Review of Startup Framework for WordPress

Startup Framework

I first came across Startup Framework from Designmodo a few months ago and was immediately impressed.

Startup is a collection of responsive and customisable components that can be combined to meet most needs. In the full version there are around 100 components such as:

  • headers
  • footers
  • content blocks
  • contact forms
  • portfolio grids
  • maps
  • price tables
Startup Framework is a collection of customisable components

Startup Framework is a collection of customisable components

Both the design and code are clean and simple and the results look professional, without having to put in a great deal of effort. Startup has a similar concept to Blocks which is built on the Bootstrap CSS framework.

Startup Framework for WordPress

Last month I was invited to test drive Startup Framework for WordPress which combines the pre-designed components of Startup within a drag-and-drop interface within a WordPress theme.

I’ve only just managed to find the time to take it for a spin but what I’ve seen so far I’ve liked, even if the price seems a little steep: USD $149 per year for one website (inclusive of support and updates).

Theme

Startup Framework for WordPress installs as a theme. It seems to adds one new content type (SFW Pages) and the demo doesn’t give me access to the plugins so I can’t see whether the additional functionality is offered through plugins or built-into the theme itself.

What is added, however, is a new menu item: SFW Pages. This is where the majority of pages using this theme will be created. The default Pages option is still there but pages created using this appear to be simple and entirely centre-aligned, which seems odd.

A new menu item is added to the WordPress dashboard: SFW Pages.

A new menu item is added to the WordPress dashboard: SFW Pages.

Editing a page

When editing a SFW Page you see very little until you click the “Visual editor” button.

Unless you click the Visual editor button all you see is a button saying Visual editor

Unless you click the Visual editor button this is all you see.

That opens up a new drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface:

Welcome to the Startup Framework demo page

Welcome to the Startup Framework demo page

Along the top is a link back to the SFW Pages screen, the name of the current page, and three buttons on the right than enable you to reorder the blocks, preview the page or save the page.

On the left is a list of components (more about those in a moment).

But the most space is given to the content of your page. Here, almost everything is customisable. When you hover over a component block a settings cog appears at the top right giving you access to edit the HTML and CSS, reset the block to default settings, or delete the block completely.

Clicking on any text drops in a text-insertion point enabling you to edit the text. Double-clicking or highlighting text reveals a context menu offering three options: bold, italic or create a link.

It is all very intuitive so far.

Components

The bread and butter of this theme, however, is the collection of pre-designed components which is available at any time from a list on the left. (While you are editing existing components this shrinks to a ‘hamburger’ icon.)

On the demo that I’ve tried these components are collected into the following categories:

  • Headers
  • Contents
  • Price Tables
  • Projects
  • Contacts
  • Crew
  • Footers
  • My Blocks

Hovering over each category reveals a number of pre-designed options for that category, for example Headers:

Hovering over Headers reveals a number of pre-designed header options

Hovering over Headers reveals a number of pre-designed header options

These can then be dragged and dropped (or clicked) to be added to your page design, and  then edited as appropriate.

Some components are more editable than others, such as background images, image fading or colour tinting, social media buttons, etc.

Reordering the blocks is a simple case of clicking the “Reorder Blocks” button, then drag and drop in the new view:

Reorder Blocks shows a zoomed-out view of the whole page.

Reorder Blocks shows a zoomed-out view of the whole page.

Conclusion

I have only a couple of criticisms about

The first is that, personally, I would like to see a few more simple header components. For some pages, you don’t need a massive image or a lot of white space at the top. But I do recognise that this is a design decision.

My second, any main concern, however is the price. At USD $149 (approx GBP £93) per year for a single site that is more than twice what I currently pay for Divi.

That said, I do recognise that a lot of work has gone into this framework and theme, and that it’s aimed primarily at business rather than for personal blogs.

Overall, I’ve been really impressed with Startup Framework for WordPress. If you need to create a beautiful, modern-looking and responsive website very quickly then you would be hard pressed to find anything to get the job quite as quickly as Startup, even if you used Divi from Elegant Themes which is my current favourite.

