Hey, if I just had…

I’m afraid someone’s going to try to get me committed after reading this one, but here goes…

Let’s start with a handful of largely random facts:

  1. I have a lot of random thoughts, some of which, possibly foolishly, I actually act on.
  2. I occasionally write things down (this is sometimes an example of #1).
  3. I actually think I can write a blog (this one).
  4. This blog is “Powered by WordPress” (or whatever it happens to say down there at the bottom).
  5. You can change the way WordPress works without having to change WordPress.
  6. I like beer. I like food. I like it when beer and food are available at the same time.

Ok, hang on tight, because this is going to be one weird ride. Here we go. Seat belts on and tray tables and seat back upright and locked.

You know how you’re watching TV and some infomercial-like commercial comes on (think “Snuggie” or “The Clapper“) and inside your head you say to yourself “Hey” (that’s how I often address myself inside my head – I have other names for myself that span a spectrum of respectful and less so)

Hey, why didn’t I think of that. I could have made 17 bazillion dollars!

A lot of people say “a million” – I like to dream bigger, and bigger means BAZILLIONS; 17 is a really nice number, so 17 bazillion is what I want. So one day I woke up and said to myself

Hey, if I just had a blog, I could write up all these good ideas I’m having and share them with the universe (and make 17 BAZILLION dollars)!

Sometimes that inside-your-head discussion happens and one of these apparently brilliant ideas comes up that might actually be brilliant. Usually it’s not, it’s either already been done or not particularly clever or both, so you have a self-filter that protects you from yourself. My self-filter can sometimes be a bit snide and cynical, but it hears what you just said and think to itself

That is the dumbest idea I ever heard of. Bazillion isn’t even a real thing. How do I gently tell him that it’s dumb?

It has to be a little gentle with you or you’ll just stop thinking. But this idea isn’t great, but it’s not bad, it’s not dangerous to yourself or others, it’s probably legal, The Wife won’t leave you if you do it, and (most importantly) nobody’s going to take you to the insane asylum.

Ok, let him try it. He’ll give up.

Hey, why don’t you just write a blog! Then you can fill it with blog posts about your “good” ideas. If it’s really a good idea, the mob will tell you.

Note how I cleverly avoid telling him what I’m actually thinking: the mob might come back with the other answer and I’m off the hook. I can just pat him on the head, give him a cookie, and tell him it will be ok…

Wow. I could just write a blog about the Snuggie (or whatever that brilliant idea that was). Cool. I’ll write a blog!

Ron’s blog

I like the way that sounds. I’m going to write me a blog.

How do you write a blog????

Do I have to do all the work around here? Well, just because I have to be gentle doesn’t mean I have to do EVERYTHING.

I thought you’d ask, so I did a little looking ahead of time. Just follow this link: How do you create a blog?

That’ll teach him to ask dumb questions.

So off I go, dutifully following that link. Smart-ass filter. Ok, let’s see, there’s that one, ok, then that one, uh huh, then yup, more of the same, then – hey, what’s this – here’s a how to. Let me have a look. blah blah blah – oh, it says “WordPress.” I’ve seen that before. Let me go check that out.

WordPress is a darn powerful tool, and is pretty useful right out of the box. Plus it’s free and it has a large user community. And the source code is available, so programmer-types (like me) can go look at the code and get some aha!’s from it, or even tinker with that code to do something way cooler than any one of those other people (as if). That makes it a pretty good choice for rookie bloggers (like me). Voila! I install WordPress and off I go. It supports creating and publishing posts and pages (which are different) in it’s stock version.

And I’m all happy writing blog posts about random stuff like the crazy person talking in my head and all of a sudden it hits me -

*WHAM* Wham, you say? Yes, wham.

  1. I like beer.
  2. I like food.
  3. Because I like beer and food, I like going to beer pairing dinners where I get to try different beer in a relatively safe setting.
  4. I write a blog.
  5. I’m always looking for something interesting to write about (sometimes I actually do write these things)
  6. *WHAM* See, there’s another wham. I should write a set of blog posts about the beer pairing dinners I go to.

