A very creative year so far …

Right Twin - week 19
Right twin at 19 weeks

In many ways 2008 has been a very odd year for me, for many reasons. Of course it opened with the IVF procedures that led to Jane discovering that she was pregnant, that led to us discovering that she was pregnant with twins.

During the last six months we’ve been filled with delight, trepidation, excitement, nervousness, wonder, a whole spectrum of emotions. And here we are now at week 27.

For those who don’t know, a full-term pregnancy is generally regarded to be 40 weeks. Twins, we’re told, generally make an appearance early, round about weeks 35-37. So we could have another 10 weeks; we could have more, we could have less. We’ll continue to trust God, and wait in quiet expectation.

I was born to reflect and not shine

It’s been a funny year where I’ve blogged a whole lot less, but gone out and done a whole lot more — but then didn’t come back here and share it with you all … sorry about that, but I guess I’ve needed that time to reflect. I’ve felt myself go deeper within myself — go into my ‘cave’, Jane might say — and reflect on where I am, who I am, and what it means to be expecting children: two, at once!

I’m not entirely sure where I am, or what to expect, it’s all a very new experience for me. But one thing I can say with certainty is that I’m really looking forward to meeting the boys now, and I’ll certainly give it my best shot.

I learned a lot of good things from my own dad, hopefully I can pass some of that love and laughter on to my own boys, and make up some weird nonsense of my own to hand on to them!

I just really wish that Dad was still here to meet them too when they arrive. (Again, for those who don’t know: my Dad had a triple brain haemorrhage in 1983, was really quite ill for about 15 years and died shortly after New Year in 1998. Ten years ago: another contribution to the oddness of 2008.)

New design

But 2008 also opened with another creative process: the redesign of the University of St Andrews website, which was launched to the public (having been in what I guess we could call ‘closed beta’ if we wanted to go all Web 2.0 with y’all) last night.

Here’s a screenshot of the external homepage:

Screenshot of University of St Andrews website
Screenshot of the new design for the University of St Andrews website.

“But… didn’t you just launch a new design last year?! Why do you need another new design?” Quite a few folk have asked us that over the course of the last few months, and it’s a good question to ask.

When we did the first relaunch of the University site it was more than just a new visual design, it was a completely new website: new design, new architecture, new way to update and manage the content, new … everything.

We designed and built the site according to the excellent wireframes that had been developed in collaboration with us by Dynamic Diagrams, an information architecture company from the States. They were great, we learned a lot from them, and for me that was one of the most exciting parts of the project.

Listening

But like any design, the then-new design was a “best bet”, it was the closest that we got to what we perceived we would need from the site. So we built it, launched it and let it settle in for six months while all the time listening for where the design wasn’t working properly, where we needed more flexibility, and crucially: what the users were asking for.

We got a little more explicit by inviting both staff and students to feedback sessions over lunch, where we bribed them with food to tell us what they really thought of the site, what they liked about the site, what they felt could be done better, and what was missing.

I went into those sessions expecting to feel very defensive, but came out of all three sessions feeling quite buoyed and encouraged. It felt good to listen to our ‘customers’, and from the feedback from those sessions mixed in with our own collation of ideas from helpdesk calls, as well as our own thoughts and observations we set about redesigning the site. And this time we didn’t touch the structure (much), we looked instead solely at the visual design and its functionality.

New design

We wanted something that was:

  • Clean, fresh and contemporary
  • Not too far from what we already had
  • Easy to maintain, and extend
  • Compatible with the most number of browsers (old and new)

The site itself is built on the Blueprint CSS framework, with a number of tweaks, which helped us address most of these requirements.

What was particularly impressive about Blueprint was how it allowed us to ‘sketch’ designs in code faster than we were able to do it with a graphic design package. And nothing looks more like a web page than a web page!

So for the last seven months or so I’ve been diligently working on the code, often times taking it home to work on in the evenings and at the weekend. I’ve working on it some nights past 01:00, and some mornings before 05:00.

It really has been a labour of love, but then … I believe in the University of St Andrews, and I love my job. St Andrews is where I did my undergraduate degree, I feel an incredible loyalty to the place and sincerely want to do the best for the University.

Launch

So at five pm last night we scheduled the new site to launch … and ran away!

At home we waited with baited breath while the new design for the University of St Andrews website was published to the public web server, and then breathed a sigh of relief that we’d got most of the planning right.

There were a couple of sections (sport, music, UTREC) that we’d overlooked and had published out with the wrong design, but on the whole it went without a hitch.

… until there was a serious power outage in St Andrews during the afternoon today and all our systems (including the web server) went down! You can’t have everything … like a new design and the ability to look at it!

And relax!

Nearly there … developing a WordPress theme


Nearly there with WordPress on 12seconds.tv

Today … yesterday … and the day before … in fact, why didn’t I just say “This week…”?!

