Hipster Pirate Recipe

This is how I make the drink known as the Hipster Pirate. Tybee Island, GA was frequented by pirates once upon a time (not this kind); an expensive and overly ethics-concerned coffee drink like a vegan mocha was considered just a bit of hipster ridiculousness by a lot of locals when I moved there. Therefore the signature drink at my Tybee cafe was named the Hipster Pirate. Also because hipsters like good coffee drinks and pirates like rum. :)


  • Splash of rum
  • Shot of espresso (or the result of your favorite alternate strong-coffee-brewing method — Aeropess, etc.)
  • Chocolate (syrup, powder, bar, your choice)
  • 6 – 13 oz. of your favorite non-dairy milk, depending on the size of your mug (regular milk works, too, but blech)

More on choosing ingredients in the instructions section.


I tend to have an ingrained belief that all alcoholic coffee drinks belong in clear glass mugs on stem bases, because I grew up for a while in a restaurant that served irish coffees, but any cup* or mug will work.

Hipster Pirate in a glass mug

I only made this with layers to show Westi.  — Photo by Peter Westwood

One thing that is cool about coffee drinks in glass mugs is that if you pour it all just right, you can see the different components of the drink as layers/stripes. Then again, you want it all mixed together before you drink it, so who cares about the pretty stripes? I much prefer swirling throughout assembly so it’s all one consistent liquid.

You can be fancy and make a ritual out of assembling this drink, or you can just bung it all together in the cup in whatever order you want. It honestly won’t make much of a difference unless you are using a harder chocolate source (broken up chocolate bar, chocolate chips, thick syrup, etc), in which case go with this fancy assembly order or something similar to give the chocolate the maximum melting time.

Put the chocolate into the mug of your choice. I have tried a few different forms and have a favorite, so here’s how I think they stack up in terms of this drink.

  • Chopped up bar chocolate. This certainly looks cool. If you chop it pretty fine, it will melt relatively quickly if you stir quickly once the espresso is added, but you’ll probably have some little unmelted nibs at the end. I like this method more in theory and aesthetically than in practice. If using this method, I like to go with a high-quality dark chocolate that has a low sugar content, but whatever floats your boat will work just fine, as long as it is actual chocolate — if what you have is really a chocolate-flavored bark of hydrogenated oils, it will be super gross.
  • A chunk of a chocolate bar. I reserve this method for when I am desperately craving that sweet mocha goodness but I’ve gone to Coava and they will do a latte but not a mocha. Then I buy one of their small bars of some artisan-or-other chocolate and drop it into a latte and attempt the same stir-to-melt action that I use with chopped chocolate. It’s better than nothing, but it does not melt anywhere near enough to be satisfying, unless you like the idea of a wet chocolate bar bite at the end, analogous to eating the fruit after you’ve drained a glass of sangria.
  • Powdered drinking chocolate (like the ones from Theo Chocolates). Works okay, but you need to make sure you get the powder absorbed in the stirring with espresso or you’ll wind up with little powdered dots floating to the top after you add your milk-style liquid, making your fancy drink look like it came from a packet of swiss miss.
  • Chocolate syrup from the store. Works well, but try to be sure to get one that is made with straight up cocoa and sugar, no oils, or you might get an oily sheen/droplets on the surface of your drink, also unappealing.
  • Homemade chocolate syrup. 1:1 ratio of sugar and water to make a simple syrup over moderate heat, add cocoa powder while heating to suit your level of intensity. Keeps well for a really long time in the fridge. Gold standard in terms of meltability, cost, no unappealing visuals on top of drink or in cup afterward. Make a batch in advance sometime and bottle it up for use whenever.

Grind the coffee beans. Two elements inherent in this instruction: the bean and the grind.

