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Taipei Rooftop Apartments & WordPress Custom Menu and Post Formats

Submitted by on November 13, 2011 – 11:43 am
Classic Movie Poster in Jioufen

Taipei Rooftop Apartments

It’s a Sunday morning over here in Taipei, and I am about to have my first cup of coffee of the day. I did not wake up to rain, but the skies are clouded over and my tiny rooftop apartment (otherwise known as Rooftop Paradise) is quite chilly and damp – sure signs that winter is on its way or already here to stay.

Rooftop apartments are a feature of life in Taiwan. For one reason or another, a squat, rectangular six-story building is very common (if not the norm) in Taipei. Then someone in the building – I assume usually whoever owns the sixth-floor apartment – often builds a somewhat illegal apartment on the flat roof. I don’t get the impression that these rooftop apartments are very popular with the Taiwanese themselves. Foreigners, however, gravitate towards them. I can understand why. I love my little rooftop apartment. It feels separate and unique. I don’t have any neighbors. It’s dead quiet, and I don’t have to listen to neighbors through the walls or ceiling. I step outside my door onto the roof instead of a dark hallway. I have all the space of the large roof to enjoy, and I can go out there to enjoy the views and watch the continual fireworks shows down by the river. There is also a laundry area, and I can hang my laundry up to dry outside. It just offers a lot of advantages.

There are, of course, disadvantages. The biggest one is that these rooftop apartments are not enclosed by other apartments. They’re not nestled inside a building with other rooms on all sides protecting them. Therefore, they’re open to the elements, and being built of simple concrete walls with single-pane windows and no insulation at all, they can be extremely hot in the summer and then extremely cold in the winter. I suffered through one or two winters up here without a heater, and it wasn’t fun. It never occurred to me that I could do anything about it. I just wrapped up in layers and then put on a comforter wherever I sat. Then I had enough money saved up to buy a good oil-radiating heater. Let’s ignore the fact that for years and years I didn’t realize it was a 120-volt heater and I had it plugged it into a 220-volt outlet (which blew the fuse on the fan and lowest setting and scorched the plugs and cords). Ignoring that, the heater transformed my winters and made my Rooftop Paradise warm and comfortable. It’s true I had to roll the heater from one room to the next and then close the adjoining doors to really heat up a room, but it worked well.

In the summer, air conditioners are equally important. I have an old clunker in a window in my tiny living room. It’s not the most efficient or quiet beast, but if you close the door and run it on full, it does the job and cools down the room. Then my landlord installed brand new super-quiet air-conditioning units in his apartment (right below mine) and put one in the bedroom of Rooftop Paradise at the same time. That unit is very efficient and not very expensive to run, and I run it pretty much all the time. As it cools the air, it also dehumidifies it, another important task. In the winter or summer, Taipei is a damp place. When I woke up this morning to this chilly winter weather, I could feel the dampness in the apartment.

There’s an amusing story to go along with that dampness. A long, long, long, long time ago when I first moved into Rooftop Paradise, I went to a few sales that other foreigners were having. They were leaving the country and selling all the stuff they had accumulated. I went to one such sale intending to buy, I believe, a rug. As is often the case, when I got there I saw lots of other things that could be useful. One of them was a dehumidifier. It was a big and heavy floor model, but they were asking next to nothing for it, and I picked it up as well. A quick taxi ride home, and I had it up in my apartment and plugged in.

