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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Microsoft's Sexy Search Avatar

Just stumbled across this site in my stats this morning, and I can't believe I've missed it up til now. Ms. Dewey is an attractive search assistant from Microsoft, of all places, meant as an experimental interface for MSN search. Played by actress Janina Gavankar, best known for her role as Papi in The L Word, Ms. Dewey debuted in October 2006. She flirts, pouts, and entertains while waiting for your search term, then produces standard MSN search results, annotated with amusing commentary. She makes various random gestures while waiting, producing various props from behind her desk. She got quite frustrated with me, leaning forward to tap on my screen when I had failed to type anything for several seconds.

According to Wikipedia, Ms. Dewey is a viral marketing campaign — Microsoft is not actively marketing the site, but relying on the user community to spread the word. Her responses actually consist of about 600 video clips recorded over several days.

To experience her fully, you'll need the Flash player, as well as a high bandwidth connection. Check her out!

Monday, April 23, 2007

3 Column Widgets Compliant Blogger Template!

Success! In a previous post, I noted that the New Blogger supports my three-column template in "classic view," but rejects it in "widgets view." I am happy to report that I have solved the problem. After much experimentation, I now have a working three column version that you can open and edit in either HTML view or in "widgets" view.

It was much more than just a bit of badly formed XML. The code that the new Blogger uses for its "widgets view" is a radical departure from the XML that the old Blogger used. New Blogger uses variables, inserts several strange new tags into your code, and stores information differently. All of this is in support of a new user-friendly interface that enables you to add objects (Blogger calls them widgets) and change your blog's template without having to know a speck of code. The code structure underlying this, however, is finicky and much less tolerant of syntax errors than Blogger's previous incarnation of XML.

To get the 3-column template working properly in widgets mode, I basically had to rebuild it from scratch, from Douglas Bowman's new widgets-friendly 2-column Minima design.

Two Template Choices

As a result of this, there are now two versions of the three-column template.
  • Classic: If you are using the Old Blogger (or if you are on New Blogger but don't anticipate needing to significantly modify the template), use the original 3-column version. Note that you cannot open this version in Widgets view. This means you cannot add newsreels, video, a label list, or any of Blogger's other new page elements. You can modify the template, but you will need some familiarity with HTML.
  • Widgets: If you are on New Blogger and want the ability to easily customize the fonts, colours, or layout of the template's elements, and prefer to use a point-and-click interface, use the new Widgets version. You can make look and feel changes through an interactive point-and-click interface or by editing the HTML. This version also supports new Blogger features such as newsreels and video, and lets you take full advantage of Blogger's new support for category labels.

Changing Template Fonts & Colours

To modify the Widget template's current fonts and/or colours, open your Blogger dashboard, then click Layout / Template > Fonts & Colors. Choose the element you wish to modify from the list at left, then select the new font and/or colour you want for that element. Click Save Changes and view your blog.

Modifying Page Elements

I have designed the new widgets version to look as similar to the original as possible. It contains placeholders for your profile, blog archive, labels, popular posts, blogroll, and more. However, because of the way that new Blogger now handles information, some page elements will not appear in preview mode until you enter details for them, and you won't see the details in your HTML code at all.

To modify an existing element, click Template > Page Elements. Select the element you wish to modify, then click its Edit link and add the necessary details. You can change its title and/or default configuration any way you like. Click Save Changes when you're done.

Removing Page Elements

To remove an element, click its Edit link, then click Remove Page Element.

Adding New Page Elements

You can add new elements to either the left or right sidebar. To add an element to a sidebar, choose the sidebar you want to modify, then click its Add a Page Element option. You'll see a list of fourteen types of elements. Choose the one you want, then click Add to Blog. Blogger will prompt you to complete the title and/or other details. You can move elements around or change their stack order by dragging them.

Be aware that certain types of elements, such as link lists or HTML/Javascripts, can be added multiple times. Others, such as your Blog Archive, will generate an XML error if added more than once.

If you wish to change the widths, margins, padding, or border styles of the three columns, you will need to edit the HTML.

I hope you find these templates useful. Remember, before you make major changes, be sure to back up your current template.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Fix for Screwy Blogger Feed Dates

After updating all 135+ of this blog's posts yesterday with the new Blogger's much-hyped "label" feature, I discovered, much to my annoyance, that Blogger's native feed now defaults to updated rather than published order — that is, feed contents are sorted by the date on which posts are modified not by when they were created!

For New Blogger users, unfortunately, this means that every time you make the slightest change to a post, including fixing a typo or correcting a broken link, it will jump to the top of your feed — regardless of how old or obsolete it is. If you do a batch of changes as I did yesterday, your feed will be a jumbled mess of outdated posts. If you subscribe to other people's Blogger feeds, you'll be seeing lots of recycled posts.

When I emailed FeedBurner about this, they informed me they can do nothing about how Blogger sequences posts. FeedBurner just grabs the original Blogger feed and reflects what's already there.

The fix lies primarily with Blogger, and involves a code tweak to your template. A quick Google search unearths lots of advice. The article that I found most helpful is this one from Kato Katonian, though I still had to comment out a couple of other lines in my template's header before his solution would work. Essentially, you need to change the feed reference in your blog's metadata to point to http://yourblogname.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?orderby=published.

Once I made this change to my template, my native Blogger feed (Atom format) started working correctly, but FeedBurner (the more popular RSS format) still wouldn't pick up the new date sequence. That proved easy to fix, with a quick visit to FeedBurner to update the native feed address. (Click Edit Feed Details and paste the corrected address.)

Other proposed solutions include an inventive gizmo from a Yahoo-owned Web 2.0 feed aggregator named Pipes. This tool lets you bring in any feed and output it in corrected date order, among many other things. It may help with correcting other screwed up Blogger feeds, though using it to fix your own feed would require current subscribers to re-subscribe.

If you have found other fixes, please drop a comment here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

3-Column Template Fix for New Blogger

Update: Widgets version now available! See this post for details.

With apologies for the long wait, I have finally gotten around to investigating why some people were having trouble bringing my 3-column template into the New Blogger's HTML editor. One of the reasons holding me back was my own reluctance to embrace anything new from Blogger, but I finally took the plunge this morning, and so far so good. It's also the first time I have posted in a couple of months due to a heavy workload. Anyway, on to the topic of this post ...

The good news is that there is nothing wrong with the original 3-column Blogger template, found here. The problem was with my instructions (sorry), which were perhaps not specific enough. Some people evidently saved the HTML version of the template displayed when you click the link. That only gives you part of the code (which works fine if you're using Firefox, by the way). If you use IE, however, you need to open the template, view the source code, and then save or copy and paste into your template editor. IE does not display all the code, including the stylesheet and the all-important doctype declaration at the top.

Please be aware that this three-column layout will not work as is with the new Blogger's layout mode which uses something called "widgets." It works fine when pasted into their classic template, but it's generating XML errors in "widget" mode. I am working on a widgets modification, and it should be forthcoming shortly.

Hope this clarifies things, and again, apologies for the long delay in finally getting this information to you. Happy blogging!