  • Given the option, I prefer to get something that comes from a direct trade source that is environmentally friendly, but that’s your call. Things I look at if I’m in a situation to be choosy about beans include agricultural methods, labor practices, bird policies, and impact of the farm or plantation on the local environment and/or ecoonomy.
  • I will also choose something locally-roasted if it’s available for a few reasons. The fancy coffee roasters have told me that you should use beans within a week of being roasted, 2 weeks at most (unless they’re in an unopened vacuum-sealed package), or it’s not worth it. Other people keep an open bag of beans for months and say they can’t tell the difference. Your call, but if you care about that stuff, local roasting definitely has an edge when it comes to getting coffee in the magic window of not-too-soon-after-roasting-and-not-so-old-the-taste-declines. Plus it supports a local business, often an independent proprietor, which tends to keep more money in your community.
  • I also (I know, I know, gasp and horror) prefer to get decaf if it’s water-processed. Caffeine is just really, really bad for you (side note: if you like literature, read Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin, it’s pretty great.) and even decaf still has way more caffeine than our bodies really want or need. Fancy coffee people will tell you that decaf is an abomination and utterly intolerable. I tell you that high blood pressure, anxiety, reduced motor control, withdrawal migraines, bone loss, insomnia, and other related health effects that could be prevented by ditching caffeine are the true intolerable abominations. And if you look into the water process, it’s almost like you get coffee soaked coffee — the decaf I’m talking about is not weak, it’s delicious.
  • Fancy coffee people will say that you should grind immediately before brewing or it’s not even worth it. Since I was running a cafe that did fancy coffee, I followed this advice so the coffee would get its best shot (heh) at making a good impression on the customer. However, if you don’t have a grinder and you buy pre-ground beans, who cares? I mean, it’s the flavor you’re used to, so it won’t taste like crap to you, right? That said, if you do have a grinder, grind the beans at the appropriate grain when you’re ready to brew, and only grind as much as you’ll need.

Brew a shot of espresso (or conduct your alternate strong-brewing technique as mentioned above to acquire an equivalent amount of liquid, about an ounce, but the bullet points below refer to brewing traditional espresso) directly into the cup holding your chocolate. That said, if you don’t have room to do this because you chose a giant cup that won’t fit under your portafilter, it’ll be fine, don’t sweat it.

  • The scalding espresso will start dissolving the chocolate immediately, turning into a coffee-cocoa liquid love child.
  • You won’t lose the crema the way you do when you brew into a demitasse/shot glass/small pitcher and then pour from that into the bigger mug.
  • Depending on what kid of chocolate you used, either give the mug a swirl to ensure a good mix, or stir it with a spoon if needed.

While the shot is brewing, steam your milk-type liquid. Don’t go too hot. I used to use soy as a default, but have since switched away to hemp or almond or coconut or hazelnut or some such, now going to soy only when it’s the only option. Try not to get crazy with the foam — microfoam is your friend. Fancy coffee people will want you to give your steaming pitcher a couple of taps on the counter and a swirl to settle before pouring the liquid into your mug. This is okay, because it gives you a second to pour a splash of rum into the coffee-cocoa love child mixture.

Pour a splash of rum into the coffee-cocoa love child mixture. Fancy liquor distributors might tell you all kinds of things about various producers and varieties, but forget ’em. Just get some basic plain white rum at the liquor store.

Pour in your steamed milk. The pouring will swirl together the ingredients already in the mug, so you shouldn’t need to stir it unless you are still trying to get solid chocolate to melt or something. Or unless you made layers because you think they are pretty, in which case admire the pretty and then stir it out of existence. Fancy coffee people make pictures likes leaves and hearts and other elaborate markings in the microfoam. I don’t bother, but if you want to learn it is not hard and there are lots of latte art instructional videos online.

Put your hands around the warm mug and feel cozy.

Drink your hipster pirate and feel warm and snuggly and like one big contented sigh. That is all.

*It’s worth noting that the hipster pirate can also be enoyed in a to-go cup, but I do recommend reusable travel mugs over disposables — those “compostable”  paper cups are mostly lined with corn-based plastic and will almost certainly not be composted unless you live somewhere with a commercial composting facility willing to accept them. I live in a composting mecca and even we can’t compost these damn cups.

Holiday De-Stress: Community Acupuncture

From what I see at the store, in the street, and on the web, a lot of people are starting to get pretty stressed out. I stopped celebrating Christmas years ago, but I see my friends and family and coworkers and acquaintances getting more tense as the holiday approaches, over all kinds of things —  family commitments, travel, expensive gift bills, trying to keep the Santa myth alive for your kids, having an existential crisis over Christianity and the conflation of Christ’s theoretical spring birth with the pagan Yule/Saturnalia/Insert-winter-holiday-here to try and get more converts, whatever. I’d like to offer a cheap yet healing suggestion for how to de-stress this holiday season: community acupuncture!

