Re-focus your eyes on a distant object

Last month I had to do an online health and safety assessment exercise that determined my understanding of health and safety matters to do with sitting at a desk all day staring at a PC monitor. I’m happy to report that I scored 100%.

As part of the instructional part of the exercise I was shown the following image:

Man sitting at desk, image of Arc de Triumph next to him.

It’s of a man, an office-worker we are to assume, sitting at a desk, in front of a PC and beneath him it reads:

Every 20 minutes or so, re-focus your eyes on a distant object to allow your eye muscles to relax.

and there’s a call-out with an image of the Arc de Triumph!

Re-focus your eyes on a distant object it says. My word! What kind of eyesight did they expect me to have that I should have to gaze at the Arc de Triumph from St Andrews?! Google Maps UK reckons that’s over 760 miles. Hardly relaxing!

This week we are been mostly re-focusing our eyes on the Grand Canyon.

How to lose an £80 car key …

Renault key card
Renault key card for Mégane — and yes, the image is mirrored because the original was from a left-hand drive car!

A couple of days ago I did something I’ve never done before, and I’m not really proud of this: I lost a car key; an expensive car key too.

The magic key-card

Jane has a Renault Mégane Sport Tourer (the estate version) which has a magic key-card system for locking, unlocking and starting the car.

For my Vauxhall Astra I’ve got a button on the key that will lock and unlock the car from a distance. As I approach the car I press the button and CLUNK! the car magically unlocks. You’ve probably got something similar on your car too.

Well, Jane’s key-card is even more impressive than that. You don’t even need to press the button, you just need to have it somewhere on your person and using magic the car senses that you are in the immediate vicinity and the doors unlock when you pop your hand into the handle to open the door.

And it doesn’t stop there!

You don’t even have to slide the key-card into its slot for the engine to start. When you press the START/STOP button the key-card just has to be somewhere inside the car.

Or on the roof, as I discovered.

What happened next?

In fact, lets say that you accidentally left the key-card on the roof and then drove off to … well, an example might be to St Andrews, and while negotiating a right-turn at a roundabout, lets say on the A917, the key-card calmly slid off the roof. What would happen then?

In that situation you might expect the car to make a bit of a fuss about it. You might expect that it sounds an alarm. Or the lights flash a bit. Or the engine comes to an abrupt stop even … although that would be a dangerous option, thinking about it.

But no, it didn’t. The first I knew that something was amiss was when I pulled into a parking space on North Street in St Andrews and was politely invited to press the START/STOP button twice to confirm that I did indeed wish to stop the engine.

“Hmm … that’s a bit odd,” I thought to myself while obliging the car’s seemingly random whim. A few minutes later it all became clear.

So there I was standing beside the car frantically and fruitlessly checking every pocket. Passers-by might have been forgiven for thinking that I was on fire. The anger that I was directing at myself certainly was. I sat back in the car, pressed the START/STOP button and … “Card not detected” flashed the message on the dashboard.

Oh, right! So now you’re happy to flash a warning message!

Jane: the fifth emergency service

I phoned Jane. There was panic in my voice. “I’ve lost the key-card!”

“What key-card?” Jane asked calmly.

Calmly?! This was no time for calm. She clearly didn’t understand the severity of the situation. This was clearly a time for swearing. This was exactly the kind of situation that swearing was invented for.

“THE KEY-CARD!” I said louder, using the same logic that British tourists have employed for years while abroad, that if you say things loud enough people will be forced to understand. “THE KEY-CARD! THE FECKIN’ KEY-CARD!”

Swearing didn’t help Jane understand any quicker, but I like to think that it helped prevent me from crying. At least at that point in the conversation!

Thankfully Jane’s mum and sister had just arrived at our house so they took over Operation Twins Feed and Jane jumped into my car and drove the 10 miles as quickly and safely as she could to St Andrews to deliver me her key-card, while I stood guard and rehearsed over and over how this could possibly have happened. This is not the sort of thing I do.

The simple answer is that it happened because I was over-tired. But at the time, that didn’t seem quite enough to justify losing an £80 key-card. I was really angry with myself.

Lost and found

But thankfully I had scripture to hand to help me. In the New Testament there is more than one parable about losing things and finding them.

When I got back — I’d gone to St Andrews, by the way, to get emergency supplies of nappies and infant formula — I parked on our drive, got out my torch and went searching. I retraced the route on foot, scouring every inch of the road and pavement. In the dark.

I reasoned that if I’d left the key-card on top of the passenger’s side (the left), while loading bags into the car, then it would most easily have come off when I was turning right. I made an extra careful sweep of anywhere that I’d had to turn right.

And then I found it, about half a mile down the road.

To be honest, it was the clack-clack! sound of another car driving over the key-card that alerted me to its location. But praise the Lord! there it was. And when I returned home I was even more delighted to discover that it even worked!

It was lost, but now it’s found. All that was left to do was to kill the fatted calf and celebrate. After I’d unpacked the formula and nappies, of course.

New website for St Mary’s College

School of Divinity website

When I was a student at St Mary’s College (1989-1992), the Faculty of Divinity at the University of St Andrews, there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. So it feels a little surreal that I helped design, build and launch the website for my alma mater.

So it was that this evening, shortly after 5:00 pm, I published the new website for the University of St Andrews’ St Mary’s College, The School of Divinity.

Anticlimax

I always feel a certain anticlimax when a site goes live. You work on the site for months (this project began in July 2007), looking at it, checking it and tweaking it day in, day out for weeks, or over a couple of months in some cases, and then all of a sudden it’s live: open for public viewing, and comment.

It’s not like a book launch. There’s no launch party. No celebratory crowd. Just me alone in my office once everyone else has gone home, deleting a symbolic link here, and pressing a button to start the publish there. Then checking it all, making a few changes and republishing … and that’s it.

Next

There are still a few bits and pieces needing done (a few 360° photos, and some Camtasia video screencasts introducing prospective distance learning students to our VLE: Virtual Learning Environment, an OpenSearch description document, and some general tidying up and optimizations of the code).

Then it’s on to the next project, which for me is to create some Camtasia screencasts of my own to explain the website layout to new students.

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!

We got slideshow of the day!

Screenshot of Slideshare

Since I posted our presentation on Mind Mapping for effective content management on Slideshare yesterday I woke to discover that

  1. “IWMW 2008, Aberdeen, Scotland” was the first “Spotlight” on our presentation sharing service of choice,

    and more remarkably that

  2. Our presentation was being featured as “Slideshow of the Day” on the homepage!

There have a few more developments resulting from delivering the presentation and posting it on Slideshare, but I’ll share those at a later date when things have been sorted out.

In the meantime, I’m heading to bed. It’s been a long, tiring, incredibly hot but satisfying trip to The Granite City for IWMW 2008.