1st UK Silverstripe meetup

This post was written 15 years ago.
Mon, 07 Sep 2009

Thursday, 3 September 09: Off to my first ever Meetup, 120 miles from where I live. Crazy? Maybe, but it is on a topic I am really interested in, and so far I don't know anybody whom to talk about it properly : SilverStripe, a new CMS that has become my preferred choice for making websites.

It was all worthwile, some of the reasons being:

  • Met some interesting and enthusiastic people to talk about web design/development in general, and SilverStripe in particular
  • Got confirmation that SilverStripe is a really good system
  • Also got to know about some of its limitations
  • Heard about some new devlopments

There was a good mix of people, mostly from the London area. My fear had been that everybody would be 10 years younger than me and/or have 10 years more experience with web design and development. Neither was the case. There was a considerable number of people who have children and one who was to become a father for the first time, and all of these, I reckon, were about my age. Regarding experience, there were some people who weren't actually professional web designers, but just use SilveStripe for their own or their spouse's or friends' websites. But then, there were some very experienced people as well. I found it valuable hearing from them how they use Silverstripe and when they don't use it (for example, ecommerce sites).

The meeting was organised by three members of the company GPMD who specialise in Silverstripe websites, mainly by Richard Johnson. Mark Slocock founded the company 10 years ago with a partner. He explained how he had built his own CMS that the company then used for building websites. But as he had come across Silverstripe he realised "it was 5 years ahead" compared to his own system. This, he said, made it an easy decision for him to abandon his own system and switch to Silverstripe.

I also talked to Jamie Neil, who works at GPMD, too. He has a degree in Computer Science and worked in various IT roles before joining GPMD. I asked him why SilverStripe wasn't more popular. "Mainly, because it is a very young system. But there are strong communities in New Zealand and Australia." To not give a wrong impression, there were not only people from GPMD present. Jeff van Campen, who has organised the London Web Standards Meetup for a year, is a web designer especially interested in user design/interface design. He is thinking of re-desining his own website with SilverStripe. He also said it was surprisingly difficult to find venues for these meetups in London.

The pub where this meeting took place, by the way, was not bad, it had a seperate area where we could sit, but the music was a bit loud at times. My suggestion would be to have the next meeting at Bristol! I think there must have been around 20 people at the meeting. Some left quite early, not long after I arrived (got there 45 minutes late). I liked the fact that it was a relatively small group. Generally, as mentioned before, there is not such a strong user base in the UK yet.

There would be more people to mention and more of the conversations, of course. I just wanted to give a glimpse of the meeting. To round up this post, a list of new and old conclusions about:

Why I love Silverstripe

  • Easy to use for the end user/client
  • HTML/CSS is completely independent, you can have any layout you want
  • Customizing the CMS is done through PHP code, not through a user interface
  • PHP is very well structured, all based on PHP5, capsuled functionality, easy to build on and extend
  • Enthusiastic community ready to help with questions

For me it is both a very versatile tool for building applications (I have just built one for teachers, for discussing and publishing lesson plans online), and a good way to improve my PHP! If you use SilverStripe and live in or near Bristol, please do get in touch. For the moment, I am happy to go to London for the next meetup!

This post was written 15 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: silverstripe /

Positively unsure

This post was written 15 years ago.
Mon, 17 Aug 2009

There seems to be a conundrum in my life, and this has been going on for a while. - How best to describe it? It has to do with the definition of a role I think. It is about being attached professionally in some way.

My story so far: Mum and hobby web designer (personal website created with Dreamweaver) decides to set up interactive website for toddler group, then a school website which runs on - very powerful - Content Management System, Typo3. Learns HTML, CSS and some Javascript and PHP along the way. Becomes increasingly interested in web standards and doing web design in a professional way. Internship at university finally means working with other people, and learning a lot more. And there's the decision to do web design/development professionally. Currently working on somebody's website, and there has been work for the university, there might be more. That is really good, because I get to do what I love.

But: At present my main job is being a mum, so I can only be a part-time web designer/developer. And I am still at the beginning. I think it's that that creates a certain restlessness. When I wander through the web, see all those brilliant websites by the professional designers, or read blogs by developers, a part of me is saying: This is way beyond what you are doing. (But then it is way beyond what a lot of others do :) ). Where do I fit in here? What can I call myself? - I am not a student, not an established web designer, but not a hobby designer either. But does it matter? Perhaps when the dreaded question comes: What do you do? No, maybe not. A new answer coined just this moment: I am primarily a mother, but do some web design on the side. I plan to do more, and get a job, in a year, when my son will be at school. That sounds better and more straightforward than all the long-winded explanations I have given so far.