Community acupuncture is practiced in group settings, with patients fully clothed and relaxing in recliners rather than lying on a table. There are a bunch of reasons for why it is done this way that I’ll likely write about at some point, but in the meantime, use google if you are curious. :) Anyway, community acupuncture clinics make this form of healthcare more accessible and affordable to many people, and it’s much less intimidating than a solo session for the uninitiated. I’ve been getting acupuncture for something like 20 years, and though I have loved my solo acupuncturists in the past, I don’t see wanting to go back to that model (for one thing — so expensive!). Community acupuncture clinics that are members of POCA (People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture, a co-op that oversees the evolution of the model and sets standards for community acupuncture) generally have a sliding scale for treatments that goes as low as $15, compared to the average $100 per treatment at a solo office. This means you can get more treatment within your budget, and in the case of dealing with injuries or conditions in need of multiple treatments, this is important.

But right now, we’re just talking about de-stressing a little bit. Acupuncture works great for this. “But how can putting needles in your body be relaxing?” you might ask. The needles are really filaments not much thicker than a piece of my hair. In many cases you can’t even feel them go in. When you do, it usually doesn’t hurt. In those cases where it does hurt, it subsides almost immediately as your body responds.

So consider de-stressing with community acupuncture. You can search for a POCA clinic near you. Pro tip: Join POCA before you go to your first appointment. Annual membership is also sliding scale ($25 – $100), and the benefits pay for themselves immediately. As a POCA member, the $15 new patient intake fee that most clinics charge is waived, so you save that immediately. You also get a coupon for a free treatment the week of your birthday, so that pretty much covers the membership paying for itself. You also get 3 coupons for friends/family to get a free visit to a POCA clinic so they can try it out. There’s other co-op type stuff like voting rights and discussion boards, but that’s irrelevant to most people reading this. Financially, if you are going to try it, you might as well just join POCA because it’s a better deal.

I haven’t been to all that many POCA clinics yet, but there are a couple I can recommend first-hand:

So, try community acupuncture and relax!


Yesterday when I came home from co-working with Andrea (all WCSF, all the time, that’s us), I was surprised to see a crow sitting in my front yard. You don’t usually see crows sitting on the ground, so at first I thought it had been injured — despite repeated pleas from the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy for people to keep their cats indoors, there are a lot of free-roaming cats in my neighborhood. I walked toward it to check (I grew up with an endless stream of injured wild animals being rehabbed thanks to my mom and grandparents), but it stood up and started walking around.
a crow in the front yard
As I got even closer it finally flew away, and I went about my business.

This morning I walked over to the coffee shop on the corner while it was still dark. When I came back the sun was up and I saw something dark in the yard in the same spot the crow had been sitting in the day before. It was the crow again. I thought maybe it was sick or stunned, but I could walk right up to it and it was not moving — neither the tremble that goes with the trauma stillness so common to birds, nor any movement indicating breathing. So I guess it died. Why it came back to that same exact spot I have no idea. It didn’t really look like it had fallen out of the air while flying, it looked like it had been sitting there again and keeled over (though I suppose Jasper the neighbor cat might have had a hand in it, I didn’t see any obvious attack signs).

They say finding a dead crow on your lawn is a sign of good luck, because crows in general are an omen of death and misfortune. I happen to really like crows and don’t think of them that way (possibly because of nursing a crow back to health with my family when I was a kid). To me it just means I have to dig a hole (note to self: buy shovel since SE Tool Library not open until weekend) and bury the bird. That said, I have a couple of trees arriving this weekend that I’m supposed to plant anyway, so at least one of them will get some good fertilizer.

Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist

Kat just saved me a couple thousand words.

this is not a pattern

A friend of mine posted this on Twitter:

I really respect the amount of self-awareness it takes to ask that question! It’s easy to disavow the trolls sending rape and death threats, but it takes much more courage to acknowledge that you might be perpetuating harmful attitudes in less-obvious ways.

[Author’s Note: I felt like it was important to establish some context, but you can also skip the 101-level discussion and jump right to the list.]

This question hints at two important concepts: implicit biases and microaggressions.

We have all internalized harmful stereotypes about women — it’s part of growing up in a culture that inculcates gender roles from a very early age. Our culture has deeply-embedded patriarchal power structures (ditto racist and classist and ableist and transphobic and homophobic…

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Site Setup Journal: Act II

Act II: Setting Up WordPress

Previously in Site Setup Journal: Prologue and Act I: Domains and Hosting.

