Looks Like Diversity (or Does It?)

Over the past two years, some of my work has been focused on trying to increase diversity in the WordPress open source community. This has included trying to get meetup and WordCamp organizers to commit to more diverse organizing teams and speaker rolls, something that has been a bit hit or miss. In some cases, giving some advice about how to reach out to different communities has been enough for someone to go all in and come up with groups of people that don’t all look the same or have similar backgrounds/experiences, while in others it has felt like we were wasting our breath, and that unless it was mandatory, the organizers would just choose from the people who applied rather than doing the extra work to reach out for a more varied slate of presenters to represent the community. It is a bummer when the latter is the case, but there’s only so much we can do when there are relatively few people who get paid to work on this stuff (and they are all juggling way more wp hours than a normal 9-5 would take) and the rest are volunteers.

The thing is, what does it mean to have diverse speakers?

In terms of gender it’s pretty simple — don’t have only men, include women and people from elsewhere on the gender spectrum. At the very least, it should not be hard to find women speakers if you take the time to go looking for them, because there are women doing cool stuff with WordPress everywhere.  Many women who’ve gotten involved with the project have said that seeing a woman on stage at a WordCamp was the thing that made them feel like there was a space for them here. Mel Choyce’s post about women in the WordPress community and her first WC experience echoes what I’ve heard from many women.

Or is gender simple? As more and more people come out as trans, it’s important to make sure they feel welcome and included in the community (well, assuming they’re into WordPress and would like to be part of it), and visible representation is a part of that. But many people, while wanting to not worry about being treated poorly due to their trans status, don’t really want to talk about their trans status all the time, or include it in bios on speaker pages. And why should they? Do other bios say, “John is a man from Idaho?” No, They say, “John is a web developer from Idaho.” No gender reference at all! So if we have do have speakers who identify as trans, but their outward appearance reads as pretty straightforward male or female, how do potential trans attendees (or contributors) know there are people like them on stage, and that they themselves might have a place there someday?

Likewise, the question of invisibility around race/ethnicity/sexuality/etc gets blurry when the average attendee just can’t tell. I was at the Community Leadership Summit last year before OSCON and I was in an unconference session about diversity at open source conferences when one of the participants, a black man, asked if choosing diverse speakers mattered if no one know they were something other than generic WASPs. In his part of the country especially, it’s not uncommon for people from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds to pass (unintentionally) as white. So, for example, if they had a gay Cuban man, a trans man, a dude with Asperger’s, and a light-skinned black man on the speaker list (along with other people), but the audience read all of them as generic white guys, what would that say about the diversity of the speaker roll (knowing that references to the various diverse statuses would appear nowhere in the bios or in the presentations themselves)? Instead of looking like people from varied experiences (which they were) it looked like they were more of the same old same old, and he was worried people would complain about lack of diversity, especially since they had set out to create a diverse speaker list. We didn’t come to any kind of satisfactory answer in that session, but I think he raised a valid question about the idea of checkboxes on a census form vs. the way someone is perceived by others, and what representation really means. It’s so hard to figure out!

Privacy is paramount in all things; if someone doesn’t want to put some aspect of their demographic profile in their biography — gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity/race, disability, age, whatever — then they shouldn’t, period. And no one should feel like they have to represent a whole demographic slice because they’re the only one on the lineup (or ever, but that’s a separate issue). This is even more true when the status in question has absolutely nothing to do with their topic. The expertise of someone speaking on “how to choose a theme” is in no way affected by almost ANY of those things (well, maybe disabilities, if they were looking at accessibility/usability). Sure, if you’re speaking at a conference about power dynamics in a multi-gendered world, your gender status makes a big impact on your relevance to the topic, but with WordPress stuff? It really doesn’t, except in the more general “WordPress is for everyone” sort of way. Trotting out speakers with diverse backgrounds — “Ooh, look, not only do we have a pretty even gender balance, but we have an African-American and a Latina, too!” — just to show how progressive you are is just exploitive and sucky.

But! (There’s always a but.)

Given what we know about the sociological mechanics behind people applying to speak at events, it’s pretty basic stuff to know that speaker applications come mostly from the people who are already comfortable in the knowledege that there’s a place for people like them on the speaker roll, in whatever sense they define “people like them” in the moment. That means that to find the hidden gems — or frankly, not really hidden, just not on our personal radar — who don’t have that level of confidence already and/or aren’t so ridiculously overexposed at conferences (usually minorities), we have to work harder to find them, encourage them, help them if needed, and commit to not just looking at applications that came in over the transom.

