CHSS Research Impacts Site is live!

Every now and then a project brings the whole team together and combines everyone’s knowledge and expertise.

It’s always extremely rewarding to see a final product so we’re very excited to announce the launch of the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Research Impact’ site. Going live today after months of planning, building, recording and editing we’re pleased to say it looks great! We will be adding new case studies and improving the website over the next few months but are very happy with announcing what’s in place to the big wide world. And so without further ado… (drum roll please…) here it is!

Humanities and Social Science Research Impact websiteResearch Impact website As a world leading university much of the research that goes on in Edinburgh is helping to change world politics, law, economics, social thinking and practises (to name a few!). Here at the uni we felt that the impacts of many of the research studies in the College of Humanities and Social Science were so outstanding that they had to be showcased. The Research Impacts site has taken some of the biggest personalities and most impactful studies and given them a platform. From rebuilding the face of an ancient Egyptian mummy to the impact of neuroscience on The Church of Scotland, the topics and staff featured are vast and all equally fascinating. Building the website, and in my case producing the video features, was (and is) a huge task given that even though these academics are leaders in their fields they can be far too modest or, heaven forbid, camera shy!

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Waiter, there’s a Baboon in my Drupal! Or how to use Drush in Windows with Babun to manage your Drupal site

I was struggling to find a robust solution to install and run Drupal’s Drush in Windows with MySQL and rsync all playing along nicely.

I run virtual machines to get around this for the larger, more sophisticated sites, but it’s nice to be able to fire up Uniform Server (my preferred wamp stack) now and again and just run things locally. I have tried a  lot of solutions, but the cleanest so far has been to make use of Babun, a rather cool package developed by Tom Bujok and Lukasz Pielak.

Drush command being run on the Babun shell

Babun (pronounced Baboon) is a pre-configured Cygwin with a lot of addons and lot’s of other bells and whistles including a zsh/bash shell and Git. You can download and install the software via:


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Adobe Edge Animate (part 2)

As promised, I have tried out extending Adobe Edge Animate with jQuery libraries in order to implement a “drag and drop” functionality. It is meant to be a fairly straightforward task of importing the scripts or including the relevant url paths, through Edge script interface.

Adobe Edge panels

It turned out to be quite fiddly, as including the url path didn’t work for me and importing scripts into edge also turned out to be a bit problematic. There is a separate script for touch devices – jQuery UI Touch Punch, and this seems to be sensitive about the order in which it is included. It has worked after a fashion and an example can be found here:

Since Adobe Edge export includes a bundle of files (edgePreload.js, edgeActions.js, main.js as well as HTML files and images folder) the easiest way of including all these in our CMS Poloply was to host these packages separately to be called in via iframes.

Not the most elegant solution.

The new section is a bit of an experiment. It is an attempt to make the activities more interesting than reading PDF files.

Whether the new JavaScript  elements provide an added value is up for debate…keen to hear your views.


Adobe Edge Animate

Edge Animate promises to replace Adobe Flash and (unlike Flash) allow animations to display on mobile devices. You have to subscribe to Adobe cloud in order to use the most up to date version, so I have downloaded a trial version for now.

The interface looks vaguely familiar, except all icons seem much smaller. It doesn’t have the advanced drawing capabilities that Flash use to have, so it is best to use another graphics programme to create individual assets and then import these to the image library. There is a very useful option to make the animation responsive. In terms of scripting the interactions it all still seems rather basic in comparison with Flash but I’m sure this will improve with time.

I have started with an extremely basic diagram below and next hoping to try out the drag and drop functionality….

Twitter Bootstrap

Twitter BootstrapHere in the College web team we have been experimenting recently with building websites using the Twitter Bootstrap toolkit.

Bootstrap offers a very lightweight set of tools (it’s perhaps overkill to call it a ‘framework’) to set up a functional website in a very short space of time, that does everything that you might expect a modern website to do. With it, a website can be created very quickly that offers ‘out-of-the-box’ modern browser-based client-side technologies such as JavaScript jQuery interface components (e.g. navigation toolbars, tabbed or drop-down menus), and conforms to modern web development guidelines and standards such as the use of valid HTML (and HTML 5), CSS, accessibility, SEO and cross-browser support.

In particular, Bootstrap v3.0 offers the ability to easily build a Responsive Web Design (RWD) website so that the same codebase can be used for multiple browser/hardware client platforms of all sizes, including tablets and smartphones, without too much effort.

We’ve also been experimenting with using Bootswatch to theme (fonts, layout, formatting and colours) the default interface template offered by Bootstrap, and using the Drupal v7 Bootstrap module to integrate the functionality of Bootstrap into a Drupal v7 theme. The combination of the server-side PHP/MySQL Drupal Content Management System and the client-side jQuery/CSS Bootstrap toolkit is a very powerful one that allows a relatively sophisticated website to be built very quickly.

Bootstrap fits in very well with a Rapid Application Development (RAD) methodology or even an Agile development methodology. It’s perfect for building functional web prototypes or basic small-scale operational websites, but perhaps its limitations should be recognised – like a lot of WordPress-based websites there is a danger that without some customisation, the website interface can be too much like any other Bootstrap-based website and becomes a boring ‘vanilla’ website. It’s also not really an option if a website is designed to conform to a demanding specification, such as an interface that will feature some groundbreaking functionality or attractive and unique design that perhaps will be used for branding and marketing an organisation or idea.

What is does do though is allow a web developer more time to concentrate on the advanced requirements of developing a website on the server-side without having to worry too much about building a ‘quality’ website on the client-side from scratch for every single project, to gather valuable user feedback at an early stage of development, and it offers a scalable platform for future development and customisation.

Could Windows 8 be a bigger flop than Vista?

There’s an interesting article by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld regarding the slow uptake of Windows 8.

In the first four months since the public launch of Microsoft’s new operating system, uptake has risen to 3% of all Windows PCs. That’s a slower rate of uptake than Vista, which managed 4% in its first four months. Vista was widely regarded as a failure, and users held onto Windows XP until Microsoft released Windows 7, less than three years later. The uptake of Windows 7 in its first four months was 9.7%.

Graph showing uptake of Windows 8 below that of Windows Vista, with Windows 7 much higher than both

Source: Computerworld

The big retailers now sell their PCs with Windows 8 pre-installed, so most customers will end up with it by default. That’s whether or not you purchase a touchscreen system. Windows 8 is designed for use on touchscreen systems but since these are still fairly expensive it’s likely that many users will end up with a traditional desktop PC running what is essentially a tablet OS.

The Windows 8 user experience on a traditional PC is pretty awful – it’s like trying to do your work on a mobile phone emulator. Continue reading

Annotations on the web – a brief list

Annotation software or add-ons are valuable tools for academic websites and teaching applications, allowing collaborative discussion and editing of course texts. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the more notable options:

  1. WordPress plugins
  2. Google docs or similiar cloud interactive services (I think we can rule this out simply on ownership/copyright issues)
  3. Code plugins
  4. PDF page-flipper type add-ons that have annotation capability (these are generally expensive and not necessarily up to the job.)
  5. Browser add-ons (e.g. Zotero for Firefox, or Wired Marker) – not practical for ‘public’ use.
  6. Other services
    •  A.nnotate   (  –  An Edinburgh-based annotation service, with free and paid options.