One-Click Install Attempts

1-click installs are totally the way to go, right? I mean, 1-click sounds faster and easier than the famous 5-minute install that you get if you do it manually over FTP (according to the Codex). I immediately go into the Dreamhost control panel and went for a 1-click.

Screen shot 2014-10-05 at 6.36.55 AM

Okay, so 1-click, but 10 minutes. That doesn’t seem right, that it should take twice as long for the automated 1-click install as for a manual one. Well, too late now, right? Guess I’ll go feed the cats while I wait.

I have to kill a little more time than just feeding the cats, but eventually I get an email from Dreamhost telling me my WordPress install is ready for me, and linking me to install.php to set up an admin user and get going. I click the link and get a white screen. Hm. Try again. Hm. Open up FTP to see if the files are there, and they are. Start wondering if maybe 1-clicks can’t handle being in a subdirectory (where I’d put it), so think I’ll try another one in the root. Same thing, the 10-minute notice. Set up web email for the domain and send a test email so I can see if it’s just the website, or if it’s everything on the domain. Webmail is also whitescreened. Hm. Status on Dreamhost says my server is going to be getting some software updates and will be offline during this maintenance, but it doesn’t look like I’m in that time window. I get a 2nd automated email saying the 2nd 1-click has failed. I head into the support section.

The Live Chat support option shows as available, but when I click it it says that due to heavy activity there will be a 5-hour wait. Come on, just take down the Live Chat option when it’s 4am and you don’t have people on staff. I send an email, then another (first one re white screen, 2nd re install failure). In the meantime I start scrubbing through the Dreamhost support wiki.

I find the answer to the 2nd install failure before support gets back to me. Apparently, 1-clicks don’t work if there is anything in there already. So since I already have a subfolder in the root domain (from the 1st 1-click), trying to do a 1-click into the root won’t work. I have to empty it out first. That doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever. I wind up deleting everything via FTP and doing a manual install instead. Two, actually.

Manual Install

Well, then, back to the WordPress.org!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.04.50 AM

The “handy guide” is the Codex’s installation instructions page. Let’s take a look.

Before You Start

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.22.15 AM

1. Minimum server requirements. As it happens, I had checked the php version stuff when I re-upped the hosting account for this domain, and had upped the version of PHP. Someone setting things up without my account gymnastics wouldn’t have encountered that, though, so I set out to find my hosting versions as specified in the ask-for-it text on the requirements page on wordpress.org:

  • PHP 5.2.4 or greater
  • MySQL 5.0 or greater
  • The mod_rewrite Apache module

I log into the Dreamhost control panel. I look for a navigation label that says something like hosting environment, version information, about, etc. Don’t see anything. Click into Manage Account, nothing. Click into Manage Domains. Oh ho!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.28.41 AM

Clearly I’d only upped the version on the one domain, not both on that account, but even so, I can see that the php versions are both above the minimum requirement to run WordPress.

Next up, MySQL version. Clicking the MySQL Databases navigation item seems the most likely, so I do. Nope. No information shown here about MySQL versions. You’d really think you would see that on the page labeled MySQL Databases, wouldn’t you? There is a link on that screen to phpMyAdmin, so maybe I can find it there. Wait — Authentication Required!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.39.09 AM

Bah, which username and password combination does it want? The hosting account (server?) or a database user? A note here saying which password is needed would be helpful. I can’t get in with the ones I know off the top of my head so I close out of that and go back to the main Dreamhost control panel (the phpMyAdmin attempt had bumped me into a new tab). In the search box at the top, I type “MySQL version” and hit enter. The page refreshes, but I’m still on the MySQL Databases page where there is no version info displayed. I think maybe there’s some documentation with version info, so I look for support.

Now, having been around a long time, I know that Wiki, a small link in the upper right corner, means documentation. But a lot of people don’t (I doubt my mom — the most recent person to ask me to set up a site — would), so for the sake of the experiment I go looking for a Help or Docs or Support link. I find it (Support) in the bottom left navigation after scrolling down (below the fold), because for some reason the “Goodies” navigation section is open. Why? Because apparently that’s where the MySQL Databases page actually lives, despite being in the navigation up above as a top-level item. Come on, Dreamhost, who’s your information architect, and what are they doing?

