Built a custom WordPress theme

I teach wordpress at work, and last quarter I had a student who wanted a really fancy wordpress site. She didn’t like any of the free themes. I told her I’d been tinkering with a custom theme for a couple years, but had never tried to use it on real, meaningful content. I simply had too many questions about how a custom theme worked in real life.

She was willing to put in the time, and I was being paid to teach…so we chipped away at it in the afternoons for a few weeks. Her website ended up looking so good I decided to try my hand coded custom theme on my 9 year old wordpress site. You are looking at it now. It’s a reasonably close match to my main www.websterart.com website, which is all handbuilt, not using wordpress. I’ve yet to try getting the PhotoSwipe plugin to work. Well, I did get it to work with my theme, but it caused problems.

WordPress, by default, puts thumbnails in definition lists. But PhotoSwipe requires them to be in figure elements. And I’d like to style the figure elements in variable column-count columns. However, there is simply too much code going on with his switch from dl’s to figures, which happens in JavaScript. More on that later.

There is a lot going on here. As far as explaining it, I don’t even know where to start. I may write a tutorial on it later. If you’d like to get the zip file of the theme, it is here. Be forewarned though, a lot of what goes on is in the form of widgets, menus and plugins that get added after you activate the theme in the wordpress dashboard.

The Whippers

“So Chris, you need to be ready, I’m probably going to clip the last bolt, climb up to the top and jump off.”

“Give me a lot of slack, like, have the rope practically laying on the deck. I don’t want it tight because I might whip into the wall.”

I carefully tied my knot with a very long tail so I could do a clean, half a grapevine back up knot. Before I pulled the figure eight tight, I clipped a round bodied metolius locker into the bottom loops of the knot. This makes a locked up knot easier to untie.

Bobbi saw me do it and gave me an evil grin: “I know what that means”.

Chris said: “I’m not really a huge fan of these intentional falls, seems like it’s needlessly stressing the system”.

“Bobbi can belay me, if you don’t wanna’ do it” I said.

“No, no, I’m fine”

“Ok, just be ready, and keep a lot of slack in the rope”.

“Ok, so if at any time you say you want to take or rest on the rope, I’ll just let you fall”

“Yup, that’s only fair” I said.

I climbed smoothly up through the dozen clips to the top of the wall, being extra careful to clip each bolt cleanly from secure stances. I watched each biner clip closed almost in slow motion, my focus absolute. I knew that I could not make a mistake. Every move was calculated and accurate.

As I clipped the last draw I still had some power in reserve on the steeply overhanging white 5.10. I climbed up to the top of the wall where the lowering clips were and simply grabbed on. I looked down at Chris, who I could clearly see was exactly where he should be, in brake position, with a long loop of slack.

I looked down at my tie in knot, with it’s backup knot to make sure everything was fine, and then let go. I quickly accelerated to a speed that felt far too fast, falling freely through the air at least 20 feet. I had very little panic, secure in the knowledge that the system was secure. As the rope caught me 30 feet off the ground, most of the people who were standing around on the floor jerked their heads up, sensing and hearing the noise of the draws banging on the wall as the rope came tight, and the body falling from high above.

Chris lowered me down carefully, to the watching climbers, who slowly turned away now that the show was over.

“I never would have guessed you had that streak of wildness,” he said.

“Yeah, somewhere inside me I’ve got a little craziness going on. But those whippers are really fun!” I said.

Bobbi: “I think it makes you a better climber,  you know you’re safe so you can relax.”

 

Pedaled to work

It’s been sunny so I pedaled to work twice in a row this week. The route is nice because there are sidewalks the entire way. Some of the sidewalks are dirt, but there is at least a raised lip on the pavement, which will hopefully alert a wandering driver that they are leaving the road. Biking to work means you’ve already had your aerobic exercise for the day. Then you get it again on the way home. The route is becoming increasingly familiar as I find all the fastest sidewalks in the 40 minute pedal. Sections that used to seem long now seem easy and short.

