A nonprofit WordPress site to manage tons of documents

I recently launched a WordPress site for the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (aka CHRGJ), a great human rights law organization based at NYU. We did an overhaul of a site that they were updating by hand, which of course WordPress is a great replacement for. The challenge, though, was managing the massive amount of documents they host. They’ve got press releases, articles, and full book-length PDF reports. WordPress has really come a long way in making itself flexible enough to handle the specific needs of a site like this. I used custom post types for the different types of documents so the staff could easily upload or enter content and know that it would go into the right place in the site. Now they’re set up to maintain an archive of all the important work they’re doing.

HTML5 Canvas is pretty cool

In March, I started working with skillfer.com, a new company that helps connect developers with startups, teaching a 2-hour crash course on the canvas element in HTML5. The great thing about teaching is you end up learning a lot in the process, and I’ve been really getting into canvas. It’s all Javascript coding, in a very Actionscript-like way, creating shapes programmatically and such. I’d been out of the habit of coding visual things, and it’s nice to get back to that.

The classes are going well — we end up going deeper into code than you’d think was possible in two hours. There are classes coming up in June and July. They happen at startups around the city. See the schedule at skillfer.

Some love for EmotionalBagCheck.com

Several months back, I made this project for fun called EmotionalBagCheck.com. It’s a site where you can leave your emotional “baggage”, and then someone else will reply to you with a song they think might be appropriate to your situation. The songs come in through the Grooveshark API, which is kind of fun. I shared the project with my friends, and they thought it was cool, but it didn’t get much traction until September of this year, by which time I’d almost forgotten about it. Suddenly it was getting tons and tons of visitors, largely through articles on All Things DWired UK, Marketplace and Good. I have to say, it feels really good to have one’s work acknowledged, especially when it’s a personal project and not something created to someone else’s specifications.

It’s interesting to watch how media attention turns something small into a perceived “legit” entity. I got a good bit of correspondence referring to “you guys” or “your company” — big press denotes a big entity, I guess. With one reporter, no matter how many times I said, “It’s not a company; it’s just me. There’s not a business model; it’s an art project” she’d shoot back something like “What is your position at the company?” Other people assumed it was built by Grooveshark as a marketing tool. Funny how hard it is to convince people that there’s not a catch.

The site is archived at ebc.robynoverstreet.com, where you can see how the interaction worked, but posts are not stored and email is not sent.

CUESA site is live!

Yesterday I launched a site with CUESA, the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, also known as the people who run the spectacular Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I’ve been working with CUESA for about a year and a half, getting their existing and growing content on a backend system so that they can easily manage it. We chose Drupal as the CMS, and used a custom module to run the administration area. Now the staff at CUESA are easily able to add new weekly articles, promote events, catalog the types of fruit and vegetables sold at the market, and track the farmers and purveyors who participate in the market.

Slides from CSS3 talk at HTML5 Meetup

Hello everyone who’s here for the slides from tonight’s CSS3 talk. I’ve posted them on SlideShare here. Thanks, everyone, for coming and asking good questions.

I had some requests to post the code, but that’s going to take me a little longer to organize. In the meantime, on the slideshow, I added in links to some of the examples I showed.

If you’re interested in going more in depth with CSS3, check out the class at Marakana in August.

(As you can see, I don’t update my website that often, so it’s good to have some motivation.)

[edit: Looks like some of the slides rendered strangely. I will try to debug that tomorrow.]
[edit: Done! The slides look normal now, and you can download it too.]

Easy grammar tips!

Being a citizen of the internet for the last 15 years or so has meant loosening my grammar standards. It’s really just a matter of desensitizing myself, so that I’m not offended every time I see “you’re browser”, etc. (I’m not a browser, but geese are!)

Today, though, bad grammar has been getting to me. I’d like to offer a few tips on the difference between “I” and “me”.

“I” is a subject as in I hit you” and “me” is an object, as in “You hit me“. The rules still apply when there are multiple subjects or multiple objects, as in “Jane and I hit you” or “You hit Jane and me“. If you’re not sure which to use, try the sentence out with just one subject or just one object. For example, since this sounds right: “If you have questions, come find me, you know that this version is right too: “If you have questions, come find Jane or Jimbo or me. You wouldn’t say “I” there would you? No.

Okay, we can stop hitting each other now.

New Google Maps API course

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be teaching a Google Maps API course April 1-2 in New York through Marakana. This is a new course for Marakana; they’ve recently partnered with Google to do “official” trainings on various Google technologies. (The Android classes are a big hit, I hear.) This is part of Google’s initiative to certify (or qualify, as they call it) developers skilled in the Maps API.

The Maps course is a great jumpstart to using Google Maps in your web projects. It’s designed for people who know a little javascript already, but mapping knowledge is optional. We start with the basics and then get into Geocoding, Street View, event-handling, and a little KML. It’s a lab format, where in addition to hearing me talk, you’ll get to try out code and make stuff as we go.

Everything’s coming up Drupal

Though I have a long-standing devotion to WordPress, I’ve been doing a good deal of development work with Drupal lately. I can’t say I’m a Drupal devotée yet — it definitely lacks the ease of use and great documentation that WordPress has. The positive side of that is that when I get something working after search upon search about a Drupal issue, the rewards of pride and accomplishment are exceptionally great.

I am excited about all the potential that Drupal has, through modules and themes, many of which are already built and out there to be used. Module development is pretty steep learning curve, though. I picked up some useful tips about Drupal at the NTEN conference this year, and lucky for me, DrupalCon is going to be in San Francisco this year. It’s highly likely I’ll be converted.

Accessibility and intuition

The New York Times has an article about a blind Google engineer who’s working on mobile applications that will benefit the blind. He points out that the applications he develops aren’t exclusively for people with disabilities — they also enhance the usability of devices across abilities. Most any book you read about web accessibility (I’m thinking Zeldman here) will tell you as much, but this really drives home the importance of separating the data from the mode of delivery. The content may need to go on a mobile device; it may need to be spoken, or both. And by extension, the application should be flexible enough to interpret different types of input as well — typing, speaking, tilting or shaking a cell phone. In thinking about making applications intuitive, I find this really instructive. While intuition does rely on the senses, it’s not dependent on any one of them; in fact, it’s that indefinable combination of senses, or “sixth sense” that makes intuition what it is.

This is so not the point…

… but I have to mention that the beautifully-done mock New York Times that came out the other day is executed in Word Press. It seems like the commenting system is accepting real-live comments too.

When I talk to clients about running their sites in WP, one thing I emphasize is that you can fit WordPress around any existing design. That doesn’t mean it’s right for every project, but a lot of the initial resistance revolves around “but I don’t want just a blog”.

Anyhow, check out the exhaustive coverage over there of the end of the Iraq war plus the low-down on the repeal of the Patriot Act. Also, bike lanes to criss-cross Manhattan! Alas.