Ed Tech UI Guy

Friday, February 11, 2005


I'm moving to a new blog. My apologies to anyone reading, I hope you'll add my new RSS feed to your reader. If you like to read using an old fashioned 'web browser' you can visit the website, now called Inline Comments (it's a geek site, what do you want?).

My new blog is powered by Blosxom. I publish static files from my laptop over to my AFS locker on MIT. This means there are no comments or trackback. I have chosen to strip out a lot of other stuff as well, for example the home page displays only the most recent post. In fact, as I mention in the sidebar, the website is really just a life support system for the RSS feed.

Here's why I did it: Simplicity.

I'd like to continue publishing my notes, for my own record as much as anything, but since I am doing this from work, I can't devote a lot of time to it. With the setup, I write plain text notes and save them in a folder on my laptop. A chron job runs every 30 minutes and adds new posts to the blog in the background. If I write posts when I'm offline, they get published the next time I have internet access.

This is a fast efficient way to publish. As much as I love love love getting comments, they are another channel of communication to keep track of, and I've got a few to many of those. Just email me (note to self - add a cgi-email form to the site). Or blog it yourself, if I know you I'll see it in your RSS feed.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Styling RSS

Soon, I will add this tag to my RSS feeds right after the XML-processing instruction:

<?xml-stylesheet type="text/css" href="rss.css"?>

And create a stylesheet that makes the RSS more human readable. Ideally with a link about how to use it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Earlham College and Sakai

I got my Alumni magazine yesterday and saw that Earlham is now using Moodle as their Course Management System. I looked at Course Management @ Earlham website and was startled to read they are also piloting CHEF/Sakai.

Their site has student, faculty and administrator evaluations of CHEF as well as a bunch of interesting reports.

Tom Kirk from Earlham listed several concerns with Sakai.

  1. Large universities are driving Sakai development, small schools like Earlham could get lost.
    I don't think they should worry there too much. MIT and Stanford have a small school feel to them - mostly small classes with lots of faculty/student interaction. Having gone to Earlham and worked for years at MIT, I don't think the difference is so profound that the schools wouldn't use the same software.
  2. Sakai is written Java, which they don't have in-house knowledge of.
    A very valid concern. Not only is it in Java, it's in JSF, an obscure Java specialty. Even Java programmers have a big learning curve approaching Sakai development.
  3. Weak internationalization in Sakai
    It's hard to teach Arabic with Sakai right now. I know that the Sakai developers are working hard on this, and it's a strong requirement for the core schools as well - I'm sure it will be resolved soon.

If I was at Earlham I would favor Moodle as well. At least for now.

Indiana is hitting Sakai with 90,000 users this Fall, I don't think Moodle could handle something like that. Earlham doesn't have to worry about scaling too much because they aren't that big.

Moodle's got similar featuresto Sakai, more actually. Neither of them has a truly inspirational UI.

If I were running Academic Computing at a small college like Earlham I'd make the same decision - use the skills available in house to work with a PHP environment they can easily host locally. But I hope they keep an eye on Sakai, it is bursting with potential.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Designing URIs

There's an interesting post on All in the Head on Designing URIs. I'd like to put more emphasis on URL design when designing applications. We certainly did in Stellar, and we'd like to move that way in Sakai.

I design URL's based on site hierarchy rather than function. In Stellar, the idea is that a person can navigate by editing the URL if they feel they need to. So the URL pattern is sitetype/department/semester/class/ not the more application based /controller/method/options. I think it's easier to guess, but I'm not sure.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another Bumper Crop

I came in this morning to read that the number of Stellar class websites has jumped to 348. Based on past experience, I know there will be more classses added during the first several weeks of the semester. This is another significant increase for Stellar.

Graph showing Stellar's growth

We've got a good thing going.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Wired News: Hide Your IPod, Here Comes Bill

Here's a funny article about the large number of Microsoft employees using iPods. It reminds me of why I like working for a university.

Wired News: Hide Your IPod, Here Comes Bill

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Back Button Specs

I was digging through the resources on a Sakai website (search would be great improvement for Sakai!), and stumbled upon this gem from Joanne Hallissey. In the first half of 2004 the Sakai tools team spent a lot of time detailing the "gaps" - the functionality present in our institutions learning management systems that weren't present in CHEF. One gap sumbitted by MIT was "Back Button Works" a.k.a. Gap 266.

Not surprisingly, many of the UI designers from schools agreed that functional back buttons are important, so that gap became one of the high priority item we asked for in Sakai 1.0. However we got a lot of developer push back on this gap, and the back button still doesn't work in Saki. During one stage of the debate MIT was asked to provide a breif powerpoint showing of what was meant by 'back button works' from a user interface perspective.

Joanne Hallissey put together this funny spec describing what a functional back button looks like (PDF 115k) to users. Joanne's getting promoted into another team at MIT, and I am so going to miss her style.

(To be fair, I understand that it is hard to build an application so that the back button works unless you built it that way from the start - as in Stellar - so the developers weren't being completely unreasonable. I still think it is legitimate user expectation that clicking the back button won't break the website, and it is still an important functionality for Sakai to deliver on.)

My Web Browsing, A-Z

I think there was a blog meme a while back where people were putting in what got automatically filed into their web browser upon entering one letter from the alphabet. I tried it out, and it's pretty good portrait of what I've been browsing.

My team's basecamp site
Home is where the heart is
Sakai project collaboration sites
Everybody's favorite link manager
I boldly stated my position in the "Is Spongebob Corrupting Our Youth" debate.
Where I share my photos
I just had to renew the domain for docwalla
I was nice and filled out the survey after my stay. I prefer the Westin, though.
I've been checking schedule at the local public TV station
A nice article on designing web forms. I should have blogged it.
Part of my nerd-improvement plan
Gotta rearrange that queue regularly
Martha Stewart for nerds
This is the login for the wireless at our local cafe
I must have updated my Quicksilver. That little app has saved me so much time.
Making reservations for a night out with Lisa
Where I go to hunt bugs
I need a little break occasionally, alright?
Weird pictures of an abandoned apple store in Kuwait
Would be on my blogroll if o had one
I just click here to see if my internet connection is up
Is this a beautifully formatted RSS feed or what?
He's got a steady hold on the "z" in my autofill table.