So when someone says something like, “I can’t help it if 90% of our applications were from white dudes, we said in the post that we encouraged women and minorites to apply to speak!” it makes me purse my lips and remind myself to take a few deep breaths while I remember that part of diversity is having different beliefs and backgrounds, and that many people haven’t read all those studies (or any of those articles summarizing studies), and that other people may have but just really think diversity is not important and/or not their job. Side note: It’s at  those times I briefly think to hell with diversity, the world would be more peaceful if everyone thought the same thing (wouldn’t even matter what we all thought as long as it was the same). 

In preparing to select speakers for an upcoming conference, I have had these thoughts in the back of my mind a lot lately. We weren’t even doing speaker applications in this case, it was all by invitation, but we did take recommendations from some colleagues with good instincts and connections. Perhaps not shockingly, many of the recommendations happened to be upper middle-class white people. Not because of any explicit bias, but for a lot of the same reasons (I think) that have to do with why people from other backgrounds are less represented in our contributor communities as well, tied to cultural norms around being more exposed to and/or drawn to people like yourself, income/time availability, social connections to help publicize their sites/blogs, and let’s not forget the big one — they call it a majority because there’s just plain more of them.

So we’ve been doing some work over the past couple of weeks looking specifically for bloggers from underrepresented groups. Here’s what I’ve observed so far.

  • There are so many people blogging out there! When there are so many blogs, it is really overwhelming to go looking for new talent, as you have to wade through a lot of junk to find it. There is a reason there are whole organizations and conferences with staffs of people whose sole job is to read blogs and discover new talent.
  • There is some great content housed by really ugly sites. Like, really ugly. So ugly you look at it and think, “This person has no taste.” You know what, though? A lot of published writers probably have crappy taste. It’s not like their publishers let them design their book covers. And look back at your first website. Was it really the bastion of good taste and advanced design you sport now (if you do)?
  • There are a lot of talented bloggers that are on Blogger or Squarespace (and others, but those two came up the most often when I viewed source). I kind of want to have a team that just finds great bloggers — not famous people, or super-high-traffic sites, just good bloggers — and helps them switch onto WordPress. I also want there to be some really nice documentation that explains what WordPress has that those others don’t, with an easy step-by-step guide for making the switch.
  • Blogging is about having something to say. Looking at upper middle-class white people vs people from low-income backgrounds or less academically-inclined lives, the spelling and grammar is in some cases a big differentiator. It’s easy (because we’ve been trained this way) to look at the one with all the perfect sentences and say, “This person is the better writer.” But that person might not have the better story, or be the better storyteller. Let’s face it, the one thing blogging exposes vs. professional publishing is the writer’s spelling and grammar. Anyone who gets published by a magazine or book publisher has an editor that fixes all the errors. Having worked at a publishing house, I can confidently say that some brilliant authors are terrible spellers/grammarians. But we as readers don’t judge them based on spelling or grammar, since we never see it. So suspending judgment a little bit in that area, as hard as it is for me (because I really love good spelling and grammar), might lead to finding some great stories and storytellers on blogs.

Diversity, yep, we’re all different. Except we’re more the same than different, so it’s dumb to feel threatened by diversity. See: The Sneetches. Promoting and exposing people of different backgrounds doesn’t mean less opportunity for the folks in the majority demos. It just means they’ll have to work a little harder to rise to the top, which seems about right. And if the mission is democratizing publishing, then it seems like equalizing the opportunity for exposure and promotion goes hand in hand with that.

How diverse will your next conference be?

Distraction-free Writing Mode

Once upon a time in WordPress there was a New Feature called Distraction-free writing mode. You accessed it by clicking the icon in the editor toolbar that means full screen pretty much everywhere on the web.

post editor toolbar

It would load a new screen tha mostly just consisted of a writing box not surrounded by meta boxes or formatting, and what limited formatting options there were would only appear when you moused out of the writing area. It wasn’t perfect (I would have liked that fading toolbar to have all the same formatting options as the regular editor) but it was pretty non-distracting, and it just felt calm.

old distraction-free writing interface

A while back I noticed some changes in the wp-admin regular editor. All the navigation and meta boxes now faded away while you were writing, and I thought, “Oh, that’s pretty nice, kind of a DFW Lite!” I didn’t pay too much attention, as I was just writing a quick post, but in my head I approved, and thought it was a good improvement. Until this morning.

Most of my blog-based activity happens on work-related blogs that have front-end posting forms, so it’s been a while since I tried to access DFW mode. But I was going to be writing a long post, and I wanted to go over into that peaceful screen, so I clicked on the full-screen icon. That’s when I discovered that what I thought was DFW Lite was actually the new DFW. There was no more new screen.

At first I thought,”Hm, that’s a lot more efficient. Good for them!” Then I started writing, and thought, “[Letters-in-a-configuration-to-replicate-my-slightly-alarmed-and-uncomfortable-sound]!” I hated to admit it, but I felt physically uncomfortable. Am I turning into Sheldon (skip to 3:34)? Crap! Anyway, here’s why I don’t love the new DFW.

