Becoming a Googler

I often see tweets from people in the industry announcing major career changes; I never expected that I would be adding to this stream, but today I am. After more than 8 years at XWP/X-Team, I am starting at Google as of October 1st. I’m joining the Developer Relations team at Google to work on building a stronger web content ecosystem. In my new role I’ll be doing… many of the same things because I’m joining Google for the purpose of continuing to contribute to WordPress. While I have been doing that with the support of XWP, now I’ll be doing so with the backing of Google.

After working heavily on the WordPress 4.8 and 4.9 releases in 2017 (as well as previous core releases), I started transitioning a year ago to working on something very different. XWP started working with Google on a new phase for the AMP plugin and I led the engineering efforts. It was a refreshing change after years of working primarily on the Customizer: I realize now that I was on the verge of burnout at that time, and since we just did a major core release with Customizer improvements and because focus in core shifted fully to Gutenberg, I felt comfortable stepping away for a while to focus on AMP. After several months of working on AMP we then also started working on a PWA feature plugin which aims to bring progressive web app capabilities to core.

Working on AMP and PWA have felt like returning to my roots. Before XWP and before I was involved in WordPress even, I was really interested in open web standards. I contributed (with small acknowledgement) to the HTML5 spec by participating in the mailing list and creating a cross-browser implementation of Web Forms 2.0. I also created polyfills for CSS Transitions and CSS Gradients. I loved learning new cutting edge (progressive) technologies and then finding ways to implement them in projects, often requiring some creative solutions to get them to work in older browsers. (I used to take pride in my knowledge of IE6 workarounds.) I was an early adopter of Ajax, and I was an avid listener of the Audible Ajax podcast on the old Ajaxian blog; I loved that community that Ben and Dion created, and I loved contributing some things I hacked on. (Ben and Dion are both at Google now and I’ll be working in the Chrome team with them.)

My desire is to make as big an impact as possible. This is why I’m passionate about the open web. In publishing some project openly, I know that someone else can benefit from it and build upon it to make something new, just as I have benefited and built upon the projects of others. Everyone can contribute to building a better web. This is also a reason why I love WordPress: not only does it democratize publishing but it also democratizes development.

I’ve loved working at XWP because of our mission to build a better (open) web, and we have been doing so through WordPress. Over the years I’ve also been a big Google fan because of all they’ve done to invest in the open web. But I never thought that I’d get to work at Google, nor even that I’d want to. Nevertheless, this past year of working with Google has been a really great experience. I’ve been able to see first hand their commitment to the open web, and there was such a great alignment with XWP in having a shared mission to make it better. I’ve also been able to work with exciting technologies that serve toward this goal.

For many months I resisted the idea of applying at Google. I’ve invested many years working at  XWP and helping it to grow, and I have many relationships there which I value greatly. I’ve been able to contribute to building a better web at XWP and I could certainly continue to do so there. However, after Google I/O and WordCamp Europe I realized that at the current place in my career, I believe I’ll be able to grow more personally and have a greater impact if I start to contribute from Google while leveraging its support and resources. Additionally, there are others at XWP who can take my place and do more than I ever could to lead the company in technology and engineering; I have total confidence in them. While my relationships with XWPeople will change, they won’t end as I’ll be continuing to work with them on AMP, PWA, WordPress core, and other projects in the future. Read more about this new season for XWP.

So I’m going from working with Google to working at Google. For more see my Googler colleague Alberto Medina’s post about Web Content Ecosystems @ Google. I’ll be based out of Google’s Portland office so I’ll continue to be in PDX. I’m excited about this next chapter in my career and season in my life. Strangely enough, I’m really looking forward to taking TriMet and riding my bike each day to the office, as I’ve been working from home for the past 8 years (which I have loved, don’t get me wrong). But more so I’m looking forward to seeing how Google can build a better open web by investing in WordPress. I’m excited to be a part of it.

Customizer Features for WordPress 4.3 Kickoff

Here are the features I have suggested/proposed during the WordPress 4.3 kickoff:

Partial Refresh

This greatly improves performance of previewing changes in the Customizer for non-postMessage transport settings (JS-applied changes) by just refreshing the area of the page that has been changed. As such it eliminates some of the need to do postMessage in the first place, while also reducing the amount of duplicated logic that would have to be implemented in JS to mirror what is being done in PHP. This resurrects some code from the old Widget Customizer feature plugin developed for 3.9. Writeup and feature plugin are available.

