Missing NaBloPoMo

For the last few Novembers, I’ve been posting at a feverish pace (for me, anyway) as part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to post every day this month as a way to jump-start your writing and building an audience.

So this year, I’ve got too much going on, I’m afraid. Got some projects that may soon come to fruition, and I’ll be able to talk about them when we get there.

Tomorrow, I’ll be downloading a fresh copy of openSUSE Linux, now called openSUSE Leap 42.1, which I’m really excited about. I’m tidying up my current copy in breathless anticipation. This follows the (coincidental) installation of Firefox v42 today. As I tweeted earlier today (with the unforgivable error of getting Douglas Adams’ name wrong):

It’s a common lament: I wish I had more time to blog. What really bums me out is that I get a real good rhythm going during NaBloPoMo, and then I lose that momentum over the holidays. So I’m going to try something different this year, though I don’t really know what that will be yet.

Just because I’m not doing it, it’s not too late for you to start! November is a great time to start (or kick-start) your blogging habit. Click here to register. There are prizes!

If you participate, drop a link in the comments below.

Go look at some of my previous NaBloPoMo posts.

Coming Attractions

A reasonable amount of planning went into the posts for National Blog Post Month this year. Since some of them didn’t quite get done, we’ve got some good stuff in the pipeline to share in the coming weeks. As a way to shamelessly beg to keep all my new readers around, here’s what’s coming up soon at Notes from the Metaverse:

  • What’s Next for Firefox? This weekend, Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch asked this question. From one outsider to another, I’ve got some thoughts on this.
  • A more complete review of Firefox Developer Edition, following up on my earlier quick look.
  • Biosgraphy and ello: Two newcomers to the social/blogging arena.
  • Playing with text editors: Text editors are a religious matter for some developers. After using the programmable text editor Atom for a bit, I hope to have some useful things to say about it.
  • The new crop of electronic magazines covering Linux: Linux Voice, the
    English: Full Circle Magazine Logo

    Full Circle Magazine Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    crowdsourced UK-based magazine is nearing its first anniversary. I’ve recently also become familiar with Full Circle Magazine (an Ubuntu-focused title) and FOSS Force.

  • Tux, the Linux penguin

    (Sorry, can’t ever resist) Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    I’ll still look for more community-based efforts (like the KDE Gardeners) to make free software better.

  • If my ambition to use all seven openSUSE Desktop Environment actually happens, I’ll surely write about it.

Usual disclaimers apply: Forward looking statements are not hard commitments. Other topics may intervene in the meantime. Also check MichaelMcCallister.com for posts about writing, building author platforms and the like.

Hope you have a terrific December!

Lessons from NaBloPoMo 2014

And so we come to the end of National Blog Post Month ). For the second year in a row, I (nearly) managed to post something here every day in November. Technically, this is Post #29 — there’s another one coming before the end of the day., where I commit to covering some of the technical topics I touched on this month. Last year, I finished the month with some lessons I learned; I’m going to do the same here. It’s not worth completing a challenge if you don’t learn something from it.
NaBloPoMo November 2014

By the way, if you’ve participated in NaBloPoMo, especially for the first time, I humbly suggest looking at that link to last year’s post. There’s some good stuff in there.

When choosing topics, social media is your friend

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...

This icon, known as the “feed icon” or the “RSS icon” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I did a little more planning of topics this year (even though November snuck up on me again), but some of the better posts came as a result of reading other people’s stuff in my RSS feed and email. I even wrote one post that described my process, which was equal parts planning and serendipity.

While both BlogHer and WordPress.com offered topic prompts every day, I didn’t want to stray too far from the typical topics here just to complete a post. I’ll pat myself on the back, and declare that a good decision.

Y’all were interested in what I wrote

As with last year, NaBloPoMo raised the general interest in Notes from the Metaverse. The most popular posts from the last 30 days remained the technical ones:

Just one of these posts was not written this month. My Installing openSUSE 12.1 post from a while back is still pretty useful for v13.2, and I hope those who read it agree! All of these could be considered “technical,” and nearly all about open source software (though I don’t think the comet-lander was running KDE Plasma Desktop).

I also made some new friends this month. Welcome to all my new followers!

Y’all are too busy to comment

Notes from the Metaverse has always shrived to be an interactive space, where readers can comment on the material they read. It largely fails in that mission, but I understand. People are busy.