I love my old Sekai ten speed. It’s a direct link to my distant childhood. I bought it while I was living in a tent on a farm out in Tenino back in 1972. I had a part time job as a busboy, and another part time job as a printer. Other than my 1967 harmonica…which barely works, that old bike is my oldest possession. Those chromoly frames last forever. It’s been across the Cascades, up Vancouver Island and on many, many dirt roads long before mountain bikes were invented.

I’ve replaced most of the moving parts such as wheels, rear free wheel, rear derailleur, brake lines and countless tires. The frame, handlebars, pedal arms and smaller front sprocket and front derailleur are all original…as is the paint.

V, Alex and Kristi and I all went to Index, Lookout Point last weekend. It’s a great place to get away from the Private Idaho crowds.

 

DIY dryer repair

Our twenty year old Kenmore Series 70 electric dryer stopped heating last night. It would run, but would only blow cold air. I found this dryer repair tutorial on youtube.

I was able to fix it the next day for $60 instead of the $200 it would have likely cost. I could have fixed it for $30 if I’d wanted to wait for shipping. But it gets used every day and we didn’t want to wait.

Danger! Be absolutely sure you disconnect the power from your dryer BEFORE you take it apart.

 

I worked through the steps with my multi-tester and found that the heater element was bad. He explains it better, but the basic idea is that your multimeter has a battery inside it. When you set it to ohms, it sends current through the connection prongs on the heater element. I think he said to look for 9 ohms of resistance? Anyway, this means that the current from the multimeter tries to ‘get through’ the coil of the element but runs into a load…or maybe it’s called resistance. Point is, if it’s good, the current can get all the way through to the other probe, completing the circuit…but with resistance, which is measured in ohms. If you see a zero on your ohm meter, it means the current can’t get through at all…and this means a bad heater element. I took it apart and sure enough, the coil was broken. Looked like a broken spring.

I called a local appliance store and they had a replacement coil in stock. Took me a few hours total time. That was fun work. I like fixing things.

FYI: I am not an electrician. My instructions may be wrong. The youtube guy knows his stuff. I’m just a guy who likes a challenge and frequently gets over his head. I told Sue it might electrocute us when we turned it on if I’d done something wrong. There is 220 volts in there. My saving grace was to take a lot of photos of how the wires were connected as I took it apart. Then I just reversed the process as I put it back together.

The only way I can see this going south is if one of the connectors pulled apart and short circuited to the frame. The push on connectors seem flimsy. I was temped to soder them tight but didn’t.

Phone case for climbing

Many of my partners are leading with iPhones in their pants pocket. Considering what they cost, I shudder when I see them waving them around with abandon, trying to get the best angle. They do this 6 pitches up in the air…which amounts to a 600 foot drop if something goes wrong.

If the route is too hard I will leave my big camera on the ground or in the car. I have a small camera…but we often bring an iPhone for  emergencies…worst case scenarios. And considering how good they are getting, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon. But my phone is too big for a pants pocket, and it has a stupid glass back…so it’s fragile.

I already have a metal fronted case, but there is only one bungy snap holding the phone in the case, and the glass side is pressed up against my harness, only protected by the inner plastic case. I considered buying a hardish soft shell case with a zipper, which I have for my point and shoot camera, but I don’t like zippers…hate them with a passion actually. Every zipper is on its way to breaking…it’s only a matter of time.

I wondered if I could make a user repairable, bombproof metal iPhone case.  Yes, it turns out I can.

I started with some concept drawings. I hadn’t really thought it through…but figured if I started working all would become clear. I’m also blocked right now, I wiped off my latest painting…so I needed some entertainment on my four day weekend.

concept drawing

concept drawing

Bending the aluminum was hard because it was wider than my vise. I had to use some 1/4″ iron to extend my vise. I was able to make my right angle bends using this jig and a sledge hammer.

hammering the right angle bend

hammering the right angle bend

partially bent right angle

partially bent right angle

bending jig

bending jig

both angles bent

both angles bent

After that I sewed it together on the bottom with 1/8″ bungy cord. I considered using a hinge, but the bungy cord added cushion and avoided the case having to be overly precise regarding thickness of the phone.

