New Version of jQuery Feedback Plugin released

This is version 1.0.1. It corrects a bug where the ‘above’ and ‘below’ options did not work, and it also lets you place a message immediately above an element, with the left side of the message area aligned with the left edge of the element itself. I have also updated the demo page to include a demo of using the ‘above’ option, and to style the buttons using the jQuery UI CSS framework.  I’ve also update the link to the zip file to download, on this page,  to point to the new version.

This plugin lets you write feedback messages anywhere on your page. I usually use it to provide some response from an AJAX call.

The jQuery UI CSS Framework – Part 1: Intro and How To Style a Button

This is the first in a series of articles on the jQuery UI CSS Framework.. This is a powerful suite of CSS selectors that you can use to build web applications with a consistent UI. The main jQuery UI demo page shows you a list of UI widgets (which are still somewhat limited in scope compared to ExtJS, for example), but it doesn’t do a very good job on selling you on the benefits of designing other UI components, or components of those widgets, using the UI CSS framework. In this article I explain the framework, its benefits and weaknesses, and show you one simple example of styling a button.

What is the jQuery UI CSS Framework?

It is a set of CSS selectors that let you design your web pages to conform to the jQuery UI widgets standards. Quote:

The jQuery UI CSS Framework provide semantic presentation classes to indicate the role of an element within a widget such as a header, content area, or clickable region. These are applied consistently across all widgets so a clickable tab, accordian or button will all have the same “ui-state-default” class applied to indicate that it is clickable.

(from the jQuery UI Theming documentation page).

Benefits of the jQuery UI CSS Framework

Here are the top benefits I think the framework has to offer:

  • It handles difficult design issues for you. For example, you can apply rounded corners to buttons and links easily, just by adding a class of  “ui-corner-all” to your element.
  • It gives you a consistent look and feel to your page design elements
  • You can use the jQuery UI widgets (such as tabs, dialog boxes, accordions, etc. in conjunction with your own custom elements (text, tables, buttons, boxes, icons, etc.) and get the same look and feel for both.
  • The UI is skinnable. You can use Themeroller to roll your own theme, or select an existing theme. For example, I’m using the ‘Redmond’  theme in an application I’m currently building. You can see the Gallery of themes by clicking the ‘Gallery’ tab in the top left corner.  The gallery also shows you what the standard jQuery UI widgets look like. Unfortunately it doesn’t show you other common design elements- but that’s why I’m blogging!
  • You can easily switch to another theme just by changing a single path reference in your applications. You can see this at work by using the Themeswitcher widget, which is easy to embed in your page (just remember you will be connecting to the jqueryui.com website when you use this widget).

Downsides to the Framework

The framework is not without its weaknesses, some of which, over time, I’m sure will be addressed. The major ones I see are:

  • Poor documentation of the purpose behind each selector.  For example:

    .ui-helper-clearfix: Applies float wrapping properties to parent elements

    . What exactly does this mean? And where would you use it? I think I’ve figured it out, by trial and error, but couldn’t the authors write something more meaningful?

  • Reliance on em as the unit of measure rather than pixel. I realize there are lots of advantages to this, but it has its drawbacks too- most notably, when you nest some UI elements you can end up with different font-sizes, due to the use of 1.1em in some cases (this is a multiplier, so in my app I have 1em applied, which results in a font size of 11px, then I have a tab with content. The text in that content comes out at 12.1px (1.1em). If you don’t understand em versus px, try this article. Also, see my post on using 62.5% on a body CSS selector..
  • Incomplete framework. Most notably, tables are not addressed. (I use tables to present database information in business apps). Tables fall outside the regular cascade rules, it seems, so the font size for table content is screwed up. I suggested a simple fix of adding the word ‘table’ to a selector, but that got dismissed as too specific. So whenever you use a table in conjunction with the Framework CSS, you’ll have to add a customized CSS rule, such as this one:
    .ui-widget table { font-family: Lucida Grande, Lucida Sans, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 1em; }. I could rant about this, and may do in another post… Other selectors are missing, too, such as alternating row colors for table zebra striping. Perhaps they will add this to the Themeroller app, as well as to the CSS Framework API specifications.
  • Sometimes you need other CSS to make things look like they do in the online examples. I ran across this with the Dialog example that shows a form. The form looks really beautiful, but it actually uses several additional selectors besides the ones included in the Framework CSS.  I don’t really think there’s much of a technical alternative here, but it’s something you need to be aware of.