Transactions

A low-level re-architecture of the Customizer plumbing that has a lot of side benefits and bugfixes, introducing some exciting possibilities for future feature plugins like scheduled settings, setting revisions, and drafted/pending settings. Partial Refresh is a dependency for this. Pull request available, but needs refresh. See proposal.

Concurrency/Locking

This is an important one for a client project I’m involved with, and so I’m having to prioritize it. I’m working on a client site that will have many users in the Customizer at a time, and given the way the Customizer is currently implemented (as with most areas of WP), there is no concurrency/locking support. So I’m working on adding locking at the control/setting level. See #31436.

(Cross-posted in comment.)

WordCamp Sydney talk: Customize all the things!

Today at WordCamp Sydney, I speak on The Customizer:

The Customizer is one of the least known yet most powerful features of WordPress. We need to get past thinking of it as the “Theme Customizer” which only good for tweaking colors and a limited number of settings. No, the Customizer provides a framework for live-previewing any change to WordPress.

In WordPress 3.9 I led development of incorporating Widget management to the Customizer, and I’d like to get on a soapbox to get people excited about developing their own custom controls for the Customizer.

Here’s my presentation:

I’m also happy that we at XWP (X-Team WP) and Stream are among the sponsors of the WordCamp:

Re: Edit WordPress Posts and Postmeta in the Customizer

I couldn’t reply to Jeff’s comment on Sarah’s WP Tavern post because of a Jetpack problem, so I’m posting it here:

With the Front-end Editor using the Customizer as a framework, I wonder if the interface will look similar to this experiment? I hope not.

This plugin is really a prototype to demonstrate how the Customizer can be used to preview changes to posts/postmeta at an architectural level. Hardly any consideration has been given to UI, which Avryl has been doing a great job with in her Front-end editor.

Ultimately, I’m interested to see how the Front-end Editor comes into play when previewing a post or writing a draft post. Will we be able to use it to write a post or will the editor be refrained from use until after a post/page is published?

You can use this Customize Posts plugin to edit drafts as well. Just create a new post post, save a draft, and then click Preview. You can then click Customize in the admin bar to then access that post from the Customizer and you can make changes, including transitioning the post draft to a published post. This relates to a previous prototype I worked on in the Customizer Everywhere plugin, which replaces the “Preview” button with a “Preview & Customize” button.

In this case and as I’ve seen mentioned already, editing should be done inline and not with boxes popping up around the content.

In terms of a prototype which demonstrates how inline editing can be added to the Customizer, see my other prototype: Customize Inline Editing.

Regularly cleaning up /tmp on a DreamHost VPS

I ran into a problem recently where I was no longer able to upload a file via PHP. I checked the server error log, and I saw entries like:

ModSecurity: Input filter: Failed writing X bytes to temporary file

Looking at my /tmp directory it contained 128MB of data. Apparently ModSecurity tries to prevent the filesystem from being maliciously filled up.

If you try to manually clean up just with a rm -rf /tmp/*, it will fail because the files are owned by dhapache and are not writable by anyone else. But, with DreamHost VPS, you have the ability to add admin users (aka sudoers). As an admin user, you can then set up a cron to automatically clear out the /tmp directory of old files:

su myadminuser
sudo crontab -e

Then in the editor which opens, add this line:

0 0 * * * find /tmp -mtime +5 -exec rm -rf {} \;

This will delete all files under /tmp which haven’t been modified in 5 days; it will happen every day at midnight.

My X-Team Superhero Identity Revealed

Tonight we at X-Team had a very special meeting: the induction ceremony for new superheroes! X-Team employees are given superhero identities, and I was next in line for induction along with Wojtek Zając and Ben King. Our meeting was extra special because five of us have been together in Los Angeles this month working for a client on-site, and so we were able to meet in person while we logged in to our chat room to join up with everyone else around the world. So my superhero identity is:

(Weston) is a highly intelligent and technologically resourceful elemental of Nordic descent who can manipulate, control weather and transcommunicate (via electronic voice) through his thundercloud static field. With his static field, he also is able to create lightning bolts and move within them, allowing him to travel at impressive speed.

