Archive for March 2008

A New WordPress Plugin: Clean Notifications

HTML email gets a deservedly bad name mostly because it’s used to send out spam and marketing and also because it’s tough to work with from a design and code standpoint.

However, under controlled conditions and in limited circumstances, HTML mail can be a whole lot cleaner than plain text email. In converting Mike Industries to WordPress recently, one of the things I noticed right away was that the e-mails WordPress would send me when new comments and pings came in were extremely verbose. Since WP sends out plain text emails, all of the links get spelled out as raw, unstyled URLs and the emails end up containing probably twice the amount of visible characters than they need to. This is especially frustrating when you’re trying to read notifications from a mobile device like the Jesusphone.

What could possibly tighten WordPress’ email notifications into more aesthetically pleasing hyperlinked missives? A plug-in which sends out better formatted mail!

Enter “Clean Notifications”. A plug-in that took only 30 minutes to write but is capable of providing digital pleasure to people all around the world.

Here is what a WordPress email looks like before Clean Notifications:

… and here is after:

Note the economy of characters. Only the info you need, spaced for readability, and requires no configuration.

Download Clean Notifications and love WordPress just a little more.

Goodbye Movable Type, Hello WordPress

A few months ago, I silently moved Mike Industries from the aging Movable Type platform to the quicker-developing WordPress platform. I didn’t even plan to change platforms, but after more than a week of trying unsuccessfully to move from Movable Type 3.0 to Movable Type 4.0, this blog was in such a state of disarray under the covers that I began to wonder if switching to WordPress would be quicker altogether.

You see, Movable Type is a platform designed to be static, and only through hackerations with .htaccess files and “bootstrap loaders” can you simulate a truly dynamic publishing system. Part of my move to version 4.0 was designed to use these new dynamic abilities, but in the end, it mucked up so much of my (admittedly custom) setup that I just wanted out completely.

WordPress, in contrast to Movable Type, is designed from the ground up to be dynamic, and through smart caching, it can be made to scale like a static site. This is much the same as how we designed Newsvine to be. As a designer and developer, it just feels a lot cleaner.

So after many years with Movable Type, more than a week of MT 4.0 upgrade attempts, and much assistance from MT’s good shepherd Anil Dash, I called the whole thing off and plotted a WordPress migration instead. Less than two days later, Mike Industries was live on WordPress with only a handful of edge-case issues to resolve (mostly related to inline javascript and php, mime-types, and other custom things I do around here).

Three months in, and now on the newly released WordPress 2.5 (great job on the interface, Happy Cog!), I couldn’t be happier to have made the switch. WordPress certainly isn’t perfect, and if I was starting from scratch, I might have chosen ExpressionEngine instead, but it sure is nice to be on a platform where if I don’t like something, I can just write a few lines of PHP or download a plug-in to address my needs.

Speaking of plug-ins, I’ve already written one of my own that I will release in a few days, but these are the ones I’ve had to install so far (shocking that some of these are even necessary, but oh well):

  • Raw HTML – Best plug-in ever. Allows you to wrap PHP/HTML/JS/etc codeblocks in special comments which prevent WordPress from reformatting or encoding them (shocking this is necessary, but a very welcome plug-in)
  • Domain Mirror – So that I can use subdomains like “mobile.mikeindustries.com”
  • Mint Bird Feeder – So that I can use run my feed through Mint redirects
  • Periods in Titles – So that I can use periods in my URLs
  • Ping/Track/Comment Count – So I can separate comments from trackbacks from pings
  • Subscribe to Comments – So users can receive e-mail notifications when there are new comments
  • TextControl – To control how WordPress encodes and adds linebreaks
  • WP-Cache – To reduce load on the database and increase scalability

So anyway, that’s about it for now. If you’re on a publishing platform that you don’t love but you’ve got too much inertia to convert to another, take it from me: spend the few days necessary and get it done… it’s not that hard… and I’ve got custom stuff all over the place.

Not Just Another NCAA Bracket Game

If you haven’t filled out an NCAA bracket yet (or even if you have), head on over to the Newsvine Cinderella Bracket Challenge and pick your teams before Thursday’s tournament tipoff.

The grand prize this year is an XBOX 360, and once again, we’re proud to present you with what we believe to be the best NCAA Tournament game in the business. Instead of taking an hour to pick an entire bracket full of teams only to see the people who pick the top seeds score the most points, the Cinderella Bracket Challenge gives you a limited budget of 300 credits to pick as few or as many teams as you want. Top seeds cost the most and weaker seeds (“Cinderellas”) are cheap.

Your goal is to pick the basket of teams you can afford, given a fixed budget, that will net the most total victories in the tournament.

So if you’re interested in the NCAA Tournament, head on over to the Cinderella Bracket Challenge and you can fill out up to three separate entries. Make sure to either join an existing group or create a group of your own and invite your friends in. We don’t encourage gambling at Newsvine, but what you do behind closed doors is your business. :)

Why doesn’t anyone in movies or TV shows say “bye” when hanging up the phone? I swear I am going to write a whole post on that.

"What in heaven's name was the man thinking?"

Experts analyze Spitzer's thinking – CNN.com

Fuck, here come the bowling updates. NOW I really miss Austin.
I love that no one I’m following gives a shit about the Zuckerberg fiasco. Glad my friends have more on their minds than that (see:beer).
Thanks for the group Jager shot, Croftie. Please tag all Jager shot photos this week with “shots-for-miked” .