When wp core switched over to the “toolbar anchors to top of editor no matter how long your post” setup, users lost the ability to grab a corner of the editor and drag it to make it taller. Since it is supposed to automatically resize as you write, most people thought this was a tradeoff with a net benefit, and even though I really didn’t want to lose my little corner resize handle, I agreed that the net benefit was worth it. The thing is, if in your head you’ve already thought out a long post, starting in the small box feels cramped, kind of like when you have to repack a sleeping bag and you’re smooshing it with all your might to get it to fit back into the compact stuff sack.

Think about opening a New Document in MS Word (or equivalent writing program) , or a writer putting a fresh piece of paper in the typewriter (for those who are too young to remember, it’s like this). There have been reams written by famous authors in the past about the feeling that action engenders — a feeling of limitless possibilities, a knock on the creative door, an open road ahead. That’s what DFW tried to emulate. Starting in the small box instead of the full height box feels like possibilities with limits, a creative window that won’t open more than 3 inches for safety, a road with one lane closed for construction. Thoughts scrunch down to try to fit into the available space.

Even when the box expands to be the height of the screen (minus padding against top and bottom of browser), a chunk of space is lost at the top for the toolbar. That fade it used to have really did remove distraction. I wish there had been a way to combine the zen of the fade away (Matt’s original nickname for DFW was zen mode) with the convenience of the always-at-top placement.

In the old DFW, the writing window really did have that feeling of a fresh New Document or crisp new sheet of paper. Now, even once it’s tall, it’s a bit off-center to the left, because that’s where the editor box is when on a screen containing navigation and metaboxes.

Screenshot of current distraction-free mode

There was a time (pre-2000) when I didn’t think too much about alignment in UIs. Then I got a lot of design ideas drilled into my head that stuck, especially regarding alignment. I like asymmetry in a lot of things, always have. Hell, in a site we were just working on one of the things we said we wanted was some asymmetry. But for DFW, the symmetry — the centeredness — was a big part of what made that screen so calming. Your brain didn’t have to do any pattern recognition or internal balancing to make it feel right. But now it skews to the left and it’s driving me crazy, Sheldon style. This isn’t zen for me; it’s a misused apostrophe, a lowercase p, a cabinet door left open.

I thought I’d be a holdout forever against using the new wordpress.com posting interface (I have a lot of issues with it, surprise), but, well, their DFW has that open and symmetrical feeling (even if it has other problems) that makes for a non-Sheldony writing experience.

Screenshot of distraction-free writing mode on wordpress.com

So this might be my last post written in wp-admin DFW mode for now. Farewell, old friend!

* * *

Standard disclaimer when writing about WordPress: This is my personal opinion. I have not been the UX lead for WordPress core for a couple of years now, so this post on my personal blog should not be seen as representing the WordPress project in any way, it’s just my personal experience with a user interface.

Hipster Pirate Recipe

This is how I make the drink known as the Hipster Pirate. Tybee Island, GA was frequented by pirates once upon a time (not this kind); an expensive and overly ethics-concerned coffee drink like a vegan mocha was considered just a bit of hipster ridiculousness by a lot of locals when I moved there. Therefore the signature drink at my Tybee cafe was named the Hipster Pirate. Also because hipsters like good coffee drinks and pirates like rum. :)

Ingredients

  • Splash of rum
  • Shot of espresso (or the result of your favorite alternate strong-coffee-brewing method — Aeropess, etc.)
  • Chocolate (syrup, powder, bar, your choice)
  • 6 – 13 oz. of your favorite non-dairy milk, depending on the size of your mug (regular milk works, too, but blech)

More on choosing ingredients in the instructions section.

Instructions

I tend to have an ingrained belief that all alcoholic coffee drinks belong in clear glass mugs on stem bases, because I grew up for a while in a restaurant that served irish coffees, but any cup* or mug will work.

Hipster Pirate in a glass mug

I only made this with layers to show Westi.  — Photo by Peter Westwood

One thing that is cool about coffee drinks in glass mugs is that if you pour it all just right, you can see the different components of the drink as layers/stripes. Then again, you want it all mixed together before you drink it, so who cares about the pretty stripes? I much prefer swirling throughout assembly so it’s all one consistent liquid.

You can be fancy and make a ritual out of assembling this drink, or you can just bung it all together in the cup in whatever order you want. It honestly won’t make much of a difference unless you are using a harder chocolate source (broken up chocolate bar, chocolate chips, thick syrup, etc), in which case go with this fancy assembly order or something similar to give the chocolate the maximum melting time.

