Starting the Knoxville WordPress Meetup

Back in September, I started the Knoxville WordPress Meetup group, and we’ve been meeting ever since. Last week, Jane Wells, who does project management (and many other things) for the downloadable WordPress software, announced that the WordPress Foundation was working toward helping foot the bill and provide resources for local meetup groups, and she followed the announcement up yesterday with an account on her personal blog of how her startup of two local meetups had gone. I thought I’d update here with the progress of my little group as well.

We held our first meetup in October. I paid for the meetup.com registration out of my pocket (one of the things the foundation’s support will prevent the need for) and just proposed a time, date, and place. I tweeted about it and posted to Facebook, but these aren’t terribly great advertising channels for me, as most of the people who follow me on Twitter aren’t local (I’m a hermit in real life), and most of my local Facebook friends could care less about a WordPress meetup. I also have a hangup about spamming people. I was surprised when people started joining the meetup group and even more so when eight or nine of us showed up for the first meetup. We met at a Panera, and the agenda included basically a meet and greet, plus discussing what we might like to cover at future meetups. We settled on second Tuesdays at 7:30 as our general meeting times.

One of the attendees, Mike, whom I’ve known for upwards of a decade by now, happens to be on the board of a local organization that has a small space for coworking and community technology-related meetings. He offered the space for future meetups, and I took him up on it, not least of all because I’m shy about flying any sort of flag about myself and my interests in public places like Panera. A restaurant was great for a first meeting, but I was happy to have a dedicated, private facility at my disposal, and we’ve met there ever since. I’d say we could probably grow to 20 or so people in this facility before needing to find something bigger.

In November, we had a smaller crew, and though I had hoped that some of the WordPress novices (or at least those who blogged but didn’t really know much about theming or development) would show up to take advantage of what I had billed as a theming workshop, we were mostly a few developer types. I gave a little presentation about theming and we chatted a bit, but it wasn’t, to my mind, the most successful of meetings. I had hoped some of the more technical among us could help some of the less technical with specific problems they were having with their themes (hence the “workshop” title), but it wound up being me giving some info without any application of it. (That said, some of the info seemed to be new and interesting even to the developers who showed up.)

One of the challenges, when you’re a small group with mixed experience (ie, developers and non-developers) is finding a way to hold meetings that interest everybody. Topics that require too much technical knowledge will stink for the novices, and many topics that would be helpful for the novices would be a snooze for developers. As you get bigger and can break into smaller groups, I suspect this becomes less of a problem, but when you can count your attendees on one hand, or one hand and a couple of fingers, splitting up isn’t really a great option.

For our December meeting, we were again a smallish crew, and I gave a presentation on securing your WordPress blog. It seemed to be pretty well received, and of course, although I was giving a presentation, we also had back-and-forth and sidebars where needed.

I was too lazy busy over the holidays to put together any sort of presentation, so for our January meeting, I proposed the topic “Bring a Question or Problem,” figuring that even if those present didn’t know the answers offhand, we could go hunting for answers and help each other out. With eight confirming that they would attend, I thought we might be on the verge of having a lift in our attendance numbers, but only five of us showed up. Still, there were some good beginner questions and one slightly more technical question I really enjoyed trying to help out with. The format here worked very well for our small group. Mike proposed in the Meetup forums that even when we have some formal topic or presentation, we keep it fairly brief and dedicate a hefty chunk of our time to Q&A, and I think he’s got the right idea. Of course, if nobody has any questions, I guess we’ll wind up having a short meetup.

So, there’s a history of the Knoxville WordPress meetup to date. Our regular time slot in February falls on Valentine’s Day, and I’m working on trying to figure out whether to cancel or move the meetup. Our topic will be “Squeezing Performance out of WordPress” (something I need to read up on a bit beforehand). This is one of those tricky ones that would be easy to make too technical for novices and not technical enough for developers, so finding the right balance may be tricky. I’ll probably err to the side of simplicity but try to have a little more technical info in my back pocket for any sidebars that come up among the developers.

Our meetup page boasts 23 members, though we’ve never yet beat the attendance record we set at our first meeting. Those of us who have shown up pretty regularly seem to have a good rapport, and I enjoy the meetups. They force me to formalize some of the vague knowledge I have about using certain features of WordPress, which is part of why I started the group to begin with.

Knoxville WordPress Meetup

In August, I went to St. Louis to meet with members of my team at Automattic. Among the many fun things we did while there, we (some 20 of us) descended upon the St. Louis WordCamp. For the person-and-a-half who reads this blog and doesn’t know what a WordCamp is (of the maybe four people who read the blog, period), it’s an inexpensive conference at which people convene to learn about WordPress. Like any conference, a WordCamp hosts speakers who know a bit about what they’re talking about, and then others give of their time to volunteer to staff the event. Still others spend their time and money attending the event. In St. Louis, the audience seemed pretty varied. I spoke to people who simply wanted a little help setting up their blogs, and of course many in attendance knew a great deal about the guts of WordPress.