Anyway, I click on Support. It drops a layer with 3 options. Contact, History, and Data Centers. Why not have a link here for Wiki (or better, Documentation, which is less jargony)? Hmph. If you do click on Contact Support, it takes you into a form. There’s a live chat button, but no links here to documentation either. Hm, what’s this “Help is Off” button?

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.48.09 AM

I decide to click it. Then I see this:

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.48.47 AM

Oh, how handy, a link to documentation and forums. Why it’s even optional to hide that text is ridiculous. Anyway, to the wiki!

On the Wiki Home there is a nice little menu, and MySQL is listed there, so I click it. I come to another list of topics. None of them say Version, so I start clicking them in the order that makes the most sense. MySQL and PHP does not have version info. Neither does phpMyAdmin, but it does tell me that the authentication password request was for the database user password. Upgrading from MySQL 4.1 to 5.0 tells me that, “DreamHost is currently slowly upgrading your MySQL servers from version 4.1 to 5.0. You can also email support and request they upgrade your databases. There are some incompatibilities between versions 4.1 and 5.0, particularly with JOINs. This upgrade could cause some breakage of your application(s).” It does not say how to tell which version you are currently on. At this point, some people might email support, but I think a lot would just shrug and decide to take a chance and hope they were already on 5.0. So I do that. Because let’s face it, any host that is listed on wordpress.org/hosting had better be running the minimum requirements, right?

Mod_rewrite! Since I’m already in the wiki, I do a search for “mod_rewrite Apache module,” the last item in the ’email your host” list. The 4 search results are not helpful in any way. I remove “Apache module” from the search term and try again. Lots of results, none of them helpful. I decide again to shrug and assume, because this documentation is for the birds when it comes to confirming minimum requirements, and who has time to wait for support emails? Not me!

Around now I get an email from support about my earlier white screen issue. They say that it’s because the DNS hasn’t finished replicating. I might add that there’s a “works for me” comment in there that makes me purse my lips. But I stop to think about DNS. Yes, in the past I’ve had to set up a temp site on a dreamhosters subdomain if I wanted to work on a site before DNS caught up. Pain in the ass, yeah? Having to then do a move once the real domain is showing up? I hadn’t thought about that this time because the GoDaddy registration of the domain had been pointing at Dreamhost servers all along. I guess the hosting being down and then up created a DNS interruption. It was not explained to me satisfactorily, but I move on. Specifically, to step 2 of preparing for the install.

Step 2. Download the latest release of WP. Easy. Go to wordpress.org, click the big Download button. Oh, okay. That wasn’t really a download button, that was a navigation link to a download page. Okay. I skim the content in the middle and go to click on the… oh, that button at the bottom of the content area is to find a mobile app, and goes to a site at get.wp.com. That’s not right. Oh, there’s the real download button up in the sidebar. It seems like those should have been switched, but whatever. Click! Download! 6.3MB, it takes 7 seconds.

Step 3. Unzip the file. Also easy. Do Show in Finder from the download bar on the bottom of my browser, double click the file, see the wordpress folder appear. 3 seconds.

Step 4. Secure password for secret key. Click on the link to read about it. Get distracted by the big-ass blue-i information icon alert at the top that says, “Interested in functions, hooks, classes, or methods? Check out the new WordPress Code Reference!” Why is that following me around on every page of the Codex? For someone installing WordPress for the first time, that is not helpful. At all. Further, there’s no x to dismiss the box, so if I’m not interested, I still have to scroll past it every time, and it pushes the content farther down on the page, not to mention making me feel like I’m probably not in the right place because they obviously think I am way technical. (Tangent: People keep saying that the fold is dead, but I think they are wrong.) Anyway, I’m already confused. I clicked on a link that said  Secure password for secret key, but I don’t see that language on this page. It doesn’t anchor link me to the specific section I needed, so I guess I have to read this whole page? With multiple mentions of passwords but no headlines that say secret key? I command+f to do a search for text on the page, which shows that “secret key” is mentioned in the section titled Security Keys. Hmph. Would a little consistency here be so much to ask?

Read the section. Questions that should be answered in this section before jumping into the history of adding stuff.

  • What is a key?
  • What is a salt?

Then it shows what secret keys look like from the online generator. Cool, I like online generators. But the wording all over is inconsistent and confusing — is it one secret key, or four, or eight? And where do I set a secure password for the key (or keys)? I don’t understand this! So! Many! Words! Used! Indiscriminately!

