Tag Archives: 25 days 2010

Web Services Top Ten of 2010

At the end of the year it’s always nice to look back at some of the things we’ve done and this year we’ll do it by looking back at the top ten blog posts from the year.

  1. Confluence Design Templates
    One of last year’s 25 days posts which has had over 1000 views.
  2. Higher Education homepages in the snow
    This last week isn’t the only snow we’ve had this year and in January I had a look at what various universities were doing.
  3. Chill out at Edge Hill
    Some nice photos from the snow.
  4. ERROR 2013 (HY000): Lost connection to MySQL server during query
  5. Google Street View
  6. Street View trike on campus
  7. The imagery that Google took still isn’t live but hopefully it will be online soon.
  8. How to skin a wiki
  9. Google Apps Mail
  10. data.ac.uk
    As I mentioned earlier this month, 2010 was a big year for open data and we’ll see in the next year how it pans out.
  11. 10 PRINT “Hello World”; 20 GOTO 10

The next 12 months will see some big changes to the website and we’ll be keeping everyone up to date through the Web Services blog, but first a few days’ break!

No number today because as I write the Flickr search engine is down!

Opening the (Flood)Gates

‘Mister’ Roy Bayfield reflects on empowerment of users

Part of the next stage of evolution of the Edge Hill site will be greater distribution of direct content creation across academic departments. This won’t be some clunky CMS that costs a fortune, takes ages to implement, adds layers of semi-automated bureaucracy and then doesn’t work anyway. Instead, we intend to give selected people (whoever their department decides to nominate) access to tools that are as simple as blogging, ie they will be able to write, embed images and video and click publish – job done.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Will dozens or hundreds of staff suddenly be bestowed with the combined powers of King Midas, Dr Frankenstein and the Sorceror’s Apprentice? Well…maybe. But the alternative – failing to do justice to the rich diversity of research, scholarship, student work and experience across the University – is even scarier. It has become easier to publish to the web (on, say, Facebook) than it is to put a PowerPoint presentation together, so why would people want to have to send stuff to other people to place online?

Well one reason is that an organisation such as ours has to manage its reputation carefully. Another consideration is the quasi-contractual status of published information, particularly relating to courses. An incorrect or outdated claim about, say, professional accreditation could get us sued. All very well for the Cluetrain Manifesto to quote Herman Melville saying “”Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses — for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it…” – how many QAA audits or Ofsted inspections did he have to go through?

There are some serious issues to consider. But for me these aren’t reasons not to enable a broader group to publish directly online – just reminders that we have to do it properly.

There are a number of things we have to get right. Off the top of my head, these include
– The people-management within departments
– Tone of voice – when to be informal and when to be corporate
– Training and standards so that we don’t trip ourselves up with, say, copyright violations
– Links between centrally-produced, corporate content (such as quality-assured prospectus entries, PR features) and locally-produced material
– Non-duplication
– Developing the right system that is easy to use
– Navigation so that routes through the site, for various key user groups, actually lead to the cool new content that will be popping up all over the site.

It will be an exciting New Year.

Infrastructure dreams

16

I’ll admit it, I like to dream too.. though I’m sure it’s not much of a secret, the content of my dreams will surprise some!

I dream about ideal web serving infrastructures.

There, I said it, and this is my dream:

What I’m hoping to get set up in the new year is all sorts of cool stuff that I’ve been trying to find excuses to implement!

I’d first like Internet users to come in and hit our main Zeus Load Balancer this gives us the flexibility of being able to route the web requests anywhere we like instead of moving IP’s and changing DNS.
Then could hit Varnish Cache and have all the static bits and pieces cached in there which should take load off of poor old Apache (maybe we’ll try out nginx..).
From there I’ll be caching frequently built HTML fragments and database calls in memcached.
I’d like to try and factor in MySQL Proxy at some point to take the load off of out MySQL server and get it spread out to some slaves, which should make backing up much quicker too.

What’s your infrastructure like?

Can people see and problems and suggest alternatives?

Ste Daniels

P.S. I totally published this on the 16th at 8am and not on the 17th at 4:30pm! (Maybe the snow delayed the delivery?)

Dashboards

Colorful house number, two
In my previous post I talked about Wallboards. As an aside, I’ve just started experimenting with using some old O2 Joggler’s as miniature information radiators in my new home. But that’s another blog post for another blog! This time round I’m covering dashboards!

Dashboards are beautiful things that seem to be getting slung haphazardly into all sorts of applications these days.. “view this on your dashboard” “view that on your dashboard” “configure it from your dashboard”.. blah blah blah. Dashboards can be a Good Thing™.

Here at Edge Hill University we run the our GO portal, we’ve written about GO many times so I won’t go into detail here, suffice to say it’s a portal that gives you tabs – your Home tab is effectively your “dashboard”. On my GO Home tab I’ve got some useful information shown to me – it stops me hunting around various places, all of it is Edge Hill specific.

