twentyfourteen-home

Running the 2014 WordPress Theme

I am now running one of the new default themes that WordPress ships with. Created for the next major release, Twenty-Fourteen has been added to WordPress.com.

From it’s release post:

For the first time ever, the yearly default theme for WordPress is ready to go before its namesake year begins. Consider it an early holiday gift from the WordPress community to you, a tradition we hope to continue for many years to come.

Say hello to the default theme for 2014, a magazine theme with a sleek, modern, and beautifully crafted responsive design.

I’ve changed it’s colours, and got it running, but I can immediately see the issue I’m going to have with it: despite colour changes, all 2014 blogs look the same. I’m going to have to customize the theme further if I want it to really feel like it is “mine”. Beyond that, I feel like it has a nice density of information. I feel like I’m showing more above the fold than I did previously.

One thing that’ll take some getting used to is having images in my posts. Twenty-Fourteen is very image oriented, and I haven’t been up to this point.

Overall, I am looking forward to using this new theme, and I’ll probably stick with it for a while. Expect to see some visual changes though as I steal things from any Child themes that come out, and try to find more ways to make it feel more unique to me.

Markdown, WordPress and Me

My job lately has been to work with converting our documentation for Gravity Forms from MediaWiki to Markdown. One of the developers has worked on markdown rendering for WordPress, and now it looks like WordPress.com has added Markdown processing.

What is Markdown?
Markdown is a set of rules for writing text that is processed and converted to HTML.

Markdown lets you compose links, lists, and other styles using regular characters and punctuation marks. If you want a quick, easy way to write and edit rich text without having to take your hands off the keyboard or learn a lot of complicated codes and shortcuts, then Markdown might be right for you.

I am using Markdown in this post.

I am not a fan of Markdown. I think HTML is easy enough to use. Converting hundreds of MediaWiki articles from one format to another is annoying. The advantage of Markdown for us is that it will let us export the documents easily and create styled PDF guides of the latest version of the documentation on demand.

The hardest part about Markdown for me thus far is that there doesn’t seem to be a central group controlling the rules. Sometimes one character might bold text, and another it will italicize or start a list. This is very frustrating, and learning different rules based on the whims of the developers takes time. HTML is standardized and since I’ve already learned it, I’d love if everything just could be worked through from that. I don’t really like having to learn another document formatting language if I don’t have to, especially one that I don’t feel does everything I can do in HTML.

WordPress.com doesn’t support Markdown on its Visual editor yet, and this is another major flaw for most people. If you try, it’ll likely make a mess.

I don’t know where things are heading, but this just seems like a weird choice right now. Maybe in a year or two, I’ll look back and think I was foolish for not wanting to jump on the Markdown bandwagon, but I am not convinced that Markdown is the best thing for writing on the web.

Marriage Prep: Complete

Annie and I finished our Marriage Preparation course with the Church this past weekend. It was a marathon ten and a half hours of speeches, activities, conversations, music and praying.

Overall, I found the course to be pretty good. Read my previous thoughts on marriage prep here: Marriage Prep Course.

Throughout the day, I continued to ask questions, but by around six in the evening, I was completely drained and no longer felt able to ask questions, and the organizers noticed. There was more than once where they would say, “anyone have any questions?” and then point me out. At the end of the day, when passing out our certificates, they joked that they had to long consider if I had passed or failed because I had asked so many questions.

Some people seemed to appreciate my questions more than others. Annie was also concerned sometimes that I was sharing too much, which would seem like I’m a know-it-all. I guess I just wish that the couples going through the course felt more free to share. There was one moment where a couple did, and it was really meaningful to me, as it was regarding something that Annie and I are still learning to deal with as well.

Did Annie and I learn much that we didn’t already know? Probably not. Did we make some new friends? Most definitely. If nothing else, the course was a great way to meet couples going through the same thing as we are, and most of them were of the same faith background as Annie, which gave another commonality to our interactions.

Was it worth it in the end? Some people, when they hear what I went through think they dodged a bullet by not having to go through all of this, but I think it does have some benefits. I can definitely see where if a couple hasn’t thought about children, finances, communication, conflict resolution, faith, and family then they might be presented with information or conversation starters.

I can also appreciate the interaction with the community. I got to meet some great people, and spend time with them. It was like our own little club, and I know when I see them out in the community, we can give each other a knowing nod. Having moved here from Ottawa, it has been hard for me to meet new people that aren’t just connected to Annie and her family.