The as yet unanswered question is: How will I get there? Creating a few personal websites and occasionally doing some work for uni, will that be enough? - Doing the toddler group 2.0 project I am planning? Work experience? It is an adventure and it is quite exciting. I don't want to see any of the above as a problem. I feel very privileged to have "problems" like that. The thing is, with our basic needs fulfilled, we strive to do something we can be good at, gives us some fulfilment and meaning, and for me that is building websites, no doubt, and - provided my general circumstances don't change in some dramatic way - I will keep thinking about how to best pursue it, even if I tried not too.

I am aware that all of this post is very self-indulgent, self-reflective (and probably naive), which I normally try not to. Yet I think by putting this all into writing, I have banned a little deamon that kept fluttering through my mind. I can pursue professional web design, I am allowed to, even if at this point I am not a full-time designer/developer. Silly that one should think otherwise, isn't it? Specifically, goals are:

Learn to design good-looking things!

Bring to perfection HTML and CSS skills (incl. learning about CSS3 and HTML5)

Improve PHP

Become really good SilverStripe developer!

To conlcude this post, I just want to mention a selection of articles I read in the Guardian magazine this weekend, just because they are an inspiring read. By sometimes stating the not-so-obvious they could significantly extend your knowledge about what can make and keep you happy. This is the link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/how-to-be-happy Positive psychology as opposed to positive thinking! My favourite bit is from the article by Oliver Burkeman: "The advice is straightforward. Remember to be grateful. Spend your money on experiences, not objects. Volunteer. Nurture your relationships. Spend time in nature. Make sure you encounter new people and places. And never assume that you know what will make you happy."

This post was written 15 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: personal / web_design /

Summer of 2009 - Learning journeys and inhabiting the web

This post was written 15 years ago.
Thu, 09 Jul 2009

Is the web of today a place mainly for teenagers and geeks? You are reading the blog of someone whose "social network" (I mean the offline one) is in big parts not represented on the web, not even on facebook (which I myself don't like very much).

Whose friends seem to regard blogging as a slightly strange and obtrusive activity. - This is only in one case based on direct evidence. But I can certainly say it's unusual. I don't know of any of my friends that they are writing a blog. Maybe they do it in secret ;) Saying that, I have not told many people about mine, but that might change soon. Let's face it. Many people my age (and please, I am not ancient!) do not really participate in online life as it exists today. I have one friend in Germany whom I could imagine exclaiming now "What do you mean? Online life? That's not life."

I first became aware of how big that generation gap was through a very insightful and funny article in the "Berliner Morgenpost" - "Brauche ich das wirklich :-)!" ("Do I really need this :-)!" ) In it a journalist describes discussions and arguments with his teenage children regarding social networking and online games. His children are way superior to him in their ways on the web, their virtual world is their very own space that the parents don't understand. The children wind their father up about his cluelessness, while people his generation are romanticizing the past without the web. Of course there are parents and generally, middle-aged people, who move on the web as skillfully as today's teenagers. And where could that be more true than in the world of web development? The geeks embraced Twitter years ago. I assume most of them won't take the social networking as far as the digital natives - they are probably more interested in building the technology behind social networks-, in any case, they are much closer to the youngsters' experiences than your average end-thirty/forty-plus parent.

For me, one big difference between somebody "inhabiting the web" and someone who doesn't is whether you bring some of your personality to the web. That means that people you have never met have the possibility to get to know you a little. It is up to you to determine the level of personal detail and how sincere you are. As a reader of (mainly web developers') blogs, I have enjoyed learning about other people's thoughts. Often it is not the "47+ ways of promoting your website" that get my attention but when people write about big or little incidents in their lives that gave them new insights, or just ideas they have about a certain topic. In fact, in my case there is the danger that I get too interested in learning about people rather than web development!!

So far I am not that connected on the web. This is not a problem as I have enough friends in "real" life. Also, for a long time I've been suspicious of the online networking because of the time it will take up. Still, it would be more fun to know more people online. Especially on Twitter. I joined Twitter out of curiosity and because I was interested in working out how you can pull your tweets on your homepage. But what I found then was totally unexpected. People writing witty comments in just 140 characters, passing on useful links I'd missed out on otherwise, chatting with their friends. Even people giving a running commentary on their baby's birth ("Wife 7cm dilated" - not what I would have liked my husband to blurt out to the world, but as I said, it's up to you). My own tweets are pretty daft most of the time, although I have passed on links that I found interesting. I don't know if my followers even read them. I'm curious how it will all develop . It's kind of funny, the social networking I so long refused by not joining facebook sneaked in through the backdoor, and now I find few people to network with ;) I could do it through facebook, of course, I just still can't warm to it.. So I will see that I get more people I know onto Twitter or meet more people on the web ;)

It is time to wrap this post up. One of our digital natives has joined me, and we'll soon set off to the Tobacco factory to watch "Pinocchio". But as I was thinking to point friends and relatives to this post, I will quickly write about what we've been up to otherwise. Our daugther received her very first school report on Friday. It was really good and I am very proud of her.She has progressed well on her "learning journey" as it is called in school speak. The report also stated that she "enjoys using the computer and demonstrates excellent mouse control". That's my girl! Matin last week went to the "World Conference of Science journalists" in London where he chaired a panel discussion about the role of blogs (!) in science jorunalism. Luckily this event took place in a bigger hall than most of the other talks. The conference happened during the tropical heat wave of last week and it was incredibly hot in the old Edwardian building, but that specific room was okay. Tube and train though must have felt like sitting in an oven, and it only took Matin two seconds to get under the shower after he had arrived home.