I am happy that some of you are getting comfortable with the Like button, though. Using that standard of popularity, here’s what you liked best:

Summing Up

I enjoy most of the process of NaBloPoMo, and will undoubtedly take part again next year. I think you should too. I’ll repeat myself just this once: Last year, I wrote (and stand by):

Congratulations to all those who successfully completed the NaBloPoMo challenge. To those who feel like they fell short: it’s really all about the effort. Life intervenes. But please keep on posting! Writing every day is essential for anyone who considers themselves a writer; blogging offers the opportunity to publish every day too–take advantage of this as often as you can!

 

John J Jacoby: Making a living scratching your itch

It’s one of the mantras of free and open source software (FOSS): Software is born when one developer tries to solve their own personal problem. That is, the developer is “scratching an itch,” not being assigned to code something after some corporate marketing department spends weeks/months/years trying to figure out what the world (or at least a significant market share) needs or wants.

A more difficult problem is when a project becomes popular, scratching a lot of people’s itches. The software gains features, develops more bugs, attracts more users (each of whom may have their own ideas of what the software should do), and … takes more time to work on. Time that the volunteer developer(s) just don’t have, because they have to pay the rent/mortgage, feed the family, and similar daunting tasks.

One solution to this issue is for companies to assign coders to a particular project full- or part-time. But sometimes the needs of a company change (as when Canonical reassigned Jonathan Riddell, Kubuntu’s lead developer, away from the project), and the developer has to return to volunteering for the labor of love.

Getting Community Support

BuddyPress Logo

BuddyPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We now come to a most interesting potential solution to this problem: John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo project. JJJ (as Jacoby goes by on the Twitterz and elsewhere) has been the lead developer with BuddyPress (a social networking layer over WordPress) and bbPress (WordPress-based forum software) for nigh on to forever. As a result of his talent and skills, he got hired at WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, and worked there for some time. Over time, BuddyPress, bbPress and a sister project, GlotPress (translations for WordPress) begin to suffer from lack of attention.

English: Logo of the software "bbPress&qu...

Logo of the software “bbPress” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making a long story shorter, John believes that with six months of sustained, concentrated attention on these three projects, he can make a difference in these areas:

  • Query and caching performance improvements to both BuddyPress and bbPress (to help them power the almost 20 million user profiles and the immense amount of activity going into them from all the support forums)
  • Media & Attachment support in BuddyPress
  • Per-forum moderation in bbPress to help with plugin & theme moderation on WordPress.org.

This piece at WPTavern shares more of the story. My favorite quote:

WordPress is more community than software, yet the software that powers the community has nobody working on it full time

 

 

At WordCamp San Francisco in October, he was encouraged to seek community funding for this project. After some thought and planning, on November 11, the 30-day campaign went live at Indiegogo.

As happens so often with crowdfunding projects, JJJ hit 80% of his $50,000 goal in 48 hours. Since then, it’s been a little slack. Now he’s got another $6000 to go for the full six months.

Valuing open source developers

Just last week (before I knew about this campaign), I wrote about the value of open source communities. Now the WordPress community has the opportunity to prove its value in concrete put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is terms: Can it fund a developer (or more than one) to complete essential tasks without having to sacrifice on his/her standard of living? Can you make a living just scratching your itches?

John James Jacoby lives pretty close to me, and we’ve met a few times at WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Milwaukee. He is a terrific guy, and unquestionably devoted to the success of BuddyPress and WordPress. We should be able to come through for him in the coming days. I also hope that this followup idea from Josh Strebel from Pagely to make this type of crowdfunding project more formal and more permanent makes some headway in the process. Yeah, I’m going to kick in a pittance too, right after payday in 7 days. Maybe you have a payday coming up too? What is WordPress worth to you?

Hitting the Wall: The Challenge of a Challenge

I’m typing this at 9:30PM on November 13, and I don’t know what to write about. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I don’t (yet) have enough to say in a blog post about a topic that I haven’t already written about this month. Instead of being completely boring and writing again about the (sideways but still exciting) Philae lander, or another Net Neutrality post , I’m typing a little bit stream-of-consciousness, partly in the hope that something more brilliant will come out of my fingers.

Note: I want to share some resources/links on both net neutrality and Philae, but I’m running out of time. Perhaps over the weekend.

A Writing Tip: The Daily Dump

Maybe I’ll turn this post into something about writing. I know something about that. Rochelle Melander wrote a really good book in 2011 about surviving a challenge like NaNoWriMo or NaBloPoMo called Write-A-Thon: Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it). She calls exercises like this one “The Daily Dump.” It’s good practice to just get into the daily writing habit and clear your mind in the process. I’ve done this on my laptop since August, and it does help all the above. I type into Scrivener, a great piece of software that many writers love dearly. I’m working up to love, but I’m definitely at the Like stage.

