Specific focuses and vague goals for 2016

It’s funny how I’ve been looking forward more to writing this post than I was to writing my reflections on 2015. I guess it’s good to get some of that out of the way first to help focus more on what’s next.

I’ve adjusted last year’s self-reflection projection title a bit to better apply specificity and vagueness.

As 2016 progresses, I hope to revisit this post as a guide for what I thought I would enjoy doing as the year went on.

Reading.

I’m successfully falling in love with reading again. And now that I’m back on track I think I can get a bit more focused. I set a goal of 15 books in my 2016 Goodreads reading challenge. Here’s how I want that to break down.

2/3 should be fiction. 1/3 should be non-fiction.

I’d like to continue my Orwell streak. I rounded things out pretty well with some of his lesser known novels last year. Now it’s time to revisit my favorites, specifically Homage to Catalonia and 1984, and finally get to (finish?) The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London. Three of those count as non-fiction. Sweet!

I’m slightly more fascinated with James Joyce after finishing Ulysses. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man should be part of 2016.

I’d like to finish the original Foundation trilogy and I have Second Foundation waiting for me on the Kindle. The first took a bit and the second was better. If the story continues to be interesting I may find myself reading even more Asimov.

I’ll mention Hemingway because I finally read A Moveable Feast last year and want to dig in, but he’s a backup for the time being.

William Hertling’s Singularity series has been a ton of fun and I still need to finish the 4th, The Turing Exception. I’d like to explore more fiction along these lines if you have any suggestions!

As for non-fiction, I have a very specific list to start with:

I’m forcing myself to stop recommending myself books now. Time to read!

Learning.

In a similar vein, I’m starting to focus more on learning and how I can establish patterns for learning in my day to day life. Rather than attempting to adapt on the fly, I’d want to start being proactive.

In 2016…

A passable amount of German. We’re planning on being in Vienna for about a month in June around WordCamp Europe. I’d like to be prepared for some limited conversation. The time we spent in France and Spain in 2011 helped me realize how much I stumble in situations where English is not an option. While a large number of people in Vienna speak English, I’d rather attempt German more often than not.

JavaScript. Deeply. 😜

But seriously. I can sit down and hack at JavaScript. I can build things that rely on JavaScript. But I can’t give you a comparison of frameworks or really tell you why React seems like overkill and something like Ember might be better. And I’d like to.

One of my goals for WSU in 2016 is to establish a more friendly front-end development workflow for WordPress themes involving templates and a local environment requiring HTML, not PHP. The only way this really happens is if I start to know what I’m doing. 😉

And JavaScript, for now, is the future. There is a lot of fun to be had and I’d like to start digging in.

One of the things I’m going to try to introduce to my daily workflow is spaced repetition through Anki. I’m expecting this to help mostly with memorizing frequent German words, though it would be interesting if I can apply it the right way to JavaScript as well.

Writing.

Still a goal! It feels good to be 650 words into something, I should do it more often. I have so much to share that fades away once I do something else instead. I should start sharing instead of doing something else.

Speaking.

I was surprised to look back and see that I spoke 4 times last year. I remember feeling burnt out half-way through the year and not wanting to apply or speak at all.

My talk at WordCamp Vancouver was invigorating, mostly because I didn’t have time to prepare as a fill-in and I made some modifications to a talk I had already given.

Until then I had focused a lot on never giving the same talk twice. I used the process of creating the talk as a way to dive deeply into the subject and learn something about it.

But it’s fun to talk about something you’re the expert on! And I want to focus more on that in 2016. I’ll probably submit the same talk to a few camps, and be less worried about missing out. And when I do give the talk the 3rd or 4th time, those kinks will be gone and we’ll all have a better time.

I have a few weeks left to apply for WordCamp Europe. I’ll cross my fingers for that, LoopConf 2, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, and US. I’d love to hit Denver or Chicago, but we’ll see. Budgets!

WordPress

Make multisite better? 😘

But really. Some big stuff should be figured out this year.

WP_Site, WP_Site_Query, and WP_Network_Query to start.