My initial plan was to have the biner seal the case, like the way a binier locks down a grigri. But it turns out that a binier has such a wide bottom that the case is not held closed. I found a way to use a threaded bungy to lock the case closed, supplementing the biner. Getting all that sorted out and debugged took most of a day. Then I showed it to Sue and Clint and they both thought it was stupid…overkill was the term they used. While I think they are right, it was still a fun exercise in the art of inventing. The fact that my invention was mis-guided is irrelevant.

One of the problems I solved in my mis-guided train wreck of an invention was that the 0.040″ aluminum  was too flimsy to make a good carabinier hangar. I glued on a double layer of metal there. This is version 1.0 after all. It’s not supposed to be perfect. I’m thinking I can hang this on my rack or harness next to cams and quick draws and it will be fine.

Skied to Camp Muir

I forgot to write up our Camp Muir trip 3-3-19. Sue and I used to ski up there a couple times a year. But since we had the kids (who are 31 and 34) we’ve been doing short little 4 mile loops around the area near Panorama Point.

The kids have been after us to ski to Muir. For them it’s no big deal. My son loped up there and down in two hours and 38 minutes on Sunday. That doesn’t include a half hour rest at the top.

We made a number of false starts over the last two seasons, getting turned around by bad snow, white outs, wind or low energy. But on the third, Sue, Lisa, Clint, Jamie, Craig and I all headed up toward Muir on a perfect bluebird day. The gate didn’t open until 9 and we started skinning up at 9:45, arriving at Muir at 4PM. Along the way Jamie (Clint’s S.O.) and Sue turned around  above Pan. Craig, Lisa and I continued on above Pan but we soon noticed Clint had  vanished.

Lisa and I were climbing together when Craig caught up. He was surprised that Clint wasn’t with me. I told him that Clint was probably making sure that his mom and girlfriend were OK. These are generally not people you want to ignore, especially on a dangerous mountain. It turned out that Clint had given his mom his ice ax, and persuaded Jamie to take off her snowshoes and descend in boots, using her ax for self arrest.  It’s easier going down steep snow in climbing boots.

Clint caught up with us in an hour and the 4 of us continued up under perfect sunny weather. In case you don’t know us, that means me, my two kids and Craig, Clint’s best friend.

As we approached 8500 feet I started to slow down. The last 500 feet of elevation was really hard. Muir is 5 miles one way, and gains 5000 feet of elevation. I’ve been working out on the stair master but it wasn’t enough. I got to where I had to stop every 100 feet of skinning and rest. And the higher I got, the more I had to rest, with the rests becoming longer.

I began to do the math and wondered if I’d ever make Muir. My heart was doing the pounding thing…but it was just like when we skied up St. Helens last year…so I figured I’d survive if I took enough rests. Time after time I’d be draped over my ski poles trying to catch my breath…waiting until I had the strength to climb up again. I’d look up the hill and there would be the 3 young people, staring down at me, patiently waiting and wondering.

When I finally made it there were broad grins and high fives all the way around. We hung out for a few photos but there was no time to spare. We were the last ones up and needed to get off the mountain. It was 5 miles back to the car and a lot could go wrong: broken bindings, sprained knees, white outs. There is no ski patrol or snowmobile rescue on the mountain.

On the plus side, we are all very experienced at  back country skiing, with decades of time on Rainier. The ski down was fabulous. It was 3 inches of wonderful corn snow slash powder…for miles and miles.

A climbing acquaintance of mine was recently featured in a film. I’ve met her and her sister numerous times at Vantage. She really is that good.

Violin number two

I’m not sure if this second violin painting is done. I wanted to do a free wheeling sloppy painting but it turned into my usual tight rendering. I’m really looking forward to warmer weather so I can get out to the mountains on the weekends where the movement of the sun forces me to work quickly.

Pen and ink on wood with Varnish

I’ve seen some great pen and ink art on wood but there is very little information out there on how to do it.