Marathons

National Blog Post Month

Anyway, since I’m almost halfway through posting every day in November, perhaps this is not unlike what marathon runners talk about: “hitting the wall.” Suddenly you don’t think you’ve got the energy to go on, but you fight your way through it. That’s what I’m doing now. What I’m really doing is following through on a commitment I made to myself – and indirectly to you readers. I am offering up my thoughts on a variety of topics, in 300+ word chunks, for 30 straight days. In the coming days, I will recover my strength and feel the support of the people along the course with water, energy drinks, and cheering!

If you’re on this journey with me as a reader, I hope you find this post a little entertaining. Feel free to cheer in the comments. If you’re not entertained, or enlightened, you can tell me that too.

More importantly, if you’re a writer on this journey, I’m telling you: DON’T GIVE UP! The fun part is still ahead. When we all get to hit the tape on November 30 and celebrate the writing we’ve done. And the next project we’re going to do.

Go for it, gang!

Another stroll down memory lane: KDE4’s mis-introduction

While writing yesterday’s milestone post, I realized I failed to mention the most popular post (by far) in the history of this blog, also known as the day I was linked to by DistroWatch Weekly.

Past as prologue

English: Logo of the KDE Project "KDE, K ...

Logo of the KDE Project “KDE, K Desktop Environment and the KDE Logo are trademarks of KDE e.V” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Curiously enough, that post topic echoes Tuesday’s post on the openSUSE 13.2 release. You see, openSUSE 11.0 was released in June 2008 to much fanfare, in part because the new version of the KDE desktop was included in the release. KDE 4.0 was  what we now  commonly call a “technical preview,” not really ready for production. Nonetheless, openSUSE allowed users the choice to install the “old” KDE 3.5 desktop, the new KDE 4.0 desktop, or the continuing GNOME 2 desktop. Despite some warnings that KDE 4 was not quite ready for everyday use, some folks installed it anyway. Pandemonium ensued on the support lists.

In this post, “openSUSE 11.0 and KDE 4,” I offered my take on the “crisis.” In brief, people needed to think about their systems before installing major new components. There was blame to be shared, but just because Linux folks were used to working with applications with version numbers of 0.4 didn’t mean that everything would always work perfectly.

KDE 4.3 desktop, showing Dolphin, KMail and a ...

KDE 4.3 desktop, showing Dolphin, KMail and a selection of desktop widgets. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apparently someone at the DistroWatch site (a place to learn about Linux distributions) thought I had something to say, and two days later, hundreds of folks were dropping by. The post sparked some interesting conversation in the comments as well. For a blogger, things rarely could get better.

Eventually, KDE 4 became eminently workable, and pretty darn cool. While some folks never got over the shock of the bad rollout (and still complain about how terrible KDE is now), KDE development continues apace. Sometime in the last few years, the Trinity project launched to recreate  KDE 3.5. I’ve heard they found it difficult to reproduce on modern systems. So it goes.

KDE Plasma 5: Don’t say you weren’t warned

Much has changed in KDE since 2008. With openSUSE 13.2, another new KDE desktop, based on the KDE 5 Framework is included with the distribution. But it’s not one of he options in the install. Many will set it up separately to play with, but much of the code won’t work side-by-side with KDE 4. A lesson learned.

As the month of November continues, I’ll have more to say about all these topics (openSUSE, KDE 4 and KDE 5). I’m still planning to try all the other supported desktops. Maybe I’ll have a new favorite by the end of the month. Stranger things have happened!

Got any memories of the KDE 4 rollout? How about GNOME 3, which didn’t go a lot better for some users? Let me know in the comments!

200 Posts

WordPress tells me that this is the 200th post to Notes from the Metaverse since I moved to this platform. This tells you a few things:

  • Computers are good at counting
  • Computers are also good at tracking events over time (especially if there’s a database marking each collection of words)
  • I am persistent at maintaining this outlet of free expression
  • I have not been especially prolific over the last 106 months or so, but I’m better than a lot of folks who start blogging
Radio UserLand

Radio UserLand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe you’ll be intrigued (but not overly impressed) by my first post, “Hello, World (again)  from January 4, 2006. Of slightly more interest will be the second post, “What is this?” with a description of what my intentions were, and a (still working) link to my original blogspace at Radio Userland (many thanks, Dave Winer, for keeping the space alive!).

