New WordPress Sites

This is becoming (for me) the summer of pushing the envelope with WordPress – bending it to become a full content management system, rather than just a blogging tool. Between work and home, have been converting a couple of sites over the past few weeks – one from an old-school static site, and another from Movable Type to WordPress. represents the environmental and historic preservation law firm Rossmann and Moore – I’ve been working with them since forever. Their old static site (originally designed by baald, who comments here sometimes) has stood up to the years amazingly well, but it was time to move on. Now in WordPress, office assistants there can finally update the site without having to learn Dreamweaver or FTP. I love the way WP pages can become children of other pages. By nesting them, you get a hierarchal URL structure automatically, and can use the workhorse wp_list_pages() function to generate structured HTML lists, which in turn can be styled as CSS fly-out menus. Throw in the My Page Order plugin and non-tech editors can rearrange the hiearchy (and thus the menu system) via drag-and-drop. So elegant.

At work, have been on a mission to get all Movable Type sites converted to WordPress by the end of summer. The first of the two largest projects is pretty much done. North Gate News Online is the publishing arm of J-200, the journalism bootcamp all first-year students endure. The site has been a CPU-sucking Movable Type hog with a hideous design (my fault!) for years; as of today it’s majorly multimedia-enabled WordPress site with its own podcast feed (nothing there yet). This is a soft-launch; all the tech is ready and waiting for the next crop of J-200 students. OK, we’re showing too much roof, but the design is leaps and bounds beyond the old site. Using a ton of plugins to handle Flash, QuickTime movies, embedded audio, image pop-ups, etc. But most impressive is WP-Cache, which gives you the static page performance of MT combined with the dynamic page behavior of WordPress. Poetry.

The biggest WP challenge of the summer starts on Monday – total rebuild of China Digital Times, which has much more sophisticated needs. Looking forward to the challenge.

Music: Leo Kottke :: Blimp

Chocolate Powder of England

Miles: “I’m going to sprinkle magic dust on your head and make you a rock and roll star! You’ll play drums and I’ll play xylophone.”

We then proceeded to form a series of bands with the following names, each of them dutifully introduced to an audience of one (Amy) with a shouted “El Cerrito, are you read to rock and roll?,” changing instrumentation with each iteration, none of them lasting longer than a few minutes:

The Electric Motors
Plato of the USA
The Growing Plant of the Maraca That’s Been Fired
Chocolate Powder of England
Blue Bamboo
The Electric Pennies
Chalk Dust Slipper

Music: Meters :: What’cha Say

Two Wheeler

Two-Wheeler Miles has been riding with training wheels on his bike for half a year now. Somehow, a sunny summer evening seemed like the perfect time to try ditching them and flying free. He had a bit of trepidation, and after his first wipe-out he declared his “new” bike “stupid” – said he wanted to give it as a present to a 7-year-old. Then he said he wanted to try again. Riding on the grass turned out to be the magic ticket, and made wipeouts fun. Within half an hour he was flying free and ecstatic. Strange, almost comical coincidence – practically every crash was complemented by the ping of a baseball on aluminum bat in the diamond we shared a field with.

Buck Refills!

Standing in line with Miles for a soft pretzel at Marine World yesterday, found myself staring at big sign hawking a giant plastic bucket emblazoned with the MW logo, which one could fill with a choice of popcorn or cotton candy for a mere $7 (“Buck Refills all day!”) and thinking of Michael Pollan.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan describes the tricky relationship between capitalism and the food industry. You can always sell people more shoes or CDs – we just make space to accommodate them. But humans have a built-in limit to how much food we can consume. Food makers who have to satisfy shareholders’ demands on the bottom line to sell more [widgets/chalupas/corn products] every year have a tough job.

