Sunday, June 20, 2004

A productive weekend... 

Well, unfortunately it hasn't been productive in terms of blogging, but I got a lot of other stuff done...

Before the weekend:

Friday was the monthly Dog Bite meeting, where I got to do a lot of yoing and jitter-ring-ing, while unfortunately picking up about 8 mosquito bites when we went outside to escape the heat.. ;) Everyone loves the trick Boomerang on jitter rings. I must make a video of that to show off with.. :)

On my sites and CMSs:

Yesterday I did a lot of work on re-designing my skill toys site. The site is currently really bland looking, a bit confusing to navigate (though better than the last iteration), and just doesn't provide enough information and flexibility. For instance, you can't search or sort by different things. Each video entry doesn't list what codec is being used or the yo-yo. There's also just too much on one page in some cases. Also, the text guides are still using the old system and aren't integrated in correctly.

See, originally there was static pages. That was way too difficult to update as I added more videos and wanted to change the style of the pages. I ended up moving to Perl/CGI which read in flat text files. That helped, but it proved a bit of a nightmare to modify the design as time went on and I forgot how it all worked. Eventually I discovered Cocoon, which is a really interesting document publishing system.

I had recently learned more about XML and XSLT (a method of transforming an XML document into another kind of document). Cocoon sits on your web server and uses a series of metaphorical pipes that you connect together. For instance, if you go to access a certain html file, it might grab two xml files, combine them together, and then transform it into XHTML for the final output to the browser.

The big problem proved to be that it runs on Java and most of the hosting places out there (including the guy hosting all my yo-yo stuff) don't support Java servlets (using Tomcat or whichever). I was able to generate html files on my machine and upload them, but that was a pain and also prevented any kind of interactivity from happening (searching, sorting, etc). Even more troublesome is that I'd have to manually edit XML files to update the site. This wasn't so much of a problem in the past, but I'm more busy and scatterbrained lately, and I'm also more used to stuff like Blogger, where you can log in from anywhere and change stuff.

Now, I just found out that there is a CMS (content management system) built on Cocoon called Lenya, which is pretty nice judging from the online demo. A good interface, support for multiple language versions of pages, multiple users with workflow (one person approving another's content), keeping track of past versions of pages, etc.

Now, that runs into the trouble again of hosting Java... Like Cocoon, it can output static pages, but there's the lack of interactivity again. I think what I may do is try out Lenya for updating my woefully out-of-date personal pages (I'm not even going to link to those... heh). That would be a normal site without on-the-fly database stuff and a simple search box could be done with google or some php engine that can search normal html files. I could also use Coppermine for a gallery and WordPress for a blog. Would be good for experience...

Now, going back to the skill toys site, I started looking around again at CMS systems, this time concentrating on free LAMP (linux apache mysql php) solutions. What I am going for is way different from a portal community setup, so stuff like phpNuke was out right away. I looked at Typo3 and was impressed by how powerful it is. Still, it seems a bit backward in certain ways and very driven by one person. I may still go back to this eventually...

Currently, I'm thinking eZ Publish may be the way to go. There's one or two things I'm not into (charging for a WYSIWYG editor), but I shouldn't need that and the system itself looks very sound. I like how it is built with a lot of libraries you could use on your own, which makes the base of the CMF (framework), which is the base of the CMS. Talking with someone in the chatroom also made me hopeful...

But what is really selling me on it is this case study which is from a book on the system. I was really impressed by how much the web design company in it has their act together, the way they methodically figured out and implemented everything. It is a real inspiration, and no matter which system I end up using in the end, I'm going to try to follow their standard.

On that note, I got a bunch of blank pages and started to design. I can see it starting to come together, and just got a binder to hold everything. Then I'll try to make real html files for pages with the final design and graphics, filled out with some real examples. I'll probably post those online for various people to see and comment, and then finally implement into the CMS. If I can manage to do all that, I think it'll end up looking nice and be a breeze to update in the future...

Regardless of everything else, I may still try to get WordPress up and running on my domain and transfer my blogger and haloscan content over to it. I really like the features it has, and it'd be nice to get everything onto my own server where I could control it a bit better...

On video editing:

So, I've been wanting to make some fancy clip videos (lots of tricks to music) and instructional videos (slo-mo, onscreen text descriptions, etc). My DSC-P72 camera actually takes pretty decent video (640x480 mpeg1), so I now have source material as well. I used Premiere at school a long while ago, but in a fit of morality and curiosity, I decided to explore free options. So far, most were pretty disappointing. Zwei-Stein seemed potentially powerful, but an almost unusable interface. I couldn't get ABC Videoroll to really do anything. Jahshaka seems to have potential but is in a super-alpha stage and a very odd interface. Couldn't get it to do anything either. I still need to check out AvidFree DV, which looks like it'll work well, but be limited to normal quicktime output. Video Factory, might be good. I know it has a lot of features taken out in the free version, but it could be enough for what I need. iMovie is supposed to be good, but no Mac at home. I may fuss with it at work some time.

However, interestingly enough (and somewhat depressing actually), Microsoft Movie Maker 2 is pretty decent. Can import lots of formats, can do cuts and dissolves and titles and a sound track. Can easily split videos and do slo-mo and grab still frames. Obviously not as easy to work with as Premiere, but it works. The main downside is only saving as WMV, howevever you can save at a very high bitrate. Then you can convert to mpeg or avi using TMPGEnc (look at the batch menu for saving to avi), which works pretty well.

As an experiment, I took one trick that I recorded and combined it with slo-motion and text overlays to create this video (in Divx). Check it out if you want to see me yoing. :) As a morale boost, I mentioned it in the forum and was immediately asked if it could be posted on the Brazillian forum. Maybe I'm on the right track.. :)

On e-mail:

I finally finally got all my e-mail organized. I think I had 3 or 4 thousand in my mail program's inbox (built up over many months), with another 500 or so in the webmail. I chucked the spam and made a bunch more folders to organize stuff. Still needs a bit more work, but I'm glad I got through all of that. I really need to finish setting up SpamBayes. I'm kind of paranoid about filter programs, but I like its methodology (spam, not spam, and unsure, instead of just just spam/non). Still, it is kind of interesting when are down in the trenches looking at the various kinds of spam and how it evolves. Pegasus is pretty good about being safe to open e-mails, so I don't have to worry on that end.

I actually made a folder of some spam that I found funny or more odd than usual, and I'll see if I can post some of those. :)


The combination of really wonderful weather and getting stuff done was quite nice. I hope everyone else had a good weekend as well. :)

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