Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

Maybe I have some time now – hah!

After a break of a smidgen over two years, I’ve reached a point where I may have some more time, and could possibly start putting some thoughts down again. I’ve retired from the “day job” at IBM, and am starting to fill the yawning chasm(!) of time with other things – mostly at this stage spending some more time on what I used to do outside of work anyway. Bassoon playing is top of that list, and I’ve already relaxed into playing during the day more regularly – I’d hesitate to call it practise – and responding to the periodic notes from Tom Hardy’s London bassoon list requesting fillers-in and deps. The last couple of weeks has seen rehearsals for Beethoven 9th Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Dvorak’s “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and the 7th Symphony of Prokofiev in addition to my regular playing at the Bushey Symphony Orchestra.

I’m also planning the next two or three brews in my re-found brewing hobby, I expect there’ll be more of that to come. I’m using an automated machine to produce the fermentable wort from the base grains and hops – frowned on by some, again I’ll talk about that later too. So far I’m happy to say I haven’t brewed anything I couldn’t drink (that’s 10 batches of “all-grain” beer as well as some kits to get me started), and some have actually been rather good (IMHO, of course).

On the photography side, it looks like I’ll be starting a little project close to home, as part of the Gravestone Photographic Resource, which looks like a worthwhile endeavour. We’re just checking whether our local churchyard has already been documented elsewhere before spending hours poring over the stones and getting images of them for posterity.

Finally, for now, a slightly longer term project as part of my UK Amateur Orchestras website. One of the features of the site is a mapping of the amateur ensembles listed on the site, which is currently built using Google Fusion Tables. Google have announced the “turn down” (i.e. termination) of this feature for later in the year, so I have to work on an alternative. I’ve mostly avoided the more complex mapping API in Google up to now, so I’m looking for alternatives. Since all of the entries have data for location (both UK postcode and lat/long) I’m hoping this won’t be too onerous, but I’m contemplating that a bit of coding might be necessary. Which brings us back to the SOFTWARE! I have no excuses left now to learn a rather more web-facing language than my trusty REXX, which carried me through 35 years of work. Python seems to be the least onerous alternative, so time to get learning…

First signs of salvation

So my search for offline web design tools mentioned before went down a number of blind alleyways. I re-acquainted myself with a number of tools that I’d used in the past, which don’t seem to have moved on from the past. They mostly failed in a number of ways – unable to import existing pages seems to be one of the real Achilles’ heal for many of them.

Then I discovered a class of tools called “prototyping tools”. These were much more like it. Again none of them do all that I’d like in a way that I’d like, in fact a lot of them are in alpha or beta state with some functions missing. However, they do enable very rapid building of pages while leaving them free to tweak. Also, there are a lot of them based on the Bootstrap framework which ticked a very big box for me.

So where I am at the moment is trying out Pingendo for an extended period, and so far it does most of what I need. Imports existing pages – check. Quick to add sections and see what the result is – check. Easy to copy and paste from one page to another – check. A little flakiness on occasions – check 🙂 (mostly exhibited as not being able to save a page, it tries to save it as a css file rather than html). Definitely a good start, and I have a feeling that if the Bootstrap 4 supporting version works well I’ll be using it to update the various pages I manage. Yes there are lots of other prototyping tools, and I’m sure I’ll try them too at some point…

B***** to WordPress

Well, that was a relatively short-lived project (see “Drinking the Kool Aid” below). I converted my personal website to WordPress run on my own hosting provider. I even started hosting a friend’s site (for the estimable Swakeleys Home Guard Club ) using the same mechanism. It wasn’t long before I discovered one of the challenges of self-hosting WordPress. All of those scripts are quite vulnerable unless you really keep your eye on the ball with updates and only using really trusted plugins.

I didn’t and I couldn’t. And within weeks both sites were tampered with, and effectively brought down. Backing up and restoring proved to be ineffective too, and in the end I ran out of time to fix it and reverted to (mainly) static sites. I feel bad since I did in fact lose data in my zeal to try and fix it, and in the end it was mostly my fault. But I would consider myself reasonably savvie, (30+ years in enterprise IT), and the number of moving parts meant keeping it under control proved daunting. I’m sure it can be done, and should I try again then I’ll take a bit more time to understand the potential risks. I can also appreciate the business model of Weebly, Wiz, GoDaddy and all of the others, to make this truly “simple”.

