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Frustration

May 1st, 2017

I’ve also considered myself to have a very good work ethic and have always kept myself busy whether it was work, freelance, sports, etc. but now I’m starting to realize that I had no idea was busy really was.

Before getting into why things are going to get REALLY busy, I’ll start with why the title of this post is “Frustration.” For the past 2+ years my buddy and I have been creating a weekly podcast called the High Falutin Ski Bums where we drink cool beers and discuss ski news for the week adding thoughts and humor to the stories we find. In addition, we do one segment where we find and discuss random interesting stories called “Under the Ropes” and another called “From the Ganjala” where we talk about interesting stories in the cannabis world which is evolving and growing very quickly and has always been a friend to the ski industry. It’s been a lot of fun finding stories, creating the design and doing the production for the podcast. If or when we can monetize, it would be a perfect full-time job!

We’ve always had a few fans write in to us and people hitting us up on the socials and that was enough. Maybe it’s because we’re at the end of the ski season (for most), but our podcast and social media posts aren’t getting the love and traction they’ve gotten in the past. Over this time I’ve been resilient and just kept pushing to do more, completely unconcerned about statistics, but it’s getting to the point where my time is becoming too stretched and this needs to become something more than what it currently is.

Are we too niche?

Do people just not care?

Do we just suck?

I have delusionally grand plans for what I want from this podcast – to become of the Anthony Bourdains of skiing by going 2x/month to different ski towns and doing reviews/videos/podcasts about the experience, owning/renting ski country real estate and setting up boutique ski trips to epic locations all over the world. This is what I want, but these goals are a bit down the road.

Here is why something has to happen soon, which I mentioned earlier and about how things are going to get properly busy, my wife and I are expecting a child in August.

We’ve been planning this for a long time and we are so excited about this little dude, but it’s forcing me to throw caution to the wind and get things done before I want to spend all my free time with my new buddy.

Conclusions and Solutions

Efficiency is the #1 priority. If it isn’t going to lead to increasing our audience, it’s not a priority. We have a really fun and interesting podcast. Everyone who knows about it and has checked it out, likes it. It’s just up to us to get it into more people’s ears. I recently signed up and watched a webinar from the WordPress plugin Sumo which focused on developing your mailing list and monetizing your blog or podcast. This is my next step to get this set up.ski

As the driving force behind the podcast, I need to improve my leadership. Since I just I said that efficiency is my #1 priority, one way this will be achieved is through delegation of tasks that play to his strengths. For this to succeed I’m going to need to help and inspire my co-founder by showing him how important the success of this business is and how I need his help to make this happen.

August 21st, 2014

When most folks think of an ideal August weekend in NYC it usually involves going out to the Hamptons, boating on the Hudson River, hanging out at your 1%er friend’s rooftop pool, or maybe just hanging out in Central Park. Did I forget, hanging out in Brooklyn Marriott hotel conference rooms? How did that slip my mind? If you’re a WordPress developer or designer, then you were in luck, because WordCamp NYC 2014 took place at the Brooklyn Marriott August 2-3.

Not really sure why, but WordCamp NYC only takes place every two years which I find surprising. Considering there were 4 tracks running simultaneously, I have no doubt that the area could support a conference every year. Regardless, I’ve put together a collection of my notes from the conference. Hey, better late than never.

JavaScript Performance – Max Cutler

First up was Max Cutler from Microsoft speaking about JavaScript performance. The browser render path first takes your HTML, then starts to go through the DOM and CSSOM to establish the Render Tree which are the nodes required to render the page. Having a lot of JavaScript loading upfront can slow down the critical path so users will be stuck seeing a blank page waiting for content to load. With the explosion of mobile usage over the past few years and with our attention spans growing considerably shorter, initial page loading has become critical. The focus now is to get the “above-the-fold” (ugh, yup it’s back) content to load as soon as possible with less critical JavaScript and heavier “below-the-fold” content loading in after. One way to improve this process is to avoid “Layout Thrashing” which occurs when JavaScript violently writes, then reads, from the DOM , multiple times causing document reflows.

One of the best ways to analyze your site and see how it renders is to use the Chrome Developer Tools Timeline. This shows what is going during your page loads and can identify where there are hold-ups that can then be addressed.

