Italian Resources

Here is a list of resources that I’m finding useful in helping me learn Italian:

I’m positive there’s more. Certainly if you’re a Twitter user you should follow the above people. I’ll update this when I can remember the other resources and as I find new ones.

* Yeah that’s an affiliate link. If you buy the book through that link I’ll get a few pence. All the other links are just normal. Click away!

My Take on Metal Hammer’s Top 50 Albums of 2013

So, I decided I needed to up my game on music listening in general and specifically with regards to metal. Around the same time I came across Metal Hammer’s Top 50 Albums of 2013. I’ve listened to all 50 in January and here are my quick reviews. I’m not a music critic so it’s pretty basic and written with respect to what I enjoyed, rather than what’s cool. There’s not a bad album on here, some aren’t mine kind of thing but they were worth checking out all the same.

# 50 Bruce Soord And Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds (Deluxe)

Good, spacey, synthy. Quite chilled. Worth a replay

#49 Monster Magnet – Last Patrol

Well produced, good tunes. Definitely worth checking out more of their stuff.

#48 The Defiled – Daggers

Quality heavy industrial/punky album. Worth a replay.

#47 Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark

I ‘judged a book by its cover’ and expected unrelenting heaviness. What I got instead was an expert blend of folk, blues and prog. I was not disappointed.

#46 Satan – Life Sentence

May have to give another chance. Felt like standard NWOBHM at the start, by the last song it felt more inventive. Unsure

#45 HIM – Tears on Tape

Thought I’d give it a chance. Still pretty sappy (like the title track). Songs like All lips go blue & I will be the end of you are ok though.

#44 Bleed From Within – Uprising (Limited Edition)

Very solid heavy album, in vein of Lamb of God. Good listen

#43 Argus – Beyond The Martyrs

Very good NWOBHM style album with doom-y influences. Definitely want to check out more of their stuff.

#42 Wilson – Full Blast Fuckery

Awesome fun metal album. Daft titles, sense of humor. Will listen to more Wilson!

#41 Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise

Progressive stoner/bluesy. Very good. Must listen to more by these.

#40 Black Spiders – This Savage Land

Basic classic rock with a little modern touch and mystical notes on the intro to the last track. Good, but not amazing. Would play again.

#39 Avatarium – Avatarium

Not my usual sort of thing, but very interesting. Should check out more of these and Candlemass (project is by Leif Edling from Candlemass). Dark, mystical, progressive. Very inventive and great musicianship.

#38 Autopsy – The Headless Ritual

Generally not a fan of death metal so I was surprised that I quite enjoyed this. More intelligent than I would’ve expected with a few tempo changes and other interesting devices

#37 Rotting Christ – Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy

Again liking this more than I expected for a black metal ‘opus’. High quality production and interesting songs. Unexpected wah-wah/classic rock notes tool. Would check out more of their stuff.

#36 Orchid – The Mouths of Madness

Very Sabbath, rather good if you can get over this fact! Wouldn’t particularly go out of my way to listen to more of their stuff, but I’m sure I’d enjoy it if I come across them again.

#35 Twilight Of The Gods – Fire On The Mountain

Really good – doesn’t fit into any specific boxes (for me). Some very good playing/songwriting and production is spot-on.

#34 Beastmilk – Climax

Decent rock album with 80s goth tones – not too bothered for a replay.

#33 Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu

Proggy black metal album. Perhaps worth another play, not too fussed for much of the vocals though.

#32 Dream Theater – Dream Theater

Super skilled muscians and intricate song writing. A little too widdly in places for me, but a few decent bits of ‘rocking out’.

#31 Cult Of Luna – Vertikal

Was not expecting to like this ‘aural assault’ but it was actually very good and I’ll have to check out more of their stuff. Really enjoyed this. Inventive, weird, interestingly textured and heavy.

#30 Alice In Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

The first album in the list that I’ve already heard, gave it a replay anyway. Good, solid album but perhaps not quite as good as ‘Black gives way to blue’.

#29 Hell – Curse and Chapter

Quite cartoonish metal with elements of NWOBHM and power metal. Didn’t really dig it that much, probably won’t go for a re-listen. Plus side: technically very accomplished musicians and great production.

#28 Wardruna – Yggdrasil

Wasn’t expecting an ambient Nordic folk album on the Metal Hammer top 50. Interesting stuff and worth another play.

#27 Philip H Anselmo & The Illegals – Walk Through Exits Only

Brutal album, loved it. Will check out more of Anselmo’s projects.

#26 Tesseract – Altered State

Fantastic, out-there, djent influenced album. Well produced complex compositions. Utterly bonkers. Loved it.

#25 Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance

Not my kind of thing, but definitely worth a listen.

#24 Nails – Abandon All Life

Relentlessly brutal. Not my usual kind of thing but very good nonetheless.

