Best of 2013

With only a few hours to go, here’s my annual ‘Best of’ post.

Music: I hate to repeat myself, but this is always the hardest category. This year it was a real close toss-up between Muchacho — PHOSPHORESCENT, Woman — RHYE, and Nomad — BOMBINO. I guess if I really have to pick, it would be the Bombino album. I can’t neglect to give an honorable mention to The Jazz Age — THE BRYAN FERRY ORCHESTRA, if I had bought that one on 78rpm vinyl (or would it have been shellac?) it would be wearing thin by now. There were many, many, more great albums this year (Savages, Earl Sweatshirt, Chvrches, …) so if you want a more extensive list, check out the 50 best albums of 2013 according to Pitchfork.

Movie: Fiction > The Place Beyond The Pines – DEREK CIANFRANCE
Non-Fiction >  Searching for Sugar Man – MALIK BENDJELLOUL

Book: Fiction > The Circle – DAVID EGGERS. This was not Egger’s best effort by a long shot, but the fact that I plowed through this in under a week must mean something, right?

Non-Fiction > I’m afraid most non-fiction books I read this year were either web design or baby related, so I’m sure you won’t blame me for not picking a favorite among those.

App: iOS 7. Despite all the hate, I think iOS 7 was a great upgrade and therefore deserves the trophy this year.
The honorable mention goes to Notabli, if you have kids you should check it out and send me an invite. 

Website: Feedly. I know, Feedly is not technically a web site, but it’s by far the URL that gets visited most from my browser (and the iOS app was a strong contender for the category above). I still believe in the value of RSS so a good RSS reader is an important tool for me. I’m probably one of the few RSS users that didn’t mind the death of Google Reader, good riddance!
Last year’s Hell for Leather honorable mention Hell for Leather became RideApart and since this meant that the entire web site and business model changed, I believe another honorable mention is warranted.

TV: Fiction > House of Cards (Netflix)
Non-Fiction > TV keeps getting worse and worse, hence the fact that a Netflix series took the fiction trophy this year. I honestly can’t think of anything that’s worth mentioning here, even Nova is too silly to watch now.

As always, please share your ‘Best of’ in the comments, my horizon is in need of expansion.

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Book Review: Smashing WordPress

About a year ago, I was looking for a good book on using WordPress as a CMS.  Browsing the shelves of my local bookstore, I noticed that there are few books on WordPress that go beyond the basics.  Most of them simply explain how to use the admin interface and write blog posts.  If you are lucky, you might learn how to make a few minor tweaks to the theme you use.  As a developer, I was looking for something much more advanced.  “Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog” by Thord Daniel Hedengren looked like it could satisfy my needs.

“Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog was written with the web developer in mind, but anyone who has fiddled a little bit with XHTML, CSS, PHP, or WordPress, can benefit from this book.”
{Thord Daniel Hedengren – Smashing WordPress – Foreword}

As you can tell from this quote, Thord Daniel Hedengren assumes his audience knows basic HTML, CSS and PHP code.  If you don’t know anything about these coding languages, this book is not for you.  However, if you know the basics and are willing to learn, you can jump right in.  Each time Thord quotes a long section of code, he breaks it up piece by piece and explains what the code does and why it’s there.  While I really appreciate this approach, I have to admin that the ebook version I bought sometimes suffers from hard to read formatting for the blocks of code.*  smashing wordpress cover

The book is written with WordPress version 2.7 in mind.  Today, the most recent version is WordPress 3.0 and 3.1 is about to be released any day now.  These newer releases of WordPress have really focused on improving the functionality of WordPress as a CMS.  Since Smashing WordPress is all about using WordPress as a CMS some things have obviously changed since the time of writing.  This doesn’t mean that the book is outdated already. It does mean, however, that some of the solutions Thord proposes are no longer the best way to do things, but conceptually most content is still valid and valuable.

Thord Daniel Hedengren writes well.  The book is much easier to read than his name would suggest.  Smashing WordPress is divided into five major parts, each part consisting of several chapters.  This structure works well for the subject.  The content is vaguely structured in a chronological way.  It starts with the things you encounter first, the installation of WordPress and how to get started with a simple theme.  The next parts and chapters explain WordPress from a functional point of view. Thord explains how WordPress works and how you can make it work for you getting exactly the results you are looking for.  From running queries to writing plugins, you learn about it all.  While Thord touches on the subject a few times, this book does not really focus on styling the content.  After all, it’s not a book about CSS it’s about WordPress.  Towards the end, we get a list of interesting plugins to look into, some specific examples of different types of websites and some final tips that will help you get the most out of WordPress.  The way the content is structured makes it easy to read Smashing WordPress from cover to cover.  I’ve read many technical books that are just impossible to read this way.  Since it’s important that you can easily pick up the book and look for something, the table of content is also very important.  Luckily this book has a great table of content, it’s easy to find what you are looking for because the titles for the chapters are comprehensive and descriptive. I also like that you a good feeling for the content and the focus of the book by reading the table of content, which also is not always the case with technical books.

As you can tell, I like Smashing WordPress.  There might be a few things that could have been done differently, but overall I’m very pleased with this book.  I keep it around and refer to it often.  I will definitely check out Thord’s next book Smashing WordPress Themes and who knows maybe one day write a review for that book too.  Now it’s time for me to find something negative to write about.  I feel like I’ve been endorsing and praising too many products and services here lately.

* I bought the ebook version instead of the physical version because the advantages outweighed the disadvantages for me, but in an ideal world I would just own both versions.  I would love to see a license for the ebook included with the physical copy of the book.  I could buy both, but that means I’m paying twice for the same thing which is why I always feel like it’s bit of a rip off when I’m presented with those physical book + ebook bundles.  But that’s a different discussion.