In a time where we have elections that lead to a change in our laws and weather events that affect millions in unpredicted ways, we are again reminded of the importance of people. Without each other, we have nothing. With each other, though, we are capable of doing things that previous generations thought impossible.
I am thankful that we live in a world where we continue to push forward by developing new things.
‘Thingsâ€ here can have many definitions. Some things are tangible consumer devices that bring us joy. Things like iPad Minis and 50″ 3D televisions. Other tangible things include healthcare robotic devices used for advanced surgeries. Or they can include larger things like the Tesla S, Motor Trend’s car of the year.
Things can also be new services. Khan Academy is changing the ways students learn. Uber is changing how people get private transportation in cities. Even simple things like booking a night in another city are made cheaper and better with services like Airbnb.
Things can also be ideas. Some ideas are new, like Rolling Jubilee’s idea to abolish millions of $$$ of debt. Or an idea that currency can be decentralized with Bitcoin. Or even an older idea of One Laptop Per Child that aims to empower children through education.
I’m thankful that we have all these things. I’m very thankful that we didn’t have many of them 10 years ago. Why? Because we have innovated.
The last 10 years have not been easy. We (as a country and a planet) have had economic challenges, fought in wars, and yet we have continued to innovate.
I am most thankful about the things I can’t list here. The things that I don’t know about, that only live in the labs or minds of people around the world. Things that will become a big part of my life or of the life of someone 10,000 miles from here.
I am thankful that we have continued to move forward, and we will continue to move forward.
With all of the recent focus on protecting the open web, it’s been great to read some of the stories that really show people’s passion for the internet community. Here is a recent story from us on how we created a new feature for our users.
The Tendenci Tabs
Tendenci modules have tabs. In past and current versions of the software we have used a tabbed navigation system for our modules with exposed module and contextual links mixed together. Let me give an example.
When viewing an Article as a site administrator, you will see links that relate to all articles, such as:
Add an Article
These links are great and are useful anywhere in the Articles module. You will also see these links:
The links in the second group relate just to the article we are viewing. In some cases, the separation between these two sets of links is obvious. However, in more complex modules like Event registration and Membership management, these links can really start to add up. See the image below for a real world example:
We have been on the hunt for a solution to this problem for some time and were fortunate to stumble upon a perfect solution earlier this week.
A few days ago our team came across an article about Bootstrap on A List Apart. In it, author Mark Otto of Twitter describes the process of creating Bootstrap, an “open-source front-end toolkit” made with the goal of helping designers/developers build good stuff fast. While I’ve always been a sucker for the newest and the flashiest in web tech, Bootstrap had much more going for it. It is cross-browser tested so it will work for the broad majority of people. It’s written with LESS, a programmer-friendly way of writing and compiling CSS. Best of all, it’s freely available to use.
The New Tendenci Tabs
There are several parts of Bootstrap that we like, and one of the key features we are now using in Tendenci 5 is the tabs. The tab design from Bootstrap allow us to tuck all of our module links into a drop down, and with a little programming from our side, we can create columns and grouping for much better organization. We’ve chosen to split these two groups of links into two columns, each labelled, with the goal of making it easier to find the links to the functionality you want.
We outlined this goal and sketched out some ways of implementing this into the software. We began the work on Wednesday the 18th and were able to complete it in less than 24 hours and in time for our weekly release. We think the tabs have a much more modern, clean look that will go well next to more modern site designs. We are excited about the aesthetic changes, but the new functionality for the tab links is the real shining point here.
Without toolkits like Bootstrap, we would never have been able to implement a solution in such little time. Without a free and open web, companies like Twitter may not be able to gain enough success to be able to release tools like these. Companies like Github are relied on by people like us making software to be used on the web. It’s great tools like these that help us rapidly develop new features and updates for Tendenci.
We are very excited to announce our new tabs, and we give a big thanks to Bootstrap. They should be rolling out to a Tendenci 5 site near you soon.
The Tendenci development team is making updates and adding new functionality daily, all of which is automatically added to all Tendenci 5 sites. We’d like to highlight a couple of the backend features that we think make Tendenci a standout product.
Open Source Platforms
Tendenci 5 is built on top of several open source technologies. We utilize apache for our web server, a free software that powers some of the largest sites on the internet. Our databases our in Postgres, which provides similar functionality to Microsoft SQL databases without any of the licensing fees. Our servers live in the cloud, to provide maximum uptime and durability. The Linux operating system powers our servers, and provides us with great open source tools to help enhance the websites that run on top of it. And the specialized search indexing functionality comes from Solr, an open source product that provides fast, accurate search results for sites with thousands of pieces of content.
The crown jewel is Django, a framework built in python that supports thousands of websites. The Django community continues to provide active development and security updates, which helps keeps Tendenci secure. Django and python offer speed and functionality for publishing content and have a highly flexible template system to make your site your own. The built-in tools in Django allow the Tendenci development team to makes changes quicker and make the software more flexible.