Put the chocolate into the mug of your choice. I have tried a few different forms and have a favorite, so here’s how I think they stack up in terms of this drink.

  • Chopped up bar chocolate. This certainly looks cool. If you chop it pretty fine, it will melt relatively quickly if you stir quickly once the espresso is added, but you’ll probably have some little unmelted nibs at the end. I like this method more in theory and aesthetically than in practice. If using this method, I like to go with a high-quality dark chocolate that has a low sugar content, but whatever floats your boat will work just fine, as long as it is actual chocolate — if what you have is really a chocolate-flavored bark of hydrogenated oils, it will be super gross.
  • A chunk of a chocolate bar. I reserve this method for when I am desperately craving that sweet mocha goodness but I’ve gone to Coava and they will do a latte but not a mocha. Then I buy one of their small bars of some artisan-or-other chocolate and drop it into a latte and attempt the same stir-to-melt action that I use with chopped chocolate. It’s better than nothing, but it does not melt anywhere near enough to be satisfying, unless you like the idea of a wet chocolate bar bite at the end, analogous to eating the fruit after you’ve drained a glass of sangria.
  • Powdered drinking chocolate (like the ones from Theo Chocolates). Works okay, but you need to make sure you get the powder absorbed in the stirring with espresso or you’ll wind up with little powdered dots floating to the top after you add your milk-style liquid, making your fancy drink look like it came from a packet of swiss miss.
  • Chocolate syrup from the store. Works well, but try to be sure to get one that is made with straight up cocoa and sugar, no oils, or you might get an oily sheen/droplets on the surface of your drink, also unappealing.
  • Homemade chocolate syrup. 1:1 ratio of sugar and water to make a simple syrup over moderate heat, add cocoa powder while heating to suit your level of intensity. Keeps well for a really long time in the fridge. Gold standard in terms of meltability, cost, no unappealing visuals on top of drink or in cup afterward. Make a batch in advance sometime and bottle it up for use whenever.

Grind the coffee beans. Two elements inherent in this instruction: the bean and the grind.

  • Given the option, I prefer to get something that comes from a direct trade source that is environmentally friendly, but that’s your call. Things I look at if I’m in a situation to be choosy about beans include agricultural methods, labor practices, bird policies, and impact of the farm or plantation on the local environment and/or ecoonomy.
  • I will also choose something locally-roasted if it’s available for a few reasons. The fancy coffee roasters have told me that you should use beans within a week of being roasted, 2 weeks at most (unless they’re in an unopened vacuum-sealed package), or it’s not worth it. Other people keep an open bag of beans for months and say they can’t tell the difference. Your call, but if you care about that stuff, local roasting definitely has an edge when it comes to getting coffee in the magic window of not-too-soon-after-roasting-and-not-so-old-the-taste-declines. Plus it supports a local business, often an independent proprietor, which tends to keep more money in your community.
  • I also (I know, I know, gasp and horror) prefer to get decaf if it’s water-processed. Caffeine is just really, really bad for you (side note: if you like literature, read Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin, it’s pretty great.) and even decaf still has way more caffeine than our bodies really want or need. Fancy coffee people will tell you that decaf is an abomination and utterly intolerable. I tell you that high blood pressure, anxiety, reduced motor control, withdrawal migraines, bone loss, insomnia, and other related health effects that could be prevented by ditching caffeine are the true intolerable abominations. And if you look into the water process, it’s almost like you get coffee soaked coffee — the decaf I’m talking about is not weak, it’s delicious.
  • Fancy coffee people will say that you should grind immediately before brewing or it’s not even worth it. Since I was running a cafe that did fancy coffee, I followed this advice so the coffee would get its best shot (heh) at making a good impression on the customer. However, if you don’t have a grinder and you buy pre-ground beans, who cares? I mean, it’s the flavor you’re used to, so it won’t taste like crap to you, right? That said, if you do have a grinder, grind the beans at the appropriate grain when you’re ready to brew, and only grind as much as you’ll need.

Brew a shot of espresso (or conduct your alternate strong-brewing technique as mentioned above to acquire an equivalent amount of liquid, about an ounce, but the bullet points below refer to brewing traditional espresso) directly into the cup holding your chocolate. That said, if you don’t have room to do this because you chose a giant cup that won’t fit under your portafilter, it’ll be fine, don’t sweat it.

  • The scalding espresso will start dissolving the chocolate immediately, turning into a coffee-cocoa liquid love child.
  • You won’t lose the crema the way you do when you brew into a demitasse/shot glass/small pitcher and then pour from that into the bigger mug.
  • Depending on what kid of chocolate you used, either give the mug a swirl to ensure a good mix, or stir it with a spoon if needed.

