Free PSD Friday: Flower Power

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Bright and bold would be the most obvious adjectives to describe this week’s Friday PST as its color arrangement is eyecatching and vivid without any additions. What makes this unique is the placement of the search, calendar, and recent photo thumbnails on a horizontal bar above the front page posts that integrates smoothly into the theme without being disruptive or detracting from the bright composition. Now you go be the gardener for a while…

Five Troubleshooting Steps For WordPress Performance

If you use any given tool for a long enough period of time you will find problems with it no matter how perfectly crafted it might be. WordPress is a tool like this that does a spectacular job of managing content as a barebones application but when you start modifying it to suit your own unique needs it can also impact the performance of it whether it really slows down or just seems like it has. Here are some basic tips and troubleshooting steps if it seems like your installation has started exhibiting signs of sub-par performance.

1. Plugins are often a source of grief for WordPress users as they are developed (usually) outside the framework of the application and, in the case of older plugins, may use features of WordPress that are deprecated and on their way out of use. One of the first steps that you can take to test this out is to disable all plugins via the link at the bottom of the Plugin page in the administration area and then reactivate each of them one at a time until you can isolate the one exhibiting problematic behavior. Usually this examination will yield a plugin that is badly outdated. Find the newer version of the plugin and try it out. In most cases, this will solve the problem but if the behavior persists then report the situation to the plugin developer and do a quick search of the WordPress forums to see if other users are experiencing the same problem. The forums can often give you ideas of how to work around the problem.

It can also be helpful to use the plugins that are available from the WordPress Plugins repository as newer versions of WP actually track the versions of plugins and will notify you via the Plugin screen when newer versions are available. Take advantage of this feature whenever it is possible as it will save you valuable time searching around when you experience an issue with a plugin.

2. Consider caching. If your public facing pages are loading slowly you might want to consider the use of a plugin like WP Super Cache to make pages load faster. This plugin won’t help you as a registered user but it will reduce the overall system load by serving up static pages to visitors who don’t leave comments. This will also protect your server from getting crushed should you be linked from a huge aggregation site like Digg or other sites that generated huge amounts of incoming traffic.

3. Examine your logs. Translate that title into “talk to your service provider” if you’re using a hosted site as they may grant you access to your logs or help you identify potential problems that may show up in system logs. There isn’t an easy answer using this suggestion as hosting environments vary wildly but what you’re looking for are repeated errors that happen with regularity and the sources of the error.

4. Look at your database. WordPress relies on a database to store everything so problems with the database or connections to it are another potential source of complications. Unfortunately diagnosing database problems from within WP isn’t possible at the present but most hosted environments will have some access tool that allows you to examine databases. PHPMyAdmin is the most common of these and you can use it to analyze your database tables and repair damaged tables if it is necessary.

5. Look at your situation. If you’re dealing with a lot of traffic and a tiny hosting company or some antiquated hardware of your own that seemed good enough when you started then you need to strongly consider upgrading your hosting solution. Take it as a measure of success that people want to access your site and realistically reassess what you need to continue delivering the same content without crushing your host or your machine.

Five WordPress Plugins to Defend Your Site Against Comment Spam

Spam is a problem that plagues any resource on the Internet that allows any kind of user input. The unscrupulous denizens of the Web are constantly on the look out for more ways to include profitable URLs in accessible locations on the Net and as the awareness and popularity of blogging increases so does the allure of utilizing it for profit. In the blogging universe, this has largely meant comment spam. Comment spam is usually attached to older entries (in hope of escaping the notice of admins) and unrelated to the content of the entries to which they are attached. It’s annoying and a problem that will likely never end. Luckily there are more than a few ways to fend off the would-be exploiters in ways that will save you time and energy better spent adding content to your blog rather than weeding out the rotten apples. Here are five WordPress plugins that can help in this process:

1. Akismet. Akismet would be popular even if it wasn’t incredibly effective because Matt Mullenweg the head honcho of WP development is its creator. Luckily, it is as good as its reputation at dealing with comment spam. It works by comparing comments to a huge database of information about spammers already recorded and taking action against those comments when appropriate. Usually suspect comments are quarantined for a period of 15 days. What makes this tool especially valuable is that it is adaptive to prevent the poisoning of the database with false positives. If Akismet marks a legitimate comment as spam then not only can you transfer it out of the spam queue but it is also reported back to the database as a false positive. This one is included with every download of WordPress so all you really need to do to take advantage of it is to head over to to sign up for a user account, grab your API key, and activate the plugin in the WP dashboard.

2. Peter’s Custom Anti-Spam. This is a Captcha solution to the comment spam problem. Users are prompted to enter a word before they can successfully submit a comment. This is effective in combatting the use of automatic spam bots that try to leave as many comments as possible. This also allows you to granularly control how the plugin is doing its job by creating your own list of source words and selecting whether or not registered users will have to complete the Captcha in order to leave comments.

3. Bad Behavior. Bad Behavior takes a more radical approach to dealing with the problem of comment spam. It filters all requests to your site through a filter that looks at how people are accessing your website in addition to the comment they are trying to add. The advantage here is that BB can spare you the bandwidth costs associated with spam robots that tend to make numerous attempts simultaneously. This one is a little trickier to set up as it requires a little digging around to make sure everything is properly configured but there is no dearth of documentation to help you get Bad Behavior up and running.

4. Math Comment Spam Protection. In order to submit a comment users must solve a simple math problem. This works great for limited shared hosting because it doesn’t require any special software on your server and doesn’t require Javascript in the the browser. It has a number of options that you can configure through the administration dashboard and requires only a couple of lines pasted into the comments.php file of your theme. It’s simple, elegant, and effective.

5. DNS Anti Spam. DNS Anti Spam compares the IP address of the commenter against a huge blacklist of known spammers and checks to make sure that there are no links in comments that match that blacklist.

This list is a short list of recommendations so it is by no means definitive. One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with comment spam is that the battlefield is constantly changing as spammers adapt to try to work around the tools we use to minimize their harm. Many of the tools referenced above use a centralized database to track results so if given an option always enable your tools to report back when you find false positives or negatives. It’s a very simple and low impact way of giving something back to the community.

Free PSD Friday: Bottle

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Reminiscent of the fabled  message in a bottle of many childhood tales and the luck of having one wash ashore, we give you the PSD for the Bottle theme in hopes that you will use it to bring your own unique message to the world in a 2 column container that you can fiddle with as much as you fancy. The soothing base of translucent blue and reflected light is a great place to start for adventurers of all experience levels. No dragons be here.