Not Quite Elves at the North Pole

I could not help myself but remix when I saw the tweet by Tim Maughan (actually retweeted by @savasavasava)

Mostly through sava’s tweets, I’ve gathered Tim is on some expedition, by freighter ship, to China, to get to the source of those shiny things on our store shelves. According to his original video, filmed today, How the magic of Christmas is made, he got an inside view of Yiwu Hangtian Arts and Crafts Co, Ltd – “to see how Christmas decorations to be exported to the US and Europe are made.”

It took about 32 seconds of searching in You Tube to find a copy of the 1932 cartoon Santa’s Workshop, which makes for, I think, a fascinating side by side video.

I’ll leave the conclusions up to the viewer.

This was pretty easy to assemble in iMovie, just dropped in the longer video by Tim into the second track (the new iMovie makes this so much easier), and selecting the side by side option. I did not even fiddle to align any parts of the movies, I think they tend to do it well.

Maybe the trickiest part was fiddling with the closing titles to get them on one side.

Thanks for the great video, Tim. I was easily haunted by repeated hand assembling of these knick knacks. Yeah, it’s that kind of world we live in.

Digitizing Spinning Shellac

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Among the memorabilia I brought back from my Mom’s house was my on set of teen age purchased vinyl LPs, but also about eighteen 78s that I had always remembered sitting on the shelves in our basement.

Any flat disc record, made between about 1898 and the late 1950s and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is called a “78″ by collectors. The materials of which discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the commonest material. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (thus their other name is shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited, some 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac (wax), particularly the six-minute 12″ 78 rpm records produced by V-Disc for distribution to US troops in World War II.

That bit is from the Yale Library History of 78rpm Recordings.

Now with my old MacBookPro set up for digitizing from the turntable, I have been curious to try one of the old discs. There’s a bit of a trick, since my turntable does 33 and 45 rpm speeds. I found the answer in a MacWorld article Ripping 78 RPM records to Mac. I record them into Audacity at 45rpm, and then use the Change Speed Effect to adjust to the proper rate. The article also recommended doing noise removal since there is quite a bit of scratch in there.

I did the first side as an experiment, and then did the rest of them (there are usually 8 sides in a collection) by pausing the Audacity recording between discs. This way I could do the adjustments to all the tracks.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The one I chose, without much rhyme or reason, is Larry Adler and His Harmonica, Decca Records (1946). I’ve “ripped” all 8 sides, keeping a master in Audacity format, and exporting each track as a Variable Bit Rate MP3 (in the neighborhood of 200 Kbps).

While I write like I know what I am talking about, I don’t. The noise removal effect can leave some artifacts. And I always seem to mess up the editing when trying to find the separations between songs.

But here goes, all of Larry Adler’s tunes.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Star Dust (side 1)

Perhaps I chose this since I have aspirations to play the harmonica….

Larry Adler, playing an instrument which has heretofore been thought of principally as the musical toy of boyhood, has raised the harmonica to the level of a virtuoso’s concert instrument. He is the one person in the world who has appeared as a soloist playing the mouth organ in concert with symphony orchestra.

That Old Black Magic (side 2)

The other connection is that like me, Adler hails from Baltimore, but traveled far from there.

It is a far cry form the ragged urchin routine to the white tie and tails performance before President Roosevelt, the two most recent English Georges and their Queens, Kings Haakon, Gustav, Alfonso, the Windsors and Kents. And it is a long way from Baltimore to Cairo, but Adler has bridged the gap with a universally accepted talent.

St. Louis Blues (side 3)

Then again, I never lived the “ragged urchin routine”, but like Adler, my music entrance was via the blues.

Lawrence Cecil Adler was born in Baltimore Maryland. When he was two, he wandered away from home one day and was found by his father, standing on a table in a downtown poolroom, singing a song called “I’ve Got Those Profiteering Blues,” while the enchanted patrons stuffed his rompers’ pockets with money.

Blues in the Night (side 4)

Such the young entrepreneur, age two getting his “rompers” stuffed.

At thirteen, after an unsuccessful interim in the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Adler entered a Baltimore Sun harmonica contest and won first prize. All other contestants confined themselves to “Turkey In The Straw” and other songs of that ilk, but Adler amazed and gratified the judges by playing a Beethoven Minuet. Until 1941, Adler learned all his music by ear from phonograph records, and he can still play a long musical selection correctly after only two hearings.

Begin the Beguine (side 5)

Poor kid, he lacked a MOOC to learn music from….

Adler appeared in torn knickers and ragged clothes in various New York musicals until 1934 when, at a Palace Theatre engagement, he appeared in a well-cut dinner jacket. C. B. Cochran, a British producer, was impressed and engaged Adler to appear in a London revue.

Hand to Mouth Boogie (side 6)

A well-cut dinner jacket is the difference.

Adler’s London success was a turning point in his life. He played for royalty; he had an entire revue written about him. Fan clubs totaling a million Adler devotees sprouted up all over England; harmonica sales increased two thousand percent after his arrival. He appeared at important recitals; music was written especially for him, and William Walton, the delightful composer, was moved to say Adler was one of the two ‘young musical geniuses in the world’”.

