Malaga, Spain. October 2018.
As part of an effort to add full Gutenberg support to WordCamp.org, I’ve been looking at converting WordCamp shortcodes into Gutenberg blocks.
This project had two goals:
For the sake of scope, I limited the first round to the Organizers, Schedule, Sessions, Speakers, and Sponsors shortcodes.
I started the project with some lo-fi research. I reached out to WordCamp organizers via the Make/Community p2 and asked a small series of questions about their experiences with the shortcode. I was aiming for just enough research to get myself started.
I was happy to receive a great deal of helpful feedback from organizers. There were several comments that led to illuminating conversations about how people customize and curate their WordCamp websites that are very different from how my organizing team sets up our website. I went in with a bunch of assumptions, and while some of them were validated, some of my assumptions were, naturally, not in line with other organizers. This is why having these basic research conversations is so important — even if I didn’t have the time or a longer research process, chatting with other organizers via p2 provided a wonderful array of thoughts and opinions that gave me a better sense of the project.
After I gathered feedback, I started outlining the settings for each existing shortcode in an InVision Freehand. I then started consolidating, removing, and adding any necessary settings. The Freehand was nice because I could throw in a bunch of text along with some super basic sketches. This allowed me to better communicate what I was thinking, and get early feedback from both WordCamp organizers and the developers planning on building the blocks.
After establishing what I thought was a good initial scope, I started mocking up one of the more complicated blocks: Speakers. I decided to go straight into higher-fidelity visual work because the majority of patterns already existed within a Sketch library, which meant putting together a block was quick and easy.
Gutenberg blocks have a couple key design principles:
Let’s apply these principles to the Speakers block.
I started with this scope:
Because the block pulls in dynamic content, the only setup it requires is whether or not it should display all speakers, or individual speakers. This information is necessary to show the block, so it needs to be gathered via a placeholder when you add the block to your page or post.
If you can provide good default content, and that default content is easy to customize, you don’t need to use a placeholder. However, if there isn’t a clear default state that would work for most people, it might make sense to use a placeholder to gather that information.
In the case of Speakers, the smart default could be “List all speakers” — but that block will already be pre-generated on the Speakers page. Thus, the majority of use-cases will probably be on custom pages or posts. It makes sense, in this case, to expose all of the selection options in the placeholder.
That’s all this placeholder needs. Once you select the list of all speakers or an individual speaker, there are no other primary settings required for the block to be correctly configured — it just works.
Any secondary settings get shown within the block toolbar, with one caveat:
One notable constraint with the block toolbar is that it is icon-based UI, so any controls that live in the block toolbar need to be ones that can effectively be communicated via an icon or icon group.
Within the above scope, the only setting which seems important and can easily be represented is the layout — so, whether Speakers are shown in a list, or in a grid.
Note: the live version will also show the block icon in the leftmost position in the toolbar.
What I’ve designed thus far for the Speakers block is totally usable. You could plop this down into a page or post, publish, and call it a day — no customization required.
However, we have a diverse community with a wide variety of design needs. They might want to customize the block to suit their particular speakers and their WordCamp site design.
That where the sidebar comes in — it houses all of the optional block settings. Because people can close the sidebar, and might never see these settings, they have to be optional.
Think of the sidebar as something that only power users may discover.
These guidelines helped me decide that these settings should be optional:
I decided to organize them into three panels: photo settings (all the avatar settings), content settings (biography, speaker information, and speaker link), and Sorting and Filtering (sorting like alphabetical, date, etc., along with the number of columns if you’re displaying speakers in a grid).
I also took the liberty of rewriting and regrouping some of the settings to make (what I thought was) more sense. I didn’t just want to copy the shortcode into a block — I wanted to improve on the experience for WordCamp organizers. These particular groupings and names went through lots of iteration.
Nothing is perfect on the first try. When I had a block design that felt presentable, I used InVision to turn it into a simple static prototype and presented it to the community. The feedback I received from organizers was vital. How could I succeed without input from the people who are going to use the block?
A bunch of micro-discussions resulted — some focused more broadly on the block, others narrowed on specific features. I did some quick back-and-forth iterations with organizers, posting small mockups to help us communicate. Some of these conversations branched across the various block discussions, so before I published the final mockups, I did a round of consistency updates to make sure the patterns matched on each block.
Once the feedback trickled down and I revised the blocks, I published them all in a post. I’m hoping that once the blocks get built, we’ll be able to get some more feedback from upcoming camps and fine-tune any weird or unexpected behavior.
This project was really fun. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to work on WordPress community projects — I’ve been so focused on the core software lately. And honestly, shortcodes are a terrible experience. I need to constantly try to memorize, or look up (and figure out how to understand!) the various parameters a shortcode takes. Blocks provide a really exciting opportunity to make it way easier to add all kinds of content. I’m already starting to see a ton of cool blocks enter the ecosystem. Maybe I’ll have a chance to write about that next.
