Valuable Resources: From WordPress Beginner to Pro

Sorry there was no post on Tuesday. The good news is my grandson Ben (yes, I’m old) had the marvelous opportunity to play basketball on the home court of the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center (yes, there’s a corporate sponsor, but I’m not required to include that bank’s name) last night. His New Berlin West Vikings (western suburb of Milwaukee) played a team from Muskego (southwestern suburb) for around 10 minutes ahead of the Bucks game against the Detroit Pistons. Couldn’t tell you what the score was, but it was fun to watch, and even more fun to play! The Bucks won too!

A picture I, Jeramey Jannene, took of the Brad...
My friend Jeramey Jannene took this photo of the Bradley Center floor before a 2005 game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.

WPMU‘s Career Resources Page

English: WordPress Logo
WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you use WordPress? Want to get better at using it? Want to start developing your own themes or plugins? Think you can make a living doing any of the above? Rachel McCollin at WPMU has put together a spectacular set of links to help you do all of the above.

From WordPress Beginner to Pro: 200+ Career-Boosting Resources

McCollin walks you through the whole process of WordPress goodness:

  • Getting started with WordPress: Creating your first site, using themes and plugins, adding and editing content and tweaking your site’s settings.
  • Becoming an advanced user: Taking WordPress beyond the blog, managing your site and working with themes and frameworks.
  • Coding your own: Developing themes and plugins and adding more CMS functionality to your site.
  • Advanced developer topics: Action and filter hooks, the database, queries, WordPress APIs, translation and libraries and third-party tools.
  • Professional development for clients and users: Becoming a WordPress pro, managing client projects, selling WordPress to clients and customers, customizing the admin screens, development practices, Multisite and BuddyPress.
  • Contributing to WordPress and its community: Contributing to WordPress Core, creating free themes and plugins and helping others to learn.

Now you probably shouldn’t be surprised that many of these resources are from WPMU itself, but it’s not just linkbait. If you work through these sites, you are well on your way to becoming a WordPress pro – free!

When you’re done exploring all these sites, you should also track down a copy of WordPress in Depth for even more material that will help you learn and take part in WordPress.

McCollum and her colleagues pledge to update the list as required, so if you find a worthwhile site, let them know.

Rededicating to NaBloPoMo

One of the side slogans for National Blog Posting Month is “30 days, 30 posts.” I’m still aiming to do that. Despite the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, there will be a post on Thursday. You’ll probably see two posts on Friday, even have the subjects picked out. See you then!

Does software make you stupid?

Interesting article by Nicholas Carr at the Wall Street Journal this weekend, “Automation Makes Us Dumb.”  Carr wants to make the case that, like factory automation in the years after World War II, the increasing sophistication of software to help us do our jobs may be de-skilling even our smartest people.

Worrisome evidence suggests that our own intelligence is withering as we become more dependent on the artificial variety. Rather than lifting us up, smart software seems to be dumbing us down.

I’m not at all sure I buy the argument entirely. The “worrisome evidence” he cites is minimal. The first case involves airline pilots who rely too much on “fly-by-wire” software. If you’ve forgotten (or don’t know) how to fly a plane manually, tricky maneuvers that allow you to safely land in the Hudson River become more difficult when the moment requires it.

The second item is ripped from the headlines, about computerized health systems, and is a little worrisome:

English: Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: resear...
Biosafety level 4 hazmat suit: researcher is working with the Ebola virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent paper published in the journal Diagnosis, three medical researchers—including Hardeep Singh, director of the health policy, quality and informatics program at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston—examined the misdiagnosis of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. They argue that the digital templates used by the hospital’s clinicians to record patient information probably helped to induce a kind of tunnel vision. “These highly constrained tools,” the researchers write, “are optimized for data capture but at the expense of sacrificing their utility for appropriate triage and diagnosis, leading users to miss the forest for the trees.” Medical software, they write, is no “replacement for basic history-taking, examination skills, and critical thinking.”

Meta-learning lab meets with Doug Engelbart
Meta-learning lab meets with Doug Engelbart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where I agree with Carr almost completely is his solution, which sounds like one of my favorite hobby horses: Doug Engelbart‘s augmented computing, or what Carr calls “human centered automation.”

In “human-centered automation,” the talents of people take precedence. Systems are designed to keep the human operator in what engineers call “the decision loop”—the continuing process of action, feedback and judgment-making. That keeps workers attentive and engaged and promotes the kind of challenging practice that strengthens skills.

In this model, software plays an essential but secondary role. It takes over routine functions that a human operator has already mastered, issues alerts when unexpected situations arise, provides fresh information that expands the operator’s perspective and counters the biases that often distort human thinking. The technology becomes the expert’s partner, not the expert’s replacement.