This week I’ve been playing around with WordPress, trying to work out how best to get the navigation for a site that I’ve been tinkering with — for about two years now” — to work with the least amount of effort.

The site is for the Christian Fellowship of Healing (Scotland), and after much faffing about trying to decide which content management system to use (Joomla!, WordPress, Drupal, ExpressionEngine …?) I’ve finally come to my senses and settled on the mighty WordPress.

So now I’m working on converting my design into a static HTML page, and from there into a fully-fledged, working WordPress theme.

And I’m nearly there. Not least because WordPress has come on in leaps and bounds since I last developed a full site with it. When I last built something big it was with version 2.0.0.8 — we’re now at 2.6, which represents an enormous jump in functionality and usability.

I’ve been playing around with a number of themes making sure that the navigation works as I intend it to. Let’s hear it for:

  • The WordPress wp_list_pages() function.
  • The default wp_list_pages() classes
    • .current_page_item
    • .current_page_parent
    • .current_page_ancestor
  • er…
  • that’s it!

The trial continues tomorrow …

Mind Mapping for effective content management

I’m currently in Aberdeen at the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2008 conference, blogging this during a presentation by someone at JISC. Because you can do that at a geeky conference without it looking rude!

There are currently about 30 delegates (including one of the joint chairs of the conference) sitting in front of their PC laptops, Macs and mobile devices checking e-mail, Twittering (you can read all the #iwmw2008-referenced tweets at http://twemes.com/iwmw2008), adding content to the conference Ning social-network site: http://iwmw2008.ning.com/ and probably a bunch of other stuff.

Eduroam

I’m just delighted to have connected to the Web via Eduroam, which allows users from participating institutions to connect to the network on another participating institution’s network.

So because Aberdeen and St Andrews both use Eduroam I am now able to connect to the Aberdeen WiFi connection using my St Andrews username and password. It’s a great system and I’m delighted that it works.

Mind you I had to install a piece of software from St Andrews that automatically configured my networking settings before it would work properly, and I was relieved that I’d been long-sighted enough to have saved that application to my flash drive just in case I ever needed it.

Today I needed it.

  • Install.
  • Reboot.
  • Connect.
  • Happy user.

Glorious Aberdeen

The weather is glorious! Too hot for me, I must admit … is it always like this in Aberdeen? I thought “Aberdeen … cold!” so I packed two jumpers and a couple of coats. It looks like I’ve come for a month, to the land of the Polar Bears.

I’ve been in shorts (and kilt) since I arrived.

Workshop presentation

Yesterday my colleague and I gave a 90 minutes workshop presentation entitled “Mind Mapping for effective content management” which introduced the concept of mind maps, showed why it was a good tool for use with Web projects and then gave a case study on how we used it in our university project to migrate 3,000+ Web pages into a new information architecture.

The slides are now available online at SlideShare: Mind Mapping for effective content management (and embedded above).

The workshop was really well attended, we had nearly 30 people packed into a small, stiflingly-hot tutorial room, and we both enjoyed sharing our experience and getting great feedback and questions from folks. But then it’s quite easy talking about something that you love doing and are passionate about.

On reflection, both during and after, we realised that we could have presented some of the concepts much more clearly, or at least in a more step-by-step fashion. Particularly when we made the leap from auditing a website structure using mind maps to auditing the content of a Web page.

However, with only 90 minutes to play with I think we managed to pack in as much as we could, as well as we could. We even finished bang on time, not a second before or after.

And then we could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Update: You can see Mike Whyment’s photo taken during our session on Flickr.

Sacred space at Linne Bheag

Sacred space at Linne Bheag

One of the smaller Web projects that I’ve been working on over the last few months is a new website for my parents-in-law, Peter and Dorothy Neilson: Sacred space at Linne Bheag.

Weebly

It’s built using Weebly, which is a really simple to use content management system.

Weebly is wonderfully easy to use, even easier to use than WordPress, can you believe it?!

Once we got the site structure sorted it took only a few hours to set up and populate with content. It’s well recommended if you’ve got a small site to create and populate.

You can create blog/news sections, it automatically includes an RSS feed so that people can subscribe to your latest news, and it will even manage your DNS so that you can tie your domain name to it, otherwise you’ll have http://username.weebly.com.

Linne Bheag

Anyway, the site is now live, and my mother-in-law Dorothy (whose 0x3Cth birthday it was on Sunday — Happy Birthday!!) is enjoying making site updates.

They offer all sorts of events, services and stuff, such as:

  • Mission Consultancy
  • Quiet Days
  • Enneagram
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Life Coaching

either out-and-about in sunny Scotland or from the comfort of their beautiful new home in Anstruther, Fife.

Check out the website: www.linnebheag.co.uk.