WordPress Examples Toolkit – Richard Dinh

Richard’s presentation focused on creating a repository of WordPress examples on GitHub. Having these examples in place allows a developer to reuse code and not have to recreate the wheel each time they’re working on a new project. Here’s a list of examples from Richard’s repo:

Basics
  • JS Example
  • filter example
  • custom menu
  • custom meta boxes
  • short code example
More complex
  • batch example
  • books – custom post type
  • customize theme
  • plugin activation
  • CSV import
  • tiny mce add on
  • widget drop down demo
  • query vars
  • foscam

Large Multisite Networks – Sam Hotchkiss

Ever since I learned that it possible to run multiple sites off a single WordPress installation I’ve wanted to learn more about how to set it up and possibly use for future projects. Unfortunately, one of the first things that I learned in Sam’s presentation is that for the small-to-medium size projects that I work on, having a multi-site set-up would be overkill. Despite that, I found the presentation very interesting and came away with some great info that may be helpful down the road.

Advantages
  • easy to create new sites based on template
  • easy to update
  • only one management account
  • one db to share content
Disadvantages
  • plugin/theme restrictions
  • security
  • performance
  • SSL
  • can’t modify core for single site
Great uses
  • offering website as a part of “complete business package”
  • divisions or employees of a single company (mortgage brokers -> legal)
  • customized solution to a well defined vertical
Tips and Tricks 101
  • be mindful of performance and bloat
  • install BruteProtect
  • WPMU Dev has awesome tools – they’ve done 90% of the way there.
  • hire an awesome server admin – hard to find a good one
  • CloudFlare
Tips and Tricks 201
  • put as little functionality into your Themes as possible – plugins
  • use MU plugins strategically
  • use version control
  • use customizer – save to wp_options
  • make smart decisions for your users
Business Tips
  • not cheap
  • everything takes longer
  • if client is cost sensitive, frame your costs through the lens of per-site cost
  • don’t be afraid to suggest other suggestions

Getting Sassy with WordPress – Tracy Rotton

Ever since I first heard about Sass, I was excited about the capabilities including variables, mixins and @extend, but as is life sometimes, I couldn’t find time to start using it in real world projects. Luckily, this year I was given the opportunity to lead a site development project earlier this year and was able to implement Sass into our workflow. Like many people say, it does make CSS fun again.

  • how can you make it part of your life?
  • introduces programming into CSS
  • faster, easier, and more organized
Why Love It?
Variables
  • almost anything can be a variable
  • great for defining colors and font stacks
@extend & placeholder selectors
  • use extend for clearfix
  • can’t use in media queries
Concatination
  • Sass has partials
Functions
  • do one thing and refurn a result
  • calculate modify color
  • let CSS do the calculations
Mixins
  • Rems are a great responsive unit, need pixel fallback for IE8
Media Query Bubbling
  • media query goes right in the selector properties
  • nice and together
What sucks about Sass
  • code bloat
  • adds complexity
CLI
  • grunt.js
  • gulp.js
  • brunch.js
  • JavaScript task runners
  • requires node.js
  • sequence of steps you chain together
  • can use functions.php to target file that’s not style.css and use that for main CSS
More Sass Info

Advanced Custom Fields – Jared Novack

One of my first big breakthroughs in using WordPress was when I discovered how to use custom post types. This unlocked the ability to create so many different experiences with content and made WordPress significantly more powerful. I was vaguely familiar with the Advances Custom Fields plugins, but had always used Types as my custom post type creator.

Real-world ACF
  • Harvard Law Review – subhead, customize where it shows up.
  • no photos, but has different graphics
  • drag and drop, related topics field
Conditionals
  • checkbox on the side, custom field appears
Killer ACF5 feature
  • can store fields as JSON data.
  • acf-json
Random House
  • worlds largest book publisher
  • different sites with different content and fields
  • teaser and trailer, emails sign up
Make your own fields
  • custom field type with visual radio button
  • /acf-field-type-template on GitHub
More Links

Six Ways to Up Your Theme Game – Tracy Levesque

At the last WordCamp in 2012, I saw Tracy speak and learned a great deal about child themes and was able to incorporate the what I learned into several projects. When I saw that she was speaking again I made sure that I attended her presentation.

  1. Use a starter theme
    • they’re meant to be hacked
    • they give you a head start
    • they often come with your framework built in
    • have very little design built in

    Underscores – fan favorite

    Need to have a starter – will take work, but will get you where you want to start

    • quark
    • roots
    • wp-bootstrap
  2. Know the WordPress template hierarchy

    Make unique templates

    Category archives
    • tag
    • category
    • author
    • date

    – can make custom pages based on slug

  3. Register Nav Menus
    • put them where you want them
    • make life easier for clients
    • register the menu in functions.php
    • load menu in the front end template
  4. Register Sidebars
    • register in functions.php
    • load the sidebar into template
    • check out dynamic sidebar
  5. Register Custom Thumbnail Sizes

    Why register custom thumbnail sizes?