At the end of the day, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg stopped by and did a Q&A, and during this hour or so of candid chat, a humbling thought occurred to me: These people had organized themselves around a set of products and services that I’m fortunate enough to have the privilege of working on. Let me frame that a little differently. Imagine you work for a company that makes widgets. One day, you learn that people all over the world are spending great effort and money from their own pockets to gather voluntarily and talk enthusiastically about your widgets. Even if you’re passionate about fabricating widgets, it’s still kind of amazing to think that people like your widgets enough to assemble and talk about them as if they were, well, important, valuable, enriching. It was a great feeling to bring away from that WordCamp.

For those not lucky enough to have WordCamps organized in their necks of the woods, there are of course WordPress meetups, which are less formal, typically free, smaller gatherings of WordPress enthusiasts and users. Inspired by my experience in St. Louis, I decided after my return home to set up a WordPress meetup of my own. And then I promptly let it sit untended.

My neglect was based on a few things:

  • I’ve never been to a WordPress meetup and don’t know exactly what goes on there or how to run one.
  • I’m generally very shy.
  • Although I’ve used WordPress off and on (mostly on) for many years now, I hadn’t done much recent development on the platform. Even my job with Automattic sees me working more on the non-standard bits of the code than on the core code. So although I’m in the position of someone who might seem to be something of an authority on WordPress, there’s still a whole lot that I don’t know. Accordingly, I fear that as the putative authority founding a meetup group, I’ll fall far short of expectations.

Bah, excuses, excuses. Today, I’ve bitten the bullet and scheduled the first actual meetup gathering for the group I hope to start. So far, three people (including me) are members of the group, and I’m the only one who’s RSVP’d. If you happen to be a Knoxville blogger, developer, or designer (or anything else) who’s interested in WordPress, I hope you’ll visit the meetup page and consider keeping me from being lonely at the event I’ve scheduled for a few weeks hence. If anybody shows up, we’ll do introductions, get a feel for where people’s experience/comfort with WordPress is generally oriented, and try to figure out where to go next.

Christmas in August

I’ve been eagerly anticipating for weeks now the arrival of a couple of work-related items. The first was a Timbuktu bag for my laptop. I had one of these years ago that Flock gave staff members, but it was entirely too small. It wouldn’t hold the oversize laptops I tended to get, and even if I had had a smaller laptop the thing could contain, there was precious little room for anything else in it. When I travel, I tend to have an assortment of books, cables, often a portable keyboard and stand for my laptop, etc. So the Flock bag never worked out for me.

The new bag, embroidered with the WordPress logo, could just about carry my whole trip’s worth of belongings. I requested a large backpack because I’ve been sporting a 17″ MacBook Pro for a couple of years now, and boy would this thing hold it. It’s more like the backpack wears me than like I wear it. My sense of this is exaggerated, of course, because I haven’t yet put anything in the bag, and it’s not at all broken in. I think it’ll be a great bag. (It was also stuffed with a couple of WordPress shirts and a mug.)

What makes the size all the more comical is that I have economized what I’ll be carrying around with me when I use the bag. Along with the bag, I also took delivery yesterday of a new 13″ MacBook Air, which is a good deal smaller than the 17″ MBP I’ve been lugging around. I feel like I’m working on an iPhone by comparison, and I feel as if I could tuck the thing inside one of the smaller pockets of my new bag (and lose it in there). I’ve also recently gotten a small Kindle, so that rather than porting around a behemoth laptop and several thick books, I’ve now got two slim devices and a whole bunch of empty space to carry around.

So far, I’m digging the laptop, though since I connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to it and use it on a stand as if it were a desktop machine, I’ve hardly taken advantage yet of its compactness. The thing is super fast, though, and so far it stays pretty cool (my other was a scorcher) and makes none of the worrisome sounds I had grown accustomed to. One of my favorite things is the MagicPad trackpad I got to go along with it. I’m still getting used to the various gestures for doing things, but once I get the appropriate muscle memory for them, I’m really going to like the way the trackpad changes my workflow. I may actually use some of the workflowy features of the new Lion OS whose cousins I’ve always dispensed with in earlier OSes. This already beats using the little bluetooth mouse I had been using, with its scroll ball that was perpetually broken for me.

Last, I recently got new business cards, which give me an odd sense of belonging (by which I mean that I feel a little out of my league here at Automattic, and having business cards and company equipment reassures me that there aren’t imminent plans to fire me). The business cards are nifty, turned sideways and featuring my ubiquitous snarly avatar and a QR code going to my gravatar profile on the back.

And that’s that. Christmas in August. Now back to work!

