Tag Archives: my projects

New site for the Birmingham Conservation Trust

I’ve just set the new site for the Birmingham Conservation Trust live. I’ve advised on how it could work, and done the final coding and design.

The Trust is a charity that tasks itself “‘to preserve and enhance Birmingham’s threatened architectural heritage. … to promote an enjoyment and understanding of the city’s historic buildings’”. Most famously they restored Birmingham’s Back to Backs (now a National Trust attraction).

The site itself has been in the planning for a long time, but was held up when the Trust decided to go through a change of image. I’m pleased that the new look works much better on the web than the previous style.

The move to a WordPress based CMS and blog should help with keeping the content fresh — often a problem for charity sites (where everyone always had many calls on their time). That should in turn help the engagement of users with the site, and hopefully contribute to the efforts (physical and fund-raising) of the Trust.

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Going mainstream

Birmingham Post - Lifestyle blogs

I was pleased to be asked, and am now one of the Birmingham Post‘s bloggers on its newly relaunched website. Despite the hallowed environs of the mainstream press it’s not a paid gig – so why am I doing it? And more to the point what am I doing in the Lifestyle section?

Adding another blog to write for wasn’t really the aim, hell I could start another in a second on any topic I wanted. there was, however, something exciting about writing for a different audience. The Post as a local broadsheet is quite an odd beast, one that I’ve admired but never really engaged with because of how poor their web-outing was (a man can only read so many papers without a commute). I’m guessing that the new site will introduce a fair number of people to blogs, people who– rightly – aren’t excited by the “a kind of online diary” thing that sections of the media still use.

So, Lifestyle? Well, I won’t be writing about alternative medicine, or shoes (except maybe the odd fantastic pair of pumps), I’m currently thinking that my aim here is to write more informed pieces about the stuff I normally go on about. Something halfway between here and BiNS, intelligent, modern, culture stuff with an interweb slant. I don’t intend to modify my style, or re-hash other stuff. The first post was a odd one, as it had to be written before the site was live, I’m not sure how reading the other blogs on the site will affect future stuff.

It’s also exciting that the people working on the Post, and the site, have really taken the internet to be something different to the paper. Joanna Geary was terrified of blogging only a couple of months ago, but she’s recruited and started off a whole host of bloggers for the section.

Oh, and they use Movable Type, something I’ve never had a go of before, which is nice.

Wifi Networks detected in Birmingham So Far This Year

Since I’ve had my iPhone I’ve become interested in the names people give their wifi networks, the way that the phone brings them up for you as you walk around made that inevitable. So I took to writing them down – I found that I was interested in what it said about the thoughts of who set them up. ‘Secure’, ‘Home’, or peoples names – or those who cared so little they left the default on. I collected these ones here on my normal travels around Birmingham (UK) in January and February of 2008 – the larger ones in the ‘cloud’ do represent multiple networks with the same name, but I haven’t done that scientifically.

Wifi Networks detected in Birmingham So Far This Year

I think it works quite well as a poster – I uploaded the graphic to a cafepress store so I can buy one when I get some royalities of some of my other shops.

Writing offline, link lack incident

I’ve been doing slightly more writing for paper publications than would normally be the case over the last few weeks. I’m out of practice, and not just with the idea of hitting a word count. I found it most irritating to have to explain things within the text rather than just hyperlinking to more information for those who needed to catch up.

In the case of an events preview article I wrote I resorted to URLs after the band names or event details, in other cases there was a preponderance of brackets and sub-clauses.

I’m sure that it wasn’t ever thus, I’m sure I found a level easy way to pitch level and work out what to expand upon. I’m also sure that went I read things I didn’t know about in a book or magazine I researched for further info – I’m not sure I do that anymore.

Two point three update

I’ve just spent an hour or two (Saturday morning would be the quietest time for traffic to my blogs) updating this blog, BiNS and The Kitten Channel to the new WordPress release 2.3. No major problems, but it is still squeaky bum time.

The Google sitemap generator plugin requires an upgrade to verion 3.0, and and plugins or themes that use the old catergories database tables directly (and not the recommended API) will fail. Unfortunately that, at least for the moment, includes the map function of the GeoMashup plugin I’ve been using on BiNS. I think I could fix it, but as it is well supported by the author I’ll wait for the official fix.

Haven’t noticed anything else wrong tho’, and the plugin update checker in the new version will be great.

Up your end – how to geotag your blog posts (and what you can do with the information)

I’ve just let other people see my new project up your end, (amazing what popping a url in your facebook status can do) which is a little toy for geographically mapping Birmingham things on the interweb. It uses geotagging, and here’s a little explanation of how it works.

Up Your End

Other people’s feeds

Although some sites, such as Flickr, will pump out geotagged feeds they aren’t necessarily in the correct format for overlaying on a Google map (there are three competing geotag XML formats for a start). Luckily, the Location Extractor operator in Yahoo Pipes will sort that out, as well as generating geo information from posts in feeds that don’t expressly geotag (upcoming.org’s feeds are a good one for this as venues have addresses). While you’re Yahoo Piping, you mas as well filter in some other ways: I restrict some of the longer feeds to ten posts, and the Flickr pictures to those that contain a Latitude of 52 (Birmingham in the UK is at 52°N, the many other Birminghams aren’t).

