Thursday, January 26, 2006

Lost in another world

A few days ago I was playing Ghost Recon 2 on my Xbox. After obeying orders from a faceless commander and rescuing stranded soldiers for the umpteenth time, I realized that I was bored. The game simply wasn't challenging me, nor making me think much.

I shut off the Xbox and wandered upstairs to a pile of CDs that is waiting to be put into our new desk. I located something I haven't fired up in years...

Command & Conquer - Tiberian Sun.

Yeah, yeah. Trading one war game for another. But, if you've played any of the other C&C games, or Civilization, Call to Power, etc, then you'll know why they can be so much fun (and suck up so much time).

I fired up C&C and about 2 hours later I realized that my wife was home and wanted to eat dinner.

Last night Rach found her copy of Call to Power II. She installed it and off she went. I was sitting on the bed on my laptop and she was at the desk on our desktop. About three hours later after I had finally managed to destroy my enemies base (after having much trouble gathering the resources and defending my base), I shut things down.

As we were falling asleep, Rach turns to me and says: "Sorry I played my game all night honey. But after I saw you playing the other day it made me want to play my game. I really didn't get to talk to you tonight, hope you don't mind."

Nope. I didn't mind. For three hours we both got to be in our own little worlds, where we were in charge of ensuring the survival of our (virtual) people. She was building a society (and incidentally was able to create the Internet), and I was building an army.

It was three hours of not-so-mindless silence where we both got to take our brains off the day-to-day pressures and things demanding our attention...

Like grocery shopping.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Where we came from and where we are going

After finishing my previous post about IM for tech support, I just started getting a little reflective. Maybe its the Moby playing in the background or my overall somber mood today, but either way, I decided to blog this.

So, to start this journey, we'll use an old friend...The Way Back Machine.

We start our journey in October 2000, before my reign as the webmaster:


We then visit December 2000 and what are probably my first little changes to the LCLS website.


It isnt until March of 2002 that we start to see some real changes in the site. Things get wider, and bluer.


Looking closely at the March 2002 page, we see an announcement, one that would literally change the way LCLS did business on the web.

On June 17, 2002 LCLS Launched CLeO (although we did not call it CLeO just yet). To this day CLeO remains as the backbone of all the web services LCLS offers. This shot from August 2002 shows a very young CLeO integrated into the LCLS website:


It's not until April 2003 that we first see CLeO on the website as the offical name of our CE registration system.


Then, in April 2004 we can tell that I decided to use the entire screen area available in the browser, as well as a little style change:


That is the last really useful screen from the Wayback Machine. The rest are missing graphics and style information, so they look pretty plain (aka bad).

LCLS Today
The current LCLS website is really a realization of my vision for it. Years ago I saw CLeO as the leverage I needed to push LCLS towards a "portal" (how web 1.0 is that? ;) ) with customizations and services avaialable to those who had an account in CLeO.

Years ago I was told to check into XML. Along the way I tried many experiments with XML (The Extra! used to be stored in XML on the website and formatted with a little ASP scripting).

Today I offer RSS in many places on the website. I use XML for all the menus you see on the right or left hand side. I created an API that lets me access my data in a standard format (using XML). And, at the backend, is a SOAP-based webservice (XML again...) that lets me authenticate a CLeO account from any where else on the net (though I have only used it for cross-domain projects hosted by LCLS thus far).

Looking back, I can't tell you the exact steps I took to get to where we are. I just know that I learned something new every day and I didn't give up on any problem until I found a solution (even if I scrapped it two days later).

One thing I can tell you is that I had (have) a director that supported and encouraged my creativity and staff that understand the value of the web. I think you could have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have the support of people you work with and if they are not on board with where you want to go, then your talent will not reach it's full potential.

Where do we go from here
A big part of what I do also involves taking a look forward. Though I think in some cases I looked too far forward or, at least came with complicated solutions while looking forward.

The web has largely been unpredicatable. New things are always happening, someone somewhere is always innovating, and visionaries are envisioning things that eventually turn into tangible products and services. But let's face it; most of us are not gifted with such vision, nor the luxury of time to envision anything but lunch and the next time we can sleep.

Web 2.0, a term that is thrown around quite a bit lately, puts the web into a different context. A context that I realize in some ways I was working in, though without the label and without many of the things Web 2.0 brought us.

The web is about the users. It's about what they need and their data. I can cram all the features and cool programming I want into a site, but in the end it's all for naught if it has no value to my users.

CLeO was a big push for LCLS. It brought a phone/fax based system onto the world-wide web and forced our users into using a web-based product. That was a true value for the staff at LCLS. It reduced typing and manual labor, it increased access to our data and reduced errors in our CE statistics.

