I’m proud to announce the launch of a new major revision to Off on a Tangent, bringing the site to version 24.0. The last major revision, 23.0, launched on December 2, 2011, and went on to become the longest-lived design in the site’s history. It lasted more than two years and needed only one minor revision along the way (to bring it to version 23.1). It has served me well, but a lot has changed in the last two years! Browsers have progressed, web markup and style standards have progressed, JavaScript libraries have progressed, and the WordPress content management system has progressed.

This new version is a top-to-bottom redo. I built much of the new site from-scratch, and the pieces of code that I did carry over from the last version have been carefully reviewed and re-factored (if needed). This means that the site is now very modern and up-to-date, code-wise, but it also means there is a high potential for bugs and problems in these early days. I’m continuing to support the most recent two versions of all major desktop, tablet, and mobile browsers, so if you see any issues please contact me.

What I’m getting at is that this is a really big update. I mentioned more than a year ago that I was working on it, and in the announcement for the 23.1 revision last April I mentioned that it was taking longer than expected so I ‘backported’ some of the styling to the old platform to serve as a stopgap. Granted, there were big breaks during the dev cycle, but this definitely has a lot of time and effort invested into it over the last year. I expect much of this code-base to stick around for a while.

Read on for a detailed list of what’s changed, what’s new, and what’s improved!

  • New Look and Feel: As always with my major revisions, the most obvious change is that the site looks different. I’ve maintained blue as the predominant color, with light gray highlights and bits of red here and there. In addition, the design is ‘flatter’ than many of my past designs, reflecting industry trends away from complex shadowing and depth. I have also incorporated angles, with a parallelogram shape forming the basis of the new look.
  • Theming Options: The default site color is my standard blue, but for the first time I have incorporated a theme system that allows users to select from several color schemes. In addition to blue, I’m offering a red theme, a dark gray theme, and a light gray theme. I may add more options in the future. Click the settings icon at the top-right to change your theme. You can also adjust the font sizes and reset everything to the defaults.
  • Responsive Design: One of the biggest trends in web design over the last two years is responsive design. A responsive site is one that adjusts itself on-the-fly to fit the device you are using, and should work equally well on everything from compact smartphones all the way up to high-resolution desktops. The best responsive techniques had depressingly limited browser support in 2011, which is why I didn’t embrace them at that time. Today, however, they are well supported, robust, and commonly used across the web. Off on a Tangent should now work properly on almost any device, with no need to manually select the mobile or desktop versions. The old ‘mobile’ URL, m.scottbradford.us, has been retired and now redirects to the main site URL.
  • Support for Live-Updating Posts: In the 23.1 minor revision, I extended WordPress to allow a toggleable ‘last updated’ display on entries. I use this on ‘breaking news’ entries so users can tell when the post was originally posted and when it was last updated. I’ve now extended this even further, allowing for live updates of breaking news posts (so you don’t have to keep hitting ‘refresh’ anymore). When I have enabled this on a post, you can just sit on my homepage (or on the post itself) and the content automatically update every minute until I un-flag it as a live post.
  • Facebook Comment Integration: In another effort to drive comments and discussion on my posts, I have integrated the Off on a Tangent comment system with Facebook. Chime in. Join the discussion. I’ve also done some other Facebook integration, including ‘recommend’ buttons on each entry and more prominent ‘like’ buttons for the Off on a Tangent Facebook page.
  • Changes in Browser Support: As mentioned earlier, Off on a Tangent continues to support the most recent two versions of commonly-used browsers on the major desktop, tablet, and mobile phone platforms (as listed on the site’s about page). It will usually work in older versions of the supported browsers, and in other modern browsers and platforms—especially those using the same Blink, Gecko, Trident, or Webkit browser engines that the ‘big names’ use. I do, however, want to specifically note two important changes to browser support in Website 24.0:
    • The site now makes use of the jQuery 2.1 JavaScript library (upgraded from the 1.9.x series), which drops its previous support for Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 and earlier. I’m only officially supporting IE 10 and 11 now anyway (two most recent versions), but this will almost certainly break important things on the old versions. Please upgrade to a newer IE or another browser if you are affected!
    • I have initiated official support for two new and upcoming mobile operating systems—Firefox OS and Ubuntu. The site is tested and works properly in both platforms’ default browsers. I also intend to support Jolla Sailfish, but am not quite ready to do so ‘officially’ yet.
  • Off on a Tangent WordPress Plugin: For quite a while now, I’ve been migrating many of the site’s custom functions out of the theme and into a proprietary WordPress plugin. Along with the Website 24.0 launch, I have also made a major plugin update which brings it to version 4.0. The plugin has now taken on pretty much every custom feature that can be handled independently of the theme—the quotes system (migrated from the Quotes Collection plugin), a custom holiday management system, the site’s various maintenance and live coverage modes (including integration with the WordPress maintenance mode system), the election coverage management system, and a number of text formatting adjustments to override WordPress defaults for greater compatibility with the Chicago Manual of Style. I’ve also tightened up the plugin’s integration with the WordPress caching systems, removed deprecated functions, and tightened up some integration with the WordPress platform’s API hooks.
  • Leaner and Meaner: In conjunction with the responsive design, I focused on trying to make the site lighter and faster across the board. Since I no longer have a tailored mobile site, every browser—whether a smartphone on a rural cellular network or a high-powered workstation on gigabit fiber—now needs to load the same amount of data over the pipe. I kept this in mind during the design process and tried to keep everything simple and easily cached by the browser. In addition, I have disabled or removed a number of old WordPress plugins I no longer use, and switched to a more powerful caching system. All of this combined should lead to improved site performance.
  • Other Technical Updates: As I mentioned earlier, I took this opportunity to refactor and upgrade pretty much everything. The site now validates as HTML 5 (from XHTML 1.1) and CSS Level 3 (from a mix of CSS Levels 2 and 3). I’ve upgraded the various JavaScript libraries to their newest versions, including jQuery 2.1, jQuery UI 1.10.4, and ColorBox 1.5.4. In addition, all custom scripts on the site validate against JSHint with no errors or warnings (as long as you select to assume ‘browser’ and ‘jQuery’). Lastly, I’ve taken a number of steps to improve security on the site . . . I’ve been very lucky in that I have not been the target of any hacks or exploits so far, but these [undisclosed] improvements will make it Off on a Tangent even more secure in the future.
  • New Easter Egg: In keeping with my long-standing tradition, I’ve updated the site’s ‘Easter Egg’—a hidden joke somewhere on the site. The old egg has now been posted publicly for your enjoyment. I encourage you to try and find the new one and let me know if you do. Here are your three hints:
    1. Everything old is new again.
    2. Hold on to first things.
    3. Twenty seconds will change your outlook.

Again, there are bound to be some bugs and issues, so please check the site out and let me know if you find any problems in the supported browsers and platforms. I’m also always interested in your comments and feedback!

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.