An exercise to map your family’s timeline

Family timeline method on BJ Fogg's website

Family timeline method on BJ Fogg’s website

Here’s an exercise that psychologist, innovator and university lecturer BJ Fogg used at a family reunion that I’d love to do with my own family.

The idea was to collectively map their family’s story, starting from his parents’ wedding to the current day.

Each person was given their own post-it note colour and told to write their memories of that year on the post-it. They used 4 x 6 inch post-it notes to allow the writing to be larger and write more.

The post-it notes were then stuck to large boards. Each board was divided into three columns, one column per year.

The exercise led to a lot of sharing, about positive events and negative, both of which have shaped their family’s journey.

You can read more about the Fogg timeline on BJ’s website.

I wish I’d discovered this exercise earlier. Last year we had a huge reunion down in the Scottish Borders where family from California met up with folks here in Scotland, some meeting for the first time. This would have been tremendous fun and a great way to share our stories and see where our lives interacted and if there were any common themes.

Next time, maybe…?

The sunk cost fallacy in action

Man sitting on a pound sign submerged in water, surrounded by sharks.

Source: iStock

Earlier this year I started to plan a major redesign for my website garethjmsaunders.co.uk — most of it hasn’t had a redesign since about 2003; it’s still built around a table layout!

In the process of redesigning the site I learned a really important lesson that in the long run has saved me hours and hours of development. It’s to do with the sunk cost fallacy.

A bridge too far

I’ve completed plenty of site designs in both my personal and professional lives. This was going to be no different. I did some initial research, sketched out the layout and features that I’d like and then looked around for a suitable premium WordPress theme that I could use. I settled on Bridge by Qode, which cost me US $58 (approx. GBP £35).

Bridge seemed to offer the features and flexibility that I was looking for in a theme. But once I had downloaded and installed it on a test site on my local development server I discovered just how complex it was.

At the time it offered around 10 demonstration sites to help you get to grips with all the possible permutations. It now boasts 42 ready-to-use demos.

I spent a good two to three weeks just installing demo sites and trying to reconcile what I was learning hands-on with the documentation. And at the end of that period, to be honest, I really didn’t feel that I was anywhere closer to understanding how I might use the theme. Bridge is a hugely capable theme, however, it simply offered too much for my requirements.

But I felt that I had to persevere, I had spent both time and money on it, after all. Surely it had to get easier if I installed another demo site, and read the documentation just one more time, and… presumably spent another 2–3 weeks trying to understand the minutiae of this theme.

Sunk cost fallacy

It was at that point I realised that I was falling into the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

In economics, a sunk cost is any cost that has already been paid and cannot now be recovered. So in this example, I had already bought the Bridge theme. I had spent £35 and wouldn’t be able to get a refund.

The fallacy that I was falling into was that I was making decisions about the future of my site based on past expenses. Or as You Are Not So Smart puts it

[y]our decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

I felt that because I had spent money on something, even though I was finding it too complex and not entirely suitable for the purpose I’d bought it — despite all that — I still felt that I ought to persevere and try to make it fit my needs.

What a divvy!

Divi

Freed by my decision to simply let go of using Bridge for this project, I went shopping again.

When I’d been looking around for themes to start with, I had narrowed it down to two: Bridge and Divi by Elegant Themes. So I bought Divi (USD $89 per year / approx. GBP £55).

In the long run that mistake has cost me money, but the time that it has saved me is immeasurable (or rather, I haven’t actually measured it).

The theme does exactly what I need and in a fraction of the time. I find the theme’s interface really intuitive, and the restrictions it puts on me (by not trying to do everything in every possible way) challenges me to be more creative with what I’ve got. Too much choice is a bad thing, remember.

Conclusion

The sunk cost paradox is certainly something to bear in mind the next time you need to make a decision: don’t necessary let past costs (time or money) influence your decisions about the future.

Lifehack has an interesting article about how the sunk cost fallacy makes you act stupid.

Hacked (pt.3) or how to clean a compromised WordPress site

The word 'hacked' within ones and zeros.

Source: iStock (10623991)

This is the kind of post that I’ve thankfully not needed to post for over nine years. Today one of my WordPress sites got compromised.