How To Learn About The Framework

I learn about how to use the framework by using the following strategies:

  • Read the official CSS Framework documentation.
  • Try out the widget examples and do a ‘View Generated Source’ or ‘Inspect Element’ with Firebug. This shows you how the UI Widget developers utilized the CSS framework. For example, I noticed that the Dialog widget shows really nice looking Ok and  Cancel buttons, so I inspected them to see which CSS rules had been used. (See my example below).
  • Follow the jQuery UI forum and read books. There’s a new edition of a book on jQuery UI 1.7 that recently (Nov 2009) came out.

Example Using the Framework To Style a Button

Here’s a simple example of using the CSS selectors to style a button. I’m using the Redmond theme here.

I assume you know how to install the jQuery UI library and CSS.  You can grab it here.

Here’s the code:

    <style>
    body {font-size: 62.5%}
    </style>
<button id="cancel" type="button"  class="ui-state-default ui-corner-all">Cancel</button>

Here’s what it looks like:

jQuery UI button in FireFox

jQuery UI button in FireFox

jQuery UI button in Chrome

jQuery UI button in Chrome

jQuery UI button in IE

jQuery UI button in IE

As you can see, FireFox and Chrome each do a nice job of rendering the rounded corners, while IE 8 still doesn’t support this feature (at least, not with CSS).

Explanation of The CSS

I’m using two classes on the button element. This is a common coding technique when using the jQuery UI CSS framework. It results in combining the various selectors of each style in an accumulative manner. The ui-state-default class “Applies “clickable default” container styles to an element and its child text, links, and icons.” For example, we could apply this to a link and get essentially the same effect. This class includes a background image that provides the button coloring. As I mentioned earlier, if you change the theme used in your app, the button will appear in the color of that theme.

The ui-corner-all selector applies a radius (rounded corner) to each of the four corners of the button border. That’s it!

Next Article

In the next article I will show you how to style a div to create a nice looking box with a heading in it.

Tip for Using Picasa and Apple TV

I finally Googled to find an answer to this simple problem, which is:
When you load pictures in Picasa, it cleverly rotates them the correct way. However, Picasa does not change the underlying originals (look at them with Windows Explorer if you don’t believe me). So when you synch or stream these pictures on your Apple TV you’ll see the audience’s heads turn to one side in unison every so often, to view a sideways picture. The solution is simple, and is recorded at Google’s support site: click in the folder of pics you want to view on your Apple TV, then click the ‘save edited photos to disk’ icon, which looks like a diskette – just to the left of the ‘share’ button.

This has saved me a ton of time compared to having to rotate the images manually. Why didn’t I research this earlier?

How to correct font size problem with tables in jQuery UI widgets

I just recently used jQuery UI tabs in an application. Within a couple of the tabs I used tables for content (let’s not have a religious debate about using tables for layout, please). Anyway, the font size came out much bigger than for text in a paragraph, for example- in FireFox. I looked at the custom.css file (generated by themeroller, called jquery-ui-1.7.2.custom.css) and found this line:

.ui-widget input, .ui-widget select, .ui-widget textarea, .ui-widget button { font-family: Lucida Grande, Lucida Sans, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 1em; }

This line is designed to handle form input types, to make sure the font size matches text in other tags such as paragraphs, etc. However, text in tables also needs to have these rules applied. To fix the problem, I copied this line and added table as a descendant selector, like so:

.ui-widget table { font-family: Lucida Grande, Lucida Sans, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 1em; }

(You could also just add .ui-widget table to the overall selector).

Problem solved.

You might also be interested in reading this earlier post on How to scale the jQuery UI font size just for just the ui widgets.

