Blog entries from October, 2009

A brand new site in 8 hours

Friday, October 23rd, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Three days ago I became the webmaster of the Waverley Camera Club. Tonight I rolled out a brand new site that combined the existing static content with existing posts from an external blogspot blog.

Around about 8 hours of effort. Most of that was working my way through the migrated posts to both sort out better categories and to remove garbage markup that screwed up the rendering.

I also hadn’t planned to release the site so soon, but my testing/experimentation was going so well that it would have been a shame not do.

How?

By using WordPress and making the decision that I would just assemble the pieces, I avoid writing code.

I chose WordPress for two reasons. One is that I am familiar with it and two that I knew it would be suitable for what we need the site to do at the moment. In the future I know it won’t be suitable if we proceed with some of the ideas that have been talked about.

Once I knew I would be using the latest version of WordPress my next decision to make would be how the site looked. To avoid the hassle of designing and then building a theme, I turned to the Free WordPress Themes directory. I wasn’t there for long as there were a couple of possibilities in the featured themes list. After running them by another committee member I decided to go with Pixel. The deciding factor was the info box at the top of the sidebar where we could put the club’s logo.

It was at this point that I started the largest task: importing the existing posts from blogspot. That specific task was easy using the import tool. What took time was going through each of the 140 posts to set a new category and to check that the post would render. I couldn’t believe how much crap had been added by blogspot. The biggest issue was badly nested divs, but second to that was the apparent random application of fonts and colours.

In the midst of this work I also played around with the widgets to customise what was in the sidebar and footer. It was only once there was content that widgets such as recent posts would make sense. This also allowed me to add the credit to the footer which is part of the conditions of the free hosting for non-profits. If it weren’t for the widgets my approach would have been to edit the theme.

But that isn’t to say that I have not modified the theme. Although the theme was working quite nicely, there were a couple of niggles. One was that in the header the tag line was too dark to be read, and another was that an empty box was showing below posts that would contain tags, if we were going to use them.

A while ago I read about WordPress theme inheritance where you can selectively override parts of another theme. So that’s what I did and my only changes were two CSS statements, one to change the text colour and another to hide the tag box. I later added a 404.php to give a slightly better not found page.

And that’s mostly it, except for some additional plugins that are quite nice to have:

Of course there is still content to migrate from the old site and it hasn’t yet had any real use. But that is for later.

Tagged with: , ,

Want some Lego or old Apples?

Sunday, October 18th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

It’s been an afternoon of sorting and then listing items on eBay.

First was a couple of the Lego sets from the bulk lot I picked up a few weeks ago. I am keeping the car chassis and the pneumatic excavator, but I am selling the others as I have no real interest in them.

I also continued with the downsizing:

Tagged with: , ,

Thinking about moving my email into the ‘cloud’

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Despite what I have said in the past, my mind is gradually changing in regard to moving my email up into Gmail instead of hosting it myself on my home linux box.

What has changed?

Since my previous comments I have played around a bit more with Gmail (in no small part due to work) and I am starting to think that the conversation and label model might work better for me.

Currently I file both messages I receive and messages I send (for some topics) in the same folder. The benefit is that I can then see all messages in the thread in one place. While a downside is that there is no longer a copy in my sent folder. Conversations give me the benefit, without that downside.

Another advantage is that messages can be labelled and still be in my inbox. So I can choose to still have some mailing lists appear in my inbox, but once I have read it I will archive instead of delete. The message will then only appear under the label (and all mail.)

Currently I need to either rememer to check the folder for that list, or once I have read the message I need to move it to the correct folder. I have found both approaches to be problematic.

But Gmail is not without it’s disadvantages.

The primary copy of my mail will now be in the cloud (again shown to have it’s problems) so I need to make sure that I have an automated backup (offlineimap run from cron should suit) and I will need an Internet connection to access my mail (also needed everywhere except home)

The bulk of my investigations have been into how well the labels and conversations work with IMAP. I have found that if a single message of a conversation has a label, the web interface makes it appear as if the conversation has the label. But over IMAP only the message with the label is in the folder. So to get the most advantage of labels I would need to use the web interface.

My next concern is how I manage forwards/nicknames/aliases as I currently have a single mailbox, but over 200 forwards. Almost everytime something needs an email address I will create a new forward. This makes it very clear who leaked/sold my email address to a spammer. If I were to use Google Apps, it appears that there is a limit of 30 nicknames per mailbox. Not early enough. Although it won’t be as convenient, I could continue to manage the forwards my domain host.

I think that I am at the stage where I will give it a try by redirecting my mail and I won’t move all of my existing mail over until I am satisfied. This should also give me an idea of what mail functionality I actually need on my iPhone.