Something tells me I’ll have to read his referenced books.

The Value of a To-Do List

Happy New Year! Did you go back to work today after a well-deserved holiday break? Maybe you were like me this morning, driving into work and thinking “Gosh, what I am doing today? I’m not really sure!”

You’ve got a few projects in progress, but nothing that your boss is breathing down your neck about, with an especially high priority, or imminent deadline. What do you do?

Maybe your problem is the opposite, when assorted priority projects all have milestones coming due in the coming days, and maybe your boss (or another person you consult with in cases like this) is still on vacation. This can be especially troublesome if you are the only boss you have. How do you keep your head from exploding?

I used ot be indecisive...now I'm not sure.For many of us, when days begin like this, by the end of the day the answer to the question “What am I doing today?” turns out roughly “nothing.” Paralyzed by indecision, or overwhelmed with options, you keep trolling your email box waiting for something to grab your attention, but something never comes.

These are the times when it helps immensely to have an ongoing to-do list (or multiple lists) to make decisions for you about what to do next. I use a terrific bit of code called MyLifeOrganized to keep everything together, and one of the best things it does is algorithmically resolve all your tasks into a to-do list, when you tell it how important and/or urgent a project or task happens to be. I could go on about how well MLO performs, but this isn’t an ad.

By itself, the list won’t solve your priority problem. Do I have to tell you that algorithms aren’t perfect? Your judgment is still required. But better to choose from two or three items than 50, no? And if you really don’t have anything pressing, perhaps now is a good time to take on a little bigger project that takes a little more thought or planning–when better to start that planning?

The new year often prompts new thinking about how to live one’s life. Getting Things Done is a perennial issue in my life, and sometimes you just have to know where to start.

How do you resolve dilemmas like these? Are you as productive as you’d like? Do you make resolutions, set goals, or some other variation of New Year course correction? Leave a comment!

NaBloPoMo: What I’ve Learned So Far

NaBloPoMo
NaBloPoMo (Photo credit: udge)

Hey folks, this is the 15th consecutive day of posting here on Notes from the Metaverse! I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to keep up such a pace, but thanks to a spontaneous (and quite rash) decision to take part in National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo) two weeks ago, here we are!

So my daily blogging experiment is halfway through the month, and I wanted to pause to consider what I’ve learned in this process, and share the results. If you’re also participating in NaBloPoMo, I’ll be curious to compare notes.

I wake up in the morning thinking of today’s topic

I have planned some posts, and if I do this again next year, I’ll plan more. At the same time, it’s exciting and energizing to look for something new to write about. That’s a really good thing!

People are interested in disasters

I’m not surprised that the three posts about Typhoon Haiyan attracted the most page views this month. Following the first lesson, I will say I am quite proud of the first of those posts, Tracking the Worst Storm Ever. I also want to call your attention to Karen Mardahl’s comment recruiting people to take part in the Open Street Map campaign.

I need (at least) an hour to write posts

Screenshot of WordPress interface (wordpress i...
Screenshot of WordPress editor interface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an important lesson: I have been a fast typist, but I’m not a fast writer. Making links takes time too. Have I mentioned that I do this at the end of the day, that I work full-time, and usually get to WordPress around 7PM? Even if I have a good idea, it takes time to get it down here.

Conferences are good for topic ideas

I have said here more than once that I love professional conferences. I would be in heaven if I could take a year off to just travel from Linux conference to WordCamps to technical communication conferences to gatherings of writers — with a speculative fiction con or three to fill the year up. Since I can’t do that yet, I’ll do my best to follow remotely and tell you what I find out. In addition to the openSUSE Summit this weekend, next week is the virtual Ubuntu Developers Summit, which I don’t have to travel to attend (neither do you)!

Fast isn’t necessarily good

It has been said that many novels are written during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but no good ones. Every written work needs review and editing. Humans write novels and blog posts, they make mistakes. While there’s nothing here that is really crappy, but in reaching to publish before the witching hour each night, I’m not always doing my best work.

Let me also say that I am not speaking for any other participant (as I haven’t read many other blogger’s posts this month, sad to say).

I haven’t experimented with post types

One thing I suggested I was going to do this month was choose some different post formats, like Links and Quotes. Have to admit that doing something short really feels like cheating. Thursday’s post about the openSUSE conferences may be as close to a short, link-filled post as you’re likely to see.

Nobody cares when I comment on Big Issues of Communication/Information

Even though I am a document/information architect by profession, it never surprises me that hardly anyone reads posts like The Value of Information or my older Doug Engelbart eulogy. Maybe “The Value of Information” is a clunker of a title. The post suffers a little bit from “fast vs good” syndrome. I’ll maintain it addresses important issues (transparency, the future of journalism, and the importance of an informed citizenry), and will occasionally produce more like it. Then again, I’ve read why serious journalism doesn’t always sell on the web.

