Category Archives: Site

Site Redesign

I registered 4til7.com back on September 4, 2000 (or perhaps before… but that’s a long story). The original site was very very old school white on a black background with a very fancy (for the time) slide out menu on the left. The whole site was hand-crafted. Adding something new meant hand writing another page. Ah, ancient history. Since then, I migrated the site to WordPress (while keeping at least some of the old look). Then I migrated in lots of my old writing from various places. And then I went to a responsive theme so the site worked well on mobile. And and and… I kept avoiding a full rewrite because there were too many things buried in corners that I was worried about breaking. But, eventually, it’s time to break a few things.

Yesterday, I broke everything and started rebuilding on top of the WordPress 2014 theme (aka a Theme That Always Just Works). I wanted to do a few unusual things, like the centered 4til7 graphic, and not muck up the stock theme so the site has a teeny tiny child theme to hold (basically) a couple of tweaks to the CSS style sheet that gives the site it’s look.

My writing is still front and center but now you’ll only see an excerpt ending with a ‘Continue reading’ link that will take you to the full piece. The lengths of those excerpts are all over the place but I’ll be standardize them.

Beyond that, there are really only two pages. I’ve updated the About page and added quotes (Shortest: “Wow!”). And I’ve redone the Contact page using a lean custom contact plugin.

Update

Between when I wrote the post and shared it with the world, I added more new features: Subscribe and Support. Subscribe let’s you join my mailing list. Support exists in place of advertising and makes a list of suggestions of ways (many free!) you can support my writing and work.

Update 2

Basic social sharing (Twitter, Reddit, Email, Facebook and LinkedIn) is done via a second custom plugin. In this case, the custom plugin is because many of the existing plugins have nasty issues (e.g. grabbing people’s info to use in spam campaigns). Combine that with the amount of time it takes to restyle the various options and it was faster to build a plugin. The plugin is an initial release. Let me know if you encounter any problems or have suggestions for improvements

I replace the Subscribe menu button with Stay in Touch which lets you subscribe to my Newsletter, the RSS (News) Feed of new posts, go to my Twitter page or Contact me. I changed Support to Supporting.

And more is still coming.

Weblogging that’s not so Hopelessly ugly

Screenshot from 2015-10-13 09:38:044til7.com has existed, almost continuously, since the mid ’90s. I say “almost” because I forgot to renew one year. Records say the domain was created on 4 Sepember 2000 but that’s the second time the domain was created. I forgot to renew the domain. If that sounds weird on multiple levels, you’re right. Automatic reminders weren’t wired into the world yet. Unrenewed domains were not immediately scarfed up by domain squatter robots. We weblogged instead of blogged and the number of domains was in the hundreds of thousands instead of hundreds of millions.

Back then, young whipper snapper, real men hand-coded websites in html while trudging uphill through six feet of snow and fighting off raiders with muskets to the left of us. Then a few years later, we trudged uphill through more snow, migrated to php and bolted on CSS when rain didn’t kill the dialup connection while fighting off indians to the right of us.

By the time I recreated the registration, I had managed to do something that was and is very difficult to do: build a website around a black background that is beautiful, readable and unique. A few years ago, I finally broke down and migrated the whole thing to WordPress. And, oh boy, did that look refuse to migrate. I’d created something too unique. After I realized it was going to take a full, ground-up, redesign to make it work, I quickly put finishing the migration into backburner mode. Many moons have passed and 4til7.com has stayed in ugly mode.

’90s style “Under Construction” signs exhibiting the the frenetic epileptic motion typically of animated versions.

I could live with that until I began my escape from programming and cranked my posting back to it’s ’90s pace. It’s time to de-ugly the house. Doing this right will take some time, but I’ve started the process. I promise not to put a ’90s carton art yellow ‘under construction’ image up. Well, besides that one.

Writing in WordPress: Fixing the sidebar

I publish new pieces four days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday. Just over a week into the new schedule, and things are breaking down. Just not where I expected. The biggest break down has been around release. One piece, “We are Toolmaker” went from being one short article into a couple of posts into a series. And I kept forgetting to look over to the right and go ‘oh yeah’ and change the release date.

It struck me that having a lightning fast way to go to the step I’m handling in the new > draft > pending > scheduled > published workflow would be brilliant. Some searching of WordPress plugins turned up Admin Menu Editor which let me edit the menu on the left side of the admin area. With a little fiddling, ‘All Posts’ was gone from my Posts menu and ‘Add New’ was followed by each step in the workflow.

Here’s what I created with my fiddling. My writing workflow flows from the top left down just the way I read things, click, my Pending articles including this very article:

WordPress Menu Editor Plugin Results
A little visual WordPress Workflow

The tool is intuitive, especially for this. If I wanted to see the list of Pending articles, I pulled up that page (and sorted it the way I wanted) and copied and pasted the page’s url (the http://… address at the top) into a new item in menu editor.

Here, on the left, it shows we’re in the Posts section. On the right are the menu items under Posts including the Pending menu item. I like shorter links, so I trimmed the fluff off the front of the url for Pending:

WordPress Menu Editor Plugin -- Adding an Item
WordPress Menu Editor Plugin: Adding an Item

News, Updates and the Hopelessly Interesting

sounds-like-the-90s

What happened to my blog?! The colors and design and… wait? There are pictures showing up all the time? Waz up with that?!

Well… the design is something of an accident. I moved the site to a different hosting company and my wordpress theme decide it was time to eat my (old) custom design work. Why didn’t it tell me it was hungry instead of eating some tastless CSS. Well, it was past due for an update. What you see (design-wise) is a crude placeholder. And, if I’m going to change the design, I decided it’s time to start using more images.