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Here’s an issue that several readers have asked about lately: What to do when a client treats you like a cog in the machine? A podcast listener recently referred to this as “dehumanization” in our profession. Examples may include:
For us as freelancers, the real question is what to do about this if it bothers you. Here are a few suggestions that may help:
If you have a story about a personal relationship with a client–or how you extricated yourself from an impersonal client relationship—let’s hear about it in the comments.
Lighthouse is an open-source, automated tool for improving the quality of web pages. You give Lighthouse a URL to evaluate (public or requiring authentication), and it runs a series of audits against the page for performance, accessibility, progressive web app capabilities, and more. It then generates a report on how well the page did. Using the failing audits as guidance developers and site owners can get insights on how to improve their pages. Each audit has a reference doc explaining why the audit is important, as well as how to fix it.
However, when running a Lighthouse audit on a specific environment such as a WordPress site, the recommendations are often too generic to be applicable. For example, when Lighthouse asks you to concatenate resources, how could you actually go about it in a WordPress context? This becomes especially tricky because several of those assets are likely not under your control, but are introduced by a third-party extension.
We are considering the development of a project called WordPress-localized Advice Packs for Lighthouse, with the goal of providing WordPress-specific guidance using Lighthouse. With it, WordPress developers and site owners will get the results from Lighthouse audits tailored to the realities of the WordPress platform.
This is a project to be maintained by the WordPress community, working together with input from the Chrome and Lighthouse teams at Google. As with WordPress coding standards, the WordPress community is best positioned to make sure that the Lighthouse WordPress Localized Advice Pack is accurate, up to date, and satisfies the needs of the community as a whole.
We will be at WCUS Contributor’s Day in Nashville next week, and will discuss this proposal at the support table. If you are interested in learning more about this proposal and possibly contribute to the project, we would love you to join the conversation. Looking forward to it!
Malaga, Spain. October 2018.
For any other items to discuss, please add them to the comments below, or bring them up in the meeting.
Creative Artists Agency has signed on to represent controversial Chinese filmmaker Wu Hao. Wu’s latest work, “People’s Republic of Desire,” has been selected for consideration in the documentary section of the Academy Awards and goes on commercial release in North America this week. CAA is set as Wu’s exclusive representation. The company will deploy agents […]
By Jason Hazeley
One Wednesday forty winters ago at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, an audience first heard a piece that has become a fingerpost on the musical map: the string septet Shaker Loops by John Adams.
Adams, now one of world’s most performed living composers, had several starts. As director of the Conservatory’s New Music Ensemble in the 1970s, he tried and abandoned pieces for tape (Heavy Metal, Studebaker Love Music, Onyx) and for electronics (Ktaadn, Grounding, Schedules of Discharging Capacitors). Meanwhile, his works for more conventional instrumentation kneaded and plaited the American vernacular into something not altogether concise, such as the piano rag Ragamarole (1973-5), and the Cornelius Cardew-inspired American Standard (1973) – a triptych of reimagined musical tropes comprising a Sousa march, a hymn, and a Duke Ellington ballad.
None of it has survived the composer’s erase head except the middle panel of American Standard, ‘Christian Zeal And Activity.’ It’s an ultra slo-mo version of Onward, Christian Soldiers for chamber orchestra and ‘pre-recorded tape, with some thematic connection to the music,’ which suspends animation in a way that suggests nothing of the urgency in either title.
In 1978 these three approaches finally negotiated their way to common ground when the composer completed Shaker Loops. The piece, now an unquestionable part of the repertoire, was the third iteration of the same idea. The first, Wavemaker (1976) for three violins, contained the grain of something worth pursuing; the second, also called Wavemaker (1978) for string quartet, ‘crashed and burned at its premiere,’ in the composer’s own recollection.
The piece takes its title, as Adams’s compositions often do, from a collision of notions. The Shakers, or the ‘United Society of Believers’, were a religious sect known for their expressions of physical religious ecstasy, a colony of which once lived up the road from the composer’s childhood home in New Hampshire. (In a deliciously trivial non-sequitur, they are now better known for their pleasingly unfussy furniture).
But a ‘shake’, in American musical terminology, is a trill – the ornamentation of a note by alternating it rapidly with a neighbouring note – while ‘loops’ are a staple of tape composition: found sounds on a recorded medium repeating themselves, as in Steve Reich’s Come Out (1966), The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows, or any number of hip-hop records.
These three substrates – fervour of belief, a musical flourish and a compositional technique – inform Shaker Loops. It is, loosely, minimalistic: driven by pulse, repeated patterns and slow rates of harmonic and textural change. But it is also dramatic, lyrical and, in its climactic passage, visceral in a way that bawls with human agency, as the musicians drive faster and faster through enormous, repeated chords.
The late 1970s was, broadly speaking, a time of consolidation in American classical music. Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest (1977), for instance, took thirteen texts and, in one sitting, dished up ballad, chorale, serialism, jazz, opera – and bags of national pride.
