Monthly Archives: September 2009

 


 

“In the Absence of Predators

by Vinnie Wilhelm. Published last spring in the Harvard Review (Issue 34).

 


 

The Philadelphia-based fiction writer and screenplayist Vinnie
Wilhelm’s take on identity and context in writing:

Vinnie and David Wilhelm at Bowling Alley in Ballard, WA

Vinnie Wilhelm (front), David Wilhelm (left) at a bowling alley in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA.

 

“But questions of identity are ultimately ancillary to the work: they go away in the end and the work has to succeed or fail on its own terms.”

 

– V. Wilhelm 

 

 


 

 

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WordPress; Dreamweaver

UPDATE 20 Sept. 2009:

 

About the Adobe Dev. Con. tutorials I mention below under “WordPress vs. Dreamweaver” – I wrote to the author behind “Creating your first website” (Parts 1-6), “CSS page layout basics”, “Understanding Cascading Style Sheets”, and other wonderfully clear and concise articles at Adobe Developer Connection (a fantastic resource stuffed with tutorials, video-tutorials, manuals -references of all kinds for anything Adobe.

Read these three pieces alone and in an hour you will know the fundamentals of the Web; what makes a web site tick.

Here’s our email exchange:

Re: thank you for “Understanding Cascading Style Sheets”! (Adobe Developer Connection)Saturday, September 19, 2009 2:16 PM
From: “Jon Michael Varese”
To: “david wilhelm”
David,

So thrilled to hear that these are working out for you. Thanks for the high praise — I really do appreciate it!

Yes, what you are learning is how to EMPOWER yourself with CSS so that you don’t have to accept or do what everyone else thinks you should do. I did that on my own website for example. I love the WordPress blog, but when I had to make a homepage for myself, plus other linked pages, I needed to know how to tweak the HTML and the CSS so that things would look the way I wanted them to.

Anyway, keep up the great work.

Jon


***On Sep 19, 2009, at 1:08 PM, david wilhelm wrote:

Mr. Varese,

I’ve been reading your Dreamweaver CS4 tutorials on how to set up a web site and on CSS and I want to commend you on your writing!

I never understood what was truly meant by Cascading Style Sheets and ‘the Cascade” and now I know – in one brief reading.

I have a technical writing/editing certification and can admire good, clear tech. writing when i see it.

Just wanted to thank you for that, and I’m on my way to learning Dreamweaver, which has been a long time goal of mine. I blog but am sick of using the blog hosts (i use WordPress) and abiding by someone else’s CSS template – where any HTML you write gets kicked out or rearranged to invalid. Now i understand WHY this is happening and can commence to, well, at least attempting to create my own CSS!

Thanks for your efforts,

Yours Truly,

David Wilhelm
Seattle, WA

John M. Varese is a senior technical writer at Adobe and a Swarthmore College-trained historian of Classical and Victorian Era literature (check out his blog Meat and Potatoes). So he possesses that rare combination of grammar/humanities aptitude combined with the techie/under-the-hood side.

I have a Technical Writing and Editing CRT from the U. of Washington Dept. of Human-Centered Design and Engineering (formerly the Dept. of Technical Communication at the School of Engineering) and I remember on the first day of my first course the Prof., Jan Spyridakis told us that, fundamentally what makes a great technical writer is the dual-ability to draw upon right language/grammar intuitiveness with the mathematical/engineering knowledge. My other favorite course, “Intro to Computer Software User Assistance, taught by former IBM and now Google Tech. Writer Christopher Holstrom (Ph.D. Thesis “Storytelling as Community and Collaboration: Designing an Interactive Multi-Author Environment for Hypertext Fiction” (University of Washington 2002), drove home that same point. This may go without saying – Tech. writing is…technical? and it’s writing…writing that’s technical. Makes sense.

But the importance of quality exposition now that we all need computer literacy on top of traditional literacy (thank you Ms. Stolarik for teaching me proper cursive penmanship in third grade!) can’t be understated. Good exposition on fundamentals like web design is a boon to all who are saddled with the increasing complexity of the age of computers and the Web.