The tension between nature-limited appetites and capitalism’s need to expand, always expand, explains two things: 1) The obesity epidemic, and 2) The relentless introduction of absurd new food combinations in the drive to manufacture desire. Fast food joints re-conjure new variations on the same old limited palette of ingredients. Taco Bell sells little beyond tortillas, cheese, beans, and beef, yet manages somehow to find new ways to recombine them into Mongo Chalupas and Super Beefeater’s BurrTacos year after year. Fruit Loops Cereal Straws are drinking straws made of Fruit Loops material, lined with powdered sugar. Each suck of milk from the bowl brings a mouthful of sugared milk. When done, eat the straw. You see where I’m going with this.

The giant bucket is not a recombinant food creation – what could be more elemental than popcorn or cotton candy? The giant bucket represents the other kind of attempt to sell more food – gi-normous portions (is there a 128-ounce Coke portion available yet? If not, give it time). But it does represent an unbelievable markup on one of the cheapest food items you could possibly manufacture, with the possible exception of bottled water.

We resisted the giant bucket and enjoyed our pretzel, but the entire day at Marine World felt like equal parts pleasure and pain, this weird collision between enjoying the marvels of the deep blue sea (the people mover that carried us along the inside of a glass tube through a tank filled with sharks and sting rays was an experience of rare beauty) vs. a miasma of the most crass and offensive commercialism, not to mention the depressing weight of massive crowds, overpriced everything, and long lines for just about anything, was confusing.

Next time we either head for the tidepools ourselves or bring our own lunch (though park rules explicitly forbid this – wonder why?)

Music: The Avett Brothers :: I Would Be Sad

Wind-Up Whale

Miles Whale Gorgeous photo by Amy of Miles showing off a wind-up whale he found in a geocache at Mt. Diablo last weekend. Today he asked what “chaos” meant and I told him. Then he re-defined the concept for me: “Chaos is when dogs are howling and light poles are bumping into each other and the toilet is walking around the house.” Later, talking about how you could turn a mistake into part of the project while making art: “If an artist makes a mistake she can just bonk her booby bone on her head and then her bones will be gone and she’ll flop over like a jellyfish.” It’s more or less an endless string of delightful dada platitudes around here, punctuated by meltdowns and small miracles.

Music: Janet Seidel :: Deep Purple

Mountain Goats

Cerritos-Cache-Creek     Miles-Scot-Ccc

Great time geocaching with Miles around Kensington today – pegged three caches in one day. First two pretty easy urban and park finds, but the third was a level-3 difficulty hike – a creek bed at the bottom of a steep canyon with no trail to speak of – bushwacking and slip-sliding our way down, holding onto roots and vines. Miles keeps up without complaint, loves the challenge. I swear the kid is a mountain goat in a boy’s body.

Once at the bottom, had a really hard time getting coordinates from the GPSr – couldn’t see the sky for the trees, and the steep canyon offered a much smaller horizon to scan. But using provided hints, finally honed in and M scrambled into position. Nothing really special inside this one aside from an autographed picture of Brad Pitt, signed “I was here”; it’s all about the fun of the hunt. Ecstatic day.

Music: Green-Eyed Lady :: Jerry Corbetta formerly of Sugarloaf

Hollow Tree

Yesterday Miles and I planted our first geocache, near Jewel Lake in Tilden Park. After planting the cache I was averaging waypoints to get a good fix, and Miles was traipsing along behind me, playing with a stick. Suddenly he wasn’t there, and I thought he had taken off down the trail (he’s been doing that lately). Started calling his name when I heard him whimpering – from inside a hollow tree nearby, which arched like a comma up over the trail.

Stuck my head in there and see him about 20 feet in, light at the end of the tunnel about five feet beyond his head. Said he couldn’t get out. Coaxed him to slide backwards down on his belly and he did, until I could grab his feet. Turned out fine, but scary for a few minutes there.

Half an hour later we were on the back side of Jewel Lake when he calls out “Waah! Daddy!” Look down to find him missing a shoe. Start poking around and find a recession in some syrupy mud, which had apparently reached up and grabbed the shoe right off his foot. All the way buried. A samaritan lent us a plastic bag for his shoes, and I carried him back to the car on my shoulders. Never a dull moment with this kid.