As for me, I would have liked to write about a recent development regarding an organisation I am part of, and what I have learnt from being there. I might do it another time, but maybe it's better to leave some things unsaid. Apart from that, I am still determined to progress further in my web development, and to some time earn a proper income from it. It should be easier when both children go to school. I might be an unlikely candidate, but that could also be an advantage as I see things from a different angle than many of the younger developers. That of a 30+ year-old digital immigrant ;) . As you can see, we are on the way to becoming a "digital family". Curiously, screens don't play a big role in my children's life, they hardly spend any time with them. They still mostly play as I used to as a child. Some things change, some things stay the same.

This post was written 15 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: twitter /

Twitter, politics and the web

This post was written 15 years ago.
Sat, 04 Jul 2009

It has been so hot here over the past few days, this doesn't feel like England anymore. A light, but persistent headache plus a toddler who was going berserk at times, did the rest to make me stumble, more than walk, through the day. But the headache is gone, and the heat seems to be subsiding. So, what do I have to report? My online life has clearly been dominated by Twitter.

While I've been following a lot of the links to web resources, I didn't get round to reading most of them. For a while, I also got distracted by politics. One thing was a series in the Guardian - published in May - about this year's Bilderberg conference (Matin laughs at my sudden interest in "conspiracy theories" - except they are not, Bilderberg does exist!). And then there was the fervent discussion in Germany about internet censorship. This was in many ways remarkable. It demonstrated once again how politics and political propaganda work, but also, it showed that there is a new group of young people taking on the conventional parties, and this can only be positive for the German political landscape.

The discussion was about a law proposed by the governing coalition which would introduce access blocking of certain web pages. Seemingly, this was being introduced to combat child pornography, but in more than one publication by the governing parties themselves it transpired that they were also, in the long run, interested in protecting copyrights, especially of the musical industry. The power to blacklist the sites would lie in the hands of the "Bundeskriminalamt" (federal crimnal police office).

Now, how could you be against something that is combating child pornography?? The question is, is access blocking an effective means to do this? Apparently it is pretty easy to get round the "stop sign" posted on the internet when you try to access and indexed site. And why not force the sites to be taken down altogether? A lot of people spoke out against the law, people working with the internet day by day, saying they were ineffective methods (leading to the slogan "Löschen statt sperren" (don't block, delete) and also that this was paving the way for a general censorship of the net, and the power shouldn't lie in the hands of the federal police. There was an e-petition, the most successful to date, to prevent this law. Over 130.000 people signed it. - Still, the law was passed on the 18th of June. But while this might seem a victory to main-stream politics, it has caused so much stir and made many people aware of how poor the understanding of middle-aged politicians of the internet is, that it might just give the pirates a lot of winds in their sails.

The pirate party are pretty much a single issue party, one could paraphrase the issue at heart as "freedom on the web" I would say. Is that the most pressing problem in politics at the moment? Maybe not, but it is an important issue I think, and definitely worth fighting for. In this country, we already have a technology called "cleanfeed" cleaning up the internet, and you won't even notice it, as you just get an error message "page not found" when you try to access a blocked site.

It might be working fine and serving its cause, but can we ever be sure someone won't abuse it for blocking out sites that they just don't agree with? - On a wider level, also taking in other articles/radio programmes etc. there is one thing in politics I am now convinced of. We have to resist the state gaining too much control over our private lives, private data. I understand a lot better than I used to when people say "NO to identy cards". I cannot mention Twitter and politics without writing about Iran and the protests there, following the elections of 12 June. But I have read less about it than the previous topic. There was a lot going on on Twitter, that is one thing I can say, and quite a few of the people I am following coloured their avatars green. Also, people changed their locations to Teheran. There was a massive wave of support for the protesters in Iran. Hopefully, in the end they will prevail.

It is getting very late once again. I should better stop soon, although I would have liked to write much more, about what we've done and seen in the past month. So, when is this going to become a web design blog :) Well, it was a lot about the web, at least. Good night/good morning for now.

