Replacing Caldera Forms with Forminator

Forminator gets my vote to replace Caldera Forms

Sooooo….

Towards the end of March, we found out that Caldera Forms would be discountinued at the end of 2021.  Caldera was not the most popular WordPress forms plugin out there, but it sure should have been.  As far as what you got for free, I don’t think anything else really compared.  Ninja Forms was close and it was Ninja forms that bought them and told us that they’d be keeping Caldera around.  It’s not that I think that they were insincere but from my vantage point, it sure sounded naive.  The market for WordPress forms plugins is already pretty glutted so I couldn’t see how there was enough distinction between the two products to make them both viable – and apparently they see it now too.

So I went out searching for what plugin I could use to replace the Caldera Forms that I’d already created on different sites.   I was wanting to find another free alternative, but I’d used things like conditional processing and multi-page/step forms and lots of fields, etc.  Ninja Forms did come close but where it didn’t work, the price for paid options jumps significantly (typically around $50/per add-on/per site).

I looked at: Ninja Forms, Fluent Forms, Formidable Forms, WP Forms, Cognito, Form Maker, Smart Forms and Forminator.

I did not look at Gravity Forms because they don’t have a free option.  I did not look at Contact Form 7 because they don’t have a drag ‘n drop builder (and the 3rd party plugins that purport to offer it don’t create a great WYSIWYG experience (IMHO).  Contact Form 7 + extra free plugins does create a compelling option in some respects – but not really when you consider…

Forminator (by WPMU DEV)

I’d say that I still prefer Caldera but Forminator is a very compelling choice.   If you’re needing to switch from Caldera and free functionality is important to you, I’d say look no further than Forminator.  There simply is not (at least in my searching) anything that comes close to what Forminator offers for free.  The other options were all limited in some way or another.  In fact, WPMU DEV makes their money on a subscription model to their services and plugins.  Their hook is a freemium model on some of their plugins but some of their plugins are completely free.  Forminator is one of those.  That means that they are offering for free a plugin that has premium features.  It also means that their business model is not limited to selling their forms plugin (like Caldera was).  It’s more diversified.  While WPMU DEV has retired plugins before, Forminator has a roadmap, so one could hope that that speaks of longevity.

I use Divi on all the sites where I used Caldera and I used the Divi Supreme Lite plugin on them because it has a Caldera Forms module.   This made styling the form so much easier. I’ve already written Divi Supreme, lobbying to have them replace their Caldera styling module with one for Forminator.  I’ve already replaced one Caldera Form that had been styled using the Divi Supreme module and it was annoying to have to use other methods of styling and not have as much flexibility.  So the conversion is not all smooth sailing but I still feel that this is the right choice given the options available.

Baby steps with Gutenberg

(thank you Wikipedia)

So I’ve just installed WordPress 5.0 on my multi-site installation.  No errors, no apparent problems so far.  I can soon delete my installation backup. I have a bit of time today so I thought I’d dip my toe into the wild new world of Gutenberg.

I’ve been used to, and enjoy working with a couple of different visual post/page builders (Vantage, Divi).  I’m also at home with the classic editor in both visual and text (HTML) modes.  But Gutenberg is the future, so I might as well get used to it – and maybe even embrace its workflow and strong points.

In general, I’m not a fan of interfaces that “hide” functionality to “unclutter” things or to make them more “elegant”. I’d prefer knowing that all my tools are there and I can see them.  Often I don’t trust an interface that “looks simple”.  My experience is that most interfaces that “look simple” are simple and even simplistic. It’s not always true and I truly appreciate an interface that is not intimidating to the neophyte but packs all the functionality that I need in ways that are easy to discover and access.  I have the impression that I (and other “functionality freaks”) are under-served by most interface designers.  It seems like a gap between designers and power users – an unfortunate gap.

First “bug” – As I’m typing this off the top of my head (you noticed?), I’m pausing to reflect.  While I pause, the auto-save functionality kicks in and moves my cursor to the beginning of my paragraph!  (Edit: fixed – see final thoughts below) This is exceedingly annoying.  I hope it’s not a feature.  At any rate, if I were a big-time content creator and ever stopped to pause and reflect on my work, I’d be seriously up in arms about this one.

That being said, I’m generally enjoying the experience in Gutenberg so far. I also want to try and move with the Gutenberg intent as opposed to simply bringing my understanding of another way of doing things to this experience and opposing change.  I want to push against the Luddite tendencies of my upper-middle-age!