Tendenci allows organizations to manage memberships as well as groups of people that may not be paying members. T5 takes these associations and allows admins to create selective benefits for members on the website. For example, a site could have a set of Members-Only pages where members could read articles or see news updates that weren’t available to the general public. These selective benefits also apply to event registration, so specific member groups can be offered a lower rate than non-members. These controls allow organization administrators to provide extra benefits to their membership which can help increase member turnover and grow the organization.
New advancements have also been made in site-wide search. Tendenci utilizes Solr search combined with Haystack to create a fast and accurate search across multiple apps at once. This means you can search for Articles, News releases, Jobs, Resumes, and Photos all from the same search box. The search also handles all of the selective benefits, so each member can only search content they are permitted to see. Site-wide search allows administrators to filter through all of their content and site visitors to find the info they need.
Tendenci has advanced features for administrators that let them perform advanced actions more quickly. There is an admin bar across the top of the website where admins can quickly jump to different apps in the software like articles or events. Admins can view reports, update their template, or add a new photo set all from the admin bar. Because of the selective benefits described above, different site users may have access to different pieces of content.
UPDATE: Impersonation was removed for increased security: Tendenci 5 comes with impersonation, the ability to view the website as another user. Admins can quickly impersonate a user to see how the website looks for them. We have found this to be a time-saving feature that gives administrators a quick tool to check security settings for their content.
In previous versions of Tendenci, it was difficult for a single website to have a customized feature in the “core” code. Tendenci 5 helps this in two ways: Templates and Plugins. Templating is a feature of Django, and Tendenci leverages it to allow site owners to customize every part of the visual display of their site. From customizing automated emails to changing a list to a grid, template customization gives site owners the power to make the software work for their organization. Plugins are completely new to Tendenci. Our plugin system allows site owners to activate custom plugins for them. This may be in the form of an app like a Testimonials list or a Donations plugin. These plugins can be completely customized. Get with our sales team for more information on custom plugins.
In addition to this post, we will be spotlighting some of the newest functionality in Tendenci 5 right here on the blog, so be sure to subscribe if you have already migrated to T5 or are interested in migrating. For more info, please contact Tendenci..
Our typical fun Friday posts take on subjects not often mentioned here on the Schipul Blog, and I am proud to introduce College Football into the mix.
December has always been Bowl season in college football. More recently, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) has brought both excitement and controversy into the college football landscape. Here’s some brief information to catch you up to speed on college football bowl games:
The 1902 Rose Bowl between Michigan and Stanford was the 1st Bowl game
The Bowl Championship series began in 1998 with the Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta bowls
The BCS bowls match the #1 and #2 teams together, along with other conference champions
Recently (2006), the BCS has added a 5th game, the Championship game, to allow more teams into BCS games
The BCS process has been under much scrutiny every year
That final point is where I’d like to focus in on. You might assume that if the BCS contains 5 games, that the Top 10 teams at the end of the season would participate in the BCS games. This has in fact never been the case. The BCS teams are made up of the #1 and #2 teams in the country, along with the conference champions from the:
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
Big XII Conference
Big East Conference
Big Ten Conference
Pac 10 Conference
Southeastern Conference (SEC)
The additional spots are made up of other top teams in the country, chosen at the selection process. Top teams in the country that are not in one of these big six conferences typically have a much harder time making it into the BCS games (except Notre Dame, who has a special guarantee agreement if they finish in the Top 8 of the BCS rankings).
The BCS rankings are made up of 2 polls and an average 6 computer rankings. Currently the 2 polls are the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and Harris Poll (no link, because it’s a mystery why this poll is even used). The AP Poll requested to be removed from the BCS in 2004 amidst controversy of rankings in the 2003 season. This was just the beginning of controversy in the BCS. Below, I recap some of the controversy in the short history of the BCS.
1998 – #3 Kansas State was left out in the cold because of a loss to Texas A&M in the Big XII Conference championship (a great overtime win). Not all conferences play championship games, and if Kansas State did not have to play in this game, they would have been undefeated and would have very likely would have played Tennessee for the National Championship.
1999 – With only two undefeated teams, the BCS correctly chose Florida State to play Virginia Tech. Not too tricky.
2000 – Oklahoma was the only undefeated team, and Florida State was chosen as the best team with one loss, despite it’s loss coming to Miami, another one-beaten team who’s loss came to Washington, the third one-beaten. Florida State’s Strength of Schedule (combined record of opponents + some math) boosted them in the BCS rankings. Strength of Schedule (SOS) continues to be a key element in the computer portion of the BCS rankings.
2001 – While there wasn’t any controversy in the #1 and #2 selections, a 3-loss LSU team (from the SEC) defeated a 1-loss Illinois team from the Big Ten. This begins what will become the dominance of SEC teams in BCS games.
