JOSSA 2012

Well only a few months late again, at least I made it this year. Who knew a new puppy could be so much work.

So a little late but here are the 10 projects that received my JOSSA (Jamas Open Source Software Award) for 2012.

KeePass – Dominik Reichl – With the sheer number of logins I need on a daily basis it is easy to get lazy by using the same password on most sites. This of course is a really bad idea. To help keep track of all those passwords I went hunting for a password manager. KeePass is a free open source project that packs a lot of features. It also has an iOS app so combined with Dropbox you can keep your password list with you while on the go.

DisplayFusionBinary Fortress Software – I love my dual monitor setup! I was a little shocked at the lack of support in Windows for this setup. DisplayFusion comes in free and paid versions, the free version is great. It allows for many options for dual displays, even working with Rainmeter setups.

Firebug Fire Bug Working Group – When doing any sort of web development having a browser debugger is a must. Firebug is a Firefox Add-on that provides every tool you will need to debug webpages.

Duplicator – Cory Lamle – Creating a copy of a WordPress site for testing requires a significant amount of effort. It also requires some mucking in the WordPress database to change URLs so the test site functions properly. With Duplicator this is amazingly easy. Everything is automated by the plugin, what used to take hours is now only a few minutes. You can add a test site, move a site to a new host and even use it to create a full site backup.

WP Super CacheDonncha O Caoimh – I have never really paid much attention to how quickly web pages load until we started running our own VPS. In my quest to reduce load on the server and speed up page load times I found WP Super Cache. This plugin will create static html pages that will be shown to visitors instead of creating the pages dynamically. While there are a lot of config options to go through the end result is worth the effort. For this site load times went from 9 seconds down to 1 second.

AkismetAutomattic – I hate spam! It is bad enough to have in your inbox, but it now shows up on website comments. Akismet provides spam filtering for your WordPress comments.

BackUpWordPressHuman Made – Having backups on your desktop is important. The same thing goes for your website. This plugin for WordPress makes keeping backups of you site a snap. It supports scheduling and will send you emails with your DB attached. Very easy to use.

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP)Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine – When visitors come to your site you want them to stick around. YARPP provides the ability to include a list of related content the user might like. A recent update added a thumbnail display option which makes links just begging to be clicked.

WPtouch BraveNewCode Inc. – With everything going mobile these days many websites need a mobile version. Doing a whole separate site can be too much work for most site owners. WPtouch is a plugin that creates a mobile version of your site with next to no effort. It has lots of options if you want to really control your mobile look.

WP to TwitterJoe Dolson – Promoting your site on social media is a great way to increase traffic. WP to Twitter makes the promoting of new links automatic. Very easy to setup and allows you the ability to customize tweets sent for each post.

Well that is it for this year.  I hope 2013 JOSSAs won’t be so late, I already have a pretty full list.  I encourage you to start your own JOSSA style award.  It isn’t a lot of money but it will hopefully make a developers day, which will make your year better.


Finally Usable LED Lights From Cree

Up to now my experience with LED lighting has been pretty dismal. I had converted several pot lights in key areas of our hose to LED, but the applications were pretty limits. The cone of light produced was narrow, making it suitable for narrow hallways or above landings. The colour was cold, giving the area an icy blue feeling.

Cree C4 LightWell finally there is an LED light that works better than the halogen pot lights it was designed to replace by the company Cree.  The CR4 Four-Inch LED Downlight is sold in Canada at HomeDepot under their EcoSmart Brand.  It is designed to fit into existing 4 inch pot light fixtures, there is also a 6 inch model. The light quality is excellent, both in colour and how wide the cone is. It actually outputs more light then the 50W halogen bulbs it replaced. It works with a normal dimmer.  Total energy usage per bulb is only 9.5 watts, which means the 4 bulbs I used don’t use as much energy as a single halogen.

The installation process is fairly easy. You simply remove the existing halogen bulb and the internal parts of the pot light. The Cree bulb has a screw in base attached to wires, just screw into the existing socket. Then the bulb is pushed into the pot light housing. Metal tabs grind in to keep it in place. My only snag is that my pot light housing are a little shallow which leave the built-in trim not perfectly flush.

The price tag is fairly hefty, $45 when I bought mine. But the quality is well worth it. My only hope is that the product becomes popular enough so the price really drops.

If you have found another LED bulb that I should try then let me know in the comments below. If you try the Cree bulbs then let me know what you think.

