All posts by dnorman

my photo publishing workflow

Alec asked how people manage and publish photos, which got me thinking about how I do it. I use a mix of old school offline management via Aperture on my home laptop as the central hub (which makes me nervous now that Aperture  is Dead App Walking). I publish photos first to my own website, and then republish to other platforms automatically. If the third party stuff goes away (or I decide they’re evil enough to cut ties with), I lose nothing.

PhotoPublishingWorkflow

SSL certificate updated

The SSL certificate I’d been using for this site had been about to expire, so I tried yanking it so I could replace it with something powered by Let’s Encrypt (which is backed by the EFF, Mozilla, Automattic, etc…). But, Let’s Encrypt doesn’t launch until the fall, so the timing wasn’t right. In the meantime, some browsers were throwing fits as some of the parts of my site were still trying to load via secure HTTPS connections, while others weren’t. Chaos and hilarity ensued. darcynormandotnetsslSo, I just threw some money at the problem to get a shiny new certificate from SSL2Buy to get the site back on the air. I’d been trying to set up a free certificate through StartSSL, but that just didn’t work (and Firefox still freaked out with the free certificate).

SSL really needs to be easier if it’s going to be used by more folks – especially important, since Firefox is trying to deprecate non-secure HTTP.

2015 Week 27 in review

Work

Spent much of the week digging out of the hole caused by being out of the office for 10 days. Emails, voicemails, etc. Mostly caught up now. We’re planning the D2L upgrade from 10.3 to 10.4-or-10.5, which will kick in on August 24. It should be a smooth process, with D2L doing the heavy lifting, but we need to build the plan for what we need to test on our end, and to figure out what new features will be switched on. Looking forward to running current D2L versions – 10.3 is 2 years old, and many of the improvements we’ve seen at Fusion for the last couple of years have been unavailable to us.

We redesigned the D2L homepage to make it actually useful for students, rather than as a dumping ground for administrative links and announcements. Hopefully, students will find it more useful. Early feedback is mostly positive, with one helpful email “I HAVE THREE WORDS: IT F*CKING SUCKS” contribution from a student (but that was more than 3 words, so I’m not sure how to take it).

I’m working on a few proposals, and have put a lot of time into thinking about communities and networks at the UofC. Lots of things going on. An abstract representation is starting to form:

communities. kind of. more to come…

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Other

The SSL certificate for my site is about to expire. I’d planned to switch over to Let’s Encrypt (which had originally been scheduled to launch in time, but has now been pushed to September 2015 for general availability). I can’t justify the cost of renewing a wildcard certificate for a couple of months, so I’m temporarily pulling SSL from my site. Browsers seem to be OK with shifting back to HTTP: rather than HTTPS:, but Firefox seems crankier than it needs to be. Between proposing to deprecate HTTP and in being overly sensitive about SSL certificates, Firefox sure isn’t doing the non-corporate web any favours.

Redesigning the UCalgary D2L homepage

It seems like a small, unimportant thing, but the D2L homepage is probably the single most important web page for students. While they occasionally use the university website, and periodically use the my.ucalgary.ca portal (to sign up for courses and pay fees), D2L is where they spend a substantial chunk of their time as they work through their courses and programs. We’d launched D2L with a news-centric homepage, so that we could easily push notifications and support resources during the transition from Blackboard. It worked well for that, but became a dumping ground for accretion – links added, blurbs added, until it was a wall of text that everyone basically ignored.

So, we took a look at how students use D2L, and what they needed on the homepage. It’s their place, not The Institution’s, so it needs to be useful to students with a much higher priority than anyone else. The first thing students need is access to their courses. That used to be tucked into a small widget in the right sidebar. Now, it has the prime spot at the top of the main content area (where it should have been all along). Then, they need to be able to see what’s coming up – important dates on the calendar. Also, now right on the homepage. And they can enable it to show events from any of their courses as well (and then integrate it into their phones etc… through the iCal format). One thing that surprised us was the seemingly-trivial idea of having a weather widget on the homepage. Why on earth would that be needed? Clearly not necessary. But it can’t all be about need and necessity – sometimes it’s important to have a subtle reminder to go outside on a nice day (or a reminder to stay inside and study when it gets crappy outside).

I also made the decision to take many of the “Important Links” out – they were important to the people that wanted them there, but not necessarily to the students. We looked through the aggregated (and anonymized) web analytics to see which links had actually been used since January 1, 2015. Not many. So we made the call to remove several.

Also, we added a link to let students (and others) give feedback so we can hear complaints or suggestions and respond more quickly.

The Instructor-focused portions are not displayed to students – they don’t see the Instructor Resources or Grades Export sections because they’re not relevant. Students now get a pretty streamlined homepage (as it should have been from day 1), which should help them get to what they need, and to help keep organized throughout the semester.

It’s a collection of many small, seemingly trivial changes, but the overall redesign should make things much less painful for students.

D2L homepage, comparing old crappy version and awesome new version.
Left: the previous version, accreting things since launch in 2013. Right: Redesign with student needs given priority.

Access to Information denied

I filed a request under the Access to Information Act, for “All Information Available” – mostly, I was curious to see if my fraternization with Open Content Hippies or Open Source Radicals had placed me on any lists. I’d followed a link on Facebook (which I can’t find now, yay for no searchability in FB-land) with the link to the Government of Canada web page with the request process and form, and a note suggesting that the form would be disappearing soon.

So, I filled in a web form, gave them my credit card info (to pay for the processing fee), and 6 weeks later I get a boilerplate non-response in my mailbox. It states that there is either nothing on file about me, or there might (or might not) be something on file, but declaration of that fact (or non fact) would possibly (or not) fall under a possible exclusion from the Act due to possible relation to efforts of Canada towards detecting, preventing or suppressing subversive or hostile activities. I would never want to thwart suppression of subversion1.

Here’s the response in full (with my address and file number redacted):

FOIP-web

So. Either they don’t have anything on me. Or I’m being monitored closely to prevent suppression of subversion. Or something in between. Which can neither be confirmed nor denied.

  1. I assume they aren’t just declaring a REALLY strong preference for source code version management systems… []

2015 week 26 in review

Work

Still on the road – attended and presented at D2L Fusion this week. It was really great to see team members presenting about what we’ve done at UCalgary to finish successfully migrating from Bb to D2L. I’m still going through my notes from the conference, and may post something after I get back into the office. Lots of interesting stuff. Lots of stuff we were able to learn as a result of being able to meet with several people in the company1.

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Other

Just wrapping up a couple of vacation days tacked onto the work trip to Orlando. Did some more Disney stuff. Battled crowds and heat and crowded heat. Starting the travel home after posting this.

  1. I wrote a kind of snarky, pointed, difficult email before the conference, and as a result we were able to meet with several people within the company that we likely wouldn’t have been able to talk to otherwise. we all learned a lot, and left the conference feeling much more confident in our relationship with the company. []