April 04, 2003

Movable Type for Dummies?

I'm a newbie, a blunderer, an ignoramus, call me what you will. I don't mind admitting that what I need is a dummies guide for Movable Type. I'm sure the documentation is very thorough, but it presupposes a basic understanding of the basics, and a basic understanding is what I do not have. Some of it flies right over my head.

I've only just discovered, for example, that the "date posted" at the bottom of a blog entry is in fact its permalink. We're talking basics here, a basic knowledge of which I lack.

Ignorance breeds fear. I want to make some changes, but I'm afraid to tinker for fear of messing things up. If something goes awry, I will automatically assume that I've done something awful and irrevocable.

Categories, for example. It looks easy and straightforward, but this apparent simplicity makes me nervous. There is a Categories button under "Manage" in the main menu. I see how I can enter up to 5 categories. But is that all there is to it? Or is that just an initial step, before going into the templates to do something more? And are there any perils and pitfalls of which I should be aware?

Trackback I still don't quite get, even after having read Mena and Ben Trott's new Beginners Guide to Trackback (yeah, I know, it's kind of sad, isn't it?). Liz Lawley posted something useful the other day, but I'm still not sure I understand. I've now turned on the autodiscovery, so I suppose I can leave things at that.

Three columns instead of two. I've seen this on many blogs and I really like it. But then I've come across comments suggesting that three columns can cause problems? Again, I don't know enough about any of this to understand how or why this might be problematic, though I assume it has something to do with floating/alignment issues?

Backing up one's blog content. Is there a best way to do this, and if so, what is it?

Well, sooner or later I suppose I will figure this stuff out. But I welcome any hints or suggestions...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at April 4, 2003 02:20 PM

Well, your autodiscovery worked. When you linked to my post, your MT program saw the link, looked for a trackback server on my server, asked it for the appropriate trackback id for the post, pinged that id, and the trackback was added to my post.

I got e-mail (because I've told MT to tell me when I'm tracked-back), and my post was updated to show a link back to your site. Which is how it's all supposed to work. :-)

The only thing non-standard about it on my site is that instead of having trackbacks stored in a separate file, I use a plug-in for MT callsimplecomments to combine comments and trackbacks in my comments section.

You're right...an "MT for Dummies" guide would be excellent. Will blog about that today. Might be able to put some students to work on it for an independent study (or even a thesis project, if they built a resource center, to accompany it).

Posted by: Liz at April 4, 2003 02:34 PM

Ah...and as to your other questions...

The three-column thing requires you to play around a bit with your template, using CSS. One good guide to basic 3-column CSS layout is at Blue Robot, another is at Real World Style.

The easiest way to backup your entires is using the "import/export" option in your MT blog entry screen (on the left side, under "utilities").

Posted by: Liz at April 4, 2003 02:37 PM

Oh, and one more thing.

What I did in MT when I started with it was to create two blogs...the "real" blog, and a "test" blog. Anything I wanted to experiment with I did in the test blog first..especially if it involved modifying templates. This let me try things without fear that it would mess up my "real" content.

I've pretty much stopped doing that now, but it provided a great buffer at the beginning. And it's what I encouraged my students to do last quarter, too.

Posted by: Liz at April 4, 2003 02:41 PM

Thanks so much for your replies! This is very useful.

Right after I posted this entry, it occurred to me that you might be the ideal candidate for authorship of a dummies guide. Though a collaborative project for grad students also sounds like a great plan. I'm guessing it requires serious expertise, along with the ability to step outside one's position as knowledgeable expert and imagine the position and capacities (or, uh, lack thereof) of the new user who is fearful and ignorant.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 4, 2003 02:47 PM

Hi. Great blog. I considered trying to blog academia in a dedicated way (something like you're doing), but I just couldn't manage it. My ability to speak in civil tones about academia comes and goes (and not because I'm a right-wing anti-intellectual, but because my experience in academia has been so frustrating for various reasons). All of which is to say, I think there's a big niche that you're starting to fill here, and I hope it catches on so that there will be a whole cadre of academic bloggers. Perhaps blogging will move the humanities academy forward. (Oh, and by the way, I read a post of yours a while back that was asking whether academics in the humanities have basically contributed to their own marginalization; I would say, "yes, absolutely!" But that's for another day. Also, your advice to people contemplating graduate school in humanities -- I've written that email myself about a dozen times, great advice and dead-on.)

