Hands-on Child Theming

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A few months ago, the WordCamp Ottawa organizers asked if I’d turn my half-hour WordPress child-theming talk into a longer practical workshop. Always eager to spread the word about child themes, I agreed.

I wasn’t sure how the workshop would go, since there were a lot of unknowns: from how many people would show up and what their skill levels would be, to whether the Wifi would hold up and if I’d have too much material (or not enough) for the two-hour slot.

Fortunately it all worked out quite well, and with the help of a few excellent TAs (thank you again Shanta, Jonathan, and Rick!), a roomful of eager participants learned how to create a WordPress child theme last Sunday afternoon.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of child themes yourself, check out the theory behind them and learn when child themes are useful — then get your feet wet with the hands-on exercises.

Happy child theming!

Hey, LA

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I’ve been to Los Angeles a couple of times, but the most recent trip was over 20 years ago. On this visit, what struck me most was the disparity between rich and poor, highly privileged and not at all. Homeless people sleeping outside in a neighbourhood of multimillion-dollar beach homes. Expressive, colourful street art vs. sedate European treasures at the Getty Museum. Kids arriving at the art centre in a black smoke-spewing school bus that looked like something from the 1950s lining up alongside their preppy uniform-clad counterparts from a private school.

My recent trip was full of many contrasts like these, but since I’m usually too shy to take photos of strangers, all the images I have to offer are of inanimate objects. Here you go.

Hack Day? Yay!

Screenshot after remake
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A couple of times a year at Automattic we have a “Hack Day,” during which some of us work on a project that might not be part of our regular day or duties.

This year I rather spontaneously decided to join my teammates David Kennedy and Laurel Fulford — with input from a couple of our colleagues — in working on a remake of ThemeShaper.com, our team’s public blog devoted to WordPress theming.

It was loads of fun, and I love the result. We plan to keep iterating, as they say, but I’m pretty pleased with what we were able to do in about a day and a half. Hooray for Hack Day!

Before

before screenshot - ThemeShaper.com

After

after screenshot - ThemeShaper.com

Sugaring Off

tire sur la neige
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As thousands of my fellow Montrealers descended on downtown decked out in all things green for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, I headed out to the countryside with a group of friends for a different ritual: one involving far less alcohol, a lot more sugar, and nary a shamrock in sight.

Our destination was Mont St-Grégoire, east of Montreal, and we were going sugaring off. The springtime celebration also known as going to a sugar shack or cabane à sucre in French involves a usually-gigantic, always maple syrup-laden meal at one of Quebec’s many maple syrup producers that gears up for visitors as the sap starts to run in the province’s abundant maple-tree forests. (We produce 71% of the world’s supply of maple syrup — not bragging, just saying.😉 )

There are a couple of decadent homegrown rituals I usually save for when I’m with people new to Montreal or who are visiting — indulging in poutine is one of them; sugaring off is another. Today’s group brought together lifelong Montrealers with newcomers from the UK, France, Italy, and the United States.

As the all-you-can-eat feast began, I gave a heads-up to my end of the table that this was only the savoury start to the meal — the sweets were still to come, so be sure to save room. We worked our way through tureens of split-pea soup and platters of fluffy omelettes, sausages, roasted potatoes, baked beans, thick-sliced ham, pork ribs, and tourtière hand pies — pastry pockets filled with seasoned ground pork and beef. We liberally poured carafes of maple syurp over just about everything. In case that wasn’t enough, there were also fresh rolls, cretons (a seasoned pork spread), coleslaw, pickles, beets, and a chutney-like homemade ketchup. And let’s not forget the oreilles de crisse — a deep-fried pork jowl concoction someone once decided to name after Jesus Christ’s ears, I’m never quite sure why. The table groaned, and I think a few of us did too.

Next up: the desserts. Baskets of fluffy apple doughnuts arrived, with little pots of warm caramel sauce to pour over them, because what’s better than fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts than doughnuts drenched in warm caramel sauce. Platters of pets de soeurs appeared, little swirls of rich pastry filled with brown sugar. When we explained to the out-of-towners that these meant “nun’s farts” there may have been a few giggles — I can’t quite remember, as the sugar coma was starting to set in by then. The tarte au sucre (sugar pie) was a creamy thing of beauty, and I was told the pancakes were ethereal, but I couldn’t manage any. There are a few other sweet maple treats that weren’t served at this cabane — each has its specialties — we missed pouding chomeur (poor man’s pudding — a maple-syrup drenched white cake) and les grands-pères au sirop (grandfathers in syrup — dumplings boiled in maple syrup), but really, who would have had room?

After the repast it was time for one last indulgence. We hopped on the tractor and crossed the apple orchard — this farm does double duty — to the steamy maple shack where sap from the trees is boiled down. We stood in line and braved the final sweet tidbit: taffy on the snow, aka tire sur la neige, thickened maple syrup ladeled out on clean snow and twirled around popsicle sticks to make a maple lollipop like no other.

And with that final sublime taste of maple on our lips, we all headed home. To a nap for most of us, I suspect.

Theam in Vancouver

Theam in a Frame
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My team at Automattic is the Theme Team, and I love that we’re more commonly known by our portmanteau, Theam. We got together in British Columbia this month for our team meetup, and it was great to hang out in person with the people I chat with every day online.

We collaborated on the next iteration of the exciting Components starter-theme generator project and didn’t let the mostly grey, wet weather stop us from enjoying some of Vancouver’s nature, food, and cultural highlights.

We took advantage of a break in the weather to brave heights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. While I’ve been here several times and it’s admittedly touristy, I always love coming with new people and seeing their faces when they first catch sight of the narrow, wiggly bridge — and then the Cliffwalk!

