New blog layout – poll results and thoughts

Contemplating the blog layout…

On June 2nd, I blogged about this blogs new layout and asked for feedback directly or via a poll. As a week has now passed, I thought it time to provide an update on things.

The new layout is not without its problems (notably the banner image on every page), and some had issues I couldn’t easily replicate. My thanks to Richard, Sue W and JMB in particular for their feedback on specific issues, all of which helped me further tweak things – hopefully for the better.

Overall, of those who responded to the poll, most seemed in favour of the changes and the layout, and I’m growing accustomed to it. As such, it will be remaining for a the time being, so I’m not annoying everyone with what feels like a changing look and feel.

However, I’m still looking at options to get something which offers a similar level of functionality and allows plenty of room for images to appear in a decent size, but without having the huge banner image appear on individual articles and pages.

Sadly, while there are a fair few WordPress themes which avid the big banner on individual pages and offer things like a scrolling menu bar, etc., they tend to do so at the expense of text & images, which often get squeezed by an inordinate amount of left-side white space. So, I’ll keep looking.

In the meantime, thanks again to all who responded, be it with comments and / or via the poll.

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Giving the blog a face-lift

The new banner – displayed on opening the blog, with latest posts displayed below it

It’s a bit hard to miss, but yes, I’ve made a change to the theme underpinning this blog. It’s by no means a permanent change – that depends on the feedback I get. However, there are a number of reasons why I wanted to change things a little, so I’m hoping readers will prefer the new layout.

  • A lot of effort has gone into the menu system, but it was always a pain to use with the “old” layout, as it was locked to the top of a page – scroll down too far and it would vanish off the top of the browser tab
  • Some readers stated they found the old layout difficult to follow, with the sidebar on the right seeming to “run into” the body text
  • It didn’t loan itself to viewing on mobile devices that well
  • I wanted to tweak the text a little and (hopefully) make it easier on the eye.

As the changes are template-based, it is possible some pages / images in this blog have gone a little sideways in places. I’m working through everything to double-check (unfortunately, the preview option in WordPress doesn’t entirely match the actual page layout, so I could only start checking things once I’d made the change to the new format. Ho hum). Please make allowances if you come across something that looks awkwardly formatted on a page in the meantime 🙂 .

The thing I’m hoping will prove most useful is the menu, which will now following you down a page as you scroll. Given I’ve put a fair amount of time in trying to categorise and track articles and pages in the blog via the menu, this will hopefully make it far more reader-friendly than has been the case in the past.

The menu bar should now move down / up the page as you scroll through this blog

I’ve also revised the default body and headings text font – again, my hope is this improves readability and comfort when browsing. Unfortunately, one thing WordPress won’t let me change is the use of block caps for headings; this is locked into a CSS I can’t access, but I how the use of caps in titles and headings isn’t overpowering.

Finally, this theme had a better set of style sheets for mobile devices. I’ve no idea how many people read this blog from the tablet, etc, but (with the possible exception of the menu, which is a bit “ugh!” on tablets, etc.), it should make for easier reading if you do.

As with the last major restructure to this blog – in 2012, can you believe?!), I’m offering a little feedback poll for those interested in letting me know quick thoughts on the layout

Poll closed – see the update here.

Isla Pey: happiness is getting things *just* so …

The cottage and gardens on the plateau

We’re into another quarter, so it must be time for me to fiddle with the island home 🙂 .

In January, we reverted back to using the Fanatik Rocky Island to give a little elevation to our island home, and while happy with the results, I couldn’t help but feel tweaks were necessary. For one thing, the rotation of that huge rock made the walk from house to boat house something of a trek. It had ended up this way because I thought that was the only way the Rocky island would decently fit the north end of the parcel, where we wanted it. Turned out, I’d measured things a little inaccurately, so if we sacrificed the ‘plane docks, it would actually just fit.

So, around went the 118 LI slab of land by 90-degrees, moving the footpath winding down the side so that it descends directly to the “field” at the foot of the cliffs. So far, so good, other than the loss of the ‘plane docks – and the burying of half the duck pond (which was not looked upon too kindly by our TLC ducks!). Cue a reshuffle of the landscape 🙂 .

The Botanical Enchanted Forest Tower and MSD Among the ruins – Isolde tower can be nicely merged to form a single ruin, and as both are mod, the stonework can be textured to they match. The upper platform on the Enchanted Forest Tower makes for a perfect setting for our MSD Dragon Garden piece.

I won’t bore you with a huge delve into things. Suffice it to say that the reshuffle actually improved things no end. For one thing, moving the pond helped me realise that with a little bit of re-texturing of the stonework, Kriss Lehmann’s Botanical Forest Ruins Tower could be combined with the MSD Among the Ruins – Isolde tower to produce a nicely expanded ruin on the west side of the island. This in turn provided a new home for our MSD Dragon Garden  (which is (reviewed here alongside the Among The Ruins Tower), with a cosy little snuggle beneath it, overlooking the relocated pond.

