A slow-motion apocalypse

I could be talking about any number of current events with a title like that, but in this case I’m referring to last September’s “SSL Apocalypse” that came due to the expiration of an X3 root certificate used by Let’s Encrypt when connecting to really old client OSes. (Not that users think their computers/devices are really old, but in Internet terms, they are.)

Now, over six months later, I am still sporadically dealing with this issue. I was responding this morning to a client about the issue, and I wanted to email her a link to the blog post I remembered writing on the day it happened. But, maddeningly, I could not find it anywhere here.

That’s when I remembered, I actually have two blogs.

So, in a simultaneous act of self-promotion and, uh, self-reminding, here’s a link to that post on my other blog, on the site for my WordPress plugin ICS Calendar:

Unexpected Side Effects of the Let’s Encrypt Apocalypse

There we go. Now you know about ICS Calendar, and I won’t think I’m losing my mind when I come back here in another six months and can’t figure out where the heck this blog post went!

How to make the WooCommerce main shop page show featured products only in 2022

Sorry for the click-bait-y title (especially the “in 2022” part), but I searched fruitlessly for way too long and found too many woefully outdated answers to this. Ultimately what I found still wasn’t quite the complete answer, so I modified it a bit myself to arrive at the following.

The goal here is, as the title suggests, to get the WooCommerce main shop page to only show your featured products. Why this isn’t just a checkbox option in WooCommerce is beyond me. But then a lot of the decisions made by the WooCommerce dev team are beyond me. (Excuse me, Professor Brainiac, but I’ve built e-commerce platforms from scratch and, uh, I think I know how a proton accelerator… oh wait, never mind.)

Anyway, this is it:

add_action('woocommerce_product_query', function($query) {
    if (is_shop()) {
        $query->set('tax_query', array(array(
            'taxonomy' => 'product_visibility',
            'field' => 'name',
            'terms' => 'featured',
            'operator' => 'IN',
        )));
    }
});

What exactly is happening here? Well, as noted by the most helpful resource I found, since WooCommerce 3 (currently on 6.1.1), the “featured” status has been handled by the product_visibility taxonomy, and not by the _featured post meta field. So this needs a tax_query and not a meta_query.

Beyond that, we’re making an extra check that we’re on the shop main page — so this doesn’t affect category archive pages. And we’re using the woocommerce_product_query hook, not pre_get_posts as some other examples suggest, so it only runs on WooCommerce queries and we can skip adding extra conditionals for pre_get_posts to run on, you know, every single post query on every page of the site, including admin.

That’s all there is to it. Now your main WooCommerce shop page will only display featured products, and nothing else changes.

Please think twice before leaving a flippant negative review

Last week I launched a new WordPress plugin, No Nonsense, and much to my surprise, it started to pick up steam after just a couple of days. It turns out, it got featured with a nice review on WP Tavern, and people took notice.

Unfortunately, almost immediately, it got a couple of really negative reviews, both of which were clearly dashed off with very little thought, or apparently even the slightest bit of effort on the part of the reviewers to try to determine the cause of their issues before leaving a negative review — rather than submitting a support ticket, which would be the correct channel for addressing a problem… if they actually wanted to solve it.

I take pride in the quality of my work, and I try hard to make sure it performs flawlessly. I respond quickly to any issues — even for a free plugin like this — because I want to make things right. So it is really painful to have the product of my efforts permanently stained with a negative review by someone who can’t be bothered to take the time to write a single cohesive sentence detailing the issues they had with it.

I understand the temptation to rip on something you think is garbage, and I’ve left a few one-star plugin reviews myself. But I feel it’s important to at least explain in detailed and objective terms why I think something is bad. And maybe if it’s clearly something brand new, I’d wait a while to see if the creators take the time to work out the kinks first.

So, no matter what you do, no matter where you are, if you are in a position to criticize someone else’s work, I implore you to take a second and think about the impact you might be having on that person and on what they’re trying to accomplish, and whether or not your criticism is truly valid and warranted. Perhaps it is not, in which case, I would respectfully suggest you stay quiet. But maybe it is. In that case, think about whether a terse and flippant negative review is really the best way you can contribute to improving the situation, or if there’s a more effective, more constructive way to share your input.

New WordPress plugin: Remove Broken Images

If you have a WordPress blog dating back many, many years, and you’ve just completed a massive cleanup of images from your Media Library, or if you just have any other reason why there might be a bunch of <img> tags in your blog posts that no longer go anywhere, you may be wondering if there’s an easy way to just, you know, have those annoying broken image icons not show up all over your pages.

Now there’s a way!

OK, actually there already were a few different ways, via free plugins, but as is so often the case with a lot of these types of small, single-purpose plugins, I find they’re almost always either really clumsily written, overloaded with unnecessary features, or both.

So I wrote my own.

This plugin couldn’t be simpler. It assumes that you just don’t want to display broken images — whether that’s the ugly little “missing image” icon some browsers display, the large outlined box containing an ugly little icon and the missing image’s “alt” text, or just a big blank white space. It doesn’t have an option for showing a different, placeholder image. Because, let’s be honest, that doesn’t look good… especially if you have more than a few of these to deal with. Having the same placeholder appear all over your site looks as bad as having broken image icons everywhere.

The plugin relies on the JavaScript error event, and uses some very compact jQuery code to remove any <img> tags that trigger the error, and their containing link and caption element, if present.

