Sunday, December 13, 2009

WordPress Meetup is TechLiminal

The sky was like wet tissue paper clogging up the sun. Who would go to a Meetup group on a December Sunday afternoon when they could be more holiday-wise engaged?  I wanted to find out.  More than that, I’d already decided that my New Years’ resolution was to learn how to use WordPress so I could redo my html site and turn it into a blog.  

No time like a present.

I located the address of TechLiminal, a space that bills itself as a “technology hotspot and salon.” For me it was a storefront near the old Holmes Book Store in downtown Oakland.  But that’s ancient history…

Arriving a few minutes after 1pm, I was instructed to “go upstairs” where about 10 people already sat in front of a long black table to discuss WordPress Multiuser, software that can run many sites, something like a stylesheet for blogs with a database vengeance. But it doesn’t replace “BuddyPress,” which can be used to add a social networking layer should you want to do that sort of thing.

I could tell by the rapid exchange of acronyms that I was among geeks, while I am a mere wanna be geek.

Every blog has its own dashboard in WordPress, and there’s a master dashboard that can be used to control them all. Each multi user site is identified in the scheme of things by a blog id that can be used as a means to do queries against its content stored in a database.  I also learned that some themes don’t work as well as others based upon how options are stored. To get the full scoop, you can always go to >

What’s a theme? How a site looks.

In looking over my notes, I think that for me the afternoon was filled with more acronym than substance, but that’s largely because I haven’t developed myWordPress chops.  Give me a few months.

We did look at a Multiuser version of a Best Buy site. Below the corporate menu bar and product drop-downs, there was local content with an introduction to the store manager who smiled benignly from what looked like his kitchen. I was beginning to understand what Multiuser can do.  Did I say I was a visual learner?

More buzz words and acronyms. Recommended hosts like AZHosting, MidPhase, Digital Forest, Go Daddy, and Dream Host with brief discussions about their pros and cons. Too slow. Good support. Too expensive.

Based on my recent encounter with Wiki founder Jimmy Wales, I wanted to know about the difference between wikis and a WordPress Multiuser group since they both seemed to do something similar: bring people together to share information.  But I got a good definition. Wikis are a great way for groups to collaboratively edit content in one place to produce a document, whereas a WordPress Multiuser, like most blogs, is a temporal product whose interest can wane with the date. 

With my question about “Where do I start?” one of the organizers, Sallie Goetsch, suggested that I read WordPress for Dummies. I will and I’ll be back…

Lenore Weiss

Posted via email from techtabletalk's posterous

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two Coffee Shops

This is a story of two coffee shops located across the street from each other.

Both coffee shops had faced each other on opposite sides of the street for many years. One of them is called General Arthur’s, which had been named after a World War II veteran returned from the Battle of Midway in the Pacific theater who then took up the art of donut-making until his death from a heart attack. The other shop is Bradley’s whose founder had long ago sold the business to a new owner and then retired to the golf course, but the name of the place stuck.

Bradley’s has the look of a set decorated by a 70's housewife complete with a windowsill filled with fake mini sunflowers. General Arthur’s offered oak chairs with a lottery machine positioned inside the doorway. Both shops have glass counters where customers can admire a selection of donuts, scones, and cinnamon buns so that each morning they stopped at either General Arthur’s or Bradley’s for something to call breakfast before starting work.

The two shops across the street from each other are similar in mostly every way: they served the same kind of “to-go” food catering to office workers making quick stops for coffee and sandwiches or cigarettes. They exist in commercial harmony with enough business for both shops to be successful. However, there is one key difference between the two that is not obvious, even to most of the regulars.

"Did Zach come in already this morning?" inquires one guy of Bradley.

Everyone assumes that the proprietor standing behind the glass counter wearing his horned rim glasses and white apron must be the man behind the sign. But his name is really Forest Palmbo. "Yes," Bradley says. "Already got his Diet Snapple." And they laugh. Both men know that Zach will never deviate from his morning diet, and take comfort in that fact.

“So can you come tonight?” the man now whispers, taking his coffee and oat bran muffin as he hands over several dollar bills and waits for his change.

“What time?” asks Bradley, smiling at the next customer in line and ready to take his order.

“7:30,” and before heading out the door the man who works at the Private Industry Council a few blocks up the street turns and says, “At the usual.”

Around 4 p.m., Bradley unties his white apron and throws it into a plastic bin along with the others. This evening laundry service will replace them with five clean ones for the following week. This is Friday and Bradley packs all leftover pastries into several pink cardboard boxes, separating donuts from muffins from scones, his knuckles protruding like hills from white plastic gloves. After he tapes each cardboard box shut and wraps them together with twine, Bradley peels off his gloves and loads the package into the trunk of his car. But he won’t be finished for another hour until he wipes glass counters clean, this time wearing a fresh pair of plastic gloves, and removes crumbs from the two toaster ovens, readying coffee machines with freshly ground beans for the morning’s brew. Bread loaves back in the refrigerator, all luncheon meats and smoked turkey and lettuce packed away, Bradley takes one last glance at the store, shakes his head, locks the front door and gets into his Chevy. First he’s driving home to shower.

He shows up at a restaurant at 7 p.m., plastic ivy vines wrapped around four oak beams in the central dining area and also along the cash register where they abruptly stop.