While it was a huge commitment of time, I’m happy that we went through it.

hearthstone-heroes-of-warcraft

Hearthstone Beta

So, I’m in the Hearthstone Beta, and I’m enjoying it a great deal. I haven’t got the strategy down yet and my cousin Kyle is beating me about eighty percent of the time when we play against each other, but it is still a great game.

For those that don’t know, Hearthstone is a World of Warcraft digital card game by Blizzard. You play as one of nine archetypes, and my favourite currently is the Shaman.

You start with one mana crystal. Each card played costs a mana value. Cards are broken down into minions, abilities/spells and weapons. Minions are creatures that fight for you, and they have an attack value and health number. Abilities/Spells are cards that do things but don’t put a minion on the board, such as a lightning bolt. Weapons are tools for your avatar/character to use. Each turn, you gain one mana crystal to spend until you reach an upper limit of ten crystals.

The depth of the game comes from the hundreds of cards that already exists, the secondary abilities of minions, and the limitation of spending power each player has in a turn.

I think some cards need some re-balancing, and last night while playing, we came across one that is getting a re-balance: Mind Control. For eight mana, you can take over any of your opponents characters on the field. If you have buffed up your character, this can be devastating. Some other cards that I think need re-balancing are ones related to killing an enemy minion for 3 or 5 mana. I think they are too cheap for what they do, but that’s just me, and I lose the game a lot.

Hearthstone is going to be a free-to-play game with payments for random packs of cards, and buying into the arena.

The arena is where you play other players and really show off your skill. When you start, you are presented with three random characters and you must select one. Then you are shown three cards, and you must select one. The random cards are shown until you’ve selected a deck of thirty and then begin to play other players that have done the same. It costs an in game currency of gold to enter the arena. You can earn gold, cards, and more by winning in the arena. They’ve said that the quest system will help you earn enough gold to continue to play in the arena, but I am not sure if that is the case yet.

Overall, I really enjoy the game, and I’m looking to see how it evolves over time. It should go into open beta around the middle of December and final release sometime around Christmas or early in the new year.

Self Replicating Probes

There is a post on io9 that really appealed to me today, and got the science fiction center of my brain running on full tilt.

It was entitled, How Self-Replicating Spacecraft Could Take Over the Galaxy and it discussed two things: how we could explore the galaxy using probes that could build other probes, and why we haven’t seen anything like that in our neck of the universe yet.

I can’t really discuss why we haven’t seen any probes in our area yet, but I will, like the article, refute the idea that Carl Sagan and William Newman put forth that we haven’t because the advanced intelligence is afraid the probes would consume everything.

Carl Sagan and William Newman came up with a different answer. They were convinced that Tipler had it all wrong and that all this talk of probes was sheer poppycock. In their 1983 paper, “The Solipsist Approach to Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” they calculated that von Neumann probes, should they exist, would eventually start to consume most of the mass in the Galaxy. They concluded that intelligent civilizations would never dare construct such probes and would try to destroy any such device as soon as it was detected.

Even just with some quick thinking on my own, I can come up with ideas relating to how the probe should act, and simple ways to limit its growth and still see an amazing amount of potential data passed back to our society.

Firstly, the article discusses multiple types of probes, with specific functions and goals. I don’t know how necessary that is. I think one simple type of probe that can mine small or medium asteroids, refine the material, and find solutions to make other probes that can do the same thing is the main goal.

I believe the probes should be able to travel along, at any speed, even very slowly, constantly scan in a nearby range, and communicate back to Earth everything it can.

To limit growth, you could set-up the probes to use a generational system where each probe can create five probes, and each probe created by the previous subtracts one from the generational counter until you reach generation zero which is programmed not to create any more probes, but just continue to scan, move slowly and send data back towards Earth.

For example, if the primary probe has a five generational system:

  • 1 Probe Sent Out into the Universe
  • Creates 5 Probes (6 Total)
  • Each of those 5 creates 5 (25 Created / 31 Total)
  • Each of those 5 creates 5 (125 Created / 156 Total)
  • Each of those 5 creates 5 (650 Created / 806 Total)
  • Each of those 5 creates 5 (3250 Created / 4056 Total)

We launch one probe, and get 4056 of them scanning and sending data home. This allows for less up-front resources spent by us and potentially allows for a great deal of new and interesting data.

More likely, we would set a generational counter at one hundred or so creating millions of probes.

The system could be smart enough to adjust the generational counter based on loss of communication. If fifty percent of the siblings are unable to be communicated with, push generational counter back by one, craft five new probes and continue.

You could also have it do a basic scan for life, though we still haven’t gotten very good at that, and if we told it to focus on objects less than one hundred feet across, or moons without atmospheres, we could decrease our odds that our probes would negatively effect another life form.

