Categories
WordPress

Hindsight is Twenty Twenty

WordPress 5.3 “Kirk” is out! It’s the third major WordPress release this year – and it includes some interesting changes. Let’s dive in.

Here’s a little background listening for this post, from the namesake of the 5.3 release: Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Gutenberg

Despite early reluctance to the new editor, it really seems as though the WordPress community is warming up to it. This release in particular makes some changes to Gutenberg that enable some powerful content design possibilities.

If you’ve been reluctant to give Gutenberg a shot, now might be a good time to take a fresh look. Of particular note is the Group Block.

With the group block, you could try combining multiple blocks into a “wide width” group block, with a background colour.

See how this image block is inside a group with some paragraphs? You couldn’t really do that in the 5.2 editor.

You could also save a group as a reusable block, creating an insertable multi-block section. Imagine a “buy my eBook” breakaway, or a newsletter signup.

There are still a few bugs – Gutenberg still feels to me like a late-stage beta.

Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on.

Captain James T. Kirk

But we’re getting closer. The UX of traversing through layers of nested blocks and columns has improved a lot in this release, but it’s still very clunky.

Background colour gradients didn’t make it into this release – but I think we can safely expect to see them land in 5.4.

Twenty Twenty

This is the first theme since Twenty Sixteen that I can get behind. I absolutely love it (and I’m running it on this blog).

The team behind Twenty Twenty has perfectly balanced the design’s opinion and flexibility. It seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from another personal favourite of mine: Tabor.

It’s light-weight, simple, and includes a beautiful custom typeface called Inter. Shipping an open source typeface with the theme is a stroke of genius for fighting back against Google Fonts (brilliant, but very privacy invasive).

This means that aside from Gravatar (and any embeds that I put in my posts) this site loads without calling any external scripts or styles!

a11y

Short for “Accessibility”, a11y was a huge focus in this release. Many of these updates are related to navigating the block editor with a keyboard, but the most obvious change is the WP Admin colour scheme.

Before
After

If you’re using the default colour scheme (you can change this from your profile page), WordPress is now much more high contrast – interactive controls and metaboxes have darker borders and lighter backgrounds.

Personally, I’m all for making WordPress more accessible. There has, however, been some criticism of the new design.

The old CSS was better. Now there are lines lines lines lines borders everywhere. It is really bad for eyes, like a table with dark lines…I think i will overwrite it with custom css.

Sonjoe

Is accessibility always this ugly? Or is WP ahead of the curve and all web interfaces will be this ugly eventually?

Phil

Its not only ugly, but this style is making my eyes hurt. The contrast is way to high and I’m can’t shake the feeling that I’m looking at windows 95.

tatof

Ouch! The Make Post announcing these changes has a lot more where that came from.

MacOS has a “high contrast” accessibility feature, which can be toggled on and off. That seems like a good compromise to me – even if the high contrast mode is enabled by default. The WordPress a11y team seems to have some strong opinions that run counter to that, though, so I can’t see this happening.

Admin Email Verification

Another sore point. The idea here is that WordPress will now periodically check that the admin email setting is correct. Slightly annoying, but I can see how that might solve some security problems for users who don’t log in very often.

There was some heat around this topic in the WP Australia community. Gal Baras brought up a good point:

WordPress is clearly not subscribing to the Unix philosophy of trusting the user to know what they’re doing. It keeps trying to control things based on the assumption the site owners need to be saved from themselves…

… being prompted every 6 months to verify my admin email on the number of sites I have is not making me happy.

Gal Baras

A similar tone was struck in a WP Tavern article describing the feature.

I work on hundreds of sites, for each one I have a local install and a staging site (I code locally and upload to staging for review). So two thirds of the sites I work on aren’t “real” websites and a third aren’t accessible on the web.

James Mailen

More bloat. No need for this in the core.

John Rood

The feature can be turned off with a filter (admin_email_check_interval), but maybe this should have been an option, instead?

Personally, I’ve not ever had a problem caused by this setting being incorrect, and I’ve run into the verification screen enough times that I automatically click through without actually reading it. So from that perspective, it’s more annoying than helpful for me.

The Core Team vs. The User Community

Admin email verification isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on. More interesting to me is the negative response from the community. Both on this issue, and accessibility. Has the core team learned nothing from the Gutenberg release?

Even the most enthusiastic Gutenberg proponents (I count myself among them) have to admit that the rollout of the new Editor was terrible. The Classic Editor plugin only came out last year and already it’s the fourth most popular plugin of all time!

Communication from the Gutenberg team was nowhere near good enough, and the user community felt dismissed and unheard.

It seems to me that the core WordPress team are becoming increasingly perceived as pretentious and aloof. The democratic and libertarian values that underpin WordPress are being twisted into an alarming refusal to listen.