    • control the width, height and crop
    • use unique images in loops
    • add custom sizes to functions.php
    • x_crop_position and y
    • check codex add image size
    • load them in your template
    • does all the work for them, avoid Photoshop
  6. Write Your Own Queries
    • use fewer plugins
    • have control over field
    • gain total design freedom
    • wp_reset_postdata
  7. Pro Tip – Transients API
BONUS – use a CSS preprocessor
  • it’s fun
  • it’s powerful
  • it makes your life better
  • Use Version control like Git or subversion
  • Learn version control with Git
  • Tortoise control for windows

The next couple of talks I went to were on NONCE and advanced topics and I don’t think my notes really do the topics justice, so I’m just going to move on to Day 2.

Day 2

These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins’: Modernism, Post-Modernism, and Responsive Web Design – John Eckman

OK, so looking at that talk name could make you go in one of two directions. I’ve heard the terms Modernism and Post-Modernism before, but I didn’t really know what they meant. So, even if some of the WordPress stuff was going over my head, at least I could take a stab at learn some art concepts. The presenter, John Eckman, has made quite a career shift from PhD and potential career-academic to web designer to CEO of 10up.com, a web design studio with multiple offices across the U.S. There were two main takeaways from the presentation

We keep trying to make the web into something it’s not.

Responsive Web Design is more than a set of techniques: it’s a push that forces us out of the collective hallucination of fixed web design.

These quotes, at least for me, really helped tie together the concepts of Modernism and Post-Modernism and made them more concrete. We, as humans, are always trying to control our environment and mold it into the things we know and have real experience with, but what is real? We’re still just figuring out what the web is and what it’s capable of and it’s those who can see the potential are those who will mold and shape the future, not to use it as a new tool for the same old paradigms.

Underscores, A 1000 Hour Head Start – Konstantin Obenland

So after the more abstract presentation, it was time to get back into WordPress goodness. During other presentations, several people had brought up Underscores and how it’s a great place to start to build themes. I had heard of it before the WordCamp, but knew almost nothing about it. After Konstantin’s presentation, I’ve been very motivated to learn more and start using it for my next projects.

Starter Themes
  • not a parent theme
  • not a framework
  • foundation for a new theme
Why underscores?
  • just right
  • experience from 5 default themes
  • experience from creating themes for millions of users on WordPress.com
  • maximum flexibility with minimal content.
  • lack of features
  • everything but styles
  • readable code
  • active community

Lynda.com even has a course on underscores.

Conclusions

I bounced around a few more presentations, but at that point and I already had a list of objectives and things I wanted to start preparing for and my brain was full and any attempts to add more information could only be distracting. I really like the idea of using Underscores as a starter theme, setting up a library of reusable code snippets, then building child themes on top of that custom Underscores theme.

June 11th, 2012

It was an action-packed weekend in New York City: the Big Apple BBQ block party, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and WordCamp NYC 2012 at Baruch College. I’ve been looking forward to going to a WordCamp since I heard about them on a SitePoint podcast last year. After seeing a tweet about it, I made sure I signed up immediately. I was so excited about WordCamp, my enthusiasm was caught by my wife, who also wanted to attend, so I got 2 tickets. I’ve been to web conferences before, but wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, partially because tickets were only $35/each and we’ve hear the old adage – something about paying for the value of something or something? I guess if nothing else, at least I got a t-shirt!

WordPress Community

One of the things that makes WordPress so special is that it is an open-source product. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, that means it’s FREE. As someone who has been working with a content management system that is the antithesis of open-source and even more so of free, I’m amazed at the high quality of all the free themes, plug-ins, extensions and help that is available. That same sort of giving back attitude was on display at the conference where they had a “Happiness Bar” set up to field any questions that you might have about WordPress. I spoke with a gentleman named Luke was doing his best to help me with my local WordPress installation on Windows issue that I was having. Being a Mac guy, he wasn’t exactly sure how to solve the problem, but he pointed me to the WordPress IRC Channel, something I would have never thought to use. That attitude was was pretty reminiscent of the speakers and volunteers. Since WordPress is such a deep product, it was very interesting

I Learned Stuff!

As someone who has built several sites using WordPress, I was pretty confident in my abilities and what I knew. After the first few sessions, I got a nice dose of reality and realized there was still much to learn, young Padawan. The first day, this eye-opening was from Jesse Friedman who spoke about Responsive Design in WordPress. One of the most important points he talked about was using the PHP Mobile Detection instead of depending on media queries in your CSS to determine what to different sized browsers. Another was great demonstration showed a script that was able to deploy different-sized images depending on the viewport in the browser.