But Shaker Loops sounds as though it emerges more from the same vapour as Brian Eno’s albums of the time. The connection may be more than coincidence: Adams’s first music to be commercially recorded was American Standard, released on Eno’s Obscure label in 1975 along with pieces by Gavin Bryars and Christopher Hobbs.
‘[Shaker Loops] has probably been my most painstakingly revised piece,’ Adams told Charles Amirkhanian in 1987. ‘I’ve changed it over and over again. Among the changes, I’ve made it about ten minutes shorter, and I’ve also made a version of it […] which can be played by a full string orchestra of 50 or 60 players, instead of seven.’
The work is divided into four sections, played without a break. In its original version, each contains highly structured elements alongside aleatory, or chance, music. Passages – even micro-passages – are subject to whim. Modules consist of smaller (repeated, or looped) submodules, varying in length, which are assigned to the instruments by indication from the conductor.
The first part, ‘Shaking And Trembling’, establishes the pulse motif in its opening moments. Two violins play double-stopped fourths in unison semiquavers: a consonant, open, familiar sound. These violins have submodules four beats long; a third violin joins them with an eleven-beat submodule, before moving to one of six beats, while the viola adds a nine-beat loop, the first cello a fifteen-beat loop, and the second cello a twenty-four-beat loop.
Such chance elements need some sort of restriction, but the score’s rubric says nothing more than ‘the overall length of the piece should not exceed 30 minutes’. A typical performance comes in at around 26 minutes.
The vivid, pulsing opening of Shaker Loops is a statement of intent that persists in much of Adams’s work. These first bars owe much to Terry Riley, whose In C made an enormous impact on the young composer. But the landscape of ‘Shaking And Trembling’ is a shifting one – and other elements gradually join the frantic party: long glissandi and high, ethereal artificial harmonics that sound like wine glasses (a relatively modern technique in which the player reaches beyond the usual upper register of the instrument by tricking its strings into behaving as if they were shorter).
At the climactic point of the first part, Adams adds to the score the unconventional direction ‘Shake!’ – a reminder, more to the reader than the player, that this is a physically exhausting piece for seven musicians to perform. ‘Orchestral string players,’ he said, ‘tend to play in a very relaxed half-drive, never really giving their all. They couldn’t: they would have tendonitis within a month.’
The second part, ‘Hymning Slews,’ is conventionally notated in 7/4 – though this is close to impossible to discern, because the music seems to float, free of pulse, in a bright ozone layer. It is exceptional string writing, as original as Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima or the ‘Murder’ cue from Bernard Herrmann’s score to Psycho. Even four decades later, there is little in the composer’s considerable output anything like this: the strings shimmer, pipe, slither and shudder their way into their very highest registers. The occasional bubble of light even bursts on the surface of the double bass. It may be the high watermark of Adams’s early output.
The third part, ‘Loops and Verses,’ comprises a sustained build-up of energy that releases itself in a series of gigantic, relentlessly accelerating push-pull chords. And the fourth, ‘A Final Shaking’, is the passive twin to the active first part – a gradual wind-down, the bows dancing across strings with the same intensity as at the piece’s opening, but with toes in place of heels. A lacy, delicate icing around the hefty fruitcake announced on the opening pages.
After Shaker Loops ballooned in popularity, the composer re-notated it conventionally – starting on the first page and finishing on the last, with everything between formally laid out. He has since withdrawn the earlier version, putting chance behind him. Such is success.
Though John Adams has abandoned much of the grammar of the early Shaker Loops, the piece is a template for much of what was to follow. There is ‘musical inspiration in earnest, unquestioning beliefs – not organized religious doctrine, but simple, pure, emotional faith,’ as Pierre Ruhe has observed – just as with the PLF terrorists of Adams’s controversial opera The Death Of Klinghoffer (1991), or the Pulitzer Prize-winning On The Transmigration Of Souls (2002). There is unarguable statement of intent. There is pulse; there is consonance; there is centrifugal drive.
Shaker Loops was the piece that established Adams, not only in the public eye, but in his own. It codified his voice and his technique. After so many tentative starts, the composer had arrived at himself. He would go on to compose Common Tones In Simple Time (1979), the ravishing, spangling, orgiastic Harmonium (1981) for the San Francisco Symphony and, that same year, the still contested cartoon-with-a-pastorale Grand Pianola Music.
2017 was Adams’s 70th birthday year, celebrated by orchestras and opera houses the world over. Tributes were paid to him in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Lyon, Stockholm and San Francisco. That March, I went to Berlin for a performance of his oratorio The Gospel According To The Other Mary (2012).
On the flight back to London, sitting six rows ahead of me, was Adams. I wish I’d thought to tell him he was the reason I was on that plane at all.
Jason Hazeley is a writer and musician. He is the co-author of the Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups series and anything with the word Cunk in the title, and is an occasional member of Portishead. He divides his time between London and the pub. Byline picture is copyright Idil Sukan.
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