Posts Tagged "technology questions"


“Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.

Ask Penny

 

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.      

Today’s question: Do I need to call someone and pay or can I fix it myself? Is it possible for you fix most every technical problem you encounter yourself?

Penny’s answer: With time, yes. The real answer depends on your priorities and comfort level. I understand. Trust me, I’m all about DIY and not just for my technology.

I’ve built several computers over the years. I am a knitter and crocheter and am comfortable at the sewing machine. We fix just about everything in our own home. Despite all this DIY, I do know when to call in someone when I need to, especially around the home. I’ll install a new faucet, frame a wall, or wire up a new light, but you won’t catch me near the gas lines. Why? I grew up using power tools and among contractors, but know where I draw the line. Next time (may it not be for a good long while) I might even hire someone to move a new washing machine into the house … they’re easy to hook up, but a large and heavy appliance to wrestle into place!

What you need to determine is how whatever is broken impacts you and your business. Is it something that’s just annoying sometimes, such as part of the website looks different when you view it on your really old smart phone? Or is it something that makes it impossible for your customers to purchase what you sell and next week is the launch of your new collection? Do you have the time right now to work on making it right while still doing what your business needs for you to do?

Regardless, don’t panic and if you do this next step, you’ll be on the path to fixing it yourself or at least providing the individual you hire helpful information to diagnose and address the problem.

Do you know what caused it to break? If you aren’t sure, what likely happened right before you noticed things weren’t right? Did you update to version x.y.z of the software and now the shopping cart looks weird? Did you add a new widget to the side bar and now the navigation menu at the top looks funny? Or all of the sudden it just doesn’t seem right? For example, if you updated your website one step at a time and paused to make sure things work between updates, making backups of the files and data before you pressed that upgrade button, then reversing that one change is much easier. Even if you aren’t comfortable rolling back yourself, you can tell the person what happened and it will be a faster fix.

So what do you do now that you know that bit of code is buggy? If you want to try to find a solution yourself, go for it! The key is to be a smart researcher and not just try whatever solution pops up first in your search engine. If you have problems with a WordPress plugin update, I suggest going to the plugin’s WordPress page and reading through the changelog and support tabs. Skim through the changelog to see if any key words jump out at you to see what might have caused things to not work right. In the support tab this is where problems are posted, if a solution has been found then the topic is appended so you know it’s resolved. Skim through and see if someone has the same problem! If the software also hosts their own support forums on their own pages, check there too.

Thanks so much, Penny, for all your helpful advice! It’s always good to know when to DIY it … and when to call in a professional! And with Penny’s tips you’ll be armed for any scenario, and on your way to the fix you need!

Do you have a question for Penny? Ask it in the comments below and she’ll be back next month with more answers!

Read More

“Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.

Ask Penny

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.          

Today’s Question: I don’t like my blog and want to redesign it but don’t have funds. What are some simple things I can do on my own?

Penny’s Answer:

I understand, sometimes you need a change but the budget says no.

There are a few differences to keep in mind if you are on a free site (such as wordpress.com or blogger.com) as opposed to hosting your own, but there are some steps I take when I first start scratching that itch of “I want to change my site” and which apply no matter what your budget.

While it’s easy to quickly change a theme in either WordPress or Blogger, and there are many free themes to choose from, I don’t suggest starting with such a radical change. In my experience that isn’t what’s driving the desire for a redesign.

I visit the site and pretend it’s my first time. What’s the first thing that catches my eye? Is that what I want visitors to see?
Then I go page by page and take a survey of several posts (often the ones that have the most traffic) to see what I notice.
Then I do the same on my mobile devices.
Then I print it out. Yes, I know, but this method works best for me and I recycle!

There are three questions I look to answer based on this review:

  • Question one: Is it easy for a first-time visitor to do what I want them to do if they land on the main portion of the site, or come to an internal link (such as a blog page)? What changes do I need to make in order to make this easier for them?
  • Question two: What if it’s not their first time? Am I addressing their needs?
  • Question three: What am I doing to entice people to come back again?