To digress for a moment: for years we’ve hear the constant refrain of how school kids need proficiency in math and science; how the U.S. lags another nations. Bill Gates tells us he won’t be able to hire our kids unless the know “math and science” “math and science” and more “math and science”.

I have a problem with “the economy” and capitalists dictating what teachers should be teaching, as if the point were only to churn out good employees who can sit in cubicles and practice this “math and science” for the benefit of Capitalist bosses. The top-down dictat for “math and science! Math and science!!” comes at the expense of the Humanities. Harper’s Magazine ran a humorous yet very serious piece on that whole debate, “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School” (by Mark Slouka). Anybody concerned with education policy and its effects on the culture should check this out (and if you pick up a Harper’s don’t forget to check out “Harper’s Index” – always illuminating and almost always disturbing on top of it).

This year Haymarket Books re-published an English translation of Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s A Marxist Philosophy of Language. Lecercle quotes former British Education Secretary Charles Clarke’s declaration that “public funds should no longer be devoted to ‘ornamental subjects’ like mediaeval history or classical literature. He was roundly denounced, but these views reflect a palpable trend.

Perhaps I digress. But I’m always happy to find the rare piece of writing that actually teaches instead of muddying up complex subjects in information technology. More of Mr. Varese’s style of writing is sorely needed out there in our exponentially multiplying I.T. realm.

The point is to realize that our age of computers and the Internet and mobile communications; of the blogosphere; and the mangling of language by text-messaging and Twittering – none of this precludes the importance of knowing how to read and write; knowing the humanities, and being skilled in good old-fashioned “proper grammar.” Sounds didactic and archaic or whatever, but these are growing issues and, again, the rapidity with which computer and telecommunications technologies are jutting into daily life make the debate a necessary one.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of the way…

 


 

 

The WordPress.com Blog Host…

Getting exasperated with WordPress’s site-hosting (WordPress.com – not .org). I realize it isn’t designed for folks who want to manipulate appearance and site layout stuff – you do that in dedicated graphic design software. It is limited to a web “press” for words, for blogging. And hence the name. And it does a great job, is easy to use, has a great base of support. 

But it’s the little details here and there…

Note:  

Just to be clear, we’re talking here about the WordPress blog host and it’s browser UI – WordPress.com – not WordPress.org. Though both are oriented toward blogs, WordPress.org’s web site building software is well-respected and very common – the New York Times online uses WordPress, for instance. But it’s a different animal in that WordPress.org is a community of resources centered around the WordPress open-source software and offers much greater flexibility; it requires compiling of folders and data and an outside web host or remote server is needed, i.e., it’s not run from a UI in your browser on WordPress’s own servers.

K. First, there’s the annoying ads and widget things that are stuck onto your blog without your permission and without regard to harmony with your blog’s color scheme or font typeface and size. Like “Jump to Comments”. It’s stuck just under the title of your post and it’s there to stay! Unless folks know something I don’t. See it up there? Anyone who cares about good design can understand the problem here.

Then there’s “See Related Posts”, which is stuck at the end of every blog post and is particularly egregious because it links to some random person’s blog with which you have nothing to do. Eww. Did I ask for that? No.

I remember when this appeared on my blog one day. Luckily it proved removable, but figuring out how to do so required some digging. I immediately looked it up in the WordPress.com forum and it seems about everyone else was trying to figure out the same thing. Ended up you had to go to Appearance < Extras < …. and unclick a seemingly unrelated option to get rid of “See Related Posts”. 

A more serious bug is WordPress’s infamous HTML problems. Right now, as I type this post, the “dashboard” has two tabs under “Add New Post” by which I can write a new blog posting – “Visual” and “HTML”. That’s what’s got me pieved.

See, if you want to write in “HTML”, WordPress will, to no end, bounce out your HTML because your template overrides it (or what WordPress terms “theme”). The theme for your WordPress blog is written in CSS by someone else (unless you designed it yourself, which is unlikely) and deployed in the UI in your browser under the PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) scripting protocol. HTML/XHTML does not mesh. Even if you are a code guru, which I most emphatically am not, you can’t even add a horizontal rule without it being bounced out or rearranged.

