Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the anniversary of my first marriage, and most importantly to ME, it’s two days past the deadline that I set for having my new shop up and running. 

Everything was slowly rolling along for a while… I installed the Zen-Cart without any problems, trudged my way through zone settings, getting special authorizations from PayPal and the USPS (for quick checkout and shipping calculators, respectively), upgraded to a SSL secure site for future credit-card accepting, and an onslaught of behind-the-scenes administrative crap that visitors will NEVER see… all the while, the default Zen store-front invited customers to purchase $120 worth of “test” buttons and a $35.99 DVD of “Bug’s Life” that you can order in multiple sizes and colors. 

You think I’m joking? 

Bug's Life according to Zen Cart

"A Bug's Life" DVD comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors!

I think they really ought to explain to cave-people like myself, who assumed DVDs came in only one size, which is considered “Standard” for most players. Are the various sizes comparable to the golden-age of records; does the small disc only play highlights? What are the advantages to paying the additional $.40 to get a blue one, and why do certain colors weigh more? 😛 

Test Feature on Zen Cart $120 Buttons

$120 unless you want large red buttons, gift-wrapped. No sales!

You can also purchase these plastic buttons for $120.00 … or wait, is it $40.00 for small buttons… or $160.00 total? Are the red buttons an extra $100.00?! How many buttons do you receive for $220.00 anyhow? Apparently 2,500 square feet worth, judging by the gift wrapping cost. Gee, it would sure help to offer a special or sale on this product… but alas. 

I’ve left the store-front alone for now, because I didn’t want to spend time uploading merchandise before the system was in place to process potential orders.
After customizing the color scheme and adding my banner, which should be a relatively minor edit, I somehow lost my sidebars. I’ve compared the two CSS stylesheets and can’t figure out what is missing from mine. I rather like it better without the junky side menus, but they do serve to navigate the site quickly…. 

Promising to solve that riddle later, I moved onto the seemingly fun task of personalizing text files… everything from the auto-generated e-mail notices and gift coupon text, to the welcome page, checkout page, shipping policies, the trickier return/exchange policy, and the thought-provoking Almighty Privacy Policy. I spent an entire day researching the privacy policies of various companies, large and small, to determine which aspects I needed. 

I spent roughly a week sifting through the PHP files, from A-Z, or more accurately from account.php to whos_online.php (no XYZ’s).. even taking the time to add “please” and “thank you” to the impersonal and somewhat rude error messages. I reached the end of the list and uploaded them, excitedly logging into my store to view my masterpiece. 

And was struck blind by the white page on the screen. My entire store-front had disappeared! Not a single trace remained, not a single line of code when I clicked View Source. Where did everything go?? 

A frantic search on the Zen-Cart forums revealed that the “dreaded White Page” was a common issue, usually occurring after some newbie like myself made changes to PHP files. There were countless ways to diagnose the problem, and everyone had an opinion to share. I knew that my only changes had been in the Define_Text; I hadn’t touched the programming code. Although I didn’t find the answer to my question in the forum, I recalled a side comment made in the original Zen Tutorial:

 “For PHP code, text with a single quote (‘) or double quotes (“) that appear between other quotes may need to be escaped with a preceding backslash (\) character. The rules governing the use of these special characters can be quite complex so interested readers are advised to turn to for more information.”  

Using the index.php as a guinea-pig, I added backslashes with my apostrophes and quotation marks… but nothing happened. Looking at the coding again, I noticed there were other characters embedded in the code. Perhaps the program was getting confused by my usage of dollar signs, question marks, exclamation points, and the like. Perhaps, in computer logic, I was trying to type a series of commands… broken ones.
After all, I was typing my paragraphs inside a line of code …(DEFINE_TEXT:) .. not simply writing text inside the “Body” or “Div” of a document.
Sometimes we gotta play by the book.

So I dusted off ye olde HTML Character Codebook and cracked it open. Well, clicked the tab in my Favorites column. Everyone has probably encountered the computer’s annoying habit of translating our sentences into mangled messes of ampersands and semi-colons. Sometimes when I cut-n-paste an HTML into a text editor, or switch my post default from HTML to text (or vise versa, I can’t remember which) in the WordPress dashboard… I’ll wind up with a quote "that looks like this".
Note: WordPress automatically translated it back into quotes… making me look like the blathering idiot who Twittered “I hate typing & instead of &” until I actually typed “amp;” … I swear to choke something. 😉

Oh, by the way, smileys are  : ) and winky faces are &#59;) …. don’t forget to take your finger off the Shift button, or you’ll wind up with this: &#$!; which translates into absolutely nothing. Except my frustration unleashed on whomever designed HTML coding in the first place. &#$!; you! 

There might be an easier way to accomplish this, but since my skills are green enough to be mistaken for moss.. I did it MY way. I changed every blasted character in my text except for the periods and commas. For some reason, they are overlooked. Do you realize how often we use punctuation marks? We take all those dashes and dots for granted, and abuse them liberally. I was paying the price for my enthusiastic exclamation points (Wow! Neat!) and my tendency to type each pause (Wait – hold on – hmm.)
I had to read the file backward, forward, and upside-down, but I finally captured each stray and transformed my page into incomprehensible gibberish. 

The end result, my dear followers three, is that my page uploaded perfectly… my store-front was restored and my own words welcomed me:
“Would you like to log-in?” Or should I say, "Would you like to log-in?"