Redesigned Site for Kudos Business Technologies

This post was written 6 years ago.
Thu, 11 Nov 2010
Kudos Business Technologies | LED Lighting and Sustainable Technology for Business
A couple of years ago I created a website for Kudos Business technologies. The site has been fairly dormant for a few years, but as I am now "involved" with Kudos (more on that at a later date), recently I decided to redesign it and rebuild with wordpress 3, as the bespoke CMS I put in place before using using cake PHP wasn't nearly as user friendly as the tried and tested wordpress. I'm really pleased with the result, both from a technical and aesthetic point of view.

I'm looking forward to expanding this site - the products database on the Kudos site is now quite out of date, and there is a much larger range of (mostly LED lighting) products over at the Kudos retail site. The Lightplanet store is hosted on a 3rd Party system which doesn't have a decent product export api, so I've actually written a screen scraper to extract data from the lightplanet site to use in our own database. This will allow us to collate more technical data for the products, which can be used on the kudos site. Phase II is to create a comprehensive Products information site from this data, including an API to allow us to integrate with 3rd parties.

[update 2014 - links removed as these sites no longer exist]

This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

plone conference 2010 day 2

This post was written 6 years ago.
Sun, 31 Oct 2010
Plone conf day 2
Some notes and thoughts from day of plone conference 2010. These are mostly in note form, but wanted to get these online anyway, while they are fresh in my mind.

fixing the ungoogleable by Elizabeth Leddy

What happens when something breaks, and a simple google search doesn't offer any results?

First, warn people (so they don't bother you while you fix it, and they don't panic).

Work out how quickly can you access your backups? I think this is very important - personally for smaller sites i'm doing individual site backups as packages mainly to make it convenient to restore them in a local dev environment, but I know some people are relying on whole server backups on tape. This would be laborious to restore in an emergency.

Isolation by elimination -> network, hardware, software, data
map out your system!

Eliminate things by switching them off - write your code so that it can handle dependencies being switched off.

Set up a system so that you have an isolated instance (so you can look at logs of only your own activity, rather than mixed with everyone elses)

Create a dashboard (maintenance page)


Write Test case's to diagnose faults

Start writing a "help" email, but don't send it. This is apparently known as "rubber ducking". I do this all the time, I often spot my mistake when I past in a traceback to an email message to send to someone!

"horizon of intervention" - At what point do you need external help?

Get to know people with specialisms and buy them a beer! Participate in the plone community (I really need to do more of that).

Create tickets and close them as you go

Document your processes.

The state of plone caching by Ricardo Newbery

cachefu - useful tool, but as far as "internet time" goes, this is a little long in the tooth now (started 2006). End of life - critical bugfixes only - will be in future plone releases, but available now

load testing with funkload (not accurate regarding CSS/ image discovery)

load testing with multi-mechanize

BrowserMob - not free

Building a custom app with plone with minimal development by Eric BREHAULT

This was extremely interesting - Eric is the project manage for Plomino - a plone add-on that provides application development toolkit for creating database applications within plone - i.e. the types of database applications that non-technical people might create on there own machines with Lotus Domino, Filemaker or Access. The data is still stored in the ZODB, but models and forms can views can be created through the web. Formulas are done in python.

I can see this being really useful - all too often I end up building custom applications based on complex access database or excel spreadsheets i've been provided, but if I can persuade clients to use Plomino, then not only will it help get that data in a format suiteble for building a web application, but data can be collaborated on across teams, rather then emailing around (and inevitably forking spreadsheets and databases). There were some nice examples of data visualisation - a great quote "almost useless, but very nice"" - you need these to impress your boss.

Themeing with XDV (Diazo) Laurence Rowe

I wrote some notes on this yesterday, connected to Nates Deliverance talk, so won't go into this here, other than to quote Laurence: "we write XSLT, so you don't have to"

collective.amberjack: chapter one. The interactive age. Massimo Azzolini

Amberjack is a Javascript library for creating a site tour/ tutorial. Collective amberjack wraps this up as an add-on for plone. Interactive tutrials can be created.

An example was given using the windmill testing framework (windmill in itself looks nice alternative to selenium).

The Art of Integrating Plone with Webservices with David Glick

Most of this was over my head, but one important note I made from this is about urlib (which I use in a django screen scraper app i'm developing) can have two possible error responses - URLError and HTTPError - two possible error responses.

external ecommerce and plone playing along with Sasha Vincic

There seems to be a bit of a theme going here - an acknowledgement that Plone works out best long term if you use it as a "black box" CMS, and don't try to do everything with it. The upgrade path is easier if you don't add on your own customisations - "clean plone". The current plone ecommerce offerings are not as good as external systems, so it is better to integrate with an external system, which is also then kept clean to allow easier upgrades.

