Week Notes: 20 December 2013

This week we have mostly been launching this:

New Edge Hill University homepage
New Edge Hill University homepage

We’ll blog more about it after the Christmas break but a few interesting points below:

  • New server build to support the new WordPress powered homepage.
  • Varnish caching layer to make page serve times fly!
  • New Faculty of Arts and Sciences website.
  • Lots of support to departments updating their staff profiles.
  • Discussions about promotion of the National Student Survey.
  • Meeting with Learning Services to look at moving their site to new WordPress theme.
  • Meeting with Media about their website.
  • Meeting with Performing Arts about their website. (Can you see a pattern yet?!)
  • Probably some other things I’ve forgotten about following the IT Services meal out yesterday.
  • JIRA – Created: 29; Resolved: 32
  • RMS – Created: 15; Cleared: 18

This will be the last Friday week notes of 2013 – please let us know in the comments if you’ve found them useful.

I’ll leave you with a look at where we’ve come from:

Week Notes: 13 December

  • WordPress 3.8 is now running on both blogs.edgehill.ac.uk and the Corporate Website. There are lots of new features covered in the video below but if you’re an editor and want the old colour scheme back then get choose light from the edit profile page.
  • Updated the Web Services blog to the latest Twenty Fourteen theme – hope you like reading our posts!
  • Testing JS Hacks on Blackboard to more closely integrate with other staff- and student-facing services under the GO banner.
  • Sport website now in the new WordPress theme.
  • YouTube Live streaming of the December Graduation ceremonies went very well. There’s a short write up about it.
  • Updated the spam sales calls page for Corporate Communications. Four years ago I attempted a similar thing but it’s not always been successful – I get as many sales emails and calls as ever and I’m sorry to say I’m no better at telling companies when we’re not interested.
  • New homepage and theme developments ahead of a lunch before the end of term:
    • Reviewed and updated the contents of the mega menus.
    • Updated slide designs
    • Steve Johnson has done some great work on new Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Study homepages in the new design – these will launch alongside the new homepage.
    • Upgraded to the latest version of FontAwesome. This is incredibly painful when the use of many icons are stored in (serialized) database rows.
    • Lots of optimisation to attempt to improve the page load time.
  • JIRA – Created: 49; Resolved: 42
  • RMS – Created: 27; Closed: 31

That’s all for this week but check out a couple of festive microsites that other Universities have released:

Maybe we’ll join them next year when we’re not trying to launch a new homepage!

YouTube Live Streaming Graduation Ceremonies

Last Saturday saw the campus taken over for Edge Hill’s winter Graduation ceremonies and I was there to see the Real Jenny Barrett graduate.

Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur
Nursing Students waving their caps in a blur

We’ve been streaming graduation ceremonies live online since Summer 2008 – I blogged about the use of eStream at the time – and the system has worked very well and allowed us to both stream to people watching at home and keep an archive of past ceremonies.

As I said in the previous post we were particularly pleased with the quality of video compared to other platforms such as YouTube and hosting ourselves offered more flexibility for embedding in our site.

But that was then and this is now and as you would expect, cloud services have upped their game.  YouTube now supports full HD, videos are available on a range of platforms from mobiles and tablets to TVs as well as watching on the YouTube website or embedding into our site. Combine this with the additional visibility that publishing to YouTube gives us as students share videos with friends.

So for the last couple of years we’ve been using a hybrid of live streaming with eStream and a Flash Media Server hosted in-house and uploading the archived footage to YouTube. Patiently we’ve been waiting while Google first launched streaming for some major events, then last year introduced Hangouts On Air but with a “Google+” DOG burnt into the corner of the video.

Finally in August, Google lowered the subscriber threshold for enabling live streaming to below the level that Edge Hill’s account has and we gained access to the fancy “Live events” screens:

Create a new event - YouTube


Technically the process is very similar to what we had previously: a PC in the control room captures the mixed video output from a Tricaster, encodes it using Flash Media Live Encoder but instead of pushing to our own Flash streaming server, the feed is sent to YouTube who handle transcoding and sending out to viewers.

Colleagues in Learning Services were manning the desks but from a viewer’s perspective it went very well. The public feed ends up with about a 30 second delay from live after it’s been through YouTube’s processing but as long as people sat in the audience aren’t trying to tune in that’s not noticeable.  The feed resolution is comparable to what we had previously but at 480p it seems subjectively better quality and on mobile devices it looks great.

December ceremonies have historically had lower live stream views than the summer ones (fewer people on campus) but we had up to 61 concurrent connections watching for an average of 17 minutes:

Graduation Statistics

You’ll see we ran a single stream all day rather than individual events. This made it easier to manage from the control room as FMLE could be set up once and run all day but it means that the individual ceremonies must be uploaded again for the archive – it’s not possible to use YouTube’s online editing tools for videos over 2 hours long.

Overall I’m very happy with how it went. We’ve purchased a new video capture device which unfortunately we couldn’t get to work in time but that will offer additional future proofing and the ability to stream at up to 1080p!