I cheat and use the fact that I know what all that confusing language means, and what it wants, which is simply the block of generated keys and salts, not a password for them.

Step 5. Print this page. So I have it handy during installation? I’m thinking this list was written in the days before browser tabs, because why would I print it when I can just keep a tab open? Silly directions. But! On to the actual install!

Famous 5-Minute Install

That sure was a lot to do before doing the install, but I’m ready now!

Screen shot 2014-10-11 at 8.06.30 AM

Download and unzip — check. This step, which was 2 of the steps in the Before You Install list, took under a minute total, about 20% of a 5-minute install.

Create a database and a MySQL user — check. This takes a couple of minutes. I have to log in to the hosting panel, locate MySQL Databases in the menu, and scan the resulting page to orient myself. The first thing on the page is creating a new hostname, and the WP instructions didn’t say anything about creating a new hostname. Below that is create a database, which has fields to create the first user at the same time. There’s no instruction on the difference between a database user, an ftp user, and an account user. I go ahead and made new host, db, and user (and while I’m in there I delete the databases left from the aborted 1-clicks), but I think it would intimidate someone who hadn’t done it before and didn’t really know what a database was in relation to a hosting account or a website. This takes me a minute or two, but would probably take someone who’d never done something like this a little longer, maybe up to 5 while they tried to grok the setup page on the host panel.

Edit wp-config.php — check. This step is labeled optional, but I’m not sure why. If you click the Editing wp-config.php link, it says WP will create the config file for you from info you enter, and that turning wp-config-sample.php into a real wp-config.php file is for advanced users. If it works fine to have it be auto-generated, then why have this step in there at all? If it’s really better to do it manually, then why have the auto-create version? In any case, I’m used to editing the config file at this step, so I do it. Takes a couple of minutes because I had to go back and forth between tabs and copy/paste stuff. I happen to have Coda installed so the file opened in that program, but normally I’d have used textedit.

At this point I’ve passed 5 minutes.

Upload files via FTP — check. I open Transmit and start the transfer. It takes twelve minutes. Why? My first guess is that it is shipping with 3 default themes now, all with retina-ready images. But I don’t know, I could be wrong. I know I don’t need all those themes, so I delete Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Thirteen while I’m in FTP, and plan to start out with Twenty Twelve.

Tangent: Why do I want to start with Twenty Twelve? I think Twenty Thirteen is really aimed at bloggers and it has an overwhelming brand/design to it. The site I’m making is for a class, and needs to be chill. Twenty Fourteen I just personally don’t like, for the same reasons I don’t like the general mp6 coloring/style, which I’ve posted about elsewhere before.

Run the script at the URL where you installed — screeech! Screech to a halt here, because I wind up on another white screen. Side note: the wordpress.org instructions say to go right to the root URL, not to install.php directly (like the 1-click email tells you). Are they two different locations? Does install.php automatically load at root? Bah.

I go ahead and do a second manual install, so now I have one in root and one in a subdirectory. White screens on both. So it seems that the DNS stuff is really going to hold things up. I decide to go to school and finish it off when I get home that night.


Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion in Act III, which will cover finishing the WP install, installing BuddyPress and other plugins, and setting up BuddyPress.


Passion Flower

passion flower

I live a block from Albina Press (Hawthorne location), a coffee shop that has a reputation for brewing Stumptown coffee better than Stumptown. When I walk there, I always pass this house with a great passion flower vine that covers their fence. Passion flower has been used effectively to treat anxiety, coming out as effective as some pharmaceuticals. I haven’t used it for that; I just think it’s pretty.

Site Setup Journal: ACT I

ACT I: Domains and Hosting

In Site Setup Journal: Prologue, I set the scene for an ordinary website setup project. The plan: re-up a hosting account gone dormant, make sure the registrar is a domain pointing there, install WordPress, add a few miscellaneous plugins, install BuddyPress, do some configuration and maybe a little theme tweaking, and then have a nice private group site for the students of a class I’m in. Simple, right? I figured maybe an hour or two. Boy, was I wrong.

Once I removed the option to ping knowledgeable friends and get a fast, accurate answer to any question (a privilege I appreciate even more after this experience) and had to rely on public documentation and support services, I re-discovered just how woeful they are. I’ll try to describe each of the steps I took.

