De-prioritizing Email

downemailMany years ago, when the internet only made this sound, I opened my first email account at Excite (and yes, it still works). Back then, I thought that email was both the most efficient and the most polite way to contact someone. Unlike sending a letter, you had the possibility of an immediate response. Unlike calling someone, you knew that they would only log in to it when they were ready to. Email was never an interruption.

That last bit has been lost to us. Email is now an interruption to our daily lives, even more so than phone calls, because it’s just so much more popular. We get email notifications on our computers, our phones, our watches, and even in front of our faces. No matter what you’re doing, something is going to let you know that someone wants you to read an email right now. I have spent the last several years under the oppressive rule of email notifications, but no longer.

Starting this week, I have de-prioritized email. Since I only check my physical mailbox for mail once a day, I’m only going to check my email twice a day. Emailed notifications are switched off everywhere, work communication is primarily via Slack, and anyone else who needs me immediately can call or send a text (preferably via Signal).

How am I going to avoid the addictive lure of my email applications? I got rid of them and have switched to webmail only (more on that later). In short, my email is now harder to get to, so it’s no longer a distraction. How will this turn out? So far, I feel more free than I ever have. There are less things clamoring for my attention throughout the day, and I only read my email when I’m ready to, which means I just have more time to do more important things throughout the day. Beyond that, only time will tell.

Automattic: The WooThemes Awakens

woomatticThere has been an acquisition. Have you felt it? Automattic has acquired WooThemes, a leading developer of WordPress eCommerce solutions. The acquisition was announced just a few minutes ago, and I’m very excited that we’ll have a hand in continuing to grow this powerhouse of eCommerce tools alongside 55 new colleagues.

If you’re already a user of WooThemes products, don’t worry, it’s going to be business as usual. We’re joining forces to continue building this great eCommerce solution so we can grow WordPress to power more than just 23% of the web.

We’re moving onwards and upwards, and if you want to be a part of that journey too, we’re always hiring.

Star Wars: A Better Order

sworderIf you’re a Star Wars fan like me, or even just coming to know Star Wars, you’re probably planning to watch the films now that they’re all available digitally. After being inspired by The Machete Order, we decided to try our own take on the reorganized saga: I, IV, V, II, III, and VI. Except for my usual annoyance with Episode II, the new order was a much better experience than watching all six straight through, and here are some thoughts on why.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way, Star Wars is the story of Anakin Skywalker, not Luke Skywalker. Luke is in only three films, Anakin is in all six, it’s that simple. Now, what does that have to do with the new order? Everything. (spoilers below)

When watched in sequence from I to VI, the conclusion of Episode III completely robs the cliffhanger reveal in Episode V of all its meaning and shock value. “No, I am your father!” Vader, I know, we confirmed that two whole films ago. “No, that’s not true, that’s impossible!” Oh, it’s true, I saw it with my own eyes. “Search your feelings,” no need for that, I just re-watched the 1:16:40 mark of Episode III, it’s indeed true. This is what bothers me the most about the prequels, even more than Jar Jar Binks. “I am your father,” was one of the most profound reveals in cinema, but when watched with the prequels first, it’s not shocking at all, it’s expected.

When watched in my new preferred order (I, IV, V, II, III, VI), the “I am your father” reveal is still first and still shocking. We begin with Episode I to learn about the naive young Anakin Skywalker, who is swept up into something he can never hope to understand (Your complaints about this episode aside, you can’t have a meaningful story about Anakin Skywalker’s fall and redemption without the chapter on this naive young boy). We flash forward 32 years for Episode IV to see that things aren’t so well for the galaxy, and that we have a new hero in Luke Skywalker, who is apparently Anakin’s son. We continue the story in Episode V where we learn that Darth Vader is indeed Anakin, and we’re just as devastated as Luke. We flash back 25 years for Episodes II and III where we learn exactly how that naive young boy fell so far and became the terrifying Darth Vader. Finally, we return to the “present” timeline in Episode VI, to finish the saga and witness Anakin’s redemption.