2002 – Again, a clear Championship game between undefeated Miami and Ohio State (a controversial double-overtime game). This year, Florida State was the ACC champion, despite having 4 losses. This begins the ACC’s separation from the other conferences as true college football powers.
2003 – Despite being #1 in both of the human polls (Coaches poll and AP poll), USC (of the Pac 10) was #3 in the BCS rankings and was left out of the National Championship game. The Coaches poll was contractually obligated to award LSU as the national champ after their victory over OU. The AP poll gave their championship to USC, who had a great victory over Michigan in the Rose bowl. This was part of the seed that prompted the AP poll to opt out of being used by the BCS.
2004 – Four teams finished the regular season undefeated. USC and OU played for the championship, while Auburn (from the SEC) was left out. The fourth team, Utah, is in the Mountain West conference, which is not one of the big six used by the BCS. This fact, combined with their SOS, prevented them from being selected in the top 2. This denial to non-major conference teams continues today. Utah won their game easily against the 3-loss Big East champ Pitt. The Big East also began to slide just like the ACC in 2002.
2005 – Texas defeated USC in a fantastic game of the only two undefeated teams. While no controversy, the selection of two of two undefeated teams doesn’t take a fancy formula. Florida State, with 4 losses, becomes the lowest ranked team (#22) to play in a BCS game, while 1-loss Oregon (#5) did not get a BCS bowl bid.
2006 – While there were two undefeated teams, only one of them (Ohio State) played in the championship game. Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), who went on to win their bowl game and finish undefeated, was ranked 8th behind two teams each with two losses (LSU and USC). This continued the trend since 2004 of not showing much respect to non-major conference teams that go undefeated.
2007 – The next to last week of BCS rankings had Missouri and West Virginia in the #1 and #2 spots, two surprises for the season, though both teams lost their final games to then drop out of the top spots. A 2-loss LSU team defeated 1-loss Ohio State, while undefeated Hawaii was only ever ranked as high as #10. It should be noted that Hawaii was crushed by Georgia in their bowl game.
2008 – An undefeated Boise State team and an undefeated Utah team both finished undefeated and in the Top 10 of the BCS, though neither team played for a national championship. Boise did not even play in a BCS game, while again a 4-loss ACC team was given an automatic bid.
2009 – Again, an undefeated Boise State and an undefeated TCU (#6 and #4), where not allowed in the championship game. This was probably a good decision, since there were other undefeated teams. Sadly, Boise and TCU were forced to play each other, which prevented them from showing the nation how we truly stack up against one another.
2010 – Will Boise State and TCU still be left on the outside looking in? Only time will tell.
Why is this such a big deal? At the heart of the BCS is money, and lots of it. Nicholas Bakalar of the NY Times took on this issue in 2009, highlighting the drastic difference in BCS game payouts compared to other bowl games. ESPN recently signed a $500 million 4-year deal to own the rights to the 5 BCS games. Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal covers in detail the split of the money to the football conferences from the BCS pool of fund.
Now, some of you may argue that the BCS does work, since it has helped to make some tough decisions over the past 12 years. I’ll leave you to make your case in the comments below.
I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
These words can be found in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (pg. 32), but they are not originally attributed to him. Similarly, that book is not the first place I have heard this virtue. I first heard those words from my father, and have heard them repeated here in the Schipul offices.
I don’t remember the circumstances of my first exposure to this virtuous statement, though I can only imagine it was one of the many times that I failed to appreciate an opportunity for kindness. My dad sat down with me and shared “I shall pass this way but once”. He went on to explain the broader meaning of the tale. It’s not about passing through a town or place or really anything specific. It’s about every moment, every interaction, every opportunity to do good. It’s not about buying gifts or planning celebrations. It’s all about the little ways you can show kindness, much like those Liberty Mutual commercials.
It’s easy to glamorize doing good things, to fantasize about writing huge checks or volunteering every weekend somewhere or even just planning special events for your family every night. But this message is about doing much less and achieving much more than those things. It’s the tiny, seemingly insignificant things that you can do to help someone else out that can matter so much more to them. You don’t have to spend money or give all your time, you just need to act in a good and kind nature.
But this is only the first half of the message. The latter portion is a bit more intimidating. As we grow older, we begin to recognize the missed opportunities of our past. I’m only 25 and I can count stacks of occasions, of moments, when I could have been better. As my father explained to me, life comes with thousands of opportunities, but you only get one shot at each one. I can’t go back in time and hold the elevator for the woman I can hear walking down the hallway. I can’t go back and offer to clean the dishes from a meal that I did not have to cook myself. Each opportunity presents itself only once, and we must seize each as an opportunity to show kindness.
Thanks Dad, for reminding me often that I shall pass this way but once.
So, you have decided to go on vacation. Great choice. The “staycation” is so 2009. But, travelling often takes time, and kids of all ages will need some entertainment. Below are some great choices of iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad apps to entertain kids and adults alike.
