The Trump we asked for

As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.

When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.

As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.

So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.

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Let's Encrypt SSL certificates on cPanel hosted sites

SSL is one of the most important technologies in use on the modern web. It enables all kinds of business, collaboration, commerce, activism and communication to happen securely, and the Internet couldn't thrive without it.  Yet for the average person, alongside domain name registration and management, obtaining and renewing SSL certificates has always been one of the least accessible and convenient parts of having a website.

So I was particularly proud when a year ago my employer Automattic became a sponsor of the Let's Encrypt initiative and even more proud earlier this month when we rolled out free SSL for all domains hosted on WordPress.com, using Let's Encrypt certificates. All of the sudden a huge portion of the world's websites were using SSL to make sure communications between site owners and users are encrypted and secure - amazing!

Let's Encrypt is itself pretty amazing. A bunch of industry experts got together and decided it was time to make the process of obtaining SSL certificates free, automatic, secure, transparent, open and cooperative. This is a long way from what it looked like in the late 1990s, when just a few "certificate authority" options existed, you could expect to pay $100 or more for a certificate, and the application process was painfully slow and analog (think faxing your corporate articles of organization and a photocopy of your driver's license to a call center somewhere), and that's all before you had to mess around with recompiling or reconfiguring Apache to use SSL on your site(s). Even with Let's Encrypt and other modern options some of the concepts and steps remain too technical for many site owners to tackle, but it's getting better all the time.

I'm used to paying around $10/year for SSL certificates on a few of my personal sites, and I actually haven't minded that price point given that the rest of the process has been pretty easy for me to manage. But I recently decided to try using a Let's Encrypt SSL certificate on a site that didn't have one yet, and I'm sharing the steps involved here.

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Theme dev with Bones, Sass, Vagrant and PhpStorm

I recently played around with building a new WordPress theme from the ground up, and I'm sharing some notes here about what I learned along the way.

It had been a while since I'd created a WordPress theme from nothing, and I knew that best practices had shifted quite a bit since then. I also wanted to use a more modern development workflow than I'd previously been used to. In my daily work I get to help our clients test, refactor, optimize and launch their WordPress themes (and I enjoy that quite a bit), but sometimes I just want to tinker for a personal project.

I also had an itch to scratch with 47374.info, a site I'd created in 2011 to aggregate local news headlines into a single, simple list display. It uses the great FeedWordPress plugin (along with some custom Perl scripts I wrote to scrape news off of local sites that embarrassingly don't offer their own RSS feeds) and does its job just fine, but it wasn't responsive, the mobile theme wasn't working so well for this use case, and there were more and more parts of the original theme I'd used that needed cleaning up. I also wanted to create something that looked and worked a little bit more like the Hacker News front page (without voting or comments). I am my own primary target user here; the site in question tends to get 40-60 visitors per day (I hope you're enjoying it, whoever you are), but I know I use it every single day.

I didn't quite have the time to start with a totally blank slate, so I started looking at some of the starter themes out there: Underscores, Components, Minimum Viable VIP, and Bones were the main ones I considered. These starter themes include all of the basic requirements of a WordPress theme so you don't have to literally create each new file (like single.php and style.css from scratch). Each option then offers its own unique flavor to what a starter theme should have. For example, the Minimum Viable VIP theme is designed to have everything a developer on the WordPress.com VIP platform would need to implement basic functionality while also meeting code security and performance standards on our platform.

In my case, mobile-first and responsive was a top goal, and while Components has some great options there, Bones seemed to take care of what I wanted with a little less extra stuff thrown in. (Some day I will learn to write media queries from scratch, not this time around.)

So I downloaded Bones, opened it up, and started poking around. And that's when I encountered this:

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New plugin, Debug Bar Widgets

A few weeks ago I created a new, simple WordPress plugin, Debug Bar Widgets.

It adds a panel to Debug Bar that displays all of the widgets registered on a site, even if the widgets aren't active. There are probably simpler ways to get at the same info but I've found it useful in developing some of my other widget-centric plugins.

Pull requests welcome.

Slides: Growing a Distributed Team

Last night I gave a talk at a local meetup of tech folks about tools, processes and culture involved in growing a distributed/remote team, and how those might help organizations regardless of their structure.

Regular readers of this site would have recognized my remarks as derived from various posts here. It was neat that at least half of the folks in the room were also working remotely for their employers, so we had some good discussion and exchanging of best practices.

The slides from my talk are below. Thanks to everyone who joined in!

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Remote workers want community too

I've been spending more time with people who do most their work remotely. Since writing about the advantages of distributed/remote teams versus working in person, I've been paying attention to all of the time remote workers spend figuring out how to be around other people in just the right doses. They're looking to be in the same place with some fellow humans who have a common sense of purpose, or who at least share an understanding of the remote work lifestyle, even if just for a little while.

This leads me to wonder if the future of remote work isn't just a bunch of people on their own, working from home offices or coffeeshops, but instead an arrangement of remote workers coming together in person for a sense of shared experience. Ironically, it might even end up looking a lot like traditional notions of where and how people work, but probably with a lot more freedom, flexibility and fun along the way.

Here are some of the signs I see:

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Speaking at WordCamp Dayton

WordCamp-Dayton-2016-LogoI'll be speaking at the upcoming WordCamp Dayton 2016, happening March 4-5, 2016 at Wright State University. I'll be talking about "WordPress as your digital home," a topic I've thought about for a long time and blogged about recently:

There are tons of places to put your content, but not all of them give you the control and ownership you should have. Your WordPress site is still probably the best place to call home for your online creations. In this session I’ll show you why that is, walk through tools and techniques for using WordPress as your digital home while pushing content out to other places, and answer your questions about how to build an online presence that is fully yours.

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