Joomla 1.5 has wrong path for css, js files – edit your configuration.php file

I just moved a Joomla 1.5 install from my iMac to a hosted site. The home page showed up fine, but subsequent pages were missing all styles. It turns out that I needed to change the variable $live_site in configuration.php from ” to = ‘http://www.example.com/mypath’. I’m not clear on why it worked on my MAMP install but not on the ISP, but apparently this is a common Joomla 1.5 install problem, as noted at this Joomla forum thread. (Scroll down to see Anthony Ferrara’s (aka ircmaxell) response on Feb 21, 2008 – ignore all the other bogus parts of the thread). Anthony is apparently a member of the core development team, on the bug squad. Thanks, Anthony!

Using Aptana Studio 2.0 and PDT Plugin for Drupal Module Development

Aptana now uses the official Eclipse PDT (PHP Development Tools) plugin instead of their own PHP editor. I have Aptana 2.0.2, build date November 10 2009 on my Macbook.  I’m building a Drupal module, so I need to have PDT recognize (and correctly color-code) files with .module, .info and .install extensions.  There is a Drupal Article on configuring PDT as an Eclipse Plugin, but the steps are different for doing it in Aptana Studio.

The process is quite simple – basically 3 steps. Here they are (assuming you’ve got the PDT plugin installed already):

In Aptana Studio, click on the Aptana Studio/Preferences, expand the General link and click on Content Types: Aptana Preferences General tab

Next, expand the Text link. This will show you a list of content types supported in the editor. Scroll down until you see the PHP entry:

Aptana Content Types Associated with Editor

You’ll see the usual PHP extensions listed in the bottom box, such as php, php3, php5. Click on the Add button to the right to add an extension needed for Drupal Module development. You’ll see a dialog like this:

Aptana Define New Content Type Association

Click OK. Repeat this step for *.info and *.install (assuming these extensions are not already used for some other language or tool). That’s it! Now, when you open a .module file, it will have the same color-coding and editing as a .php file.

How To Create News Items in Drupal – Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous post that explained how to create a custom content type called News, and show News items using the Views module.

Creating A News Page with a Monthly News Archive Block

This post explains how to create a page showing just the News content type, how to link that page to the Primary menu, and how to show a block with a list of archived News items. It assumes you’ve already followed the steps in the previous post.

We accomplish all these tasks using the Views contributed module.

  • First, we use the Views module to create a page view to show most recent 10 news items on the page, as follows:
    • Login as site admin again
    • Go to Administer/Site building/Views.
    • Click Add to create a new View
    • View name: News_page , View description: Page showing recent news, View tag: News, View type: Node. Click Next.
    • Select ‘page’ in dropdown box, click ‘Add Display’. This is what creates a whole page, instead of a block, for example.
    • We want the user to be able to page back and forth through each set of 10 news items, so in the first column, click on ‘no’ next to ‘Use pager’ . Scroll down to the radio buttons for this option and click on ‘full pager’.
    • Next, we’ll repeat a lot of the steps we took for creating a block view – selecting the fields for the view, and the filter to choose only published News content:
      • Click on the ‘+’ sign next to Fields. Scroll down and select Node: Post date and Node: Title, then click the Add button . The next steps take you through more options for each of these fields.
      • Remove the label of ‘Post date’ (clear the text). This prevents the words ‘Post date’ showing next to the date. Click ‘Update default display’. You should now see an interface asking you to configure the field ‘Node:Title’.
      • Remove the label of ‘Title’ (clear the text). Check the box ‘Output this field as a link’ , scroll down and check ‘Link this field to its node’. This makes the News item’s Title a clickable link that links to the full article (node). Click ‘Update Default display’.
    • You should see a ‘Live preview of all content you’ve created. Let’s filter it by ‘news’ only.
      • Cick the ‘+’ sign next to Filters. Scroll down and check Node: Published and Node: Type. These options let us choose to display only Published content (Node: Published = Y), and only news (Node: Type = ‘news’). Then click Add.
      • Select ‘Yes’ for Published items, click Update, then select ‘Is one of’ and check ‘News’, then click Update.
      • Now let’s sort the news items by most recent first (descending order). Click on the ‘+’ sign next to Sort criteria.
      • Check Node: Post date, click Add.
      • Select Descending, click Update.
    • Let’s place this page on the Primary Menu.  This is the menu that (generally) appears at the top of your page, depending on your active Drupal theme.
      • Scroll down until you see the heading Page Settings in the first column.
      • Click on None (next to Path), and type: news . This is appended to the rest of your site’s url to make the full path for this page.  We will also refer to this name when we create our News Archive block.
      • The next option lets you link the page to a menu item:
      • Click on ‘No Menu’ (next to Menu)
      • Scroll down and click on Normal menu entry. A set of input controls appears to the right of this option. Proceed…
      • Type the title for this menu entry. I chose ‘News’ because I like short menu item text, but feel free to choose whatever you want- perhaps, Latest News.
      • Type a description. This appears when a user hovers over the menu item. It might appear somewhere else, too, I’m not sure.
      • Click on the dropdown box under the word ‘Menu:’
      • Select Primary Menu.  That’s it!
    • Finally, click the Save button (just above the words ‘Live Preview’.)