*Apps with a (+) are available on iPad and iPhone/iPod touch.
Canabalt (+) – $2.99 – Tap to jump and don’t fall off. The techno background music is pleasant, and the images and design will remind you of the future world from the Terminator series.
Robot Unicorn Attack – $2.99 – It’s almost exactly the same as Canabalt, except it’s made by adult swim, it’s a unicorn, and the background music is Erasure. I can see your eyes are open.
BlocksClassic (+) – $0.99 – A simple block breaker type game that will keep you occupied in the spare minutes you have during the day.
Bubble Snap (+) – Free – Perfect for little kids, because all you can do is pop bubbles. Just be sure to explain that the big button at the bottom isn’t a super-bubble.
Enigmo – $2.99 – This is a puzzle that lets you place elements to control the flow of water drops. Most puzzles can be solved multiple ways, so be creative with your solutions.
Electric box – $0.99 – This puzzler is similar to Enigmo, but adds some science flair. Your inner geek will really enjoy it.
Geared (+) – $2.99 – You combine gears of different shapes to turn other gears. However, gravity adds a bit of challenge and this game will keep challenging you.
Fifteen – Free – This is a classic puzzle of 16 tiles numbered 1-15 that are shuffled around into correct order. The timer adds a motivator. See if you can beat 21 seconds.
Implode! XL (+) – $2.99 – This app offers up structures that must be demolished. If you are any kind of engineer (or like to blow stuff up), then this is a great app for you. The missions get harder with obstacles and height restrictions, so this is one you can play for a long time.
Words with Friends (+) – $1.99 – It’s scrabble for the iPhone, but a bit better. Play with your friends and see who is the best wordsmith. Read up on the tips from Qcait.
Guitar Hero – $2.99 + in-app – This takes the bits we know and love from the Tap Tap franchise and combines it with some great extra features for the iPhone.
Monopoly – $2.99 – I know the Urban Houstonian would agree that this is the top game available. Nice graphics, true to rules gameplay, and all of it from your pocket.
Fieldrunners (+) – $2.99 – This tower-defense style of game is so much fun to play, and now comes at a much more affordable price. Gotta love the electric towers.
Plants vs. Zombies (+) – $2.99 – I don’t actually play this game myself, but I have watched my brother play it for hours on a road trip. It looks amazing and would probably be up your alley if you enjoy Farmville.
Flight Control (+) – $0.99 – This game puts you in the role of air-traffic controller and lets you direct plans to proper runways. I highly recommend it, especially if you are on a plane.
Angry Birds (+) – $0.99 – Part puzzle and part fun, this app shoots birds into pigs. The silly animations and characters add to the fun of aiming and shooting the angry birds. This is a great fit for kids young and old.
Texas Hold’em – $4.99 – One of best games at the original app store launch is still a favorite. Flick your cards to fold’em or push in your chip stack for an All In. My favorite play is to link up with friends who have the app and play heads up poker until someone busts.
Not Really a Game
iDaft 2 – Free – Harder, Better, Faster, and Stronger. And fun. Come by the Schipul offices after 6pm and you can hear me rocking out on this app.
Koi Pond – $0.99 – Entertaining for little ones, very serene, and you can actually feed the fish.
Le Petit Dummy – Free + in-app – Make your friends say whatever you want. Add moving mouths to pictures on your device and make them move as you talk.
I am T-Pain – $2.99 + in-app – Auto-Tune your own voice and you can be T-Pain (minus the dreads). Add on songs to sing along with, including the world-famous I’m on a Boat.
All of these apps may not float your boat, but I image there are a few gems in there for everyone to enjoy. I’ve linked to the paid version of these apps because I think they are all worth the money, but several of them do offer free “lite” versions in the app store. The total on this page comes to right around $40 which is probably high for most people. I budget about $10 a month and have built a respectable library in the 2 years that the app store has been open. Start out with what looks interesting to you and have a geek blast on your next vacation.
Facebook has been booming in the last year. New features, controversies, applications, and millions of new users. However, you can no longer count me in that group of people. Follow along as I detail my reasons for leaving the most popular social network of all time.
Special Note: This is my story from my perspective as a Facebook user. Facebook has over 400 Million other users, and it is filled with marketing and community building opportunities. You shouldn’t base your decision about Facebook solely on my experience.
I signed up for Facebook when I was a college sophomore at Texas A&M in 2004. This was when it was university students only and they were regularly updating the homepage to list the new schools that were available on Facebook. I refer to this period as the “Good Ole’ Days of Facebook”. Call me elitist, but I loved when Facebook was only for college kids. There weren’t as many features back in those days, and friend lists were a manageable number for most, hovering around 200 on average.
The basic features were pretty simple. You could write on someones wall, or send them a message. There was a really cool feature where you could see your extended network (friends of friends). It was a perfect way to connect with kids I knew in other states or at other schools. And at that time, anyone that wasn’t in college couldn’t spy on your wall or photos or anything else you did on Facebook. It was ours and ours alone, and that was the best privacy controls we ever had. Then things started to change.
