What WordPress Themes are really about (and WordPress 4.1)

I’ll be committing code to WordPress again with version 4.1! I made my last big contribution with Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven where I had a hand in both design and coding. (It was with Twenty Eleven where I was actively contributing code). This time I won’t be working on a theme I designed. Instead, I’ll be helping to bring a design from my friend and colleague Takashi Irie to millions and millions of people. As cool as it is to work on the core WordPress project — it’s the software behind 1 in 4 of the websites you visit! — I think I’m just as excited, if not more excited, to work with Takashi on it.

Yes, he’s a great designer and a great person to work with but more than that he understands what themes are about.

  • How people use them as the foundation for personal expression on the web with a blog.
  • How web developers use them as the foundation for quickly producing websites.
  • How motivated tinkerers use them to build up a small business site — probably their first on the web
  • And he understands how a theme is not just for one particular user or site owner but instead is for the vastly greater majority, the millions of people who see it as just another web site and want an easy to get to and pleasurable reading experience.

It sometimes seems to me that WordPress theme developers forget that last part. Takashi understands all these things and thinks about them deeply. Getting a chance to help make his vision for a first WordPress design experience in 2015 come true is an honour and I’m super-excited for the people who will start publishing with WordPress and Twenty Fifteen.



Façade: A card game of bidding, bluffing, and battle

I’ve been messing around with game design recently. Here’s a fun card game I made up that my wife and I took to right away. There were exclamations of “Oooh, you stinker!”, outrageous laughter, and hilariously sad attempts at revenge. In other words a success that we want to play again.

I call it Façade.

To explain how to play first I’ll explain how to score. It’s pretty simple.

How to Score

You’re trying to build Sets and Sequences of three or more cards. A Set is three cards in any suit of the same rank. A Sequence is three cards in the same suit that can be ordered sequentially with no missing cards.

Each completed set or sequence is one point. But each incomplete set or sequence will cost you a point equal to the number of cards in the set. So, if you have a pair of cards that you never are able to make into a complete set of three of a kind, that’ll cost you two points, one point for each card.

Let’s work that out with the photo below.


Starting from the top left and working my way around clockwise I’d score …

  • one point for the sequence of 4, 6, 5, and 7 of hearts
  • one point for the sequence of 5, 6, and 7 of clubs
  • minus one point for whatever I was trying to get with the 5 of spades there
  • one point for the three of a kind
  • one point for the sequence in diamonds
  • minus two points for the 7 and 8 of spades

In total, one point. Four points, minus one, minus, two.  Not bad for this game. Unless I’m getting bonus points.

Each player will have a particular suit that will let them score sequences in that suit as three points. If my special suit was Clubs that Sequence of above of 5-6-7 would be worth three points instead of one! Maybe I should have made more Sequences of Clubs …

Now that we know how to score let’s figure out how to actually play Façade and get those points.

How to Play

At the beginning of each game divide remove all the Queens, Kings, Jacks, Aces, and Jokers from a standard deck of 54 playing cards (52 plus the two Jokers). Set the Jokers aside, we won’t be using them.

Put the face cards and Aces into their suits and give each player a suit. Here we’re using Hearts and Clubs.



It shouldn’t be a secret which player has which suit. Before play starts each player should announce what suit they’re playing.

We’ll be using these cards to make bids.

  • Queens and Kings each have a value of 4
  • Jacks have a value of 2
  • Aces are equal to a bid of 1

The remaining cards from 2–10 in four suits should be shuffled to form a draw pile that will be dealt out during the nine phases of play. A phase is the round of bidding and playing of cards that will happen nine times in the game. When you’ve dealt all the cards into the supply, had nine full rounds of bidding, and played your cards the game is over.

At the start of every phase deal out four cards face up to form a supply of cards. These are the cards we’ll be bidding on.



Cut cards, play rock-paper-scissors, have a leg wrestle, do whatever you have to do to determine the player order for who bids first because that player will be bidding first for the whole game.

Each player will take a turn making a bid with one card each until their hands of Queens, Kings, Jacks, and Aces are empty. Every player must use all their cards in bids.

To make a bid a player will place their card face down in front of the card they’re bidding on. You can only bid one card at a time but turn by turn you can add cards to your bid to increase the value of your bid.

Here’s what that might look like with the hand above where player one is bidding with Clubs (the player closest to you, reader) and player two is playing with hearts (the player farthest away on the other side of the supply).



After all the cards have been bid — player one laying a card down, player two laying a card down, player one laying a card down, and so on, until all the bidding cards are exhausted — it’s time to reveal the bids by flipping all of the bid cards over.


Now we can determine who gets what cards. Highest bidder takes the prize. In the picture above player one is getting the 9 of diamonds and player two is getting the 8 of clubs and the 9 of clubs. Too bad for player two. That would have started a sequence that could have scored him 3 points because his suit is clubs!

In the event of a tie the card remains in the supply. Remember this because it’ll be useful later.

Once you’ve won your bid you must immediately play your cards towards Sets and Sequences.

And once you’ve played towards a Set or Sequence you cannot move your card.

This kind of sucks.

In a good way!

But first you have to deal out four new cards for the supply. Because the 10 of spades was left behind that means we’ll start phase two with 5 cards in the supply. The supply can get quite big depending on how the bidding goes. Experiment with different supply layouts if you’re running out of table space.


Here player two has started a sequence of 8-9. Future bidding for the 10 and 7 of clubs is likely going to be tough. Player one might be able to steal those cards away in future bids (with a bit of clever bluffing) and stick player two with an incomplete set of two cards costing two points. Maybe player two should have started Sets of 8 and 9?

