Thanks, Steve

When I was five years old, my parents brought home an Apple IIe for the summer (they were teachers, and the school had no security during breaks). It changed my life, and made me fall in love with technology. And years later, when I first used a Macintosh at my uncle’s house, I fell in love with design. For a painfully shy middle class kid growing up in rural Alabama, the possibility of me growing up to become a technologist and designer was remote. But Apple’s example of good design and good taste inspired me to learn about subjects for which I had no teachers. And it’s where I came to appreciate the way design can dissolve the barrier between people and technology that they instinctively fear.

Every designer of my generation owes Steve Jobs a huge debt, one we can repay by creating work that would have withstood his intense scrutiny. Though I never worked for him, I’ve applied that test to my work throughout my career, and it’s one I’ll continue to use as long as these hands are still designing.

Design in WordPress 3.2

“The focus for this release was making WordPress faster and lighter. The first thing you’ll notice when you log in to 3.2 is a refreshed dashboard design that tightens the typography, design, and code behind the admin. (Rhapsody in Grey?)”

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress 3.2 now available

Back during the development of WordPress 2.8, the core team decided to solicit some ideas for dashboard refreshes. Two designs inspired by Dean J. Robinson’s Fluency Admin plugin, submitted by Dean and myself, led the informal poll the core team conducted. Ultimately the team decided to save the update for a later version of WordPress and that version came today, when WordPress 3.2 was released with the new dashboard design. A thread on the Make UI blog follows its progress as it came together. We removed unnecessary chrome, refined typography, lightened the page, and generally listened to Alan Cooper‘s advice on interface design: “No matter how beautiful, no matter how cool your interface, it would be better if there were less of it.”

An aside on typography: I’ve seen a few people question why we chose Arial over Helvetica for most text in the dashboard. I actually believe Arial is a better option when you’re working with text that will be displayed at 13px or below. I know that’s heresy for a graphic designer, but consider this. Helvetica, when it’s installed on Windows PCs, does not work well as a web font. Helvetica Neue is available primarily on Macs and at sufficient weights it looks great, which is why we do use it in some places. But at the default font size in the WordPress dashboard, I think Arial’s readability trumps the dogmatic purity of using Helvetica. I know this is purely subjective and this reasoning won’t change the minds of those who believe Arial is on the same level as Comic Sans — but if the sight of Arial truly offends you, I suggest disabling it OS-wide. You’ll get Helvetica in its place, and everyone will be happy. :) (Update: In the forthcoming 3.2.1 update, WordPress will use the browser-default sans-serif instead, so Mac users will see Helvetica, Windows users will see Arial, and if someone actually specifies what they want their browser default to be, we’ll use that.)

I’m proud of the updated typography and cleaner look of the new dashboard, but my favorite aspect of WordPress 3.2 was a great surprise when I first saw it. It’s also Matt Mullenweg’s favorite new feature — the new distraction-free writing mode. Combined with the Editor Styles feature popularized in last year’s Twenty Ten theme, composing in WordPress is akin to using a minimalist web-based text editor.

Composing this post in Distraction-Free Writing mode

Speaking of Twenty Ten, it’s got a beautiful successor in Twenty Eleven, the new default theme for WordPress. Following up on the improvements we made with last year’s iteration, Twenty Eleven adds a responsive design, post formats, customizable color schemes and layout configurations and more. Read Ian’s introduction to Twenty Eleven for the full rundown. This blog is using Twenty Eleven now with the one-column layout and a custom background.

There’s a ton of other features in 3.2, including faster performance, Browse Happy integration, a more useful admin bar, and hundreds of behind-the-scenes improvements. Read the exhaustive official list to see everything that’s new — then go update your blog, or start a new one!

Automattic in Seaside

Photo Credit: Donncha

Just settled in at home after a week in the ever-lovely town of Seaside, Florida with my Automattic homies. I learned a ton in the past week and had kind of a ridiculously good time in the process. There’s always the temptation to think how great it’d be if we could work together all the time. But then we remember these meetups are so cool because Automattic is made of people who make their homes all over the world. That said, I can’t wait to see them this spring in San Francisco. :)

Seaside Visit

On my way home from Savannah, I stopped by Seaside, Florida for dinner and to check out the beaches. Happy to say that everything in town looked just as great as the last time I was there in April, before the spill. Took a few photos because I forgot to photograph the (beautiful) town last time.