It all began with an email this afternoon from AntiVirus a WordPress plugin that scans your theme templates for malicious code injections. The email read:

The daily antivirus scan of your blog suggests alarm.

I had to laugh at the phrase “suggests alarm”. But after I laughed, I accepted their suggestion and for a few moments felt alarm, before realising that panic was no use and besides, I knew what to do.

Two candidates

I’m still not 100% sure what caused the code injection but I currently suspect two potential sources of infection:

MailPoet

I may have been one of 50,000+ victims of the MailPoet vulnerability that was made public days before I went down with viral meningitis! I had that

As the MailPoet site states:

There was a security issue in all the versions of MailPoet lower to 2.6.8, this security issue was making your site highly vulnerable (blog post).

It can really only have been a plugin vulnerability as I have to manually unlock FTP access whenever I want to upload anything. So it had to be an ‘inside job’. And I had MailPoet (formerly WYSIJA) installed that account.

Outdated theme

Alternatively, it may have been a premium theme that I was using that had the Slider Revolution plugin embedded. This was reported to have a critical vulnerability last month.

I thought I had patched it…, but, perhaps with my meningitis-muddled head I didn’t do it properly.

How to clean an infected WordPress site

Whatever it was, it injected a bunch of obsfucated code into the top of all the PHP files on that site. A give away was that in the WordPress plugins screen all the plugins were disabled and reporting “the plugin does not have a valid header”.

If something similar happens to you, then you might find the following steps useful:

  1. Change passwords for:
    1. WordPress admin
    2. FTP
    3. MySQL database
  2. Backup all the files on the site. (That took ages!)
  3. Delete all WordPress core files including themes and plugins (Do not delete user-uploaded content, e.g. images, PDFs, etc.)
  4. Download clean installation of WordPress.
  5. Upload clean WordPress files (except wp-config-sample.php).
  6. Rename wp-config-sample.php to wp-config.php, update with database details and upload.
  7. Upload a clean version of your theme (remove themes that you are not using).
  8. Install and activate required plugins including antivirus and security plugins.
  9. Check other PHP files for compromise, not just WordPress files.

I found this post on the WordPress support site useful: I am getting hacked evry two weeks? Help please. There are some useful links listed on how to clean a WordPress installation.

The main lesson for me to learn from this episode is to make sure I never get viral meningitis again when there are two (or more) critical vulnerabilities in the wild!

Oh, yeah, and always keep your WordPress themes and plugins updated… and if in doubt just delete them before they can cause any problems.

Update

Sunday 19 October 2014

It looks like, based on this blog post from Sucuri WordPress Websites Continue to Get Hacked via MailPoet Plugin Vulnerability that the source of the infection was indeed MailPoet.

Twilight for Android: stop your mobile device keeping you awake at night!

Twilight reduces your display's blue light emission.

Twilight reduces your display’s blue light emission.

When I blogged about f.lux the other day, which is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS, I meant to mention an equivalent application for Android. But I forgot, so here’s a post all to itself.

This week I’ve started using Twilight by Urbandroid Team after a recommendation from someone on Twitter. So far I’m really impressed.

In the past I’ve used two other applications, first Night Filter by Digipom before I moved to F-lux Screen Dim for Android, but I was never entirely satisfied with either, to be honest. I had to manually run each in the evening and because I could never quite get the colours quite right for me I ended up hardly using them at all as I found them distracting.

Like f.lux for the PC, Twilight runs in the background, automatically dimming the screen around sunset. The colour is subtle: peachy like f.lux, rather than burgundy like Screen Dim, for example.

If you’re looking for a screen dimmer to enable you to read more comfortably in the dark, then I thoroughly recommend Twilight.

Twilight is available on Google Play.

f.lux: stop your computer monitor keeping you awake at night!

f.lux makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

f.lux makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

f.lux is a genius piece of software (available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Linux) that I’ve been using for a few months now, that has genuinely helped me get to sleep quicker at night.

What it does

It does one job, and it does it brilliantly: f.lux adjusts your computer display according to the time of day.

