A Fresh Coat of Paint

It’s strange to think that I started this blog 4 years ago. I designed it myself in the summer of 2007 and started officially blogging on it in August during medical school orientation. I based the design on the Default WordPress theme, which was in-turn based on the venerable Kubrick theme. Last year, after many years of updates, WordPress finally retired its Default theme with the vision of creating a visually refreshed default theme, which they dubbed Twenty Ten. The idea was that WordPress developers should design a new theme every year.

It was about the same time that I began to notice some of the cruft in my own design. But my design had a personality to it that I liked. Plus, the design took a considerable amount of work on my part, and this was neither something I was willing to throw away haphazardly nor something I had time to recreate from scratch in a more modern fashion. And so the cruft lingered on and got even cruftier.

Encephalosponge New Design

Encephalosponge: New Design

A few months ago, a stunning theme called Duster appeared on WordPress.com. I knew this would be the theme that I based my next site design on. Little did I know that WordPress developers had the same idea, and they recently released their new default theme, Twenty Eleven, which is based on Duster. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visually refresh my site based on a WordPress default theme that I love. In the new design, I wanted to highlight some personal changes that I’ve gone through over the past 4 years, and I also addressed some things I learned along the way. The timing is right, too, since I am transitioning from medical school into residency.

Encephalosponge Old Design

Encephalosponge: Old Design

WordPress has changed a lot for the better over the past few years. I’ve been able to keep up with most of the major new features, but keeping up with new features can be a time-consuming job. Now using Child Themes, I can customize my WordPress theme without altering the original. When I created my last site design, I basically copied and altered all of Kubrick. This meant that when any fixes or upgrades were released, I had to do them manually, which usually meant they didn’t get done. With a Child Theme, the Parent is automatically kept up to date without messing up the customizations that you’ve made. Additionally, many WordPress themes now include easy ways to customize the theme’s background, header image, link color and fonts. This provides an easy way to make your site look unique without having to create an entire theme. By adopting a well-maintained theme, I will also get the benefit of having new WordPress features added without any additional work. These themes are also generally designed appropriately so that plug-ins work well and so that they work across multiple operating systems and browsers, including mobile browsers.

Over the past few years, I’ve embraced Free Software and the Creative Commons. With my old design, I used graphics and fonts that were licensed under restrictive copyright terms. This made redistributing my design impossible. I now use a free computer operating system, create graphics in a free graphics suite and choose images that are free to redistribute and remix. For my header image, I found a macro photo of some Brain Coral that I remixed to fit my color scheme. It doesn’t have as much personality as my previous design, but it works well with my new, more reserved one. It is also easily replaced if I come up with something better down the line. I also use Google’s Web Fonts project to bring my design to life with open-source typography and not embedding my non-traditional typography in images.

My final revisions are a work-in-progress. I am refining the content of this site to be my primary blog, but not my primary online point of contact. I set up my own site on Blackhall Family Sites, where I would like to host a more appropriate bio, contact page, and stream of personal news. I will continue to use this site for blogging about interesting topics and I will reserve that site for information about me. I would also like to continue to refine the content of this site to a more narrow set of topics and types of posts.

So as the content of this site undergoes revision, I thought it was a good time for it to get a good facelift as well. The archive isn’t going anywhere, but I thought everything could use a fresh coat of paint and a good buff to shine. Let me know how it looks.

Learning Ubuntu with Unity

Ubuntu 11.04 will be released on April 28th, 2011. It contains a significant visual redesign called Unity, which is a shell over the more traditional desktop environment found in previous Ubuntu releases (called GNOME). There will likely be a lot of critique of Unity over the next few days and weeks, but by most testing and user reviews, Unity is a significant step forward in usability for both computer novices and experts alike. I have compiled a set of links demonstrating some of Ubuntu’s new features in 11.04.