In 2006, Facebook introduced the News Feed, and it freaked everyone out. You could now see how many times Sally updated her favorite TV Shows, Quotes, etc. in a day. Some of my friends have 50+ updates in a span of 20 minutes, and they were all thoroughly embarrassed to see them listed next to each other on their friends’ news feeds. I personally loved the news feed, as it kept me from having to visit everyones page to “stalk” them. This also marked the first privacy concerns for Facebook, as the controls for what showed up in the news feed were not added until later.
As Facebook became essential for college students, I began to fall out of love with the service. I would get important messages sent through Facebook instead of email and would end up missing out on things. The email forwarding for messages or other invites were not around at that time, and is now fodder for viruses. The photos and tagging came about, which is probably the only useful service from Facebook, and immediately everyone was tagged at their best and worst. “Un-tagging” yourself was now added to the to-do list for finding a job.
I enjoyed keeping up with my friends, but their was and still is large social pressure to “friend” anyone that you have met in person, even if it was for 10 minutes at a party. I, along with most people, had grown my friend list to a point where it was now full of more people I wouldn’t consider close friends than with my real friends. It had become an acquaintance manager, but most of the features like news feed were only really useful for your real friends. I began logging in less and less because the news feed was filled with a bunch of crap I didn’t really care about. Then came applications.
The Application Madness
This was the beginning of the end. When Facebook applications first surfaced in 2007, it seemed like a breakthrough that was moving Facebook into a real platform. What really happened was much different. Thousands of developers created applications that you probably didn’t care about at all. Then, one of your 400 friends who you didn’t really know would try to get you to sign up for them. Mafia Wars, Dinosaur eggs, 50 different birthday calendars. There was no end to this stream of useless and distracting invites. All of this encouraged me to login even less. While you can now block all application invites from a friend, these controls did not exist at the time. The push of features without the necessary controls in the backend was starting to become a horrible trend. Next was the privacy concerns with applications. Developers were making cash hand over fist by offering in game points for your information. Sometimes it was a harmless form that took your email address. Other times it was with a credit card signup that could mar a freshman’s credit if they weren’t careful. And all so you could grow grapes faster on a make-believe farm.
There were little things like Facebook Beacon and Phone numbers in the iPhone app, and the recent additions of connecting with websites automatically that I truly despise. I eventually removed most of my “friends” because I couldn’t remember who they were. I blocked all applications from everyone, and tried my best to block many of the emails, but I wasn’t very successful at that. Then, in the last few months, I just got fed up with the privacy errors that Facebook was making over and over. I decided to weigh the pros and cons of staying on Facebook, and it was clear that it was time for me to leave.
Being tagged in photos I didn’t take
Hearing news and updates from people I didn’t keep in touch with very well
My information was being sold to the highest bidder
The distractions and noise of applications, news feed, and messages/emails
The social pressure of “friending” anyone I may have met
The time-suck that is all of Facebook
If I were a college student, things might be different. For now, I think Facebook gives you a false sense of staying in touch with friends. Reading online that Joe just got engaged because her status changed is far different than a phone call or a real-life hug and high five. I spend quite a bit of time on the internet, and for me, interactions with other people are best done offline. If someone is looking for me, they shouldn’t have much trouble finding me. And if I am looking for someone, I can use Google or ask my girlfriend to look them up on Facebook.
The privacy concerns continue to get bigger and bigger. It’s not that I don’t want people to know who I am. It’s that I want complete control over who sees what, and I don’t want things turned on in the background without my explicit knowledge. Facebook has always tried to fix things, butneverbeforetheyneededtobefixed.
You have to understand that Facebook sells attention and information. Facebook users, their data, and their attention are the products that Facebook sells to advertisers. I’d prefer not to be sold to when trying to relax. I consider myself a pretty savvy web user, and jumping through all of the Facebook hoops to block things is taxing for me. I can’t image that the average Facebook user monitors or even understands much of this.
Back in my engineering classes we talked about Peak Oil and what it meant for the world. Now, I’ve been thinking much more about Peak Facebook and what it means for the internet and social networks. How much longer are you prepared to remain on Facebook?
I have been very happy with twitter as a service. The relationship (“follower”) is only one-way, meaning I can follow Coco’s updates without receiving a reciprocal follow from him. I also use Tumblr and Google Reader for finding interesting things on the web, Flickr for photographs, YouTube and Vimeo for video, and del.icio.us for social bookmarking.
I maintain my own website on wordpress to host my info and content, and it has a simple contact form (and Google Phone number) for people to get in touch with me. I keep up with my friends through email and the other services mentioned above, and do my best to see them in real life as much as possible. In a long Kevin Kelly article about Amish Hackers, he quotes one Amish-man describing the problem with PDA’s, smartphones, and other devices being that “you got messages rather than conversations.” I have made it a goal of mine to have more conversations and send/receive fewer messages.