Create The News Archive Block

Ok – the next step is to create a block of Archived news articles – much like the standard Archive block that comes with Drupal. The only difference is that block includes all content types, while we want to include just our news content type. So this is really easy- we clone the existing Archive view that comes with the Views module and just add a filter to include only news content. Here are the steps in detail:

  • Go to Administer/Site building/views again.
  • Look for the existing view called Monthly Archive (it has a path of archive) – it’s the first one in the list in my install of Drupal. Click on the Clone link on the right.
  • Change the view name from archive to newsarchive, and change the view description similarly.
  • Click the next button to continue on to configure the block view.
  • Add the filter for news content only:
    • Click on the + sign next to Filters. Scroll down to see the list of available filter fields, find the Node: type field, and select it.
    • Scroll down to configure the Node type and select the news content type.
  • You can click the Live Preview button now, and you should see something like November 2009 (9) – at least that’s what I see, because that’s the only month I have any news items published in. If you haven’t written any news content yet, then nothing will show here.
  • Before we exit this page, there is, as Columbo would say, just one more thing.  You may have noticed that the Archive list we cloned has 3 vertical tabs on the left – Default, Page and Block.  In the previous steps we were changing the default settings, which essentially ripples them through to both the Page and Block settings. Personally, I intensely dislike this interface. It is quite confusing, because different options appear depending on which tab is active, and it’s not self-evident which tab is active. Anyway, we are going to make a minor change to the block view, so click on the block tab .
  • Scroll down until you see Block settings. If you do not see this heading then you did not click on the block tab in the previous step, so try again!
  • Click on the text next to Admin, and type ‘News Archive List’ . This is text appears when we are placing blocks on our pages, and if we don’t change it we will have two blocks with the same title – the one we cloned from, and this one – which makes it a pain to know which one we want to place somewhere.
  • Save your work – click the Update button, followed by the Save button below it.

Place the News Archive Block on The News Page

You may want to place your News Archive block on every page, but just for the sake of this tutorial, let’s place it only on the news page.

  • Go to Administer/Site Building/Blocks
  • Find your News Archive List block. It should be in the list with the heading Disabled, the last list on the page. Click on the Dropdown box next to it, and select the area on the page you want it to appear. The names of the areas will depend on the active theme you are using. There may be one called ‘right sidebar,’ which would be appropriate. If not, choose some other area.
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Blocks  (IMPORTANT!!! – click Save Blocks before doing the next step – otherwise you may lose your ‘change’).
  • Ok – now you have to find your block in the lists on the page, because it has moved from the ‘disabled’ list to whatever area title you chose. Once you find it, click on the Configure link.
  • Scroll down to Show Block on Specific Pages, click the  ‘Show on only the listed pages’ radio button, then type news in the text area below. (news- not News, not ‘news’, not <news>).  If you recall, this is the node name of our news page, which we specified when we created the News page view (above).
  • Save your work.