SSSS Equals No SXSW

“SSSS”. The mark of the beast.

Ever wonder why sometimes, airport security personnel (TSA) ask you for your boarding pass immediately after you pass through the metal detector, considering that you just showed your pass to a TSA agent right before you got to the detector lines? Furthermore, do you ever wonder why some people get comprehensive searches and others don’t? Well today I got a tough lesson in security and airport incompetence which has caused me to finally give up and cancel my trip to Austin for SXSW.

First, some quick background.

Tom Watson, Jeff Croft, Ben Tesch, and I were supposed to fly to Austin via Dallas yesterday. I had instant status alerts set up through one of my new favorite sites FlightStats.com and made sure everything was A-OK before leaving for the airport. After checking into my flight and waiting near the gate, however, the entire thing got cancelled due to snow in Dallas.

American Airlines couldn’t get me on any other flights that day so they put me on an Alaska flight through San Jose for the following day (today). Fair enough. Weather shit happens. I get that.

Here is where it starts to get absurd though.

So, Tom, Ben, and I show up today a full 90 minutes before our flight, we check in, we go through security, and then at 12:50pm, five minutes after boarding has begun, we try to board. The person at the gate scans my ticket and says:

“Sorry sir. You need to go back through security. You need to get back on the train to the main terminal and tap a TSA agent on the shoulder and show them your boarding pass.”

I say:

“What??? Why? My friends too?”

She says:

“Yes, so sorry. Hurry.”

→ Read the rest of this entry

iPhone Enterprise Hooks: Will They Reach Mail.app?

Gelaskin by Giselle Silvestri

So I watched the iPhone event today and I’ve read as many blogs as I can on the subject, but I still haven’t seen any information about whether all of the great enterprise capabilities to be released in June will also make their way into Apple’s desktop e-mail client. I think the iPhone SDK, the games, and all of the other stuff announced today were great, but as I’ve said before, there’s really not a whole lot I need to do on my iPhone today that I can’t already, except for interact with Exchange.

I predicted in December that Apple would take a dual path strategy towards supporting both open-standard enterprise protocols like IMAP/iCalendar and proprietary Exchange protocols, and it appears this is now coming to fruition, but in all of the announcements today, there was no mention of the desktop version of Mail.app.

To those of us using Macs in an Exchange environment, this is kind of a big deal. Yeah there’s Entourage 2008 which can tunnel into certain Exchange functions via Outlook Web Access protocols, and there’s Mail.app’s crippled Exchange-Over-IMAP capability, but seeing as OS X lives both on the desktop and in the iPhone, why shouldn’t the desktop version of Apple Mail get all of this great new ActiveSync Exchange stuff too? Currently, the only way I’m able to sync all of my devices, calendars, contacts, and email together, whether it be Mac, Exchange, or iPhone is by using Entourage as a conduit into .Mac and then propagating everything out this way. I’ve been doing this since early in the Office 2008 beta and it works *just* well enough to be useful, but it’s very hacky and seemingly dangerous at times (like when entire calendars get duplicated or deleted).

Anyone heard anything on the Mail.app Enterprise support front? In all the fuss about the iPhone today, this pretty important side issue got zero airtime.

Shared
Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away:

A great essay about how toxic everyday distractions can be.

Humanity's deep future:

A group of researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute talk about where our race may be going and how artificial intelligence could save or kill us all.

Steve Jobs speaks about the future at the International Design Conference in 1983:

31 years later, it’s safe to say this is one of the most prescient speeches about technology ever delivered. Jobs covers wireless networking, tablets, Google StreetView, Siri, and the App Store (among other things) many years before their proliferation. A fantastic listen.

How to travel around the world for a year:

Great advice for when you finally find the time.

LiveSurface:

A fantastic app for prototyping your design work onto real world objects like billboards, book covers, and coffee cups. This seems like just as great of a tool for people learning design as it does for experts.

50 problems in 50 days:

One man’s attempt to solve 50 problems in 50 days using only great design. Some good startup ideas in here…

How to Do Philosophy:

If you’ve ever suspected that most classical philosophy is a colossal waste of time, Paul Graham tells you why you’re probably right.

TIME: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us:

Stephen Brill follows the money to uncover the pinnacle of corruption that is the U.S. Health Care system. A must-read article if there ever was one.

DIY Dot Org:

A beautifully designed site full of fun and challenging DIY projects. I could spend months on here.

The Steve Jobs Video Archive:

A collection of over 250 Steve Jobs videos in biographical order

Self-portraits from an artist under the influence of 48 different psychoactive drug combos.

Water Wigs are pretty amazing.

David Pogue proposes to his girlfriend by creating a fake movie trailer about them and then getting a theater to play it before a real movie. Beautiful and totally awesome.

Jonah Peretti's letter to BuzzFeed’s employees:

If you’re wondering what a excellent blueprint for a modern media company looks like, look no further than Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s latest email to his employees. In it, Peretti explains a lot of his company’s virtues, the most important being a relentless focus on always providing what’s best for the user. Vox Media (operators of The Verge) is the only other company I can think of which approaches this level of reform and execution.

The Covers Project:

I love this so much: a cross-referenceable database of cover songs, searchable by song or artist. Slowed down, acoustic covers — no matter the song — are so enjoyable to me that I wish it was a requirement to play one at every show. If you like them as much as I do, make sure to check out M. Ward’s Let’s Dance or Sun Kil Moon’s entire album of Modest Mouse covers.