Claire de Lune (side 7)

Now those are some growth metrics, harmonica sales up 2000%!

It was a strange letdown to return to America at practically his previous status. However, one night club engagement led to lucrative offers and Adler fully “arrive” when he begain to play classical music.

Hora Stacatto (side 8)

And here is it is, all sides of this 78rpm set. You can learn more about Alder in Wikipedia. He passed away in 2001 at an age of 87, and more details of his life surface at the article on him on the New York Times.

Adler was labeled a Communist sympathizer in 1948, losing his ability to make a living in America (where he had made $200k before) and that was the reason for his return to the UK.

Although a self-described ”left-minded kid,” Mr. Adler steadfastly denied he had ever supported the Communist cause but refused to take a loyalty oath or mute his criticism of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

”I can’t understand Marx,” he said in 1971. ”Communist literature, brochures and stuff didn’t mean anything to me.” But he continued to insist that imagined or even real Communists should not be deprived of their ability to earn a living, since being a Communist was not against the law.

Quite the dude.

I have quite a few more to digitize, but I also have a greater length by 2 of my own rock and roll records to get into the digital realm.


The Te of Pages


Because he wrote The Tao of Posts and asked for it, comes the Te of Pages. From the original

As we were saying, Te is pronounced DEH. In classical Chinese, it is written two ways. The first joins the character “upright” to the character for “heart”. It’s meaning is virtue. The second way adds the character for “left foot,” which in Chinese signifies “stepping out.” Its meaning is virtue in action.

Te is not, as its English-language equivalent suggests, a one-size-fits-all sort of goodness or admired behavior that can be recognized as essentially the same no matter who possesses it. It is instead a quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential unique to the individual–something that comes from the Inner Nature of things. And something, we might add, that the individual who possesses int may be quite unaware of– as is the case of Piglet through most of the Pooh stories.

I agree with Tom that the nomenclature of WordPress Posts versus Pages (compounded by the way we refer to anything on the web as a “page”) muddies a lot of understanding. For people who venture inside the database of a WordPress siter, you might get to know that actually they are the same data type- Posts and Pages (and Media Attachments) all sit together insider the wp_posts table

post types

Posts of course are the things people use in WordPress, after all it’s primary uses is chronologically organized series of content, as bloggers do. You organize posts by categories and tags. They pretty much do all you need.

As a blog.

Pages usually are called upon as things that stand alone from the glory of the blog flow; they are things like About pages, Contact pages, lists of resources, maybe a resume. In years past the difference was perhaps more important because of how hard it was maybe 4 years ago, to add menus to your site. It was either something that called for manual coding or plugins, but with the modern flexible menu system put into place some time ago, you can hang links to posts right off the menu, mixed with categories.

So conceptually, you could write an About page as a post, and then hang it right off the menu. And most blog sites end up having 0 to 2 pages.

The places where the do come into play, is where you might have to create an organized hierarchy of content, pretty much what has been done for centuries in these things called “books” (look them up, amazing stuff out there). It’s cases where you want to managed a classification of content, that I find pages useful.

When I mean classification I mean an organization of stuff like- WordPress does this both in post categories and pages by a relationship defined where pages as indented are “children” of “parent” pages

  • Intro to Stuff
  • History of Stuff
  • Places we find stuff
    • Earth Stuff
      • Asia Stuff
      • European Stuff
      • Oceania Stuff
        • New Zealand Stuff
        • Australian Stuff
      • Africa Stuff
      • South American Stuff
      • North American Stuff
      • Antarctic Stuff
    • Lunar Stuff
      • Mare Stuff
      • Highlands Stuff
    • Martian Stuff

A major limitation of this is every item can only have one place, you cannot put the same item in different hierarchies. Yes, it looks like an old fashioned passé media form.

But where I have been using this are cases where the use of a plugin enables these parent-child relationships to be not always as strictly written in advance, but almost like “smart folders” where the content of a part of this tree can be auto generated based on the relationships of pages added.

One of the places I first started doing this was the DS106 Participant Handbook:

ds106 handbook

This could be something created by manually entering an HTML bulleted list structure, each pointing to links anywhere. But as an editor on the site, it looks like

handbook wp

The entire list of links is generated by… a single shortcode


This is from the Page-List plugin which can do all kinds of useful things based on the page hierarchy. When I am on a subpage, it can put in the sidebar a widget with a shortcode like:


to list a structure of all other pages at the same level. Or as we use on the side, a way to list the only the top level subpages of a specific page (the handbook itself)

[pagelist child_of="77898" depth="1"]

Okay, here is another comparison. Typically in ds106, as teachers we publish regular posts as announcements using a category, like the weekly assignments, as I did in Spring 2013 at UMW:

spring 2013

This is typical blog reverse chronological flow, it makes sense for a class where you want students to see the most recent content first. But it’s the reverse of the order it was created in, if you want to browse the assignments, you go in reverse order. Technically, I could modify a theme template to change this ordering.

But compare this to the structure I made for the DS106 Open Course, driven by a page hierarchy, because this was something I set up not to be organized by time, but more as a reference to a structure for an open ds106 course.

When you organize content by pages, you can not only use the parent-child relationship as an organizer, but the page order attribute in the editor, to control the order that pages are displayed.

