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.

A Very Good Year, 2013

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZmCQyKGktc

I still have a draft post titled ‘2011, a year for the epic books‘ hanging out, waiting to never be published. That was an amazing year.

I don’t have a draft saved for 2012. I’m very good at thinking about all the things I would put in a round up post, but then putting it all off until weeks after and then ditching it entirely.

This year has been a very good year. It likely goes alongside 2011 as a year for the epic books, so it should get a write up. I’ll forget less then.

Work: 10up and Washington State University

I started off the year as a happy director of web engineering for 10up with a fantastic team. In April we put together our first developer summit and had a great time over a few days in Portland expanding on workflows and knowledge. I’m so grateful for the time I had, the people I met, and the friends I made while working with #team10up. The entire experience of my 1.5 years with 10up took so much to the next level.

In July, I started a new position with Washington State University. As senior WordPress engineer there, I’m leading the charge to build out a central publishing platform built around WordPress at WSU. Our efforts have been very well accepted so far and I’m looking forward to an extremely exciting and productive 2014.

Vagrant, WordCamps, and WordPress

At the end of 2012, I unleashed the fun that is Varying Vagrant Vagrants in the hopes of breaking up with MAMP. It was a success and not only provided for a MAMP free 2013 for me, but lead to talks at meetups in Seattle and Portland, an unconference session at WordCamp Portland, and talks at WordCamps Chicago and Vancouver. Throughout the year we’ve spread the word of VVV. We pushed version 1.0 just a few weeks ago and Vagrant has grown in general as part of the WordPress development workflow.

WordCamp Seattle was the only WordCamp at which I didn’t talk about Vagrant. I did have a great time sharing the floor with Tanner and Kailey for lightning rounds on WordPress coding done right.

In October, I attended the first WordCamp Europe in October. That experience was amazing. Not only did I get to spend a full week walking around and learning about the beautiful town of Leiden, I met so many people in the WordPress community that I hadn’t yet had the chance to meet and made several new friends. The week was full of great conversation and made a great impact on my view of the overall WordPress community and what we’re working toward.

Due to my new position at WSU, I was able to spend a ton of time consumed with WordPress core for August and September. I’m now more familiar with the multisite portions of WordPress than ever and was recognized as a Recent Rockstar for the 3.7 release, my favorite thus far. I’m looking forward to a very productive 2014 in the world of WordPress.

Location

The year was almost a 50/50 split. We made the 352.3 mile move from Portland, OR to Pullman, WA half way through July. While I miss quite a bit about Portland–mostly people, Pullman has been welcoming and all around great so far. We’ve settled in well and are enjoying it enough to start thinking of Pullman as a home for many years to come.

Beer

This year was a pretty big year for beer. Not only did I expand my knowledge (probably a bit far) on the various styles of beer in the world, I became a home brewer a few months ago. I’ve brewed a pretty weak IPA, a nice stout, and a yet to be determined porter. In 2014, I’m looking forward to making some really nice IPAs and exploring the world of Belgian Ale’s thanks to a new book Michelle got me for Christmas.

Homebrewing aside, the highlight of the beer year was a trip to the De Molen brewery in Bodegraven with Konstantin while in the area for WordCamp Europe. We had many wonderful beers, among them the Hel & Verdoemenis, considered the best brew in the Netherlands. On the way out of the brewery, I was able to grab a couple of the best beers in the world, the Westvleteren 12. Even though I drank that in a hotel room after carving away at the wax with inefficient tools, it was great.

My goal for beer in 2014 is to be more focused in consumption and more crafty in creation. Any visitor to Pullman, WA will be guaranteed a good brew. ;)

Miscellaneous notes for 2014

For Christmas I got two amazing things. An Aeropress and a guitar.

As a mass consumer of coffee, the Aeropress has already changed my life. I’m looking forward to drinking smaller servings of more quality coffee throughout the year and cutting the habit of drinking coffee because it’s always there.

And the guitar! In 2011, that epic year, I sold 3 guitars, a mandolin, and a couple amps. My love of music had dwindled a bit, mostly because I hadn’t made time. Michelle came through this Christmas with an acoustic guitar that has lit the fire again. I’m looking forward to a 2014 full of music. :)

And last, but not least. You all rock. Happy New Years!

Things I like from Richard Stallman’s fantastic article, “Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before”

GNU and the FSF, along with many others, are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the free software movement. To mark that, Richard Stallman has an excellent article over at Wired, “Why Free Software Is More Important Now Than Ever Before“, in which he explains why free software is good for users and some downsides of the services that we’re trusting with our data.

This is a perfect read for me right now, as I’ve been trying to think of good ways to put into words the excitement of building a central publishing platform at Washington State University around WordPress. Using open source software for this task feels right and open sourcing as much of the work that we do feels even better.

Stallman provides a couple great quotes on why public schools should be champions of free software. I’m going to take them out of context because I like them so much. Please go read the entire article anyway.

The indirect harm [of using non-free software] is magnified when the user is a public entity or a school. Public agencies exist for the people — not for themselves. When they do computing, they do it for the people. They have a duty to maintain full control over that computing on the people’s behalf. Therefore, they must use only free software and reject SaaSS.

And

Schools — and all educational activities — influence the future of society through what they teach. So schools should teachexclusively free software, to transmit democratic values and the habit of helping other people. (Not to mention it helps a future generation of programmers master the craft.) To teach use of a non-free program is to implant dependence on its owner, which contradicts the social mission of the school.

So happy to have read this today.