Welcome to LKL v6

LKL LogoEarlier this year, my brain decided that sometime during 2019 it would rebuild the LKL website from the ground up. The rest of me didn’t have a choice in the matter. The decision was made.

Then the brain took over completely and started work. I could not control it. Most of the day, and often at night, it was churning away at how to recreate what was present in 2018 (version 5), but better. Churning away at how to unravel those logical tangles that arise when you copy bits of code from random internet forums without fully understanding what you’re doing. And on 8 March, just over 13 years after LKL v1 went live, v6 was released.

The 2018 design had been stable for nine years, without significant change. I liked the way it looked, at least on my desktop machine. So, why the need for change?

  • The site looked rubbish on my iPad, all bunched up to one side of the screen rather than filling it up. And I was visiting the site on my iPad rather a lot;
  • The mobile phone version was a completely different design from the desktop and iPad version;
  • Consequently the web server had to deliver different content to the visitor, depending on whether she was on a mobile or desktop/tablet;
  • I was dependent on the inflexible and hard-to-hack Jetpack mobile theme for the mobile phone version;
  • I was dependent on DIYThemes, the developer of the main desktop theme, Thesis v1.8, who no longer support it because they have moved on to the next generation theme which, like WordPress itself, is getting more and more complicated;
  • The desktop theme was very flexible in some ways, but a beast to hack in other;
  • I was having to duplicate certain items of metadata because Thesis was built before some of the more recent WordPress functionality was dreamed of;
  • I was uncertain whether Thesis was compatible with the latest version (v5) of WordPress which no-one seemed to want but is having to use anyway.

The choice I had to make in terms of theme selection was this: should I

  • try to use an alternative established theme framework with a strong following or
  • build something myself?

I chose the latter, using the bare bones _s (Underscores) starter theme, and to build up from there. That way I wouldn’t end up with a similar dependency to the one I had with Thesis.

Consequently my site now shows exactly the same content, whether you visit on mobile or desktop:

And it uses the bare minimum of code because it’s not built to support the varying needs of multiple users: the only code behind the scenes is the code I need. It will be therefore easier to maintain and tweak (I hope). And because the starter theme is provided by the WordPress team, it should be broadly compliant with the latest web and WordPress standards

While the new version looks pretty much the same on desktop as it did last year I’ve made some minor enchancements, as follows:

  • The main navigation menu is much more concise. The old one had around 150 items – pretty comprehensive but also pretty unwieldy, and as the main user of the site I found I wasn’t using all those items, so I could bet that no other visitor would be either. The new version has around 20 items. Simplify, simplify.
  • The content of the main navigation menu is also now consistent between mobile and desktop versions.
  • The main navigation menu is now context-sensitive: for example, if you’re browsing an archive of book reviews, you’ll be served a navigation menu that has additional book-related items.
  • For smaller screens (less than 800 pixels wide) the navigation menu turns into one of those ubiquitous hamburgers rather than having the top-level items spread across the page.
  • The post byline now includes an estimated reading time (thanks to Books and Bao for the idea).
  • The post byline includes only the top-level rather than the detailed category in which the post is filed (eg it displays “Books”, rather than “Korean Literature in Translation”). Coding that functionality (including the filtering out of duplicates where the article is filed both under “Korean Literature in Translation” and “Book Reviews”, both of which are subcategories of “Books”) was a time-consuming challenge.
  • The Google search box is now in the menu bar, extremely visible whatever version of the site you’re on, rather than in the sidebar. It was a complete devil to do the css styling, but I got there in the end.
  • In the archive of event notices, the event date is now highlighted prominently (along with the usual date of posting).
  • As a bit of fun, the images on the front page do a little zoom when you hover over them in the desktop version, showing you that they link to something.
  • I tweaked where the JetPack sharing and related posts sections are displayed to fit with what I wanted, rather than with what the JetPack developers thought most users might want.
  • Other than that, I kept all the event-related customisations that I built a year or two ago that have really proved popular with readers – particularly the dynamically updated Upcoming Events page, the most frequently visited page on the site.

There are some things I’m not fully happy with, mainly to do with the navigation menu (the css code is inelegant, and each time I try to improve it the menu breaks; and also the actions are now wholly javascript rather than css so hovering on the desktop version is not as fun as it was). But none of the niggles are serious. When I next have the energy I’ll improve the index of film reviews with some javascript to make it searchable, and make a similar index of book reviews. But other than that, I feel it’s time to turn back to generating content.

Credits, over the years, go to

  • The Microsoft developers for the web template they provided in an ancient version of Publisher (the only remnant of LKL v1 is the Arial Black font used in the site header, though only displayed in its full glory on the desktop version because mobile OSs don’t support the font)
  • Robert Koehler, the granddaddy of the Korean blogosphere, whose template selections I tended to follow when I switched from Publisher to WordPress:
    • Scott Waillick of Plaintxt.org, who provided the template that served LKL from v2 through to v4 and whose colour scheme survives to this day;
    • Chris Pearson of DIYthemes whose Thesis Theme (v1.x) served me so well for 9 years on LKL v5.
  • Tania Rascia who provided much of the code for the hamburger menu on v6;
  • An unnamed coder at TechBrij who provided the breakthrough to get my google search box working the way I wanted;
  • The various plugin developers for providing the additional functionality I have needed over the years:
    • Hiroaki Miyashita for the Custom Field Template which supports all my event metadata. Others have been built since, but this does the job just fine for me.
    • David Artiss for Footnotes Made Easy and Simon Elvery who built the original WP Footnotes plugin
    • Yannick Lefebvre for the Link Library plugin that manages my Blogroll
    • Joost de Valk for Yoast Simple Taxonomies – now discontinued but I have adopted it, and without it I could not organise all the keywords which add to the richness of this site.
    • Daniel Schick for his PulsSterne plugin, which serves up the stars for my reviews SterneSterneSterneSterneSterne
  • And of course the team at WordPress and the developers who built all the necessary backup, security, admin and other plugins that operate behind the scenes.

For the archives, here are a few snapshots of how the site has looked over the years:

LKL v1 on Publisher.
LKL v1 on Publisher, March 2006. Little more than a powerpoint deck, and consequently a nightmare to update. The Taegukgi had to go when I realised the site wouldn’t just be covering South Korea
LKL v2.
LKL v2, August 2006, on WordPress, Plaintxtblog theme. Minimalist design, minimal colour – intentionally so, because I wanted it to look boring and work-related in case the boss caught me playing with it in the office
LKL v3.
LKL v3, August 2007. Not much change. Just the additional sidebar because my category list was getting out of control and decent drop-down menus hadn’t yet been invented
LKL v4
LKL v4, August 2008. Getting more confident with hacking themes. Post thumbnails added; custom queries pulled a random post from the archive (top right), plus two loop queries – one for the lead article (top left) and one for the next most recent posts. Heavy on CPU usage and unfriendly for caching.
LKL v4
LKL v5, August 2009, using the Thesis theme. We lost the random post from the archives, but gained a nice image for the lead article – like the nice still from Winter Sonata that greeted readers when we switched over. Over the years, I ditched the second sidebar, expanding the navigation menu instead.
LKL v6
LKL v6, March 2019, based on Underscores. The first version, other than the initial launch, to be released in the busy Q1 period rather than the summer lull.

So far v6 hasn’t proved problematic, and it seems to work with WordPress v5, so here’s hoping it will see me through the next few years.

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