Archive for July, 2009

Philanthropists in Madoff Case Respond to Allegations

The businessman and philanthropist Jeffry M. Picower and his wife, Barbara, have filed a 68-page response in court denying allegations that they bear some responsibility for the investment scandal involving Bernard Madoff, The Wall Street Journal reports.

William Zabel, a lawyer for the Picowers, said in a statement Friday that his clients “are honorable people who were deceived” by Mr. Madoff, the paper reports. He said the lawsuit against them was “riddled with significant factual errors,” and that his clients were to close their foundation as a result of their financial losses.

For more on the lawsuit and efforts by the trustee in the Madoff case to seek the return of lost investment money, read The Chronicle’s coverage.

(A paid subscription or temporary pass is required to view the Chronicle article.)

2.9 Features Vote Results

Earlier this month, over 3500 of you responded to our survey asking you to help us prioritize some of the media features that had been suggested for the 2.9 release. While the exact features for 2.9 have not been hammered out yet, as we continue to match up developers with features, we wanted to share the survey results and let you know what we’re thinking in terms of approach.

First, the results. The first question, and the only one that was mandatory, asked what single media feature you would choose to include in version 2.9. The top vote-getter was standalone editable photo albums (as opposed to the current per-post gallery) at 17.5%, followed closely by easier embeds for videos and other third-party content at 16.5%. Next came basic image editing (such as rotating, cropping and resizing) at 13.7%, and post thumbnails (image teasers for posts featured on the home page) at 12.9%. The rest of the features each took less than ten percent of the vote. The full list came in like this:

Results of question 1

The second question was optional (3406 people answered it), and asked you to rate each feature on a scale going from top priority down to definitely not for implementation priority. Results here were in line with the results from the first question, with most features rated as nice to have more often than anything else. The features that scored the highest in question 1 were more likely to have earned higher votes in the Top Priority column, but no feature was ranked as a Top Priority more often than it was ranked as a Nice to Have (though Media Albums, Easier Embeds and Post Thumbnails came close). The complete tabulations are shown in the chart below.

Results for question 2

Question three was getting at the same thing, but in a more granular fashion, asking you to rank the eleven features in order of priority to you. As only one feature could be assigned to each position, this prevented people from assigning the same priority to multiple features, and we wondered if it would alter the results. Though some features got more recognition in this question, the overall rankings were still in line with the results from question 1. Here are the exact votes per feature/per position:

Results for question 3

The fourth question asked for your preferences regarding including new media features in core, bundling them as plugins with the core download, or developing them as plugins but not bundling them with the core download. This vote was more interesting to watch. As the notice for the voting went first to the development community, then to the user community, it was possible to see a shift in the voting. Earlier in the voting cycle, there were more votes for bundling ‘core plugins’ for the advanced media features, while later votes skewed heavily toward just putting the features in core. This vote shows, I think, one of the differences between developer and user perspectives. While developers are heavily interested in keeping the core code lean and relying on plugins for advanced functionality, many users would prefer features they want to be included in core rather than being a separate plugin. The final tally on this question was 56.2% for including features in core, 38.1% for bundled plugins, and 5.7% for non-bundled plugins. The actual numbers:

Results for question 4

Clearly this issue deserves more discussion, and the concept of how we move toward a system of canonical plugins and/or core “packages” intended for different use cases (CMS, photoblog, portfolio, etc) will be a big topic in the months ahead.

So where does that leave us regarding features coming down the road? When the vote closed, the results were discussed in the #wordpress-dev IRC chat to divvy up feature development.

The top-voted feature, standalone photo albums, is being worked on as a Google Summer of Code project by Rudolf Lai, under the mentorship of WordPress Lead Developer Mark Jaquith. The “pencils down” date for GSOC is in less than two weeks, at which point we’ll be assessing the state of Rudolf’s project. Hopefully, we’ll be able to incorporate it with 2.9 development, do some testing, amend the code and/or UI as needed, and have this launch with the 2.9 release (in core or as plugin TBD). Undoubtedly, additional functionality will be contributed by core contributors who have also been working on media plugins.

Easier embeds, the second most popular feature, is being looked at in a couple of ways. One, more shortcodes for third-party services. Work on this has already begun. In addition, Viper007Bond, of Viper’s Video Quicktags plugin fame, has taken on the task of working on a way to improve the embed experience in core. We’re not sure quite how this will work yet, but stay tuned.

Adding some basic editing functions like 90-degree rotation, cropping and resizing was considered an obvious winner in the dev chat, and as several plugins handle this functionality, we’re hopeful it will be included soon.

Post thumbnails are being handled by Mark Jaquith, who has created this functionality before, with an assist from Scribu, who has a similar plugin in the repository.

Lower ranked features aren’t off the radar, but may take lower priority than some other (non-media) features we have in the works. One of my favorite 2.9 features is in trunk now, and changes the way we delete content. Goodbye, annoying popup asking me if I’m sure I want to delete a comment/post/etc. Hello, fast and quiet removal into a trash can, from which the content can be retrieved if it was deleted by accident. Think Gmail style. We’re also hoping to work on improving page management, though that has a number of technical issues that may cause it to be a 3.0 feature instead.

As always, you can keep track of development progress in a number of ways:
1. Keep track of Trac. Contribute a patch, test a patch, just read through tickets if you have some time to kill, whatever. There are over 500 tickets against the 2.9 milestone currently. Patches and testing can help us get that number down.