The next two sessions had some similar underlying themes – using child themes. Tracy had a great presentation about the power of child themes and showed several examples of work she had completed using the standard WordPress 2010 and 2011 themes as the parent and using child themes to build off the parent theme. It was very interesting to see how functions.php would append the parent version of functions.php while a file like footer.php would completely replace and ignore the parent version of footer.php. Seeing this in action was a huge leap in understanding how WordPress works and is a technique I will look to use in upcoming projects. I’ve always thought that since I knew what I was doing, I should just take a theme and start hacking it up, or just build one from scratch. This concept really got me thinking about how I can just use what’s already and build faster, instead of having to always build up from scratch. It also got me thinking about how I use plug-ins and tend to edit the actual PHP and CSS, preventing them from ever being updated and over-writing my customizations.

Probably the most important thing I needed to further get my head around was custom post types, templates and the loop. All three of those need to work together and fortunately, that was something that several presenters were speaking about. Alex and Jeff discussed how to create templates and customize the loop based on the different types of content being displayed on the page. They were even awesome enough to link to all their presentation content on GitHub.

By popular demand, Sarah was asked to repeat her performance from Saturday about categories and templates. It was very informative to see how the fallback system for using template pages and categories. When you see concepts such as this explained, you realize that WordPress is a very intuitive system. She also recommended Digging Into WordPress, which I have subsequently purchased and look forward to…wait for it…digging into.

Another repeat performer was John, talking about custom post types and the Custom Post Type UI. It’s a great way to extend WordPress and make it more customizable and easier for a client to maintain.

In one of the last sessions, we got to see a preview of what’s coming up in WordPress 3.4 and it looks pretty sweet. The coolest feature we were shown was the real-time CSS theme editing that would be previewed and saved in the browser and saved right to your theme. Very cool stuff.

Was It Worth It?

In a word: Absolutely. To say that I the money would be an unfair understatement. I would have happily paid double for the experience and knowledge I walked with. Plus, I got an awesome t-shirt that I’ll get to wear at WordCamp next year. The community around this product is so active and enthusiastic, its no wonder that WordPress is such a great product. The people who work on it really care about it and want it to be awesome. Could you imagine if every product had that sort of support? Plus, everyone is super helpful which makes you want to learn, contribute and help others, too. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to make a presentation at a future WordCamp and do my part to give back, but for now I have a lot of knowledge that I have to get out of my brain and into my themes.

February 26th, 2012

For months now I’ve been trying to find some local tech Meetup groups that had real meetings where you could meet real people. I was lucky enough to meet an entrepreneur at the ski house I’ve been going to this year who also lived in Hoboken and turned me on to the New Jersey Tech Meetup. So this past Thursday I attended my first meet-up at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. It blew me away what a large and vibrant start-up community there was right in my backyard that I had no idea existed.

The meeting started with a networking session while we all munched some of the worst pizza I’ve had from North Jersey. I mean, I’m sure that pizza in California would be a crowning achievement, but we’re quite spoiled in this neck of the woods, but I digress. I only got to speak with one additional person outside my original little group, but was amazed at the diversity of people who attended the meeting. There were developers, designers, inventors, lawyers, venture capitalists, among others. The first part of the meeting involved having 4 different start-ups giving a presentation of their company. Each pitch was timed to be 5 minutes followed by a no-holds barred Q&A session. I was surprised at how brutal and to-the-point the questions to the presenter were. One of the presenters looked like they were going to cry trying to defend themselves and their business. The crowd favorite was by a Stevens Senior who created a wearable heads-up display that connected to your phone. He even had a working prototype. It was a bit crude, but it was a working prototype which was very impressive.

The main event was the presentation by Andrew Weinreich, a well-known NYC entrepreneur who talked about some of the events that occurred on his journey to success. It was quite interesting. Here were a few of the tidbits that stuck out for me:

  • Winning decisions will offend people
  • Always be iterating
  • Focus groups are a waste of time
  • Success is all about waiting for the right wave
  • We choose to build things

After Andrew’s presentation there was a trivia competition based on the presentations of the evening. The technology used was very impressive. To compete, all you had to do was call the number displayed on the screen and enter your answers in real-time using the keypad on your phone. All of the statistics for how many people were competing and how many right answers were all tabulated on the screen and the high scores were shown next to the corresponding phone number, all in real time. The scores were weighted based on how quickly you answered in relation to the rest of the competitors and your score was immediately posted on the screen. I was pleasantly surprised that I got 3rd place out of about 90+ participants. I didn’t win a prize, but the thrill of “medaling” was exciting in its own regard.