I have been using this approach on two recent projects for clients. I see two variations of “problems” with their sites… one is they use pages but no hierarchy, so the pages are just a swath, maybe as many as 100, all with no logical organizing. The other is where they do use the hierarchy but so much that there are 19 levels, many not parallel.

On the first site is the Future of Learning Institute site — I set it up last year focussing on the syndication portions, and left it to the staff to create their event program. Everything they made were pages, there is a Program, and in that are Keynotes (and specific keynotes in it), courses, and an index of courses by the schedule. All of these pages were created at the top level of the site.

The problem I see is (a) it’s hard to manage the structure with so many pages; but worse (b) They manually create pages for individual keynotes; than manually create an index page of keynotes with links to those, and then manually enter a program page to include everything.

The wrinkle added this year, is that we want to have a Program for each year. Typically organizers will just write over last year’s content, erasing their own history. So may task for this year was to first of all separate content that would change year to year. So here is the new program, a page for the FOL 14 program


Everything on this page is generated by a shortcode

[pagelist_ext parent="251" image_width="100" image_height="100"]

This page is just index of it’s own subpages, and uses the Page-List plugin capability to use the featured image of a subpage as an icon. The text is from the first 250 characters of the page (or you can fine tune this by inserting a more tag in the sub page to control how much text it grabs.

Likewise, the page for plenary talks generates its own index from it’s own subpages. As is the index of Courses By Day, which uses four uses of the shortcode to list as specified, all Wednesday AM, Wednesday PM, Thursday AM, Thursday PM courses.

If you are with me, Piglet, this means this comes into play when you want a page structure that generates content based upon the pages under it. So you can change things simply by adding new pages to the appropriate places in the structure.

The Page-List plugin (which is essentially an easier short hand to a collection of WordPress functions to present lists of pages) is a workhorse with a ton of options. You can use the shortcodes in pages and widgets.

I have another site where I have used it rather extensively, a redesign of the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). When I looked at the existing site, it was one made entirely of pages in depths about 7 deep. I won’t detail all the places I have used the Page-List structure, but it is all over the site.

Well, I cannot say Tom that for a portfolio site if a Page structure really has a place. It depends on the information structure one might like to have. But let’s say people want to organize a collection of works, and can figure out a tree structure that works. A page structure could allow for maybe a generative index of content, but it also might end of being limiting of you want to have multiple ways to organize the content (e.g. by time, type of media, kind of project).

The Last Narrator

My own edited photo, for which I give myself permission to reuse, you too,

My own edited photo, for which I give myself permission to reuse, you too,

This blog has 4097 posts since April 2003. My flickr photos includes 38,443 photos since March 2004. These are not numbers I call up to brag about (but please, tell me abll about your 30,000th twitter follower).

On a more recurring basis, I have noticed how often I use both of them, especially an ability to search them. It’s not to say I have blogged about everything, but it is useful to me in my thinking and writing to have now an 11+ years worth of my ideas, thoughts, many of them obsolete, but often, relevant. My blog has much better recall and retrievability than my grey matter, but the latter is better at the loose association and pattern matching that send me using the former.

With a daily flickr photo posting habit since 2008, and a lot before that, I have a visual record of where I was, what I was doing for the last 10 years. Where was I July 19, 2011?. My photos tell me hanging out in northern Idaho with my friend Donna Gaudet, and her awesome dog Rudy.

Photos really work for my memory; they do not provide a full life stream record, but they generate enough neuropathic associative trails that help my better remember that day.

Yet flickr does not do that on its own. I have a regular daily habit of reviewing, editing, rejecting my photos, and I compose titles and captions and tags before I upload. I give my photos context, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

But having 8000 photos with the only information like a title IMG7688.JPG is using flickr as just a giant folder.

The thing is– all of this is a daily reflective practice I do primarily to serve myself; the secondary gains are a bonus.

This wraps into two different strands I blab on below about- one is a thing more people seem to be talking about – “Show Your Work” with which I both ascribe to and have some issues with. The second is the the ever long educator interest in people having eletronic portfolios, again something I both ascribe to and have some issues with.

And then I end up marveling in the back of a book.


In which I may end up talking about a book I’ve not read yet… I am pretty sure Austin Kleon’s book is a gem:

A book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion, Show Your Work! is the followup to my New York Times bestselling guide to creativity, Steal Like An Artist. If Steal was a book about stealing influence from others, Show is about influencing others by letting them steal from you.

In ten tight chapters, I lay out ways to think about your work as a never-ending process, how to build an audience by sharing that process, and how to deal with the ups and downs of putting yourself and your work out in the world.

The whirlwind of pink and black themed creativity Amy Burvall has been sketching an talking about this ideas, noticed by the author:


This week I cam across a webinar (of which I missed) by Jane Bozarth about the same concept, a book of the same name for the Training and Development (or is it Learning and Training) world, a.k.a. the business elearning space.

My free association mind goes elsewhere when I hear “Show Your Work” – yes math class, don’t just get the answer, but show how you derived the answer. Or…

The small rub I get in Kleon’s description is the goal of showing your work is to get discovered “how to build an audience by sharing that process”. Bozarth’s book is likely aimed at showing your work as a means for business’s to operate better.