Of course all of this production would require resources, and the amount of data we might receive could be really slow at first as it might be difficult to get the probes up and running with the materials needed to reproduce (for lack of a better term), but imagine if we could do this.

It would require a great deal of research and development, pre-planning, and a unique vision, but I truly believe that this type of technology is how we are going to learn about our universe.

Visiting Family

This past weekend, Annie and I went to Kingston and I got to see some of my family. On Friday evening we arrived, and Kyle showed me the Hearthstone beta. I really enjoyed it and am psyched to get into the game, when I get a key…

On Saturday, we went to see Mark and Carly’s new place, and hang out with them for a bit. I had a great talk with Carly’s mom. Mark was a bit distracted because his Internet wasn’t working, but we did get to bond over how stupid the systems are in Canada for Internet options.

After that, Annie and I had dinner with my mom at Swiss Chalet, where I got a card from my Grandma and a card and candle from my mom. Both gave me a bit of money which, in hindsight, paid for the trip to visit. A trip that I needed more than I realized.

Saturday night, Annie and I took Kyle and Serina to see the new Thor 2 movie in AVX and we really enjoyed ourselves and the movie, except for an overzealous layer of butter that dripped from Annie’s popcorn onto my pants, jacket, and my forearms.

Sunday was a day of rest. Kyle and I played some more Hearthstone, and a little after one in the afternoon, we left to come back to Georgetown. The whole visit seemed like a whirlwind, and I definitely didn’t get enough time with anyone. I am definitely glad I went, and super appreciate Annie taking the time to drive us there and back.

Friday Office in Georgetown

One of my favourite things to do in Ottawa when I lived there was to attend Friday Office with Tom Leroux. Since moving to Georgetown, I’ve continued the tradition, but it has changed slightly.

In Ottawa, it was mostly people attending to do work together and participate in the odd geeky conversation. In Georgetown, it is mostly family coming to unwind, hang out and interact. It is a nice showing of support, and I really appreciate them coming. I am still able to get a fair bit of work done at the St. George, but I definitely miss talking to geeky people.

Each week, I bring my laptop and get some work done while eating. The St. George has wireless Internet and doesn’t seem to mind me taking up a booth for three or four hours.

The experience of getting out of my apartment once a week definitely helps recharge me, and unwind. It can be a bit of an expense, and I’m bad at tracking such things, but the value is unquestionable.

If you work from home, finding a way to unwind is key. Tom was smart to start it, and I’m glad I’m continuing to spend a few hours each Friday at a pub where I can work and eat.

NaBloPoMo

Annie and I aren’t the type of writers that can push out 50,000 words of story in a single month. We’ve been working on Second Class Supers for over five months now. With that in mind, we’ve decided not to take part in NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month. Instead, I’ve challenged Annie to NaBloPoMo, also known as National Blog Posting Month, which asks you to write 30 posts on your blog before the month is out.

We didn’t sign up officially, with BlogHer or anything, nor are we tagging all of our posts. Our goal isn’t to increase traffic on our blog, but just learn to push out more content regularly. Annie, out of any other person I’ve blogged with that’s a close friend or family member, has really stuck with it and I really appreciate that. I enjoy reading her posts, and witnessing her successes as she gains traffic on her site.

It also helps that Annie and I are competitive. There is a little competition between the two of us to see who can post more, but I think if we can both get to 30 posts or more in November, we will celebrate that as a victory and move forward from there.

We are counting posts relating to creative writing. The only rule we’ve set is that the posts have to be over 200 words. Anything less doesn’t count as a post.

I hope you will all enjoy our little foray into a higher volume of blogging. I can tell you already that December is probably going to be a slower month of posting for both of us.

ENDER'S GAME

Ender’s Game Movie Review

Annie, Jn, and I saw Ender’s Game last night and I have to say that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Plot synopsis:

The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack. Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth.

Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll say that I have tried to read the book a number of times but never got past the first few chapters. This meant that I only had an idea of what the story would be about going in, and I’m not sure if it is better or worse than the book it is based off of.

The young actors, especially the one playing Ender, Asa Butterfield, did a great job holding up a movie that others would have made fell flat. Child and youth actors can be super hit or miss.

I’m also going to mention that the special effects were top notch. I’m surprised this was a November release as I think it could have done well as late summer movie. It had that quality to it.

The beginning third of the movie felt a little slow to me, but because it isn’t a world that most people would know, they had to do a great deal of world building before getting to their main plot line.

Overall, I’d give Ender’s Game a 4/5. I think it is worth seeing on the big screen on cheap night, but mostly because the special effects warrant it.