For me, the absolute highlight was reconnecting with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. Before the meeting I had perused the list of attendees and noticed saw a name and face that looked very familiar. He was in rather high demand after the meeting so it took me a while to get the chance to speak to him. Once he figured out who I was, he was ecstatic and we had a great conversation about life and WordPress.

To sum it up, it was a great experience. I’m already looking forward to next months meeting. Hopefully one day in the near future, I’ll have something to present at one of these meetings.

December 22nd, 2011

Cars are expensive and living in a city is just the worst place for a new car. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen beautiful new cars in Hoboken with dents, dings, or worse – entire panels torn off, hanging by a thread. So, besides having to worry about external forces acting upon your new pride-and-joy, in my hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, you have to worry about roads with the highest potholes-per-tax-dollar ratio in America, the occasional flash flood, super-high insurance, and the adventure that is winter driving in one of the most densely populated areas in the country.

Brian, what are you rambling about? Oh yeah, there’s a reason. I’ve always been a car guy, but now living in Hoboken, I’ve grown to greatly dislike driving and have no desire to get a new car, despite the face that out current car lacks some of the newer features that we both find highly desireable. My wife and my current vehicle is a 2006 Subaru Legacy that she purchased when we first started dating in 2006. It’s a fine vehicle, but the biggest gripe was that Subaru tends to be a skosh behind the technology curve. They didn’t seem to think this whole iPod thing would ever catch on and that people would want to listen to them in their vehicle. For years we used one of those FM modulators that creates a low-powered radio frequency that broadcasts your iPod to your radio. This sounds like a nice idea, but living in the New York City area, every radio frequency is being used by much higher-powered radio stations, so any station you use will be static-y at best or unlisten-to-able at worst. This past weekend, I officially had enough.

Monday morning I went onto Crutchfield and ordered a new head unit.

I don’t know very much about car stereos and would break out in a sweat at the thought of an exposed dashboard with wires hanging out. Luckily, the great folks at Crutchfield have fantastic customer service and installation help, so I thought maybe they could calm me down and help me accomplish this installation.

When I received the box, I could feel myself starting to go into panic mode when I took everything out the box and saw all the parts and wires. In my younger years I would’ve gone into full freak-out mode and pull the eject handle and give up. Things are different now and I decided I needed to take a deep breathe, take a look at what was in front of me and take the installation one step at a time. Crutchfield provided a customized document for my particular vehicle, showing how to remove the head-unit and speakers. I took my car apart and took notes about the steps I had taken which helped me to become more comfortable with the process. At first, I followed the instructions to the tee, but as I became comfortable I found myself improvising and finding my own customized solutions.

At about 12:30am, I decided I needed to take a shower since I was tinkering and sweating most of the day (plus it was almost 60 degrees on December 21st). For whatever reason after I got out of the shower the radio and new bezel looked different to me. I removed the head units shell and got it to properly fit in the bezel. I finally went to bed about and hour later after figuring out what all the wires did and fell asleep thinking about how the install was going to go next morning.

This morning I actually got the head unit plugged in, did some troubleshooting and re-wire splicing, but low and behold it worked! I can’t even describe the sense of accomplishment! I even got the Bluetooth hooked up and working and I’m pondering going and picking up a Dremel so I can customize the bezel for a more elegant install!

Wow, what a difference a few days makes.

Again, this is all fine and good, Brian, but what does this have to do with the web? I’m glad you asked! The whole stereo installation reminded me a lot of my early experiences with WordPress. When I first started out, I downloaded a theme, took a look at all the files and started to get a little sweaty. Again, I knew that anything this important was worth taking the time to learn. I didn’t have a Crutchfield for WordPress, but I did have a lynda.com which was critical in helping me learn the basis for WordPress and getting comfortable to the point where I could start experimenting. Now I enjoy creating my own themes and plug-ins and am always looking for new challenges and finding exciting solutions for those problems.

The moral of the story is that when you are trying something new, don’t give up and don’t freak out. Take a deep breathe and start with the fundamentals. Just like Crutchfield’s customer support had my back, depending on what language you are working in, there’s an online community that, as long as you are gracious and not rude, will have your back. We have access to more information now than at any other time and it’s all right at our fingertips! Embrace the challenge and you will be rewarded!