So then just change the CSS in your template? Well, CSS is really hard to learn, as I’ve discovered. Regardless, WordPress allows you to look at your template, or “theme”, but this is pointless because you cannot edit it without a paid upgrade. That bites, and I’m not the first person to have said this.

A salient question then, is why include the HTML tab at all? It doesn’t work. You’re code gets bounced out, and I’ve yet to read any official disclaimer in the broad, vast WordPress Codex/Support apparatus that warns the user about it (though in the WordPress forums it’s a common complaint).

 

…vs. Adobe Dreamweaver Web Design Software

I just got a 30-day trial of Dreamweaver CS4 and have been checking out the tutorials. It’s fantastic, although the software costs about $400. But cross-compatibility with other Adobe software is always a plus (Photoshop, InDesign), and with Adobe you often buy “suites”, like the “Master Collection Suite” or “Technical Communication Suite”.

I’ve always been impressed with Adobe’s “Knowledge Base”: lots of tutorials written by competent people, including how-to videos. 

They start you off from the beginning, explaining the concepts behind from-scratch web design – Cascading-Style Sheets, HTML, table – the fundamentals of web construction. This is key. Contrast this with WordPress! Part of the difficulty I think arises from the necessity of building 

I have no qualms with WordPress as a web-publishing tool. It’s for writing and very good at this as a platform for getting your writing on the web (even if you’ll probably never get anywhere near the top of any major search engine unless you host outside of WordPress.com). If you limit it to straightforward blogging: the ease of getting an entirely new blog up in a matter of minutes, keeping it up, all of the automated tasks, the ease of publishing your post. If you are into writing and want it up on the web with no frills, then WordPress.com is great.

– d.g.w (last updated 20 Sept. 2009)

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Just ONE User/Password for Everything?

UPDATE:

I set up direct logins in Clipperz for five web sites, but after creating my own four-word “one-time passphrase”, I could not login to Clipperz. I can still login in with my non-one time passphrase – a simple password like you’d use to login to your email – but login failed after I copied and pasted my four-word passphrase. I may have made a mistake in pasting it, as the Help section states that “it can be used only once. If the same passphrase is used again at a later stage in a login attempt it will be rejected and the login process will fail.”       My advice is be very careful in entering your passphrase because if you enter it wrong, you can’t use it again, and you have to generate another one. Problem is, even after doing this, login still failed. So I returned to my simple low-entropy six-digit “password”. So cryptography has been diminished greatly here, but Clipperz still very secure and very convenient and worth using. If anyone reading this has successfully used the one-time passphrase method please let me know! Leave a comment below.

 


 

I learned about Clipperz through Digital Inspiration blog and it uses an ajax web environment (whatever that is) to run an applet in your browser. You log-in to your Clipperz account with a username and password, like any other web site. For better encryption and faster login to Clipperz, use a one-time, four-word “passphrase”: you don’t have to enter it every time you get online. Either way, both methods scramble your login fields before they’re uploaded to Clipperz.com servers. Clipperz features a browser-based UI has you create “cards” with, for example, your Gmail username and password info (also automatically scrambled before any transfer of data takes place), or for any oft-visited web pages that require logins that you don’t want to always enter every time you’re online.

Clipperz.com login

Clipperz.com login

Now, to generate an uncrackable passphrase, you can use a random word generator. Supposedly Mac OS has random number capability through the shell or some obscure way, but the easiest thing to do is to roll a dice and use a “word list”, like the one at Diceware Passphrase Home Page. Scroll down to the section “Using Diceware” and it tells you how to (physically) roll a dice four times (or four dice once) to get 16 numbers, which will give you four four-digit numbers. Look up the corresponding words in the word list and you have your four-word passphrase to use in Clipperz (there are alternate word lists, too – check out the “Links” section at the bottom of the Diceware page). Diceware’s word list is at http://world.std.com/%7Ereinhold/diceware.wordlist.asc This passphrase then stands between you or any would-be hacker or snooper,f and your master list of “direct logins”, which are listed on your Clipperz UI in your browser. You can create direct logins – which require just one-click – for any number of sites, from email to banking to commercial sites with sensitive personal info, like Amazon or eBay.

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