To me it’s like having an end in mind, not the journey there. I am likely wrong and judging too quickly.

But all of these wrap into what has been one of my cornerstones of thinking, something I can go back to again and again because it is written out as a Jon Udell blog post, his own showing his thinking, embedding in perhaps the unlikely title of Data-Driven Career Discovery

Since then I’ve spoken a few times about the idea that by narrating our work, we can perhaps restore some of what was lost when factories and then offices made work opaque and not easily observable. Software developers are in the vanguard of this reintegration, because our work processes as well as our work processes are fully mediated by digital networks. But it can happen in other lines of work too, and I’m sure it will.

My favorite example, from a very different domain, is the historic home preservationist John Leeke. In our interview he eloquently explains how and why he works observably.

I’ve heard Jon speak a few times (note how I can use my flickr photos to find when and where, April 13 2012 at Virginia Tech) about this and it just has rung so true to my own interests and ways of being.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

It came from what Jon noticed in the ways that agile software developers, in environments like software versioning constantly wrote up not only their code, but their reasons for the thinking behind it. It’s as if they were writing about their thinking as they did it. What Jon did was expand it and imagine a world where people in all kinds of disciplines- doctors, plumbers, sandwich makers (that list is mine) had a way of sharing how they approach and solve problems.

And this is the spirit I find behind these “Show Your Work” ideas, to make visible the way people figure things out or apply their skills. It pretty much underpinned my approach to teaching ds106, where I asked my students not just to create media and slap it into their blog, but to write about the ideas behind it and the process by which they created it (see how to Blog Assignments Like a Champ). This was a direct application of the way I saw Scott Lockman work with his Temple University Japan students when he taught ds106.

Students and people in general do not readily grasp this idea. After a good 10, 15 years of school conditioning, they know that everything is focused on the Final Product. Who wants to let their rough draft dangle out in the open? Their unformed ideas? WHAT IF SOMEONE SAW THAT? OMG! Everything is focussed on the finished thing, and to me, I am so much more interested and learn from how it got there.

And all of this is usually something we never have access to.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

My analogy is DVDs, which are now featured in the Obsolete Media Store (hey that’s my photo in flickr of a sign I saw in Hong Kong in 2008).

I enjoy a good movie on DVD. But what I really enjoy are the extras on the disc- the deleted scenes, out takes, I will watch it again to hear the director’s commentary. This happened in May when I visited Gardner Campbell- we watched Quadrophenia, then watched the Directors commentary, then talked about it. It’s a singular experience to watch a movie, but to re-process it, on our own and/or with others, takes the experience to a whole new level.

I have been disappointed to get a DVD and find no extras.

Of course this is moot as viewing shifts to NetFlix, Hulu. We do not get the extras. This makes me sad.

The Udellian idea of Narrating the Work I Do, is what drives my blogging. It’s not to say “Here’s my new book”, “Here’s my slides” — it’s to be narrating as much as I can everything that leads up to that moment. Some of the things that are not complete, or may never will be (outtakes). Or how they got to that state (making of, director’s commentary).

My Blog, my Life Extras.

But I am not here to say they way I do my life narrating, in blogs, in photos, is what you should do. Not only is this like writing as in Finding Your Voice, but Finding Your Way. Like Mitch Robbins learned from Curlie, he has to figure out what that One Thing is

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The second strand I will grasp at is the elusive eportfolio. I seem to recall first coming across the concept in the mid 1990s; I attended a NECC conference and met the “grandmother” of eportfolios, Helen Barrett. Hey, I have an idea, blogs as eportfolios (2003). Colleagues are still trying to hammer out the concept in 2014.

Here are the problems I see in the way we think about eportfolios

  • The One System to Fit Them All Approach we think one platform, product, system is going to work best for all individuals.
  • It Looks Like Its For You But Its Not who really do these serve? If it’s for assessment and tracking, the individual’s needs are subservient. What am I really getting out of this, at a personal growth level, but shoving stuff in the portfolio?
  • It’s a Chore If the portfolio making act is not one that is rewarding or motivating, then it becomes a task I am doing… for someone else.
  • It’s All About the Shiny Final Thing It becomes a thing of where we want to show out “best” work. the final stuff. Once again, where is the place for all that led up to that, the ideas, the wrong turns? If portfolios are just the best stuff, there’s not a whole record of growth and evolution.

It’s all movie and no extras. I think we should not be telling students how or what to portfolio, we should be helping them figure a way and means that works for them.

This was and is still feeling like a rambling post, as most are. I was trying to find something new that tied it together, and it was there right in front of me– in a book I was reading.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

The Last Tycoon is the novel F Scott Fitzgerald left unfinished when he passed away in 1940. The published form in the book I found at a used book sale was edited with notes left by Fitzgerald, so we never know exactly how it might have turned out had he completed it.

Like Gatsby, Monroe Stahr is an enigmatic, powerful central character wrapped in mystery. The setting though, is not the idle rich of the East Coast, but the emerging film industry of the 1930s. Stahr is some kind of natural movie production genius, he has a knack — not for telling his employees exactly what to do in writing, lighting, scoring, but nudging them in a way that they become better. His work is his life, but he carries pain and loss and desire, and an awareness his health will fail.