2. Follow Trac commits on Twitter. Don’t want to get involved in the nitty gritty, just want to see what’s getting committed? Follow wpdevel on Twitter and you’ll get core commit updates in your stream.

3. See what’s on the dev agenda. Each week for the IRC dev chat, there’s an agenda, created based on developer suggestions posted at wpdevel.wordpress.com. This blog also contains discussions about specific development issues.

4. Join the dev chat. The day changed this week, to accommodate European schedules. Chats are now held for one hour each week on Thursday at 21:00 UTC. That’s 5pm NYC, 2pm in California, etc. Chats are in the #wordpress-dev room at irc.freenode.com.

5. Watch this blog. If you’re not a developer and prefer to stick to major announcements, the occasional survey to help decide a feature, and security notices, just keep doing what you’re doing. Reading this blog will get you all of these things.

Thanks again for your help in prioritizing features for version 2.9, hopefully coming toward the end of the year to a server near you!

School Unions Pin Job Losses on Teach for America

Teach for America’s success in attracting recent college graduates to inner-city classrooms is generating a backlash among teachers’ organizations, according to USA Today.

Critics contend the nonprofit effort encourages urban school districts to replace experienced educators with neophytes who usually move on to other work after doing their two-year Teach for America stint. “I don’t think you’ll find a city that isn’t laying off people to accommodate” the organization, said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union.

Teach for America spokeswoman Kerci Marcello Stroud says the program is “just one source” for urban teachers and that its recruits must interview for jobs just like traditional applicants. The organization will place 7,300 teachers this year, up from 6,200 in 2008, and is expanding its reach from 29 to 35 metropolitan areas.

Report Foresees Tough Times for Religious Charities

Research that shows wealthy people are maintaining their giving during the recession and younger donors are becoming more active does not necessarily bode well for religious nonprofit groups, Reuters reports on its FaithWorld blog.

The recent Barclays Wealth report on giving by high earners states that arts and religious organizations face an uncertain future, with big donors telling the wealth-management house that “these causes had become less important to them over the past 10 years.” The report predicts a 16-percent drop in contributions for religious charities, while giving for health care, the environment, and children is expected to rise markedly.

In the Arts: Baltimore Symphony Extends Pay Cuts, Museum Axes Film Program

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians have agreed to extend pay cuts and furloughs they voluntarily took three months ago, further reducing the cuts in their wages for the 2009-10 season from 5.7 percent to 12.5 percent, The Washington Post reports.

The orchestra has reduced spending by 13 percent this year after being hit with a 21 percent decline in the value of its endowment and a similar drop in revenue from single-ticket sales.

In other arts news, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will end its four-decades-old weekend cinema series in October, according to the Los Angeles Times. Museum officials said the program has lost $1-million in the past decade and they want to rethink the institution’s approach to film.

Also, the Times says that the San Diego Museum has acquired a major collection of works from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the Sana Art Foundation.

And FoxNews.com reports on complaints from some conservative groups over federal stimulus grants to small San Francisco arts organizations that present sexually explicit stage and film programs.

(Free registration is required to view the Post and Times articles.)

Charity Founders Win Presidential Medals

Muhammad Yunus, whose nonprofit Grameen Bank pioneered the practice of micro-lending to benefit small businesses in the developing world, and Nancy Brinker, who founded the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity for breast-cancer research, are two recipients of President Obama’s first Presidential Medal of Freedom awards, says the White House in a news release.

Also among the 16 people who will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor is Pedro José Greer, Jr., a Miami physician who is founder of two organizations that provide medical care for disadvantaged people and a former winner of a MacArthur “genius grant.” The awards will be given on August 12.

Future in Doubt for Slain NFL Star’s Charity

The death this month of Steve McNair, the former NFL quarterback, could put an end to the work of his charity, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for hurricane relief, football camps for at-risk teenagers, and other causes, reports the Associated Press.

Don Weatherall, who helped Mr. McNair run the organization, said it is too soon to tell whether the group can continue. Police said Mr. McNair was fatally shot July 4 in Nashville by his mistress, who then killed herself.

Opinion: White House Applies Heavy Hand to Rural Philanthropy

A Wall Street Journal column contends the Obama administration wants to effectively “nationalize” rural giving by guiding nonprofit groups into select areas.

David J. Sanders, a columnist for Stephens Media, in Little Rock, Ark., said White House efforts dominated the agenda at the recent Council of Foundations conference on rural philanthropy in the Arkansas capital. Sessions included instruction on how to tap federal stimulus funds to promote sustainable energy, broadband Internet access, and other priorities for the administration.

“The government’s rural strategy seems to be based on the idea that rural America can be bought or, at least, bribed,” Mr. Sanders writes.

From The Chronicle: Doris Duke Fund Awards $44-Million for Africa

As part of an ongoing effort to help Africa, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation today is awarding $43.8-million to support primary health care on the continent — a cause that is attracting a growing amount of philanthropic support, says The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Government and Politics Watch: Senate Committee Votes on National-Service Budget

The Corporation for National and Community Service would receive about $1.15-billion, approximately the amount that President Obama requested for the agency in his proposed budget for 2010, in a bill that the Senate Appropriations Committee passed on Thursday, reports The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Government and Politics Watch blog.