Internet

Sprucing up the Joint

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Every now and then you need to toss a new coat of paint on the place.  It’s no different with blogs.  They can get stale after awhile and need a bit of updating.  I figured that a ten-year anniversary was as good a time as any to change things up here.

I’ve switched over to the Meadow Hill template for WordPress by Tomas Toman.  It’s a flexible format that looks great whether your accessing the site from a desktop or mobile device.  I’ve also added a whole bunch of background header images that rotate randomly upon reload.

The side widgets are still there, but don’t appear until you click on one of the “Read More” buttons to view the entire article.  Then you’ll see the “Recent Visitors”, “Recent Tweets”, the search box, and any other goodies.

I had a couple of requirements for the new appearance.  First, the fonts needed to be more adjustable and have a bit more space than my old theme.  The site was hard to read.  I probably could have gone into the CSS for the site and changed it myself, but why bother.  This one has about the same size font, but is double-spaced for easier reading.  I may bump up the font size at some time.

Secondly, the site needed to be able to display lead images without those hateful “Featured Images” that WordPress uses.  The latest version of WordPress did allow designation of a featured image by URL, but to get it to work with Flickr required too many hoops.

So, this is what we have now.  I think I’ll live with it for awhile and see if I like it.  If you follow the site via RSS feed or some other reader you probably won’t see any difference.  However, if you actually visit the site you’ll spot the new look right away.

Ten Years of Random Connections

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RandomConnections10Years

It hardly seems possible. This month marks ten years that I’ve been blogging at RandomConnections.com. The new website was announced on May 6, 2004 on a post on my previous website as follows:

I have a new website….

www.RandomConnections.com will be online shortly. The new site will be the host for my web log (which will be replicated here, as it always has) but I wanted something without my name plastered all over the place. I’ll move my workshop information to the new site, and leave all my personal stuff here – resume, personal interests, etc., etc. The only personal item on the new site will be the blog.

With the new site in place, I’ll be able to create blog entries for specific categories, probably one for each of my alter egos that I use on various bulletin boards. I’m also going to post our travelog and vacation gallery there.

I love the Internet! Instead of boring just one small set of humans with your vacation pictures, you can annoy the entire planet!

The first post on the actual site was on May 14, and went something like this

The new website is now active (Duh, obviously). This site features a much more interactive weblog than my old site, while keeping things lean and clean. The other site turn [sic] into self-indulgent blathering, was over-designed, and cumbersome. I make no guarantees about this site, but at least the blathering will be categorized.

I also don’t intend to plaster my name over everything on this site. Certain portions will be kept more professional, and will focus on Education Technology and Web Design.

Yes, both of those posts are still online, as evidenced by the links above.   I haven’t fulfilled the promises in those early posts, but I had no idea I’d still be doing this ten years later, or what those ten years would have brought.
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Super Simple Timelines

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I’m just getting around to writing about this, and I’m probably late to the party as far as this product is concerned, but I’ve discovered a very simple, very effect way to create timelines for websites.

Back in the 1990s Tom Snyder Productions made some of the coolest EdTech software around. One of my favorites was Timeliner. Users could input dates and events, then print out long timelines on fan-fold printer paper with a dot-matrix printer. Along with Print Shop, it was one of my go-to tools for classroom printing.

Timeliner is still around, and has been updated to take advantage of modern technology. I haven’t played with it in ages, so I don’t know what the new version has, and, quite frankly, I no longer need to. I’ve found a much, much better (and free!) product in Northwestern University’s Knight Lab’s Timeline JS. (more…)

Pointing the Way in Concrete

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Aerial Beacon-002

Ghost towns, odd bits of masonry, abandoned towers, derelict schools, old cemeteries, old dirt roads – this are items that speak of a hidden history. These are the things you may pass many times daily and never give any thought. However, if they are brought to your attention, you never look at that area the same way. Just recently my Geocaching friend Larry Easler (aka HockeyHick) made me aware of a whole new genre of interesting historical remnants – Airway Beacon Markers.

Larry found one of these things fairly close to us and did the initial research and background history. He has since placed a geocache at the location as part of his “Hidden History” series of geocaches. On a cold morning after the recent snowfall, Tommy Thompson and I decided to check it out. (more…)

Flickr’s Trojan Gift

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Huge changes at Flickr – some excellent, some not so good, and some downright deceitful. Right now I’m still processing how I feel about all this, but here are some of my initial thoughts…

Layout

At first glance I really like it. It looks clean and professional, and highlights the photography in a very flattering way. I especially like that it goes to a full screen view of the photo automatically, with comments, etc, down below.

New Flickr Layout

New Flickr Layout

There are a few drawbacks, though. Collections seem to be missing. This is one of the MAJOR ways that I organize my photos. I have multiple sets, usually one for each outing, and the number of sets can be unwieldy. If I can organize those into broader categories, that helps. The Collections link is tucked away on an obscure link to the right. I think it needs to be up there with Photostream, Sets, and Favorites. (more…)

Street View Time Lapse

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Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 6.42.00 AM

I’ve been enjoying creating time-lapse videos while driving. Unfortunately, I’ve just been driving back and forth to work or rehearsal, so the scenery doesn’t change much.

