Update: problem resolved. User error (but you’d probably already guessed that!)
The goal this afternoon … walk five communication students through setting up WordPress on their UW student accounts. Armed with the UW step-by-step instructions and with the help of Kristina Bowman, it seemed doable. After all, Kristina and I had both done this before.
Well, it wasn’t doable.
After two hours, the students left the lab disappointed. They were far more familiar with “pico” and “cd” and “ls” than they ever wanted to be, I’m certain.
I uninstalled, reinstalled; uninstalled, reinstalled. I found one place — ONE — where I’d made a mistake the first walk-through. But even that wasn’t enough to make phpMyAdmin work (although it did result in a different error message) or cause WordPress to complete its installation.
Here We Go
Computing services has a few relevant “how to” pages:
(1) The first prerequisite is mysql. We successfully got mysql running (step 11). However, everyone ran into an error when trying to grant privileges to “root@” … “grant command not found” (step 9). 
(2) Nevertheless, we moved to on phpMyAdmin installation. Several of us had problems. The tutorial says:
The phpmyadmin configuration script hasn’t been working very well.
You can say that again. We had a 25 percent success rate; everyone else had create a config.inc.php file from scratch and then copy-and-paste from the tutorial, followed by an edit, per the tutorial.
We were then able to set up phpMyAdmin, but were unable to administer the account: “Host ‘courses02.u.washington.edu’ is not allowed to connect to this MySQL server”. Huh? Is this related to the inability to “grant” privileges while setting up mysql? [In the off chance that the courses alias is linked with the student server, I substituted “vergil.u.washington.edu” for “ovid.u.washington.edu” … and got the same error message.]
(3) Not terribly surprising, WordPress would not install either. I know that the login information is correct (root, mysql-password). And the path to the database server is also correct. So what gives?
The WordPress installation tutorial has two prereqs. The first, get mysql running, is clear (and there is a link to the tutorial, even if following it was less than successful). The second, related to the php.ini file, not so much:
Before you install a PHP application on your account you should configure your php.ini file. In order to do this you need to copy the file to your public_html directory and then edit any settings you need to change. You should at least edit the upload_tmp_dir setting. Depending on the application and how you’re using it, other settings might also be a good idea.
I talked to a WordPress-savvy admin who helped me find the ini file; I then edited it per the “minimum” (upload_tmp_dir) recommendation.
After writing this, I started thinking about permissions. So I tried to shut down mysql. Something is clearly amiss, however, because I cannot (and yes, I know the password):
-psh-2.05b$ ./bin/mysqladmin -u root -p shutdownEnter password:./bin/mysqladmin: connect to server at ‘localhost’ failederror: ‘Access denied for user ‘root’@’localhost’ (using password: YES)’
I tried to reset the mysql password. After all, if I can’t stop the process, there’s something bad happening with authentication. I followed this UW tutorial. Copy and paste instruction set failed here, too.
So, one more time, delete the mysql installation.
Catalyst Call Thursday
Thursday I’ll get on the phone to Catalyst and see if they can figure out what went wrong. Fingers crossed.
 I was right to identify the problem as being permissions.
The instructions say “type these commands” when issuing mysql commands. But I was still “copying-and-pasting” like I’d been doing with the UNIX commands. However, in mysql, the backspace key kicks you “out” – you go back into shell prompt. So when I’d try to backspace to change “password” to the password in order to grant permissions … I’d get kicked back to shell prompt. However, I wasn’t “seeing” the difference. Hats off to Nick, who spotted it!