GO home tab

On there I’ve got mail, Edge Hill rss feeds, staff directory, GO news, the forum – all bits of information I regularly check. The dashboard pulls it all together so I can access it at a glance. Saving me a lot of time.

I do the same with JIRA and Fisheye as you can see below:

JIRA dashboard

All my development information needs at my fingertips…

Do you pool information you want on dashboards of some sort of other? I know I’m missing the all important personal non worky dashboard for Facebook, Picassa, Flickr and other news feeds.. but I’m at work – I get distracted easily enough as it is without all that!

How many dashboards do you have? What’s on them?

Next up is home tabs..

Ste Daniels

Was 2010 the year of Open Data?

sometimes you throw a sixIn a little-read post published last Christmas Eve as part of our previous 25 days project I suggested 2010 might be the year open data became important:

I don’t like to predict the future – usually because I’m wrong – but I’m going to put my neck out on one point for the coming year. 2010 will be the year that data becomes important.

So let’s look at what’s happened over the last year.

  • Ordnance Survey Code-Point® Open data containing the location of every postcode in the country. With this people have been able to build some nice cool services like a wrapper API to give you XML/CSV/JSON/RDF as well as a hackable URL: http://www.uk-postcodes.com/postcode/L394QP (that’s Edge Hill, by the way)
  • The OS also released a bunch of other data from road atlases in raster format through to vector contour data.  Of particular interest is OS VectorMap in vector and raster format – that’s the same scale as their paper Landranger maps and while it doesn’t have quite as much data, they’re beautifully rendered and suitable for many uses, but sadly not for walking.

OS VectorMap of Ormskirk. Crown copyright and database rights 2010 Ordnance Survey.

  • Manchester has taken a very positive step in releasing transport data (their site is down as I type) – is it too much to hope that Merseytravel will follow suit?
  • London has gone one step further with the London Datastore.
  • data.gov.uk now has over 4600 datasets.  Some of them are probably useful.

In May I gave a talk at Liver and Mash expanding on some ideas about data.ac.uk. Since then lots of other people have been discussing in far more detail than I, including the prolific Tony Hirst from the Open University who have become (I believe) the first data.foo.ac.uk with the release of data.open.ac.uk.

So things are starting to move in the Higher Education open data world. I think things will move further with the HEFCE consultation on providing information to prospective students and maybe XCRI’s time has come!

Maybe 2011 will be the year people start to do data without even thinking about it?

Team Twitter

Twitter

Clock number 5Nearly everyone in Web Services has a Twitter account.
MikeNolanJanetHowarthstedanielstraffordtigerpiddyzedzdead

Many of the team have a Delicious account for storing all our bookmarks there’s even a team one.

We needed  a way to comunicate useful information from the team without it getting lost in the clutter of our personal posts.  We needed a team identity on Twitter.

Delicious

Most people have heard of twitter (its so mainstream, even the BBC now offer a #hashtag at the beginning of some of their programmes if you want to get in on the discussion) but if you haven’t heard of Delicious, it’s a social bookmarking site. It saves your bookmarks to a website, so as long as you have a connection to the web, you’ll have access to your bookmarks no matter what browser or device you’re working from. It’s social, because you can network with other users and push links to those who you might think would be interested them.

We push links to the ehu.webteam account that we think the team might find interesting or useful. Pushing a link is easy (in this case I’m using the Firefox plugin):

FireFox plugin

RSS

The link will be stored in the inbox of the ehu.webteam delicious account. Everything in delicious has an rss feed, including inboxes, so we can pull that feed into anything we like, even a twitter account. Pulling an rss feed into a twitter account is easy too. Just create an account at TwitterFeed.com and add your feeds:

TwitterFeed

Twitter Feed

As we also blog, so it made a lot of sense to add the feed from that too.

Finally we created our twitter account under the rocking title of @EHUWebServices. We’re using a HAL9000 image for our avatar, but we’ll change that if you have a better idea.

Christmas question: Why was the computer in 2001 a Space Odyssey called HAL?  Google Caesar cipher for a clue if you don’t want to go straight to the answer!

So now we have a twitter account for Web Services which automatically displays any worthy links spotted by team members and all of our blog posts. Follow us its good stuff!

A Brief Look at Tomorrow

the number 4

Over the next year we will be looking at ways to improve the corporate website; including a hard look at the design and structure.

We are currently focussing on our top-end homepages, and approaching them independently; rather than applying a uniform concept to all of them – like with our current grid. This is so we can focus on the client, and identify their narrative as a user. In plain English this means: look at what you want; send you to where you want to go; and show you some interesting stuff on the way.

About Interesting Stuff

It’s been long established that online users don’t sit and studiously read long pages of text; they intuitively fix upon interesting content, and ignore the peripherals.

The key is to have enough types of content to engage each user at whatever point in the story they’re at: for example it could be someone seeking a virtual tour of the campus, or a committed applicant making a decision on a course combination.