It was a push, but it was the last time I would need to push my users that hard into something. In fact, since then I've been trying to make up for it by offering kinder, gentler services that take advantage of CLeO and add value (hopefully) to our website for our users.

Where are we going? We're going to some places our users are ready for and some they will be soon.

In a way, the little nook of the web I'm responsible for is an endless beta-test. We've found things that work and things that don't. The things that don't work are scrapped; the things that do are enhanced.

At the end of the day I think we've added value to our users' experience by offering web services and enhanced access to data.

Where is this going? I really don't know. But I can tell you that the days of data being locked in closets, accessible only to those with the right software and the right key are gone.

IM for tech support

The last two days I have been chatting with one of my library directors and one of her staff taking care of some Outlook issues.

When I started using IM at work (and encouraging others to, tho I have slacked in helping get it installed), I envisioned this as one use. So far I am happy with the way it's worked in tackling this problem (corrupted .PST file in Outlook).

During the conversation on IM I got another support call over the phone. That worked out pretty well because I was able to handle both at the same time.


Barb
actually brought up using IM for tech support at our GateNet meeting (I was not there, but Bill told me this after the meeting). I think it is a fine idea and am definately interested in testing it out.

Normally I used IM to stay in touch with my wife (most of our conversation is split about 50/50 between IM and voice conversations) and a few friends. The popularity IM is getting for what I'll call "legit" uses (aka useful work uses), has given me some leverage to encourage other staff here and at my members to try it out.

For those LCLS Members that are interested, there are many uses for IM besides contacting me for support.

Aaron Schmidt will be here for his IM Reference workshop and if you're interested, you should go! Aaron is a great guy and has a ton of experience using IM in his library.

In the meantime, here are all the ways to contact me on IM:
Yahoo! : ChrisDeweese25
AIM : ChrisDeweese25
MSN : chrisd_at_lcls.org (replace the at with @)

And no. I am not advertising free IM based tech support. So, I won't handling support calls for other libraries outside of LCLS, unless of course, you're using CLeO :)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Does anyone else watch 24???

Seriously. After five seasons the writers still amaze me.

If you haven't kept up with this show, go rent/buy/borrow seasons 1-4 and then pick up season 5. It is just insane. My family is hooked and they are trying to catch up on the seasons they missed. Rach has been with me since season 1 and we have been trying to keep it all straight.

You can pick it up at any time really, but the show has so much more impact if you've seen the previous seasons.

Oh man...we still have 2 more hours tomorrow night!



Saturday, January 14, 2006

Am I the last to notice this? (see pic)

amazon_tagging

Amazon adds tagging. When did that happen?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Gaming @ your library - Glen Carbon Centennial Public Library

65 Kids.
15 Pizzas.
More soda than we could track.
2 Xboxes
1 GameCube
1 PS2
5 hours.

Wow. What a night. I was totally floored by the response we got.

The setup:
2 42" TVs, 2 Xboxes (8 controllers total), and Star Wars Battlefront II. Huge hit. I could not keep the kids off it
1 Gamecube, 4 controllers, and Mario Kart - excellent. This got played all night too.
1 PS2, a project, DDR + 2 red octane pads. They were lined up for this one. We had beginners to advanced.

I let the kids run the night mostly, just tried to make sure they rotated through players. Battlefront 2 was the hardest to keep the kids switching out since it can be a really involved game (especially with teams).

I have a lot more thoughts and I'll post more when I collect them.

For now, here's the photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/lcls/sets/72057594047863762/

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Woohoo!!!!

Check out the cool banner!

Package Mapper: More Google Maps love

From Lifehacker, I discovered PackageMapper.com

from the site:
Package Mapper shows you a map of your FedEx, UPS, USPS package routes. Enter a carrier and a tracking number to see your package's progress plotted on the map. Sign in to enter a list of packages and see their current locations on a table or map.


How cool is that? Track one or multiple packages. That is just sweet.

If anyone tries it, let us know how it does.

Can anyone tell me why Google Maps isn't the coolest thing? I hope to post an article soon on how to integrate Dynamic Google Maps using ASP.NET and Javascript.

Standard Feed Icon

Kelli posted about the new feed icons from FeedIcons.com. Hopefully as more people adopt it, it will become the defacto icon for RSS feeds.

I put them into action on the LCLS website this week.

