Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 7, 2015


Filed under: computers — louisproyect @ 4:46 pm

As some of you may know, I was a computer programmer for 44 years until my retirement in July 2012. I can’t say that I was any kind of genius but I managed mostly from being fired. One thing that I have gotten out of that experience is an understanding of the complexities of software installations, something that I was reminded of yesterday when I spent a good six hours working on the North Star website that had ceased processing comments.

We had run into a most peculiar bug. The website would indicate that a certain number of comments had been logged for a given article but when you went to look at them, none would show up.

My initial response was to blame Disqus, a “plug-in” that organized comments by thread rather than in simple chronological order as was the case with the native WordPress architecture. After I disabled Disqus, I was startled to see that the comments problem persisted.

The next step was to post a query to the WordPress users forum, which is what I should have done in the first place. I was told that the source of the problem was not in Disqus but in the incompatibility of the Thesis template we were using (1.82) with the WordPress release (4.1.1). We had to upgrade to Thesis 1.86.

I should explain that Thesis is a “theme”, just one of many that is available for the industrial strength version of WordPress that North Star uses. On my Unrepentant Marxist blog, I use WordPress.com—a free, stripped-down version that can only be used in a single-column format. If you want something more like a magazine, you need to use WordPress.org, a full-throated version that allows multi-column formats and other bells and whistles, but only in combination with a theme like Thesis or any other that suits your fancy. All of them come with a price tag.

Ideally, you should be able to upgrade Thesis by simply clicking an “upgrade now” link within the WordPress dashboard just as is the case with the various plug-ins that are available for WordPress such as Disqus or Askimet, a spam blocker, etc.

But for reasons having to do with the incompetence of the people who market Thesis, an upgrade to 1.86 has to be done manually.

This is something that is done in stages. First, you have to download version 1.86 to your computer and then upload it to the server using a Unix-based tool called FTP (file transfer protocol). In order to use WordPress.org, you need to buy space on a remote server, which in our case is Dreamhost, and usually for a couple of hundred dollars a year or so.

Now I should start off by saying that I have used FTP maybe 10,000 times over the  years since I was responsible for maintaining a client-server financial system at Columbia University. But I was not prepared for the headaches I ran into yesterday, not by a long shot.

Let me begin by showing you what I saw when I was logged in to the Dreamhost yesterday:

Screen shot 2015-03-07 at 11.11.00 AM

You see how it indicates that lproyect has ftp privileges? Well, not really. I kept trying to upload the latest version of Thesis to Dreamhost but could not make a connection using their web-based WebFTP tool.

As an alternative, I tried using FUGU, an ftp utility on my Macbook. With FUGU there was also a connection problem. What the hell was going on?

At my wit’s end, I contacted Dreamhost’s technical support and discovered that I could only connect using binh’s ID and password. They referred me to this piece of information from their in-house Wiki:

Screen shot 2015-03-07 at 11.16.46 AM

In plain language this means that even though I am marked as eligible to use FTP, it can only be done by the first user ever established for North Star, namely Pham Binh. Dreamhost also advised me to use FileZilla for ftp since this was what they were standardized on. By using FileZilla, it would make any other queries I had easier to answer since we would be operating on “the same page”.

That was easier said than done since I was not able to use FileZilla on my Macbook since I am using OS X 10.6.8, an older version of the operating system that was incompatible with FileZilla. If I wanted to use FileZilla, I’d have to install the latest OS X on my Macbook, something I was loath to do in light of the reviews it had gotten:

Screen shot 2015-03-07 at 11.25.02 AM

So instead I used my wife’s Macbook Air that had the latest OS X release. But that meant downloading Thesis 1.86 to her computer plus getting familiarized with her environment that was a bit different from mine.

Once I got her machine prepped, I began going through the upload of Thesis, which was not without some mishaps tied to my unfamiliarity with FileZilla. Finally I got the upload done and the newest version of Thesis accomplished our goal of getting the comments functioning again.

But much to my dismay, the North Star now had a different appearance than the previous one. Instead of 3 columns across, now there were 2. Also, we used to have a large sized image at the top of the page that rotated the images of the most recent articles—that too was gone. So now we have to look into getting those features working again.

After spending 8 hours on this nonsense yesterday, I told my wife that I was amazed that anybody without a background as a programmer could get any of this done. What if you were somebody using WordPress/Thesis for a magazine on Angora cats and couldn’t tell the difference between FTP and STP, the very good oil additive?