But he also sees, I think what Fitzgerald was seeing, that the leaders in film making who were master craftsmen like Stahr, where going to be supplanted by bottom line business thinkers.


But I am not aiming to do a literary analysis. The way the book is published, they don’t try to have someone wrap it up nice and neat — not a perfect portfolio item– they leave it somewhat open ended with the last chapter having more of a review of the notes the author left, fragments of early letters to the publisher with different ideas on the novel as he was working it out.

The end of the published book shows us insight into the author’s process we do not always get in a book– the planning:

last tycoon notes

There is a recounting of a conversation Fitzgerald had with a colleague that completely informed the metaphorical scene in the cockpit of the plane in the story’s first chapter. There are plot parts and characters in the notes that did not make it into the story.

One tends to think in reading a novel that the story is a singular thing as we read it in published form, but the author’s notes in this unfinished book show how much work, and rework went into the work. We have meta information, extras about the writing process. There is even the whole ending scene that was never fleshed out, the plane crash and the kids who discover the remains.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I know this is a pipe dream. Who’s going to take the time to narrate their thinking? Isn’t there an app for that?

I do it because it helps me think, understand, work through ideas. That’s it.

So I leave with Fitzgerald’s last note to ponder:


Feed WordPress 101: A Few More Tricks For Your Site

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by One Tree Hill Studios

This is part 5 of 5 in a series of posts for Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed MagicOptional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • »» A Few More Tricks «« – leveraging categories, adding attribution, setting featured images

Feed WordPress is a plugin, but itself has it’s own suite of plugins to extend it’s functionality- a plugin with plugins? Yes. I will be reviewing a few of the ones I have used, and also discuss the other affordances you can find by using tags and categories after content is syndicated.

Wielding Your Tags and Categories

Earlier in the series we set up Feed WordPress to automatically assign categories to all feeds, as a way of creating subsets of the entire syndication flow.

Because they are categories, they all have links to their archives, which you can use to add to your WordPress menus.

You can use the built in Categories widget to put a listing in a sidebar/footer widget. If you want to list just the syndicated category structure, you will need to install a plugin that allows you to select a portion of all categories to display, such as AVH Extended Categories Widgets, Sub Categories Widget, or others.

If you want to do a tag cloud based upon the ones in the syndication stream, I find the built in WordPress widget a bit bland and limited. I prefer the Ultimate Tag Cloud Widget, used to generate the footer at the Thought Vectors site.

Another way you might consider using categories is to “curate” the flow of content and add categories to specific posts to build collections. On the Future of Learning Institute site, the site admins regular edit posts and add a “Spotlight” category, which are then promoted to the front page:


This include a mixture of tweets, photos, and blog posts. Many themes have built in sliders to display content from a specified category or tag, often you add a “Featured” category to a post to push content into the slider.

The ability to do organize content like this was a primary reason for choosing the Editor theme (Woo Themes) on Thought Vectors. It has three areas that display posts based on tags:


There are many ways we could have used these; the top were posts tagged by facilitators to promote important class links. The slider displayed posts based on a secret tag admins used to create the big banner sliders, but it could just as easily been tags added by admins to promoter student content. And the bottom row of 6 posts were based on participant’s use of the “nugget” tag.

So you can use tags/categories that are suggested to your participants, or you can add tags/categories to display on your site. The ways and approaches wil vary depending on the features of your theme.

Feed WordPress Add Ons

I have used a few extra plugins that can add functionality to the Feed WordPress plugin itself. Several are listed/described on the developer’s web site, yet I have found the links are mostly dead, but you can find the current version on his github site.

Adding Attribution to Syndicated Post Items

When you syndicate in the posts on your site, you will get a link and a excerpt from the blog (if you choose the option for permalinks to point to the original source), but there is nothing really to indicate that the post is from another site; it will look just look like any locally authored posts on your site.

The FWP Add Attribution Plugin takes care of that issue by creating a setting in Feed WordPress that allows you to define the way attribution strings are added.

For examples how this can appear, all participant posts from Project Community (example) bear an attribution to the source (highlighted with red box):

attribution proj comm

or at the Future of Learning site


when this plugin is activated, it adds an extra piece of settings to Feed WordPress, under the Posts and Links Section — look for Attribution Boilerplate

attribution boiler plate

You can choose to have the attribution appear before the post or after it. And you have a number of template variables to build an attribution that can list the source, link to the post, etc.

And because it is set as a global setting in Feed WordPress, you can override it per feed if you have some that you do not want to show the attribution text.

Filtering Feeds

The ADA Keyword Filter plugin (fear not the 2 year old warning, the plugin still works) gives you a means to restrict the posts that are published by keywords that you choose. This can be a way ti deal with people using blogs where they write posts not related to your project.

For example, in the 2013 Future of Institute site, we told bloggers that they would have to use one of two different keywords in their posts for them to be syndicated (the keyword can be part of the title or the post). The ADA keyword Filter adds yet another section to the Posts and Links Section:

keyword filters

Technically this worked flawlessly (we syndicated all posts that had either hgsepzfol or fol2013 in them, and the plugin is case insensitve), but we noted that a lot of people forgot to use the tags.

