Evolution of my WordPress theme development workflow

I’ve been using WordPress to create client websites for over five years now. In that time, everything has changed. Multiple times. Everything’s amazing, but web development has gotten more complex, not less. The depth of knowledge required to use the HTML/CSS/JavaScript stack is staggering, and the abundance of tools created to make it easier has just added another layer of “things you need to know”. And that’s completely ignoring which tooling you should choose in the first place.

Still, I’d take today’s development environment any day.

I did a little reminiscing and came up with a few major phases in my years creating WordPress themes for customers.

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Overcast feedback from a podcast power user

When word came yesterday morning that Marco had released his new iPhone podcast client, Overcast, I downloaded it immediately. I even paid the $5 to unlock all of the features, if only to show my support for him and his work. So far, there’s a lot to like. But, as a podcast listener with over 50 show subscriptions, there are a few things missing that will keep me from using it for all of my podcasts.

Overcast Logo

For background, I first used Instacast on my iPhone then switched to Downcast at the end of 2012. I’ve been overwhelmingly satisfied with it since then.

Let me run through some of Overcast’s features, then dig into the changes I’d like to see that would make this my perfect podcast app.

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Five things I’m excited about right now

1. Swift (and everything else from WWDC 2014)

WWDC 2014

I’m not going to lie — I haven’t been more excited about an Apple keynote in years. It’s as if Apple has spent years quietly laying the groundwork for massive changes, enduring endless criticism from its biggest fans, only to unleash all of the improvements in one, huge event.

You want inter-app communication? They’re called App Extensions (Safari extensions, too).

Widgets? You can put them in the notification bar.

App Store improvements? How about a bunch1.

Want a better keyboard? We made one called QuickType that predicts what word you’ll want next. Oh, don’t like it? Use Swype. Or any other one you want. We don’t care.

Voice and video messages? Got it.

Use iCloud like Dropbox? Ok.

A centralized place for all your health and fitness data? It’s called HealthKit.

How about an easy way to communicate with home automation devices. That’s called HomeKit.

Oh, we almost forgot. We made a brand new, modern programming language. We named it Swift. John Siracusa can now check this one off his list and campaign full-time for a replacement to HFS+.

Some of these things might seem unimpressive to outsiders, but developers haven’t been this excited in years. This is Apple on top of its game, and all Mac and iOS users are going to be reaping the benefits for years to come.

Thankfully, I was able to find the perfect animated GIF to summarize my feelings on the day:

I got to say it was a good day.

2. Strength training


Early last year I wrote about how I had started strength training. I have a follow-up post in my drafts, so I’ll provide more details there, when I manage to get around to finishing it.

I’ll just say this for now. I’m having a blast lifting weights. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and I’m continuing to make (slow) progress.

Here are my current 5-rep maximums on my big lifts:

  • Low-bar Squat: 170lbs
  • Overhead Press: 100lbs
  • Bench Press: 145lbs
  • Deadlift: 245lbs

3. Marketing

Some call it “growth hacking“. I’m not a big fan of the term. But it does capture something important.

Marketing + Development = Growth Hacking

It’s the set of skills involved that make this type of marketing so fascinating to me:

  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Search engine optimization and marketing
  • Conversion optimization
  • A/B testing
  • Web Analytics

It’s an interesting combination of creativity and science that’s occupied part of my brain since I investigated the Taguchi methods for the purpose of multivariable website testing while working on my masters thesis a decade ago. I don’t expect it to go away anytime soon.

4. Web development

Some JavaScript code

There are so many new and exciting things happening in web design and development that it hurts my head thinking about it.

The combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript running in the web browser has evolved into an ecosystem of thousands of tools (almost all open source) that allow us to create websites and web apps unimaginable even a few years ago.

On the server-side, open source application frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, Django, Laravel, .NET MVC, and many others, offer developers great foundations to build on. A lot of infrastructure is effectively “free”, allowing developers to build software faster while focusing on solving problems for customers.

Then, when you’re ready to take your thing live, you can deploy it on a nice server for as little as $5 per month. It’s crazy how inexpensive good servers and fast bandwidth are today.

It’s an amazing time to be building stuff for the Web.

5. Podcasts

My Podcast Set I

I knew I had been listening to podcasts for a long time, so I did a search on my blog archive and found a post I wrote about them back in December 2004. A lot has changed since then, and podcasting has since matured and expanded well beyond its geeky origins2.

Today, podcasts are, by far, my top source for news, education, and entertainment. They’re always with me in Downcast on my iPhone3 and I can listen to them anytime — while working, driving in the car, doing dishes, mowing the lawn, or helping the 2 year old fall asleep.

Right now I’m subscribed to over 50 different podcasts, which is crazy when I think about it. Many sit dormant for months or more and occasionally offer me a new episode, while others deliver their weekly episodes at the same day and time without exception. It means I’ve always got something to listen to, whenever or wherever I am.

