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Usually, when rats start coming around, it means you're in trouble. But, other times rats approach you because they need help. I've always been partial to critters, anyway, so it was great to get to know some new rat friends.

The Mine Rat was having some trouble with various CSS issues, Virtuemart / Joomla integration / customizations, and more. I won't disparage the previous developer here, as the person really did a couple of neat things. But, I think sometimes clients just need good Joomla-experienced developers to really leverage the power of the system. For this project, I completely scrapped the former effort, with the sole exception of the home page's fancy CSS photo effect, which was started by the other guy.

Here's a run-down of some of the notables about MineRatMinerals.com.

For starters, there's the domain name. I know Google goes on forever and ever about content being king (and it's definitely super-important), but anytime you can legitimately get some relevant keywords into your domain name, my opinion is that you should do it. So, right off the bat, we switched from minerat.com to mineratminerals.com. (No harm done SEO-wise, as neither site had launched yet, anyway.)

I thought it would also be neat to take more advantage of the visual impact readily available via the mineral photos I was seeing with this client. So, I suggested scrapping the old site altogether and doing something more dramatic design-wise. Part of that was including giant background photos on the home page. Each time the home page is loaded, a script pulls a random image from a directory and writes it to the page's CSS for the background. So, you'll see that effect at the top of each page, in fact. Neat stuff! (With the background changing so much, we also tweaked the logo so that it looks good over dark or light photos.)

The previous developer did a few neat mods to Virtuemart, but unfortunately did not do them as template overrides. In Joomla, you (pretty much) always want to do code changes as template overrides (or via other standard software extension methods) rather than simply altering core files because, if you don't, those alterations can be overwritten whenever your system or your extensions are updated. So, the trick is to put your customizations into an override file, and your mods are now safe and sound. Nevertheless, some developers do alter core Joomla and extension files. For this reason, they may not want to upgrade the software when updates are released... which could pose a pretty serious security risk. So, always do template overrides when you can! There's more to this topic (and some exciting stuff for anyone on the latest Joomla 3.x platform), but for now we'll leave it at that.

Joomla's language overrides work similarly to the template ones. For those who aren't familiar, Joomla tries to separate the wording used in software interfaces from the code. This allows the code to work in basically any language. When you install a Joomla! component, it'll have some .ini files in a language directory. This is where a lot of the software's visible language lives. I'm talking about things like, in Virtuemart, where a button might say "Product details." So, the English file will have all of these labels in English. And, if other languages are available, there will be other language .ini files for those. In this way, you can fairly easily make a web site multi-lingual, with the same functionality. Of course, you can also use this to alter the labels for things in your own language -- which we did here via overrides. "Product details" in this Virtuemart install would instead be "specimen details" (because they're selling mineral specimens). Again, all neat stuff.

We did all that and a lot more, I suppose. As a person who's long been fascinated by minerals (and even have many specimens of my own), I was pretty excited to be involved with these guys. They sell something like 10,000 items annually on eBay alone, and I think you'll be impressed by the quality of the items they offer. Head over to MineRatMinerals.com to check them out.

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