InfiniteWP to the Rescue

It is no secret that I am a big fan of WordPress. In fact I just launched my 22nd WordPress install last month.  The majority of these sites are not mine but I manage them on behalf of family, friends, NGOs and small businesses. For most of these sites I have a collection of 10 plugins I install. Combined with theme and core updates it can take a fair amount of time to keep them all updated. I was in need of some help in managing all of this.

InfiniteWP to the rescue! InfiniteWP is a tool that allows you to manage multiple WordPress installations from a single self hosted location. While not the only tool in this market space, I selected it because its feature set matched my needs and it was free. Many of the other tools had small free packages (1 to 5 sites) but can be fairly costly on a per site basis. While I don’t mind paying for good software, the pay per site model doesn’t sit well with me because many of the sites I manage for community groups on a pro bono basis.  InfiniteWP uses the freemium model, meaning the base features are free while you pay for premium addons. Works great for me!

The base feature set (free) for InfiniteWP is great.  It takes care of all the updating of WordPress core, themes and plugins.  It will even let you hide updates, good for cases in which a plugin has become paid only. You can also install plugins and themes across multiple sites with just a few clicks. Within InfiniteWP you can mark plugins as favourites, which will make my job of deploying a new WordPress site with my standard list of plugins a breeze.  You can also create backups of your sites right from the InfiniteWP control panel. One click admin login in to all of the sites makes getting to the site’s dashboard really easy.

I have yet to check out any of the premium (paid) features, but there are a few that I think would be well worth the reasonable price: Schedule Backups, Backup To Repositories. I am also very excited at what is listed in the coming soon section: Malware Security, Uptime Monitoring, iOS App, Client Reporting.  While there are existing plugins that do much of this, the concept of being able to see all this data in one location is just too good.

Installing InfiniteWP on our VPS was easy, if you do WordPress installs then this will be very familiar. Once installed you have to add sites by first installing a plugin on each site and then inputting a few pieces of information into InfiniteWP, very straight forward process. For all 22 sites the whole operation, from install to having every website updated through InfiniteWP, took about 3 hours. While this might seem like a long time it will in the end save me an estimated 6 hours a month keeping tabs on all those sites.

Now all I have to figure out is what to do with all those extra free hours, maybe a few more WordPress installs!

If you have tried InfiniteWP or another multi-site management tool then let me know your thoughts down in the comments.



WordPress Plugin Battle: NextGEN Gallery vs EasyRotator

A client asked me to take a look at the EasyRotator plugin for WordPress, they were looking for a nicer way to show images in a post (trying to get rid of the long list of images).  Having used NextGEN Gallery for years I was interested in seeing how both plugins worked for creating a simple slideshow in a post.

For this post I decided to use my collection of miniature photos, you can read more about the process of creating these in the link. I intentionally picked images of different size to see how each tool handled this.

Up first NextGEN gallery plugin. This plugin offers a full image management tool. Images are uploaded into a Gallery. Several Galleries are then combined to create an Album.  The nice part about the plugin is that it gives you several ways to display the images. You can see one such choice on the Gallery page. In this case we are using the built in slideshow option. Once this images have been loaded into the NextGEN Gallery then it is a simple one click operation in the visual editor to add a gallery to a post. The dialog allows you to pick the format as slideshow. You can set in the size, duration and select from several transition effects.


EasyRotator is new to me. To work with the EasyRotator you need to install the WordPress plugin and a piece of software on your desktop (using Adobe AIR). This might scare off some users.  To create the rotator you simply click on the button on the visual editor. This launches the local desktop program. It is through the program that you select images and choose a style. The number of templates is impressive. You can also make images link to content which would make the EasyRotator a good choice for creating entry page navigation. There are of course more options in the pro version.  For comparison I picked a fairly straightforward template. The images not scaled by default in this template. I liked that EasyRotator just blended with the theme nicely.



I also picked something a little more exciting. This template scales the images to fill the space, which causes an issue with vertical images.



While these plugins are wildly different they both can be used for slide show creation.  I think both do a decent job of this. If you are looking for a straight forward slideshow for your posts then NextGEN Gallery would be my suggestion, especially if you want to ability to create a nice gallery page. If you are looking for a little more splash or would make use of the templates for creating a visual navigation then EasyRotator would do the job nicely.

If you use either of these tools or have another favorite method of showing images in a slideshow format let me know if the comments below.

WordPress 3.5

WordPress 3.5 “Elvin” has arrived. Featuring an even easier to use media upload environment, which from my quick test is really slick. Many of the people I help with WordPress are visual, the new add media functionality is perfect for them. My thanks to the entire WordPress team who have put out another great release which will be sure to keep WordPress at the top of CMS list.