The Story of One New Bathroom Fan

Okay, I get it. A blog post about a bathroom fan lacks the excitement you might be looking for in your reading on the web. But I promise the story of how this bathroom fan ended up looking just right has a few twists and turns.

It started one Sunday afternoon while I was on vacation. After some research, I decided I wanted to tackle replacing the semi-functional fan in our master bathroom. I say semi-functional because it worked, but didn’t do a good job of lifting the moisture out of the room.

I tracked down a fan at Home Depot made by the same vender as the current mode. It also fit perfectly in my current hole, about a nine inch by nine inch space. So far so good.

I started to take the old one out, and began running into problems as soon as I pulled out the old motor, unhooked the electrical wiring and had nothing left but the metal housing. I couldn’t get the thing out no matter how hard I tried. I didn’t see any screws either. So I did what anyone else would do. I started bending the heck out of the housing, to try and see what I was dealing with behind it. After fighting with it for about an hour, I gave up for the day.

The next day, I came at it with a fresh perspective. After bending the metal housing up more, I could see the problem. It was nailed to the joists in multiple spots, instead of screwed. That posed a problem because I couldn’t get anything in the space with enough leverage to pry out the nails. Plus, one corner of the housing sat between two joists, fastened with a nail. That made it near impossible to get this thing out.

After yet more research, and a chat with my dad, I decided to saw it out. To Lowes I went in search for a hacksaw small enough to fit in the space and cut through metal and nails. I found one and a few hours later I had the housing out. Success!

Disassembled bathroom fan, badly damaged
The old fan.

You might think I was close to done. You’d be wrong. Once I examined the duct work in the ceiling, I discovered it was three inches in diameter, not the four inches in diameter needed for the new fan. That meant I had to buy an adapter or “reducer” to make the everything fit. I did. Twice. First a plastic one, then a metal one. The plastic one proved impossible to make fit. The metal one fit, after I learned how to crimp it. However, it wouldn’t stay once I tried to attach the fan to it.

At this point I nearly gave up. I’d fought with trying to install this new fan for the better part of a week. I called it quits for almost another full week as I debated my next move. My wife showed incredible patience while we had a giant hole in the ceiling, used flashlights to find stuff and dealt with my indecision. She kept encouraging me though, saying I could finish it.

I believed her. And decided to replace the existing duct work for an easier fit, thanks to more advise from my dad and family. The old stuff turned out to be flume pipe, not flexible and not great for connecting to the fan. I had the old duct work out and the new stuff in in less than an hour. I finished that same day! Better yet, it worked perfectly!

Bathroom fan, installed in ceiling
The new fan – working!

Now, I’m plotting my next home improvement project with more experience and confidence.

Jan. 20, 2017

So this happened. Plus, a lot more since, of course.

I’ve gone through my own set of feelings after Donald Trump’s election. Sadness. Anger. Fear. Apathy. But right now, I’m somewhere between resilience and hope.

Why, you ask? History tells me that we, as a country, have overcome many extraordinary challenges. Having electoral power shift from one end of the spectrum to the other from time to time can be a good thing. And I do believe that people possess more good in them than bad. Somewhere in there exists a path to find common ground.

I’m not going to lie, I have my reservations. Many of them. I don’t believe anything Trump says. He hasn’t given me a reason to do so. His rhetoric carries much hate and falsities. His actions back this up. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where climate change is real and addressed. Where basic healthcare is a right. Where people look at her for her ideas and contributions, not her body. Where, no matter her sexual orientation, she’s treated with dignity and respect. He doesn’t support any of those values.

All that said, I realize that being white and a man, I’m not in real danger of losing any of my own rights. All the more reason for me do more of what needs to be done in a world where Trump commands the highest office in the land. Engage with people. Listen to them. Take action. Show empathy.

That last piece may be the most important. I believe it’s what many Americans have forgotten. Regardless of your political leanings, showing empathy matters. Its nature requires displaying respect for others and acknowledging differences. Those differences give our democracy strength. The thing that fuels my resilience and hope hasn’t changed because of the election. I still want to help accomplish the same ideals for all of us. Now, I just need to be more vigilant and work harder to help get there.

Experiment: I Quit Coffee

Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I just drink decaf now.

I wrote recently about wanting to experiment more in 2017, and this turned into the first one. I started this late last year, and have stuck to it so far.

I had help. My wife, Joeleen, quit regular coffee when she found out she was pregnant with our daughter. I wanted to follow her, but never had the guts to take the leap. Two-plus years later, I hated how I felt when I missed getting my regular coffee. I got headaches, and felt horrible – all expected when you’re hooked on caffeine.

I’ve been on decaf for a month now, tapering off slowly by mixing decaf with my regular blend when grinding beans each morning. I don’t miss it because I still get that ritual of drinking coffee. Plus, I’m drinking less coffee, and trying out tea occasionally too.