And player one is stuck trying to battle to bid for their own Set or Sequence based on the 9 of diamonds. That could be tough. And there’s only nine phases!

Now we can start bidding again with our Queens, Kings, Jacks, and Aces.

Finishing it Up

Play through these nine phases of adding four cards to the supply, bidding turn by turn, and trying to form sets and sequences. Play ends when you have no more cards to add to the supply, bids are resolved, and you’ve finished playing the cards you’ve won in the bid. In other words, don’t keep bidding if there are any cards left in the supply. If the draw pile is exhausted that was the last phase. Yep, that sad mess of cards in front of you totalling minus three points is it. You had fun, didn’t you?

If you’re anything like my wife and I you’ll be bluffing and trying to fake out your opponent — you can bid in any order so was that card I just bid an Ace or a King? — and bidding everything you have on one card to take a card. Or just to force a tie and continually deny someone the card they need to complete a Sequence in their suit.

In other words, being a “stinker.”

We’ve only played this with two people but I’m pretty sure it’ll work with three. Four technically would work but would likely be chaotic. Or maybe just four times as awesome. I suspect it would need a fifth suit though. You could make by adding a marked-up-in-some-way suit from another deck.

Let me know if you try it out or have any questions on the hastily written rules above. I’ll be playing Façade.




What makes a great presentation

A talk is something that should inspire someone to go away and do something.

That’s my friend and colleague Matt Wiebe on what makes a great presentation and the kind of presentation I love to see. If a talk is better presented as, and easier to consume as, a How-To blog post it’s not going to be a great talk. I’d rather be inspired.

(I’m liveblogging a meeting I’m in with Matt right now.)


The difference between design and research

The difference between design and research seems to be a question of new versus good. Design doesn’t have to be new, but it has to be good. Research doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be new. I think these two paths converge at the top: the best design surpasses its predecessors by using new ideas, and the best research solves problems that are not only new, but actually worth solving. So ultimately we’re aiming for the same destination, just approaching it from different directions.

From the opening of Paul Graham’s essay on Design and Research.


Legends of Andor


My 10-year old son and I spent the afternoon at one of Winnipeg’s newest board game cafes, Across the Board. First of all, I love it there. Great food, coffee, atmosphere — I would eat there even if they didn’t have a library of 700+ board games. We spent the afternoon playing Legends of Andor. It looks like it’s a Dungeons and Dragons role-playing thing but that’s just surface detail. Beautifully illustrated surface detail. Really it’s a cooperative puzzle game where you work together to solve a puzzle that plays out over 14 rounds. Sometimes you have to do things in the game — like fight monsters! I admit that’s an attractive part of the game 🙂 — that move you farther along the 14 round track and make it harder to figure out the puzzle. Tons of fun and pretty easy to learn. We totally want to go back to the game and play through the other “Legends”, or scenarios.


Your fridge looks like it belongs to Satan

For five years Derek Nance has been eating nothing but raw meat, fat, and organs from animals he slaughters himself.


Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 4

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 4 doesn’t exist (yet) so I made a playlist on Rdio that picks up where Volume 3 leaves off, starting with 1991’s Bootleg Series Volume 1.


The Emergency Happiness Diary

I saw Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds mentioned on Boing Boing the other day and on a whim I started reading it. It reminded me of another book I’d enjoyed, Brain Rules. Both are what you might call “self-help” books based on legitimate, well-researched, scientific experiments. Real data. Plus, it has a great title! The hook in 59 seconds is that each chapter ends with “one minute advice” on how to improve your situation. Who doesn’t want to improve themselves in a minute? What can I say? I’m a sucker.

I’m only about halfway through so far but it starts out with what I thought was an interesting idea. Keep something like an Emergency Happiness Diary that you can use to periodically boost your happiness.

Several studies show that writing about traumatic or negative events — specifically writing where you can structure your thoughts into some type of narrative — can help you work through psychological problems, increase your self-esteem, your own measure of happiness, and even reduce health problems. Similarly, writing about how grateful you are for good things that have happened to you will boost your feeling of happiness, make you more optimistic about the future, and apparently will make you more likely to exercise. Reliving an intensely happy moment through writing? That’ll make you happier. Spend some time writing about a person you love? You’re going to wind up happier, with reduced stress, and even a notable decrease in your cholesterol levels.

Happiness, it seems, is worth pursuing. So, somewhat incredibly, here’s one way to get it. Start an Emergency Happiness Diary and keep it for five days. Just five days. On those five days write the following types of entries.

Day One: Thanksgiving

Look back over you past week and list three things you’re grateful for. A friend, a close relationship you’re in, your health, your home, your job, a happy memory … the list goes on.

Day Two: A Great Experience

Imagine “one of the most wonderful experiences in your life” and quickly write down how you felt at that moment without concern for grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Day Three: The Future

Imagine a future where everything has gone really well for you. Nothing fantastical like winning a giant American lottery but instead a future where you’ve succeeded through hard work at your goals and ambitions. “Imagine that you have become the person that you really want to be, and that your personal and professional life feels like a dream come true.” It won’t help you achieve your goals “but it will help you feel good and put a smile on your face.”

Day Four: Affection

Write a short letter to someone you know to tell them how much they mean to you.

Day Five

Review the past seven days noting things that went really well. Write down a quick sentence about three of those things explaining why those things might have turned out so well.

And that’s it. It’s just five days with five short entries. Each type of entry is backed by several studies showing how this type of writing will make you notably happier. According to Wiseman, “you should quickly notice the difference in mood and happiness, changes that may persist for months. If you feel the effects wearing off, simply repeat the exercise.” That’s kind of neat.

Have you tried something like this out? Are you thinking about it?