But the point of this comment is the 3-column blog layout. I've used it for a while and I'm ready to switch back to something more like you've got -- two columns. The problem w/3-columns is simply that the layout requires your readers to have a pretty wide browser window, or else your content will be squeezed into a too-narrow column that is nearly impossible to read. This isn't such a big deal for the snippet bloggers who post only a few lines per post, but the two-column layout is probably much better for verbose bloggers like us. Just my two cents. If you still want to experiment w/a 3-column layout (and the dummy practice blog Liz mentioned sounds like a great idea), you can steal a great, fully-functional 3-column layout from BlogStyles.

Keep rockin' the academy...

Posted by: ambimb at April 5, 2003 01:40 AM

Hey ambimb, I know _you_: aren't you the English lit. person who is deciding on a law school? Good luck with your decision! And if my husband has anything to say about it, I will be doing likewise myself (now _there's_ feminist progress for you: my husband is hassling me to become a lawyer).

I hear you on the difficulty of speaking in civil tones about academe. But though I've been a bit distracted lately, I do plan to get back to the academia focus of this blog. I don't think there are very many academic bloggers as yet. I get email from people who are reading my stuff, but it's clear they don't have blogs of their own. Initially I had thought about setting up an online discussion board for unemployed, underemployed, and soon-to-be unemployed or underemployed PhDs. I even had a name for it: DOCA (Deprogramming Ourselves from the Cult of Academia). But I decided it would be too exhausting, and possibly also too depressing. And I'm a shy introvert, so why would I be willing and able to run a discussion board? Hence the me-zine.

Thanks very much for advice on the column issue. I've been looking into it, starting with the links Liz provided, which then led to even more sites. Ignorant as I am about these issues, I can't help noticing the discussion of potential problems ("here's the hack for the problem with IE 5; "if Netscape messes up your right margins, try resizing," and so on). For now, I'm thinking I don't want to go there, especially since I am verbose and probably do want a wider column for the blog body.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at April 5, 2003 02:12 AM

Hi, I want to (belatedly) put my support in for a "movable type for complete spazzes" guide: I just had a friend install it on my server, and it's been, frankly, a nightmare. I also have a "play" blog and the "real" blog to avoid problems, but it hasn't helped, because the very basics you note are the ones that I need to know (in my defense, I can build a site in Dreamweaver MX, albeit using tables). I did the CSS Styles Tutorials, etc, but they don't help much when my problems are so basic.

Anyway, I'm going to head over to Liz Lawley's and pray for rain:-)

who is not an academic, but who does very much want to get the Tokyo Progressive Forum's blog up in the next 2 days...

Posted by: Terri MacMillan at May 8, 2003 09:38 AM

So I'm not the only one?! When I asked in the MT support forum if there were any books out there that would help me understand MT it was suggested that I read the manual. That's the problem! It's not just HTML you need to know to understand MT, it's CSS and XML. And that's just to get started. I love MT, but the learning curve has been steep. I can't wait for the beginner's guide.

Posted by: elise bauer at September 28, 2003 07:32 PM

Boris rules !

Posted by: Boris at October 1, 2003 02:44 PM

here seems to be a beginners guide to movable type hope this helps.

Posted by: Liam at December 22, 2003 10:28 AM

I've been trying to understand TrackBack for two years now, and STILL don't get it...watched the video, read the tutorials, and still...nothing.

Posted by: david at January 19, 2004 09:50 AM

After months of complaining, I've gone ahead and started my own beginners guide to MT at Learning Movable Type. Topics covered so far are trackback, bookmarklets, "add your links here", categories, fighting spam, moving your MT installation from one server to another, and a few others. Right now it is more of an intermediate guide than a beginners guide, but I'll be adding more beginner tips.

Posted by: elise at February 18, 2004 10:38 AM