In the process I’d like to become less afraid at taking a scythe to stuff that’s been there since the beginning and replacing it with some definition of expectations.

I want to adapt our configuration at WSU to use WP Multi Network instead so that we aren’t reinventing the wheel. Doing so should help make better decisions around the future of multi-network in WordPress core.

Oh, and I’d like to introduce a new site switcher.

Washington State University

It’s going to be 3 years in July! Big things are going to happen in these first 6 months. To start, we’ll have a new WordPress developer joining the team at some point in the next couple months!

This means I’ll have time to focus more on connecting big picture stuff:

  1. Content syndication throughout the University.
  2. Give everyone a place to share their work with open registration for students, faculty, and staff. Free websites!
  3. A better search experience for the University built on Elasticsearch.

In the process, I’d like to do a much better job for our team of defining how we work with the web at WSU. Now that we have a new WordPress developer coming on board, it will be especially helpful to have documentation to match.

I’d also like to do a much better job of talking about the work that we’re doing. Things like being HTTPS forward and embracing HTTP/2.0 immediately are pretty cool. Professors and labs that are inspired to share their work with WordPress are awesome.

These should be written about in better ways.

And other wonderful experiences.

Have a great 2016!

 

 

2015 Reflection and Check-in

2015 went by in a hurry, so much that I missed the usual day of reflection and am starting off 2016 with one instead. 🙂

Some notables.

I did better at reading.

The challenge of 25 books was too high, but 14 feels good. I’ll read more next year.

One of the reasons that I read more books over the last year is because I started focusing on it more. As of sometime in the last several months, our phones started spending the night elsewhere in the house. The lack of looping distractions before bed—Twitter, Slack, Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Facebook—allows for much more focused reading time instead. Much more focused reading time makes for faster and more attuned reading.

All in all, a good decision.

That much more focused reading time finally allowed me to finish Ulysses after a 3 year struggle. And now that I’ve finished it once I’ll probably go back and try to read it again to understand. But not in 2016. 🙂

If you read, you should add me as a friend on Goodreads! If you haven’t used Goodreads yet, here’s a good explainer.

But not necessarily so great at writing.

I published 30 posts on jeremyfelt.com in 2015, compared to 26 in 2014. That’s not exactly what I had in mind last year when I wrote “An average of one thoughtful post a week wouldn’t be horrible.

But closer I guess. 🙂

We’re still in Pullman.

We moved in June from a rental house to apartment land. The transition has been nice in some ways, though the house was also pretty nice. We’re enjoying the area quite a bit and while we’re consistent in our back-and-forth about leaving or staying, we now tend to land on staying during most conversations. See also the part where moving is just a crappy experience.

We got rid of some stuff.

In the move from house to apartment, we were able to downsize a bunch of crap that had collected. I did finally get rid of that netbook from 2010 and those two laptops from 2008. How they managed to tag along this long is a disappointment.

I freelanced.

And actually met my goal of 100 hours even though I didn’t really get moving until June or July. I learned quite a bit about myself and some about working too much and getting burned out. I’m happy to have a steady and well paying job and I love contributing to open source software when I’m at home. I’m not entirely sure how freelance fits into that schedule yet, but I’m still working out the details. 2016 will probably be a bit more focused in how I apply freelance time.

I bottled a beer.

Almost a no-brew year. I couldn’t even remember if I had brewed this year until I looked at my photo library. It appears I brewed my last on December 28th, 2014, which means I finished it in late January. So, I’m still a homebrewer, technically. I’ll get started on some small batch stuff soon.

Travel!

I should have known when I set a goal of visiting a new country last year that there would be no new country. Oh well. We had a blast anyway.