Dave Winer

Dave Winer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I’ve written books about openSUSE Linux, you’ll not be surprised to learn that my most popular topics (by far) over the earlier 199 posts sit in the Linux and openSUSE categories. You’ll continue to see more of those in the future, even if I’ve gotten away from them recently.

If you’re just joining us at Post 200, thank you very much for dropping by. If you’re a longtime reader, I’m more grateful than you’ll know. You may gather at this point that McCallister is running out of gas, and it’s only November 5. You’d be right, but it’s been a busy week. Things will get better.

Welcome to NaBloPoMo 2014!

Hey folks, it’s November 1. For the second year in a row, Notes from the Metaverse is participating in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). Where thousands of writers are spending November writing 50,000 word novels, those of us without a fictional bent will be working every day to bring you interesting content on the web.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

The BlogHer network of women manages NaBloPoMo, but you don’t have to be female to take part (obviously). View the NaBloPoMo blogroll to see who’s participating this year (I’m #177).

As with last year, I will be experimenting with a variety of topics and techniques this month. While the impending release of openSUSE 13.2 and the upcoming Ubuntu virtual developers summit will give me plenty of technical content to write about, you may see posts about whatever catches my attention (or whatever strikes my panicked mind shortly before bedtime).

Why blog every day?

In Build Your Author Platform: The New Rules, we recommend writers should set up a blog and develop a plan to post regularly. We don’t specify how often you should post, because we recognize that every writer’s life is different. The key is establishing a rhythm for how you write your posts. Your audience also gets the advantage of learning when to expect your posts.

If you’ve never blogged before, or just don’t feel like you have the time: You’d be amazed by the amount of text you can write in 10 or 15 minutes! Once you start getting practice, writing becomes part of your routine, and you can begin to move beyond the “I want to be a writer” stage. If you’ve blogged for a while and are feeling a bit drained of enthusiasm, NaBloPoMo can reignite your passion for communication.

Now those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know that this rhythm hasn’t exactly been consistent. That’s why events like this can be important — when you begin to think like a blogger, every experience you have can become something to share with your readers.

Building Community

Speaking of readers… when you register your blog on the BlogHer NaBloPoMo site before November 5, others may drop by to see what you’re up to.  I’ll be popping around to other participants too. Bloggers form a community, we can all help each other.

Feel free to let me know if you’re participating in any of the November NaNos in the comments below. I look forward to seeing your writing!

Book Review: WordPress 3.7 Complete

WordPress 3.7 Complete

WordPress 3.7 Complete

The fine folks at Packt Publishing asked me to have a look at their latest WordPress book, WordPress 3.7 Complete. This is the third edition in the WordPress Complete series, by Karol Krol and Aaron Hodge Silver. I am happy to recommend it to folks looking for a good introduction to WordPress.

Full disclosure: I read the edition covering WordPress 2.7, when I started getting serious about learning WordPress, but missed the edition that covered v3.0.

Packt specializes in web development and open source software books, so you shouldn’t be surprised that the strongest parts of the book are in this area. But you don’t have to know code to find good, solid information here. Chapter 3, “Creating Blog Content” offers a nice introduction to blogging that will help you start thinking about the kind of content to include in your blog, along with an introduction to the WordPress admin pages.The chapter on choosing themes has some excellent questions that you may not think to ask yourself before choosing a theme from the vast collection of choices.

While there’s a basic introduction to WordPress.com, most of the book’s content relates to WordPress on an independent web host. It might have been nice to note what sections (like setting up widgets and working with the Media Library) apply to both the dot-com and dot-org sites.

WordPress Complete really takes off in the second half, where Krol and Silver focus on creating and manipulating themes and plugins. I don’t know about you, but when I started messing with code, the first thing that scared me was the likelihood of me breaking stuff that was already working. Krol and Silver help break down that fear by showing you how to safely remove your header, footer and sidebar from an existing theme’s index.php file (“What, you want me to break my home page!?”), customize each new template file, and reassemble the new modules so that it all works.

Another big plus for the beginning developer is an extensive section about building themes from scratch. After comparing this method with constructing themes with the help of a theme framework like Genesis, Thesis or Thematic, they advise:

… create your first theme manually, just to learn the craft and get to know all the basic structures and mechanisms sitting inside WordPress. Then, as the next step in your mastery (if you’re planning to work on other themes in the future), you can pick one of the popular theme frameworks, get deeply familiar with it, and use it as the base for your future themes from that point on. Such an approach will allow you to reach maximum time efficiency and save you the effort of dealing with the core set of functionalities that every theme needs, regardless of the design or purpose.