Ok – we are done.If you  go to my Drupal sandbox site, you’ll see the News menu item at the top. Click on it and you’ll see some bogus news items, along with the News Archive List in a block on the right hand side. Notice that this block only appears on the news page, as per our specs.

Whew- this is a lot of text to explain something reasonably simple. Maybe next time I’ll make a youtube video instead.

How To Create News Items and a News List in Drupal

Drupal does not come with an out-of-the-box news content type. You could use a story or a blog entry, but these are not an exact fit for what I wanted.  Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to create your own ‘News’ content type. You probably have your own idea of what a ‘news item’ should be, and how it should display. Here are the features I wanted for news items:

Requirements

  • News items to be their own ‘content type’ so I can create user roles just for posting news items.
  • Latest 5 news items to show in a block on the first page.
  • Separate ‘news’ page that lists all news items, most recent first, with paging (eg. show 10 at a time).
  • ‘news’ page should be a Primary menu item
  • List to show date of item and title of item, with the title being a link to the full article
  • News items to support ‘teasers’
  • Have an Archive block on the News page to show an archive of news items by month

Summary of Process

Here’s an overview of  how you do it, followed by detailed instructions.

  • Install Views contributed module (if you haven’t already done so).
  • Install Advanced Help module (this provides a great example of using Views to create a block or page that presents lists of information)
  • Create a content type of ‘news’
  • Check the options to add, change or delete own news items for the appropriate users or roles.
  • Create a ‘block’ view to display news items
  • Place the block somewhere on the first page
  • Create a ‘page’ view to display news items.  You choose which Primary menu item you want to use for this page when you create the view.
  • Create an ‘archive’ block view to display archives by cloning the provided Archive view and changing it
  • Place the archive block somewhere on your news page.

Details For Creating The News Block

In this section of the post I take you through every step in detail.

(In order to get this post published, without being too long, I’ll explain in another post how to create a separate page of news items with teasers, and how to create the Archive block.)

  • Install Views and Advanced Help modules. Views is one of two very popular contributed (non-core) modules. CCK (Custom Content Kit) is the other one- it lets you create your own data values or content types. Views lets you display lists of information from the Drupal database. It’s essentially a user-driven SQL statement generator, along with some list formatting options. Advanced Help is useful because it gives you detailed examples on using Views. One of those uses content type of ‘Story’, which is really not much different than the ‘news’ content type we are using here. Here are the URLs for each of these modules:

I use Views 2 for Drupal 6.x in this example.