  • Silverton, OR in February for Zach and Jennifer’s wedding. We took advantage of being in the area and drove out to the coast for a day and night at Cannon Beach before heading home.
  • Seattle, WA in March for WordCamp Seattle where I didn’t speak but ended up on a panel at the last minute.
  • Las Vegas (and Henderson) in May for LoopConf (where I spoke) and some Vegas-ing.
  • Portland, OR in May for, get this, an Ikea trip. We basically arrived, ate, and went to Ikea.
  • Penticton, BC in June for a couple sunny days in gorgeous Canada wine country.
  • Seattle, WA in July for a night to catch the NoFilterShow, which starred several YouTube personalities.
  • Vancouver, BC in August for WordCamp Vancouver. I had a chance to visit the UBC campus and hangout with Richard and team after stopping by the massive (!) blue whale exhibit. And then of course a few days of beer touring from the ever so knowledgable Flynn and friends. The Vancouver crowd is so great.
  • Glacier National Park for the first time in August! We only spent a couple days, and forest fires were blazing, but it was still such a gorgeous area. We’ll be back. There’s a great breakfast spot in Whitefish, MT and the Cheap Sleep Motel was shockingly pleasant. We then drove from Whitefish, MT to meet our friends in West Yellowstone for a couple days of hanging out in Yellowstone. It was Michelle’s first time and I hadn’t been there since 2004 or something. Such a fascinating place. And then! We drove from West Yellowstone to Bozeman for a nice last minute visit with my Aunt and Uncle for a couple days. We got in a couple great hikes and many great conversations. Lucky for us, we stumbled in with perfect timing to catch the local premiere of Meru including a nice Q+A afterward with Conrad Anker. You should see that movie.
  • In September, we drove off on another adventure. We stopped for a night near Devils Tower, hiked in the morning and then took off for Estes Park, CO. I’m not entirely sure why we stayed in Estes Park, but it was a fun reminder of one of the first trips Michelle and I took together (West!) from the Chicago area. We then kept going to Denver and to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. On the long way home we stopped in Glenwood Springs, CO for one night, spent an afternoon touching f’ing dinosaur bones in Dinosaur National Monument, and then relaxed for a couple days in Park City, UT, enjoying a really excellent hike in the process. On the (still going) continued long way home, we made a stop in Portland specifically for Vegan Beer Fest, at which we met Flynn! A lot of miles on that trip. 🙂
  • Made it back to Portland, OR a few weeks later for the reborn WordCamp Portland in October, where I spoke and had a great time being in Portland with everyone.
  • New York City for the first time right at the end of November for a WordPress core committer summit. I did not have time to sight see, but I did witness the existence of the Statue of Liberty at 3am from an Uber headed to my hotel from the airport. Sweet!
  • Philadelphia, PA for the first week of December for the WordPress community summit and first WordCamp US. That was an excellent, though draining week. Can’t wait for next year! 🙂

I found myself speaking.

I didn’t apply and/or didn’t get accepted much this year, but still ended up in a speaker role several times.

And of course, WordPress.

I’m still a fan, still a student, still plugging away, and still a committer. 🙂

We had what felt like a pretty consistent set of releases this year in 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4. No big surprises, everything on time for the most part.

And I now have a great memory of sitting down for lunch in the lodge next to Old Faithful with an Old Faithful beer and receiving a Twitter notification during a brief moment of cell service letting me know I had been given “permanent commit”. 🙂

I need to do a bigger mental regroup on what we accomplished in 2015 for the multisite component. We at least got WP_Network in, but there are several smaller wins as well. There’s a goal for 2016—better reflection!

Washington State University (#gocougs)

We’re still cruising! Right at the beginning of December, we hit 1000 hosted sites on our platform with just about 2000 users and 2 million page views per month.

These numbers are important because we still haven’t enabled open registration. Instead, a large number of institutional sites are in WordPress that could probably often be considered stagnant. This includes many that we thought would take years to be in.

Bonus highlight – we launched a brand new wsu.edu in March! Having that in WordPress has been amazing. Having it default to HTTPS on HTTP/2.0 makes me personally happy. 🙂

And that’s that.

There’s always more. See you in December!

Previous reflective posts: 2014, 2013.