We intend to mix authoritative writing and strong imagery with relevant news and events, videos, student profiles, blog posts, and galleries. We want to combine formal and informal voices with contrasting media, to appeal to different needs and tastes.

What I’m doing as part of the process

Following on from initial conversations, I’ve been putting together a series of monochrome wireframes, so we have something visual to refer to in forthcoming meetings. We hope these will lead to healthy debate, and help decision making.

We will continue with a group approach when addressing navigation and design concepts. I’m expecting a lot of creative input from our team and corporate marketing, and I’m feeling very positive about the project.

Have we finally gone Christmas pudding mad!

The History

The ‘Christmas Pudding’ or ‘Plum Pudding’ has long been an old favourite, steeped in tradition and history.  The pudding as we know it today comes from the Victorians but it surprisingly emerged as far back as the 1420s, not as a desert but as an early form of preserving meat! The meat was kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative. The resulting ‘Mince Pies’ could then be used to feed many people, particularly useful in the festive season.  The Pudding can also be traced further back to Roman times, when it started life as a ‘pottage’ prepared in a large cauldron, the ingredients being slow cooked with dried fruits, sugar and spices.

By the reign of Elizabeth I, prunes were added to the pudding recipe, this new addition was so popular the dish became known as ‘Plum Pottage’.

By the eighteenth century, as techniques for meat preserving improved, the savoury element of both the mince pie and the plum pottage diminished as the sweet content increased. The mince pie kept its name, though the pottage was increasingly referred to as plum pudding. Although the latter was always a celebratory dish it was originally eaten at the Harvest Festival, not Christmas. It was not until the 1830s that the flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly, made a definite appearance, and the Christmas pudding was born.

The Wish

Traditionally puddings were made 5 weeks before Christmas, known then as ‘Stir-up Sunday’, traditions stated that everyone in the house, especially children, would give the mixture a stir, and make a wish for future prosperity and happiness.  It became common practice for the Pudding to have a silver coin in it usually a thrupence or sixpence, to be kept by the lucky person who had it in their portion! This would hopefully symbolise wealth in the New Year!

The Reality

As our ever growing society strives harder, faster, further for those special things in life that we all must have, our humble Christmas pudding has not been spared. A special edition Christmas pudding created by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal for the super market chain Waitrose has almost sold out in stores up and down the country and is now appearing on eBay for up to £250.

The Hidden Orange pudding has a whole candied Valencia orange inside and went on sale for £13.99 in Waitrose less than 2 weeks ago.

Tens of thousands have quite literally flown off the shelves and last night Waitrose said there were only 2,000 left in the country.

The store said it was trying to produce more, but it is understood that the oranges take seven weeks to cure, meaning there are unlikely to be any new puddings ready in time for Christmas, which is why this pudding has become the most sort after food item of 2010.

There are currently 151 Hidden Orange puddings on eBay. Some are ‘Buy it now’ offers at £250 and £99, and others are attracting bids of up to £102 or more.

We really have gone mad but I prefer to leave it to chance, so if you missed out on Heston Blumenthal’s Christmas pudding this year maybe you should make your own and stir in a wish for one next year, I know I will!

Wallboards, dashboards and home tabs!

Colorful house number, twoWhat do you have on yours?

I’ve been avidly watching The Ultimate Wallboard contest that my favourite productive development software maker Atlassian sponsored.

Taken from the site:

A wallboard is a type of information radiator used for extreme feedback. Wallboards are typically displayed above a development team’s workspace.

Now that’s got you wondering.. what’s an “Information Radiator?”:

An information radiator is a large, highly visible display used by software development teams to show anyone walking by what’s going on.

Wallboards can be beautiful catchy looking things, and they should be!

As you can see, wallboards can be quite complex things, that take large amounts of important information, prioritise it and keep it visible to the people who need it most.

We want one at Edge Hill Web Services, we use JIRA here so can easily pull data out of that and I’m sure we could squeeze some information out of RMS while we were at it too, albeit with a LOT more hacking (software like that SHOULD have an API!). Looking to the future we’ve just got Crucible and Bamboo licences so that information would join out mythical wallboard..

Do you have a wallboard? / Do you want one?
Is it useful? / Can you see it’s potential use?
What’s on it? / What would you have on it?

You’ve got me every Thursday till Christmas so stay tuned for the next in my series.. Dashboards or home tabs!

Ste Daniels

We’re back, ready for Round Two!

Number OneA year ago the Web Services team stared blogging every day during Advent and the pain of that followed by blogging every day for 125 days apparently hasn’t put me off trying it again.

I have no idea where we’ll go with it but last year we covered everything from open data to environmental issues. I’ve got a few ideas for things to blog about but I’ll be writing fewer posts this month so there should be a bit more variety.

So subscribe to the feed or sign up keep an eye on GO for new posts and let us have your feedback in the comments!