A Website Apart

Thu 25 Jun 2009

Hey all, just a quick one today. I just had a job interview and I was asked the question "which design websites do I frequent"? I ummed and erred a little before mentioning Digg and Slashdot. Not very design focused I know (except maybe Digg's design section). I also said that I trawl the blogs for Ideas, which is true. I neglected to mention one of my favourite sites though, one which each and every one of you should have in your Feed Reader: A List Apart. I love that site and I felt a little ashamed for forgetting it, so as penance I am reminding you all to check it out.

Final Degree Results

Tue 16 Jun 2009

Well if you're not going to blog about your degree results, what are you going to blog about? Firstly, I want to say that I'm happy to do it in the three year time period. I know that is what is normally expected, but I know so many people that are having to take extra semesters or even years that I'm happy to have just got on with it so I'm able to move on to other things. Anyway, let's cut to the chase;

I got a First Class Honours BSc in Multimedia Systems and Communication, Media and Culture.

Shocked I was. Smiling, but shocked. I knew that it was mathematically possible, but I was really just aiming to get a good 2:1. Perhaps that be seen as aiming low, but I didn't come to university to flog myself every night for a grade. Yes I wanted to do well, but what I really wanted was to spend the time thinking and learning more generally. I wanted to learn many things and being at university, in a learning environment, I could spend time discovering so many other things. For example, I developed a somewhat nasty habit of wanting to learn Linux stuff. Not just the technical system management but also how open source as an idea can be used in so many aspects of life... Anyway, the point is that I wasn't targeting a First, my target was to do everything well, just good and solid with treats thrown in here and there and still time to live a little.

I saw the grades themselves first before I knew the final result and I knew it was looking good. Nothing was below B+ and I had a nice collection of As. I was pleased to see my dissertation had got an A, I knew the coding was pretty good but I felt my sociological investigation of open source development had been a little weak. I'd also got 100% on my final web design module, which is unheard of (I suspect the tutor may have had some explaining to do there!) so I felt good for the 2:1. I checked my percentage and saw 68.7% (the boundaries are 40%=3rd, 50%=2:2, 60%=2:1 and 70%=1st). How tantalisingly close, within 2% of a First. I did as anyone would do and promptly posted what I believed to be my result to Twitter. Feeling pleased I decided to have a look around the results pages a little when I came across the line stating your degree result, "First Class Honours". I could do little more than point and look at my girl Emily who'd also just got her results, a 2:1 in Linguistics.

Well as it turns out, if you score four or more B+ or above in your final semester (my final year was 5 As and 3 B+s) then they lower the bar for a First to 69%. I'm guessing this is to allow for improvement over the two years. And of course we can't have decimals points in the percentage, they need to be rounded.. up in my case. I got a First within a margin of 0.7% (they round up all)! Twitter needed an update! With exclamation marks!!!

For one thing, the narrow margin certainly means I'm not complacent in the result. I know I could have done better and probably should have done. But it certainly makes the future look a little brighter. I don't expect prospective employers to be pulling my arm off, but when looking at future Masters I know that I will now have a greater choice. The biggest bonus though is how proud my family are, my Mum said she had a little cry. Not too bad a result for someone who left school at 16. Guess I need to hire a gown now.

Latest Web Design

Mon 04 May 2009

Hey All,

Just thought I would tell you all about a new site that I've created for homework. It's for an Oxford based band called Branch Immersion, a three piece acoustic outfit, some friends of mine. The site is hosted on the uni servers at the moment but I expect we'll host it here at SkinOfStars towers soon enough once they've bought their domain name and I've ported the static pages to Wordpress.

This is an original design and I must be honest, one I am very proud of. Please check it out at the temporary address (I'll update with the final address later):

http://wwwusers.brookes.ac.uk/06021836/u75131

http://skinofstars.com/branch_immersion

One Day Blog Hack

Tue 07 Apr 2009

Hey All,

I've decided to do a blog hack in a day and here you see the result. I was struggling with Drupal as a blogging platform, and frankly an anything platform, so I decided to move to the decidedly easier Wordpress. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with Drupal, it's a great platform. The problem is that it's built for so many tricks that you have to give it a real shove when you want something simple. For example, handling images. On a content sytem one would have thought that would be an obvious feature, but with drupal you have to go get a plugin. Madness I tell you! Not that getting Wordpress means I'll be bloggin frantically, but it makes life a lot easier.

So here is how I got from Drupal 6 to Wordpress 2.7 in a day:

  1. Backup the Drupal database & import the data into Wordpress

Moving around between platforms is quite common, so you'll often find a script to aid you in moving database info from one structure to another. Wordpress has many such scripts built in for many platforms, but for Drupal I got my assistance from Mike Smullin. I had to make some minor changes, for example I added this SQL statement to change my Drupal post_type 'story' to Wordpress's 'post'

UPDATE wpposts SET posttype = REPLACE(post_type,’story’,'post’);

Pretty easy stuff really. If you're going to do it yourself, make sure you do it locally on backup copies. I hosed a few before I got it right.

2.Theme Hack

Ahh yes, the inevitable theme quandry. I had thought about what I wanted Skinofstars.com to look like for a while, but I wanted to do it reasonably quickly as I hate it when these things hang around. My layout plan was simple enough. Only one or two blog posts on the front page with info on my other nettyness, like tweets. I also knew that I'd want access to other pages (as you find in the Further section.. not sure on that name). So I searched some Wordpress themes and came across Grid Focus. It seemed to have the right level of minimalism that I was looking for as well as reasonably suitable layout. In order for it to work for me though I had to make a few hacks including some JQuery magic to include my further section (hope you like the transitions) and some layout hacks for the differences between a narrow and wide content column (you'll see if you view this in single/comments mode).

  1. Content Update

Probably one of the most time consuming parts. Much of my old content was Uncategorised for no reason and lacked any tags. Many posts from back in the Blogger days didn't even have a title. I went through almost all of them (I've taken a break from the 1996 stuff) and finally managed to put these years of outpourings into some kind of order.

  1. Update to server

Well, that's just a bit of FTP and MySQL. Job done.

Boxfire 1

Tue 31 Mar 2009

I'm preemptively titling this post as Boxfire 1 as I know there is more info to come. My dissertation produced a website, or should I say that I have produced a website for my dissertation. Either way, it's a collaborative news filter for Oxford that relies on user interaction to find the most important news story for the area. Please try it out and tell me what you think:

http://boxfire.co.uk

Ruby On Rails, RSS and Atom feed parsing with Feed Normalizer and subsequent storage

Mon 23 Mar 2009

I've battled for days on this, but I now finally know how to parse feeds and store them in a database in Ruby On Rails. This won't be of much interest to the casual reader, but if you are scouring the web for an answer (as I was) then you will probably find this very useful:

class Feed < ActiveRecord::Base
require_association 'post'
require 'feed-normalizer'
require 'open-uri'
require 'rss/2.0'

belongs_to :user
has_many :posts, :dependent => :destroy

#put some other stuff here for feed validation etc

def refresh_all
    refresh(Feed.find(:all))
end

def refresh(feeds)
    feeds.each do |feed|
        rss = FeedNormalizer::FeedNormalizer.parse open(feed.uri)
        rss.entries.each  do |item|
            post = Post.new(:feed_id => feed.id)
            post.link = item.url or raise "post has no link tag"
            post.title = item.title or "no title"
            post.content = item.content or "no text"
            post.created_at = item.date_published if item.date_published
            post.save
        end
    end
end

end