The order restores the impact of the “I am your father” reveal, forms a much more solid narrative around Anakin Skywalker by introducing both distinct phases of his life in the first two films, and also takes advantage of the larger than usual time spans between Episodes I and II and Episodes V and VI to support the flash forward/back structure.

Above all, Star Wars is a great saga that you deserve to enjoy however you want to. I personally prefer this new order, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

Star Wars: Attack of the Pacing

swatotpAfter all these years, I’m finally aware of what bothers me so much about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. It’s the pacing. To put it simply, a completely different film slaps you across the face about half-way through, even more so than any of the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit films.

Attack of the Clones follows two sets of characters on their own plots until they somehow get together for the very end. In the beginning, Anakin and Padmé are on a journey to find love from Coruscant to Naboo, while Obi-Wan is tracking a bounty hunter and slowly unraveling a conspiracy from Coruscant to Kamino (and confronting villain #1). Suddenly, an hour in at almost the same moment, Anakin and Padmé are on a quest to find Anakin’s mother on Tatooine while Obi-wan is on a quest to get to the bottom of a droid army on Geonosis (and confronting villain #2).

Do you see what happened there? We’re still following the same characters, but both their purposes and their settings pivoted simultaneously. It just robs the whole film of its flow. A wonderful reason for maintaining two parallel plots is that you can keep one flowing to bridge the gap while the other pivots. You should never pivot both plots at the same time. Yes, in a film where the chemistry between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman sparkles like the murky swamps of Dagobah, this is what bothers me the most, the fact that the film comes to a screeching halt and pivots in the span of one transition.

Every time I watch this film, I stop about an hour in and continue the next day. I could certainly watch another hour, but I can never seem to find the energy to invest in a set of new plots without some sort of break. Future filmmakers take note, Attack of the Clones would have been one of the better prequels if it had just maintained its flow. Always stagger the pivoting of your parallel plots to hold the audience’s attention.

WordPress 4.2 Released

pressthisWordPress 4.2 has been released! This release introduces a fully redesigned Press This, easier theme switching in the Customizer, support for new embeds from Tumblr and Kickstarter, expanded support for native Chinese, Japanese, and Korean characters, musical and mathematical symbols, hieroglyphs, and Emoji. Of course, those are just the highlights. There’s much more to WordPress 4.2.

283 volunteers contributed to this release, lead by Drew Jaynes. At the time of writing this, WordPress 4.2 has been out for less than 4 hours and has already been downloaded 452,492 times!

All users can now safely update from Dashboard -> Updates or download and update manually, though you should probably backup first just in case, unless you’re already using VaultPress, which you really should be.

😄

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Earth Day, 2015

Earth Day is upon us, as it is every April 22nd, which means it’s a great time to at least start saving the environment for free and to donate to The Conservation Fund, my favorite environmental charity for many important reasons.

Want to do more? Is the environment more important to you than a few clicks and a few dollars? Then start doing more at home with this list of fifty ways to help the planet.

Now, get out of your home or office and spend some time outdoors! Or, if it’s not too hospitable outside today, at least watch this video.

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Star Wars Anime

Have you ever wanted to see a Star Wars anime? We’ll probably never see an official one now that Disney owns the franchise, but this short film fills the void quite well, and all I want now is more. For more info, see the coverage at The Verge and the short film’s companion PDF.

My Dad’s Jazz Music, Everywhere

technicolourFor many years, the only way to hear Polyhedra outside of a performance was to attend anyway and leave with a physical album. Almost thirty years after the release of their first album, my Dad’s Jazz group can now be heard and/or purchased through your favorite online music venues!

Polyhedra’s albums are now available for purchase on CD Baby (MP3 and FLAC available), iTunes, Amazon (Iridescence and Technicolor because Amazon doesn’t do artist listings), and Google Play. If you’re a fan of streaming, you can listen to Polyhedra’s albums now on Spotify and Rdio. They’re also available at ninety other online music venues I won’t even bother to list here. If your favorite one isn’t listed here, I’m sure you can find them by searching.