Generally monitors are set very bright with a blue-y colour temperature, that makes them look great during the day. As the f.lux website puts it:

During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

f.lux fixes that. Once you’ve told the program where in the world you live (so that it can work out when the sun will rise and set) and what kind of lighting you have it gets to work.

For me, the application runs when Windows starts, and I quite enjoy watching my monitor at sunset slowly change as f.lux kicks in; I’ve set mine to fast transition (over 20 seconds).

Flux settings: adjust your lighting, set your location, and transition speed.

Settings in f.lux are very straight-forward.

When the sun sets f.lux adjusts your monitor to look like your indoor lights (for me that means that that whites take on a warmer hue similar to the colour of paper the Financial Times use). And then when the sun rises again, the blues return and it looks like sunlight once again.

Effect on sleep

I noticed a while ago that if I had been using my computer a lot in the evening it was taking me longer to get to sleep.

It turns out that blue light affects sleep patterns and as monitors are back-lit—effectively firing a lot of blue light straight at you—you end up with a lot of exposure to excessive light at night.

A couple of hours looking at a tablet or PC screen in the evening can knock off your sleep by about an hour, researchers have found.

The f.lux developers have taken this into account and so “f.lux adjusts colours in a way that greatly reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night.”

I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first, and the first time I tried it I hated it. Everything went slightly peachy. But I stuck with it and within a couple of days I was a convert.

And while I used to lie awake in bed for half an hour or more, since using f.lux on my Windows 8.1 PC I now drop off to sleep within minutes.

Conclusion

If you do a lot of work on your computer or iOS device after sunset then I thoroughly recommend f.lux.

Download f.lux today. (Windows, Mac, Linux, or iOS)

This too shall pass…

Raindrops on a window

Source: iStock

Day 71

Three weeks ago I went to the health centre for an appointment with the GP who recognised that the headache I was experiencing wasn’t just a prolonged migraine but meningitis.

I was there for two reasons: I needed to be signed off for longer, and I needed painkillers that were stronger than ibuprofen but milder than the 30/500 co-codamol that were playing havoc with my stomach.

The GP was really kind and understanding. He signed me off for a further four weeks, gave me the prescription I needed, but also gave me some gentle advice: pace myself. He reminded me that viral meningitis, though not as dangerous as the bacterial variety, is still a pretty serious condition.

“Even if you’re having a good day,” he advised, “don’t try to run 100 metres in ten seconds! Pace yourself.”

Then he said something that really shocked me. “I expect you won’t be back to full stamina for probably 4–6 months.”

Not four to six weeks… months!

When I stepped out of the health centre I burst into tears. At that point, I’d been going for six weeks, trying my hardest to stay positive. Trying to will myself to be well. During those six days in hospital I had been the most afraid I’d ever been, and when I was discharged nothing had physically changed. All I had now was a label to affix to it: ‘viral meningitis’.

It’s common for someone with any kind of prolonged illness to experience a kind of grief reaction, a response to the loss of a more ideal self. It cycles randomly through familiar ‘stages': shock, denial, anger, depression, defensive compensation, acceptance, and adjustment.

This past week, these last seven days, I encountered ‘depression’. I have felt so low. But like the weather, I know that this too shall pass.

This too shall pass, but at the moment I’m feeling quite isolated.The headache began two months and nine days ago, and apart from a few visits to hospital I’ve not been out of the house very much, and I’ve had three visitors.

I’ve tried to find a rhythm to the day to positively get me through this lethargy and sense of loss. At the moments mornings are better than afternoons, when I physically crash and sleep between lunchtime and when the older boys return from school. During the evenings I pick up a little, but I’m not particularly enjoying these shortening days. I now have four lamps in my study, with the brightest LED and low-energy bulbs that I can find.

As my eyesight improves at its glacial pace, reading and writing have become easier. So I tend to spend the early part of each morning—once the breakfast dishes have been cleared away, washing put on and beds made—in prayer and reading. And then, usually before the headache grips me, I get some writing in; I’ve enjoyed blogging regularly again.

The children have been brilliant. Their hugs and laughter have really lifted me through this week. Quite unbeknown to them, I’m sure… although I do tell them.

That’s where I am just now. It’s been a bit of a slog, but I’ll get there.