But you may find a use for this regardless.

Filtering for Images Localized

The Feed WordPress Advanced Filters plugin turns out to be a multi tool of features of which I have used but one; I urge you to explore the other capabilities it has to modify syndicated content.

The one filter I have used form it again and again is the images filter. What it does is look at all images references in an external post, and it makes local copies stored in your WordPress site.

Why would you do this? One reason we have found in ds106 is archiving. When students let their domains lapse, we can flip the setting to the links on the site point to a local copy (see the previous post on feed TLC). But all of their embedded images are gone. By using this filter, we preserve those on the course site.

But another reason is for modern graphic themes that use featured images- this are ones that create pretty front pages where posts include an image as a link. Because they are syndicated posts, there is no information to indicate a featured image like we can do when we author a post.

I have gotten around this on sites such as Thought Vectors by using the Auto Post Thumbnail plugin. This will automatically use the first image as a featured image. But there is a hitch. The image needs to be local on the server.

So we combine this with the Feed WordPress Advanced Filters – it makes the images local, and then the Auto Post Thumbnail makes it the featured image.

Once installed, the Feed WordPress Advanced Filters plugin adds yet another pane of settings to Feed WordPress, under the Posts and Links Section. In the FeedWordpress Advanced Filters area, I choose to create a new Image filter, using these settings:

filters fwp

And now, all images used in syndicated posts will be copied to the course site (this does mean you will store more data).

How well this works again will depend on the capabilities of your theme. Sadly, many people do not use images in their blog posts! The Theme we used on Thought Vectors did provide a way to designate a default featured image if none was provided.

Oy Vey, Duplicates!

Frustratingly, Feed WordPress seems sometimes to publish the same post twice, you end up with duplicate posts, e.g.


I have seen this in most of the sites I have worked on, and have yet to identify a pattern. Feed WordPress supposedly has a mechanism to detect if a feed item is new, but I have never found what exactly it is checking (the date? url? the content?).

I have tried the FeedWordPress Duplicate Post Filter plugin but recall it either (a) did not work or worse (b) messed something else up. It has been a while since I tried.

I pretty much shrug and say it’s easier to ignore a duplicate post than to risk missing a single one. If anyone has ideas or clues as to maybe what kinds of feeds this happens on, I’d like to know!

Who’s in the Syndication Hub?

On most of my projects I have custom coded widgets for sidebars that can do a list of blogs in each category; as of now I have not found a way to generalize it (sorry!). But you can use the Links Shortcode Plugin to create an index of all syndicated blogs.

See it in action on the Future of Learning Institute site on the page of syndicated blogs

blog list

We can use this since we know (correct) that Feed WordPress stores all of the sites syndicated in the WordPress Links structure, by default in the Contributors category. The page above generates this list simply by a WordPress Shortcode

[links category_name='Contributors' exclude='13,17,18']

The excluded ones the ids you can find in the links editor (ones for twitter, flickr, and instagram) since I just want to list the blogs syndicated. This same shortcode would work in a text widget as well.

It’s All Dessert Now

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by chotda

This is the end of this series of posts. I hope I have given you more than enough to not only get Feed WordPress set up, but also making it fit your course or project need. I am sure I missed (or messed up) something. Let me know in the comments!

One thing to always keep in mind is that syndicated content become just like local blog posts, and anything you can to them, you can do to syndicated content. This includes the way they interact with your theme and all of the 5 gazillion plugins out there.

Now it’s time for you to feed!

This is part 5 of 5 in a series of posts for Building Connected Courses: Feed WordPress 101

  • Basic Concepts of Syndicationand what to think about even before you touch that WordPress thing
  • Installing and Setting up Feed WordPressMinimal settings, and planning the way content is sliced, diced, and recombined
  • Feeding the MachineHow to get RSS feeds into the aggregator without losing a finger
  • Some Feed MagicOptional ways to improve feeds from sites such as flickr, twitter, etc, creating a twitter archive, RSS Feed TLC
  • »» A Few More Tricks «« – leveraging categories, adding attribution, setting featured images

I Don’t Like Beets or Facebook


It’s been a month since I drove a stake through the heart of my Facebook account. Life feels pretty much the same.

My process was not the most well thought out- I posted a status, and nuked the account an hour later, so who knows what replies I missed? My sister claims she saw a reply from Mark Zuckerburg; then again, she used to toss the Monopoly board in the air when I got ahead.

I happened to glance at my Google+ status and saw some comments from folks related to this. I think it was my comment to something else… just like Google+ I cannot find them again. But that’s another bowl of slimy vegetables.

Let me be clear. My reasons for leaving are mostly a gut sense of distrust for Facebook, and I am the first one to apply the hypocrite badge to myself for why should I trust Google, Twitter, Flickr, and more?

It’s not exactly distrust. It’s more that… I just don’t like Facebook.

Which you cannot do in a world were the only option is “Like”. Like… Candyland. Pleasantville.

Let me be clear, my not liking Facebook is all about me. Not you. Yet the typical reaction I see among “friends” is a rationalization.

“Everyone is there.”

“Sure it’s silly and frivolous.”