One of the things I love about working at Automattic is that my colleagues are also my friends. I’m so glad I got to spend some time with you in person, my friends, and in my own country to boot. I hope Canada treated you well. Sorry about the weather, eh?

Five Years of Facebook

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I encountered this unassuming little anniversary reminder on Facebook today:

 Facebook screenshot: January 11, 2011 - on this day 5 years ago, you became friends on Facebook with 30 people

As you can see by the date, I was not a Facebook early adopter. In fact, for years, I called myself a Facebook Resister, and wore my defiance as a badge of pride. It didn’t bother me that others were on Facebook, it was just Not For Me. Twitter was more my thing, and as far as I was concerned, it would stay that way for as long as possible.

Here’s what I wrote in my then-company newsletter back in 2007:

My dear old friend (and Zoonini client) Victoria Stanton coined a term recently that made me howl – and she’s kindly allowed me to share it with ZooNews readers. Facebook fascism describes an increasing number of people’s irritating assumption that everyone who matters to them is signed onto Facebook and is therefore privy to their invitations, news, and other day-to-day information. As Victoria says, “Maybe that’s an extreme way of putting it, but there have been a few occasions lately where people have just assumed I’m registered and will be able to read some post they’ve made for an art event, birthday party, etc. I got an email from (my friend) and her partner who invited me to join so that I can ‘keep up with their news’. So if I don’t join, then I don’t get to know what’s going on with them?”

I have no problem with people using Facebook as a channel to disseminate information, but please folks, don’t make it the exclusive channel. It can’t be just Victoria and I who are resisting joining the Facebook throngs. We don’t want another online addiction, but we don’t want to be completely shut out of the loop!

And then one day, I relented and changed my mind about joining. (Coincidentally, so did Victoria, around the same time as me.) I realized I needed to experience Facebook for myself if I was to help my clients with social media at the time — and frankly, I was tired of feeling left out.

I remember the exact moment I finally gave in and entered the Zuckerverse. If I recall, my heart was pounding a tad. I hit Submit on the signup form — submitting in the other sense as well — and then it was done. Suddenly, I was on the inside.

Featured image (viewable when sharing on, um, Facebook) (cc) by Sam Michel

Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

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Every year at the Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, we each have to give a short presentation in front of our colleagues. This “flash talk” can be about anything at all – and it can be in any format we like, whether a more traditional talk with slides, a song, video, or interpretive dance: pretty much anything goes.

This year was my fourth Grand Meetup flash talk, and I decided I was finally ready to do something more personal. My past flash talks had been about growing garlic, the peculiarities of Quebec English, and foods from Quebec that everyone should try at least once… but this time would be different — it would be a story about me, my dad, and our hair.

I hope you like it.

Transcript

Last year, my flash talk was on growing garlic. This year, I’m going to talk about growing hair.

Even before my birth, the subject of hair in my family was fraught with anxiety. You see, my dad Bob had an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. By age six he’d already lost much of his hair.

He wore a hat constantly from 6 to 13 so the other kids wouldn’t bully him. They bullied him anyway; they knew what the hat must be hiding.

By 14 he began wearing a wig.

A pretty bad wig.

What had started out as alopecia areata was becoming alopecia universalis – as in hair loss everywhere. Eyebrows, eyelashes, leg hair, my dad was losing it all.

By his early twenties when he married my mom Ellie, he’d ditched the wig, and was attempting to pencil in the missing patches on his head instead.

Doctors didn’t know very much about alopecia back then – they don’t know much more today – but they thought there MIGHT be a genetic component, so my parents were understandably concerned this condition might be passed on to their kids.

So when their firstborn – me – came out with a small little head of dark hair, my folks were pretty relieved that I appeared to take after my mother in the hair department.

Still, my parents held their breath a bit as I grew older. Watching. Waiting.

The hair grew. And grew.

My dad stopped penciling in his head every day and eventually shaved off the last stubborn locks. They never grew back.

By the time I got to elementary school, it was clear that my thick, curly, unruly, hair was here to stay. My parents were very happy.

Ironically, I decided around that point I hated my frizz and wished I could just have straight hair, like the rest of my friends. My mom would blow-dry it for me in a vain attempt to turn tight curls into the straight hair I’d never have.

After certain really terrible haircuts – by hairdressers who hadn’t the faintest idea how to cut curly hair – I would go home feeling like I looked like Little Orphan Annie – but with MUCH less optimism.

After one particularly horrific haircut I professed to my mother quite earnestly that I needed to become a nun so I could hide my hair every day. Never mind that we were Jewish, that was just a detail. The Catholics needed nuns, surely something could be worked out.

When I got into acting, my hair took on a leading role.

Hair got big.

Hair got short.

I went through my own hat phase.

My yearbook photo was a big disappointment. I detested it so much I covered it up with a retake. This time, with a hat.

I went prematurely grey the summer I was 17. But it was just for a play.

As I got older, I gradually began to hate my hair less and less. Adolescent angst turned to adult apathy. It just didn’t matter so much anymore.

After meeting a cartoonist named Shane, he took a stab at drawing me. My hair had made an impact. You can see how he was trying to get it just right.

Five years later when we got married… he made this for our wedding cake

These days, my dad & I are both pretty accepting of our heads and our hair.

As I get older, grey hairs have come along. Real ones this time. I used to pull them out as they appeared, but in the wise words of a former hairdresser, “That’s probably not a good coping strategy.”

Will I dye my hair? Time will tell.

A few years back, a relative shared this picture of my great-grandmother Rose. I wouldn’t mind rocking the grey frizzy look as well as her someday.