#23 Malevolence – Reign Of Suffering

Quality metal album, worth checking out more of their stuff. Brilliant for a debut.

#22 Heart Of A Coward – Severance

Awesomely heavy djent-ish album. The copy I listened to had Download ’13 tracks on it – these were even better. Wish I’d seen it and will definitely check out more of these guys.

#21 Five Finger Death Punch – The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell, Volume 1
& 2

I like 5FDP, but I sometimes find it hard to listen to a whole album. This was somewhat different and I think Vol 1 is stronger than 2. Excellent guest spots and a brutal cover of LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’.

#20 The Bronx – The Bronx (IV)

Very good punk album – could well listen to more of these guys. Intelligent production, rather than just being rough because it’s punk (which can be good too!)

#19 Killswitch Engage – Disarm The Descent (Special Edition)

I need to re-listen to this already as I can’t quite decide whether it’s a quality album or a pastiche of their history. odd!

#18 Kvelertak – Meir

Thankfully the hype is justified. Cracking album with elements of punk/black metal. Love that it’s sung natively – not many bands do this & manage this level of success/attention in the UK.

#17 Deafheaven – Sunbather

Not my usual kind of thing at all, but glad I gave it a go. An interesting take on the genre (so far as I can tell). I think I stuck with it because it wasn’t just extreme metal, the guitars sounded a lot more indie/rock at times and some interesting sampling going on. However, I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to more of them – but that’s down to my tastes rather than the band.

#16 The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer

What a disorienting and vicious album. Loved it.

#15 Purson – The Circle & The Blue Door

Excellent old school prog – forgot I already knew “leaning on a bear”. Well worth another listen and finding more of their stuff.

#14 Alter Bridge – Fortress

Already played this previously. Whilst I didn’t care much for AB III (at least when I listened a while back), this is a very strong hard rock album. Might have to reconsider their back catalogue on this basis. Listening also increased my anticipation of the upcoming Slash album.

#13 In Solitude – Sister

Gothy/punky – very good. Would listen again and explore the back catalogue. Recommended.

#12 Letlive – The Blackest Beautiful

Not entirely sure what to make of this – on the one hand high quality muscianship, great production and a nod to their influences without ripping people off. On the other hand there’s a few emo-y moments that I didn’t care for. Would try it again though.

#11 Cathedral – The Last Spire

Lumbering heavy doom. Brilliant – personally I prefer when they speed up a touch, so I think I missed the point!

#10 Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Interesting album for the Metal Hammer top 50, inventive prog and not mega heavy. Good stuff though and I will listen to it again.

#9 Watain – The Wild Hunt

Very well made, well written album. Too death for my liking, but good nonethless. I more appreciated the mellow sections that were layered and interesting

#8 Motörhead – Aftershock

Nothing much to say here: it’s Motörhead, it’s exactly what you’d expect and it’s very good for it.

#7 Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen

Excellently bonkers tech/prog adventure. Unlike the dream theater album mentioned above, there’s not much pointless widdling. Bonus points awarded for “M” which has a very Pink Floyd sounding section in it. Shut up I like the Floyd. And I love this album.

#6 Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal

I always felt these guys were a bit overrated, but now I think I get it. Either way in my opinion it’s better than their earlier stuff.

#5 Ghost – Infestissumam

What an odd album! I liked it but probably won’t look into them much further.

#4 Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats – Mind Control

A great album – not much to say here, in a good way!

#3 Black Sabbath – 13

I didn’t like this the first time round – I felt it was very much the early stuff with better production. Whilst this is pretty much true I’ve since taken time to appreciate it for what it is. A brilliant rock record.

#2 Carcass – Surgical Steel

I was very surprised to like this album – though I must admit I can barely stomach some of the song titles! More inventive and well played/produced than I expected; which was just brutality for it’s own sake.

#1 Clutch Earth Rocker

Right, so does this deserve the top spot? Not in my eyes, but a chart like this is opinion any way, so it doesn’t really matter. That said it’s a brilliant southern rager and Earth Rocker is one of my favourite tracks of last year. I do need more Clutch in my life, so ignore my slight issue with this being #1!

So what have I learnt from all this? I’ve found some great bands to check out in more detail: Wilson, Clutch, Heart of a Coward, Ihsahn, Jex Thoth and more. I’ve also found I’m not quite as averse to black & death metal as I thought. Go me!

So what’s next? I might tackle Rich Reviewz Top 30 albums of 2013 here and here.

Twitter Cards for WordPress

I recently decided to experiment with Twitter cards for WordPress. Twitter cards allow you to explicitly define a unit of information: an article, a recipe, an event and so on (or if you prefer it in their terms it allows you to ‘attach media experiences to Tweets‘).