Here is what I discovered:

I use high end furniture grade one quarter inch 5 ply white maple plywood for my oil paintings. It’s $104 a sheet of 4′ x 8′. It has a flawless surface on both sides.

I decided to use some to make a small wood box, which I then decorated with pen and ink. My ink was rOtring black, Platinum Carbon black and Sakura Jelly Roll white.

I sanded the wood with 300 grit paper then sealed with two coats of Gamblin PVA size, sanding before and after both size coats.

The drawing process felt normal, though the PVA size was slightly less absorbent than paper, so I was careful not to touch the lines if they looked wet. Really the ink only needed 10 seconds to dry, if that. I did a pure ink sketch, no pencil underneath.

After drawing, I waited a day then used Gamblin Gamvar oil painting varnish to seal the drawing and protect it from wear and tear. Both the black and white ink survived the varnishing perfectly. This looks like a great way do pen art because you don’t have to put it under glass or use matts. It’s just like an oil painting, no glass needed.

Oh, and the new paddle works well. It is heavier, so some of my shots were going off the table. I’m learning to hit the ball softer since the paddle has more inertia than my old one.

Backyard mechanic

My elderly Aunt Virginia died recently. Her husband was a diesel mechanic. When I was 14 we visited them up in Seattle and I was surprised to find that none of my cousins were in the house. My Aunt sent me out to the garage and there they all were,  helping their dad replace the pistons in an engine. I was so impressed at the amount of practical knowledge and skill in that family. They were heroes to my young eyes.

Working on cars seems to have become less popular among the younger generation. Neither of my kids does it. Well, that’s not quite true…my son does his oil, and has replaced an alternator. It’s weird because they grew up watching me do brakes, starters, alternators, radiators, spark plugs, shocks and carburetors. I could frequently be found laboring in the driveway in the rain, keeping an old car running. It’s oddly satisfying and can save a ton of  money. Though there is nothing wrong with paying other people to do the work…you just need to have a good job, which they both have.

Car number one

During the recent snow, Sue parked our newest car a little too close to a snow bank in town. When she drove away, the snow pulled on the plastic bumper and broke two plastic connector tabs that held the bumper shield to the splash guard inside the fender. Cosmetically the damage was a one eighth inch misalignment of the bumper to the steel body panel above it.

She took it to a body shop and they quoted her $1000  because they’d have to replace the entire front bumper. He told her to ignore it, that it wasn’t worth the trouble and wouldn’t cause any problems. That didn’t go over well with me. It looked like the bumper could flap in the wind, and possibly cause more tabs to break. At 70 miles an hour there is a lot of  pressure down there. I never want to be the guy on the side of the road with a broken down car.

Yesterday I pulled 7 screws out of that area to open it up. I could see the windshield washer reservoir, and the true steel bumper but it looked like there was room to get a drill. The tabs that held the two body parts together were broken so I cut some right angle replacement pieces from aluminum and steel. I custom bent them to fit the curving angles of the body parts, then carefully drilled holes to match existing plastic connectors, and drilled two small holes in the fender.

I was working out on the street in my driveway with the car jacked up in the air and I’d pulled the front wheel for better access.  Probably my tools were safe as I went back and forth to my out building where I had a vice, but I wasn’t sure. I still don’t know this neighborhood that well. I’ve had friends get stuff stolen from right in front of their house in this town.  My solution was to keep my tools in the car, and lock the doors. Only problem was that I’d had to disconnect the battery to avoid triggering the air bag as I drilled the bumper.

I had a confusing moment where I was pressing the door lock button in the car and all I heard was silence. It was kind of a “duh” moment. Our other cars are all manual door locks and roll up windows. Chalk it up to the joys of being a backyard mechanic. Our old house was safely concealed down a long driveway surrounded by trees, way out in the country. We like living in the city, and this is an awesome neighborhood…but I do miss the country sometimes.