In the python world there are some Django Ecommerce stores LFS and Satchmo, but the store doesn't have to be Python - other proven systems such as magento can also be integrated with Plone.

To integrate with plone you need to integrate search, linking, thumbnailing. Valentine achieved search compatibility by creating objects in plone via an RSS import - see valentine.rssobjects. A latecomer to the talk asked "but which plone ecommerce product would you use if you had to?". Answer "we wouldn't". (lightning talk)

manage online transcoding - looks interesting, and may bring plone back into the picture for a project i'm doing.

BlueDynamics bda.plone.finder

osx style finder widget for navigating/ organising content in plone - looks great!

This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Plone Conference 2010 Day 1

This post was written 6 years ago.
Wed, 27 Oct 2010
quality schwag from Plone Conference 2010
Just back home after day one of Plone Conference 2010, with my mind buzzing so thought it would be a good time to write up some of my thoughts and notes. It was really difficult to choose between the talks on offer on the three different different tracks, but here are some thoughts on the ones I attended.

Keynote by Alexander Limi and Alan Runyan

Two main themes here - ubiquity/availaibility and designer friendliness.

To make Plone more mainstream it needs to be available to non-technical end users through the same means that other systems are already available - namely being able to deploy easily on cheap hosting, specifically the one-click installers on shared hosting in cPanel and similar. This would allow users to easily evaluate Plone for their needs in the same ay that they can already with wordpress, drupal and joomla - apparently there is a new joomla instance created about every two minutes. I must stop Alan Runyan and see if he has thought about microsoft web platform installer - nowadays this includes the option to install wordpress, drupal, modX, and load of other systems, including downloading and installing dependencies. It would be great if Plone was in that list.

One of the aims of Plone 5 is to make it more designer friendly. I think this is really important - even though since the release of plone 4 i've started using plone again for intranets and extranets (mainly straight out of the box with a few minor cosmetic tweaks), I currently still use something like wordpress, or a home-rolled CMS for website builds. That is now going to change - the theming story is being completely re-written by the introduction of Deliverance/XDV/Diazo (already available - more on that later), and Deco (TTW layout and content editing). The aim is to make Plone appeal to designers as something that helps, not hinders them.

Quote of the talk has to be from Limi - "Plone doesn't suck, because the developers don't hate the core technology" (or something like that) - in reference to the revelation that many drupal/wordpress/joomla developers admit they actually hate PHP, whereas Plone developers love python.

Deco: new editing interface for plone 5

The next talk I attended was Rob Gietema's demo of Deco. This is looking really good, although i'm a little bit skeptical of drag and drop and in-place editing (I like front-end based editing, but prefer lightboxed modal editing to in-place), mainly because i've seem layouts explode and page elements disappear, or refuse to drop in the correct place on similar systems in the past. However, I haven't actually tried this one yet, maybe i'm just clumsy! I think in general designers and content editors are going to love it.

LDAP and Active Directory integration

I attended Clayton Parker's talk on LDAP and active directory integration - can't say I absorbed much, but i'm sure i'll be asked to do this one day, so it's good to know that this is tried and tested and the tools are already there.

Easier and faster Plone theming with Deliverance and xdv

Nate Aune gave us an overview of Deliverance. I've known about Deliverance for ages, but the penny dropped for me today about how useful this is. The basic principle is this - deliverance acts as a proxy to transparently take HTML output from a website and merge it with HTML from a theme, according to a simple set of rules. In the case of plone, this means you can create a theme in static HTML and have content from a default theme Plone site displayed wrapped up in the static HTML. Simple rules can be applied e.g. "take the news portlet from the plone site, drop the header and footer and all the images and display in the element with and id of "recent-news" from my HTML theme. magic!

Nate quoted one example where the HTML theme is stored in a dropbox folder which the client has access to to make tweaks and changes. I can see front end developers and designers loving this.

There was much discussion at the end over which technology should be used for this - XDV is a fork of an earlier version of Deliverance, which has slightly different functionality. XDV, which is to be renamed Diazo, will be the theming engine for Plone 5. With that in mind, i'll concentrate my efforts on Diazo. I'm excited by this for non-plone reasons - a majority of my works seems to involve integrating technologies that don't belong together - this will really help.

Design and development with Dexterity and convention-over-configuration

Martin Aspelli gave a talk on dexterity - the (eventual) replacement for archetypes. This is already available, but not mature yet. The talk was mainly conceptual rather than code-led, focussing on best practice for designing your site or application - when it is suitable to create a content type, and when you might be better off creating a form, or using a relational database. Best quote "code is like a plastic bag" (reduce, reuse, recycle). Write less code.

Laying Pipe with Transmogrifier

Another talk from Clayton Parker - transmogrifier is a system to package up migrations of content from other systems. My thoughts on this were that it looked like hard work for a one off import (usually i'd write a one-off python script for something like this), but creating packages would benefit the plone community e.g. if there were packages available covering migrations from a standard wordpress, drupal or joomla, this would benefit plone. I suppose this could also be used to import content from older instances of Plone, where the upgrade path is broken.