This is great for your followers as it gives them more information about the URL you want to send them to. This tweet is with Twitter’s ‘rich snippet’ card enabled:

Twitter Cards for WordPress

Needs the description variable changing to use an article summary!

This sort of extra information in meta-tags is great for SEO too, provided you follow one of the standards, such as schema.org. Search engine crawlers try to guess what your page is about. Whilst content can be immediately obvious to a human, the different ways of writing, say a recipe, may confuse a crawler. Remove all doubt and specify each section of information. Do it correctly and be rewarded (largely on Google’s whims) with extra information when you appear in the search results. This can really drive your click through rate even in lower results positions. This article, however, is about getting Twitter cards working, I’ll tackle rich snippets in a wider sense another time, or you could just read this excellent Moz article which covers the topic in great detail. If you sell things, provide content or care about your SEO at all you really need to start implementing any relevant tags you can.

Mine could do with some improvements, but first let me outline the process by which you enable Twitter cards and how specifically to do it on WordPress sites. From the previously linked Twitter Dev section (log-in with your standard user credentials):

“ Review the documentation for the type of card you want to implement.

  1. Add the pertinent meta tags to your page.
  2. Run your URLs against the validator tool to be approved.
  3. After approval, tweet the URL and see the Card appear below your tweet.”

Sounds easy! All you have to do is look up the required tags for the card(s) you want and add the information into meta tags in your HTML <head> section. Well it’s not entirely that straightforward, I found Twitter’s explanation a little basic so I went looking for more information. This page was rather helpful.

You could play around in your header.php file in order to add these, but I’ve found it problematic between versions to finding the variable names for article titles, descriptions etc, so I used this plugin and filled in all my details in my WordPress backend, under the Article tab of the plugin.

My Twitter card tags:

<!-- Twitter Card -->
 <meta name="twitter:card" value="summary">
<meta name="twitter:creator" value="@owenradford">
<meta name="twitter:url" value="http://www.owenradford.co.uk/5-resources-for-getting-the-most-out-of-magento/">
<meta name="twitter:title" value="5 Resources for getting the most out of Magento">
<meta name="twitter:description" content="- Websites &amp; SEO for your business">
<meta name="twitter:image" value="http://www.owenradford.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/owen-radford.jpg" />

After this I still wasn’t passing validation unfortunately as the description wasn’t coming through. I think WordPress’ php function for this may have changed since the guides I was using were written, so with a little more digging I was able to find the solution for my problem:

<meta name=”twitter:description” content=”<?php bloginfo(‘description’) ?>”>

After this I passed validation and applied for my card. A couple of things to note at this point:

  1. When I first applied I was turned down despite passing validation. I applied again and it went through pretty quickly.
  2. Though being accepted it took another week or two for the cards to show up BUT the Twitter Dev forums show a lot of people who’re accepted but not having the card appear even after waiting, so keep an eye on it!
  3. Once the cards were applied they worked retrospectively – other Tweets mentioning my content now have the card working.

There’s still some work to do. As you’ll note the card could do with an article summary or snippet to make it more clickable – my blog’s tagline won’t exactly draw people in!

As I do this I’ll update the article and share new images of how the cards look.

5 Resources for getting the most out of Magento

Magento is very handy for e-commerce and you certainly do get a lot for free. However, it can also be very, very frustrating so here are 5 resources for getting the most out of Magento and hopefully making life a little easier too.

Easily Setup Table Rate Shipping

Want to ship internationally and charge different rates depending on the location? You’ll need to create a .csv file that specifies each location and the price of shipping. Not only is this tedious when you have many countries, but it also becomes easier and easier to make mistakes with so many to do by hand.

I found myself facing this exact problem and I was determined to find a lazy way round it! Enter: http://elgentos.nl/tablerates/ – this will generate the .csv for you. There’s plenty of handy shortcuts within this handy shortcut tool – set the default price, check all European countries, set the condition for the shipping price etc. This saves a lot of time!

M2EPro

If you want to sell on Amazon/Ebay (and an ever increasing list of other online stores) from the comfort of your Magento installation then try M2EPro. This extension allows you to manage inventory, listings, prices, themes and more from within Magento. Best of all? It’s currently free!

It’s not without drawbacks though! Initially the process of creating listings for Ebay was rather confusing. It uses 4 different templates that control different aspects of the listing process – so it is difficult to get your head around at first. Coupled with patchy documentation and a current lack of tutorials it can be a struggle – but persevere it’s well worth it.

Some retailers may also struggle with Amazon listings if they don’t have barcodes for products – this is more Amazon’s fault than M2E’s – there is a work around but it’s quite fiddly.