While the shot is brewing, steam your milk-type liquid. Don’t go too hot. I used to use soy as a default, but have since switched away to hemp or almond or coconut or hazelnut or some such, now going to soy only when it’s the only option. Try not to get crazy with the foam — microfoam is your friend. Fancy coffee people will want you to give your steaming pitcher a couple of taps on the counter and a swirl to settle before pouring the liquid into your mug. This is okay, because it gives you a second to pour a splash of rum into the coffee-cocoa love child mixture.

Pour a splash of rum into the coffee-cocoa love child mixture. Fancy liquor distributors might tell you all kinds of things about various producers and varieties, but forget ‘em. Just get some basic plain white rum at the liquor store.

Pour in your steamed milk. The pouring will swirl together the ingredients already in the mug, so you shouldn’t need to stir it unless you are still trying to get solid chocolate to melt or something. Or unless you made layers because you think they are pretty, in which case admire the pretty and then stir it out of existence. Fancy coffee people make pictures likes leaves and hearts and other elaborate markings in the microfoam. I don’t bother, but if you want to learn it is not hard and there are lots of latte art instructional videos online.

Put your hands around the warm mug and feel cozy.

Drink your hipster pirate and feel warm and snuggly and like one big contented sigh. That is all.

*It’s worth noting that the hipster pirate can also be enoyed in a to-go cup, but I do recommend reusable travel mugs over disposables — those “compostable”  paper cups are mostly lined with corn-based plastic and will almost certainly not be composted unless you live somewhere with a commercial composting facility willing to accept them. I live in a composting mecca and even we can’t compost these damn cups.

Holiday De-Stress: Community Acupuncture

From what I see at the store, in the street, and on the web, a lot of people are starting to get pretty stressed out. I stopped celebrating Christmas years ago, but I see my friends and family and coworkers and acquaintances getting more tense as the holiday approaches, over all kinds of things —  family commitments, travel, expensive gift bills, trying to keep the Santa myth alive for your kids, having an existential crisis over Christianity and the conflation of Christ’s theoretical spring birth with the pagan Yule/Saturnalia/Insert-winter-holiday-here to try and get more converts, whatever. I’d like to offer a cheap yet healing suggestion for how to de-stress this holiday season: community acupuncture!

Community acupuncture is practiced in group settings, with patients fully clothed and relaxing in recliners rather than lying on a table. There are a bunch of reasons for why it is done this way that I’ll likely write about at some point, but in the meantime, use google if you are curious. :) Anyway, community acupuncture clinics make this form of healthcare more accessible and affordable to many people, and it’s much less intimidating than a solo session for the uninitiated. I’ve been getting acupuncture for something like 20 years, and though I have loved my solo acupuncturists in the past, I don’t see wanting to go back to that model (for one thing — so expensive!). Community acupuncture clinics that are members of POCA (People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, a co-op that oversees the evolution of the model and sets standards for community acupuncture) generally have a sliding scale for treatments that goes as low as $15, compared to the average $100 per treatment at a solo office. This means you can get more treatment within your budget, and in the case of dealing with injuries or conditions in need of multiple treatments, this is important.

But right now, we’re just talking about de-stressing a little bit. Acupuncture works great for this. “But how can putting needles in your body be relaxing?” you might ask. The needles are really filaments not much thicker than a piece of my hair. In many cases you can’t even feel them go in. When you do, it usually doesn’t hurt. In those cases where it does hurt, it subsides almost immediately as your body responds.

So consider de-stressing with community acupuncture. You can search for a POCA clinic near you. Pro tip: Join POCA before you go to your first appointment. Annual membership is also sliding scale ($25 – $100), and the benefits pay for themselves immediately. As a POCA member, the $15 new patient intake fee that most clinics charge is waived, so you save that immediately. You also get a coupon for a free treatment the week of your birthday, so that pretty much covers the membership paying for itself. You also get 3 coupons for friends/family to get a free visit to a POCA clinic so they can try it out. There’s other co-op type stuff like voting rights and discussion boards, but that’s irrelevant to most people reading this. Financially, if you are going to try it, you might as well just join POCA because it’s a better deal.

I haven’t been to all that many POCA clinics yet, but there are a couple I can recommend first-hand:

So, try community acupuncture and relax!

Crow

Yesterday when I came home from co-working with Andrea (all WCSF, all the time, that’s us), I was surprised to see a crow sitting in my front yard. You don’t usually see crows sitting on the ground, so at first I thought it had been injured — despite repeated pleas from the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy for people to keep their cats indoors, there are a lot of free-roaming cats in my neighborhood. I walked toward it to check (I grew up with an endless stream of injured wild animals being rehabbed thanks to my mom and grandparents), but it stood up and started walking around.
a crow in the front yard
As I got even closer it finally flew away, and I went about my business.