This post was written 15 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: twitter / censorship /

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work - and Twitter

This post was written 15 years ago.
Wed, 27 May 2009

Alright. This will be a round-up of a talk I heard last week(!), plus my own thoughts on the topic. I have very little time to write.. The talk was called "The pleasures and sorrows of work", by Alain de Botton who has written a book of the same title. This event was part of the "Festival of Ideas" in Bristol.

The topic is close to my heart, as it must be for many people, but I was also interested in seeing AdB as a speaker. He turned out to be a very good one. He went straight "in medias res" and gave what I suppose was a summary of his book with extensive explanations of his thoughts. It was also very entertaining. He talked about people with various professions he had come across during his research. In one case this was everyone who had handled a fish on its way form the Indian Ocean to - Bristol.

Then there was a careers counsellor, people at an accountancy firm, people marketing a biscuit (did I get this right?)... He also talked about his work as a writer which I found particularly interesting. What also stuck with me, were thoughts about the nature of work. One thing was his view that the main criterium to see a job as fulfilling is that it makes a positive difference in people's lives. The more I think about it, I think this is really true - for most people. AdB observed that the sense of making somebody's life a little better was often lost these days. For example, if you are a worker on a production line, making biscuits, you are not involved in selling the biscuits and seeing the satisfaction people get from it. (By the way there was a really funny reply to a question at the end - the question was staged I suppose - about what biscuits people in the South West were inclined to eat. AdB confessed to being a huge fan of fig rolls)

Also very notable was his account of seeing the careers counsellor being called in to conduct a session with workers that were being made redundant. AdB stated that he was initially very "suspicious" of this approach, it seemed forcefully optimistic in an American way, which he thought was often rousing suspicions with British people. However, he found it extremely moving when he saw people taking part in this session. It involved them being asked to stand up and talk about their childhood dreams. AdB recalled what a huge impression it could make when a burly 45-year-old man stood up and started talking about what he had wanted to become as a child. The approach the careers counsellor generally took was, first of all, giving people a piece of paper and making them write down everything they liked. This would bring to light what people's real interests were. It would very often turn out that a very little thing had made them veer off course. A throw-away remark by somebody, the wish of their father, some discouraging experience.

Interestingly, according to AdB, the notion that a job should bring fulfillment and also the idea that a job - kind of - defines who you are, is relatively young. AdB jokingly fixed the turning point to "middle of the 18th century". Before that, apparently people didn't expect to get any joy out of work. At this point I was thinking how starkly this contrasts with Tom Hodgkinson's view who in his book "How to be free" often cites the middle ages as providing a much better work environment, where people knew where there place was, didn't work too long hours, and often sang while they were doing their work. Maybe the two authors were talking of different things. In any case I cannot speak for or against either of them, as I don't know about that long gone-by past.

There would be so much more that one could mention about this talk. I'm sure it has been done somewhere on the web (I haven't looked) but more so certainly in his book. Which makes me think I should probably buy it. He has marketed it well to me ;) Shall I really speak about my own experience now? - Why not: I had a completely analogue childhood. The only times first signs of the dawning digital age showed up were when my father brought home funny coloured cards with lots of rectangle-shaped holes in them. (what are these called in English? - in German it's simply "Lochkarten" [punch cards of course!]) . So I couldn't possibly dream of becoming a web person. But as soon as I had discovered the principle of how to create websites, I was hooked. Without actually realising how much so. For a long time something has been missing - the belief and the will to go through with something you really like, I think, and the ability to take the necessary steps. I had mentioned to friends - and once even to a boss - that what I would really like to do is create websites. But it never occurred to me that I could actually try to make that my profession. I still sometimes have doubts about it. The worst thing is to compare yourself with other people, especially looking at other people's stylish websites. As Tim van Damme (the maker of http://madebyelephant.com) once wrote: Don't look at CSS galleries (although I think he certainly shouldn't have a problem with that).

But as mentioned before, I HAVE to re-design this my own website - or have several themes that can be selected, Jeremy Keith style. Keep on dreaming, baby ;) . Anyway, I do think I have found/will soon find a way to apply my skills in a meaningful and money-earning way, and I am quite glad about that. I think I love web design - because it is all about communication. Communication was not always easy for me as a child - mostly for external reasons - but something always important to me - it makes me see beauty in other areas of life. Since seriously learning about web design, I learn more and more about design principles and I have started to look at why things appear beautiful . I can only recommend to everyone doing it. - Because I like the marriage of creativity with the technical, logical. As a child I loved things like "Einstein's riddle" (different coloured houses, different nationalities, whose pet is the fish?) - more reasons I have not time to list.

I actually wanted to write about my Twitter experience as well. But that would be too much now, and is off topic. Just one thing, Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) actually started following me after I had tweeted about him. But I think that's an app that just follows everyone who mentioned his name on Twitter. Still, looks quite nice to read "Alain de Botton" is now following you on Twitter! ;)

This post was written 15 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: books / work / webdev / twitter /