Anyway, the end result is the car is as good as new. No dents anywhere, and the bumper is tight. The only evidence is two small stainless steel screws on the otherwise flawless white bumper. My friends tease me about how I’m always MacGyvering everything. They’ve even invented a term for it: “You Uncle Marked that thing!”

Car number two

As soon as my 1991 Corolla got back from the mechanic (oil leak repairs)  I drove it for a few days and it died. Sue helped me compression start it (we towed it 100 feet) and then I drove back to my mechanic where he said the battery was on the edge but it might also be the starter. I replaced the battery and drove it for a couple more days and then it died, again.

My son came over and we push started it. It’s a light car and we only had to push it 50 feet. You gotta’ love a manual transmission because it fired right up when I popped it into second. Then I drove it into the driveway, jacked it up with my 3 ton jack, braced it on jack stands and began looking for the starter.  For an early nineties car it has a lot of clutter under the hood. Finally I found the starter buried under the fresh air manifold. It looked impossible to pull. Thank goodness for the community of amateur mechanics who put videos on youtube. They explicitly explain where the bolts are located and I had it out in a couple hours.

Buying the correct starter

If you are new to replacing starters, never trust an auto parts store when they say they have the correct starter in stock! Always pull the starter and take it to the auto parts store. Open the box and compare the new starter with the old one, on all sides.  As starters go it wasn’t the hardest I’ve done. My truck was significantly harder. The trick on this one was for me to hold the new starter from the top. Sue pointed out that she could see it wasn’t aligned when I tried to do it from the bottom. Yupp, I was lying in the mud, under the jacked up car…again. It was easy when I held the starter from the top while she inserted the first bolt. You can see just enough of the important bits by looking through the intake manifold pipes.

As I was reassembling the  air cleaner I noticed the air intake hose had busted open. Darn thing only lasted 30 years. I called around to some pick and pull junk yards but they either didn’t have it, charged too much, or never answered the phone. My mechanic ordered one for me using the VIN number. Bottom line, having a mechanic do this would have been over $500. It cost me $82 for the starter and $100 for the hose.

In other news I tried to replace the rubber on my ping pong paddle. I used permanent contact cement and got a un-fixable bubble. I could have sanded the rubber off…but rubbers are $45 so I decided to buy a new paddle. Big 5 carries junk and there are no table tennis stores in Seattle. Closest store is 2 hours away in Portland but a phone call had a new paddle winging it’s way to me in a couple days. Sue and I played last night and it works awesome. It’s slightly heavier than my old one, but far stickier and seems to have a short learning curve.

And I’m painting the violin again. I’m doing a foreshortened version this time around, bigger than life size. It’s very frustrating. I’m going to do something more forgiving for my next painting. Violins are as hard to paint as the  human figure.

Painting a violin

Kristi loaned me her violin after our last jam session. When she plays that violin it brings magic into the room. Don’t know how such a small instrument can add so much beauty.

On the painting side, it’s a nightmare to draw. There are countless complex curves that have to be rendered perfectly. And the wood…did I ever mention how hard it is to paint wood? Not to mention the strings, this was the first time I’ve tried to paint ultra thin lines.

I also neglected to think about composition and started with the violin floating on white. All of my stumbling trial and error approach to painting is shown in these photos.

I’m 4 hours into another angle. This time I’m drawing it bigger than life size. And I’m looking down the length of it. The tuning knobs are bigger and the neck is foreshortened. This makes it really, really hard…so hard I had to grid out the canvas, and look at the violin thru my little dental floss grid viewer….pictures to follow.

For hour after hour I stood there trying, and failing, to draw it accurately. If something is life size, I can measure much more easily. I look, measure and draw it to size. But when it’s bigger, there is some mental transposing that goes on after I look. I can’t just draw what I see. I have to draw it larger.

I know this doesn’t make sense. I draw stuff smaller than life all the time. That seems to be easier. Perhaps it’s that when you are drawing something so close you can touch it, it’s natural to want to make it life size?

Alex and his son dropped by for a little ping pong today and I showed them the painting of the family violin. They were impressed.