Maybe it’s due to the “Benevolent Dictator for Life” model behind Matt Mullenweg’s leadership (there’s a WordPress Governance Project which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere). Maybe it’s a well intentioned effort to stand behind under-represented minorities, even in the face of overwhelming negative feedback.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but surely acknowledgement and empathy would be a better approach than “we think this is important, so it’s going to happen whether you like it or not”.

Categories
Future

Facebook Free

Google and Facebook are not good for the planet.

It really is as simple as that. Climate Change and Surveillance Capitalism are the two most important issues of our time.

The scariest part is that a single individual can’t really do much about it. That makes it hard to effect change. In the same way that littering once won’t destroy the ocean, scrolling your instagram feed doesn’t have any real effect on its own.

But I don’t want my kids to reside in a world destroyed by pollution, or have to sneak around in an Orwellian nightmare. I figure that if we can all pitch-in for a Plastic-Free July, then we can do the same for a Facebook-Free August.

Here’s how I removed the ever-watching eyes of Facebook and Google from my life:

Phone: I use an iPhone. Apple have a strong track record on privacy, built-in hardware encryption, and incentives aligned with keeping your data private. Android captures every little detail about your life and send it to be processed and stored indefinitely in the cloud.

Browser: I prefer Safari, but many also like Firefox. Since I’m on Mac, Safari has some great native features which I find it hard to live without.

Search: DuckDuckGo is an easy winner here. No search saving. No hidden trackers. No filter-bubble. On your phone, just go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine > DuckDuckGo, and you’re done.

Email: I use FastMail, but many also like ProtonMail. These are paid services, but then, so are reusable shopping bags. Gmail reads your emails and uses them to influence what you see online.

Social Groups: I’ve been Facebook free for a long time, and I don’t miss it. When more people are willing to be a squeaky wheel when it comes to Facebook’s “groups” feature, we’ll see alternatives become more mainstream. You can use Reddit for news and advice on specific topics. Discord is another great alternative, for communities with real-time chat.

Social Sharing: Again, this is something you can probably live without. Send photos directly to family members in an email, blog post, or iMessage. For sharing great photography, try VSCO. For beautiful video, try Vimeo. Or for inspiring digital art and design, I love Dribbble. For longer form content, create a self-hosted WordPress blog (I love Flywheel for this).

Video: There aren’t any great alternatives to YouTube. My solution was to repurpose the time I would have spent consuming video content, and use that time to be creative, instead. If you absolutely can’t live without YouTube, you can always visit it anonymously (no account needed to watch videos), and use your browser bookmarks to save your favourite channels.

Chat: iMessage is great for those with iPhones. Outside of that, consider starting a Slack or Discord for your friends – my friends have a Slack with channels for our favourite topics like VR, robotics, books, and lego.

Calendar, Contacts, Notes: I love Apple’s Calendar, Contacts, and Notes apps, with (encrypted) iCloud syncing.

Maps: Google Maps isn’t as far ahead of Apple Maps as it used to be. I’ve been using Apple Maps as my daily driver for years with barely a hitch. The Israeli startup Waze is lots of fun, but unfortunately it’s owned by Google.

News: Reddit is good here, but not as good as a variety of reliable local news. In Australia, SBS + ABC is a good combo if you can overlook a bias to the left.

Docs: Leaving Google Docs was the last and hardest step for me. Thankfully, I found Quip – which has great collaboration features, which is most of what I’m looking for. I’ve also used Apple’s Pages / Keynote / Numbers trio which have a collaborative editing feature – even in browser!

Cloud Storage: I bought a NAS, and I sync my important files to it using Synology’s CloudStation Drive app. This way, all my data is stored locally, but accessible from anywhere in the world. It’s an expensive alternative to Cloud Storage, but when you have as many photos as we do, it actually works out cheaper after about 2 years. iCloud Drive is another great option.

Video Chat: For 1:1 calls, I always prefer FaceTime if possible. Zoom is also fantastic.


Bonus: Here are some other tools I use to keep me safe and private online:

Ads: I block ads and trackers using 1Blocker (on both Mac and iOS). This only works with Safari, but it’s super-fast, efficient, and effective.

DNS: In Australia, ISP’s store all of your DNS queries, so it’s important to switch your ISP from the default. Cloudflare offer a much faster, private, and free alternative, which is so easy to setup that everyone should be using it.

VPN: I found a good deal with NordVPN, and quite like their software for Mac. Many also like ProtonVPN, which would be a great combo with a ProtonMail account.

Categories
Measure

2018 Film & TV Roundup

This year I saw 73 movies (down from 111 in 2017), and 25 full seasons of television (up from 18 in 2017).

Interestingly, the quality of the movies I watched was nearly identical between years. My average review score increased from 73% to 75%.

Top 5 Films of 2018

These are movies I watched, but weren’t necessarily released, in 2018.

5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

I went into this movie without having seen any trailers, and not knowing that it was the first of two parts. Besides the stunning visual effects, I left the theatre shocked at how it ended! It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realised there would be a “resolution” to follow-up in 2019.

4. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

A touching film about an Italian Jewish family, and a coming-of-age romance. This was the first full film I experienced in a virtual theatre, through Bigscreen.

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I’ve avoided Spider-Man movies, because they’re generally poorly reviewed, and I know that if I watch one, I’ll have to watch them all. It took a while for my eyes to become accustomed to the 12 FPS animation style, but once they did, this film was sensational. I can’t wait for Talia to see it, because I think she’d just love the art-style.

2. Francs Ha (2012)

Talia and I watched all of Noah Baumbach’s films this year (in chronological order), and Frances Ha is my favourite of the lot. Greta Gerwig will always be Frances to me. If you haven’t seen it yet, please add this one to your much watch list (great for a date night!).

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2018 was the 50th year anniversary of the Stanley Kubrick’s pièce de résistance. This is the greatest film ever made, by the greatest filmmaker to have ever lived. I saw this movie twice this year: once on an old 70mm reel full of dust and scratches, and once on Christopher Nolan’s remastered 70mm film.

I also got to meet Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood (the astronauts Dr. Dave Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole) in person, and got their autograph on a limited edition 2001 art print.

Top 5 Television Seasons of 2018

5. Legion (Season 1)

You wouldn’t know that this mind-bending sci-fi / thriller / horror series is set in the X-Men universe. It is bizarre, hilarious, and sometimes even scary. The best part is Jemaine Clement as Oliver Bird (Jemaine usually is the best part, isn’t he?), who brings a little levity to an otherwise serious endeavour.

4. Black Mirror (Season 4)

Who could forget the USS Callister – my favourite episode of any TV series I saw this year. This season was consistently dystopian and harrowing, which is what I love about Black Mirror. The bonus Black Museum episode was a nice touch, too.

3. The Expanse (Season 3)

The best sci-fi on TV right now. I’m a huge fan of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse book series, and delighted to see such a great adaption for the screen. Shockingly, Syfy announced it would not renew The Expanse for a fourth season! Fans (including me) petitioned on-demand services, and in the end, Amazon picked the series up for additional seasons.

2. Star-Trek Discovery (Season 1)

Whether you’re a Trekkie (like me) or not (like Talia), Discovery is a great, modern take on Star Trek, which stays true to the original vision of progressive positivity. I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to a contemporary refresh (visual style, not story) on Trek.

1. The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2)

Is this the only non-sci-fi title in my top 5? I guess so! If you haven’t seen it yet, this Amy Sherman-Palladino series is just hilarious, though it’s not that same brand of slapstick comedy as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or The Office. Think Gilmore Girls, but Rory is Jewish and grows up to be a comedienne.

Categories
Uncategorized

2018 End-of-Year Trivia

Every year, Talia and I have a tradition of creating a quiz for family and friends, testing their recollection of current-affairs and events over the past 12 months.

Here’s the Trivia questions for 2018. There’s a link to the answers below.

January

English cricket captain Joe Root was hospitalised during the fifth ashes test with what condition?

February

Which movie release, about an African Prince, became the highest grossing film by a black director?

March

The Guardian and The New York Times broke a story about a political consulting firm illicitly harvesting user data from Facebook and using it to manipulate the 2016 US election, and Brexit vote. Which consulting firm was it?

April

Which city where the 2018 Commonwealth Games held in?

May

The European Union’s data protection and privacy regulations came into effect on May 25. What is the regulation called?

June

Saudi Arabia changed a law allowing women to do what for the first time?

July

Which country won the FIFA World Cup?

August

Scott Morrison was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Australia. Including ScoMo, how many Prime Ministers has Australia had?

September

Apple announced three new iPhones. Name all three.

October

The Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in which city?

November

Which former U.S. President died?

December

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe, whose mission is to obtain a geological sample and return it to earth, arrived where?

Categories
Work

Block Lab!

I’m super excited to announce the launch of a project I’ve been working on for a while now…

It’s live!

This has been a labour of love since July. I first had the idea during WordCamp Sydney – I was taking questions after my talk on Gutenberg, and somebody asked whether there was an easy way to build Gutenberg blocks.

The short answer is no. Building custom blocks isn’t easy at all. Even seasoned WordPress developers are required to learn a whole new skillset. Imagine then, where this leaves regular site builders.

One of the plugins that inspired Block Lab is Advanced Custom Fields. ACF makes it super easy for site builders to add custom meta data to posts, making it much easier for their clients to build out content.

But WordPress is moving away from a custom fields paradigm, and toward a block based way of thinking about content. That’s where Block Lab comes in. Block Lab makes it super easy to create custom blocks, with a Gutenberg-first focus.

A custom block in the Gutenberg editor.

Block Lab is a collaboration between myself, Rob Stinson, and Rheinard Korf. Going forward we’ll even introduce you to a few other WordPress developers who are keen to get involved.

So, if you’re somebody who builds sites for a living, take a look at how Block Lab can help you build better.