Your own feed (if you use WordPress)

You can dispense with the whole fiddle of Piping your feeds if you are creating them of course, and you can geotag items accurately without having to oddly list the full address of what you’re talking about. Birmingham: It’s Not Shit is based on WordPress, and as such there are plugins to do the job for you. I’m using Geo and GeoMashup (which will generate Google Maps with your posts on with just a quick inline tag, see BiNS). I first tried the seemingly more powerful GeoPress plugin (also available for Moveable Type blogs), but despite working well as a tool to use it wasn’t generating valid XML for me.

Geo places Latitude and Longitude boxes just below your post editor, but also allows you to store locations and select them from a drop-down menu. Locations are stored in the plugin options page (which will also set a default location – your house? The centre of town? – for posts you don’t expressly tag):

Geo Plugin options

The only problem with this is that until you build up a database you’ll be spending ages finding the geolocation for each post – and there aren’t really any simple web-tools that do it for you.

Although, GeoMashup will place a handy Google map on your post editing page, as well as a Find location box – you’ll have to click on the map to reveal the lat and long for the position you find and then copy and paste them into the Location fields higher up.

Geo Mashup Map

Fill your stored location database, you’ll need it!

Building the map

Pop over to Google Maps and get yourself an API key, you’ll also find plenty of example code. View Source at this page to see the bare bones of the code up your end uses. For overlaying RSS feed information it’s quite simple:

Use GGeoVml to load the feed:

var geoXml = new GGeoXml("http://www.birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk/feed/");

And then add.Overlay to place it on the map as you draw it:

map.addOverlay(geoXml);

You can add as many overlays as you like, although it is slow to draw too many – that’s why the toggle buttons are handy. You also waste processing power and time by placing markers off the viewable map – that’s why filtering the feeds was useful earlier.

And so…

I’m not sure how useful it is at the moment, adding all the feeds at once is a little slow and the Pipes are sometimes flaky. In fact it doesn’t have a great deal of practical use at all. It’s still an interesting visualisation, though and I feel that the real killer application for geotagging is about to hit us – so anything you do to make your work tagged correctly will give you a leg-up as soon as it hits.

If you’ve got a Birmingham based feed and geotag the entries, let me know (email up the right) and I’ll add it to the map.

More tweakage

I’ve just finished altering the front page of our kitten blog site, The Kitten Channel. It’s always aggregated Flickr pics and YouTube vids tagged kitten, but where it used to also try for Zooomr pics and Google video it now pulls in blog posts and sites (Technorati and delicious respectively). This was because I felt that Google video and Zooomr weren’t updated often enough to provide our patented* “river of kittens”.

The front page now uses roughly the same code as the from page of upyerBrum, with Magpie RSS to pull and cache the feeds.

*Not really

The addiction of tweaking

The new look Birmingham: It’s Not Shit site

As I mentioned previously, I have been thinking of how to reduce the split between the main site and the blog of Birmingham: It’s Not Shit. I’ve long been aware that some people visited the blog exculsivley, and those that chanced upon the main page rarely clicked through to the blog – in a way this wasn’t a big problem as the two pieces have a fairly different remit, and the main site doesn’t get updated that often.

The problem was though that I started to try and bring the blog centre stage, which was difficult as the blog was blogger hosted – while the main site was on the free (and crucially bandwidth unmeetered) space that comes with my broadband account. After a few hours of messing about with blogger templates I gave up and knew what I’d long suspected – to work coherently the blog and main site needed to be hosted together, and to do that it was going to cost.

In the end I made the decision to leave the large video files on my free space, which with most of the blogs pictures being on Flickr should mean that my host doesn’t end up charging me extra every month. I chose the Web 2.0* WordPress theme, and rather painlessly imported both the blogger blog and the posts from my hand written blog which date back to 2004.

A new theme requires a new look, which requires an new masthead, which requires a new T-shirt. With inserting hundreds of redirects and permalink structure post-slug tweaking it’s taken nearly 24 hours solid work to completely move the site. No doubt there’ll be the odd missed link or lost content, but I’m not too unhappy. I can just sit back and worry about the traffic to bandwidth costs – do I want visitors or not?

One thing it has re-iterated to me though is that in the end it’s a false economy to use any free hosting of any kind for a proper project – the forum parts of BiNS are still hosted on the random free provider I picked in a rush in 2003 and there’s so much data that I can’t really get at.

Touch me, where?

BiNS Crazy Egg Test

I signed up with a trial of  Crazy Egg (which does ‘heatmaps’ of your webpages to see where people clicked), just to see what it’s about and let it lose on the main page of BiNS for a day or two.  It seems a really powerful tool – though it might be useful to have more of an idea of what you wanted from the research than I did. With a full stats package you can work this sort of stuff out for yourself, at least how many hits one bit of your site gets – but it’s a nice graphical report and for people like me where hosting charges have led you to split your site across different free packages (blogger, chatarea and the stats-lite blueyonder hosting in this case) it’s quite handy.

Things I’m quite surprised at are:

  • how much people will scroll past ‘the fold’ – I was a bit conficted when I first move the blogroll down the page to fit in my upyerBrum badge, it seemed a bit nasty to bump someone else’s work in favour of your own, but each blog got a few clicks (more than I would have expected)
  • more clicks on plain ‘underlined’ links verses icons for the same thing than I would have expected. Poor icon design, or conversational linkage working well?
  • not as much traffic is drawn the the blog updates at the right hand side of the page as I would have thought – I’m toying with a few ideas for greater blog integration and this might have pushed me towards one more than the others