“It’s the only way to keep tabs on friends and family”

I almost expect to see “I can quit at any time”.

A lot of them seem to be like “I know it’s creepy/etc but…” To me, often it ends up sounding defensive.

And it is not the only way to stay in touch. Facebook has not subsumed the entire realm of ways we communicate.

Let me be clear. I do not criticize anyone for using Facebook. That is not my message. Why do you feel a need to defend your reason for using Facebook? That seems curious.

And hey, Remember? My decision is all about me.

Here is the thing. I don’t like beets. They are slimy and the thought of eating them makes me want to puke. That’s me.

You may love beets. Borscht.

Do you feel like you have to defend your love of beets to me?

I did not think so.

I can think of a few people, real friends, not one-button-click-friends. I saw constant statusing in Facebook whom I never hear from, who have ignored messages, emails from me. It sure seems like everyone is Bizy Backson


And it’s not like I going all Turkle on y’all. It’s not like I want only Serious Pontifications online (have you seen my tweets? really?). I embrace the frivolity, the silliness of online spaces. Yet I also crave the real personal communications that come from phone calls, personal texts, letters — that seem more rare every day. Someone in that G+ comment string was a friend I have not hear from in 2 years. Are status messages the only way I will every hear from you again?

I want both in my life.

There were things I enjoyed seeing and commenting on in Facebook. I got the glimpses into some distant family’s lives (not all were pretty). A visit last January with my cousin happened via Facebook messages.

What I saw mostly in Facebook was mostly the stream, now the torrent of micro-ness.

And it bored me. And saddened me. But yeah, I got bored by the sameness of it all. I tried several ways to shake up the Facebook status quo. For a while I tried Liking Everything. Then for 3 months, I refused to Like Anything, leaving genuine comments.

Now I know what it is.

Everyone (a.k.a “everyone Who is in Facebook”) seems to accept the Ultimate Inevitability of Facebook.

I do not.

My choice to kill the account is not about you and what you do, it is my own experiment. You do not have to defend your use of Facebook, much less than you need to defend your joy of slimy puke inducing vegetables.

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by jumpinjimmyjava

I may be the Only Person Not on Facebook.

And that is Ok.

It has nothing to do with you.

And I still do not like beets.

My Tiara Arrived in the Mail. I am Retired from DS106

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by stevendepolo

You do know the irony of #ds106 #4life? Right?

With a four month fellowship at TRU starting in late October through March and no plans to teach ds106 for a while, I shall be dialing back my role in keeping the lights on inside the web site.

The other thing about ds206 is that it rests on not one person. As previously aired on this blog, Mariana Funes and Giulia Forsythe have agreed to keep the Daily Create fresh. That one is really hard for me to stop doing, and I probably will not stop.

As for everything else, I had a video chat with Jim Groom Friday, and he has all the info to take over the keys to the main site and it’s ancillary parts. But more than that, he’s returning to teach a regular semester version of ds106 starting in late August, and he has some great plans to wire it up in the fashion that NOBODY does. Plus after her Summer teaching debut, it looks like Jen Polack will also be teaching a UMW section.

DS106 it goes on.

And I am not done with by by any means, just shifting my involvement.

What are you doing just reading this? Go make art.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Michael Branson Smith

Lonely Is The Search for OER Reuse Stories

Creative Commons Licensed Wikimedia Commons image by Pöllö

Creative Commons Licensed Wikimedia Commons image by Pöllö

Having failed to find a story of OER Reuse in the forest I took my search to the mysterious waters of Loch OER. My luck was a tad better having surfaced a written story of Latin Tattoos by Laura Gibbs and a not boring OER video by Brendan Murphy.

That’s not many stories in my collection, and I am committed to presenting such stories a week from Friday for an online presentation to Ontario educators.

With all the OERs out there, and all the ways people are creating and teaching with online materials, how can there so few stories of reuse? Is reuse a myth? a comforting story we tell ourselves as we push content online?

My belief is getting shakier.

Perhaps people are stuck on what an “official OER” is. I don;t care about the thing, or whether it is or is not an OER, have you incorporated something someone else made and shared into your teaching? I am invested in the reuse, not the status or quality of the thing.

Maybe everyone creates original content.

Nothing is a remix.

Other possibilities I have heard. “People are shy.”

Really? Teachers who get up in front of classes, in person or online are shy? They perform all the time! I’m shy.

I want to hear people tell their own stories. If you do not like your face on camera (my hand raised), do a screen cast. Put a stuffed animal on the camera. It’s the story, the story.

So, out there on the lonely ice, without any flicker of a sign of an OER reuse story, I pull into my lonely tent and do what desperate story seekers do. I did my own.

Rule of Thirds is sort of a two in one. It’s about my reuse of a web browser tool (which ahem no longer works) to help people see the Photography Rule of Thirds in web photos.

I used this in ds106 when we did Visual Storytelling and did a section on becoming better photographers. But I also re-used another colleagues strategy for having the students create a class resource of photo techniques.

But I do not want to use my stories, I want to use yours.

Are there really so few stories of OER reuse? It is that lonely out there?

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by Martin Gommel

Bueller? Bueller?

Bring me some stories please, I am ready to give up.

Project SSD Complete!