After demystifying the process of theme and plugin creation, and introducing BuddyPress and WordPress MultiSite, Krol and Silver focus the last two chapters on “Creating a Non-Blog Website” using the increasingly powerful content management features WordPress offers.

You’ll learn a bit about using Pages to create corporate and e-commerce sites, membership sites and the like. Can I say that as an author, I especially appreciated introducing custom post types by way of creating distinctive ways of listing books on your site? You may see something like this on michaelmccallister.com soon.

Overall, WordPress 3.7 Complete is a fine introduction to WordPress and web development. Incidentally, don’t be upset that the book misses out on WordPress 3.8. With the increasing speed of WordPress core development, all us authors are at a distinct disadvantage–we can only type so fast!

So what do you look for in a WordPress book? Have you read this one? Comments always appreciated.

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NaBloPoMo: Summing Up

Happy December to all of you!

NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo (Photo credit: udge)

We have all survived National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo)! I am moderately amazed I completed the challenge of writing a post a day for the 30 days of November. While a few did feel like cheating (the post from the WordPress mobile app a few minutes before midnight Nov. 2 comes to mind), I’m pretty pleased overall with the output.

Before I share a few more things learned this month, allow me to point new readers to my halfway-point summary, What I’ve Learned So Far. I shall try not to repeat myself.

Primary Goals Reached

I did this for two primary reasons: To see if I could, and to see if I’d get more readers. I succeeded in both. Be aware that in October, my posting had gotten so sporadic, I seriously considered dropping this blog entirely, and focusing on my author site. Now, I don’t think I want to do that (though I won’t rule out moving this blog over there someday). So y’all are stuck with me for the foreseeable future. Readership has increased, returning nearly to the maximum numbers this blog has reached over the years. I think that bodes well for 2014.

NaBloPoMo: Glorious Madness

NaBloPoMo: Glorious Madness (Photo credit: cizauskas)

Deadlines are a Good Thing

When you know you have to get something done, it’s amazing how you can organize yourself to do that something. While Douglas Adams’ sentiment from The Salmon of Doubt resonates strongly:

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

it still feels quite good to complete the challenge of daily posts. It may not be sustainable over time (for me at least), but as with many NaBloPoMo’ers, you can do this for a month.

Journalism is Hard

NaBloPoMo

NaBloPoMo (Photo credit: underdutchskies)

Feeding a hankering to return to my journalistic roots, one goal I didn’t reach was writing one “newspaper story” a week. I went to a public forum on mining with the intention of covering the event and writing a story as if for a  news outlet, online or not. I didn’t like the story as written, and it was a day late too.

My intent with Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote was also to cover it as news, but I succumbed to the temptation to blog about it instead. It’s just easier.

My link posts on news events (Prince Fielder, the Space News post, and some of the Typhoon coverage) consisted of curating other people’s news stories, which is one form of journalism. Just not of the traditional variety. I’m still going to try to get better at that.

Zemanta is a Wonderful Tool

Speaking of links, I want to recommend the Zemanta plugin (for both sides of WordPress). Credit this tool for all the Related Articles down at the bottom of every post, the Wikipedia links for common terms that might need clarification, and more than a few of the images accompanying my posts. It simplifies so many things, and speeds up publishing too.

Seems OK to Stray From the Main Topics, But…

The audience still likes the tech topics. The Top Five posts for November are (as of this moment):

openSUSE: Porting YaST to Ruby
Tracking the Worst Storm Ever
Kubuntu and the “Sinking Ship” of KDE: Really?
New Life for Vivaldi Tablet? Improv Takes the Stage
Big Linux Day: openSUSE 13.1 and Ubuntu Dev Summit

All but one of these five posts appeared this month. The interloper: My rant about Kubuntu is well over a year old (and yes, Kubuntu and KDE are still thriving, BTW). Again, out of the five, all are Linux-related except for my first post on Typhoon Haiyan. So you can probably expect continuing coverage of Linux and other open source topics here. I am at your service.

Well, this has gone on way too long. Congratulations to all those who successfully completed the NaBloPoMo challenge. To those who feel like they fell short: it’s really all about the effort. Life intervenes. But please keep on posting! Writing every day is essential for anyone who considers themselves a writer; blogging offers the opportunity to publish every day too–take advantage of this as often as you can!

I have some serious catching up to do on my next book, so it may be a few days before I fill this space again. I do hope that the day never comes again when I start a post with “Apologies for not having been here for so long.” So — see you soon!