This isn’t the biggest or most ground-breaking personal experiment. But it has given me the freedom to try other beverages, and feel better if I miss my morning cup of joe. I’m hoping to stick with it.


A new year starts tomorrow so I’m thinking about where I’ve been and what’s ahead.

Like the last few years, I’m focusing on personal focuses rather than work ones. But this year has turned out amazing at work, getting commit access for themes for WordPress and helping release Twenty Seventeen. Plus, lots of work on Components, a new project from the Automattic Theme Team.

Last Year

I had three main goals last year:

Schedule two hours a week of thinking time for myself. I kept up with this for most of the year. According to Habit List, I completed both 95 percent of the time, on average. Usually, I thought through things after my morning coffee or before bed. The habit has made me more mindful of my reactions and my mistakes throughout the week, meaning I’m more apt to course correct when necessary.

Listen more. I don’t think I made the type of progress I wanted to on this one. Some things helped here, like the month or so I spent without Facebook and Twitter on my phone or the general simplifying I’ve done in my life. But I think I could still be more present in conversations and life. It’s subjective, but I’m trying to be honest with myself. Hopefully, the awareness leads to further incremental improvement.

Make progress on a book about accessibility. I didn’t make progress here either. However, I did keep an accessibility newsletter going on and off throughout the year. I started that as a way to get writing more about the topic and it worked. I also received good feedback on the newsletter when it was active so I have a base to keep building on for the future.

Next Year

I wouldn’t call these resolutions or goals, but focuses. Because I don’t want to make a giant goal that I struggle to break down into actionable steps as in the past. Instead, I want to focus on my personal passions and let them help lead me to a better place.

Writing: I’ve always loved writing, and I always feel more productive with my web development work when I write more. So I want to focus on it this year. That means returning more to my blog, where I wrote for 80-plus days in 2015. It also means relaunching Accessibility Weekly and keeping it going strong with original writing and curation.

Experiments: I moved twice this year, so I naturally simplified my life, jettisoning a lot of needless stuff. I’ve started to embrace minimalism and productivity, looking for ways I can do more with less. In reading a few new blogs and listening to some new podcasts, I like the idea of doing small experiments in life to make yourself uncomfortable. Just last week, I kicked regular coffee. It’s freeing to try something different to alter your perspective. In 2017, I want to try as many experiments as I can, especially a 30-day minimalist challenge and starting a bodyweight-only exercise program.

See you in the new year!

Previous years: 20162015201420122011.


I stumbled across a cool project about now pages, thanks to cheking out Melanie Richards’ site. You focus the content around one conversation starter:

Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year.

I dig the idea so I made my own, converting an old reading list page that I hardly used.

I’m aiming to check on it once a month and update it as necessary. It fits in nicely with the minimalist living I’ve strived for in the last year or so.


Two weeks ago I listened to Norman Casiano, a victim of the attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, tell his story. I still hear the fear and force in his voice. You can’t listen to him and not think that something has to be done about not just gun control, but the lack of equality and empathy in America. That change starts with listening. To each other.

This shooting shook me more than others. Maybe because it happened in my home state. Maybe I’m scared of the world that my daughter is growing up in. Maybe I’ve hit my limit of inaction. I keep thinking of one of my favorite quotes from one of my heros, Harry T. Moore:

“Freedom never descends upon a people. It is always bought with a price.”

Finding Home

Thanks, David. Stay in touch. –Philip
A note on the back of my last paycheck, handwritten by my former boss, from the grocery store I worked at in Asheville, N.C. We moved from there to Greensboro for the first time in 2008. I found the note this week while packing.

I’m lucky. I work for a company that allows me to work from anywhere. Knowing that, it almost seems counterintuitive to want to tie yourself down to any one place. Why settle for home being one place when it could be different whenever you wanted? And if you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I found myself trying to answer those questions over the past year. We’ll load a truck in just a few days, but it doesn’t feel that soon. I didn’t expect the answers I found, but I know they feel right, so I’ll be saying goodbye to the Washington, D.C. area and heading back to Greensboro, North Carolina.

I lived in North Carolina for almost three years from 2007 to 2010 while finding my way to my current career and attending graduate school at Elon University. I left looking to land a job, and did that, working in downtown Washington D.C. for a national nonprofit and later a government agency. It turned out to be a chance of a lifetime because I got to help out with some amazing projects. The Washington, D.C. area turned out to be where I made myself professionally.

It was here where I learned WordPress deeply and got hooked on its community of passionate, friendly people. I met many of them at the regular WordPress D.C. meetup. I also dove into the world of accessibility thanks to working for a disability organization and in the government, places where accessibility is paramount. I leave a better person and web developer than when I arrived.

In the almost-six years here, my wife and I also had a daughter who’s become the center of our lives. She surprises us each day with how she learns and grows. As a result, she pushes us to learn and grow in new ways too. I’m excited more and more each day with what she does and where it takes all of us.