Music: War :: The Cisco Kid

Maker Faire 2007

Spectacle-Tm Spent the day with Miles at Maker Faire 2007, where you can’t swing a cat without clobbering a team of reality hackers. Enjoyed the giant Mousetrap game (perfect functional replica of the original, writ large (very large)), the myriad bicycle hacks from Cyclecide, the whale blimp, Ukey Stardust (the entirety of David Bowie’s ;em>Ziggy Stardust performed on ukuleles), the Victorian mini-mansion on wheels Neverwas Haul, The Disgusting Spectacle (kids running on a hamster wheel cause giant to pick enormous gobs of snot from nose), playing with stop-motion claymation video, performance by the original Pepsi and Mentos dudes, the sonar-controlled self-balancing skateboard (which both Miles and I rode!), the endless procession of robots both sleek and gritty – some of them engaged in mortal combat, others the picture of gentility.

Flickr set posted, though I think my set from last year was better (in fact, I think Maker Faire was better last year in general, but not by much – may have been a state of mind, or creeping jadedness). But Maker Faire has already become an amazing father/son bonding tradition thing for us. Now I just need to learn to weld before he turns five.

Music: Velvet Underground :: Sweet Jane

Square Hole

On the way home from a long weekend last night, Miles described his plans to turn his bedroom into an aquarium, complete with cardboard waves and sharks. Came home tonight to find all of my aquarium equipment intermingled with his project stuff – a giant barnacle around the neck of a giraffe, plastic plants decorating his globe, feathers sticking out of driftwood, rows of cowry shells conjoined to strings of fish on parade. He was disappointed that I had promised him there was coral in the aquarium supplies box, when all he found was brain coral (i.e. “not real coral”).

In the afternoon, he started taping and gluing cardboard and wood like crazy, and asking to borrow scissors. Amy found him stabbing the scissors into a block of scrap wood and asked about his plan. “I need a hole for a mast.” Amy responded that he needed a drill for that, not a pair of scissors. “No, I need a square hole.”

From there, he set in on making a “real” aquarium – inverted a plastic bowl over another bowl of water, gingerly placed plastic sea creatures into it. Looked lovely. Then came time to feed the fish. In went handfuls of Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, dirt, Cheerios, and real fish food. The slopfest is sitting out on the deck now, waiting for morning cleanup.

After dinner, he started separating his plastic animals into two separate parades: “Shiny” and “not shiny.” Took a while to figure out he meant “perfect” and “not perfect,” where “not perfect” means any animal with the slightest blemish. Then we had to build a home for the imperfect animals – cardboard box with cut-out windows and doors, and a red construction paper top. Only when the project was complete and all imperfect animals loaded in did he reveal the full plan: Imperfect animals are “stupid and dumb,” so we have to put them in a home out on the street so someone will take them away. Tried to explain that the animals cost money and we shouldn’t be giving so many away. He answered, “They’re not that expensive – they only cost 19″ (19 has replaced 40 as his catch-all number). I lost that round, but brought the box back in after he went to bed; he’s going to be ticked at me in the morning.

Music: Terry Callier :: Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be

The Smell of Cat Food

Miles, throwing himself an “eight-est” birthday party in the living room, blocked off the area with green masking tape strung between sofa and stereo as if it were a crime scene. After much crumbling of chocolate bunny crackers, unexpectedly announced: “No one is allowed at my birthday party who doesn’t like the smell of cat food.” With that, he led me by the hand into the kitchen, where I obliged by getting down on my hands and knees and taking a deep whiff from Plato’s bowl.

“Too rich-smelling for me,” I reported. “But I do like the smell of skunk, if it’s not too close.”

“Well, then you’re not allowed at my party. Only people who like the smell of cat food are.”

Five minutes later he relented when he needed help re-assembling a Playmobil outboard motor. Thankfully I still serve some purpose around here.