The real change is in the content. While moving the site, I pulled in a lot of my blog posts that once appeared at eDao’s website and, before that, on the Data Wranglers’ site. It’s internet archeology with posts that pre-date Apple’s iPhone and iPod, the first internet bubble and the term “blog”. The (awkward) term back then was weblog. Oh my. But, back in 1997, I started (we)bloging under the subtitle “News, Updates and the Hopelessly Interesting”. Originally, each post was a bit of handcrafted HTML. Eventually, I crafted a very crude homegrown CMS to semi-manage it. Some it is a touch puzzling. Some of it probably belongs in the “who cares?” category. And, weirdly, on some of it I could change a few names and places and re-run it today. At one point, I changed who hosted the website and my home grown CMS blew up. But, now –with some digging and de-crufting, it’s back. In all it’s occasionally embarrassing two hundred and twenty-seven posts semi-glory. Just scroll down to the archives:

Kafka and Imperial Presidencies

Obama seems to be happy to follow in the footsteps of almost every President since Johnson (and probably a few before) in strengthening the powers of the Presidency at the expense of the other two branches, especially the legislative. Under Bush II and Obama, that seems to have taken a very weird Kafkaesque turn with legal justification for presidential actions being classified. What strikes me as an apropos example is covered in the Atlantic’s The Secret Memo That Explains Why Obama Can Kill Americans. The core of the article reads:

“The Justice Department wrote a secret memorandum authorizing the lethal targeting of Anwar al-Aulaqi… The document was produced following a review of the legal issues raised by striking a U.S. citizen and involved senior lawyers from across the administration. There was no dissent about the legality of killing Aulaqi, the officials said.”

…the actual legal reasoning the Department of Justice used to authorize the strike? It’s secret. Classified. Information that the public isn’t permitted to read, mull over, or challenge.

What is truly puzzling is that the US legal basis for this seems fairly explicit in the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

I suspect the legal arguments revolve around the Grand Jury clause (unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury) and the military clause (cases arising in the land or naval forces). It could be the ruling revolves around a secret Grand Jury and/or Anwar al-Aulaqi, by taking up arms against the United States. In essence, there may be a legal basis. And, there is a strong moral argument for the specific action.

The issue is not one of the basis or justification for the argument. The issue is not one of narrow arguments for a particular action. It is a broader one that is reminiscent of “abuses and usurpations” of King George cited in the Declaration of Independence. That document talks ofan Executive who “(refused) his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers,” “(deprived them) of the benefit of Trial by Jury,” and “(abolished) the free System of English Laws” and “(altered) fundamentally the Forms of our Governments.” Today, we would say that our government is fundamentally based upon the rule of law (that we can see). We are not free unless we insist upon laws that we have to can access and use to petition for redress of our grievances.

One of Kafka’s novels involves a man who spends his entire life sitting outside a door waiting to petition the bureaucracy. And never even having the ability to do so. In this case, we don’t have access to the logic of the ruling. Without the legal arguments, it’s rather difficult to even get in line next to that door to petition.

To be clear, I am not arguing that our Presidents are close to becoming insane absolute despots like the English King George. What I am saying is that cases like the legal memo justifying the assassination of Anwar al-Aulaqi and the legal memos justifying torture of enemy combatants, penned under George W. Bush’s watch, are a particular new development in their inaccessibility. At first, they appear far removed from the lives of most Americans. If I’ve done nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear is the easy response.

But, this pattern of secretly created hidden law is a slippery slope indeed. Pastor Martin Niemöller famously said, “first they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist…. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

When the next terrorist act is another Oklahoma City Bombing, how wide will the net be case then? What about the act after that? And will it even need to be a terrorist act? At what point will they come for “me?”

Oh… except, Mr. me, this approach to law isn’t been restricted to Terrorists. The ACTA copyright treaty was negotiated in secret with a list of other nations over multiple administrations. The current administration refused to release the text of treaty, calling it “properly classified in the interest of national security.”

A treaty covering copyrights (the thing authors have on their books and Disney has over Mickey Mouse) is a matter of national security? Because, treaties causes nasty paper cuts? You’d think they were pitching a Saturday Night Live skit.

Someone who read a draft of this piece put it this way: “The basic issue is not whether or not Al Alawki’s rights were violated but rather whether the president violated the Constitution by creating law, an enumerated power of Congress, and by adjudicating that law, an enumerated power of the Courts. This is exactly what King George did; he created, administered, and adjudicated law that violated the rights of citizens of the British Empire.”

Except, King George never legislated in private. He didn’t keep his edicts secret. Many subjects of the British Empire hated what he did but at least they knew what the laws were.

There is always a first post

I’ll be focusing on policy questions.  At Policythunk, I’m interested in discussing ways to solve our problems.  Posts will narrowly focus on a specific topic.  Since this is all about policy (as opposed to personalities and politics), I won’t generally be discussing people, political parties, who stuck what rider into which bill and why a certain pork provision is evil.

My posts will be informed by a fusion of ideas draw from progressive thought, libertarianism, a strong belief in civil liberties and a long list of thinkers of all stripes.  The world in general and the U.S. in particular, face a list of critical immediate problems.  Each of this problems is immense and, in some cases, may be unprecedented in human experience.

When I find links to background material that is reasonably complete, clear and concise, I will include that, too.  I won’t quite say that the background material is required reading before posting comments.  But, please be up to speed and stay on topic.  I’m open to views by people that are up to speed and on topic.  I’m very impatient with people (even those I agree with) who clearly arn’t up to speed or can’t stay focused.