I think Facebook sends many messages and offers very few conversations. This is true of many of the services I use, however Facebook is (was) the only one that bills itself as a platform to connect people. Messages (status updates, photos, “likes”, links, notes, etc.) from hundreds of acquaintances cannot replace conversations with people I care about. Facebook doesn’t help me to connect with my friends, and instead feeds me ads, invites, messages, and other things that take time away from my day. I’m choosing a different route than most, and I’m very comfortable doing so.
I was pretty excited the day I heard about this thing. Now I’m typing this very blog post on it, sitting on an airplane on the way to California. What follows here is less of a review (5 thumbs up!) and more of a commentary on why I think this thing is the beginning of something.
iPad Form and Feel
The specs on the device don’t really do it justice. The screen is much bigger than an iPhone, but not exactly as big as a laptop screen. It weighs about as much as a dinner plate, which is light to move around but heavy to hold one-handed. The aluminum is a bit slippery to the touch, but I’ve got the apple case on mine which is thin but tactile enough that I don’t expect to drop it. While adding a case adds thickness, it doesn’t matter that much because the iPad is much too big to put in a pocket.
The screen is the same buttery-smooth glass as the iPhone. Fingers slide around very easily, though they do cause quite a bit of smudging. The buttons are all distinctly placed and easy to access. The headphone jack occasionally seems to be in the wrong place, but that it easily corrected by rotating the screen. Almost every app rotates around so that there is no top or bottom of the device. Overall the device is plenty big to see and light enough for a lap, which secures it in that middle space between iPhone and MacBook.
iPad Function and Performance
This thing is fast! The biggest problem that has plagued many similar portable devices is speed, and the iPad delivers better than anything I’ve ever used. You tap or swipe something, and things start happening immediately. The Wi-Fi is quick and browsing websites feels as fast as using a desktop.
The function of this magical thing is most called into question. If I already have a laptop, desktop, and an iPhone, why would someone ever need an iPad? Well, the short answer is you don’t need it, but you probably really want it. The iPad combines much of the portability of the phone with the power and relative size of a laptop. Using the apps loaded on the device along with some from the app store you can:
Play games where you touch the screen
Surf the web on a large screen
Read and respond to email with a full keyboard
Administer websites from a command line
Design websites using mockup and graphics apps
Edit, share, and upload photos
Write blog posts (like this one)
While that likely doesn’t cover 100% of what you do in a day, it probably covers 75-80%. And in doing so, it lets you do the things you need (or want) to do from a couch, coffee shop, airplane, or even the beach with the 3G model. The battery life will cover you all day, as it is pretty true to the quoted 10 hours. I got only 9 hours with the 3G, but that is still much longer than I would get if I was constantly using the iPhone or even a laptop.
Worth the cost?
I, likemanyotherpeople, fully expected the iPad to cost over $1000 when it was first announced in January of this year. I was blown away by the entry-level price of $499. For some people, that $499 version (16GB, Wi-Fi only) will be good enough. I settled in on the 32GB model with 3G, which rang up to close to $800 after taxes and such. Throw in the case and a couple of other extras and it’s closer to $900. Then, pile on the $80 on apps I have spent so far and I am almost at that $1000 mark. Even then, I think it all has been worth it.
The iPad changes my entire day. I wake up and am able to read my RSS feeds on a large, light weight screen while sitting in bed. That’s about 20 minutes a day. I take the iPad to work and use it to check and file email, test web designs, and keep up with social media. At night, I take it home and I browse the web from the dinner table or while on the couch. I use it as a giant remote for the media center computer hooked up to my TV. All in all, I probably spend about 3 hours a day with the device.
While I could do most of those things from a phone or a laptop, they are so much nicer on the iPad. It has the best balance of being powerful and portable than any other device I’ve ever used (and I’ve used a few). Having a great experience for 3 hours a day is entirely worth the cost of the device.
Future of computing
There was much debate before the device was released (some of which I contributed to) about the effects of the iPad on the future of computer. I do believe that touch is something that will be around for the relative future, until we get Minority Report style gesture interfaces. Using the device needs little or no training to jump in and start browsing or using apps. That jumps a major hurdle in using almost any other computing device. The iPad was made for people who aren’t that in to computers, but who use email, social media, and the internet at large.
A big part of the negative side of the discussion comes from individuals who want a normal computer with a touch screen. This is not the iPad, and I don’t think it describes the future of computing. When you really think about the level of abstraction that is involved in a normal desktop, it’s pretty mind-blowing. If you come in with the goal of wanting to look at pictures, you have to find the right folder, open the pictures (usually 1 by 1), and flip through them while they are surrounded by a window with menus and buttons and other extras. On the iPad, you tap the photos app, and there they are. When browsing a photo, your options are limited to what you can do with that photo at that moment. Many people are scared of that word ‘limited’, but I think the reduction in UI junk helps you to accomplish your goals at that time.
