Archive for April, 2008

Launch

April 27, 2008  |  Tags:   |  

Many Saturdays of getting-distracted-by-Xbox (and subsequent last-minute panicking) later, the new site is finally up!

RI Website Screenshot

Still plenty of things to do, and a few design elements I’m not super happy with, but Corp Comms wanted it up in time for the DSA talk. Comments and suggestions are, of course, welcome.

If you’re interested, here’s a screenshot of the old design:

Picture 2.png

The good, and the mind-numbingly depressing

April 21, 2008  |  Tags:   |  

First, the good:

Picture 1.png

Designer Jon Hicks’ From Design to Deployment, a 50-minute, 100-slide presentation (downloadable slides at the link, unfortunately no video) on building an entire site (seen here: Cheesophile) from the ground up. Lots and lots of pertinent information about web design packed into some of the most concise and high-impact slides that I could spend hours marvelling at. Most of it is stuff I wish someone had neatly summarised for me years ago, but I definitely picked up some good pointers too, e.g. IE6 debuggery* using hasLayout, an old-browser friendly basic CSS file, and the skipLinks feature. Great stuff.

Then, the depressing:

So the team and I are building a pseudo-content management system for my workplace (as previously mentioned). With the limited amount of time we have, we’ve been unable to develop a full-fledged system (no rich text editor, no role management, limited input/output flexibility, among other things), though the plan is to launch the bloody site as soon as possible, then figure things out on the back-end as and when the need arises.

There was some discussion over email about what our ideal CMS would be like, and Akmal linked us to Swiiit — a local CMS solution that seems promisingly feature-rich. I took a look.


Home.jpg

Arrgh! The pain! I begin rant.

  • The site itself uses table-based layouts. Not a good sign.
  • Uploading files looks like it *requires* ActiveX, so it’s not cross-platform compatible.
  • They’re running on Commontown, which I’ve heard quite a few nasty remarks about from colleagues who’ve used it. All I know is that among the South Cluster sites they’ve created, none have DOCTYPEs.
  • They have some truly terrible copywriting, and can’t even decide between spelling American (“humanization”) or British (“customisable”).
  • The copywriters leave spaces before punctuation marks — unforgivable in its own right, but I suspect that could be a feature of the system. I’m not sure which is worse.
  • A choice quote: “Did you know ??? Swiiit is so efficient that it can handle uploads at the wink of an eye ? This is due to a robust back end engine which fuels its hunger.” It fuels its hunger! But only on Windows browsers.
  • There’s a “test” link on the (rather unintuitively laid-out) menu right now.
  • Hint: When you can’t get the domain you want (swiit.com has been squatted on since 2004, these guys registered swiiit in 2006), adding another vowel really doesn’t make your webpage any easier to find.
  • For that matter, the top-level domain, swiiit.com, doesn’t even bring visitors to their actual page right now, instead bringing users this excellent error message: [pagetree error: Domain ‘swiiit.com’ and owner mismatch (Page ID:374 owner:7 domain:)]
  • Also amusing: Take a look at the stock photo on the swiiit.com homepage, then at the IPTV World Forum Asia homepage (thanks Steven for that one).

How do these guys even survive? I wouldn’t be so annoyed by some amateur web company that looks like it’ll die off on its own, but they happily trumpet their golden ticket on their front page:

Swiiit is awarded the Ministry of Education’s bulk tender “The Provision of Development and Maintenance Services for School Websites” (August 2007). We will endeavour to provide the best services to the schools who are included in this tender and will strive to increase their productivity and communications through the use of Swiiit portals.

Arrrgh! (And not just for the questionable grammar.)

In my last few months in a position to make or influence IT decisions at work, I’ve come across quite a few truly hideous systems that have been brought in. Some were purchased by previous decision-makers, others were pushed down by the Ministry of Education, and some (I’m ashamed to say) I had a part in approving, tacitly or otherwise. Nobody really knows that most of these vendors are offering some truly horrendous products until it’s too late, and teachers and education administrators just aren’t the sort who bother to go around identifying something better (or if they do, they just aren’t able to convince their bosses that the last $20,000 purchase was wasted).

It saddens me that this is happening, but I guess the fact that there’s so much crap lying around the local education scene means there’s a good opportunity for people — especially those who know what schools want — to deliver these needs effectively.

Something to think about for the next 2 years and 4 months until the bond is up, I guess.

* I’m pretty sure “debuggery” is not the word I’m looking for here.

Clean car keys

April 19, 2008  |  Tags:   |  

Gah! I really need to stop leaving my car key in the laundry.

Update, a day later: So far so good — the key seems to be working fine for now, but then it worked fine for a couple of weeks the last time too. After that, it decided to devour batteries at a rate of one per week before I got it replaced…

Firebugging work

April 9, 2008  |  Tags:   |  

I’ve been quite unnecessarily pleased with myself today, and this is why:

Yesterday was the last day for us to enter our students’ grades into the school’s results management system. As usual, I procrastinated badly, and ended up finishing my marking only at around 12.10am. I figured our programmer guy would give us some leeway and only disallow mark entries the next morning, right? After all, the school administrators aren’t going to print the result slips at 1am, and that’s the only reason they had a deadline in the first place.

Wrong.

Suck it, disabled update button!

Stumped, I thought I’d have to email my boss and explain how busy I’d been (which I guess I have… but I really could have finished marking sooner) and ask for an extension, and with her approval, I could then request for programmer dude to open the system up for me. This is the point at which I noticed this icon sitting in the bottom right corner of my Firefox window:

RPMS - Raffles Institution Pupil Management System (Enhanced)-1.jpg

Firebug!

With live HTML editing!

Open debugging window, enter inspect mode, delete “disabed=’true'”!

Update successfully!

Bwa ha ha!

Yeah, it’s rather childish, but I don’t often get to apply ridiculous hacks in my line of work, so this felt pretty epic. I heart Firebug.

Campus shot

April 8, 2008  |  Tags:   |  

2372626457_3d4c6be326_m.jpg

Almost two and a half months ago, my little programming group took on the project of redesigning the website for my workplace, as well as designing some kind of content management system that would allow easy updating by staff and corporate communications. (The photo above will be used in the new header.)

The current system requires teachers to design their pages from the ground up using a proprietary web CMS, and since most teachers aren’t designers (nor are the corp comms people), we’ve ended up with an embarrassing mess of fonts, colours and invalid markup. I’ll spare you the link to the school website, but it’s easily googleable.

It’s been a long and frustrating process, and we’ve had to deal with some pretty ridiculous client requests (“could you make the front page search box search the entire Internet instead of just the school website?”), but the end is in sight, and at least I learned something tremendously valuable (apart from the rather cool mootools library) about not being both client and designer*.

I also learned that I actually enjoyed this long and frustrating process infinitely more than my actual work… so we’ll see about what happens when this year’s over and they try to transfer me to an imaginably even more boring line of work.

Speaking of web standards, I just noticed today that the new MOE website is actually XHTML-Strict compliant and actually looks very clean. I hope it sets a good example for the rest of our government’s online webofcrap (even IDA uses table layouts).


*I nearly said server.