Fast forward to the past year when I’ve slowly been selling everything and getting ready to leave Taiwan, I put this dehumidifier up for sale. I was asking practically nothing for it. In fact, I had already tried to give it away twice, but people are busy in Taipei and have trouble finding time to come over and pick up even free stuff (you know who you are…). The dehumidifier worked perfectly and was in perfect condition. I hadn’t, in fact, used it much at all. I found that I ran the air conditioner so much – which dehumidified the air anyway – that I didn’t need the dehumidifier. Well, I got a series of emails and then phone calls from a Taiwanese woman. She seemed at first to be a little intense. She asked a lot of questions and in general was taking this thing very seriously – far too seriously in my opinion. She even asked for the precise serial numbers and dates and everything else off the manufacturer’s labels on the back and bottom. I was very surprised and amused, then, to get an email from her saying that my particular make and model of dehumidifier was under a recall! She even gave me a link to the website where I could see for myself that this dehumidifier was prone to bursting into flames, and they’d all been recalled. It was possible to have the unit repaired for free through this recall. Obviously, I couldn’t be bothered doing that, and I told the woman that if she figured out how to get it repaired or replaced through the recall, she could come over and get it. She could have it for free. I ended up carrying the dehumidifier down to the MRT station and giving it to her there. She didn’t even need to exit the MRT. I lifted the thing over the fence. She was even smart enough to bring a little luggage cart to carry it. It was far too heavy for her to carry any distance on her own.

Anyway, that is the story of heat, cold, and dampness in Taipei rooftop apartments. This morning, I’m wearing socks to keep my feet warm, and I’ve set my air conditioner to dehumidify only – and set it to high. Yesterday, I had to break out the sweatpants. People back home in Canada tend to laugh when I talk about how cold it is here. For them, if it isn’t twenty below zero, it isn’t cold. However, they are always talking about the outside temperature and looking at it from the comfort of their toasty-warm living room. When it’s cold in Taiwan, it’s cold everywhere – inside and out. That’s real cold.

 Wordpress Custom Menus

On Saturday (yesterday), I spent some more time on figuring out this blog and WordPress. I’d written earlier about some of the new features of WordPress – Custom Menus and Post Formats. I praised the Custom Menus, but I have to say that I had a lot of trouble with it this weekend. I was getting very, very frustrated. Then this morning, I realized the problem was not WordPress itself, but how it works with different browsers. When I first played around with the Custom Menus, I was using a computer with the Google Chrome browser. It worked well. On my home computer, I tend to use Internet Explorer (only because the font on Google Chrome is very thin and difficult to read on my monitor). All Saturday, I was fighting with the Custom Menus and getting more and more upset. Then this morning, on impulse, I loaded up my blog on Google Chrome – and boom, no problems. Everything worked perfectly. I could move items around in my Custom Menu and nest everything in a snap. That has been a relief.

 Wordpress Post Formats

I played around with the Post Formats feature a bit more, too. It seemed like a great idea at first, and I said so in my first post when I talked about it. However, I’m finding that it might not be so important to me. Post Formats are great if you want to use your blog as a Tumblr-type blog with lots of short and snappy snippets – links, quotes, status updates, etc. I don’t seem to be able to say anything in less than a thousand words, so short and snappy is not my thing. I also like to display just one post at a time instead of a whole bunch of them in a long column. So if you post little snippets and show only one post, you lose that Tumblr feel. It just looks like an empty website. I am much less about layout and design and much more about organization. That is one reason WordPress is so frustrating to use. It does not lend itself to organization, though I don’t know what would be when talking about the Internet and web pages.

I tend to think in terms of narrative and stories. And these stories have a beginning and end. Therefore, if I go on a trip somewhere and write about it, I might have a dozen or even dozens of entries. I want to group those entries into one unit and then have access to them going from the beginning and then reading to the end – like reading a book. WordPress is based on keeping the most recent entry front and foremost. Then it goes backwards in time – reverse chronology. It’s like reading the last page of a book first and then working your way toward the beginning.

On top of that, WordPress uses Categories to loosely connect posts. Most people seem happy with this and make it work. I find it very weak. I guess I just don’t think that way. You might create a Category called “Food”. A reader can click on that category and see all your posts about food in one long disorganized list from earliest to latest. It seems like a pretty pointless way to organize things. WordPress posts are also organized in the standard Archive based on month. A reader can click on a month and then get a list of all the posts in that month – again going in reverse. This seems equally pointless to me.