It took a new laptop, 3 or 4 trips of cracking open the case, and almost a year– but I finally have my old (2009 Mid Year) Mac Book Pro running from a Solid State Drive (SSD). And like I was told, the speed difference in that machine is remarkable. Startup time was about 4 minutes, now about 45 seconds. It no longer beachballs on everything.

The trip started maybe in April 2013; after a visit to Hong Kong, my colleague Ross Parker suggested via twitter a suggestion to give my machine a boost- get a new SSD drive and mount it inside the machine in the optical drive bay using an MCE Technologies Opti-Bay. The idea is you remove the optical drive and out it inside a USB case, making it an external, and putting a new drive inside a caddy that took it’s place.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I got all the parts last September, but it never seemed the right time to possible put my one working machine up on the racks.

I got around to it in November, and felt confident I had followed all the steps, and was amazed I was able to get those tiny screws back in that hold the optical bay caddy:

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

But alas, when I booted up the computer (from its old Hard drive still in there), it never recognized the new drive.

Some research suggested that replacing the ribbon cable might be the answer. I ordered one. And it sat on my desk a long while.

A former colleague (I hired Derek as a student programmer at Maricopa) who is a Mac guru had told me that if the new drive was a 6 Gb/S speed drive, that the optical drive connector could not read it, and I was better off putting it in the primary drive slot.

It made sense… but also seemed like a lot of potential for me ending up with a blinking question mark for a system.

So I put it off.

And saw a lot of beachballs.

A lot.

In April, I finally decided, after reading the specs on the newer machine, that maybe it was better of me to invest in a computer made in 2014, rather than relying on a 5 year old one.

These decisions feel much different from when your work pays for your computers. This was a big chunk of my change. But it’s also my primary means of making money. And tax deductible.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

So I ordered this new 13″ MacbookPro… and I just love this machine and the choice I made. It’s like going from a tricycle to a racing motorcycle.

But the old machine still had some possible use, and I did have the 256 Gb SSD drive. My own idea was to slim the machine down- I pulled off all the data files (a lot was form ds106), all of the video and audio, and a whole raft of apps I would not need on it. I got the whole thing down to about 119 Gb which could all live on the SSD.

Just in case the HDD did not show up, I made a copy of the main drive using Carbon Copy Cloner and stored it on the 3 TB drive I use for backups. I became a big fan of that program.

Then I cracked the machine open again, pulled out the SSD from the Opti-Bay, and swapped it for the HDD. I felt like perhaps I did not have the drive firmly seated in the Optibay drive. I got everything switched, screwed back in. But on startup, using the option key when starting (usually to select a startup disk, if the HDD was there I could boot from that), and all I got was grey.

See, I knew this would happen.

Another idea. Reboot the old machine in Target disk mode (hold down the T when starting up) so it’s drive acts like just an external drive. I connected it via Firewire (and Yet Another Apple Dongle) to the new machine.

That was good news- it saw a new unformatted drive (the new SSD), and I was able to reformat it using Disk Utility. Then, from the new machine, I could plug in the external drive, and run Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the system from the backup drive to the new SSD.

It took more than an hour… but it worked. And wow, did the old machine boot up fast.

My goal is to use it more for audio apps- broadcasting to ds106 radio and digitizing my vinyl records (the new MBP lacks a line in input, and last time I tried I got a lot of interference using an iMic). I copied my iTunes music back on to the SSD. I’m not quite sure how I will use the new old computer. But at least it functions reasonable.

I feel now the Opti-Bay enclosure is a problem; I’ve come across claims elsewhere. And the machine still has a 320 Gb HDD inside of it doing nothing.

But that will do for now. I’m glad I did this as I have a better understanding what’s under the keyboard.

Cross this project off the list!

As a bit of insight, I was able to track my own story, and get most of the dates of events because I have flickr photos of various steps in the process. My friend Derek even asked me about the speed of the HDD I had moved… but I had no idea how to get it’s specs since its’s sealed inside the computer. But I did find a photo when I had put that drive in the old computer, and was able to get the model number from my photo.

A photo history of myself comes in handy all the time.

21 Years Beyond Dominoe

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Here we are in 1987, me a 24 year old mullet head know-not-much and my side kick, Dominoe. In May of that year we did a practice camping trip in western Maryland’ it might very well have been the Catoctin Mountain area where the previous October I lost/found her. That story… has just about fueled a career, it seems.

I look at this photo of me looking out, I am seeing a future? Looking for it? Hoping for it?

Who knows. I was there, and I can only guess what I was thinking.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

What I knew of camping, yeah. I had been maybe 5 times in my life before, and I bet I was eating beans from a can. There is the green Eureka tent bought from LL Bean, oh the stories that tent heard.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Today marks the day in 1993 my first dog companion left this world. At that time, looking back to 1987, I would think how far I have come. More looking back now dwarfs that gap in units I cannot even measure.

It’s all a trajectory.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Oh how simple it was then. I have no longing to go back to that, but I see myself looking like a kid. Heck I was.

But I had the best companion I could ever hope for. That dog, Dominoe, it feels like she gave, without expectance of a return, much more than I gave back.

I am still learning from her.

Twenty one years and counting.