This pace is unsustainable when I’m writing a book

Remember how I said I was nearly finished with a chapter on 11/2? It’s 13 days later, and I still am nearly finished with that chapter! Will fix that tomorrow, but here we are <sigh>.

So, those are a few things I’ve learned. I hope all is going well with you. I’m sure there will be more things to learn in the remaining half-month. But it’s 11:21pm and I still have to proofread and select an image. Cheers!

Can I Get a 30-hour Day? Searching for Linux Project Management Tools

My life is getting far too complex to handle simply. Fall is coming, and I’m beginning to think I’m overbooking myself. Consider this:
  • I’m working on another book project that I can’t talk about yet. 😉
  • I’m way behind in working through the SitePoint web development classes I wrote about a few weeks ago.
  • I’m speaking to the Madison Linux Users Group (MadLUG) about openSUSE 11.3 on November 6 (Did I mention that before?), and have to create that presentation.
  • I’m probably leading at least one session at BarCampMilwaukee 5 (which I did mention last week) October 2-3. The minimum is likely to be a dress rehearsal for the MadLUG event, but still…
  • I want to write more magazine articles too.
  • I have to get another car (an unexpected and urgent task).
  • There may be still another book project after the one at the top of this list that requires a bunch of preparatory tasks.
  • I’ve got to mow the lawn weekly and tend to various other homeowner projects.
  • Oh, and BTW I still have a day job that fills in 40 hours every week.
Now between the Web-based app ToodleDo and a lovely Windows-based desktop app called MyLifeOrganized (MLO) that runs pretty well in Wine, I’ve got my day-to-day task/to-do-lists in good order. But right now, I need something that can help me figure out how to fit all of these big projects into the amount of time left in the day once I get home at night. And, since it is fall, ideally allow me to catch a few football and postseason baseball games in the bargain.
So here’s what I need:
  • A GUI. I tried a command-line tool whose name escapes me awhile back, but it was just too wonky.
  • A calendar tool that allows me to schedule evenings and weekends for these projects.
  • Something that will import my XML data from MLO (and ToodleDo) to save me from extra typing. The imported data would include time estimates, dependencies, and other related stuff.
  • Allows me to flexibly schedule tasks on the calendar for an hour, or some other time increment.
  • Preferably not web-based
  • Free or very low cost
Gravy:
  • A big bonus: If I could import football schedules and other events from Google Calendar (or other CalDAV data) into the tool and include “multi-taskable” items to do while watching.
  • Runs on Windows and Linux. An iPhone/Touch app would be nice too.
  • Barks at me repeatedly when I try to overbook myself. Also offers snappy excuses so I can tell people “No” with a smile.
Here are my candidates:
  • OpenProj: At first glance, this is the frontrunner, since you can create your own calendar. It looks nice, but I don’t know if I can import anything.
  • KPlato (part of KOffice): I want to play with this as part of my drive to learn more about KOffice, but the single “40 hour” template was slightly disheartening on loading for the first time.
  • Planner : A GNOME application that looks interesting, but hasn’t had a release in a year.
Am I missing some other fabulous application here? Experiences, good and bad, with any of these tools much appreciated too. Of course, if you know some way to stop time altogether while I get some work done, I’m open to that too.

Ada Lovelace Day +1: Honoring Ronda Hauben

Yesterday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day to honor women in technology. When I first heard about the event, I knew instantly who I wanted to honor. Though we never met, this woman helped inspire me to participate in the community that is the Internet. I’d lost track of what she was doing over the years, so I had to do some research, which of course led to more research … so, I’m late.

So let me introduce you to an underappreciated Internet visionary, one of the original Netizens: Ronda Hauben. In her youth, Hauben worked in Detroit at the world’s largest car factory, Ford Rouge. As the story goes, Ford was sponsoring continuing education classes in computer programming. Hauben and others were outraged when the company canceled the program in 1987. After an unsuccessful attempt to revive the company-sponsored program, Hauben launched The Amateur Computerist newsletter to foster technology education among the workers. The first issue (PDF link) came out on February 11, 1988, the 51st anniversary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike. It declared:

We want to keep interest alive because computers are the future. We want to disperse information to users about computers. Since the computer is still in the early stage of development, the ideas and experiences of the users need to be shared and built on if this technology is to advance. To this end, this newsletter is dedicated to all people interested in learning about computers.