The name is extra meaningful as it was the superhero name that I went by as a kid, so things have come full circle! Along with my name and description, I was also given a badge depicting my superhero self (right), and incidentally my mask actually looks quite similar to Condorman’s, my favorite old superhero movie. Thanks so much to my coworkers at X-Team for the effort that went into this and for making me feel so part of the team. It’s truly an honor to be working with you, such a talented international team!

Here’s the slightly-abridged transcript of our chat for the induction with the unveiling of my superhero:

tine: …and we have one more superhero to induct today.
tine: this is someone who was a superhero coming in, but sealed his superhero status within the first week of working with us.
tine: someone who’s taking us all by STORM and made a BIG, BIG impression.
tine: for this superhero, we travel back to the U.S, and to the Westcoast..and we welcome…

weston: yay!
benking gave weston a high five!
david gave weston a high five!
tine gave weston a high five!
adi gave weston a high five!
marconi gave weston a high five!
hz gave weston a high five!
dargaud gave weston a high five!
wojtek gave weston a high five!
vio gave weston a high five!
tine: @weston, you shall now be known as…
tine: DRUMROLL PLEASE
marconi: druuuuuuummmmmuuummmmummm
tine: daruuuuuumdrummmmmmmdrummmm
wojtek: come on Tine we’re drumrolling here 😛
tine: druuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumdarrrummm
tine: drrrrrrrrrrr
tine: uuuuuuuuum
tine: ruum
wojtek: Tine!!! 😀
Benking faints with anxiety
tine: Thunderboy
wojtek: yay 🙂
marconi: la la la la la la Thunder!
tine: Thunderboy is a highly intelligent and technologically resourceful elemental of Nordic decent who can manipulate, control weather and transcommunicate (via electronic voice) through his thundercloud static field. With his static field, he also is able to create lightning bolts and move within them, allowing him to travel at impressive speeds.
weston: That’s the superhero name I had as a kid 🙂

vio gave weston a high five!
marconi gave weston a high five!
benking: woe nice one weston
josh gave weston a high five!
josh: nice!!
adi gave weston a high five!
hz gave weston a high five!
tine gave weston a high five!
adi: congrats @weston
tine: Welcome to the league, @weston!
weston: Awesome, I like it!
weston: Thanks all!
marconi can’t wait to see the new superheroes with their new avatars 🙂
tine: @wojtek, @benking, @weston – you are all amazing, and well-deserving of your new superhero statuses. Wield your new powers with care, but put them to good use!
dave: Welcome!!! The league has gone to a whole new level with these new heroes!

Google Text-To-Speech (TTS)

This demo no longer works due to changes with the Google Translate TTS API (which was not public to begin with, so this was bound to happen). The post remains here for archival purposes.

Update : Andufo shared the happy news that more languages are now available in the Google TTS service! I have added a new language selection drop-down for English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Hatian Creole.

Google Translate announced the ability to hear translations into English spoken via text-to-speech (TTS). Looking at the Firebug Net panel for where this TTS data was coming from, I saw that the speech audio is in MP3 format and is queried via a simple HTTP GET (REST) request: http://translate.google.com/translate_tts?tl=en&q=text. Google Translate notes that the speech is only available for short translations to English Now multiple languages are supported, and it turns out that the TTS web service is restricting the text to 100 characters. Another restriction is that the service returns 404 Not Found if the request includes a Referer header (presumably one that is not for translate.google.com).

In spite of the limitations of the web service which certainly reflect the intention that the web service is only to be used by Google Translate, thanks to the new HTML5's Audio element and rel="noreferrer", the service may be utilized by client-side web applications like following (Google Chrome 4 recommended):

Google Text-To-Speech (TTS)

Due to the Referer header restrictions imposed by Google's TTS service, you must have JavaScript enabled/available to use this form.

I am really excited at the prospect of text-to-speech being made available on the Web! It's just too bad that fetching MP3s on an remote web service is the only standard way of doing so currently; modern operating systems all have TTS capabilities, so it's a shame that web apps and can't utilize them via client-side scripting. I posted to the WHATWG mailing list about such a Text-To-Speech (TTS) Web API for JavaScript, and I was directed to a recent thread about a Web API for speech recognition and synthesis.