Theme stores

Unless you’ve the time, or inclination, you’re probably going to want to buy a theme to apply to your Magento store that functions as a decent base for you to work from & customise to your liking. You can’t go far wrong with something like Theme Forest which has hundreds of themes to pick from.

SEO Guides

Once you’re up and running you’ll perhaps be turning your attention to marketing and in particular SEO. The good news for an SEO novice is Magento is pretty good for SEO out of the box with many ‘best-practise’ settings already in place. It’s not all done for you though, so take a look over the following couple of handy guides: http://yoast.com/articles/magento-seo/ & http://www.gpmd.co.uk/blog/a-guide-to-doing-seo-on-magento-websites/ – they’re pretty thorough and specifically targeted at setting within Magento that aide SEO. You’ll still want to tackle general SEO however.

Magento’s Website & User Forums

There’s a wealth of resources on Magento’s own website in the knowledge base, so if, for example, you want to crack a multi-store installation (a truly headache inducing experience the first time around!) you can find that information here.

If you have other questions take a look through their forums – most googling leads there anyway – you may just find what you need. Beware though that a lot of guidance may relate to earlier Magento versions. So frustratingly, what solved one person’s problem in say 2009 may not solve yours now! The other thing to watch for is the shills – many extension vendors seem to jump into threads, promote their extension as a solution and move on without really contributing.

So there you have it, 5 top Magento resources to make life easier. I hope that helps you out – Magento is very powerful but can also be incredibly difficult. If you have any helpful resources let me know in the comments.

 

More themeing my WordPress site with SASS – a banner to separate the top navigation

Continuing on from the start of my experimenting with SASS and WordPress themeing, I’m now looking at adding some CSS to add a simple black line to separate the top navigation from the rest of the page.

I’ve gone back to my _768up.scss file and added the following code to the header section:

banner css code

This will allow me to then add a div tag where I want the banner line to appear:

<div id=”banner”></div>

I logged into my WordPress admin and when to Appearance -> editor -> header.php and added the code just before the closing head tag.

The result:

banner at top

Which is not quite what I wanted. So I moved the code from header.php to page.php:

banner at bottom

Much more like it!However, I’m not sure I want it to appear as a rectangle. So I’ll try a single line. I went back into my 768up.scss file and changed the padding property of div#banner to 0px:

single line banner

I quite like that, so I’ll keep it.

A couple of things caught me out here. This separator won’t appear on the posts page – so I went to index.php and added my div tag there. However – it then won’t appear when you click on an individual post. So again, I’ll add the code in the editor, this time to single.php.

Voila! A consistent simple bit of layout change. I was looking to do an image for the top banner – but I’m putting that aside for the time being whilst I source a quality image.

Customising A WordPress theme using the Bones starter theme and SASS

I’m learning a bit more of the design side of things and thought building upon my knowledge of WordPress would be a good place to start. Using my own site as a testing ground I’ve applied the Bones starter theme and got to work using SASS.

To get SASS you first need Ruby – I’m working in Linux here and most distributions come with it and Ruby Gems pre-installed. To get SASS open up a terminal and type: gem install sass

The SASS logo – Style with attitude!

You’ll then tell SASS to watch the files you’re working with. So take a copy of your theme files in case you mess the theme up – as I did, several times – and copy them to your local machine.

Go to the appropriate directory and type:

sass –watch stylesheets/sass:stylesheets/compiled

This tells SASS to watch the entire directory. Any changes you make in each file will then be compiled into your overall style.css that WordPress uses.

I like the idea of quite a minimalist design, but Bones is a little too sparse for my liking out of the box. That is, of course, the point. So I started to look to make small changes and make Bones my own.

First up I wanted to change the background of my navigation bar from the rather dreary grey to perhaps white, to blend with the page background. Just to see if it looked alright. I assumed wrongly that something like this would be controlled by _base.scss as this file controls the basic elements. It is the basis of your mobile view and is intended to be kept sparse for good performance – with other .scss files for other screen sizes elaborating on this as you require.

So I loaded up _base.scss in my editor and proceeded to the .nav selector. Which has no background element. So I added one and was duly confused when it made no difference to my site. Right clicking in Firefox over a page selection allows you to inspect page elements. I find this handy to show what is actually controlling the element – .css allows for conflicts by specifying a priority order.

I’d correctly specified the background colour, but a different selector had priority and was overruling it. It took me a while to realise that the selector overruling it was in the .scss file for my screen size (_768up.scss). The larger monitor sizes are currently pretty much blank files as they only have commented text. I assume, should I want to, that I could allow the navigation background colour to be different for larger screen sizes only if I wanted to.

highlighted bit of CSS that controls the top-nav background colour

The offending ‘missing’ bit of CSS for my top-nav background colour

Next I’ll look to make the top of the home page more interesting with an image and perhaps making it into a banner to separate it from individual page content. That’s for later however!