Looking across the pond from the sitting nook under one of the ruined towers

Moving the Rocky Island around also presented a much more flexible space in which to set the house and  gardens, with a little bit of terracing to break things up a bit. Everything is now much more conveniently located, and finally provided just the right post for out old well (a genuine steal from DIVAs Design at L$25), accessed via a gate (from Cube Republic’s Meadow Farm Fence kit, another recommendation) opening off the back of the garden.

And the ‘planes? Well, moving the pond made room for a smaller set of moorings, and a quick raid of my inventory produced an old Smith Fizz scene rezzing system. Nicely customisable, this now lets us rez whichever float ‘plane or helicopter we fancy using, whilst keeping the dock otherwise clear for friends to use when visiting, whether they come by air or water.

The towers lit at night, and the cottage in its new cliff-top location

So, are we happy with things – finally? Believe it or not, we both are. Will there be more changes in the future? Obviously, as there will always be nips and tucks, tweaks and additions. But unless we decide on a total make-over of the island for something completely new, I think that this time Isla Pey with its walks, ruins and house, is exactly how we both like it.

The dragon, the rune stone and the ruin in Second Life

Three composite creations by Morgan Sim Designs with me alongside to give a sense of scale with each one. From the left: the Dragon Garden, the Rune Stone Garden and Among the Ruins – Isolde

Whilst visiting Spring Spirit recently (see: A Spring Spirit in Second Life), Caitlyn and I were both taken by a magnificent red dragon seated upon a rock amidst a spray of grass and flowers. Taking a peek at it, via the Edit floater, we were led to the Marketplace store of Morgan Sim Designs (MSD). While the name may be familiar to some, it was a new and virtual treasure trove for us – as it is likely to be for anyone looking to add some special touches to their landscape and / or garden.

Operated by Chandra Pelazzi, Morgan Sim Designs is a Marketplace-only store specialising in composite designs. That is, designs which bring together the full permission works of other creators to design and present a unique finished product.

Buying from the Marketplace without the means to check creations in-world can at times be a hit-and-miss affair: will the item really live up to the photos? Is there perhaps some unseen flaw or issue which might others dissuade a purchase? We’ve all likely had such feelings. From what we’ve seen (and purchased!) so far from Morgan Sim Designs there is absolutely no need to worry. The elements used in MSD creations are all good quality pieces from established creators, with the completed pieces by the MSD demonstrating a keen eye for colour, design and detail.

The MSD Dragon Garden on our home island

Take the dragon mentioned above, for example. Called the Dragon Garden, it combines a full perm dragon with plants by Better Gnomes and Cauldrons / Krikket Blackheart, and additional plants and flowers by Decor Depot / Styx Maven and Daffy’s Gadgetmania / Daffy Proto. Offered as Modify / Copy for just L$190, it is a marvellous feature for any garden, weighing in a 22 LI in its default size (as a Modify item it can be resized, which will reduce the LI if downsizing, or increase it if upsizing). We now have one, slightly reduced in size and LI (16), sitting in the “wilder” part of out gardens, keeping an eye on the lower lawns nearby.

Another MSD item now included at home is the Rune Stone Garden. This combines a central full perm version of a rune stone from Otherworld / AnnabelleApocalypse with flowers and plants again by Styx Maven and by Mesh Plants / Reid Parkin (a creator I’ve used in a number of builds), What A Mesh / Dennie Ling, and T-Spot Mesh / Teresa Matfield. At 21 LI in its default size, it is also supplied Copy / Modify, and we now have one sitting on the trail winding through the wooded part of the island, where (if I may say so), it looks superb 🙂 .

The MSD Rune Stone Garden in place on our island home

Another composite from MSD which sits well in out overall design is Among the Ruins – Isolde. A much larger piece, featuring the square tower of a castle by S&M Designs / Mikael Blogger, plants and flowers again by Reid Parkin and Teresa Matfield, together with Bad Katz / Katz Republic. It comes with a 40 LI impact in its default size, and includes a statue by DMC Creations / x1XDanteX4x, which stands amidst a spray of flower inside the tower.

Taken complete, these MSD designs and the others in the range, add a great amount of character and depth to a scene. As most are supplied Modify, not only can they be resized to deal with LI concerns, if required, they can be tweaked better suit specific needs. For example, we have an ancient stone wall running across part of the land which has needed something to bring a little more colour to it. Enter one of MSD’s Medieval Wall Ruins Cottage Garden sets. It was a simple matter to pull out the supplied wall section, slip in a section from the existing wall, and job done. Colour where it is needed, and everything nicely integrated. Even had some base rocks I could re-purpose!

The MSD Among the Ruins – Isolde tower at home on our island

If you are looking for little scenes and pieces to add colour  or interest to a part of your garden, parcel or region, and you’ve not come across Morgan Sim Designs, then the Marketplace store is well worth a perusal. Everything is very modestly priced; everything mentioned here was just L$190, which is something of an average price for the store. Even as I finish this article, another kit from MSD has slipped into my inventory, and will shortly appear in the garden 🙂 .