Tagged with: , ,

Thoughts on Google Wave

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 9:41 am

As plenty of other people have been ranting and raving about Google Wave, I have deliberately kept my distance. Although I am waiting for the dust to settle, I have not have ignored it entirely. Thanks to an invite from someone at work I do have a wave account, but apart from playing with it for a few minutes I’m going to leave it alone, for now.

When I first heard about wave the common description was one of email if email were to be invented today. So when I started to watch the Google I/O video my first impression was that it was the old concept of the universal/unified inbox.

This is an inbox that isn’t just email, it is an inbox that also has instant messages and other notifications. As a concept this is something that has been around for a while. Actually, it is sort of what I am doing by reading RSS feeds via my inbox.

When they demonstrated how a wave could be used ouside of the wave client, such as as a blog post, my thought was actually the opposite. For wave to take off it would be essential for it to integrate with non-wave systems.

For anything with an RSS feed this should be possible with robots.

Take an existing blog, if it is using one of the main blogging platforms (WordPress et al) it will have an RSS feed for posts and then for each post an RSS feed for comments. The blog owner does nothing, yet the wave user could add the post RSS feed. The result would be that the wave user then sees each post as a new wave and as comments are made on the blog they appear in the wave. The wave robot could also be smart enough to post the wave users reply as a comment.

Of course this wouldn’t be the full wave experience (the initial post in the wave would be read only and the wave user cannot reply inline) but it would bring the systems together.

I also thought about existing wikis. It could be quite useful to bring a wiki topic in as a wave. You would then be able to playback the history of that topic and even edit it inline, providing the robot is smart enough.

You will notice that I am not talking about the new features of wave. I don’t have to, there are plenty of others doing that and I prefer to be cautious about new things. What if wave tanks? What if, like the recent Sidekick failure, it loses all your data?

I believe that the key to wave’s success will be for it to embrace non-wave services. People don’t want to be forced to maintain two separate systems, yet they need to be able to keep interacting with the people they currently interact with.

I have already spoken to some people about my opinions, and one of them asked about the success of Gmail. Gmail was different as it is essentially a new client for an old system. Once you switched to Gmail you could still communicate with people who were on other email systems.

This talk of changing from one method of communication to another reminded me of an article from a few days ago. While I can’t find it again, it was declaring that email was dead in favour of social network sites. The commentary on the article was pointing out that once a method is popular it will last for a lot longer than you would think. For example how many businesses still rely on the fax machine? Indeed, it was only yesterday that I had to post a paper form in order to change some bank details.

This is enough for now as I didn’t expect to write this much. I will be keeping an eye on Google Wave, but I’m lagging behind the rest of the cool kids as I’m contemplating changing my previous position by moving my email to Gmail…

Tagged with: ,

Feeling good about “blue”

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Being the first Tuesday of the month, tonight was judging night at the Waverley Camera Club where the topic was “blue”.

But what is blue? Is it the colour? What about the mood, such as depression? Or sex, such as a blue movie?

My first idea involved taking a lego car outside:

LEGO off-road

Yes, it is just a blue toy in the garden, but I spent quite a while shooting this in various locations until I thought it conveyed a sense of action. With the dirt on the wheels I can imagine that it is driving up into the frame.

The judge awarded this a highly commended.

Next I spent a lot of time thinking about how to convey the colour blue, but not necessarily with the colour blue. For this I turned to the drawer full of games and was able to assemble a few variations of the word ‘blue’ from non-blue coloured blocks.

But then I started playing around with a Scrabble set and the Wikipedia shades of blue category:

Shades of Scrabble

I spent hours playing around with different words layouts and lighting until I was happy with the photo above. But I also had a close alternative image that I would have titled “3-1-1-1”. What that photo would have been is an exercise for the reader.

This print was awarded a merit.

After spending a considerable amount of time on the two printed images, I was lazy with the digital images and ended up picking two that I had taken previously, one from Melbourne Photo Walk #3, and one from the night after the photo walk.

This HDR shot of Eureka was a no brainer due to the sheer amount of blue. The entry was further cropped down to remove a tree from the bottom corner:

Eureka

This was awarded a merit.

My final image is one that I quite liked, but I considered it flawed because the subject was flawed:

Giant Sky Wheel

The flaws are evident in the lights of the ferris wheel, some sections are not lighting up and other sections are stuck on the wrong colour.

The judge obviously didn’t care about those flaws and he awarded this the image of the month in the B grade digital category. I was pleasantly surprised.

This is my highest result so far, with all four of my photos receiving an award. This also means that, at this rate, my aggregate score will soon be high enough to push me up into A grade. I welcome the challenge.

Tagged with: ,