Perhaps there is some momentum building here? Having TTS available in the browser would boost accessibility for the seeing-impaired and improve usability for people on-the-go. TTS is just another technology that has traditionally been relegated to desktop applications, but as the Open Web advances as the preferred platform for application development, it is an essential service to make available (as with Geolocation API, Device API, etc.). And besides, I want to build TTS applications and my motto is: If it can't be done on the Open Web, it's not worth doing at all!

Accepted into UW Computational Linguistics Master’s Program

A couple years ago I learned of the University of Washington’s Computational Linguistics Master’s program and I was really interested. But since I had moved to Portland, it wasn’t feasible for me to attend classes—this is especially true now since I am employed here and got married a year ago.

For my birthday this year, my dad gave me one of the best presents ever: John McWhorter‘s audio course “The Story of Human Language“; LaVonne and I couldn’t get enough of his lectures. I’m sad to say I’ve finished them, but listening to them re-piqued my interest in the academic study of Linguistics; so I meandered over to UW’s Computational Linguistics website and, to my shock, I found that the entire program can now be completed via online correspondence! I was so excited! I was already a couple months past the admission application deadline, but I contacted the department and got approval to apply. Now, a few weeks later, I have just received news that I have been accepted into the program! This is one of my dreams come true!

For some more background and the reasons why I’m excited about this program, I’ve included below the statement of purpose I wrote for the application. If everything works out, I will begin studying part-time this Fall while still being employed full-time at Shepherd Interactive. (Note: when talking about Open Scriptures below, I don’t mention the others who are working so hard alongside me—it’s true I started it, but now it’s “my project” only in the sense that I am but a part of it.)

Statement of Purpose for Application to UW Computational Linguistics Program

Using the computer to solve linguistic problems has been a core interest of mine for the past decade. As I studied and entered the workforce as a web application developer, I have studied linguistics and languages on the side. When I started my undergraduate studies at Seattle Pacific University, I was intending to create a self-designed major in computational linguistics, but I was disappointed to find that the faculty weren’t experienced enough in this area to advise me. So I made do by majoring in computer science and minoring in both linguistics and Spanish. I thoroughly enjoyed taking CS and linguistics courses in parallel, taking concepts in one and applying them in another, for example studying the Chomsky hierarchy in my syntax course for linguistics but then applying his concepts in my compiler design CS course. Furthermore, I used my web application development skills to create relevant applications along the way, like a syntax tree drawer and a popular IPA chart keyboard tool, and I also completed various linguistics assignments by publishing them on the Web.

Although I learned much from taking computer science and linguistics in parallel, I have missed out on the focused intersection of the two in the sub-field of natural language processing. It is my desire to satisfy my initial undergraduate computational linguistic aspirations in the Master’s program at the University of Washington.

With regard to applying what I would learn in the program, I am the founder of the Open Scriptures project, an initiative which seeks to interlink the various scriptural corpora and derivative datasets to create a Linked Data infrastructure for scripture, and on top of this foundation provide a platform that allows developers to build innovative applications on top of the data available. One of the key problem areas in this endeavor is the alignment of translated texts with their source manuscripts. I had been thinking to utilize collective intelligence to power the semantic interlinking of the texts, but I have come to realize that NLP will be necessary to achieve the desired results. The concepts and techniques I learn in the Master’s program would be directly applicable to my project.

I am an advanced Spanish speaker, and I have also taken one term each of French and Koiné Greek, and two terms of Biblical Hebrew. I am especially interested in Semitic languages and corpus linguistics of the Hebrew Tanakh and the Arabic Qur’an. I am studying Arabic on my own, and have attained a novice familiarity with the language. I desire that this Master’s program in computational linguistics would be a stepping stone to further graduate studies in the field.

Newly Designed Open Scriptures Website with Blog

I haven’t formally announced this here yet, but there is a newly designed Open Scriptures website with blog. Future posts regarding Open Scriptures will be posted there. There are two new posts, the first regarding the recently-unveiled exciting Tagged Tanakh project, and the second about redeeming the ill-fated Re:Greek Open Source Initiative with a call for participation. Check them out and subscribe to the feed.

Please also follow Open Scriptures on Twitter.

Join in on the discussion on the Google Group.