By focusing on these questions I find that I sometimes just need to adjust placement (and visibility) of widgets on my sidebar, timing of a newsletter subscription form, or adjust items in a navigation menu. (The following examples are WordPress specific.)

For many, one of the big questions might be as their blog grows into a business or their business grows a blog if it makes sense for an index of blog posts to be the main page or if a static page makes more sense, or (more likely) a blend of the two. Please see this WordPress article Creating a Static Front Page for more detail. Depending on the theme you are using, you might be able to make these changes without any additional code (Don’t forget to back up first!).

Another area I find that often needs changes over time are the items in the navigation menu; sometimes just changing the order is all that’s needed, at other times I need to add or remove items. WordPress’s Menu User Guide offers basics.

By printing key pages of my site, I often catch typos that snuck through various levels of editing. I also read the pages out loud.

Last, but not least, many themes allow you to change some aspects such as colour through the customize appearance option. You may even want to add a background texture, I like the textures at Subtle Patterns.

Thank you, Penny, for your fabulous WordPress Wisdom! If YOU have a question for Penny, ask it in the comments below! She’ll be back again next month, and it might just be YOUR question that she answers!

Read More

“Ask Penny” is the place to come with all of your tech-related questions. Want to know how to tweak your web site without hiring professional help, or when is the right time to get that type of help? Bring your questions right here to the comments! Once a month Penny will be back to answer a few more.

Ask Penny

Penny Shima Glanz is a computer scientist with a passion for information management and how we interact with technology. She started PennyWise Consulting, LLC to help solo and small businesses figure out how to make the most of their technology needs and budgets. When not wrangling technology she can be found knitting, snuggling with her cats and reading, or out on a muddy trail run at sunrise.          

Today’s Question: How do I make changes without crashing everything?

Penny’s Answer:

Backup! Backup! Backup!

Then verify your backup. How? At the very least, make sure that the file was successfully created and is accessible to you. If you are comfortable with what you think should be in the backup (such as a database backup), open the file and confirm the general content. If the backup is of files: look in the directories, make sure the files exist and that you can open a few of them.

When you are ready to make changes to your website or computer, only make them one small step at a time. Review what you changed to see if it worked. Make a new backup and remember to keep the previous backup. Repeat until all your changes are completed.

Does your computer say you have 42 updates to do? Instead of running them all at once, step through them one at a time.
Do you have lots of WordPress updates? Don’t select-all and update; again, step through them one at a time.

By incrementally stepping through each intended change, while there are still lots of moving parts and it might not be easy to see what exact change is causing something to crash, knowing that things went haywire after you upgraded plugin X will give you a starting point to fixing it.

Let’s look at a specific example, making changes to part of your website, such as to a WordPress widget. What can you do to make sure that little piece of code doesn’t cause a train wreck? While WordPress creates versions of posts, it doesn’t currently do so for widgets.

For times like this I make a quick temporary backup copy. If it’s for a large text area that has HTML code too, such as for a text widget on a WordPress site, I open up a plain text editor such as TextEdit on Mac or Notepad on Windows and copy and paste. If you have another application you prefer (I am partial to TextWrangler on Mac and Notepad++ for Windows) feel free to use them; the key is to copy and paste in plain text because there’s some code that needs to be maintained.

Then I make my changes step by step. If it’s completely messed up, it’s easy to revert back to the original by opening the text file that was saved earlier and copying and pasting it into the widget form. Are there other ways to do this? Yes! However, this is a simple quick way to make some small changes without completely messing up.

If it’s a more complicated form, for example, such as a widget that has various configuration options and multiple fields, then I’ll take a screenshot of the settings before I make changes. The image isn’t as easy to revert back to, but it does give me a quick record of what the settings were before I started making changes.

Please see this post for a few more tips about backing up a (self-hosted) WordPress.

Thanks so much to Penny for popping in here at Patterned to share her wisdom with our readers! Are there ways that the technology you have (or the technology you’re scared to start using) is holding you back in your business? Is there something you would like to be able to do, but you’re not sure how to make it happen with technology? Ask Penny! Leave a comment below, and she’ll be back to answer YOUR questions next time!

Read More