I am excited to make the switch. I’ve been trying Unity out at various points of development via “live cd,” and it’s really nice to work with. I’m looking forward to doing a complete reinstall this week to check out the new installation procedure as well. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Necessary follow-up on the “Missing Link”

Ars Technica did a fantastic follow-up on the discovery of the “missing link”, which I posted about last week. As Ars points out, it’s looking like Ida was way more hype than anything, which could end up being extremely detrimental to science. Despite being a very well-preserved and valuable fossil, she does not appear to be a “missing link” in any way. If you were interested in the Ida news, this article is a must read. Score -1 for science and the media. :-/

Score 2 for Science

Just popping back in to tell you about a really cool scientific discovery. Some paleontologists discovered a new genus and species in Germany that is described as the “missing link” between humans and early mammals. The skeleton, dubbed Ida (or Darwinius masillae if you prefer), is an early mammal similar to a lemur that has opposable thumbs and forward-facing eyes. Score 1 for science and Darwin! Even better, their work was published in PLoS ONE, an open-access journal. Therefore, despite the fact that this revolutionary article was just published two days ago, anyone in the world can view the full text and high resolution images for free. Plus, you can print, reuse, redistribute, or even modify the images and text as long as you give the original authors credit. Score 2 for science! (hat tip: Jamey)

Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov

“One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

via EOP – Blog Post – Change has come to WhiteHouse.gov.

Now that’s something I didn’t expect.  Sounds like a very interesting idea!  You can subscribe to the Whitehouse.gov Blog for more info on what’s going on in the new Obama Administration.

Wrangling the Crazyhorse

It looks like a lot of great new features are getting picked up in the next version of WordPress (2.7), due out sometime in the next few months. One of the biggest changes is (again) revamping the administrative interface (my end of this blog), which I am very excited about. I like the current admin interface better than the previous one, but this new one, codenamed Crazyhorse, is promising to be even better. They put time, effort, and money into usability testing and seeing how people naturally expect things to work (with eye lasers!), and they even asked our opinions. This is in addition to a number of other incredibly useful features, such as automatic upgrading of WP software and the ability to browse and install plugins from within WP.

All of this just reinforces my love of WordPress and Automattic. They’re currently leading their field, but are they sitting back on their haunches waiting for someone to challenge them? No way. They’re pushing their software forward at an amazing speed, and doing a heck of a good job at it. No wonder Matt Mullenweg (founder of WP) is on the list of the Top Entrepreneurs Under 30.

Now that’s more like it

Finally, it looks RMstudents.com, the project I’ve been working on at school, is going to take off. We implemented a lot of new features this summer that are (hopefully) going to be really useful for the students. In fact, we even received a request today from a student in the Nursing college to get them (and the rest of the University) on board. That’s very exciting. But to be honest a picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve already practically gotten more outside activity since classes started a few weeks ago than we did throughout most of last year. I think it helped that the site was up and ready for the M1s when they arrived and we’ve been able to point out some great features it offers. Let’s hope it keeps up!

RMstudents is now a more happening place than it used to be!

RMstudents is now a more happening place than it used to be!

You also might notice that I rearranged the link structure to facilitate a more task-based approach. Hopefully it will make the website easier to use by letting people log in and get right to work doing what they came to do. To see a list of what we’ve added recently, check out the Welcome Back post.

Disease-specific Stem Cells

A recent post on Ars Technica explains how researchers are converting adult stem cells from patients with certain diseases into embryonic stem cells. This will hopefully make studying the cellular basis of diseases like Parkinson’s easier by providing a virtually unlimited supply of tissue, which was previously difficult to come by. This technique was developed for ALS, and it’s been applied to 10 new diseases.

The full list of diseases represented: adenosine deaminase deficiency-related severe combined immunodeficiency (ADA-SCID), Shwachman-Bodian-Diamond syndrome (SBDS), Gaucher disease (GD) type III, Duchenne (DMD) and Becker muscular dystrophy (BMD), Parkinson disease (PD), Huntington disease (HD), juvenile-onset, type 1 diabetes mellitus (JDM), Down syndrome (DS)/trisomy 21, and the carrier state of Lesch-Nyhan syndrome.

Sound like a list of diseases we studied in class, anyone?