Ex-Ex-Gay

In 1997, wracked by guilt and consumed with questions I’d been asking myself since I first realized that I was gay five years earlier, I asked the youth minister at my church for help with “a little problem.” The particular evangelical brand of Catholicism that had gained popularity at the time, Life Teen, espoused the idea that gay men and lesbians could be “converted” into healthy, hearty heterosexuals with the right blend of therapy and prayer. And so I set upon a journey, with a Catholic therapist and a copy of the book Love Won Out, the autobiography of a supposed “ex-gay” man named John Paulk. For the next year, I did untold damage to my mental health by attempting, basically, to will the color of my eyes to change. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me too long to realize it wasn’t going to happen. The further I got away from home, and high school, and church, the more I realized that the normality I’d been seeking didn’t actually exist. In 2000, John Paulk was recognized while flirting in a Washington, D.C. gay bar.

The gay community has some issues. Homophobia is still a serious, sometimes deadly problem in parts of the world. Yet I can’t help but wonder if the gay community’s biggest issue is this group of gay men, like John Paulk and George Rekers, willing to sell out their fellow man to advance a political or financial agenda. How cold must your soul be, to know you’re gay and make your living by trying to convince other gay men that they’re sick?

This week, George Rekers, another prominent leader of the ex-gay movement, was found to have repeatedly employed the services of a rent boy. I’ll skip the details other than to commend the prostitute on his use of the euphemism “long stroke” to describe the particular kind of massage performed for Rekers.

“What hasn’t been appreciated about the George Rekers rentboy case is just how miserable he’s tried to make life for other gay people in this country. And, the fact that he’s still doing it! … The reason George Rekers’ pitiful closeted hypocritical life news is actual news is because he’s quite actively engaged in trying to change this country to make it a more difficult place to be gay. Particularly a more difficult place to be a young gay person. While he’s simultaneously hiring at least one young gay person to not carry his baggage.”

Rachel Maddow

George Rekers is a sad man. Sadder still are the closeted gays and misinformed straights who will lovingly reassure him through this “troubled time.” It’s time to start recognizing this for what it is — mentally ill gay men unable to cope with the reality of their sexual orientation. That the religious and political conservative communities continue to cite these men as examples of “overcoming” homosexuality is a sick fraud. The next time you hear someone mention the “Ex-Gay” movement or “reparative therapy” for homosexuals, just remember three words: the long stroke.

Tybee People

I haven’t written about my trip last week — despite having a million things to say, there’s just been no time. Coworking with Brian, Sheri, Jane, Mike and Matt was awesome — we always end up being a little sad we don’t work together in-person after we do these. We got to meet up with some local WordPress users from the Tybee Times (new WordPress-powered site coming soon!), SCAD Radio, and District.

Being back in a place that still feels like home, with the people I work with, was surreal at times but really fun for me. The menu still calls me back: “Come Home Matt.”

But these Tybee people. These people were my brothers and sisters for two years. Being away for so long almost let me forget how much I missed them, but one night back together reminded me well. I’d prepared myself for the possibility that I might not see anyone I knew while I was in town. I forgot to prepare myself for the possibility that I’d get to see so many. Tybee was my home again for a week and I couldn’t have hoped for it to have been any better. It won’t be so long before I come back again.

The photo above is from Matt’s Tybee WordPress Meetup gallery. Sheri took some awesome pictures of our WordPress meetup at Huc-a-Poo’s.

Making Potica

Making potica for Christmas was my grandmother’s tradition, and when she couldn’t manage the work any longer, I decided to learn so the tradition wouldn’t be lost. My mom, my brother and I got together to make one a few days ago — it took three hours but was totally worth it. It’s also really boring to watch at normal speed, so here’s making potica in under a minute:

Music: Another Christmas Song by Stephen Colbert