All of this said, the iPad can’t do everything. I won’t speak on Flash, because that has been talked to death, but the iPad is also incapable of some other things. As I said before it tackles about 80% of computing tasks. But remember, this is just the first iteration. The biggest thing the iPad has going for it is that it makes the things you want to do easier and more fun.
I’ve had my iPad for just over a week, and I love it. I carry it around with me and have already used it for movies at the gym, in a client presentation, while taking notes, at home, at my desk, and on an air plane. Much of those things can be done other ways, but nothing can do all of them the way the iPad can. Check out the iPad at your local Apple store or borrow one from your local Apple fanboy so you can understand what I am talking about.
While this review was written on an iPad with both the onscreen keyboard and a Bluetooth one, the post was published on a desktop.
Wow, it’s been a long ride here in San Francisco. From our training for CiviCRM to Day 1 and Day 2, we have seen a bunch of Drupal. Wednesday was no different. Here was some of the interesting news from the final day.
Best Practices when running a Drupal shop
This panel was filled with leaders of Drupal companies from around the world like Phase 2 Technology, Development Seed, and Lullabot. From a 6 man shop to one with over 60 employees, the panelists answered some moderated questions along with those from the audience. The questioned covered the whole gamut of running a business: internal processes, sales, hiring, growth, and working with the community.
This group was especially great because, while the panelist all work with Drupal, there aren’t necessarily competing with one another. Each company has their own specialty and focus, and to see the coming together to benefit the community is wonderful. Many of their companies sponsor certain Drupal modules, which they see as a big benefit to their business. Of the advice they gave, my favorite was the notion of slow growth and giving back to the community.
Drush and Advanced Drush
Drush, which is a powerful tool in Drupal to use the command line to do some of the heavy lifting in configuration, was featured in back-to-back panels. The first was lead by Dmitri Gaskin, a 14-year-old who has been coding with Drupal for over 4 years. Though young, he lead a fantastic session. He covered the basics of installing Drush, and then showed many of the functions of things you could do with it. He demonstrated with ease the ability to create new sites almost instantly and how to enable/disable modules or do more advanced things like updating core and contributed modules. Dmitri handled questions like a pro with quick, concise answers. When some asked about something that Drush didn’t do, he simply answered “we are accepting patches”, which in the Drupal world means “build that yourself and share it”.
Following Dmitri was the Advanced Drush session. This was less of a live demo you could follow and more of a show-and-tell of future features for Drush. One of the new main features is a command-line interface special to Drush with custom commands that make navigating sites on the server much easier. The second feature, which is active in the Drush 3.0 beta, is the ability to have site aliases. This is a huge timesaver, since many Drush commands need to be repeated for those administering multiple Drupal sites. A site alias lets you specify the location, URL, and shortcut name to a site. Instead of having to type “/var/www/drupal-install/sites/sitename.com” you can just type “@sitename”. As someone who administers Drush, I can say from personal experience this is great to have.
Open Source in Government
David Cole, who is responsible for administering whitehouse.gov, spoke about decision to use Drupal and the implementation of the site. You can watch the entire Open Source in Government presentation online. To quickly recap, David explained how the government sees value in the open source community, and discussed how the Drupal framework is used for the site. He showed different features of the site and talked about the modules that were used. My favorite part was the announcement of new contributed modules, which are discussed at the White House Tech Blog.
David was followed by Andrew Hoppin from the NY State Senate, who discussed what was being done at the state senate. The NYSS team has also contributed modules back to the community, available at https://www.drupal.org/project/nyss. The big focus was on getting participation from people in the state who will now have an easier time participating in their local government.
Turn that UX frown upside down
Steve Fisher lead this session, which mostly discussed the importance and use of good user interface design in websites. While his talk was not necessarily Drupal-specific, it certainly was important to the community. Drupal has been known to not have the greatest UI, but Steve discussed how Drupal can have great UI by focusing on designing the front-end for users and not for the admins.
Steve showcased some of the basic things that make sites easier for users like highlighting the navigation when you are on that page, or keeping the search field in the top right. He also talked about thinking about the site as a new user, and not as a yourself. He recommended simple user testing by asking your mom (or just someone who hasn’t seen the site) to test things out. Finally, he discussed the importance of error screens (like 404s) and how users may not know what that means, so you should explain the error in common terms and give them helpful options for moving forward.
Chris Shattuck of buildamodule.com lead a session where he explained module development. He talked about the different type of modules that are built, as well as some of the different methods to building a module. This included ways of using another modules code to learn and change things to build a new module.
He then demonstrated building a simple module that modified a new page form. He showed the Devel module, which is hugely useful to module developers, and worked step-by-step so those of us in the audience could follow along. While I have spent some time in module development, this session brought some clarity to best practices and gave tips to speed up development.