Final thoughts:

  • The annoying “cursor jump” is seriously annoying
    • Edit 2019-01-19 – The annoying cursor jump was a function of a plugin conflict. I found some GitHub posts that mentioned different plugins that were the source of this behavior. In my case it was the Pods plugin. I wasn’t using it and when I disabled it, the problem went away. Here’s the thread: https://github.com/WordPress/gutenberg/issues/12942#issuecomment-455704147
  • The Gutenberg beard game is strong and enviable!

RegEx to remove chords from ChordPro files

Hey, quick post here to show you what I had to learn the hard way.

Problem: someone sends you a song in ChordPro format (or other formats that basically use ChordPro notation, like from OnSong or SongBook, etc.)  It has all the chords in it but you also or you only need the lyrics (without chords!)

Removing them can be tedious.

Solution: If your editor supports Regular Expressions (regex) for search and replace, you can do the following:

Search string:

^(.*)?\[.+?](.*)?$

Replace string:

\1\2

Caveats:

  • I only tested this with Notepad++
  • The syntax for the replace string might vary between editors.  This is for Notepad++, where each numbered place-holder in the replace string corresponds with one of the (.*) groupings
  • This removes one chord per line.  This is not a real problem.  If you do a “replace all” you replace one chord in all the lines and clicking that button several times will have done the trick fairly quickly.

Multiple files: While not tested, Notepad++’s “Find in Files” tab on the search/replace dialog should do the trick or equally the “Replace in all opened files” button on the Replace tab of the search/replace dialog.








And the winners are…

In this post I lamented the demise (at least for me) of Zoundry Raven.  Due to the evolutionary spaghetti of our WordPress-powered site, we have, essentially, two themes active at one time.  One theme is the one for my blog and the other is for the rest of the site where we talk about our family and mission and post our newsletters.  Zoundry could (with some gymnastics) handle both themes.  I’ve not found anything else that really could.  I even looked at Blog clients that one pays for and they are no more capable (often less) than the free options.  (don’t waste your money!)

In the end, Windows Live Writer had most of what I needed for my blog and its theme (though the Windows Live plugin situation is pretty lamentable) and I was able to set up BlogDesk to support our newsletter posts with its theme.  Neither is perfect but Zoundry had problems too.  So I think I have a solution that works for our needs and I’m pleased that I can move forward without too much gnashing of teeth!








Goodbye Zoundry Raven…hello ???

It’s with great sadness…ummm…ok, frustration…that I say goodbye to our blogging client of the last few years: Zoundry Raven.  I’ve searched MANY times for free and paid blogging clients for Windows and never found a reason to replace it.  I only searched back then when I found something perhaps missing or not fully developed yet in Raven.  Now, however, I’ve had to resume the search and this time…I think it’s for keeps.

Why?

Well, it stopped working!  I’ve had Windows 7 Pro x64 for almost a year now and Raven was working fine for most of that time.  About 2 months ago, it started having a problem.  I don’t blog that often so I can be sure just what changed.  In recommencing my search for blog clients, I was very disappointed in what I found so I thought I’d take a look at perhaps trying “fix” Raven.  Raven went “open source” a little while ago and unfortunately, it’s not gathered a development community, so development basically stopped at the version that stopped working for me.  I’ve never coded in Python but it looked interesting (still does) and I’d love to learn it.  One must be realistic from time to time however, and diving into a complex piece of software like Raven and trying to find the “bug” when you don’t know the language at all…well, let’s just say that I had my tiny pen knife and I was out to kill the elephant and eat it in one big bite…not gonna happen!

Each month we write newsletters that we post on our site using WordPress and send out as emails using phplist.  So, even if I don’t blog that often, each month comes around and I fire up the blog client and write something.  Well, it’s that time again and I’ve got to figure out how to make something work.  I’ve got an old XP laptop on its last legs where Raven is still working, but for me, I concede defeat.  I’ve got to make a change now.  So, yesterday I went looking again and was both semi-encouraged and frustrated.

First of all, I was, for the first time, open to the idea of buying a piece of software.  For most things, I’m really a freeware/open source (can we say cheap!) kind of guy so this was somewhat of a departure!  Anyway, after having looked over the options out there, I think I can safely say that paid blog clients are NOT any better than free ones!  Freeware can often come with a “price”: you get what you pay for.  Not in this case.  What I think I can say is that each blog client caters to a different type of usage and the paid ones are no different.  That’s why I liked Raven so much…it catered to what I do when I write blog posts and newsletters…at least it did so more than other clients.  I’ll admit that I’m pretty particular and there are features that are important to me that simply are not to others.

I’m also a “feature-hound” in general.  I’d much rather have “too much” functionality than “not enough.”

