The Biofortified Forum

posted in: Updates | 0

After much hard work, and diving into php code, I am pleased to announce the launch of the Biofortified Forum!

Coming close on the heels of the recent wordpress upgrade, new user registration spam protections, and other little things running in the background that you may or may not have noticed, this new addition is something I’m really excited about. I have been to many sites that have their own forums for allowing users to start their own discussions, and I have wanted to add one to the site for some time. But those forums are often tacked on to the sites where they are hosted, and feel like an external addition, not unlike a lean-to. No one wants to hang out in a shed attached to a mansion! And to have to have two sets of keys to get into each one? No thanks!

Yes, the new forum is contained within the site, thanks to a spiffy wordpress plugin called Forum Server. It places the forum into any page you want within the site, and so the discussion happens with the look and feel of the site it is a part of. Seamless. But the best part about this plugin is that it taps into the same base of users that the blog uses. Register for one and you are registered for both! One set of keys does it. Plus, if you sign up for Gravatar with the email address you use for commenting or registering, you can replace that funky image with your own picture on both the blog and in the forum. Painless.

Well, almost. I have had no formal training in computer or web code, yet I have managed to make some things work that wouldn’t have on their own. The plugin wasn’t installing, and I tweaked the code a little and it installed. Next, it was installed but the plugin settings weren’t working at all. After looking at what functions in the browser window were going nowhere, and following those words in the plugin files, I found a problem with one of the changes I made and fixed it. Voila! The main issue was that some of the functions in the code were calling up files based upon the folder they were in (relative) rather than the full path to the file (absolute). Then one of the absolute paths I added went to the wrong folder.

Funny thing, I learn about computer code like a geneticist. I see some function with values and parameters, and I tweak them (or remove it entirely) and see what that does. After a while I form a mental model of how some of it all works. It seems haphazard, but there’s nothing like navigating through a bunch of colorful lines of code and picking out genes, err, php functions and figuring out what they do, engineering them to do what I want them to do! Biofortified, built by genetic engineering. The analogy is striking.

I would like to extend a special thanks to Eric Hamby for designing this excellent forum plugin, and for being on call to help me figure out what was wrong with the installation.

The forum has several categories, from genetics to genetic engineering, agriculture, food, and an off-topic ‘coffee house’ to chat about things totally unrelated to genetics. There is also a category for discussions in other languages, in hopes that people in spanish or german-speaking countries might also want to talk in the form they find most comfortable. Let’s try to break some language barriers while talking about species barriers! Each category has several sub-catgories such as news, politics, philosophy, growing methods, recipes, etc. There’s even one for Jeremy – Agricultural Biodiversity! Feel free to start a new topic anytime!

This forum is one of several new things that we’re putting together at Biofortified. A couple weeks ago Anastasia and I had a brainstorming session on the future direction of the site, and we’ve got a few things cooking up for ideas that will expand the ways that people can contribute to the blog, the discussion, and the future of this field.

Another thing that you may or may not have noticed is a new Twitter widget in the sidebar. Anastasia twitters, I refuse to twitter, however some readers have expressed a desire for a twitter feed for the blog. As it turns out, Frank N. Foode™ was very willing to step up to the task of tweeting (?) his thoughts and news links for everyone. (Speaking of you Frank, when are you going to tell everyone about all the stuff you did this summer?) You can ‘follow’ his corny shenanigans by going here.

We’re going to great lengths to try to expand this blog to be what we think it can eventually be – the go-to place for information and discussion about genetic engineering in agriculture. If you like what you see so far, please consider voting for us in the changemakers contest. Voting ends in less than two weeks! Go here to register, and here to vote.

Finally, I just wanted to mention that in the midst of the upgrading and code editing, I discovered that there was a security breach and several posts were hacked by a malicious user. It was a bot, probably designed to exploit an old WordPress vulnerability, and all it did was insert some invisible code linking to commercial websites to try to raise their page rank in google searches. But it wasn’t a well-designed one, the code made itself invisible, and only affected a few posts. By coincidence, it entered the site just two days before I did the upgrade, which wiped system files, so after a brief cleanup all is made well. I wanted to let everyone know so that if you find something odd, like an ad for male enhancement pills where it shouldn’t be, please let us know. You could do it in the forum!

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.