Feed icon in TaBS:

feedicon01

Feed icon in our News system:

feedicon02





Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How To: Add your Library Catalog to the Firefox Search bar

(For some reason I can't post this to the LCLS Weboratory, so I'm putting it up here)

What you need:
-A text editor: ex, notepad, textpad, something to edit plain text with.
-A 16x16 .GIF or .PNG file to serve as the Icon that shows up in the search bar
-A website to search
-A website to store the .src file and the .html file on.

First lets start by creating the .src file that will tell Firefox how & where to search.

The first part is the Search section. This is where you set up the address and parameters for the search:

<search
version="7.1"
name="LCLS | Catalog | Title Search"
description="Find items in the LCLS Catalog by title"
method="get"
action="http://webcat.lcls.org/search/t"
searchForm="http://webcat.lcls.org/search/t"
queryEncoding='UTF-8'
queryCharset='UTF-8'
>

/* update */
Version – this is not arbitrary. It needs to be set to 7.1 or higher for Netscape Compatibility.

Name – this is what is displayed in the Firefox search box.

Description – honestly, not sure what this is supposed to do; I haven’t seen it work if it does anything.

Method – the method is how the data is submitted. Get uses a querystring (something like: http://mysite.org/search.asp?search=help. Post, posts the values in the HTTP headers.

How do you figure it out? Easy! Go to the page that has the search form you want to search. View the source. Find the form and look for something that looks like this:
<form name=”someform” method=”get”> or <form name=”someform” method=”post”>

The method= line of the form will tell you what method is used. While you’re there, also note the name of the textbox as well.

Action – the “action” of the form, this is the page the values are either posted to or sent to with the get method. The action may be specified in the form tag. Look for it when peeking at the source.

SearchForm – this is the address of the form. It may also be the same as the action.
Encoding and Charset I default to UTF-8. Most everyone would use this.

<input name="SEARCH" user >
<input name="sourceid" value="firefox">

The first input should use the same name as the text box on the original form. The sourceid is just tacking on an extra argument that could be used for statistics by the web server.

Finally we close our search tag and include update information so Firefox knows where to look for changes. This also sets the URL of the icon.

</search>

<browser
update="http://labs.lcls.org/firefox/lclscatalog.src"
updateicon="http://labs.lcls.org/firefox/lclscatalog.png"
updatecheckdays="3"
>

When you are all done, save this as whateveryouwanttocallit.src.

Next we set up the html page. For this, I used the exact same java code that I found on several pages where you could add search options to the Firefox search bar. There is nothing special or of my own creation at all here. I just modified the values.

Place this in a <script > tag inside the head element of your html page.

<script type=”text/javascript”>
function addEngine(name,ext,cat,type)
{
if ((typeof window.sidebar == "object") && (typeof window.sidebar.addSearchEngine == "function")) {
window.sidebar.addSearchEngine(
"http://labs.lcls.org/firefox/"+name+".src",
"http://labs.lcls.org/firefox/"+name+"."+ext, name, cat );
} else {
alert('error adding engine');
}
}
</script>

I modified the addEngine function to include the url of where I was hosting the files. +name+ just fills in the name of the module. +ext fills in the type of graphic (ex .gif, .png).

Finally, add this inside the href= of the link you want people to click to add the search to their Search bar:
<a href=”javascript:addEngine('lclscatalog','png','General','0')”>click me!</a>

The parameters in addEngine are:
-Name of .src file
-File extension for the icon
-Category (I just left it at general)
-Type (I left this at 0)

When you’re all done, put the .src file, the .html file, and the .gif or .png in the same folder on your website. Direct users to the .html file, they click on the link, say ok to add the engine and you’re all done!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Yes I'm still here!

Busy as ever. This Friday is the first Gaming @ your library event. I'm a little nervous, but I think it should go well. Just tying up some loose ends.

I have also introduced four new features on the LCLS website:
-Offical annoucnements of the Google maps enhanced member directory (ok, not totally new, but it's "official")

-LCLS delivery route maps using Google Maps (and the new LCLS API)

-Tagging in our News posting system (which is really a blog)

-TaBS: Tagging, Bookmarking, Sharing. A bookmarking tool that allows our member library staff to store & share bookmarks using their CLeO account.

All these features have been developed over the last month or so. I have worked out most of the bugs (I hope :)).

You will all be happy to know that there is RSS at just about every corner of the News Tags & TaBS. Also, I have integrated the news tags & TaBS data so that if you are in browsing tags in the news archive, you will see bookmarks from TaBS that are tagged with the tag you are browsing. If you're in TaBS you will see news items tagged with the tag you are browsing.

Phew! I don't think I've been this busy in a long time!

If you have any questions or suggestions let me know!