Update: it looks like now all YouTube users of good standing will be able to stream through both YouTube live and Hangouts On Air.

Week Notes: 6 December

  • Discussions between ourselves and Infrastructure Solutions about how we can get contact information about staff out of Outlook and Active Directory for use in staff profile pages.
  • Demonstrated some ideas for how research case studies that form part of Edge Hill’s REF submission can be showcased online. This will make use of our story functionality to show updates over time about each topic.
  • One of these topics covers research by The Other Jenny Barrett who I met on Monday to talk about options for hosting a website for some events next year. Listen to her explain more:
  • Graduation website now powered by WordPress.
  • Saturday’s graduations will for the first time use YouTube Live streaming to broadcast to the internet. This means you can now watch from a mobile phone or tablet. We’ve done a few trial runs with colleagues from Learning Services who will be in the control room while I’ve got a second row view!

  • We’ve planned for more academic department sites to move to the new WordPress theme in the coming weeks.
  • Yesterday saw the induction of the latest batch of student bloggers working with Student Recruitment to show what life is like at Edge Hill. Follow the Inside Edge blog to find out what they have to say!
  • As mentioned last week the Edge Hill Central app is now available for iOS – it’s also available through the Google Play store for Android.
  • JIRA – Created: 29; Resolved: 23
  • RMS – Created: 19; Closed: 17

Finally, this week we solved the problem of getting information “above the fold”: Above the fold Or, y’know, not.

Week Notes: 29 November

  • This week’s new homepage developments:
    • Refactoring have some of the site works, in particular to simplify how JavaScript and CSS interact to style the page.
    • Switching the responsive navigation from jPanelMenu to Sidr allowing the contents of the menu to be dynamically extracted from existing elements on the page rather than replicated in the HTML.
    • Started building a staging homepage. This will be a copy of the homepage and a new plugin for WordPress enabling the publishing of settings, widgets, pages and media to the live site, plus the ability to save draft versions and roll back changes.
  • Edge Hill Central for iOS has been released to the App Store and should be available to download within the next 24 hours.
  • Had discussions with colleagues from Student Recruitment about the next steps for Getting Started for new students.
  • Testing new hardware for streaming next weekend’s Graduation via YouTube Live – more information about this next week!
  • Discussions with Finance and Learning Services about how to raise the profile of Online Payments such as printer credits and library fines.
  • Migrated to new theme:
  • Working on several new WordPress sites for English as a Foreign Language and the Faculty of Education’s
  • UK-China Conference.
  • Set up a new live chat session for Student Recruitment and the Faculty of Education to run next week
  • JIRA – Created: 27; Resolved: 28
  • RMS – Created: 20; Closed: 18

Publishing early as I’m taking a few hours flexi but I’m sure loads more will happen on Friday afternoon!

Favourite discovery of the week was that the awesome isitchristmas.com now forces you to connect via SSL:

Week Notes: 22 November

  • This week saw many in Corporate Communications and Student Recruitment get their first look at the new homepage design at Tuesday’s super-Edmon meeting.
  • CAKE conference holding website and discussions about developments for the full site next year.
  • Websites migrated to TwentyTwelve child theme:
  • We now force users logging into and editing our WordPress sites (including the corporate website, blogs and online.edgehill.ac.uk) to connect via SSL. This follows Durham enabling SSL for all connections last month (subscription to JISCMAIL WEB-SUPPORT list required to view). This isn’t something we currently force – though sites are available through SSL – but we’re considering the implications of switching it on.
  • Added oEmbed provider support to our News website. Now you can get some embeddable content directly from edgehill.ac.uk/news/*. We plan to extend this to other types of content such as events, profiles etc.
  • Edge Hill Central app has been submitted to the iOS App Store – subject to Apple’s approval it will be available shortly.
  • Continued auditing our sites and cleared out a number of dead ones including the public Web Services page!
  • JIRA – Created: 23; Resolved: 26
  • RMS – Created: 10; Cleared: 10

That’s all for this week but if you have a Windows ME related crisis over the weekend then fear not – I’ve got you covered!

Week Notes: 15 November

  • Steve Daniels and I attended the Percona Live London conference on Tuesday. Steve has a bit of a write up.
  • Jenny Jordan and I represented IT Services at the first meeting of the Student Affairs Committee. There’s always work going on across the University to improve the student experience and some of the changes in our department can play an important part in that.
  • We’ve been building some additional functionality for the new homepage ahead of it going live in the next couple of weeks. One feature we hope not to use is the ability to push alert notices onto the homepage – think “escaped monkey on campus”, or more likely “campus still open despite the snow” – and what was previously a frantic hack to the homepage will be possible with just a few clicks.
  • Delivered Wiki and WordPress training for two Graduate Trainees working in Corporate Communications and Student Recruitment.
  • Alumni website is now in WordPress with a new homepage design.
  • As always, there’s lots to do ahead of tomorrow’s Open Day and this time we’ve been pushing content out to selected screens across campus plus getting some Media students’ work up on the new video wall in Creative Edge.
  • JIRA – Created: 20; Resolved: 20
  • RMS – Created: 11; Cleared: 12

Congratulations to Alison Kerwin (formerly of this parish) and her team at the University of York on the launch of their homepage redesign.