  • Create Content type of ‘news’.
    • Login as Site admin
    • Go to Administer/Content Management/Content Types, click Add.
    • Name: News, Type: news (I use all lower-case for the type), Description: News items.
    • Workflow settings: Check ‘Published’ and ‘Promoted to front page’. I also enabled Attachments, but you may not want to do that. Make your choice for comments, too. You probably don’t want people commenting on your news items – “hey – that was really boring!” – in which case, disable comments.
    • Save the content type.
  • Set up a User who can create, change or delete News items. First we’ll create a new role, specifically for just working with news items:
    • Go to Administer/User Management/Roles
    • Click on Add Role. Call it Reporter (you can always delete this later if you really don’t want it)
    • Click on Edit Permissions
    • Scroll down the list of permissions until you get to ‘Node Module’. Check ‘Create news content’, ‘edit own news content’ and ‘delete own news content’ then click ‘Save permissions.
    • Create a user with a role of reporter: Go to Administer/Users and click on ‘Add User’. Type a Username, unique e-mail address (if you are like me, you have many alias email addresses pointing to the same account- almost a must for testing anything with Drupal or Joomla), password, and check the role of ‘reporter’.
  • Add some News!
    • Logout of Drupal
    • Login with the User just created (role of reporter)
    • Click on the ‘Create content’ link and create some news items.
  • Create a block view to show most recent 5 news items in a block.
    • Login as site admin again
    • Go to Administer/Site building/Views.
    • Click Add to create a new View
    • View name: News_list , View description: block listing recent news, View tag: News, View type: Node. Click Next.
    • Select ‘block’ in dropdown box, click ‘Add Display’.
    • Click on ’10’ next to ‘Items to display’ and change it to 5.
    • Click on the ‘+’ sign next to Fields. Scroll down and select Node: Post date and Node: Title, then click the Add button . The next steps take you through more options for each of these fields.
    • Remove the label of ‘Post date’ (clear the text). This prevents the words ‘Post date’ showing next to the date. Click ‘Update default display’. You should now see an interface asking you to configure the field ‘Node:Title’.
    • Remove the label of ‘Title’ (clear the text). Check the box ‘Output this field as a link’ , scroll down and check ‘Link this field to its node’. This makes the News item’s Title a clickable link that links to the full article (node). Click ‘Update Default display’.
    • You should see a ‘Live preview of all content you’ve created. Let’s filter it by ‘news’ only.
    • Cick the ‘+’ sign next to Filters. Scroll down and check Node: Published and Node: Type. These options let us choose to display only Published content (Node: Published = Y), and only news (Node: Type = ‘news’). Then click Add.
    • Select ‘Yes’ for Published items, click Update, then select ‘Is one of’ and check ‘News’, then click Update.
    • Now let’s sort the news items by most recent first (descending order). Click on the ‘+’ sign next to Sort criteria.
    • Check Node: Post date, click Add.
    • Select Descending, click Update.
    • Finally, click the Save button (just above the words ‘Live Preview’.)
  • Add Block To First Page
    • Depending on your active theme, you may want to add your news block to the left or right side of the page. I’m (currently) using Acquia Marina, which supports a right-hand column, so that’s where I’ll place my block:
    • Go to Administer/Site Building/Blocks
    • Scroll down to the list of inactive blocks and find the one named ‘News_list’. This is what we created when we built our view in the previous steps. Click on the dropdown box and select ‘Sidebar last’ (or maybe ‘Sidebar right’ or ‘Sidebar left’ – depending on your active theme).
    • Click the ‘Save blocks’ button at the bottom of the page.
    • The list of blocks will be refreshed. The news_list block now appears under the ‘sidebar last’ heading. Click on the ‘configure’ link.
    • Type a ‘block title’ of Latest News
    • Scroll down to ‘Page specific visibility settings’ and click on ‘Show on only the listed pages’ and type <front> in the text box. This ensures that our block of listed news items only appears on the front page, on the right side of the page.
    If you want to see a sample of how this implementation appears, go to my Drupal sandbox installation.
    The next post will explain how to create a page of News items, with a primary menu link, and an Archive block showing news items by month.

Articles I’ve Written on IBM i (iSeries) Technology Subjects

I’ve written a few articles in recent years that have been published by MC Press Online, relating to IBM i topics. If you don’t know what the IBM i is (or an AS/400, iSeries or System i), you can stop reading! Here are two lists of links to those articles. The first list is general education. The second is product-specific, related to products marketed by my company. (Articles are ordered by most recent first)

Educational Articles

Product-Specific Articles

How To Format a MySQL Date For Output in PHP

The following PHP code parses the date portion out of a MySQL date column and lets you format it according to the formatting rules of the PHP date function.

// Parse date portion of a date field and format it according to the date() function.
// Second parm is optional. 
function FmtDateTime($dt, $fmt = "F d, Y")
{
	$arr = explode("-", substr($dt, 0, 10)); 
	//	$fmt of "m/d/Y" prints date in mm/dd/yyyy format. 
	//  $fmt of "F d, Y" prints date in Spelled out month day, YYYY format
	
	echo date($fmt, mktime(0,0,0, $arr[1], $arr[2], $arr[0])); 
}

To use it, you can do something like this:

<?php
   FmtDateTime($scdDate, "l d F, Y" ); ?> 

(This prints 2009-09-15 as “Tuesday 15 September, 2009”).

If you omit the second parameter on the function call, the date will print like this:
“September 15, 2009”