This area never felt permanent or like home. We came here, both my wife and I, to better our careers. Now that we’ve done that, and our lives have evolved, we wanted a change. I confess I never imagined moving back to North Carolina. We looked at Florida (where I’m from), Pittsburgh and a few other spots. Turns out Greensboro just felt right. It’s a place we know, because we lived close by before and always visited. It has a lot of the benefits of a big city, but few of the hassles. It’s central to the mountains and the beach, perfect for quick trips and vacations. The cost of living is reasonable and the weather is terrific. Plus, we already have friends there, and it’s an easy trip to get to many family members.

That doesn’t mean leaving the D.C. area will be easy. We’re leaving behind some great connections and friends, but are excited for new beginnings in Greensboro. I can’t wait to start this part of our lives!

Number 37

Yesterday, I turned 37, and got carded at dinner by my waitress. To be honest, she was likely carding my wife, and asking for mine to be polite. It’s okay – I’ll take it. I had tacos and beer, so it was really just a bonus.

Well, I’m officially in my late thirties. While that scares me a bit, I can honestly say that being older means I just worry less about things that don’t matter. In the last year, I’ve tried to focus on the small details that go a long way.

I started using Habit List to track non-digital habits I wanted to strengthen, like reading, playing with my daughter and writing.  I blogged a lot more too, dogfooding my company’s new product. I’ve continued to contribute to WordPress, going to this year’s Community Summit, and presenting at WordCamp U.S. But the biggest undertaking of the year has been looking for a new place to live. More on that later.

In the next year, I’m aiming to continue to focus on the small details and keep building on the habits I’ve formed. I’m also looking forward to moving, and jettisoning some of the things I don’t need anymore.

I experienced less gigantic life changes this year, but I started processes that will mean gigantic changes in the end.

Related: Number 36, Number 34.

More Parenting Advice, Sorry

So I’ve handed out some parenting advice before to one of my colleagues. Today, we chatted about him joining the ranks of fatherhood any day. I had more advice – even though I got annoyed when people constantly gave me advice when they found out I was going to be a dad soon. 🙂

Advice for being a dad, or questions to ask yourself when your baby is doing something new:

  1. Is this a safety issue?
  2. Will this end in forming bad habits?

If no on both, try to talk to them about what’s happening and teach them something new.

If yes, correct the issue (or clean up the mess) as best as you can.

Then, always end by making a funny face or weird noise to go for laughs and smiles.

This has worked well for me so far.


We’re at the dawn of a new year. I’ve always tried to take a critical look at the past year and look ahead to what’s next around this time, and this year is no different.

Last Year

I focused on habits in 2015, and had some decent success. I wanted to:

  • average at least eight posts a month on my blog. Accomplished: I averaged 15 posts a month, with most of my blogging happening before the fall when I trailed off. I had an 86-day streak, and my most popular post was Thinking About Web Accessibility Differently.
  • try one new recipe a month. I only did this for January and February, so I’ll have to do better this year. I did cook more, just not as many new dishes as I had hoped.
  • keep contributing to my two favorite open source projects: WordPress and Underscores. I did that, helping make Underscores more accessible, and contributing more to default themes for WordPress and reviewing themes for accessibility as part of the accessibility-ready tag.
  • pick back up regular exercise. I did this, joining a new CrossFit gym in April and going about twice a week most weeks.

This Year

With last year’s focus on habits, I obviously want to keep the habits going, and continue work on the one that I didn’t do as well forming. Aside from that, I want to take a different approach to 2016. I’d like to focus on three habits and/or goals:

1. Schedule two hours a week of thinking time for myself. I read a post about this recently, and liked the idea of having time to just think through whatever challenges, strategies or ideas that came to mind. No other agenda. One hour will be for work and one hour will be personal. I’ll set this in Habit List as a reminder for myself.

2. Listen more. I realized as I do almost every year when I tried to come up with Christmas gift ideas for family and close friends that I struggled mightily. I let life get in the way of this, checking my phone constantly, and wasting time on other distractions. I want to know people better, and build a foundation for a more thoughtful life. One where I pick up on more of the simple, but essential joys of life. I believe that won’t happen unless I’m a better listener. I’m not sure how I’ll track this, but I plan to set a reminder in Habit List for every quarter and ask my wife, Joeleen, how I’m doing with this. She’s always honest with me, and will be the one person who will know if I’m doing better.

3. Make progress on a book about accessibility. That’s hard to write because it’s scary to put out there. I’ve always had a goal of writing a book, and I think I now have a subject and idea where I can contribute something new and worthwhile to my field. I’ll count “progress” as almost anything, including something as simple as finishing an outline for the book. I’d also say I’m open to it being different than a traditional book because it’s more important to me that I author something than what the format might be.

Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011.

See you in the new year!