helen blog, now at helen.blog!

I have called my blog “helen blog” since the tail end of my Blogger days, and kept the name when I made the switch to WordPress (a very good switch for me, it turns out). It seems fitting that it finally gets to actually live at helen.blog, and I decided to do the right thing and move to HTTPS while I was at it.

.blog is available for “landrush” applications through Automattic, which runs the WordPress.com service. WordPress.com is great, and I keep my WordPress-specific thoughts over there for a number of reasons, but I like running WordPress for myself so I remain a user. It’s humbling, really. The trepidation of hitting the switch on a domain name change, navigating the HTTPS waters – even before getting to the WordPress part, running a site can be hard. And then there’s the WordPress part, which I’m always trying to make better.

I have to thank two tools in particular for making this a relatively easy move (for a developer). First is wp-cli, whose search-replace command saved my sanity. The other is Let’s Encrypt, which makes running my personal site over HTTPS practical. With those, I have to give a shout to this site’s host, SiteGround, which provides wp-cli by default and Let’s Encrypt through cPanel even for shared hosting, making all of this as painless as possible. They also have supported using PHP 7.0 since beta, which combined with this site running nightlies, makes me quite the tester of my own breakage 🙂

Web, WordPress

Final Projects: Website Construction I [TH481A], Summer 2011

Had a really great two weeks with my summer session students this year. After 15 hours of instruction on everything from digital content for musicians to file and folder organization to HTML basics to a PHP/MySQL powered events calendar, here’s what they came up with:

All in all, I think they came out pretty damn well! When I think about the wide-eyed look these conservatory-trained musicians all gave me when I started going on about tags and servers on the first day of class to the new efficiency with which they are all editing in Textwrangler/Notepad++, saving, uploading with Filezilla, and viewing in the browser, I’m selfishly proud of myself and also very proud of these students, all of whom are my age or a little older (no extremes this year).

To the students: Congrats, everyone! I know you’ll all keep tweaking away at your websites and discovering more and better things to do with them. The course website will continue to function and your accounts will remain. I may miss things on the forums after this month unless I set up email notifications on new topics somehow, so stick to email if you have an urgent question. I wish every one of you could stay for the next two week session as well. For those who are continuing on, let’s just say that you will be subjected to my zealous love of WordPress and really be thrown into the deep end. Get ready 🙂


This past weekend, Adrian and I went down to NYC for a rehearsal of this new reed quintet project he has going on. A reed quintet consists of oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, and bass clarinet; basically, like a woodwind quintet but without the sad reedless instruments of flute and horn. It’s a pretty cool sound and they’ve got a really solid group together. I tagged along to hang with some other friends in the area and to take some preliminary photos as they gear up for a music festival retreat and coming gigs. I’ll also be doing their website in the near future… once they decide on a name. In any case, I just spent a good chunk of time tweaking up one of the photos, so here’s a public preview of an awesome up and coming group!

From left to right: Benito Meza, clarinet; Doug O’Connor, saxophone; Merideth Hite, oboe; Adrian Sandi, clarinet; Harrison Hollingsworth, bassoon

Reed Quintet

Music, Photos, Projects, Web

Project Reed Quintet

Diary, Web

Coming up: Web programming certificate

I finished my master’s over 2 years ago and, though I am always learning about something by reading or doing, I’m beginning to feel the itch to do some structured learning again. The last time I did a class it was cake decorating and I ended up successfully making a 3-tier wedding cake this summer. This time, I’m going to do something that will hopefully also help me professionally: a web programming certificate offered by the O’Reilly School of Technology. Not that the cake decorating wasn’t useful – knowing me, I still may end up a pastry chef/restaurateur someday.

If I finish it, I’ll end up with a Certificate for Professional Development from the University of Illinois. It was half off for a few days and my mother loves the idea of me doing some non-music schooling, so for the cost of one grad school credit (seriously, one credit is currently $1,040 at Eastman) that’s not coming out of my pocket, I can get a piece of paper that proves that I know more than how to play the piano. Sure, books are way cheaper and the classes may or may not be of the best quality (I get the feeling I’ll finish the HTML/CSS basics one in an hour), but my gut tells me that as a person with two degrees in music but a job in web development, a certificate in web programming can’t hurt.

As I get started and move on, I’ll try to remember to blog some thoughts – maybe using a WordPress for iOS beta?! (I got into the testers group! Woohoo!)

Links, Reading, Web

Great read on higher ed websites as prompted by that XKCD cartoon

But even then, some colleges’ home pages are saturated with features that do not so much reflect guesses at what visitors need, but what various campus interests want. Greenfield said “home page politics” — different departments and personalities jockeying for position — have a strong influence on what an institution’s site ends up looking like. After all, he said, if a president says he wants a letter and a mission statement out front, what Web administrator is going to say no?

No Laughing Matter at Inside Higher Ed


This really made me think (from It Isn’t Minimalism at Usability Post):

Clear, clean and simple design isn’t minimalist. It’s just good, clear design.

