Hacking on MT

I’ve spent basically two days now hacking on Movable Type templates and stylesheets. Not here, sadly – The Daily Grind still looks rubbish – but over at another site that might go public later in the week.

Contrary to expectations, perhaps, it’s been a pleasant enough experience. The new templating system in MT4 takes a little while to get one’s head around, but if anything it’s quicker to make sweeping changes now than it used to be. There’s a learning curve, sure, but it’s nowhere near as steep as I’d expected.

If anything, I’ve found it more difficult to get my head around the support networks than the templates. There seem to be about four different forums and a scatter of mailing lists, and I’m still confused about where to start asking questions like:

  • The rich text editor. That plain doesn’t work in Safari 3, right?

  • Actually, does it work at all? It produces bizarre div-laden output for me (in Firefox), which fails to publish (throwing an error that’s neither specified nor logged), then dumps me back at the entry with any graphics elements duplicated at the end of the post. Rinse, repeat. Thank heavens for Markdown.

  • That might be a conflict with FastCGI. Testing needed at this end.

  • The default stylesheets are OK, but there’s not enough layout variation to learn much from them. Things as simple as ‘changing the heading bar height’ require work to discover. I was actually gunning for a layout with a vertical strip menu and the heading alongside, but had to give up – couldn’t make it work. This sort of thing should be in the examples. Ditto changing sidebar width, which seems to have horrid side-effects.

  • Some serious thought should be given to breaking up the default templates into ‘layout’, ‘typography’, etc. Or at least documenting within the code. It’s remarkably easy to end up with CSS tag soup, and refactoring makes my head explode.

  • The default templates are basically widgetless, with widget code embedded directly. I’m sure there were discussions about making a clean break, but… I’d have voted in favour. Anything to keep the column modules shorter – they’re terrifying when you first open them.

  • The default stylesheet comments listings: are they, you know, finished? The line spacing looks plain awful.

  • You need Template Installer. You could really use Template Exporter, but can’t quite see yourself paying $97 for something that ruddy well should be in the app in the first place (sorry, Mark). You really really really need Template Shelf. You’ll wish the Movable Type TextMate bundle handled the new namespace tag format.

  • CSSEdit is one of the most amazing applications I think I’ve ever used. Absolute genius. The only thing it lacks is showing you the computed style attributes for a selected element – but you can get that from the inspector in Safari and work back.

The first thing I did, by the way, was indent a bunch of the template code – Header, Footer, 3-Column Layout. Then I went through and commented each /div so I could tell just what it was closing. Finally, I added module start/end comments. The result is that I can look through generated output and work out which module threw that ^&£^£ tag in that’s screwing everything up.

Since I’m evidently incoherent with fatigue I might as well continue: How come there are basically no third-party MT4 styles? Isn’t that a bit odd? Or are there hundreds, all hiding from me somewhere?

Right, to bed with me. Good night, world.

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