In the meantime, back to hand-coding the pages, albeit with some help from Bootstrap, with my fingers burned, but fortunately no serious economic consequences.

Anyone know of a good – STANDALONE – web page editing tool, without too high a learning curve?

Drinking the Kool-Aid®

I suppose it had to happen. I’ve been tootling a while here with a WordPress blog for a while, so it was perhaps only a matter of time before I took a bit more notice of the software that was enabling this. I discovered that it’s an open source framework that’s expanded to form a mid-strength (my interpretation) web content management solution. Not only that but the hoster I chose a while back for my other sites provides all of the right tools to run up an instance in a trice. I even have a NAS that can install it too, so I started there with a local version, discovered it was quite easy to use, and within a week I’d converted one of my sites entirely to WordPress. It is of course very different to the old version of the site – converted is probably not the the right word. I copied some of the old data into the new framework, tried a few templates, found one I like and there we go.

So, for the record I’m using the Radix theme which allows me free rein to use the Bootstrap framework I’ve been happy with elsewhere, and the site is very much a testing ground before I attempt to take on a proper job with the amateur orchestras site. Next step for that site is to try some form of database, but I may need a day or two 🙂

Oh, and is there a blog on the personal site too? Well, sort of. It’s called “Latest Bit Of Kit” and it’s where I add small snippets about gizmos and doo-dads I’ve bought and tried. You can find it here.

It’s as I feared (or maybe hoped)…

…no-one is reading these words:

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Perhaps it’s time I should advertise.

We still can’t sort

Sorting data is one if the core processes of modern IT. (and please don’t even THINK if pronouncing that last syllable to rhyme with fleas). So imagine my surprise this week to find in an internal application, which allowed you to sort the various columns, the following date sort:

April 2016
Aug 2015
May 2015
Sep 2015

Yes, that’s right, sorted by the first alphabetic letter of the month. Doh

For Once I Like The App

Just in case there is anyone reading, you may have noticed a recent “flurry” of activity here. This is almost entirely due to the installation of the WordPress app on my android-based phone. It’s a model of simplicity that makes it easy to create blog entries spontaneously.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m absolutely sure I’m not the first to notice. In general I’m not a fan of the plethora of single purpose apps which simply replicate function from a Web site. Naturally some websites are better than others when it comes to interaction with the smaller form factor, so a dedicated app can be the answer.

In this case, kudos to the WordPress team. The only bad news is more of this stuff…

A Good Week (with some software too)

Slightly unusually in recent history I find myself nearly at the end of a week of almost non-stop learning. I’ve been attending a “Technical University” dedicated to the particular area of IT I work in, where I’m delighted to say the general standard of lectures has been very high. It’s been a bit claustrophobic, but I think that comes with the territory, and the relatively narrow subject area  does mean that a lot of friends both old and new have been here.

Favourite session of the week? A concentrated hands-on workshop where I was completely lost for two hours re-acquainting myself with skills from more than two decades ago. Of course it’s not exactly as before, there’s a Windows app involved in part of the workshop, but it was great to shut the world out and concentrate properly.

Having to take 8 attempts to download a file took away some of the gloss. Fingers faster than brain on this occasion, along with confirmation that I HATE track pads on laptops….

Not so soft any more

When I first started trying this blog out I really was working for the software division of a large IT company, but for the last 5 years I’ve actually been back in the hardware division. Which of course contains software stuff too. Such is the way of the Dilbertian corporation these days.

There are of course a number of differences in the approach. You don’t have to worry about the power supply or air conditioning for the software. Nor do you need to pass the security vetting to deliver the 1s and 0s. Just try turning up unannounced at a bank’s data centre with a pile of boxes and see what sort of reception you get 🙂

Bootstrapping the div

The last week has been deeply occupied with my latest Web obsession, Bootstrap. In simple terms it’s a lightweight stylesheet framework which, for me at least, makes hand-building a responsive* website a lot easier. It is chiefly built by a couple of guys who work for Twitter, and so far seems to meet the needs of my main site, amateurorchestras.org.uk, admirably.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of what it is capable of, mainly because I’m still taking a cautious approach to the amount of javascript I use. A side effect has been a big improvement (IMHO, naturally) of the look of the site, without having to drastically change the original design or the slightly dodgy Rexx code I use to generate the main data pages. 

Apart from all the <divs>…

*means a lot of things to a lot of people. For me it means the pages look good on most sizes of screen without having to change the local source.