This morning I walked over to the coffee shop on the corner while it was still dark. When I came back the sun was up and I saw something dark in the yard in the same spot the crow had been sitting in the day before. It was the crow again. I thought maybe it was sick or stunned, but I could walk right up to it and it was not moving — neither the tremble that goes with the trauma stillness so common to birds, nor any movement indicating breathing. So I guess it died. Why it came back to that same exact spot I have no idea. It didn’t really look like it had fallen out of the air while flying, it looked like it had been sitting there again and keeled over (though I suppose Jasper the neighbor cat might have had a hand in it, I didn’t see any obvious attack signs).

They say finding a dead crow on your lawn is a sign of good luck, because crows in general are an omen of death and misfortune. I happen to really like crows and don’t think of them that way (possibly because of nursing a crow back to health with my family when I was a kid). To me it just means I have to dig a hole (note to self: buy shovel since SE Tool Library not open until weekend) and bury the bird. That said, I have a couple of trees arriving this weekend that I’m supposed to plant anyway, so at least one of them will get some good fertilizer.

Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist

Jen Mylo:

Kat just saved me a couple thousand words.

Originally posted on this is not a pattern:

A friend of mine posted this on Twitter:

I really respect the amount of self-awareness it takes to ask that question! It’s easy to disavow the trolls sending rape and death threats, but it takes much more courage to acknowledge that you might be perpetuating harmful attitudes in less-obvious ways.

[Author’s Note: I felt like it was important to establish some context, but you can also skip the 101-level discussion and jump right to the list.]

This question hints at two important concepts: implicit biases and microaggressions.

We have all internalized harmful stereotypes about women — it’s part of growing up in a culture that inculcates gender roles from a very early age. Our culture has deeply-embedded patriarchal power structures (ditto racist and classist and ableist and transphobic and homophobic…

View original 2,602 more words

Site Setup Journal: Act II

Act II: Setting Up WordPress

Previously in Site Setup Journal: Prologue and Act I: Domains and Hosting.

One-Click Install Attempts

1-click installs are totally the way to go, right? I mean, 1-click sounds faster and easier than the famous 5-minute install that you get if you do it manually over FTP (according to the Codex). I immediately go into the Dreamhost control panel and went for a 1-click.

Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 6.36.55 AM

Okay, so 1-click, but 10 minutes. That doesn’t seem right, that it should take twice as long for the automated 1-click install as for a manual one. Well, too late now, right? Guess I’ll go feed the cats while I wait.

I have to kill a little more time than just feeding the cats, but eventually I get an email from Dreamhost telling me my WordPress install is ready for me, and linking me to install.php to set up an admin user and get going. I click the link and get a white screen. Hm. Try again. Hm. Open up FTP to see if the files are there, and they are. Start wondering if maybe 1-clicks can’t handle being in a subdirectory (where I’d put it), so think I’ll try another one in the root. Same thing, the 10-minute notice. Set up web email for the domain and send a test email so I can see if it’s just the website, or if it’s everything on the domain. Webmail is also whitescreened. Hm. Status on Dreamhost says my server is going to be getting some software updates and will be offline during this maintenance, but it doesn’t look like I’m in that time window. I get a 2nd automated email saying the 2nd 1-click has failed. I head into the support section.

The Live Chat support option shows as available, but when I click it it says that due to heavy activity there will be a 5-hour wait. Come on, just take down the Live Chat option when it’s 4am and you don’t have people on staff. I send an email, then another (first one re white screen, 2nd re install failure). In the meantime I start scrubbing through the Dreamhost support wiki.

I find the answer to the 2nd install failure before support gets back to me. Apparently, 1-clicks don’t work if there is anything in there already. So since I already have a subfolder in the root domain (from the 1st 1-click), trying to do a 1-click into the root won’t work. I have to empty it out first. That doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever. I wind up deleting everything via FTP and doing a manual install instead. Two, actually.

Manual Install

Well, then, back to the WordPress.org!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.04.50 AM

The “handy guide” is the Codex’s installation instructions page. Let’s take a look.

Before You Start

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.22.15 AM

1. Minimum server requirements. As it happens, I had checked the php version stuff when I re-upped the hosting account for this domain, and had upped the version of PHP. Someone setting things up without my account gymnastics wouldn’t have encountered that, though, so I set out to find my hosting versions as specified in the ask-for-it text on the requirements page on wordpress.org:

  • PHP 5.2.4 or greater
  • MySQL 5.0 or greater
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module

I log into the Dreamhost control panel. I look for a navigation label that says something like hosting environment, version information, about, etc. Don’t see anything. Click into Manage Account, nothing. Click into Manage Domains. Oh ho!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.28.41 AM

Clearly I’d only upped the version on the one domain, not both on that account, but even so, I can see that the php versions are both above the minimum requirement to run WordPress.