So I write a blog post about a beer-pairing dinner. It turned out OK, and it was kinda fun to re-hash the event. It was just a lot of work to write it, probably 10 hours or so. It probably took 2 hours to create the content; the rest of the time I spent futzing about with the formatting. That’s likely due to one of my pet peeves – I get fixated on making it look JUST LIKE I want it should look. I found a way to do that by trial and error – I’d stick some formatting code into the post and preview it. If it looked good, I kept it and if it didn’t I tried something else. Finally I settled on a format.

The problem with the format isn’t that it’s ugly (in your misguided opinion it may be, but I like it the way it is, so that’s the way it’s going to be), but even if it is that’s not the reason – rather, it’s that it’s a pain in the ass to make it look that way. It’s like I’m out using pen and paper. I don’t get to use the built-in “visual” editor mode in WordPress because it’s funky about how it handles some of these formatting things. So I have to edit in the more raw format “HTML” that doesn’t do as many things as I’d like. So every other post I write I can use the Visual mode. Except these. But I only have to write this kind of post once a month, so it’s not really that big a deal…

Then the second month came around, with a second blog post. I kept forgetting that I have to use the stupid HTML mode editor, so I keep having to fix the formatting. Dang it. 12 hours and *poof* it’s done. Does anything that take 12 hours count as a *poof* it’s done?

Now it’s time to write the 3rd one – I’m not looking forward to 10+ hours of work on this. Then another one of those pesky thoughts hit:

Hey, why don’t you fix that?

You should fix that.

You can do that. You’re supposed to be some kind of software guy, you should be able to fix it (shouldn’t you)? Just change the code to do what you want. You know you want to…

Yes, I could do that, but it doesn’t feel right. If I change the WordPress code, I can’t just accept their updates – I’ll have to figure out what to fix next time (and the time after that, and the time after that, and … you get it). It’s the gift that keeps on giving. There’s got to be a better way.

And there is, and I’m already using it, it’s free, and it comes with.

As I noted earlier, WordPress is very powerful and robust. If it doesn’t work the way you like it to, you can change it. But you don’t change it by changing it, you change it by adding to it. It’s an example of what the eclipse community considers one of their fundamental rules – Add, don’t Change.

It’s already highly configurable (with settings) to change the way it does some things. But if all of the settings it has won’t change the way it does something to your liking, it allows you to fix many of those things by adding stuff to it to change the way it works. It’s a fairly “high-concept” software idea that is making more inroads in regular programmer types – it used to be limited to the object-oriented community, where the concepts of generic and abstract were first embraced. Now it’s everywhere.

WordPress supports “pluggable” software that can customize the behavior of the system or add in things that they had no way of ever predicting could happen. These things that “plug into” WordPress are called whizdings.

Right, you believed that? Please. They’re called plugins (quite a bit more reasonable than that made up word). Plugins provide a coherent chunk of code that adds some specific but interesting behavior to WordPress. I need one of those for what I want to do.

I’m going to write my own plugin! That will fix everything.

I’ll give it a name: Ron’s Beer Report Plugin.

I like the sound of that.

Ron’s Beer Report Plugin will do EVERYTHING I need to do this report and be able to use the Visual editor just like I want. How cool is that! Then I’ll publish it and EVERYONE will use it. I’ll be famous and make 17 BAZILLION dollars!

<ominous-overdub-voice><creepy scary movie music>what could that be? who’s here? who’s making those footstep sounds? can’t be <insert bad guy name here>, can it? but he’s dead. he’s dead, right? </creepy-scary-movie-music></ominous-overdub-voice>

Don’t drop your weapon! Don’t you know you have to kill the zombie/murderer/monster/bad guy 3 times??? Pretentious idiot, it’s just your filter, not Jason or Freddy.

That’s a great idea!

Sure it is. Whatever, it’s not like I’m going to be out of work with this guy.

Next post in this series will talk about Ron’s Beer Report Plugin development. The first topic will be finding the right code to make what I want work.

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