So while I was looking at Google Earth the other day it occurred to me – I could use the images from Street View to create the same type of time-lapse. (more…)

Blog Round-Up

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The Death of Blogging has been touted for years now. Even the term “micro-blogging” for services such as Twitter has fallen out of favor, being replaced by “social media” and the like. Therefore, it’s very encouraging when I come across new blogs that have lots of potential. Some of these have been around and I’ve just now stumbled on them. Some are relatively new. What they have in common is that they are independent bloggers, much like myself, and are not part of some big conglomerate like the Gawker blogs or HuffPo, and they have a local flavor to them.

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First up is The Carpetbagger’s Blog. I’ve followed Jacob K’s exploits for years on Flickr. Jacob has a knack for finding those oddities that make the South what it is. As a transplant from Indiana, he has found these quirks both fascinating and endearing. Back in August he started a blog to document some of these discoveries, and to better explain some of his photos. Recent articles include a post about Harrison Mayes and the crosses that he planted all over Appalachia, a post about Confederate Flags and all the forms they can take, and a post about wrestling – not Greco-Roman, and not WWF, but the local wannabes. Jacob’s writing is insightful, and he gives lots of great information about these various subjects.

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Another long-time Flickr friend goes by the moniker Eartha Kitsch. She’s had her blog online since 2010, but I just stumbled onto the link for it from Jacob’s blog. Like Jacob, Eartha likes to take photos of the weirdness and kitschy stuff she encounters. Her Ranch Dressing blog covers some of that, but tends to be more of a personal journal.

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Nicole Livengood is a self-professed “foodie”. Her Gap Creek Gourmet blog is a blend of personal life, restaurant reviews, and other happenings around Greenville.

Of course, I would be remiss in not shouting out to fellow explorer Mark Elbrecht. Mark’s Outdoors in Upstate South Carolina blog is relatively new – about a year old. Mark and I have been on expeditions together, and often provide each other blog fodder and information about topics we happen to be researching.

Finally, I’m always glad to see that there are some of us persistent long-timers still around. This includes my friend Duck Hunter, Brian “Mr. Miata“, Brad’s Rapid Eye Reality, Eric’s A Day’s Drive from Greenville, and Laura Lew’s Specs Appeal. More power to you, guys, and don’t let anyone tell you that blogging is dead. It isn’t.

Going Google

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We’ve done it.  This week I flipped the switch to transition our school district to Google Apps, with GMail as our primary e-mail system.

We had been a Novell/Groupwise shop every since I’ve been in the district.  Novell had been a reliable, rock-solid product.  However, their latest version was on a linux-based platform, and it was becoming increasing difficult to find network engineers to support our system.  Other districts in our county had already switched to Windows Networks with Exchange.  We began that process this summer, but with GMail.

This was neither a quick decision, nor a quick process.  We had actually been using Google Apps for the past couple of years under another domain owned by the district, so our folks were used to the system.  Even so, we put out a survey to our users, asking what features they would like to see in a new system.  We also test drove Microsoft’s Live@EDU system as a comparison.  Ultimately, we decided to go with Google, since to many of our users were already familiar with GMail.

We started sending out messages for our users to start getting ready for the change last spring.  In June I created all of the accounts for our users and started encouraging them to log onto the new system, giving July 9 as our cut over date.

Of course, change isn’t easy.  I’ve fielded TONS of calls and e-mails from users who were not able to get into their accounts for one reason or another.  Even so, a significant number of our teachers have yet to log into the new system.  I think that first week of school is going to be crazy.

For those that have made the switch, the response has been generally positive.  I’m trying to go beyond e-mail and promote the whole Google package, including Google Docs, Google Voice, and Google+.  We’ll see how that progresses.

Research Tools in Google Docs

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I really miss Google Notebook. Combined with the Firefox plugin, it was one of the most useful tools for online research. I was very disappointed when Google decided to discontinue the service. At least they copied all of my notes into my Google Docs account when they ended the service.

So, I’ve been trying to use Google Docs when I do research for this blog. It’s not quite as elegant, but it gets the job done. Now Google has released a new tool for Google Docs. While it doesn’t completely replace Notebook, it does have potential as a great research tool. (more…)

Creative Spam

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So far my blog is recovering nicely from the hack attack on it last week.  I’m not seeing any of the incoming links for various pharmaceutical products.  I do still get spam comments, though.  Fortunately, Akismet is doing a pretty good job of making sure I don’t have to waste time on those.

Even so, the spammers are getting more creative.  I had this comment waiting in my approval inbox this morning…

I was participated the geocaching workshop for Paris Mountain State Park’s Fourth Saturday program. this article all in all well, all this topics so significance for all the people. I have go through your article head and ears. I think your post will attract all and sundry. however in the Lakwimana site has various products such as Zesta Tea Leaves, Ten Red Roses in a Square Vase, Cool Planet Gift Voucher, Pepsi 1.5L, Sympathy flower basket – white etc.

So, whatever spambot they are using has now gotten intelligent enough to realize that the associated post was about an event, and generated language that would make sense in that context.  The first sentence almost fooled me.

…almost

The rest of the comment is the same nonsensical garbage from most of these spam bots, so I was able to kick it over into the spam bucket.  It may have fooled Akismet, but it didn’t fool me.

I guess my concern is that these seem to be getting more sophisticated.  I’ll really worry when the spambots can generate a reasonable comment based on contextual clues within the post, and not one that was generated by a non-English speaker who clearly COULD NOT have been at my last geocaching workshop.

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