WordCamp Peoria 2016

The first WordCamp in the Peoria area was held on Nov. 12, 2016. Here is a brief synopsis of the event. I also provide some of my insights and notes further down the page.

WordCamp Peoria 2016 from Mark DuBois on Vimeo.

As you learned from the above video, there were 6 presentations. Here are some notes/ insights from each of these.

Managing Your Online Reputation – Tammy Finch

One needs to be aware of the presence they project on social media. As a business, you want to convey your offline presence to your online presence. Be welcoming, professional, friendly. If you are a freelancer, make certain you own a domain name and have a custom email address. When someone searches your name online, they should find positive reviews of you (and you business). She provided this insightful quote from Chris Lena

“A brand is what we (the Internet) says it is.”

Each business should have social media policies in place and all employees should follow those policies. It is also important to check spelling and grammar (be professional throughout).

Tammy also discussed strategies for providing feedback and for addressing “bad” reviews. Often this can be due to mis-understanding. She provided a number of specific examples (and insightful stories) throughout. She also discussed how to deal with trolls.

How to Make the Most out of Yoast SEO – Nile Flores

Niles began her presentation with an overview of understanding how search engines work (especially Google and Bing). She provided a number of basic SEO (search engine optimization) tips. It is important to have an “about us” page and a “contact us” page. Any audio/video, infographic should be accompanied by explanatory text. It is a “best practice” to transcribe your audio podcasts.

She stressed that site speed is important (your page should load in under 4 seconds). She recommended sites like Pingdom to check how quickly your page loads.

She also went into depth concerning information architecture of your site and discussed those areas which should be optimized. She provided links to a number of Yoast blog articles discussing these features in greater depth.

Content is King – Colleen Kimball

Colleen mentioned that roughly 80% of content is consumed on mobile devices these days. Everyone is vying for attention (and we only have so much to give). She provided this insightful quote:

In a world of locked doors, the person with the key is king. And you should see me with my crown.

Those locked doors are your audience. You need to know what they want to see (and present it to them in the manner they wish to consume it). She discussed the term optimount and provided all the technical details as an example. No one in the room understood what she described (although it was technically accurate). She then reworded her description in words we all understood to make her point. It is important to create solid content which can be readily consumed.

Peoria has a unique challenge in that it is really behind in terms of the tech industry. [Mark’s personal note – I have been trying to change this for over 2 decades; I do understand this comment much more than many in the area.] It is important to surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do.

Website Debugging for Site Owners – Andy Wikel

Andy discussed the headaches of debugging. The first rule (when presented with the WordPress white screen) is not to panic. The problem is often buried just beneath the surface. The best questions to begin with include:

  • When did you first notice the problem?
  • Is the problem restricted to one browser or not?
  • What changed? New plugins? Updates? Design improvements?

He recommended a good start is to begin with Chrome or Firefox developer tools. Look in the console for error messages. One can also activate WP_DEBUG mode and look in the resulting log files for more information.

When fixing a problem, always do this on a backup copy of your site. If you don’t have a staging area, there are plugins. If your repairs work well, you can migrate them to the production environment.

It is important to pick themes and plugins which are updated frequently. This means they are supported.

WordPress Speed Demon: Breaking The Speed Barrier – Zach Stepek

Zach began his presentation with an overview of statistics including the observation that 47% expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. 40% will abandon if the page load time exceeds 3 seconds. Yes, 3 seconds – that is all the time you have.

He provided a number of insights on host selection and areas you should optimize (especially images and related media). He also mentioned that a move to PHP 7 is a game changer. Going from 5.5.9 to version 7 resulted in a 60% increase in throughput. He mentioned a number of plugins which can help with speed.

Anything on your server which is slowing overall performance (like sending email) should be on a separate server. He brought this point home with a story about transactional email problems which happened on Thanksgiving Day last year. He ended up using Mandrill from MailChimp to resolve the problem his client was experiencing.

He had everyone in the room visit a demo site he was running on Digital Ocean (which was optimized for speed). He showed the statistics as we visited the site. It was great to see the examples he discussed placed in practice and to experience the differences first hand.

The Publishing Playbook: Running a Digital Publisher in 2016 –  Keanan Koppenhaver

Many large publishing companies use WordPress for their sites. He mentioned the different types of audits one needs to conduct when migrating a publishing site to WordPress.

