Daily Archives: November 5, 2006

The word-press project puzzler #1

A few weeks back I posted TWWP Puzzler #1. I posted the answer soon thereafter, thus providing a demonstration of the “future is now” effect described in The Future is Now.

Here’s a a puzzler for the word-press folks and especially for the WordPress folks.

I wrote in a previous post about A WordPress Magical Moment. That’s because something I wished for on Friday suddenly appeared on Saturday morning.

But it turns out what WordPress gives it can also taketh away. I woke up this Sunday morning and found that while WordPress was better on Sunday that it had been on Friday, it was worse on Sunday than it had been on Saturday.

That’s the puzzler: What changed? What went wrong?

Falling leaves, covering ground

I grew up in New Mexico and have lived in New York for over forty years now. One of the reasons I haven’t gone back where I came from is the New England Fall. [1] It is the most reliable of our transient seasons: spring and fall. Spring is finicky; it can linger or come and go in a flash. It just takes a late blizzard, or lots of rain, or an early heat wave to make spring very short.

But fall can be trusted — there are definite events that mark its progress. Each is be associated with a specific day or or a period of a few days. Here’s a list of my fall milestones:

When the red maple at the base of our lawn reaches its full splendor:

October06 066

The day when as I drive away from my house in the morning I first notice the sun’s light distracting me because so many leaves have fallen from the roadsite trees.

The day when there’s some wind and I first hear the soft rustle of falling leaves.

And last the day that this year came today. That’s the day the maple in front of our house starts to shed its all leaves, a sure sign that all the trees in our area will soon be bare.

I decided to take a few pictures with my digital camera, to see if I could capture some sign of change during the day — and perhaps even come up with a blog post.

I decided to start by taking a picture of a falling leaf. I went outside, found a branch, readied the camera, saw a leaf starting to tall, pushed the shutter button, and watched the leaf fall out of the field of view because I had forgotten the one-second delay that occurs between the time you press the shutter and the time the camera actually takes the picture.

That lag of a second is an example of what I call the “future is now” effect, an unexpected shift or warping of time. I first noticed it when I started blogging. I came to understand that it made no sense to post in a narrative order because blog engines such as WordPress display the most recent entries first. So as an author when each new story you should expect most readers will read a post you have yet to write before they read the one you have just written.

Similarly with a digital camera, though the effect here is “now is the future.” To take a digital picture — or at least with the under-one-hundred-dollar camera I use –is to take a picture one second in the future. That works fine for people trying to sit still, but makes it hard to catch a falling leaf.

So I decided to step back, so it would take longer for a leaf to fall out of the field of view. A leaf can fall far in one second so I wound up some distance away. Here’s a picture, taken around 9AM:

November 5 - Leaves 005

There is a falling leaf somewhere in there — I promise. They may even be a Waldo, though I didn’t look for him.

(By the way, one of my favorite childhood photos is one that I took with an old Kodak camera back in the 50’s at what was called “Armed Forces Day” out our local U.S. Air Force base. It was a chance to visit the base and see actual airplanes. I was so enchanted by a gigantic B-52 that I decided to take a picture of my mother and the plane. Since I was more enchanted by the size of the plane than of a close view of my mother, I kept walking back until I finally had the whole damn plane in the viewfinder. I must have wound up a quarter-mile away, because if you look at the picture you see just the outline of a B-52 and a small dot — my mother — underneath the wing.)

I then realized I had also taken a picture of the lawn under the tree, and so could mark the progress of the falling leaves by taking a picture later in the day.

I took several more more pictures. You can even see my shadow in one of them:

Dave's shadow

I got back from the gym a few hours later and decided to give it another go. I decided that I pointed the camera upward and took a picture as a leaf started to fall then I could keep it the field of view. That didn’t work. So I just started taking pictures, almost trying to anticipate when a leaf might start to fall.[2] I eventually captured a falling leaf:

A falling leaf

Note the tree with no leaves in the center background. It’s the same red maple pictured first in this post.

I took another picture of the lawn around noon:

November 5 - Leaves 016Lawn at noon

I thought about it a bit, and finally realized how the story told by the pictures relates to open-source.