I always look at minimalist web design roundups with great interest because they inspire me, yet for some reason I never thought about how that is in direct opposition to my general indifference toward minimalism in music. Minimalism in music is characterized by patterns that repeat, with the interest generally being in shifting rhythms and/or small changes in tonality that are more apparent because of all the repetition. Minimalism in web design (and design and architecture at large) refers more to the stripping down of a subject to its basics. I suppose you could say that minimalism in music and design represent the same aesthetic, but most minimalist music bores me to tears and I would be pretty aggravated if somebody were to approach me and say that it represents the only necessary elements of music.

I’d opine that the author of the sentence I quoted above is right in questioning whether or not minimalism is the right word, as opposed to something like simple and functional. I’d then have to argue that “good” is far too subjective and that simplicity neither represents good nor bad on its own. I also have to say that just because I’m inspired by these minimalist/clean/functional websites doesn’t mean I don’t still love things that are make huge visual impact in the opposite way (though they must still be clean and functional or I get annoyed very quickly). I wonder how long this trend will last before everything starts to look essentially the same. Sometimes decoration is necessary to give something its own individual character, much like ornamentation can tell you which Baroque composer or architect created a piece. I just hope that the simple, clean functionality espoused by these “minimalist” websites can carry over into web design at large.

Bonus: Music I love that is so not minimalism (and yes, the ending is ridiculous slash bordering on funny):

Diary, Thoughts, Web, WordPress

More WordPress thoughts

I know it’s common to put a lot of time, energy, and work into other people’s projects and let your own personal ones suffer. I feel like that’s what’s happened to my own blog.

First of all, I need to write more, period. Second of all, I need to modernize this theme and add some functionality! I spend so much time these days making custom CMS themes and functions and super-awesome screenshot-filled documentation and installing and configuring a ridiculous number of plugins for clients and my regular job, but I don’t seem to bother with my own.

I’m still using this ancient theme (which I don’t change because I still like it) and it’s got some old old stuff going on. The comments are especially ugly and don’t have threading enabled. I’m sure it’d be easy enough for me to fix my own stuff, but I guess it’ll have to wait until I don’t feel guilty for not focusing on open projects, including a piano recital next Wednesday. Perhaps I’ll use that Lady René font (yes, the purchase happened) to make a new header so I feel like I’ve done something. But for now, off to do a little late-night practicing that won’t bother my neighbors!

Web, WordPress

WordPress 3 Function: Sites in Dashboard menu

Edit on May 26, 2011: With the release of WP 3.1, the admin bar has links to each of your sites. Way easier, but that doesn’t keep this from working. I just won’t make this into a plugin. Also, subdomains need a different treatment!

In the process of creating a WordPress theme for work (trying to move to WP as CMS! YAY!), I realized that the procedure for accessing the Dashboard for a site besides the one you are on can be a little obtuse and involves too much clicking. Since a huge part of the focus and reasoning behind this project is ease of use for content editors (death to Contribute), I thought it would be smart to have direct links to each applicable Dashboard within the Dashboard admin menu. In conjunction with Ozh’s wonderful Admin Drop Down Menu, I have to say that it looks pretty freaking awesome. I put this function in the theme’s functions.php file so that it applies to all network sites, but I wonder if it would be a smart thing to write and release as a plugin. So, here for you to use or rip apart – only mild testing has been done, so don’t be too mean:

/* add dashboard links to each user site underneath the Dashboard admin menu */

function hhs_sites_menu() {
	global $current_user;
	$sites = get_blogs_of_user( $current_user->id );

	// make sure multisite is on, the current user has permissions, and has more than one site
	if ( is_multisite() && current_user_can('read') && count($sites) > 1 ) {
		foreach ( $sites as $site ) {
			// make the URL a relative path; escape twice in case the user is in a network site (subdirectory)
			$relative_admin_url = preg_replace('/http:\/\/www\.yourdomain\.com/', '../..', get_admin_url($site->userblog_id) );

			add_dashboard_page( $site->blogname, $site->blogname, 'read', esc_url($relative_admin_url) );

add_action('admin_menu', 'hhs_sites_menu');

I’d like to deal with the URL to each Dashboard in a better way. Escaping up two directories is hacky and ugly and wouldn’t work for somebody on a subdomain multisite installation of WP3. It has to do with the way WP wants an internal page within your current wp-admin – the better way would probably be to use a make the callback function redirect to the appropriate Dashboard. This would also allow me to use CSS to define icons for the drop-down version of the admin menu. I could use CSS now, but the ID that is generated is super ugly (i.e. oamsub_http:_______wp-admin – YUCK). Maybe during work hours tomorrow I’ll chew on it a little more.

If I were to make this into a plugin, I’d want/need to:

  • Make it compatible with both subdomain and subdirectory multisite setups
  • Only allow network activation (makes no sense to only have it activated in one, at least to me)
  • Make it easy for a network admin to assign a custom icon to each site for use wherever applicable (i.e. the admin menu drop-down)

Thoughts? Hesitations?