Next appears See Dong. He’s one of those people who prefer to keep a safe distance from the center of action. On the other hand, Bradley is very involved with the event. He opens his pink boxes and carefully lays pastries on silver trays. The trays are on tables near the front of the room and are covered in white tablecloths. People begin to enter the restaurant. It is only open for this special evening’s event. Bradley removes a small brown bottle of something and pours a few drops over the pastries. He calls it his “day-old freshener.”

John Greuner, the man who spoke to Bradley in the restaurant, now moves toward the front of the room. He straightens his tie and brushes a few pieces of lint from his shirt, smiles at several people sitting down at a table nearby. He stops to talk with them. Dong has already positioned the trays above several warm lights and will return later to clean up.

Bradley tells Greuner everything is “ready.”

“Okay,” he says and straightens his tie like a man testing a noose. “Everyone sit down, please. We’re ready to begin.” A group of about 40 men and women find seats in front of a large white screen, all dressed in suits, mostly black, wearing name tags printed on large sticky labels.

“I bet you’re all wondering why you’re here.” People are streaming toward the seats now, holding coffee cups and munching on Bradley’s muffins. Of course, Dong has provided catered aluminum trays of steaming pork buns and vegetables coated with sesame seeds, already emptied by the early arrivers, unemployed workers who are excited by the prospect of a free meal, but he is no where to be seen. “The Private Industry Council, as you know, has been tasked by the City to develop jobs. You’ve been invited here today as prime candidates for the job development program.” Greuner stops for a moment and lets the news sink in, radiating goodwill and competence. Someone raises a hand but Greuner ignores it and continues. “The training program is fully funded by federal stimulus monies and lasts for six months. At the end of six, assuming that you successfully complete the program,” and Greuner licks his lips, “you will be fully guaranteed a job in your desired field.”

The man in the audience in the second row waves his hand again. Without waiting this time to be called upon he asks, “Are the jobs local?” He’s been out of work for the last seven months and hopes he doesn’t have to relocate to find work, which would mean moving his family. His kids are teenagers. Still, he can’t believe his luck. In fact, most of the people sitting in metal chairs look like they’ve just won the lottery, wanting to toast each other with their coffee cups.

“Certainly they are. Most of them are,” Greuner quickly corrects himself and glances at his watch. But then something strange starts to happen. The people in the audience start to shrink; shrivel is the more operative word. It’s as if all the water in their bodies begins to evaporate and what’s left is an outer layer that folds from their bodies in brittle strips, plastering the floor in confetti. From the back of the room Bradley begins to slowly pack his pink cardboard boxes and See Dong pulls into the parking lot with a vacuum cleaner stored in his trunk.

“Decreasing the unemployment figures meeting by meeting,” Greuner circles around to the back of the room. “That’s the way,” he says to himself, but loud enough for Bradley to hear. “Bit by bit.”

In a few years, Greuner heads an agency with a multi-million dollar budget. Bradley’s coffee shop is thriving. Each morning See Dong carefully layers fried eggs onto toasted bread. The owner of General Arthur’s can’t understand where all his business went and is considering filing for bankruptcy, but a number of his friends warn against it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good People Working Together to Create Information

Surely, many of you have heard of Wikipedia, which is approaching its ninth anniversary. Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that is in the process of constantly being created by users throughout the world.

Wiki is from a Hawaaian word "wikiwiki" meaning quick. The term refers to software used by Wikipedia that allows for quick editing and collaboration. Wikis have existed since 1995, and were invented by Ward Cunningham.

Try a Web search any day and it will most likely include a listing from Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales is the man you want to thank for putting this sailboat in motion. Wales said he cleaves to three basic truths: “assume good faith, spread knowledge, be bold,” and always carry a water bottle. I’m only kidding about the last one, although Wales did have a water bottle on the podium as he spoke to the student assemblage, the last event in a day long symposium on “The Future of the Forum: Internet Communities and the Public Interest”, sponsored by Berkeley Center for New Media.

Wales grew up in Alabama and recounted how much culture has changed since the sixties when he was designated as the remote control by his mother to manually change TV channels followed by the eighties with a new request to “hook up the VCR.” Turning tables around, now Wales asks his daughter to program the TIVO.

“Culture is getting smarter and more complicated,” he said, running the gamut of the I Love Lucy sitcoms of yesteryear to the more complex relationships of Seinfeld, or from Pong to the fantasy game of Warcraft.

A strong proponent of free speech with a lifelong mission to create “free access to the sum of human knowledge,” Wales noted that Wikis are available in more than 175 languages throughout the world. The three million Wiki articles in English represent less than 20 percent of the total work, he said. Wiki articles exist in languages as diverse as German, French, Polish, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Gaelic, Punjabi, and Russian, just for starters. Wales said that Wikipedia is the eighth most popular Website in Iran.

There’s something universal about the volunteers of Wikipedia, he said, “good people working with passion to create a collaborative culture which may possibly play a role in improving the intellectual level of discourse around many issues.”

In the early days, Wikipedias were embraced less by casual users and more by the geekish community whose comfort level included new software and publishing online. “We’re seeing new types of editors,” said Wales, especially around Wikia, a public wiki space for people of similar interests to share information.

More and more he noted “consumer media is becoming dominant.” With the demise of printed newspapers and money devoted to serious investigative reporting, the world of social networking that has sent marketing gurus into a tailspin, and smart phones that allow people to communicate instantaneously, Wikis are the hand that gathers strands of information and strings the pearls.

Lenore Weiss