Don’t look at the falling leaves — look at the ground. More of the ground is covered at noon than was the case at 9AM. Though each leaf is very small, collectively the leaves that fell in those three hours have covered a noticable new part of my front lawn.

And that’s just what happens each and every day in the world of open-source. Thousands of developers are working at all hours, all over the globe. Many times each day, one of them sends a patch to this project, or another one checks in a new module to that project, or another one announces the release of a new version of yet another project. This process of incremental change goes on constantly.

And each such action, however tiny, is like a leaf falling — it covers new ground. Open-source just keeps on getting better and better.

We’ve all heard the line often uttered just after someone tells a joke they particularly like: “Does it get any better than this?”

With open-source, it does get better than this. What open-source is available tomorrow will be better than what is available. While some projects may take a step back from time, collectively open-source just keeps getting better … and better .. and better. [3]


1. Re “back where I came from, ” see the page A. J. Liebling.

2. It is possible to do things in a very small time interval by using a random approach. During my college summers I worked at the Air Force Weapons Lab (AWFL) in Albuquerque. Much of my time the first summer was taking pictures of traces from an oscilloscope of events that happened in microsends. As part of that I had a microsecond resolution timer manufactured by HP. There were separate buttons to start and stop the time. By making many attempts to see how short a period I could put together, I was able to produced elapsed times in the microseconds, even though the muscles in the body respond at the milliseond level. Random samples produced what seemed an impossible result.

A similar use of randomness is the fundamental idea behind the ethernet as we know it today. It began as an experiment in sending messages between the islands of Hawaii. The key idea was not to synchronize the packets but to introduce a random delay between successive packets.

IBM took a different approach to coordinating packets, in the form of the “token ring.” Though it offered better performance initially it was eventually driven to extinction as the hardware needed to support the ethernet protocol became commoditized and thus eventually allowed ethernet-based networking to overtake the token-ring approach — good news for Cisco, bad news for IBM.

One could probably put together an interesting experiment for high-school science students based on this idea.

3. As it happens, WordPress took a step back recently. We’ll get to that in a puzzler to be posted soon.

Word-press project initial status report

Since the word-press project is just getting underway, I’m posting a few figures about the current state of this blog and web site mid-day November 5th, as one way to measure the growth of the the blog, and the word-press project in particular.

Totals to date: 99 posts, 72 comments, 9 tags.

Blog Stats, total number of views, or “hits”, to date: 3400.

Most views in a single day, 279 (20 Oct 06). (2nd was 246, on 23 Oct)

Traffic the last few days, starting with 19 Oct: 70, 279, 62, 58, 246, 88, 51, 45, 38, 12, 70, 51, 36, 69.

Feed stats, estimated number of people who read the feed each day, also starting from 19 Oct: 2, 6, 1, 5, 4, 4, 5, 5, 0, 5, 8, 3, 4, 7, 3, 4.

Technorati rating, Technorati search on this blog: Rank 376,370 (13 links from 9 blogs). Updated three days ago.

Dave Shields Deli.cio.us tag/network status: 188 items; my network has three entries, Bob Sutor, James Governor, Steve O’Grady; one fan, Steve O’Grady.

flickr.com: 25 photos, 15 views.

Blogroll: 0 (no entries)

Google English pages :

  • open-source-twit: 171
  • open-education: 330,000
  • the wayward wordpress: 142,000
  • dave shields blog: 2,730,000
  • First postion of one of my posts in “dave shields blog” search: 5
  • dave shields: 2,030,000
  • First position of me in “dave shields”: 4
  • The Dave Shields you get on “dave shields” and “I’m feeling lucky”: Dave Shields The Author’s Official Site. He’s the “bikes” Dave Shields; I am the “Jikes” Dave Shields.

By the way, I used to be a “bikes” Dave Shields too. I purchased a used Yamaha YDS2 250 cc two-cylinder motorcyle in September of 1964. I believe The YDS2 was one of the first high-performance two-cylinder bikes sold in this country.

