) plan is buying what Media Temple calls a grid container for the MySQL server on this site.

I was experiencing about 10 seconds of database down-time, before I purchased the container, whenever I would publish a new post — since adding this container I have had no problems. This adds to the cost of the monthly service, but for me it was worth it. I also use Media Temple’s built in email solution for the TBR email system.

I am a paranoid person when it comes to backing up the site, so I use the following:

  • Transmit synchronizes the server files with a local backup on my computer every Saturday.
  • VaultPress does real-time backups of the site.
  • WP Backup provides emailed backups of the database file twice a day.

WordPress Plugins

I have a slew of plugins running in WordPress so let’s just list them out:

  • All in One SEO Pack: I doubt this is needed any more with the way search engines work, but it provides a quick way to customize the way your site displays the title at the top of web browsers.
  • Customizable Search Widget: That is what you see over on the right hand side. This allows me to change the look of the search box a bit.
  • DF-Style Linked List: This is how I control the linked list and put a glyph in front of all non-linked posts.
  • Google XML Sitemaps: Like the SEO plugin I don’t think this is really needed any longer, but what the hell.
  • Instapaper Read Later Links: Allows me to put the little ‘read later’ buttons on articles.
  • Markdown for WordPress and bbPress: Just in case I forget to convert my writing into HTML, this plugin will keep it from looking bad.
  • MintPopularPostsWP: Integrates with Mint (more on that in a bit).
  • Optimize DB: Keeps my database file nice and small.
  • Redirection: Allows me to set 301 redirects from within WP, I use it to send people looking for certain pages (blind guessing) to a more relevant page.
  • Simple URL Shortener: Did you ever notice how if you try to use Bit.ly to shorten a link on this site, you end up with a http://tbr.mx link? That is what this plugin does. See here for details.
  • Simple Yearly Archive: builds the archive page that allows me to exclude the links category.
  • Title Case: For the most part this will properly capitalize my post titles.
  • Twitter Tools: Auto-tweets new posts, using the Bit.ly custom URL.
  • VaultPress: Interface for backing up.
  • WordPress Database Backup: The above mentioned plugin that emails me database backup files.
  • WP-Footnotes: Allows me to create and style the footnote system.
  • WP Super Cache: John Gruber loves to make fun of WP sites that crash when he links to them — don’t let that be your site.
  • WP to Twitter: Anytime I update a post from the web interface this will send out an [UPDATED] style tweet using my custom Bit.ly domain. 1

Ok that is all the plugins that I use, so let’s talk about a couple that I get a ton of questions on.

Linked List

I feel like I get asked questions about this daily. I try to respond the best I can, but here is how this works.

When you install the linked list plugin you need to add code to your PHP files, as well customizing the options. This plugin does not just work out of the box. You will also need to use the custom fields in WordPress when you want to make a new post.

Once you set your options for the plugin head over to create a new post — from here you need a custom field that looks like this:

Screen shot 2011-01-04 at 3.12.28 PM.png

This field will set the linked URL, in this case we are linking back to this sites main page.

You are not done yet — now you need to determine how you want your posts to act on your main blog page by editing the PHP files in your theme. This is by far the most confusing part for everyone. I am not going to tell you which files to edit, if do know which files to edit and just want to see how my site works, take a look here. That is the relevant code that I use to make link posts behave the way I want.

If you email me asking for further support, you likely will get no response. Contacting the developer is a better place to go, he’s a good guy.

Instapaper Buttons

Like with the linked list questions, I get email about this fairly often too. I have set this up in the plugin options so that the buttons are not displayed anywhere automatically. Then I inserted the PHP template tag that is provided into my PHP files where needed.

You may have noticed that I don’t provide these links at the permalink location for linked items — that is just an ‘if, then’ statement much like how I did the above linked list. Play around with it, but again don’t ask me how to do these things. I am happy to help when it is fast and easy, but I won’t develop/design your site for you.

I get emails on how I do the link posts about once a week. First things first you cannot do this from the WordPress iOS apps so don’t even bother. I mostly post links using MarsEdit 3, though when on the iPad I use a custom version of the ‘Press This’ bookmarklet.

MarsEdit

This one is easy: go to the Blog menu item and select “Edit Settings”. From there click on “Custom Fields”. Add this:

Screen shot 2011-01-04 at 3.26.22 PM.png

Now when you create a new post, if you put a URL in that custom field it will populate that linkedlisturl field in WordPress that you created before. Short, simple, sweet.

Bookmarklet

This is a touch trickier, luckily Shawn Blanc has it all written up on his site. Thanks, Shawn!

Article Posting

I have mentioned this elsewhere but I start my posts on my Mac in either Ulysses or in TextMate. I use Writer on the iPad and I don’t even bother on the iPhone. From there everything is converted to HTML in TextMate, then shipped to MarsEdit to post.

Design

There is no custom design job here, I just took this theme and customized the CSS and PHP files to my liking. The fonts are served by the excellent TypeKit service. Site logo is by Wet Frog Studios.

Notes

Please don’t take this as me telling anyone how to run their site — this is just how I run mine. I am writing this to eliminate some of the email I regularly get, not to spur more — if you have questions about a particular plugin please ask the developer, Google, or the WordPress.org forums. Those sources will be far better equipped to handle your questions.

Lastly I use Mint and Google Analytics to track my statistics for this site. The former is highly recommended.

  1. I tried using only this instead of Twitter Tools, but it will not send a tweet when you post from a client like MarsEdit.
Originally posted for members on: January 8, 2011
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