Concentrate

Shockingly, the company I now work for doesn’t much use email for person-to-person communication. I get many svn commit messages and various other automated notifications per day, but it’s rare to exchange email with a human being. We use irc and a special blog theme that makes it very easy to carry on threads in full view of everybody in the company. It’s great that we’re so open, but with something like 80 of these little blogs, some of which are pretty high-traffic, it can get a little overwhelming. Further, I have jabber notifications set up for many of the blogs, so that any time there’s a new post or a new comment, my instant messenger client bounces and beeps at me. When the blogs are really hopping, this absolutely kills my productivity because I’m a magpie who can’t leave the little alerts be for more than a couple of minutes.

Enter Concentrate, a neat little application that helps you do what its name suggests it might. In a nutshell, you define a thing you’d like to concentrate on (in my case “Development” and “Writing” so far) and then define a series of actions that can be performed or suppressed. You might tell it to deny you access to Facebook, for example, or you might tell it to open some app or another. Then you set a time limit, and while the timer’s ticking, you’re barred from doing the things that steal your attention.

I don’t post a lot on Twitter, and I’ve pared my contacts down pretty well, but my Twitter client does pop up alerts all the time. Paired with my IM alerts, these are very distracting. So now, when I want to spend an hour doing head-down development, I tell Concentrate that I want to concentrate on development. It shuts down my Twitter client and reminds me to disconnect from the IM network that delivers the many blog notifications I find so distracting. Then, once the allotted time has gone by, it fires my Twitter client back up and reminds me to reconnect to the IM network (I could have it just shut down the IM client, but then I lose recent history, which bugs me).

I do wish there were better ways of integrating with particular apps. For example, I might have it set a Skype status or change my irc nick to dissuade people from contacting me while I’m busy. But I suspect I can do that with AppleScript if it becomes a big enough deal to me (since Concentrate can run AppleScripts).

I’ve really struggled over the last few days with getting done some tasks that have required focused attention. This little application made my day today just terribly productive. If you’re a magpie like me, I recommend it.

Legible svn diffs in Gmail

For my day job, I now have to read many svn commit messages per day, typically via email (though a view via trac is just a click away). Gmail tries to be helpful by adding underline formatting to line additions and strikethrough formatting to removals, but the result is a nasty ball of unreadable spaghetti. I went in search of an extension that would fix this for me and found the Beanstalk SVN Diff Colorizer for Gmail, which is very nearly what I was after. I made one tiny addition of removing the text-decoration properties, and now I have beautifully legible commit emails in my gmail. I went from this:

The old, busted way to read svn diffs in Gmail.

to this:

The new, awesome way to view svn diffs in Gmail.

 

And here’s the script:

// ==UserScript==
// @name          SVN Diff Colorizer for GMail (based almost wholly on Beanstalk Diff Colorizer for Gmail - http://userstyles.org/styles/14853)
// @namespace     http://userstyles.org
// @description   Adds colorization to SVN diffs received via  Could be made to work with your webmail of choice, and probably some other SVN hosts, with minimal fuss.
// @author        Matt Gillooly
// @include       http://mail.google.com/*
// @include       https://mail.google.com/*
// @include       http://*.mail.google.com/*
// @include       https://*.mail.google.com/*
// ==/UserScript==
(function() {
var css = "ins { background-color: #cfc; text-decoration: none; }\n\n  del { background-color: #fcc; text-decoration: none; }";
if (typeof GM_addStyle != "undefined") {
        GM_addStyle(css);
} else if (typeof PRO_addStyle != "undefined") {
        PRO_addStyle(css);
} else if (typeof addStyle != "undefined") {
        addStyle(css);
} else {
        var heads = document.getElementsByTagName("head");
        if (heads.length > 0) {
                var node = document.createElement("style");
                node.type = "text/css";
                node.appendChild(document.createTextNode(css));
                heads[0].appendChild(node);
        }
}
})();

The only change I made was to tweak the styles so that only the coloration (and not the line-through or underline text formatting) is displayed.

Whither Daryl?

Several months ago, I posted a status update on Facebook to let my friends know that my employment with my then-employer, Flock, was going to come to an end. Flock was bought by online gaming giant Zynga, and for various reasons I decided not to go along for the ride. Flock did need some ongoing help with the transition, however. We had a service and a few dozen servers online that needed to be kept up and running while things wound down. Flock asked if I’d be willing to stay onboard and help with that wind-down, and I agreed to do so.

Meanwhile, I interviewed at several places. Among them was a company named Automattic. Automattic is most famous for making WordPress (both the downloadable version and the service), though they provide other services as well.

I’m Christmas-morning excited to report that I’m a full-time Automattician as of today. I have the whimsical title “Happiness Gardener.” In a nutshell (without getting too technical about it), I’ll provide support primarily for the “Happiness” (or support) team in the form of internal tools. I imagine I’ll do some public-facing things as well, as part of assuring happiness among our users is trying to make it so that they don’t require support in the first place. I’m working with a great bunch of really smart, nice people, and I feel lucky to be invited along. After months of dragging along around my neck the albatross that Flock had become, it’s a real relief to have moved on and started a new and challenging venture.