My most memorable trip was in December 1964 when I drove it from Pasadena to Albuquerque via Palm Springs, Phoenix and Socorro, New Mexico. I woke up about 8AM on Wednesday, December 23rd, and set off on the YDS2 about 6 PM. I crossed the California-Arizona border early the next morning. Soon thereafter the bike broke down due to a battery problem. I managed to get a hitch to a garge to get the battery recharged, and I was made it to Phoenix early in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. The problem was due to a faulty brush in the alternator and I was thus able to leave Phoenix around 4PM.

I didn’t sleep during the entire trip. As I entered New Mexico it started snowing. At that point I had been awake about 40 hours.
I fell asleep on the bike, and woke up to find myself going across a field lightly covered in snow. I’m lucky I wasn’t killed — I hadn’t seen another vehicle for hours, and if I had been knocked out or if my bike had been damaged then I would have almost certainly have frozen to death.

Since it was Christmas Eve all the gas stations were closed. I was running very low on gas when I reached a small town in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico. The only business open was a bar. When I explained my plight and asked for help, I learned there was no gas available, but they could put me up.

So I went to sleep around 3AM, after being continuousy awake about 43 hours.

Others have sought shelter on the day that we now call Christmas; indeed, Christmas itself is named after what happened when one such family sought shelter over two thousand years ago. The town in which I found shelter early on a Christmay day was named after what happened on the first Christmas night over two thousand years ago — I ended my journey early on a Christmas day in Magdalena, New Mexico.

A WordPress Magical Moment

I had a WordPress Magical Moment in the last day. WordPress provides to blog authors a “dashboard” that can be used to modify the content and also to track readership. In particular, one option, called “BlogStats,” provides a simple graph showing the total number of blog posts read for each of the last thirty days.

Yesterday, while reviewing the graph — and as one of the hundreds of thousands of WordPress bloggers I know we all spend much more time that we are willing to admit looking at those stats [1] — I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice if WordPress provided a similar function for each post, so I could see how readership evolves, or decays, in the days after a post?”

This morning, when I logged into WordPress and fired up the Dashboard, I noticed two things:

  • The organization of the Dashboard had changed;
  • Next to each post was a link called “Stats.” When I clicked on one of them I saw just the display I had wished for less than a day earlier.

Magic! Absolute magic! Those WordPress folks had implemented a new function just because I thought of it. And I didn’t have to pay a dime. I didn’t even need to tell them of my desire — they knew it. I didn’t even have to blog about it, to make the case this would be a good idea. Indeed, it was if they had written the blog post for me, decided it made sense, written the code to implement this new function, tested it, and then installed it in their production system, all in less than 24 hours.

That is of course impossible. No project, even one based on open-source, is that magical. But I believe the following statements to be correct. In the next few posts I will try to describe what I believe happened, and in doing so show that open-source, while not magical in itself , can result in what seems to be magic.

  • If enough users wanted this function, it was only a matter of time until it was added;
  • If WordPress management didn’t think the function important, but a skilled user did, and that user had the needed programing skills, then they could add the function themselves.
  • That if that programmer offered to provide the new function to the WordPress folks and they didn’t accept it, then the programmer could start their own variant of WordPress with the function and see to switch over some of WordPress’s existing bloggers.
  • Or that if the programmer who implemented this new functon decided it was so important that it provided a strategic advantage then the programmer could try to start their own company.
  • Neither of the above would happen. The function would eventually become part of WordPress.
  • Other new functions would be added, and I wouldn’t have to pay for any of them.
  • As the functions were added I could count on being able to continue blogging. Any interruptions to service would be minor. If they didn’t work any bugs would soon be fixed.
  • It makes no sense to learn about, or use, any other blogging software. WordPress is both open-source and sufficiently “good enough” that no meaningful competitors will appear.
  • It makes little sense to set up a WordPress blog outside of WordPress.com. The network advantages of working as part of the community are compelling.
  • And a few other things I will add later, but won’t now, as the hour is late (2AM)


      1. WordPress is very honest in that it doesn’t count an author’s own reading of a post as a valid read. WordPress could make bloggers quite humbles by also posting the number of times each day this click on “Blog Stats.”