University of York

Suppose I should get the beers in ready for when ours goes live!

Percona Live London 2013

Over the recent months I’ve been pushing myself to be more of a software engineer than a “coder”. To that end I’ve been investing my time heavily in a lot of things, and part of that is attending talks and conferences on interesting topics. So when I saw the tweet below, I jumped at the chance!

I earnestly entered and chance would have it, I won two tickets to Percona Live. The boss, Mike Nolan, graciously decided free was a good amount to spend on professional development. It probably didn’t hurt that I offered him the second ticket.

We unfortunately didn’t get to attend the well regarded Percona Live tutorials, something I was reminded of talking to other attendees when they mentioned quite how good they were. We did however try to attend different sessions on the conference schedule.

The keynotes were both informative and amusing, Mike hadn’t previously been aware of the animosity between Monty and Oracle, by the end of the keynotes he was. Nothing serious, just veiled digs!

Here’s the breakdown of my day:

Whilst I took notes in most of the talks covering tips, tricks, tweaks.. my biggest take home was from Luis Motta Campos‘ talk about MySQL, the ebay Classifieds Way. It was really interesting to see things we do (and have planned to do) at Edge Hill University, done on such a scale in a truly professional way. It both reinforced my plans for our own infrastructure and heavily added to my wishlist and roadmap!

Hopefully I’ll get some more time next week to do a more detailed break down of the individual talks. Or perhaps cover PHPNW 2013 or the Inviqa TDD Immersion day I did over the past couple of months!

Steve Daniels

Week Notes: 8 November

  • The homepage designs have been honed and debugged and are perilously close to being ready to go live.
  • Part of this work was reviewing how far to go to support non-JavaScript users. GDS have some interesting findings showing a gap between the number of users who have JavaScript switched on and off: people who have JS turned on but for whom it doesn’t execute.
  • On Wednesday I met colleagues from Learning Services to look at how we can make use of YouTube Live for streaming corporate events such as graduation ceremonies.
  • Work on moving profiles into WordPress continues with valuable assistance from Mark who’s doing some work collating information about staff for Corporate Comms.
  • Updated another WordPress installation – this time the one that hosts the bbPress/BuddyPress-powered Think Applicant Forums.
  • Moved our shared network storage across to a new platform.
  • The Scholarships website joins Biology and Social Sciences is now in our TwentyTwelve child theme.
  • Several key sites start their migration into WordPress – Graduation should be relatively straightforward but Undergraduate, Postgraduate and Study sites each contain hundreds of pages so for the first time we’re planning a staged transition, initially moving the homepages before working through the rest of each site.
  • Feedback on our beta site search has been broadly positive so we’re fine tuning it with promoted pages and auto complete suggestions to ensure visitors get to the most relevant results. Feedback still welcome.
  • In JIRA – our team project management tool – we created 42 and resolved 41 issues in the last week.
  • RMS – 23 calls came in through the service desk and we cleared 32 (which will include some carried over from last week).

Finally, I learnt the hard way the importance of triple-checking what window you’re in after I accidentally restarted our development server on Monday morning after 999 days, 20 hours and 30 minutes continuous uptime – I just had time to grab a screenshot before it disconnected:

999 days uptime

1000 is a pretty arbitrary number anyway, and it gives Infrastructure Solutions to do some maintenance on the virtual machine that wasn’t possible without shutting it down so every cloud has a silver lining.

Week Notes: 1 November

Following Bath’s example – we’ve never been afraid to steal some of their ideas – we’re planning to publish “week notes” each Friday giving a summary of the week’s activities.

  • Launched a beta version of our new Google Site Search powered corporate website search engine.
  • Work continues apace on the new corporate homepage built in WordPress. Chris is working through final changes suggested by the boss.
  • We’re also reviewing the status of our top level sites to see which we can update to the new WordPress theme or migrate into WordPress from statically built sites.
  • Last week we received training for the new AMX digital signage that’s in Creative Edge and BioSciences so we’re working on pushing content out to those devices.
  • Dan has been working on bringing Student Profiles into WordPress.
  • Upgraded WordPress to 3.7.1 from 3.7 on the corporate site and 3.6.1 on blogs. Because we use version control this isn’t automated.
  • Yesterday I went to SWIG – the Liverpool WordPress group – hosted by Interconnect IT (who also provide the excellent WP User Guide we use as the basis for training and support). Robert O’Rourke did a very interesting talk about typogrophie and the balance of form and function based on the teachings of Emil Ruder. (Update: slides for the talk – with lots of examples – are now available)

Meanwhile, on the internets, it’s interesting to see Twitter pushing media content more with the inclusion of pictures inline in the timeline:

It would be nice if they are also able to expose content from Twitter Cards as all our news stories and events have them enabled.