  1. Including video previews of apps — a nice touch. 

  2. Fun fact: Security Now is by far the oldest show I’m still subscribed to. It debuted on August 18th, 2005, and I haven’t missed a week since. 

  3. Though I’m looking forward to giving Overcast a try when it’s released sometime later this year. 

You Need a Budget

I’m no stranger to personal finance software. Hell — I’ve written about most of my experiences with them here on this blog. Moneydance, Mvelopes, Wesabe, and most recently, Mint, all helped keep track of my family’s finances for varying lengths of time and differing degrees of success.

Mint turned out to be an interesting case. Its homepage promises that “Mint does all the work of organizing and categorizing your spending for you.” Which is true, really. Log in, and it automatically fetches the latest transactions to give you up-to-date balances for all of your accounts.

So for over five years, I dutifully logged in every day, checked my balances, and split and corrected any transactions that required it. But the question it took me too long to ask myself was: Does using Mint change the way Casey and I spend our money?

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Amazon Fire TV and the state of streaming video players

Amazon announced and released the Amazon Fire TV set top box yesterday. Its technical specs looks impressive, and it’s priced right, but there’s not enough of difference to make me want to switch from our Roku 3 yet. It’s definitely worth a look if you don’t have a streaming box, though.

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The Moov Fitness Tracker

I came across this earlier today on The Verge and immediately recognized its potential. Called Moov, it’s a wearable fitness coach that works with your phone to provide real-time feedback while exercising. It looks very cool.

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Happy Holidays from the Berberichs (2013)

Our family wishes you happy holidays and a wonderful 2014.

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The Whole30 Challenge

Casey and I did the Whole30 nutrition challenge program together from August 1st through today, and it was an interesting experience. While I was a bit reluctant in the beginning, I'm happy we did it. In fact, it's likely something we're going to do at least once a year in the future.

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The death of Google Reader is App.net’s next big opporunity

I’ve been a heavy user of Google Reader for over seven years, so I was a little upset yesterday when I saw that, buried in a “spring cleaning” blog post, Google quietly announced that it was killing retiring the web-based RSS reader on July 1, 2013.

RSS never went mainstream, so Google Reader was always sort of a geeky niche product. But, the people who used it, used it. It was (and is) one of the best way to efficiently scan and consume large amounts of information. If you were the kind of person who still used Reader in the age of Twitter and Facebook, you no doubt depended on it, making the announcement of its closure really sting.

And yet, the end of Google Reader was inevitable. Its user base was tiny in comparison to search and maps, and Google never made an attempt to monetize the product or make use of the massive amount of data it had on users and their subscriptions. Plus, it distracted from the company’s headline social project, Google+.

Life after Google Reader

Google Reader started its life as a web-based feed reader, but over time, its real value became its ability to act as a centralized place that other applications could sync against. Take, for example, the excellent Reeder app for iPhone/iPad. It1 lets me scan through my feeds quickly wherever I am and allows me to read items or take action on them (“star” it, send it to InstaPaper to read later, save the link to Pinboard for archiving and search). New items and read items are synced across all my linked reader applications and the Google Reader web app, so they’re always consistent.

Despite Google Reader effectively killing off competition in the market, there are other web-based feed readers available, so I think we’ll be fine on that end. In fact, I agree with Marco and think we’re going to enter the golden age of RSS readers:

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.

It may suck in the interim before great alternatives mature and become widely supported, but in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news.

What we need going forward, however, is a canonical feed store/sync API to replace what Reader had evolved into. That way, any number of web, mobile, and desktop apps could tie into it and share feed information with each other. That is what made Google Reader so great, and so powerful.

The opportunity for App.net

In episode 13 of Glenn Fleishman’s “The New Disruptors” podcast (now my favorite interview show), Glenn talked to Dalton Caldwell, the creator of App.net (ADN). The big revelation for me was the discussion about what ADN really is. It’s not just the Twitter-like application they’ve built in alpha.app.net. It’s really about the infrastructure and tools they’ve built that allow developers to build other, more innovative applications on top of. As Glenn says, they’re more a Amazon Web Services competitor than a Twitter clone.

ADN already has programming APIs for messaging, file storage, and places. I think a “feed” API would a great addition, and allow for some interesting possibilities with the built-in App.net social features.

In fact, I noticed this morning that I wasn’t the only one with the same insight:

Insightful comment by @ablaze on App.net and feeds.

We’ve already made the mistake of entrusting an important piece of infrastructure to a free product. This time around, let’s put it in the hands of someone who’s interests are aligned with customers and developers, and who will charge some money for it. This is the perfect opportunity for ADN, and I hope they take it.

  1. Specifically, the iPhone version 


I’m going to be honest — I’m not in great physical shape right now. I’m not here to make excuses, but I am going to tell you how I’m going to change this and get into the best shape of my life.

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