Learning s’more skills at Wordcamp St. Louis

Over the weekend I had the chance – the pleasure – to attend Wordcamp St. Louis 2012. I met some great people, doing incredible things with WordPress, and had a chance to learn and be inspired. Although the whole day was great, three of the talks stand out for me:

Most generally informative: Chris Miller (@iDoNotes) gave us the down and dirty on using WordPress as a podcasting/videocasting platform, blasting us with way more information than I thought could be squeezed into the 45 minute session. No doubt he had to leave some stuff out, but it was a comprehensive intro that put those interested on the right path for learning more. Especially if they remember to visit the resource bundle he put together for us.

Most specifically useful: Joshua Ray (@pdxOllo)  and Alex Rodriguez (@arod2634) presented Best Practices and Admin Customization, the latter which has been on my mind of late for a current project. Comprehensive coverage and plenty of code examples (I’ll post the links later, I seem to have misplaced them). Looking forward to digging in.

Most inspirational: Although the WordPress specific parts of Reshma Chamberlin’s (@reshmacc) talk on design were impressive themselves, what impressed – and inspired – me the most was her and her partner’s philosophy of design. And not just design, really, but how to chase your dreams, make a difference, and to do things right. (Sounds so easy, doesn’t it.) Check out the B&C Designers site to see for yourself. (And thanks, Reshma, for the book recommendation: Disciplined Dreaming is next up on my shelf!)

All this machinery making modern music

To make music these days, musicians need to know just a bit more than how to play their instrument. A guitar player, for example, needs to be able to play the guitar (a given), but also must have an understanding of how the guitar is built, what accessories provide what features, how to mic the amps. Likewise a drummer, bass player, or other band member. Then comes the process of recording music to produce a song and, hopefully, all the work that goes into putting on a live performance. There are a seemingly endless supply of options available to these musicians that must be overwhelming at times.

Kind of like the seemingly endless onslaught of new collaboration tools and ways to communicate with others.

A little over 5 years ago, I wrote the following:

I’ve been messing around with blogs (with varying success) for over 5 years now, have set up and contributed to my fair share of other online sources like wikis and as a commenter to other blogs. But I’ve only recently really understood the value and, yes, appeal of text messaging and the ability to send photos and videos from anywhere on my phone. And, though I’ve recently signed up and started experimenting with Facebook, I’m still not quite sure exactly what to do with it. And don’t get me started with things like Twitter – as much as friends and others praise it, I just don’t get it.

Of course, it has only gotten worse (better?) since then.

List of feed options for the Lifestream plugin
All this, plus a way to add any that aren’t already included

I have spent the better part of the past year or so exploring and trying out new tools, seeing where they add value or don’t. I still don’t use Facebook much, but have found my groove with Twitter. I see the value and potential of Google+ but just can’t quite get into it. On the other hand, I have come to love and rely on Jive in our “behind the firewall” social/business network. I’ve signed up for many of the niche services that have come out: I really like InstagramUntappd is a cool idea, and I don’t get Pinterest (at all). A quick look at the feed selection list for the Lifestream plugin for WordPress gives an idea of what’s out there. I have no idea what most of them are, and this isn’t even all of them! (Lifestream provides a way for you to add “generic” feeds for all those that they’ve missed.)

Speaking of WordPress… Although I haven’t been blogging publicly for a while (16 months or so, yikes!), spending a lot of time writing and making things happen behind the firewall, I have kept up with the evolution of WordPress and the great tools available in the system, not to mention the evolution of its positioning in the market from “just another … blog” to “just another … site”. I’ve read a couple of good WordPress books through my Safari Books Online subscription, and played around a bit under the hood.

Wordcamp St. Louis 2012

And in a couple of weeks I’m attending WordCamp St. Louis 2012 to learn and share even more.

I could say that all this goodness was part of why it has taken me so long to actually get back up and running. (I told @tomcatalini back in April that I was “very close” to a return to blogging, not sure 4 months counts as “very close”.) And though it sounds like an excuse it is, at least partly, true. Part of my absence has been directly related to my trying to figure out what direction I wanted this blog to take, to build on my previous blogs or to try something new. But part has been trying to understand what is possible with regards to how I do it.

A perfect example of this interplay was my discovery of different post formats, along with the Showcase page template in the Twenty Eleven theme, and how I could use it to capture and present both my own extended thoughts on things (an ounce of perception) and a log of my more random thoughts and observations (a pound of obscure).

I don’t need to worry about all those sites and services in the list above that I don’t know about, or know how to use, nor do I need to worry about all the bells and whistles in WordPress. Perhaps they will be of value to me some day, and if so I expect that I will find them if and when I need them. What I care about is what I can do with them. 

Like the musicians I mentioned earlier, my purpose is not to “play an instrument” or to set up a bunch of gear. My purpose is to make music, and all this machinery is just a way to do that.

Now, let’s see what kind of music I can make….

Blogging from OneNote ’07

My notebooks are littered with scribbles and notes of ideas for blog posts. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have never made it off of paper. If only there were an easy way to post from my quickly written out ideas….

One of the things that caught my eye when going through the things OneNote 2007 can do was the Blog This option when you right-click a page. This page is meant to be a test of that functionality.

Because of the way OneNote handles text and images – basically, put it wherever you want it on the page, I’m curious how it will handle the different placement of elements when it converts to HTML. This paragraph that I’m currently writing is a separate element from the text above, placed below and a bit offset from the rest of the text. I captured the graphic using the windows+S key combination and dropped it in on the right side of the page.

Update from within Word 2007:

Once I clicked on Blog This, OneNote sent the page into Word ’07. I kind of expected this based on my previous experience with Word ’07 and blogging, but I was hoping that OneNote would simply use the account settings from Word. As you can see (well, I can see it since I know what the original looked like), Word has taken the free-flowing format of a OneNote page and converted it into a more structured document. The only change I made to the page (except for adding this description) was to adjust the text wrapping properties and location of the image.

From here the process is somewhat familiar, but I’m still going to have to do some tweaking once I get it up into WordPress. For example, you can Insert Category from within Word, but you can only select one category – Ctrl-click doesn’t work.

Update from within WordPress:

Once I got into WordPress, everything in the post looked fine. I added the categories I wanted this post filed under and it was ready to post.

A quick recap of the process:

  1. Put together a rough (or not so rough) draft in OneNote.
  2. When ready, right-click on the Blog This option
  3. In Word 2007, adjust the flow of the text and images as needed, then Publish as Draft.
  4. In WordPress, open the draft, modify the post properties (Categories, tags, timestamp, etc). Then Publish.

Which is what I’m going to do now.

Blog maintenance

Just to let you know, I’m going to be going through some blog maintenance over the next day or two, including an update of the WordPress software and databases and a possible template change (haven’t decided about that one, yet). I’m also planning to import posts from the original …no straight lines… from Blogger, partly to have a consolidated collection of my writing but mainly to follow my own advice (inspired by Harold Jarche) to “own my data.”

I’m giving this warning because 1) I’m not sure what will happen when I import the posts, whether subscribers will get a blast of new posts or if there will be no effect, and 2) in case I screw something up you’ll know that it is my fault – not my host, DreamHost – and is (hopefully) temporary until I can figure it all out.

I’ve been keeping busy other places (here, here, and here), but do have a backlog of things to write about that I’ll be posting soon.