Step 1. Getting a Domain

An average person creating a new site would need to buy a domain, but I knew I had an unused domain sitting around from when I used to freelance, so figured I’d save the money and the addition of another domain (because the class site might get moved to the school site eventually). I had hosting accounts on both Bluehost and Dreamhost, but wasn’t sure where I had hosted  the domain I had in mind.

First I logged in at Bluehost. The hosting account had been deleted in July, which I hadn’t realized because the email address was one I no longer check, tied to an old business. The domain listed wasn’t the one I was looking for, though, so I went over to Dreamhost. I had to do some login gymnastics there also, because I’d had two accounts there, and as it requires login to be an email address/customer ID rather than a self-chosen username, I had to try a LOT of times to get the right combination of email and password and domains (I’d had accounts under 2 email addresses because one was for helping non-profits get sites set up). Finally after resetting passwords on the emails still in use, I got in. The non-profit account was still active, but I wanted the paid account for this project. In retrospect that was unnecessary, since the school is a non-profit, but oh well. The paid account had also expired over the busy summer. This one I did vaguely remember seeing emails about, but had never taken the time to go and do the login hoop-jumping to pay for the coming year because I was busy with work. I paid to re-up the hosting account, and it was back in business.

The domain was still listed there, so I wanted to make sure the registrar was still pointing at the Dreamhost nameservers. I went to Namecheap first, but it wasn’t listed there, so I had to check GoDaddy. I have a couple of domains there still that I hadn’t transferred yet due to timing around expirations. I couldn’t log in because I didn’t remember my password (hey, lots of people don’t use password managers). I went through the reset process, and got access. A domain I’d been registering for my brother had apparently expired (oops, another victim of my changed-email status), but the domain I wanted to use for the class was still there, and it was still pointing at Dreamhost.

I wasn’t keeping track of time, but I’d guess this all took about 30-45 minutes of going back and forth between sites and emails (often not instant but instead a few minutes later, or later, or later.

Summary: Requiring email address and/or customer number as login instead of allowing user-selected username does not result in a good user experience. Only doing password resets via sending to the email on the account does not address the reason why a lot of people need help resetting a password, which is lost access to the email address on the account. User-selected security access phrases or questions are a more user-friendly path to password reclamation.

Stay tuned for Act II, Setting Up WordPress. This is when we get into the fun stuff.

Site Setup Journal: Prologue

I think that most of the people involved in creating software for the web have completely forgotten what it’s like to navigate these waters, and that “our setup is so simple!” statements are in general full of crap. Over the next few days, I am going to try to set up up a website on a domain I own using only the documentation and support available to the average person (who doesn’t have access to lead developers and heads of support teams). Is this decision predicated by the fact that none of those people were around when I tried pinging them today at 6am? Well, yes, yes it is. But given the frustration level I have encountered in the first 2 hours alone, I am glad they’re not around right now. I’ve been setting up websites since 1999, and I think we are making the process harder, not easier.

Get ready for some painful descriptions of just how janky all our product flows and documentation are. I know I’m wincing.

I’m thinking this will wind up being the equivalent of a play in 3 acts, but I could be wrong — it depends on how complicated things get.

Screen shot of unavailable webpage


A quiet home in the Pacific Northwest featuring cable internet with advertised speeds of 25Mbps down/10Mbps up. A comfortable bed with pillows propped against the headboard, against which our main character lounges at the opening of Act I, equipped with a MacBook Air circa 2010, an iPhone 5s, and a debit card.

Cast of Characters

Jen Mylo: An average web user trying to set up a site for the first time.

GoDaddy: The registrar holding the domain [Ed. Note: Legacy registrar; I’ll switch it to namecheap at some point before it’s time to renew].

Dreamhost: A web hosting company that Jen Mylo has loved forever and that employs one of her favorite people as their resident WP expert. They were hosting non-profits for free before it was cool.

WordPress: An open source content management system you can use to run a website. Claims a famous 5-minute install, “well-known for its ease of installation.” Rumor has it this web app is made by a bunch of weirdos.

BuddyPress: An open source WordPress plugin that creates a social network on your site. Also made by weirdos.

Rivermark Community Credit Union: A community credit union in Portland, OR that likes to do everything online; where Jen Mylo keeps some of her money.

Stay tuned for Act I!