Doug Engelbart Tribute site

I might lose my Keep on Reclaimin’ bumper sticker, but there are sometimes when I chose (or am asked) to help on a hosted site. Yes, you are limited to their themes and plugins. And yes, they try and up sell you services.

It was my choice to put the Cory Doctorow For the Remix site there when Jonathan Worth and I plotted this last Spring; our thinking (a bit wrong in hindsight) was that the site would get bombarded with traffic when Cory announced it on Boing Boing. Let handle the traffic!


In a way, I like working with the limitations (sometimes) as it is a challenge to make the site do what you know you could make it do on a self install.

Just before Thanksgiving I was contacted by Christina Engelbart who asked me to help on a new tribute site for her father, Doug Engelbart (if you have to, stop a few hours, and explore his legacy, much, much, much more than the mouse).

Five years ago, when I was at NMC, we were part of the celebration for the 40th anniversary of his Mother of All Demos (again, if you have never seen this, STOP! Watch the video. He presented the future in the past). But he passed away this past summer, and there was another, now Doug-less, celebration this month at the Computer History museum.

Five years ago I helped Christina create a site to celebrate her father’s 85th birthday. I use the then cutting edge technology of Posterous (given the deep 6, thanks for nothing twitter) to create a site where people could email their birthday greetings directly to the site. There are some shreds of the site on the Internet Archive.

Doug Engelbart at 85 site

Anyhow, Christina asked me to help round out the site she had set up, and asked for help with making it so people could email their tributes to her Dad, for timing around the December 9th celebration at the Computer History Museum. That was one reason to not suggest a self-hosted site, the shirt time frame to get going.

She did share a similar tribute site for Bill Moggridge, that is lovely, and ironically, done in WordPress, though a completely custom design. No time. does have the post by email feature (which I have used in several projects this year on custom wordpress projects, using the JetPack plugin), which we set up for a dedicated tribute account on the site (I named it “Friend of Doug”).

But there was a wrinkle.

Christina asked if the posts by email could be moderated… but as I read, the only way to do that is to make the role of the account Contributor. But that mean that the posts by email could not include attached or embedded media, which we wanted.

We came up with a creative solution to achieve both– and this was really Christina’s idea as we brainstormed over Skype. She set up the public address we would ask people to use — and made that account automatically forward to a fresh gmail account. This way, we can use Gmail’s spam and filtering features, plus use it as a way to review the submissions, and do things like strip footers, verify the media, insert the credit line at the top. In this account, we then forward it to the secret post by email account on (which never gets publicly revealed).

The other benefit here is we know who the submissions are coming from, and we can followup with them as needed… when you use the Post by Email feature directly to wordpress, you lose all of the email header info, so you never know who it came from unless they identify on the email.

That system works really well. It is moderated AND we get all the media.

The one thing I have not sorted out is how the themes automatically turn URLs into hyperlinks (I can do this on self hosted site); this in effect de-activates one of the best features of WordPress to automatically embed media from a URL on a blank line (e.g. from flickr).

I thought originally that the default background with the I2 Theme was a bit ordinary, and experimented with some backgrounds using a photo of Doug. But Christine noted that the starry one was “soft and ethereal and galactic ([Doug] navigated by the stars actually) and also reminds of neurosynapses firing. Also my family’s taste is in muted backgrounds rather than photographic”.

You have to go with the site owner’s design sense on their site.

It was a good thing Christene did go for the up buy for the custom edit the CSS; this allowed me to do a few things like alter the red color of the date style (she felt it stood out too much), to do a few things to make widgets better fill the sidebar.

She had uploaded a set of historic and family photos for the photo album; I usually prefer the quilt layout since you can scan all the images, though she prefers the slide show. The compromise here was when she asked about putting the slideshow on the front of the site.

The theme did not quite allow what I wanted, but I managed it by putting the slideshow in a post, which is set to be “sticky”, meaning it appears at the top of app post archives and the front. To make it more of a standalone, I again edited the CSS to hide the title and post meta

And then we noticed how the photo captions in white text where sometimes hard to read because they are superimposed on the photos, and photos with white in the bottom were hard to read.

More CSS to put a background on the caption with the same color as the frame, and to position it farther down than the original (the lazy !important was needed because the CSS was being over-ridden elsewhere in the flow) (sue me CSS purists, it works)

And I added pages for the Doug Engelbart Tribute video and the one with the Mother of All Demos demo

So there is not a whole lot of whiz-bang WordPress action here, just a bit of subtle tweaking. It works.

So check out the site, watch the videos, and share the word to post some Tributes to Doug.

I have a batch of photos from the 2010 event, but my all time favorite is a composite I made after being part of an NMC board meeting Doug spoke at in 2006

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

although I kind of like this one I got sitting right behind Doug at the tribute, where he is watching Alan Kay

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

Anyhow, I am working on something I can add to the site.

If this kind of stuff has any value, please support me monthly on Patreon or a one time PayPal kibble toss
Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. You exhaust me. However, I read through this carefully just to have something to aim for. I do sites for friends and family just to educate myself, and it seems like every encounter under the hood is an epic battle–I believe this to be more my ignorance than any inherent fault of WordPress. I’m amazed at what you can do to customize these sites you work on and am highly instructed by your deconstruction!

    I didn’t know you worked for the NMC. I am one of their new Contributing Editors (blogger) for education tech, digital storytelling. You have a cameo in my first post, which is a compare/contrast between the CDS and DS 106.

  2. Thank you for schooling me on this amazing person and his contributions. It never ceases to amaze me how deeply you know and work in the WWW. I’m beginning to think the internet gets its power directly from Strawberry, Arizona.

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