We used CD Baby’s distribution service to bring Polyhedra into the modern era of digital distribution. If you’re looking to do something similar with your recorded music, I highly recommend them. The process was quick, simple, and inexpensive.

We hope you enjoy listening to Polyhedra’s albums wherever you are as much as this group of wild musical animals enjoyed recording them!

Edit: Bill Huff, my Dad, is on the saxophones.

Likes and Self-Censorship

likeA friend recently asked me about transferring Likes between platforms, which got me thinking about what Likes mean to me. Upon applying a little more thought than my typical “Yay, someone liked my post!” I came to the conclusion that they were useless to me, perhaps even detrimental to my writing.

Likes are an artificial construct we rely on as proof that an audience exists and is happy with the content we shared. I don’t need Likes to prove I have an audience, I have Stats for that, and Likes do little to prove that the audience is happy with the shared content. The simple action of pushing a button hardly qualifies as reader engagement, completely reading the post isn’t even required. The Like button is also only present on the site itself, it’s not present in subscription emails or RSS feeds. There is no proof that those who pushed the button actually liked the content or that there aren’t more out there who just didn’t bother to push the button.

Likes as an artificial construct of an audience are also seen as an artificial construct of self-worth, leading to self-censorship. I have always believed that the writer should write what the writer wants to, and let the audience grow around it. Likes are the antithesis of that. Once you begin to believe Likes are your only proof of audience satisfaction, you have lost the battle over your own creativity. Self-censorship sets in, and you begin to force yourself to adapt to please an audience which probably doesn’t exist in the form you understand it.

I have removed the Like buttons here after this little revelation of mine. I’ll continue to write what I feel like writing without being misguided by the Like button. I’m interested to see how this little experiment goes, and I’ll always have my Stats if I need proof that people read what I write. As for you kind folks, if you like what I write, please feel free to share it, Like/Favorite/+1 it on your social network of choice, or let me know in the comments. I may no longer have a Like button here, but I do appreciate a kind word from time to time.

The Revisionaries of Wikipedia

wikiquestionWikipedia has been with us for fourteen years, and I’m willing to bet that everyone has made use of it at least once. Perhaps some of you have even contributed content or editorial help to Wikipedia. It is, after all, the encyclopedia editable by everyone, right?

Over the past eleven years, a group of core editors has been working behind the scenes, choosing which edits live or die while handing out lifetime bans for edits they consider to be not factual (regardless of evidence). Recently, they choose to ban editors defending articles from vandalism, rather than ban the vandals themselves. Is this a reaction to the impossibility of policing an encyclopedia which is editable by the entire world? Of course, but then why advertise it as such?

The whole situation reminds me of The Revisionaries, a documentary detailing how a small group with clear biases has commanding control over exactly what and how history is portrayed in our textbooks. If you have not seen it yet, I recommend it, as it may also speak towards a grim future for Wikipedia, given recent events.

An encyclopedia editable by the entire world needs to be policed somehow, but when deciding the knowledge which is passed down, how do we trust the right choices are being made? After all, they even discard corrections from scholars accompanied by published evidence. Does this mean that established yet incorrect “facts” may never be corrected in the eyes of Wikipedia? Perhaps the problem is that too many people think of facts as a matter of opinion, not as a result of evidence.

Where do we go from here? I believe The Internet Archive is the answer. The Internet Archive does not strive to make history editable by the masses, nor does it make rulings on fact vs. fiction. The Internet Archive simply exists to preserve as much history as it can for as long as it can. If you see a book written by one man preserved in The Internet Archive, you can trust that it is the opinion of that one man. If the evidence in that book holds up, you known that opinion is indeed a fact. How much of a Wikipedia article is fact? We may never know. Everyone has their hands in Wikipedia, with one possibly biased group holding the power of final judgement.

I guess I see it as a choice between what’s more important for the future of history itself. Should it be the ability to preserve history forever, or the ability to edit history whenever we want to?