The Word-Press Project

With this post I announce the creation of the Word-Press project, by which I mean an attempt to provide some education about all the following:

  • WordPress, the fabulous piece of software that I use each and every time I write a new post, or create a new page, on this blog;
  • WordPress.org, the community of developers who have created and are continually refining this software;
  • WordPress.com, the company that uses the WordPress software and provides it free of charge so anyone can use this site to create their own blog and share their words with the world, at no charge.

And since the WordPress software is meant to help you create, publish, manage and track the writings that constitute a blog, I will also try to provide some education on the following:

  • How to use WordPress effectively;
  • How to blog effectively;
  • How to use the WordPress Dashboard, the tool that makes each WordPress blogger their own “sysadmin;”

And since WordPress supports not just the one-way publication of press but also allows the receipt of comments from readers, I’ll try to provide some education on dealing with comments.

And since WordPress is a piece of software that is most effective not when used just to publish plain text, but with tools that can be used to make a blog more efective, I’ll also try to provide some education on these tools:

  • HTML, the language that can be used to specify how text is presented;
  • Other technologies such as XML and DHTML;
  • Categories, or tags;
  • deli.cio.us, a tagging site;
  • flickr.com, a means of publishing phographic images in a blog;
  • technorati.com, a way to track and share blog usage information;
  • other such tools I haven’t yet thought about but which I know readers will bring to my attention;

And since a WordPress blog is not just a way to publish text, but a web site, I’ll need to provide some education on creating and running a web site.

And since WordPress can be used not just to publish text, but distribute it as feeds, or in syndicated form, I’ll need to provide some education on these topics.

And since WordPress is open-source software I’ll try to provide some education on that as well. Indeed, I plan to run the word-press project as an open-source project, just as have committed to running this blog as an open-source project. And there’s yet another open-source project in play, the open-education project of which the word-press project is the first subproject. To be more precise, while I don’t think we’ll be writing code, I plan to use the same process, rules and ethos that is characteristic of open-source projects while providing this education.

And since I am writing this as a member of the WordPress “community” I know that as soon as members of the community hear about this project some of them will become part of it, and so I hope and expect we’ll receive contributions from these folks, and also from the people who are running the business WordPress.com which is so graciously providing the resources needed to create and publish these blogs for free.

And since almost half-a-million blogs have been created on WordPress.com, I’ll need to provide some education on what it means to run a business based on open-source, the associate business-models, and so forth.

And I’ll also need to go into building a network, creating a community, and so forth.

And there are even more topics to be covered, which means I have lots to write about. This is going to be a real challenge.

But because WordPress is open-source software I make the following predictions that I am confident will come to pass:

  • I know I’m going to need some help — and I know I am going to get it. Open-source folks are so helpful and many of them share my passion for WordPress. Some of them will become contributors to the project. It’s just a matter of time.
  • I know I’m going to have fun while trying to provide this education, because if you show you know the open-source rules and are willing to play by them, then fun is inevitable. Not having fun is a sign you’re doing something wrong, and I also know there’ll be open-source folks on hand ready, willing and able to tell me when they’re not having fun, and also willing to provide guidance on how to make things right.

Though the writings to follow will cover many topics, at varying levels of sophistication and complexity, I consider my primary audience to be non-programmers with an interest in writing, blogging, gaining some insight into how the internet works, and building communities. In particular I will aim to make writings accessible to high-school teachers of technology and writing, and especially some of their students with an interest in any of the above areas.

I will start new pages that you will soon find on the header line of this blog:

  • Word-press Posts. This will enumerate publish posts, in various orders. It will also describe posts in progress and forthcoming posts;
  • Word-press Syllabus, a description of the topics to be covered.

The order of the posts will be arbitrary. I’ll try to maintain some order, but the project will proceed as the situation dictates, and especially so when contributors show up, as we’ll then to jointly have to decide how to best proceed.

I plan to spend at least the rest of this November writing mainly on the project, though I’m now feeling it may go even longer.

I also am just starting to put the syllabus together. However, as I will relate in the next post, some magical happened in my WordPress experience in the last day, and just writing about that will I hope provide a good start to the project.

So let the fun — the wild rumpus — begin!


PS: Total Hits for the blog are just over 3400 as I post this in the early hours of 5 November 2006.

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