First thoughts on our new wsu.edu

Today we launched a gorgeous new home page at WSU. For the most part everything went as planned and definitely without catastrophe. We’ll have a full stack write-up at some point soon on web.wsu.edu with more details (still a few more things to launch), but I’ve had a few thoughts throughout the day that I wanted to note.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.24.01 PMWe’re HTTPS only. And that’s pretty freaking cool. It was a year ago today that we flipped the switch on WSU News to SPDY and ever since then I couldn’t wait to get the root domain. I had anticipated some push-back, though I don’t know why, and we haven’t heard a peep. I plan on running a script through a massive list of public university websites to see how many do this. Many don’t even support TLS on the home page, let alone force it.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.28.24 PM

Our root domain is on WordPress. Typing that address in for the first time today after everything went live felt really, really cool. I don’t think that feeling is going to wear off. Even though this is site ~600 to launch on our platform, it’s a huge statement that the University is behind us on this. I don’t remember all of our conversations, but I don’t think that having the root on WordPress was really on our radar for the first 2 years. Dig it.

We’re pretty damn fast. That’s become a lot easier these days. But we have a lot of content on the home page—and a really big map—and we still serve the document to the browser super quickly. I actually screwed up pretty big here by microcaching with Nginx at the last minute. It made things even faster, but cached a bad redirect for quite a while. Lessons learned, and we’ll keep tweaking—especially with image optimization, but I love that we went out the gate with such a good looking waterfall.

And as I stormed earlier in my series of “I heart GPL” tweets, every part of our central web is open source. We publish our server provisioning, our WordPress multi-network setup, our brand framework, our themes, and our plugins. 134 repositories and counting. Not everything is pretty enough or documented enough, and will often serve more as an example than as a product. But, everything is out there and we’re sharing and doing our best to talk about it more.

Lots of this makes me happy. More to come! 🙂

Vague focuses and specific goals for 2015

When 2015 is finishing up, I hope to look back and be happy that I’ve done some of these while skipping others to do things even cooler.

In no particular order.

  • Read more books. I grew up reading books obsessively and I’ve lost that somewhat over the years. I still read constantly, but the draw of article after article on the Internet doesn’t allow for long periods of focus. If I read 25 books this year, fantastic.
  • Get rid of at least 10 physical books that I read this year while switching to ebooks for everything else. We reduced a ton in 2010, but the piles start to add up.
  • Any physical books purchased or received in 2015 should be read immediately and passed on to a willing reader. Exceptions made for reference and study material.
  • Read a handful of academic papers. I spend so much time thinking about the future of open access publishing, I should be a user.

The theme to 2015 seems to be about reading… 🙂

  • Write more. An average of one thoughtful post a week wouldn’t be horrible. Sharing more off the cuff thoughts here rather than Twitter would be wonderful.
  • Talk about my work more.
  • Get smarter about personal encryption.
  • Continue reducing. Seriously, get rid of those 2 laptops and the “netbook”.
  • Make measurable progress on the one product idea. Starting at 0.
  • At least 100 hours of freelance work.
  • Visit one new country, Glacier National Park, and the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego.
  • Make big strides in WordPress core for multisite.
  • A configurable VVV.
  • Get good at Backbone.
  • Ask for more advice and spend more time thinking about it.

A productive year, 2014

2014 was a good, productive year. Many, many things happened and many, many things shipped. I’ll take it.

Washington State University

As 2014 started, things were in full swing at WSU. We launched our first sites on the WSUWP Platform in the middle of February and have continued marching ever since. We’re now at 39 networks with 429 sites and 704 users. In the process, we’re sharing 117 repositories of our work on GitHub. Crazy!

My primary focus remains the central publishing platform, WSUWP, and the server provisioning that maintains that and other server instances. I continue to look for ways to help guide anyone toward sharing their work.

I think my favorite thing to come out of it all has been the open lab sessions we started holding in May. Every Friday morning a group of around 10-15 arrives and talks about the web for a couple hours. I’m hoping to promote this more throughout the university in 2015 so that we need to find a larger space.

Noteables: College of Business, Medicine, Hydrogen Lab, College of Engineering and Architecture, SWWRC, WSU Projects, WSU Labs, WSU Hub.

Varying Vagrant Vagrants

It was also a great year for VVV. Just about a year ago, we transitioned to an organization on GitHub. A few months later, we started the process of choosing an open source license. On October 7th, it was so.

