WordCamp Chicago 2016 slides

I just finished giving a talk at WordCamp Chicago titled “Backward Compatibility as a Design Principle”, in which I discussed WordPress’s approach to backward compatibility, how it’s evolved over the years, and its costs and benefits when compared to the alternatives. I’m not sure that the slides are very helpful in isolation, but someone asked me to post them, and I am not one to disappoint my Adoring Fans. Embedded below.


download as pdf

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BuddyPress Docs 1.9.0 and Folder support

BuddyPress Docs is one of my more popular WordPress plugins. For years, one of the most popular feature requests has been the ability to sort Docs into folders. Docs 1.9.0, released earlier this week, finally introduced folder functionality.

The feature is pretty cool. When editing a Doc within the context of a group, you can select an existing folder, or create a new one, in which the Doc should appear. Folders can be nested arbitrarily. Breadcrumbs at the top of each Doc and each directory help to orient the reader. And a powerful, AJAX-powered directory interface makes it easy to drill down through the folder hierarchy. (Folders are currently limited to groups, which simplifies the question of where a given folder “lives”. An experimental plugin allows individual users to use folders to organize their personal Docs.)


I’ve got a couple reasons for drawing attention to this release. First, the Folders feature was developed as part of contract work I did for University of Florida Health. They use WordPress and BuddyPress for some of their internal workspaces, and the improvements to BuddyPress Docs have helped them to build a platform customized to their users’ specific needs. My partnership with UF Health is a great instance of a client commissioning a feature that then gets rolled into a publicly available tool – the type of patronage that demonstrates the best parts of free software development as well as IT in the public sector.

A bonus side note: UF Health Web Services is currently hiring a full-time web developer. If you know PHP, and want a chance to work with cool people on cool projects – including WordPress and BuddyPress – check out the job listing.

The other fun thing about this release is that it’s the first major release of Docs where I’ve worked closely with David Cavins, master luthier and BuddyPress maven. He’s a longtime contributor to Docs, and has done huge amounts of excellent work to bring 1.9.0 to fruition. Many thanks to David for his work on the release!

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Previously: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

I wrote one year ago that 2015 would be a hard year. And so it was. Here’s the requisite Dec 31 braindump.

In January, I became a dad again. Seeing my two kids grow together and become friends has been one of the privileges of my life. But the logistics of having two kids is pretty different (and much more exhausting) than when you’ve got just one child. The process of finding balance is ongoing.

The other big event of the year is that, in July, our family moved from New York City to Chicago. Moving sucks. It’s expensive, it’s disorienting, it’s inconvenient. My possessions were in limbo with the moving company for something like 13 days. Practicalities aside, it’s hard to leave NYC. While I grew up in the Midwest, I spent my entire adult life in New York and feel like a New Yorker. There’s something about New York that features more prominently in its residents’ inner ideas about who they are than when you live in, say, Ohio. In the same way as when I left graduate school, I’ve had to face this miniature identity crisis by reevaluating those aspects of my former life that are actually (ie, not just conventionally) central to what makes me tick, and then find a way to fit them in the context of my new life. This project is also ongoing 🙂

Partly in response to my man-without-a-country malaise, and partly out of philosophical motivations, I poured myself into free software contribution in 2015. More than 50% of my working year was spent doing unpaid work on WordPress, BuddyPress, and related projects. (More details.) I’m a vocal proponent for structuring your work life in such a way that it subsidizes passion projects, though numbers like these make me wonder whether there’s a limit to how far this principle can be pushed. I guess I’ll continue to test these boundaries in 2016.

One of the things I’d like to do in 2016, as regards work balance, is to find more ways to work with cool people. I am a proud lone wolf, but sometimes I feel like there’s a big disconnect between my highly social free software work and my fairly solitary consulting work.

Happy new year!

Posted in 2015, Chicago, fatherhood, New York City, wordpress, year in review | Comments Off on 2015

WordCamp NYC talk on the history of the WordPress taxonomy component

At WordCamp NYC 2015, I was pleased to present on the history of the WordPress taxonomy component. Of all the WordCamp talks I’ve given, this one was the most fun to prepare. I spent days reading through old Trac tickets, the wp-hackers archives, and interview transcripts. The jokes are mostly mediocre and the Photoshopping is (mostly intentionally) lousy, but I think the talk turned out OK. Check it out below, or on wordpress.tv.

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assignment foo

On masculinity and il Duce: If “it is through symbols that individuals are socialized – coming to share the rules, ideas, and values of the group as well as coming to learn their roles in relation to everyone else” (Charon 60), then it seems clear, in view of the frenetic propagandistic activity of Mussolini’s Fascist government and its promotion of him as the male model which all Italian men were to emulate, that Mussolini was indeed representative of hegemonic Italian masculinity, though that hegemony remained at least partially compromised, given that “Italian individualism, the fruit of secular, geographic, historical and cultural divisions, was perhaps the strongest obstacle to homogeneous transformations” (Gori 55) – (I would also add linguistic divisions as well, as this aspect is so crucial to regional identity). It might perhaps be more precise to contend that Mussolini was representative of a hegemonic masculinity that was imperfectly imposed upon the fractured, divided and divisive Italian populace. Gori goes so far as to claim that “[Italians] acted more like spectators than actors” (52) to the fascist enterprise. I find this attitude quite typically Italian, this shrug in the face of authority, a sort of noncompliance that may be politically motivated or not, but has as its effect the impotence of any governing body to unite the Italian people under one ideology or concept of the nation.

Mangan identifies as endemic to all fascist enterprises the concept of “the martial male body as a symbol of state power: his powerful body personified the powerful state.” Mussolini, in contrast to the rather prim Franco and the decidedly unathletic Hitler, incarnated the state through the representation of his body as virile, athletic, and robust. “During the years of his government, Mussolini showed himself to the world, as an outstanding athlete… He had himself photographed while running with soldiers, skiing… and revealing his naked torso without embarrassment” (Gori 43) – it is difficult (and not a little nauseating) to imagine either Franco or Hitler displaying their bodies in this way, though Putin is happily emulating him.

It is also worth noting that this quasi-worship of the youthful, athletic male body – whether the Duce’s body, usually filmed from below “in order to lengthen his rather stumpy figure” (Gori 37) or the nude colossi designed by Enrico del Debbio – was ambivalent. To cite one example, there was intense anxiety around the homoeroticism of these figures and a particularly strong reaction against more Nazi-inflected art featuring nudes because the “beautiful and muscular nudes suggested to Italian minds homoerotic sexual tendencies” (Gori 54) and this taboo, like the negative reaction towards the Nazi-influenced anti-Semitic race laws, ultimately weakened Mussolini’s hold on the Italian political imagination.

In contrast to Hitler’s goal of “the supremacy of the Aryan race in the world… the Duce’s aim remained substantially the transformation of his people’s character” (Gori 53); this aim was not accomplished. Mussolini succeeded to an astonishing degree in his endeavor to be the living embodiment of the Fascist ideology, but “isolated like a god on his Olympus,” (Gori 38) he doomed the Fascist state by becoming it. If Fascist Italy and Fascist ideology ARE Mussolini, a mortal man if a god-like one, then they too are mortal and therefore doomed to meet their end.

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