Next up, MySQL version. Clicking the MySQL Databases navigation item seems the most likely, so I do. Nope. No information shown here about MySQL versions. You’d really think you would see that on the page labeled MySQL Databases, wouldn’t you? There is a link on that screen to phpMyAdmin, so maybe I can find it there. Wait — Authentication Required!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.39.09 AM

Bah, which username and password combination does it want? The hosting account (server?) or a database user? A note here saying which password is needed would be helpful. I can’t get in with the ones I know off the top of my head so I close out of that and go back to the main Dreamhost control panel (the phpMyAdmin attempt had bumped me into a new tab). In the search box at the top, I type “MySQL version” and hit enter. The page refreshes, but I’m still on the MySQL Databases page where there is no version info displayed. I think maybe there’s some documentation with version info, so I look for support.

Now, having been around a long time, I know that Wiki, a small link in the upper right corner, means documentation. But a lot of people don’t (I doubt my mom — the most recent person to ask me to set up a site — would), so for the sake of the experiment I go looking for a Help or Docs or Support link. I find it (Support) in the bottom left navigation after scrolling down (below the fold), because for some reason the “Goodies” navigation section is open. Why? Because apparently that’s where the MySQL Databases page actually lives, despite being in the navigation up above as a top-level item. Come on, Dreamhost, who’s your information architect, and what are they doing?

Anyway, I click on Support. It drops a layer with 3 options. Contact, History, and Data Centers. Why not have a link here for Wiki (or better, Documentation, which is less jargony)? Hmph. If you do click on Contact Support, it takes you into a form. There’s a live chat button, but no links here to documentation either. Hm, what’s this “Help is Off” button?

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.48.09 AM

I decide to click it. Then I see this:

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.48.47 AM

Oh, how handy, a link to documentation and forums. Why it’s even optional to hide that text is ridiculous. Anyway, to the wiki!

On the Wiki Home there is a nice little menu, and MySQL is listed there, so I click it. I come to another list of topics. None of them say Version, so I start clicking them in the order that makes the most sense. MySQL and PHP does not have version info. Neither does phpMyAdmin, but it does tell me that the authentication password request was for the database user password. Upgrading from MySQL 4.1 to 5.0 tells me that, “DreamHost is currently slowly upgrading your MySQL servers from version 4.1 to 5.0. You can also email support and request they upgrade your databases. There are some incompatibilities between versions 4.1 and 5.0, particularly with JOINs. This upgrade could cause some breakage of your application(s).” It does not say how to tell which version you are currently on. At this point, some people might email support, but I think a lot would just shrug and decide to take a chance and hope they were already on 5.0. So I do that. Because let’s face it, any host that is listed on wordpress.org/hosting had better be running the minimum requirements, right?

Mod_rewrite! Since I’m already in the wiki, I do a search for “mod_rewrite Apache module,” the last item in the ‘email your host” list. The 4 search results are not helpful in any way. I remove “Apache module” from the search term and try again. Lots of results, none of them helpful. I decide again to shrug and assume, because this documentation is for the birds when it comes to confirming minimum requirements, and who has time to wait for support emails? Not me!

Around now I get an email from support about my earlier white screen issue. They say that it’s because the DNS hasn’t finished replicating. I might add that there’s a “works for me” comment in there that makes me purse my lips. But I stop to think about DNS. Yes, in the past I’ve had to set up a temp site on a dreamhosters subdomain if I wanted to work on a site before DNS caught up. Pain in the ass, yeah? Having to then do a move once the real domain is showing up? I hadn’t thought about that this time because the GoDaddy registration of the domain had been pointing at Dreamhost servers all along. I guess the hosting being down and then up created a DNS interruption. It was not explained to me satisfactorily, but I move on. Specifically, to step 2 of preparing for the install.

Step 2. Download the latest release of WP. Easy. Go to wordpress.org, click the big Download button. Oh, okay. That wasn’t really a download button, that was a navigation link to a download page. Okay. I skim the content in the middle and go to click on the… oh, that button at the bottom of the content area is to find a mobile app, and goes to a site at get.wp.com. That’s not right. Oh, there’s the real download button up in the sidebar. It seems like those should have been switched, but whatever. Click! Download! 6.3MB, it takes 7 seconds.

Step 3. Unzip the file. Also easy. Do Show in Finder from the download bar on the bottom of my browser, double click the file, see the wordpress folder appear. 3 seconds.