Due to the productive year in other areas, and the temperance from changing a codebase that was in a licensing decision, it was a very slow release year. We did do quite a bit though and both our 1.1 and 1.2.0 releases were great. I’m excited about the things to come in 2015.

WordPress

I love WordPress. And it’s been a wonderful WordPress year.

3.9, 4.0, and 4.1 were such great releases and so many things are coming together for even greater releases next year. I was humbled and happy to be a guest committer for the 4.1 release cycle. While I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to, I was happy that we kept marching. The working group that has started to form around multisite will lead toward great things soon I think.

I was really happy with my talk at WordCamp Seattle, and had a great time before during and after. Most fun was finding my coworkers off in their own groups during contributor day contributing away.

WordCamp Vancouver was excellent as always. The community we have in Cascadia is so much fun. I will now take an extra day every time I go up so that I can (a) get a beer tour with Flynn and (b) go sight seeing.

WordCamp San Francisco was amazing. I was very happy with how my lightning talk turned out and had some great conversations as a result with others in higher education. There aren’t really words to describe the experience at the community summit and contributor days. What an intense week.

And the Pullman WordPress Meetup! We’re now 24 strong and have had a successful 7 meetups. Every month I leave wondering why it took an entire year to finally start this up. We have such a great community of people.

Web Conference at Penn State

The Web Conference at Penn State was a good break from WordCamps and a much different crowd than I’m used to. I wish I had a video to share, but no go. PSU was a great host and I met several people on the web team(s) there and came away very inspired by what others at big schools were already doing with WordPress.

Location

No moving! We stayed in Pullman and we stayed in the same rental, a 12 minute walk to work. After all the moving we’ve done over the last several years, it was nice to pause for a minute.

We did travel a bit. I’m happy to have lived in this area as the scenery is pretty amazing. We made it up to Nelson, BC a couple times. To Missoula, MT twice. A route almost entirely around Idaho on the way down and back from the Grand Tetons. A few weeks back home in IL. A crazy trip to State College, PA via midnight rental from Pittsburgh. A nice walk around Bowen Island after a ferry from Vancouver.

Beer

Strong Belgian Ale, Burtonian English Pale Ale, Blackberry Stout, and a Scottish ale a couple days into its primary ferment. While I’d like to ramp up on variety, that will likely only happen if I switch to smaller carboys. 5 gallons goes a long way!

Now it’s time to continue watching Twin Peaks and pop some bubbly at midnight. Reflecting can wait another year. You all are wonderful, thanks for being here and a happy 2015!

The firefly’s flame

The firefly’s flame

is something for which science has no name

I can think of nothing eerier

Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person’s posterior.

– Ogden Nash

I wrote a note for myself in 2006 that included the above Ogden Nash verse. My grandfather had wanted to share this with my uncle’s dad as they both appeared to have diseases that could not be diagnosed, much like Nash’s view of the firefly’s rear.

Also, according to an entomology professor at Purdue, frogs can glow after eating fireflies. The same Purdue, this time the news service, gives a good overview of fireflies while softly debunking Nash’s interpretation.

Breakthroughs from Shared Struggles

At our 6th (!) Pullman WordPress Meetup last night, Steve Locker gave a great talk on successful freelancing. He made the point about how having a community around you was important to make progress rather than trying to do everything yourself.

One of the quotes he mentioned was from Will Novosedlik’s article, Breakthroughs Belong to No One, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose it:

It’s not the raw creativity or herculean intellect of an inspired individual that solves problems. It’s the interaction between that individual and others that leads to epiphany. Most scientific and artistic innovations or breakthroughs emerge from joint thinking, impassioned conversations, constructive conflict and shared struggles among different people.

And another—maybe less obvious, maybe not—takeaway at the bottom of the article:

Organizations that cannot breach the silo walls when necessary are ill-equipped to achieve breakthroughs of any kind whatsoever.

My favorite teacher on my favorite subject

I had John Dryden as a geography teacher in my junior year of high school. I’m not sure if it was 1995 or 1996, or both.