I guess my criticisms are not exactly fair. This is all based on just the out-of-the-box bare bones WordPress. You are supposed to then take those bare bones and do all your own coding and programming to build the website you want. I find it hard enough to just understand the bare bones. Learning how even those bare bones are coded and programmed and then doing my own coding and programming seems like a lot of work – if, in fact, it is even possible at all.

I guess I’m approaching WordPress all wrong, but my thinking goes only as far as Themes and Plugins. I understand I can look for a Theme that looks the way I want and does the things that I want. Then I can find Plugins to add functionality that the Theme lacks. And I want all of this to be menu-driven. I don’t want to be told anything about adding code to the template tag and WordPress loop and all this other stuff that I simply can’t understand. I have no idea what people are talking about when they get to this stuff. I read and read and read and in the end, I’m never further ahead. I simply don’t understand what they are talking about.

List Category Posts Plugin

Having said all this, I have found that by combining the Custom Menu with a Plugin called List Category Posts, I’m approaching something that kind of works for me. The List Category Posts Plugin basically produces an index of all the Posts from a Category. Therefore, if you use Categories as a way to group Posts together, you can then sort of present them as a unit. Categories are meant to group Posts based on subjects, like “food” “travel” “photography.” What I’m doing is using Categories to group Posts based on dates and time.

For example, I went to Cambodia on a bike trip in 2007. I wrote 16 journal entries from February 10th to March 8th. I took all of those Posts and assigned them to the Category “Cambodia Bike Trip”, which is essentially just a list of the Posts that occurred within a certain time frame. By doing this, I can then create an index of just the Posts I wrote while in Cambodia. It is based on date, but it gives the appearance of an actual group of Posts. It is far from perfect, but it sort of works. It is a workaround, and it gives the impression that things are organized. (You can see that it is a workaround, because if you go from Post to Post by clicking on “next post”, you will eventually reach the end of the Cambodia trip and then start going to unrelated posts as you move forward in time. You don’t reach the end and then loop to the beginning, as a properly organized system would have you do.)

It’s significant that even this simple List Category Posts Plugin had me pulling my hair out in frustration. I understand it now because I did a whole series of experiments with it. I had to use a trial-and-error approach to figure out what the Plugin even did. The problem is that everything in the WordPress universe assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the user – and the user may not have that knowledge, and worse, may not even know how to get that knowledge or even know that there is knowledge to be gotten. That all applies to me.

In the case of List Category Posts, the key seems to be something called a Shortcode. I still have no idea what a Shortcode is, but it seems to be a key part of WordPress. The List Category Posts Plugin uses a Shortcode called “catlist”. Did the guy who made the Plugin create this Shortcode? Is it simply part of WordPress? I don’t know. However, to use the List Category Posts Plugin, you have to install and then activate the Plugin, of course. But then you have to insert this Shortcode with parameters into the Page or Post where you want the Index to appear. To insert a Shortcode, I guess you have to start with a square bracket and end with a square bracket. And the parameters are inserted with equal signs. So the List Category Posts Plugin Shortcode might look like this: (I took out the square brackets, so it won’t actually work here)

catlist name=kenting-trip orderby=date order=asc date=yes numberposts=-1

catlist – this is the name of the Shortcode (I guess)

name – this is the category of posts you want to create an index for

orderby – this is how you want to order the posts – by date, by title, by author etc.

order – this is how you want the posts ordered – ascending or descending order

numberposts – this is how many posts you want displayed

(there are more parameters you can use)

That’s an Index of the four posts I wrote on a trip to Kenting in southern Taiwan. I think that’s pretty cool, and I’ve based all the organization on this blog around that. There is probably a much flashier and more professional way to do the same thing, but it gets the job done for now. The big problem with this is that even though I managed to produce an Index of those four related Posts. It is an artificial grouping. Those four posts aren’t really part of any kind of unit called “My Trip to Kenting” or anything like it. I used a Category to group them, but that isn’t how Categories are supposed to be used.