All I can say is that I hope there is never a requirement for us to go to Thesis 2.0. From http://www.byobwebsite.com/seminars/thesis-theme-2-0-seminars/how-to-upgrade-from-thesis-1-x-to-thesis-2-using-the-thesis-classic-skin/:

The lesson is not availableTake an inventory of the existing site

  • Theme layout
  • Site Options
    • favicon
    • tracking scripts
  • Design Options
  • Header image
  • Background images
  • Custom template configuration
    • no sidebars template
    • product post
  • Custom PHP
    • create a clip file
    • remove the things we know we don’t need
  • Custom CSS
    • create a clip file
  • Take screen shots for reference

The lesson is not availableSet up an under construction/maintenance mode skin

  • Install and activate Thesis 2.0.2
  • Download Maintenance Skin
  • Activate Maintenance Skin
  • Activate Thesis Classic in Preview Mode
  • Don’t Panic

The lesson is not availableSetup Sitewide Settings

  • Favicon
  • Tracking scripts

The lesson is not availableSelect the Skin Version that is closest to what you are doing

  • Layout
  • Responsive or not
  • Install the skin version
  • Add the widgets back to the sidebars
  • Create the Menu

The lesson is not availableMake the Big Dimensional Changes

  • Column widths
    • single + half = 38
    • column 1 – 638
    • column 2 – 358
    • page_wrapper – 996
    • container – 996
  • General Font Sizes
  • General Font Styles
  • General Link Styles
  • Column Sidebars
  • Change all Templates
  • Move Widgets into place

The lesson is not availableCustomize the Header

  • Background Image
  • Nav Menu Position
  • Header Area page wrapper
    • top margin
    • header Image
  • Adjust title and tagline
    • header left padding – 100px
    • ta

The lesson is not availableAdd Search to the Header

  • Create the widget box
  • Add the widget
  • Add a widget Style
    • width – 315
    • float – right
    • margin
      • top – 20
      • right – 25px
      • bottom – 10
  • Add text input styles
    • selector #header_area .search-form .input_text
    • width
    • colors – #FFFFDC
    • float
  • Add submit input styles
    • width – 105
    • background image
    • padding – 10
    • border
    • text indent
    • cursor

The lesson is not availableStyle the Nav Menu

  • Design Options transfer
    • padding – top & bottom – 9px
    • Font style
    • Colors
    • border
  • Add Margin
    • margin – 15

The lesson is not availableAdjust the Content Styles

  • Setup Post Formatting
    • change the width of the post box – Post box
    • headline – create h1.headline & h2.headline
    • subheadings – create .post_content h2, h3 & h4
  • Widget Formatting
    • change the width of the widgets – Sidebar Styles
    • widget heading – .widget
    • custom widget color – #content_area .sidebar .widget_title
  • General Link Styles
    • change links variable
  • Backgrounds
    • columns – additional CSS

The lesson is not availableAdd the Custom Content Styles

  • That require no revision
    • byob emphasis
    • forms
  • Sidebar styles
    • ads

The lesson is not availableCreate the Footer in Thesis 2

  • Create the structure
    • 2 column wrapper – reuse existing
      • 3 column wrapper
        • widgets 1-3
      • widget 4
  • Add the Columns Package
    • 3 column package
  • Add the widgets
  • Background
    • footer area background
  • Widget Styles
    • top padding
    • widgets background
    • text, size and color
    • links
    • heading

The lesson is not availableAdjust the Page Template

  • Configure author meta
  • Configure post images

The lesson is not availableAdjust the Front Page Template

  • Add the Feature Box
  • Create a Hook in Thesis 2
  • Add the custom function

The lesson is not availableAdd Sitewide Custom Code Using custom.php

  • Add the code to custom.php
  • Add a hook to the templates
  • Hook the code to the hook

The lesson is not availableCreate a Custom No Sidebars Template

  • Adjust the Landing Page custom template
  • Create the No Sidebars custom template
  • Add additional custom CSS

The lesson is not availableAdjust the Home Template

  • Move the custom HTML into place
  • Configure post images
  • Remove Categories from posts




  1. I help with a website that can load its images on desktops, but not on mobile phones. I understand why, sort of it, but it will be a nightmare for an amateur to resolve. A bit of problem since the website is promoting artwork !

    A big problem is the terrible customer service all of these products offer.

    Comment by jeff — March 8, 2015 @ 6:08 pm

  2. >glazed eyes<

    Um . . . yeah . . . .

    Comment by Todd — March 9, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: