New River School Website launched

Finally the new River School website that I have been working on for a while is now live.  Doing the website for the school has been my contribution as a parent for the past 4 years or so, and it was time for an update.


It’s more of a refresher than a complete re-design to be fair – increasing the width, brightening things up and tweaking the headers, adding some CSS3 to jazz things up and just generally trying to tidy up and improve the layout of some of the pages to modernize things a little and keep things ticking over.  The Newsletters page in particular has had a large overhaul which was well overdue, as well as trying to improve the front page area and various other pages.

I found doing design work very tough this time round – and as I move away from that type of work more and more – i’m struggling to keep up.  Luckily CSS3 came to my rescue a lot this time round and helped to add a bit of gloss which would have otherwise meant reading up on the Adobe Photoshop manuals again.  It also helps having a designer in our office who is keeping on the edge of design technology and CSS who you can see what techniques they are using to know where to start after a break from it all.

To not delay things too much, I literally have just built on the flat file template structure I originally did (with some refinements to the php code in the back-end, and some unit testing integration).  I was keen to push things into WordPress whilst doing the redesign… but at the same time of doing this work, I was also in the process of getting GTW64 sorted out and moved into WordPress.  The GTW64 work was was a bout of migration and functionality building that took a good chunk of time in those limited free hours in the evenings – and something i’m glad I won’t have to do again for a while!

This is now probably my last major development on the website before at some stage I hand over the reigns to someone else.  For now i’ll be doing content updates for the school, and at some point will need to discuss a handover of sorts.  Doing website stuff at home as well as part of my day to day job can be a bit tiring 🙂


Zend PHP certified!

Well, I did my Zend PHP exam today in London… and passed! … Finally I can relax after a stressful few days leading up to today and prepare for the Retrovision 2010 event in Oxford on Friday (Which i’ve found hard to get excited about due to all the revising).

The one thing I will say is that i’m glad I spent a solid month revising, as there is a lot of information to cram in. Although i’ve been using PHP for around 5 years now (4 as part of my day to day job) there is still a lot of material which I had never used/come across before. One of the key areas was really understanding some of the new features of PHP5 compared to PHP4.

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Experimenting with Microformats

As we push towards a more semantic web overall, we are somewhat limited with XHTML in trying to describe what our information means to machines as well as humans.

With Microformats, we are given an approach to better describe our data through the use of standard XHTML markup.  With the following HTML: “<p>Joe Bloggs is a web developer at the University of Kent.</p>”, in a browser this can be easily interpretted by humans, but to a machine it is just a string with no particular meaning.
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Revamp of GTW64 finally underway!

Good news, but work is now finally under way on the redevelopment of GTW64 (The C64 sister site), which could take sometime… but at least i’ve started 😉

At present a project plan is being produced to ensure that the process is as quick as possible. We will be going with a Drupal CMS based system, which is useful as i’ve been building a large scaled archival project at work for almost 2 years now, so there is some reusability there and potential to get a prototype set up fairly quickly 🙂

The largest challenge still remains, where we need to tidy up the existing reviews/shots and bits and get an automated way of getting everything into the new system. Plans for this are underway, but it means going over the existing site and tidying up. Whilst doing this i’ll be improving the metadata to increase searchability of whats there for now – which is one of many broken aspects of the old 5-6yr old design.

I’m not sure how long everything will take, but what is difficult is working on the web all day and coming home to do it… so it will take some knuckling down to sort out. Additionally I want to keep the project running simultaneously to keep up the findings, so this will slow things too. Overall the searchability of the site, findability and readability of content will be improved which in time should help ensure that ex-developers are more likely to find things. At present Meta is poor, which does not help users to find what we write, and in the modern day web we could end up being buried away too much 😉

Anyone following the main site will have noticed a few cosmetic changes, but behind the scenes there have been various improvements to fix a few its problems to keep things ticking over. Plans will be to later move the main site into Drupal and enable the main site to be able to search across its own content, as well as GTW64 based items (With potentially being able to hook into the other sister sites too… though more research required there with the different systems being used). This is lower on the priority list, as the main site isn’t anywhere near as dated as the GTW64 site, and its migration should be a lot more trivial in comparison.

I’m thinking from my work aspect to keep updates via a few blog entries every so often, so keep an eye out on my blog.

A new year a new launch…

On Monday (Yes, I know i’m late!), one of my free part-time developments went live – River Primary School website.

River school website
River school website

This was a particularly interesting project due to the difference in audience compared to previous websites i’ve delivered and the diversity between two sets of users that had to be covered.  With a primary school website you are trying to deliver a site which parents can use, which children can use and which is designed in an appealing way to children (but also professional).

I’m not a fan of clip art, nor the dredded Comic Sans font… but Primary Schools use these a lot.  There is nothing wrong with this of course,  it’s just as personal principle I had to find other means to get child friendliness in the actual web design itself – which I did so in using photos of things like coloured pencils,  children’s drawings and using Garamond fonts.  Luckily there was no previous website to compare against, so we had a completely clean slate to start with.

During development, I had at the back of my mind that other websites would be required shortly for other future part-time projects – so initially the site was built as a empty template shell and tightened up into a reusable state.  What this means is that the template only required a stylesheet change and change to its configuration to give it the correct titles.  Chuck another CSS file at it, different content and slightly different configuration settings, then you get a completely new website in very little time. Now if only I could get similiar rapid development for the new GTW site! (Now thats another story… and a nightmare migration one at that!)

With River Primary School’s website though, the template method is temporary.  In the “grand scheme of things” (Most likely in 2010 when things calm down a bit from 2009), the website will eventually be put into a Content Management System (Drupal).  Ideally I wanted things in Drupal from the start, but time was against me sadly – but this is a start at least! 🙂

There’s still work to go though… more pages to be added, including some big Year Group pages in the next few months.   Hopefully now there will be encouragement to help it grow as a useful resource as well as being a web presence for the school.

Time for a change…

The moment i’ve been dreading… but GTW64 really does need updating/modernizing and i’m going to have to start tackling the inevitable, so it may as well be now.  With around 8,000 – 10,000 pages, it’s not going to be particularly easy in my free time to convert this beast… but as with any redevelopment of old pages its for the best.  It was a rather long train journey to York and a lot of daydreaming which ignited some enthusiasm to take on the task.  🙂

As well as various improvements to design, removal of deadwood and better structuring of pages… i’m also having some frantic programming/logic spats to produce a few functions which I can use to convert the bloody thing across to the new template I devise.  I have a few ideas which should work in theory – in maybe a 2 or 3 step approach 🙂

Hmmm… a dynamic news page, improved A-Z navigation, RSS feeds, AJAXed elements on the front page… but after all the hard work 🙂