How did I figure all this out? By trial and error. In fact, I just guessed. There is nothing in the List Category Posts Plugin documentation that tells you what a Shortcode is. It simply assumes that you know what a Shortcode is and what to do with it. Maybe everyone in the world just knows this. However, I didn’t and I had to figure it out with the very risky approach of just inserting this code into a Page and seeing what happens. In fact, I just happened to notice that bit of programming code on the webpage and thought maybe it was the Shortcode. I didn’t know. So I just copied it and pasted it into a Page to see what would happen. The point is that even the people creating Plugins don’t really understand the average WordPress user like me. They don’t realize that we have no idea what they are talking about. They have to start from the basics if they want us to understand. Yet, they tend to write as if they are writing to other programmers.

 Wordpress and Photographs

I’ve probably criticized WordPress enough for one morning, but there is one last thing I want to get off my chest – how it deals with photographs. At the moment, photographs are still a big sticking point. It’s pretty simple to write some text and then insert it into a Post and publish it on your blog. Now, however, I want to add photographs. And I don’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it. I just want something simple and natural and easy, but WordPress doesn’t really seem up to the task.

Basically, what I want to do (and I don’t think it is unreasonable) is upload a whole bunch of pictures to my WordPress account, have them in some kind of accessible folder and then insert them anywhere I want – as single images or in galleries. I can sort of do some of these things. For example, I uploaded a whole bunch of pictures into a Gallery in my Post about the QuickPAD Pro word processor. And those pictures now seem to be sitting in the Library of the Media section of WordPress.

OK, that’s all well and good. However, I can’t do anything with those pictures. I can select a bunch of them. That’s cool. But the ONLY option in the Bulk Edit window is to delete them! That’s it. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that. I thought it was pretty cool that all these pictures were collected together in one folder. It would be nice to be able to then organize those pictures in various folders, but I’ll take what I can get. But doesn’t it make sense that you should be able to then do something with the pictures? I want to select five or six pictures and then put them in a Gallery and insert that Gallery into a Post. But you can’t do that. The ONLY thing you can do with the pictures with the Bulk Edit window is delete them. That hardly seems very useful. After all, I just uploaded them. Why would I only want to then delete them? It seems very bizarre to me. I assume I’m missing some very important information on how WordPress handles photographs.

My problems with this extend to the new Post Formats. There is a Post Format called Gallery. That seems like a useful Post Format to me. I take a lot of pictures, and it would be handy to be able to just insert a whole bunch of pictures into a Gallery and make that a post. I selected the Gallery radio button to make this a Gallery post. And then… and then.. and then… nothing. What can I do? I have all these pictures in my Media Library folder. However, all I can do at this point is go to the Insert Image icon in a new Post. This gives me a list of the images in my Media Folder. But there is nothing there to select. There are no boxes to tick to select photographs. There is only the single word “Show” attached to each picture. When you click on “Show”, it opens a window under that photo where you can change the Title, Caption, Description, Alignment, and Size. That’s cool. And you can also Insert that one photo.

But that’s not what I want to do. I want to select a bunch of photos and make a Gallery and publish it with the Gallery Post Format. But you simply can’t do that. I have no idea why not. What’s the point of the Media Library and the Gallery Post Format if you can’t actually use them to publish a Gallery? Again, I must be missing some very important information here. And editing these photos is very awkward in that to do anything, you have to click on Show for every single photo one by one. It all seems very primitive to me – like something a hobbyist would have thrown together. It hardly seems like something that would lead to WordPress being the most popular platform in the entire world and used by millions and millions of people. I really don’t get it.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out. I’ll post when I do…


QuickPAD Pro Word Processor vs. Alphasmart NEO
Inserting Links in Posts and Pages in WordPress

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