Multilingual sites - caveats and tips

Sasha Vincic talkd about strategies and gotchas for multilingual site builds. Even though Plone has tools for this, there are common scenarios, such as the "missing page" scenario where a translation of a site may not have the same number of pages as the base translation. He also covered common issues such as escaped HTML being translated by third parties and being delivered content where HTML attributes have been translated, therefore breaking the HTML.

Guest Keynote: Challenging Business

This was an inspirational treat for the end of day one - Richard Noble is a fantastic speaker, and after a day of CMS talk it was great to hear his story of the challenges of his past world land speed record record achievements, and the current one - the Bloodhound SSC project. As well as building insane rocket powered cars (the current one has an F1 engine onboard just to drive the fuel pump!), his goal is to inspire children and young people to become engineers, as there is an impending massive shortage of engineers in training. I was also interest to hear that there will be no patents on the technology developed for the new car - the advancements will be made avaiolable for anyone in the engineering industry to build on - sound familiar?

archived comments
Thanks for the roundup Rick! Looking forward to the rest.

Mike 2010-10-27 21:29:18
Good, clear writeup. I could not make it to the conference this year. It's nice to be able to follow it a bit this way. Thanks, Rick!

Maurits van Rees 2010-10-27 21:42:13
Thanks for the comments guys - videos for all the talks will eventually be online, so hopefully everyone who couldn't make it won't miss out :)

Rick 2010-10-27 21:58:26
Thanks for the post!

I agree with you re: transmogrifier which is (partially) why I wrote

Keep the blogs coming :-)

Alex Clark 2010-10-28 00:50:01
This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

swoop travel phase 2

This post was written 6 years ago.
Fri, 08 Oct 2010
swoop travel, adventure travel in patagonia
The second phase of swoop travel has gone live - working again as part of Foundry, this django powered site got some new features and a bit of a makeover (by yours truly - i'm almost in danger of calling myself a web designer after this one!).
This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: django / portfolio /

Tate Movie Project

This post was written 6 years ago.
Wed, 06 Oct 2010

Earlier on this year I was fortunate enough to be asked to help the Aardman Digital team out on the companion website for the Tate Movie Project . This was one of the most fun and technically challenging website builds i've worked on. Working as part of the team, along with several other Bristol freelancers, I helped integrate the cakePHP site with wordpress and vanilla Forums. This was also one of the largest site builds i've worked on - multiple flash developers, PHP developers, designers, animators, front end developers and producers, all coordinated by subversion, unfuddle and the biggest wall of printed out screen grabs i've ever seen!
This post was written 6 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Why I have no intention of becoming an iPhone (or iPad) developer

This post was written 7 years ago.
Thu, 02 Sep 2010
holiday snap (taken on an iphone) with no real relevance, but blog posts without pictures are boring
Firstly, I want to clear up any obvious misconceptions that the title of this blog post may have caused. I do not hate Apple (ok, maybe a bit), iPhones, iPads or iPhone/iPad developers. I have an iPhone, and I love it. I also use mostly apple mac computers and love those too. I'm writing this on an old macbook. This post is more about my reluctance to invest my time in closed platforms.

I felt inspired to write this having been contacted several times recently out of the blue by people searching for freelance iPhone developers. The presumption seems to be that if you are a web developer, particularly someone who specialises in being a multi-skilled jack-of-all-trades like myself, you will inevitably be learning to code native iPhone applications.

I've also been contacted by at least one person looking for someone who can code for both iPhone and android. That sums it up nicely for me - front end web developers are expected to be able to build stuff that works across different browsers, a job that is becoming increasingly straightforward, thanks to the hard work of the web standards movement over the past decade. However, mobile app development is moving in the opposite direction. A native mobile applications developer will need to invest their time learning multiple languages. As the other phone manufacturers catch up with Apple and Google, this requirement will keep forking.

While i'm excited about the developments in HTML5, you currently can't use it to build the equivalent of an advanced native iPhone app, especially those that have a heavy requirement for offline functionality. Of course you can build mobile web apps that work via the mobile device web browser, and with software such as phonegap, these can be wrapped up as downloadable apps, and give you a route to access device functions that you may not have had in a purely browser based app. This I may look at, but always with the slight trepidation that Apple will change their app store T&C's for the umpteenth time and suddenly my (imaginary) retirement-funding mobile app is blown out of the water.