Step 4. Secure password for secret key. Click on the link to read about it. Get distracted by the big-ass blue-i information icon alert at the top that says, “Interested in functions, hooks, classes, or methods? Check out the new WordPress Code Reference!” Why is that following me around on every page of the Codex? For someone installing WordPress for the first time, that is not helpful. At all. Further, there’s no x to dismiss the box, so if I’m not interested, I still have to scroll past it every time, and it pushes the content farther down on the page, not to mention making me feel like I’m probably not in the right place because they obviously think I am way technical. (Tangent: People keep saying that the fold is dead, but I think they are wrong.) Anyway, I’m already confused. I clicked on a link that said  Secure password for secret key, but I don’t see that language on this page. It doesn’t anchor link me to the specific section I needed, so I guess I have to read this whole page? With multiple mentions of passwords but no headlines that say secret key? I command+f to do a search for text on the page, which shows that “secret key” is mentioned in the section titled Security Keys. Hmph. Would a little consistency here be so much to ask?

Read the section. Questions that should be answered in this section before jumping into the history of adding stuff.

  • What is a key?
  • What is a salt?

Then it shows what secret keys look like from the online generator. Cool, I like online generators. But the wording all over is inconsistent and confusing — is it one secret key, or four, or eight? And where do I set a secure password for the key (or keys)? I don’t understand this! So! Many! Words! Used! Indiscriminately!

I cheat and use the fact that I know what all that confusing language means, and what it wants, which is simply the block of generated keys and salts, not a password for them.

Step 5. Print this page. So I have it handy during installation? I’m thinking this list was written in the days before browser tabs, because why would I print it when I can just keep a tab open? Silly directions. But! On to the actual install!

Famous 5-Minute Install

That sure was a lot to do before doing the install, but I’m ready now!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.06.30 AM

Download and unzip — check. This step, which was 2 of the steps in the Before You Install list, took under a minute total, about 20% of a 5-minute install.

Create a database and a MySQL user — check. This takes a couple of minutes. I have to log in to the hosting panel, locate MySQL Databases in the menu, and scan the resulting page to orient myself. The first thing on the page is creating a new hostname, and the WP instructions didn’t say anything about creating a new hostname. Below that is create a database, which has fields to create the first user at the same time. There’s no instruction on the difference between a database user, an ftp user, and an account user. I go ahead and made new host, db, and user (and while I’m in there I delete the databases left from the aborted 1-clicks), but I think it would intimidate someone who hadn’t done it before and didn’t really know what a database was in relation to a hosting account or a website. This takes me a minute or two, but would probably take someone who’d never done something like this a little longer, maybe up to 5 while they tried to grok the setup page on the host panel.

Edit wp-config.php — check. This step is labeled optional, but I’m not sure why. If you click the Editing wp-config.php link, it says WP will create the config file for you from info you enter, and that turning wp-config-sample.php into a real wp-config.php file is for advanced users. If it works fine to have it be auto-generated, then why have this step in there at all? If it’s really better to do it manually, then why have the auto-create version? In any case, I’m used to editing the config file at this step, so I do it. Takes a couple of minutes because I had to go back and forth between tabs and copy/paste stuff. I happen to have Coda installed so the file opened in that program, but normally I’d have used textedit.

At this point I’ve passed 5 minutes.

Upload files via FTP — check. I open Transmit and start the transfer. It takes twelve minutes. Why? My first guess is that it is shipping with 3 default themes now, all with retina-ready images. But I don’t know, I could be wrong. I know I don’t need all those themes, so I delete Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Thirteen while I’m in FTP, and plan to start out with Twenty Twelve.

Tangent: Why do I want to start with Twenty Twelve? I think Twenty Thirteen is really aimed at bloggers and it has an overwhelming brand/design to it. The site I’m making is for a class, and needs to be chill. Twenty Fourteen I just personally don’t like, for the same reasons I don’t like the general mp6 coloring/style, which I’ve posted about elsewhere before.

Run the script at the URL where you installed — screeech! Screech to a halt here, because I wind up on another white screen. Side note: the wordpress.org instructions say to go right to the root URL, not to install.php directly (like the 1-click email tells you). Are they two different locations? Does install.php automatically load at root? Bah.

I go ahead and do a second manual install, so now I have one in root and one in a subdirectory. White screens on both. So it seems that the DNS stuff is really going to hold things up. I decide to go to school and finish it off when I get home that night.

INTERMISSION

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in Act III, which will cover finishing the WP install, installing BuddyPress and other plugins, and setting up BuddyPress.

 

Passion Flower

passion flower

I live a block from Albina Press (Hawthorne location), a coffee shop that has a reputation for brewing Stumptown coffee better than Stumptown. When I walk there, I always pass this house with a great passion flower vine that covers their fence. Passion flower has been used effectively to treat anxiety, coming out as effective as some pharmaceuticals. I haven’t used it for that; I just think it’s pretty.