From the beginning this class was like no other. He passed out the year’s text books to everyone in the room before making us walk them over to the cabinets on the side and put them away—never to be used. He promised there would be no map coloring in this geography class.

Instead, we studied real stuff. We learned about geography in an entirely political way. I even remember writing a book report on Inevitable Revolutions shortly after studying Dryden’s own “axioms of a revolution”. We learned how revolutions succeed, how they fail, and how they do everything in between. We never colored maps.

I could even blame him for the F I got on a paper from our high school’s worst teacher during my senior year. I wrote a very convincing argument on how the United States did not have a democracy. Unfortunately, I think this other teacher was obsessed with Joseph McCarthy (in the bad way).

Fast forward almost 20 years.

Dryden was pushed out of the Batavia school district back in early October after years of fighting with the administration. He had told kids back in 2013 they had a constitutional right under the 5th amendment not to fill out one of those drug use surveys and was reprimanded at the time. It seems this final push was basically an extension of that.

The underlying message in all of this is one that means so much to me. And it’s one Dryden offers explicitly in his letter to students:

In order to create critical thinkers, we must question everything. We have to be critical. We have to ask why and how do you know?

I’ve been fortunate to have several people in my life challenge me on this again and again. My grandfather. My parents. My sister. My wife. Many friends. John Dryden.

At this point it’s a part of me to continue questioning and to get really irritated at answers like “because that’s how it’s always been.” It will probably even be the part that turns me into a cantankerous being in my later years, hopefully one that passes the message on.

I really, really hope Dryden wins a seat on Batavia’s Board of Education next year. From that, I expect good things. Thank you, John.

Finding the source of research news

A researcher at Washington State University had a role in some interesting news that came out yesterday. We published a great writeup: “Major study documents benefits of organic farming“. Newcastle University published a release: “New study finds significant differences between organic and non-organic food“. Large news organizations such as The Guardian and The New York Times provided a good digestion of the results.

Alas, a comment on Hacker News summed up my feelings on many of these:

There is no link to the paper or a preprint of the article.

Often when I read news like this, I want to dive in and at least skim the published research. But this is where our various content management systems break down the most.

Even though this paper is licensed under the very open Creative Commons CC by 3.0, which allows me to share and even build on the material as long as I provide proper attribution—it’s a horrible process to find.

At WSU News, our article included contact information for the researcher but no direct link to the paper or even the primary university’s release. In Newcastle’s release, a page is linked to that actually includes the full text of the paper, but the name doesn’t match the title and is a somewhat confusing experience. This is much better than many, as the paper is at least accessible. In the New York Times, the article links to the abstract at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This abstract has a link for the full text at Cambridge Journals Online, where it isn’t actually published yet but will be on July 15th. The Guardian provides a way, but uses the words “several academic websites” to link to two different places. One is the same NCBI abstract the NYT links to. The other is at Research Gate, which actually has a link to the full paper but includes a really confusing order form in the first two pages of the PDF so that you aren’t actually sure what you’re looking at.

The best page I’ve found yet is actually another at WSU. Chuck Benbrook, the researcher involved with the study, published an article that links to a full page of resources, including the full text of the paper and supplemental data.

I guess the most discouraging part of this is the wide open license on the paper. It gets much harder to track things down when a paper is published in a paid journal. I’m lucky in that I work for a university. If I want access to a paper, there is likely a way. The process can be confusing though, especially if you aren’t used to the required jumping around.

To be clear, this is not a gripe on anyone writing the articles. It is a gripe on those of us creating the systems that manage this content.

The part I’m going to push for at WSU is a way to attach source data to these articles in a clear way. Every time an article is written about a piece of research, that research should have a clear space on the page—in the same spot every time—that provides instructions or direct access to a document.

And with that.

Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Baranski, M., D. Srednicka-Tober, N. Volakakis, C. Seal, R. Sanderson, G. B. Stewart, C. Benbrook, B. Biavati, E. Markellou, C. Giotis, J. Gromadzka-Ostrowska, E. Rembiałkowska, K. Skwarło-Son, R. Tahvonen, D. Janovska, U. Niggli, P. Nicot and C. Leifert.