Playing with Technology

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. ~Arthur C. Clarke

  • Building a community

    Since returning from WordCamp NYC I’ve been working on updating the Voices service. (Just have to mention that it seems one of the tagaroo updates would appear to have fixed the lag while writing. Nice job!) One of the things I was really excited about at WCNYC was the way a few people had used BuddyPress to create some really cool community sites. I was particularly impressed with what Mike Pratt had put together for West Point creating Bugle Notes and the Nourish Network site Lisa Sabon-Wilson showed. So I decided that I needed to use BuddyPress on the Voices site.

    I must say it has been relatively painless to convert Voices from just a plain WordPress Multi-blog setup to a BuddyPress powered community site. My first step was to convert my existing Multi-blog setup on DreamHost to use BuddyPress and mark it as the development environment. Once that was done in late October I began looking at my options for a theme to use as the main site theme. This was before the changes in theme structure for BuddyPress. At first I tried to code something myself, but given that I wanted it to be ready for this semester and that I have other duties, it was clear I couldn’t take the time. I looked at some of the free options like Bruce, but could not get them to really work consistently and be stable. In the end I settled on BP Corporate by incsub. It is a nice clean theme, which is what I really wanted since the content of an academic community should be the focus.

    Once I had picked a theme I started playing with where to put the widgets and how to make sure the site had a dynamic feel. I ended up using the plugins Ahjira Recent Site-wide Articles, Auto Group Join (with some modifications to make it work), BP Groupblog, BP Events, and Recent Global Comments Widget. The homepage also uses some of the built-in BuddyPresss widgets like Groups, Site wide activity, Who’s Online Avatars, Members and Recently active member avatars. Eventually I’d like to add a Featured Post widget, but the ones available currently do not seem to work. I think the overall effect has been very good. The site feels dynamic and people can see what community members are writing about.

    I would say it has definitely been worth it. Even though the main use is for class blogs at the moment, we are getting a number of users joining because they want to be a part of the community. This is something that was not happening before BuddyPress allowed us to easily create the community features. The feature with the biggest impact though has been BuddyPress groups with the Auto Group Join plugin. This has made creating class blogs super easy and faculty have really loved it. There are still some things to tweak, but overall I’m happy with how it is going.

  • Some thoughts from WordCamp NYC

    Today was spent in sessions from 9-6 with a break for lunch. Some really great stuff. One of the things I came away with is that my desire to move Voices to BuddyPress is right on. Every BuddyPress session I attended just reinforced my thoughts about how important BuddyPress is to building a blogging community on campus.

    I also had a chance to meet Jim Groom, Andrea and Ron Rennick, Andy Peatling, Matt Mullenweg, and many others. Jim and I had a chance to talk over some yummy pizza and some drinks. Our views on WPMU, the direction of personal publishing, and education in general seem to be very close. We talked a little about the idea of setting up a multi-school WPMU, possibly with the help of a grant. Our thinking is that this might cut down maintenance and would give us an opportunity to connect students and faculty at the participating institutions in a way that cannot be done currently. This is kind of sketchy, but I really want to explore this some more with Jim.

    I also had a thought while attending all of these presentations. I saw so many people with their laptops open and typing away. I’d say about 90% of some of the audiences had their laptops open. Of those 90% it seemed that about 10% were taking notes/tweeting notes. The rest seemed to be checking e-mail, surfing, etc. This struck me as a little odd. I took my laptop but all my notes were written on paper. I also thought it was interesting that Jason Alley of Lafayette was taking paper notes as well. I just wondered what people were getting out of surfing while sitting in a session. I think this is the fear that some of our faculty have when we mention laptop programs.

  • Using LDAP with Apple Mail

    I have been trying to connect my Apple Mail client to Wooster’s LDAP directory off and on for the past four years. Initially it just wasn’t possible. Then after 10.4 it was supposed to be possible but I just couldn’t get it to work. It turns out that everything in the LDAP setup in Address Book needs to be lowercase. Our networking group had given me the organizational units and organization names with initial caps and I guess I just never thought to change them. So if anyone else has been trying to connect Apple Mail to their organization’s LDAP, try making everything lowercase.
    For people at Wooster you can use the following when setting up LDAP in Address Book.

    • Server:
    • Port: 389
    • Search Base: o=wooster this will make all people affiliated with Wooster searchable (Student, Staff, Faculty, Alumni)
    • Scope: Subtree
    • Authentication: Simple
    • User Name: cn=yourusername,ou=yournovellcontext,ou=yourrole,o=wooster (e. g., cn=jbreitenbuch,ou=math_cs,ou=faculty,o=wooster)
    • Password: yournovellpassword

    What I’d like to do is find a way to limit the search base to just students, faculty, and staff, but entering ou=staff,ou=student,ou=faculty,o=wooster didn’t seem to work. This is probably because you can only go down one branch of the tree at a time. Doing something like ou=student,o=wooster does work and will only search LDAP for students. So creating an LDAP entry for each search base (ou=student,o=wooster; ou=staff,o=wooster; and ou=faculty,o=wooster) should allow one to search for everyone but alumni. If anyone happens to try this and has trouble just leave a comment.

  • Exploring CSS 3 and more on @font-face

    I’ve continued to play with @font-face and have decided that while Typekit is a nice service; it is not worth paying for unless I am getting access to Adobe’s Library or Linotype’s Library. There are a lot of nice fonts on the service but I discovered Font Squirrel which has a number of the same fonts as Typekit and actually has substantially more than the Free membership option of Typekit. All of the fonts in the @font-face section of Font Squirrel are free, but they do warn that you will need to check the license yourself to make sure you can put the fonts on the Web. You will also need to edit your CSS stylesheet to add the fonts you plan on using and generate .eot versions of the fonts if they don’t have them. (Font Squirrel kindly has created a kit which makes all of this easy.) Once that is done you can upload them to your website or blog. I created a font directory in my blog’s theme folder and put the fonts in there. Doing so means you’ll reference the fonts with url(fonts/fontfilename); in your stylesheet. As a result of this I’m now using MgOpen Moderna (Helvetica inspired) for most headings and MgOpen Cosmetica (Optima inspired) for the body. This should be working for Opera, Firefox, Safari, and IE 8 (I generated the .eot files myself).

    While playing with @font-face I’ve also looked at some other CSS 3 commands to try out on the site. Currently I’m making use of the rgba command and border-radius command to style block quotes. I did try the -moz-column-count: 2; -webkit-column-count: 2; commands to make post content two-column, but it doesn’t work so well with video. I’m thinking what one would do is make the post content two-column and then have a postfooter that spanned the entire div. So a post would have a containing div with a content div (with column styling) and footer div inside it. You could then use a plugin or custom fields to place the video in the footer. More experimentation is required. I encourage everyone to start to experimenting with CSS 3 and see what it can do.

  • @font-face arrives

    I haven’t felt like making the time to post in a while. Honestly, I haven’t had much time either. Today, however, is a new day. At 1:31 PM I received an e-mail from [email protected]. The e-mail informed me that Typekit was ready for people to start using their service. I’m pretty sure I wrote about this earlier but I’ll have to find that post. So I immediately stopped screwing with the WPMU test instance I was working on and headed over to signup.

    If you’re not aware there is a new feature in CSS3 called @font-face. This feature is intended to address one of the major issues of publishing on the Web: not all readers have the fonts you used in the design! For graphic artists, publishers and typography nuts (such as myself) this has been a real issue. We develop a fantastic layout and design with fonts that make the entire piece or site look gorgeous, only to see it on a friends computer displayed in Arial, Georgia, or Trebuchet. @font-face and the Typekit service are here pull us out of this Dark Age of Web typography.

    So how does it all work? You can see Web fonts with @font-face for a more detailed explanation, but the gist is that you host your fonts on the Web and then access them as you would any other Web file. It sounds great and if you take a .otf file and put it in a Web accessible directory then you’ll be able to use it with @font-face. Sounds great doesn’t it? So why do we need Typekit? Well, fonts are software. I know it sounds crazy but in terms of the licensing of their use they are treated like software. This means that you are allowed to have a copy on your computer and to use it to produce documents, but you cannot freely distribute it. This is exactly what you would be doing if you put that .otf file in a public Web directory.

    Typekit has developed a solution which a number of font foundries seem to think is a good solution. Typekit’s solution is to host the fonts on their servers and require you to use some javascript to be able to access the fonts in your sites. They have arranged their offerings into 4 packages: Trial, Personal, Portfolio, and Corporate. Prices range from free to $49.99/month. A free account will entitle you to 5GB of bandwidth per month, two fonts from the 62 in the Trial Library to be used on one website, and you will have to display the Typekit badge (as you see in the bottom right of the site). Other plans increase the bandwidth, number of fonts you can use, number of fonts to choose from, and allow you to opt out of displaying the badge.

    Once you join you’re asked to provide a website where you would like to use the service. Once you supply a URI and advance, you’ll be presented with some javascript to copy and put in the head of the pages using the fonts. After pasting the code into your webpages you can return to the Tyepekit site and select the fonts you would like to use. You can do so by browsing the appropriate library for your plan and then clicking the ADD button next to the font. Doing so will try to open a Popup window (Firefox complained and I had to allow an exception). At this point you will find directions on how to use the fonts on your site and you’ll be able to disable weights and styles that will not be used in your design so that the payload of the javascript is as small as possible. When you are finished here just click on the Publish button to make the fonts available to your site.

    Overall I was very pleased with the way the service operated and the fonts that were available. I didn’t see any Adobe or Linotype designs in the Trial Library, but there were plenty of good fonts. Hopefully Typekit can get the traction necessary to attract larger foundries to use the service. I so want to use my beloved Helvetica and Myriad Pro. For now I’ll go with Liberation Sans for headings and such and M +1c Garogier Liberation Sans for the body text. If you are browsing in the most recent versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera or Safari then you should be seeing the site with my Typekit fonts. I’d encourage everyone that has a blog or website to check them out.

Sometimes I’m an Instructional Technologist and sometimes I’m a Mathematician, but I’m crazy all the time.



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