He also mentioned the overall editorial workflow and the need for specific plugins for co-authors, for example. In some organizations, the digital work flow feeds into a print publication.

He also discussed many different approaches to monetization.

Summary – this was the first WordCamp I have attended. I found it very informative. For those unable to participate, I understand that the presentations will eventually be available at WordCamp TV. I don’t see that they have been posted yet (hopefully soon). I am hoping that we have a 2017 WordCamp in the Peoria area. This was a great opportunity to connect with many others in the Peoria area (and beyond).

Apple Watch Butterflies

My Apple watch comes with a number of faces. As an entomologist, I had to choose the butterflies. Although I can find articles about the efforts involved in photographing the butterflies (and other subjects – like the jellyfish), I have not been able to find any information on the actual identity of the butterflies and moths photographed. I thought this might be of interest to some readers. As a disclaimer, I will mention that my vision is not that great so I may be off a bit in these identifications, but they should point you in the right direction (if you are interested).

Read more »

Apple Watch Series 2

I recently purchased an Apple watch (series 2) to replace my aging Pebble watch (the eInk screen was starting to fade significantly). The watch was shipped directly from Suzhou (China). It was rather fun to watch it transit from Shanghai to Anchorage to Louisville and eventually to my home (taking all of 4 days). Now that I have had a couple of week’s experience with the watch, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my experiences with others. As best I can tell, it is best when paired with an iPhone (I have a 6S Plus).

Read more »

Adobe Spark Page

I covered Adobe Spark Video and Adobe Spark Post recently. Adobe Spark Page allows you to quickly create a compelling web page. Here is a quick introduction.

Adobe Spark Page from Mark DuBois on Vimeo.

For those who don’t need to know all the details of quickly creating a web page, I encourage you to examine this solution. The capabilities of Adobe Spark can be very useful for those teaching various subjects. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Bash shell in Windows 10

I recently became aware of a new capability in Windows 10. It does give me a reason to use that operating system again (at least from time to time). With the Windows 10 Anniversary update, one can now run the Bash shell directly on Windows. Looks like this only applies to Windows 10, but it is a definite enhancement. After you install all the necessary steps, you will see the following added to your start menu applications [Bash on Ubuntu on Windows].


Bash shell on Ubuntu on Windows

This means we are closer to not having to do all sorts of contortions (such as using PuTTY and Cygwin). Let’s see what we need to do to configure Windows 10 for this capability.

Read more »

Adobe Spark Post

Last week, I introduced Adobe Spark Video. I thought I would follow up this week with an overview of Adobe Spark Post.

Adobe Spark Post from Mark DuBois on Vimeo.

I hope you find this overview helpful and encourage you to check out Adobe Spark.

Adobe Spark Video

One of many activities I do at school is help other teachers better understand how to employ technology in their classes. One tool which I have been promoting for some time is Adobe Spark (video, post, page). I thought it might be helpful to others to share the fundamentals of how to use Adobe Spark (video). Here is a quick overview (done in Spark Video, of course).

Adobe Spark Video Overview from Mark DuBois on Vimeo.

Let me know if you were aware of this tool (and if you found this overview helpful).

ARIA again

I recently provided some base information concerning Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA). I wanted to expand on the topic a bit more. For those who are participating in our monthly Central Illinois Web Professionals meetings, I have been covering this topic in those meetings as well. Before delving into a few more details, I thought it might be helpful to review what makes a web page accessible.

First, one should use semantic markup. If an item is a button, use the proper HTML element; don’t use a <div> and style it to look like a button. I know that seems obvious, but many frameworks ignore this simple approach. Assistive technologies are built to work with semantic content.

Next, provide alternate content as needed. This means a lot more than just alternate text on images. Where possible, the page should be linear (so assistive technologies can process the content). Style the page as desired with CSS, but keep the content available to every visitor. This also helps with search engine rank since most bots scanning a page are looking for valid and semantic HTML.

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Ricoh Theta Image Editing

I purchased a Ricoh Theta S in late July and provided an overview of the camera capabilities and my initial experiences. Now that I have worked with the camera a few months, I thought it time to share some additional information and tips. Probably the most important tip is that the device can be affected by extreme heat (and likely cold). It can become unresponsive (which means you can’t turn the camera off and can’t access any of the functions). The best way to get around this is to hold the power button for more than 8 seconds. This forces a reset and the camera is then back to its “normal self.” Let’s examine a bit more about the camera, especially the editing of images created using this device.