Sometime later, Hauben found Usenet newsgroups, and figured out early that collaboration and participation among users were the key to the future. In September 1992, the alt.amateur-comp newsgroup was founded to circulate the electronic version of the newsletter, which was:

dedicated to support for grassroots efforts and movements like the “computers for the people movement” that gave birth to the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s. Hard efforts of many people over hundreds of years led to the production of a working computer in the 1940s and then a personal computer that people could afford in the 1970s. This history has been serialized in several issues of the newsletter.

A year later, Hauben delivered a speech on the history and promise of Usenet, which may have been my first acquaintance with her work.

Among the early stories The Amateur Computerist published included one of the first histories of Usenet in its Fall 1992 Supplement, “The Linux Movement” and the Free Software Foundation in Spring 1994, and more than a few basic (and BASIC) programs for its readers to try out, much like Dr. Dobb’s Journal.

In 1994, Ronda and her son Michael released Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet for free on the web. It was later published by IEEE Computer Society Press. It offers a terrific glimpse at the early history of the Internet, and an important discussion of its promise that remains largely relevant today; especially with the increasing corporatization of the Net.

Today, Ronda is a citizen journalist living in New York City. She is an award-winning United Nations correspondent for OhMyNewsInternational, and still contributes articles on the democratic promise of the Internet.

So go out and take a look at the complete Amateur Computerist archives, and think about how you can contribute to your online communities—including this one. Comments always appreciated.

Deal in Writers Strike: Woohoo!

The Writers Guild has achieved a settlement with TV and movie producers! Details (including a link to a PDF summary of the agreement) here:

United Hollywood: Letter From The Presidents With Deal Summary

Be sure to read the comments too. It will give you a sense of the WGA membership’s mood. The strike does not end unless the rank-and-file writers say it’s over.

It’s been a long, hard fight for justice for these folks. If the members of the WGA feel this is the best contract they can get (as their leaders believe), I’ll cheer their return to work. If they choose to continue battling for a still better deal, I’ll mourn the passing of the TV season, but continue to stand behind them. As they say, it’s about “Solidarity Forever.”

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1000 pieces of paper a month?

A
Gartner report from August (“How to Manage the Environmental Impact of
Printing”) says the “typical” office worker prints about 1000 pages per
month. If printing on one side only, they say it works out to 40 pounds
of paper per month!

At four 5-day weeks per month (give or take a couple days), this
would be 50 pages every working day. Really? Tragically, there are no
footnotes in this paper, so you can’t tell if this page count is a
misprint, or if you can trust the 40 pounds of paper number.

Does this seem out of whack to you? Well, maybe not. A Google search
today found quite a few sites that offer that statistic. The closest
thing I found to a reference is a 1997 report from the Lawrence
Berkeley Lab
,
where they said that the typical office worker used 5 sheets per hour
of work. No footnote here, either.

I don’t know if I’m as skeptical of the original number, but a
decade can be a long time. I’d guess that I print (and copy) less than
I did 10 years ago. Some of the clients I work with run duplex printing
operations now.

Does anyone know if this factoid is still true (or ever was, for
that matter)? It would be nice to think we’ve made progress
(recognizing that our government is the brick wall to progress on
greenhouse gases
).

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Got FeedBuddy?

In my continuing quest to make things easier on my readers (yeah, you!), I’ve been trying to add FeedBuddy to the page. This service lets you subscribe to the “Notes from the Metaverse” feed using just about any reader (web-based or disk-based) you can think of. Or at least those were the notes I took from wherever it was I read about it.

Problem is: For the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to connect to the Feedbuddy website to sign up. I’ve tried different browsers, different times of day, different OSs, but the site continually times out. I even re-Googled it to make sure I didn’t have the wrong URL. No luck.

Does anyone know if Feedbuddy has become too popular for its own good, or just died prematurely? Anybody know of a similar service? Or do y’all like a series of buttons down the right side of the page with the blogroll? All thoughts entertained.

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Getting a Little More Social

Taking up some housekeeping details around here. Finally adding some blogroll material to the sidebar over there. Feel free to visit some other folks I read and learn from. This is likely to expand in the coming days and weeks, but I won’t subject you to everything.

The About page hiding in the cityscape above will have some actual content quite shortly now. In the meantime, just know that I’m a writer by trade, and openSUSE Linux Unleashed will be out in October.

For some inexplicable reason, I’ve also signed up at two different social networks this week.

  • Gather.com is a hangout mostly for public radio types.
  • The Celtic Lounge was set up by Black 47 lead singer Larry Kirwan and music writer Mike Farragher as a hangout for Irish/Celtic musicians and their fans. Black 47 is one of my favorite bands for a lot of reasons, and I’ve got the Celtic moniker to count as an Irish writer, so it may be fun over there.

You’ll find me in both places as “workingwriter.” Stop by if you have the inclination.

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