So, I’m down to three choices now:

I may have to pick more than one depending on what I’m doing.  Obviously Windows Live Writer is getting more and more capable all the time, building a good user base and will probably not be let go any time soon.  Post2Blog is already declared “unsupported” by its creators.  It’s got good potential functionality but definite buggy-ness that, of course, is not going to go away with time.  BlogDesk look really promising, but looking at their forums, I wonder how much more will be put into it.

I’ll try the newsletter today and see how it works for me in these three clients.  I’ll post a follow-up to this to state my choice(s) and why.








iTune out!

I really like NT Wright audio teachings. He stimulates and provokes and challenges and bridges many a theological gap. I found on the NT Wright page (https://ntwrightpage.com) recently a link to some lectures he did at Duke University’s 2010 Convocation and Pastor’s School. I happily went to download the free audio teachings and I couldn’t get past a page that said that iTunes was not found on my computer. Well duh! Of course it’s not found on my computer. I wish it could stay that way!

I detest iTunes and I detest Apple’s practice of creating “monopolistic” and “invasive” software. I’m duly convinced that much of what Apple creates in terms of hardware is really good and from a design standpoint is laudable (if stupidly expensive!). However, their handful of offerings that make it to the Windows world are hugely annoying! They’re probably just trying to stick to Microsoft for their clunky Mac offerings. Of course the losers in this war are the end-users, not the big corporations.

Having had experience in getting other streaming protocols to finally cough up a standard URL of a standard media file via circuitous editing of a series of downloaded files, I did various “view sources” and tried playing my results in different capable, non-invasive media players and tried changing the protocol from itms to http, etc. None of this worked. So I started out looking for specific freeware players capable of playing/downloading itms files. I failed…

Apple has started this thing (I hesitate to use the word “service” as it does us only a dis-service!) called iTunes U. iTunes U is a corner of the iTunes Music Store universe dedicated to more educational media files. They must make it pretty attractive to participate in. Personally, I find it reprehensible that Duke University would, in essence, force people to download Apple software to play a free academic mp3 lecture. I can’t imagine that the bandwidth hit or storage space is any kind of real problem for the university that they just couldn’t put their mp3 files up on their own servers somewhere where anyone could easily download them.

Anyway, I didn’t succeed in circumventing iTunes completely, but I did find this tutorial on how to install iTunes in a less invasive way: The unofficial guide to installing iTunes 10 without bloatware on the zdnet site. I highly recommend doing things this way if you simply need iTunes for some unique capability it offers and you don’t want it to be so invasive or huge. I would add however, this final step: Fire up autoruns after doing the install steps and do a search on Apple. Then you can delete autostarted tasks/services that you don’t want.








The mysteriously constipated ADSL router

Recently I’ve experienced reeeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyyy slow load times for anything at wordpress.com and wordpress.org, including all wordpress.com individual blogs. They would finally load but with no formatting. So obviously something was getting gummed up in the works. I’ve solved the problem finally and so I’ll share my experience in hoping that it will help someone else.

Here’s my process of discovery and solution:

  • It’s only happening on these WordPress-hosted sites. Everything else is loading fine.
  • My Firefox has tons of addons so I load up IE and Google Chrome to see if it’s the browser messing up. Nope. Same results with other browsers.
  • I look at the Net tab of Firebug in Firefox to see what is not loading. I notice that s0.wp.com, s1.wp.com, s2.wp.com and s.wordpress.org are not loading. These all resolved to 93.184.220.20 for me.
  • I lookup “slow loading s0.wp.com” on Google and even in the recent posts there is not unanimous agreement that there is a “general” problem or outage.
  • We have K9 Web filtering on some computers but not others. I try wordpress.com on a non-filtered Windows box and on a headless linux box (a simple wget). Nope. Same results.
  • I do a traceroute/tracert. No problem. Works fine.
  • I can ping both the ip address and the domain
  • We use OpenDNS and its cache check page had no problems
  • I have access to a windows box via VNC that has a different ISP and it worked fine
  • I have access to a linux server at large French hosting service and via Webmin’s HTTP tunnel it worked fine

Process of elimination points to our house and not a specific computer or operating system in our house. What’s left? My Neuf box (SFR) ADSL router. Everything looks fine in its web interface, including its ability to ping and traceroute. It caught my eye that the uptime for my router was 51 days. This problem with WordPress I had noticed, maybe 2 weeks ago. In the past, I’ve had speed issues every once in a while and have discovered that rebooting the router can fix some of them. So, on a whim I thought I’d just reboot the router.

That fixed it. So I’m not sure exactly WHAT was the problem in the router that screwed up HTTP traffic to a single IP but not other traffic, but perhaps this will save you some time if you encounter something similar.