The rules imposed by Apple and their app store are what bothers me most. I've managed to avoid the over-used term "walled garden" so far, but if anything defines it for me, the app store does. It flies in the face of everything I love about the web, and the way i've managed to forge a career as a web developer. I often say to people that I feel grateful for the timing of the internet's development. It started to explode at just the time I was scratching my head in my early twenties wondering how on earth I was going to make a living. That first step of creating an HTML web page (my CV) and uploading it to some free personal web space, taking me from invisible job hunter, to suddenly visible anywhere in the world, was a massive game-changer for me, not because anyone actually found or looked at my CV, but because suddenly the possibilities were endless. The open web enabled me to just start building and publishing stuff, without needing anyone else's permission. A few months later, I started getting paid to do it.

If you started reading this because you are looking to start a career or change a career and are interested in becoming an iPhone/iPad developer, I say go for it - there's a massive demand, so if you get the skills quickly enough, you'll almost certainly find a job (or freelance contract). I'm not trying to dissuade anybody else from becoming an iPhone developer, I guess what i'm saying is that I aspire to continue to pursue the path of being able to work within the rules and guidelines that I adhere to, not the ones set by Apple, Google or whoever the next monopoly turns out to be (remember microsoft?). Hopefully down the line this will include rich mobile apps, but hopefully i'll never be seeking the approval of Apple or anyone else to publish them.

archived comments
You could always look at using Phonegap or Appcelerator's Titanium product as they both offer a web/html5 approach. Its something I'm looking at, but the only downside is that employers aren't interested unless you know Obj/C as deeply as you know Android.

AD 2010-09-10 10:27:31
Yep, that's why I mentioned phonegap in the blog post. I'm only interested in taking HTML5 as far as I can, and maybe wrapping stuff up as apps with phonegap. I'm not looking for a job as a mobile developer, or learning the multiple skills i'd need to move into that area, which is what the post is about really :)

Rick 2010-09-10 10:38:26
This post was written 7 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

Swoop Travel site launched - first real Django project and first output from Foundry

This post was written 7 years ago.
Thu, 15 Jul 2010
swoop travel homepage
A couple of months ago, freelancers Dan Fairs, Dan Hilton and myself discussed the idea of teaming up to offer services beyond those that we could offer individually. We came up with the identity Foundry, and decided that we wanted to work on interesting projects, mainly using the Django framework.

No sooner had we come up with the idea, I was approached to build a website for new adventure travel company swoop travel, and I decided it would be an ideal project to work on as a collaboration. It has worked out really well and "phase one" of the site went live yesterday, providing information and filtered searches about trekking in patagonia, specifically trekking in the Torres del Paine national park.

This was my first Django project, and although all the heavy lifting was done by the two Dan's while I concentrated on the front end, it was a great introduction to working with the framework. One of the big wins was having the admin site in place very early on in the project allowing all the trip and operator information to be input as we built the site. It was also my first proper introduction to GIT source control, which worked out well for distributed collaborative working.

Looking forward to the next phase of this project and more collaborative projects!
This post was written 7 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: django / portfolio / foundry / git /

Rick on the Road - New blog about mobile working

This post was written 7 years ago.
Mon, 05 Jul 2010
Rick on the road blog
I've started a new blog covering my experiments with mobile working - from working in cafe's and the garden to planned road trips. I'll be covering reviews of equipment and gadgets, techniques, experiences and places visited.

It's also a trial for a new offline blogging/CMS engine i've been working on (i'll write another post about that later - something I hope to release before the end of the year).

Have a looksie:-
Rick on the road - adventures of a wannabe nomadic web developer
This post was written 7 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)

More php framework musings

This post was written 7 years ago.
Sun, 21 Feb 2010
arty egg sandwich and latteJust like CMS's I'm incredibly indecisive when it comes to frameworks. I spent years dragging my feet over deciding which php framework I would "standardise" on, before deciding on zend, then deciding against it (too big), then getting as far as using cake for a couple of things (it's pretty good, but felt a bit too rigid, and call me ridiculous, but I just hate the name). I've now gone full circle and started using codeigniter (the first one I tried a few years back) for a couple of main reasons - firstly it is very light and loosely coupled, secondly I'm already using it on, which runs sweetcron. I'm also in tandem using a pure php 5 port of codeigniter called kohana on another project.

I'm hoping the techniques I'll learn for these will be mostly interchangeable so juggling the two won't be counterproductive. There was no big deciding factor really, I had just started to realise that the ever growing collection of php code I had been using could be considered a framework of sorts, but was lacking a number of features I would get for free if I adopted an established framework. A friend suggested I steal bits of other frameworks to add to my code base, and another friend mentioned kohana, just as I came to key point in my longest running project (referred to as "frankenapp", due to the mixture of technologies in use!). I started looking at how I could impose a standard structure for future code and make it more modular, and before I knew it I had the front end being served up by kohana, and a library acting as a simple bridge to legacy code. At the very least, adopting kohana will encourage me to stick to a structure rather than making it up as I go along!
This post was written 7 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: php / cake / codeigniter / frameworks /