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ES6 question

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a quick introduction to ES6 (aka ECMAScript 2015). I indicated that I would include more discussions in future weblog posts. Before I do so, I wanted to get some feedback from readers. Specifically:

What ES6 feature/ improvement do you wish was available today?

There are many new features. A quick overview of these can be found at the ES6 compatibility site. I am always curious to learn which features are of most interest. I look forward to your comments.


Since I am teaching the CMWEB 150 (Web Accessibility) class this semester, I thought it appropriate to focus on selected tools which can be used when testing web pages for accessibility. Yes, these tools also can be used to assist those with a disability (such as low vision). One tool which I find helpful is ChromeVox. This only works with the Chrome browser (or the Chrome OS). For our purposes, let’s focus on the Chrome browser extension.

In a nutshell, ChromeVox allows you to navigate a web page using the keyboard. It will read the contents to you as you navigate through the page (or to different pages). Read more »

ES6 Fundamentals

Although ES6 (aka EcmaScript 2015) is not yet widely supported in browsers, I thought it might be helpful to provide some base information to help readers (particularly my students) better understand how to work with ES6 (and discuss a couple of the features). I got this idea from taking the course Up and Running with ECMAScript 6 at lynda.com. However, as I worked through the examples provided, I quickly discovered that a new version of Babel has come out since the course was developed (oh sure, that never happens in my classes… oh… wait… every semester). Again, my purpose is to introduce you to the extreme fundamentals of working with ES6. I plan to provide a number of added posts in coming months delving into much greater detail. Read more »

ARIA fundamentals

It has been a while since I focused on accessibility in these weblog posts. I thought it might be helpful to readers of this weblog to review some of the fundamentals of ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). Many of the web pages we create employ sophisticated interfaces. Unfortunately, we often assume that every visitor to the site can clearly see and understand these controls. For example, I routinely backup Moodle courses (for archival purposes and migration to other environments). I am often presented with information like that shown on the snippet below.

Progress bar during Moodle course backupFor those with vision, it is obvious that the course is being backed up (the backup will be finished in 9.45 seconds – in Moodle time) and is nearly 90% complete).

But, what if we could not see the screen and had to rely on an assistive device (like a screen reader). How would we know the status of the progress of this task (or if the backup had stalled)? This is where ARIA comes into play.

Read more »


I recently learned about JS++. Although it is presently only available for Windows and Linux systems, it looks interesting. Essentially, JS++ is a compiler which takes code and generates JavaScript. However, resulting JavaScript is much more structured than one would normally write. There is a fair amount of documentation (however, these pages indicate they are presently out of synch with the current implementation).

The following description is taken directly from their website (and is why I think this implementation has possibilities).

JS++ expands the original JavaScript language with types, classes, and other new features. Thus, if you already know JavaScript, you already know JS++; just pick and choose which features you want to “add on” to your existing code. One of the unique features of JS++ is its ability to perform sound type checking. In other words, when you declare types for your variables in JS++, the types are guaranteed to always be correct at compile time and runtime. A variable declared as int will always remain an int at both compile time and runtime, a variable declared as unsigned short will always remain an unsigned short at compile time and runtime, and a variable declared as an Employee class will always remain an Employee object at both compile time and runtime. Previous systems could not guarantee your types would not transform at runtime, and there could be instances where a string could “morph” into a number, function, null, or any other type during application execution.

Ok, let’s learn a little more about JS++. Note that I am just scratching the surface in this weblog post. If enough readers express interest in more in depth analyses, I may include that in the future. Read more »

Fall, 2016 semester

The fall, 2016, semester started this Monday, August 15. As we start each school year, I take a moment and reflect on accomplishments (both last academic year and this summer) and think about the future. After all, the reason I teach web design and development is precisely because of the future. Sure, I could earn a lot more money working in the private sector, but I think it is more important to give back to the community. As Executive Director (and previously Director of Education) for WebProfessionals.org, I have observed a significant need for sustainability. History echos unless we learn from the past. There is a significant need for quality and current content in education for the areas of web design and development. This is why I teach (and why I strive to keep my classes up to date with emerging trends). It is also why I have never taught the same class twice (sure, same title, but the content is always updated). Read more »

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