The end result is a clean looking blog with no indications whatsoever that anything is missing. Unless the text of your blog post describes the image in excruciating detail. In that case… you’ll just have to wait for version 2.

You can download Remove Broken Images right now from the WordPress Plugin Directory.

How did I not know about ClassicPress before now?

ClassicPressI’ve been using WordPress for 15 years, and have made it my go-to platform for all new websites I’ve built since 2014. So how is it that it took me three years to discover that ClassicPress exists, especially since its whole raison d’être is to keep the pre-Gutenberg dream of WordPress alive?

On one hand, being a solo developer — even before the pandemic — has always kept me a bit out-of-the-loop, especially since I don’t attend conferences. But I suspect the fact that I knew nothing of this also speaks negatively to the project’s future.

Is it gaining enough traction to continue to exist? Is it really a viable option to use on new professional projects in 2021?

Has the Gutenberg ship sailed? Well, yes, it has. But my issues with the current and future state of WordPress go beyond Gutenberg, to the nature of Automattic’s role in steering the ship, the greater vision of what WordPress is and should become, and… well… Matt Mullenweg’s personality. I feel like the future of WordPress is increasingly diverging from what I hoped to get out of it as a platform, and it’s clear that I’m not alone. That’s why ClassicPress exists.

There are a lot of things to like about ClassicPress, right out of the gate, besides the most obvious element, which is the absence of anything Gutenberg. It does away with a lot of the cutesy crap that’s rolled into WordPress by default, not least of which being the annoying proliferation of the word “howdy” and the beyond-pointless-to-actively-detrimental* plugin Hello Dolly.

As I look to my own future with WordPress and/or ClassicPress, I am primarily thinking about two things: 1) how/if I will continue to use it as the platform of choice for client projects, and 2) what the future will be for the plugins I have contributed to the WordPress community, and more specifically, my commercial plugin, ICS Calendar Pro.

I’ve been struggling with these matters for almost four years now, ever since Gutenberg emerged on the scene and went through its early phases of absolutely sucking, to its too-soon release as the default WordPress editor, to its current state as a mostly good but highly quirky and weirdly limited page building tool.

The timing was not great for me, as I had just recently gone “all-in” on 34 Blocks, my own block-based starter theme that I have been using to create all of my client sites since 2017. It started from a series of one-off client themes beginning around 2015 and is built around Advanced Custom Fields and its “Flexible Content” fields. It’s all much more in line with what “WordPress” has always meant to me. But as WordPress becomes Gutenberg, my vision of what this tool is and the reality of what it has become are increasingly at odds.

In those four years I’ve been bouncing around between several different ideas:

  • Suck it up and finally embrace Gutenberg development, learning a bunch of new stuff like React, in which I am not only wholly disinterested but with which I philosophically disagree?
  • Cling for dear life to Classic Editor and pray the gods of Automattic keep it on life support?
  • Switch to an entirely new platform, whether that might be another open source or commercial CMS, or a complete SaaS approach like Squarespace?
  • Get out of the web development business entirely?

So far, I’ve mostly stuck with “cling for dear life to Classic Editor” although I have been tempted a great many times to “get out entirely.” My enthusiasm for this field hasn’t been helped by things like the caustic toxicity of social media, the rise of absolutely godawful and not-at-all-intuitive-regardless-of-their-claims-to-such interface concepts (see: Google’s Material Design), and technical snafus like Digital Ocean’s entire subnet getting spam blacklisted and them doing absolutely zero to rectify the situation.

I’ve been taking baby steps towards making sure I’m not caught out when/if they pull the plug on Classic Editor. My 34 Blocks theme is to the point where it works adequately in the Gutenberg environment, and I’m even moving it towards a potential future where I would scrap my ACF Flexible Content blocks altogether, in favor of Gutenberg blocks.

But I’ve also made sure ICS Calendar is backward-compatible with WordPress 4.9, so it works with ClassicPress. And I’m still looking at other tools, now and again, in case I need to switch directions entirely.

It’s happened before. After the first half of my career consisted largely of building “bespoke” CMSes for corporate overlords, I went out on my own. From 2008 to 2014 I sunk thousands of hours into the development of a feature-rich, completely custom-built CMS based on the CakePHP framework, which I used to create about 10 client sites per year throughout that period.

But the writing was on the wall for that project when I found it impractical to upgrade the CakePHP core past version 1.3, which was incompatible with PHP 7. (CakePHP is currently up to version 4.1 and now requires a minimum of PHP 7.2, for an indication of just how doomed my old CMS project was.) By 2014 I gave up on it and switched to WordPress. Has the time come to move on again? If so, I feel like in some ways, switching to ClassicPress would be a step backwards, or at best a lateral move, and would not set me up well for the future.

Where does that leave me? I don’t know. There are options. But embracing Gutenberg and the future of WordPress is not at the top of the list. If anything, it’s never been lower.

* Why is Hello Dolly detrimental? The justification for its inclusion in the default WordPress build is that it is a demo for new developers to learn how to build a WordPress plugin. The problem is, it’s a terrible, no good, entirely wrong example of a plugin. It’s ancient and doesn’t conform to any modern WordPress coding standards, and it’s so rudimentary that there’s no useful structure to build on for people who want to create an actually useful plugin. So why is it still included? I don’t buy the “demo” argument. It’s still there because Matt wants it to be, and that in a nutshell is my problem with Automattic running the show. (I mean look, he even “cleverly” misspelled the company name so his own fucking name is embedded in it. That annoys me every damn time I see it… almost as much as “howdy.”)