After that was a closing session to give thanks to all those who planned and participated in DrupalCon SF 2010. The Drupal community is truly wonderful, and being able to put faces to screen names was fantastic. I’m very excited to keep up connections with the new people I met, as well as plan for DrupalCon 2011.
If you have questions about how Drupal can benefit your organization or improve your website for users and admins, contact us at Schipul to see if we can help you use Drupal to meet your needs.
Day 1 was pretty good, but Day 2 brought even more useful knowledge from the community and the presenters. Here is a bit about the different sessions that I was able to attend.
Drupal 7 here we come
Dries touched on some of the new features on Monday, but this session dove into greater detail (especially from a developer’s perspective). The large group from Palantir.net discussed many of the refinements in Drupal 7. Drupal 6 combined with many of the current modules gives you a huge amount of power, and Drupal 7 puts some polish on the usability of these features. As developers we are able to have much more control over the backend and are given some great tools to theme sites much easier.
The other great innovation is the GUI interface for uploading new modules. If you’ve ever had to FTP into sites/all/modules (or accidentally into /modules), then you know some of the difficulty in adding new features. The new interface will let you upload and configure your new modules straight from the browser. We at Schipul are very excited about this because it gives out clients an easier path to upgrade their own sites and add on great features from new modules.
Drupal in the Cloud
There was quite a bit of discussion about the cloud on Tuesday, but this session helped to set a realistic understanding of what the cloud means for businesses and end users. Josh Koenig discussed his product, Mercury, which has partnered with Rackspace to allow people to launch Drupal sites in the cloud that are already preconfigured to run a highly optimized stack capable of serving pages 200 times faster than a traditional server. The cloud hosting, which is similar to VPS, lets users launch, pause, backup, and shutdown new server instances very quickly. The server size also scales very easily so you can grow with a few clicks in a web interface.
One of my favorite parts about Mercury is that, just like Drupal, it is completely open source. If someone has the technological know-how (or the time) you can setup and host your own Mercury server. This is fantastic because it shows how open source can actually be used to run a business. Along with that, Rackspace is involved by helping to connect the code with their giant pool of servers and opens up some of their technology to help Mercury sites scale. To cap off the presentation, Josh did a live demo (a bit “cowboy-ish” according to him) that demostrated the ease of setting up a Mercury site. Great job Josh!
Views 3 for developers
This was another nerdy session like yesterday’s OOP in Drupal, and oddly enough it was given by the same guy, Larry Garfield. First he gave an overview of how Views works and what changes are coming in Views 3. The separation of tasks at the core were my favorite, because it really helps in training new people to use Views. I especially enjoyed this presentation because he did a live demonstration of a couple of tiny plugins for Views that add custom functionality. This was great for much of the audience because it gave everyone the tools to fill their custom needs when it comes to making Views.
Keynote by Tim O’Reilly
Tim O’Reilly came in to talk about the Cloud and what it means for everyone (not just Drupalers). Tim described the internet and all of the data that makes it up as a huge knowledge base that can be shared through APIs. Part of the problem with understand the “Cloud” is that the word means things that are different to everyone. He cleared the air to really explain that the cloud is knowledge and that the Internet will soon need a better operating system to manage and share all of this data.
Drupal 7 is coming out with RDF support built in, which allows smart data tags to share data across the web. This is a great advancement in moving toward the eventual future of everything being in the cloud. After hearing the earlier talk about Mercury, I am now finding more and more cases where the cloud makes sense for both my own needs and for my work. Tim finished with discussing data.gov and other ways that big pieces of data are being shared. Data sharing is needed, data sharing is the future, and data sharing will be done in the cloud.
Apache Solr Search
While Drupal core comes with a Search module, it is tied to the database and can really slow things down on a large Drupal site. Solr is an application that runs on the server that stores search information in a different place and is highly optimized to serve great results quickly. The panel (James McKinney in particular) talked about how you can take a standard install of Solr and combine it with Drupal to make customized search results pages with great filtering and smarter sorting. If your Drupal site has a large amount of content and you think your users will want search, spending some time with Solr may be much better than complex taxonomies and customized Views.
Making Drupal Admin Simple
This was a much needed panel, because by default, the Drupal administration is not so easy. The group discussed some of the smart things that make content entry and site moderation much easier. Combining things like specialized node referencing along with a custom admin theme can go a long way to providing the end users with a better experience using a website.
During the session they had several live demos and examples of some of the backend tweaks that they recommend. All of these little distinctions combined together can make a Drupal site admin area look gorgeous. Some of those recommendations included the Rubik theme, the Admin module (2.0), and node relationships. If you aren’t using these on your site, give them a shot and see if the give you a better experience.
DrupalCon Day 2 continued the trend of being packed with information. We are very excited about some of the things coming in Day 3. Come back tomorrow for a recap of the final day of DrupalCon SF 2010.