AJ Dyrbye

Web Developer and Digital Humanist

Tag: reflections

An Ode to WordPress

At my current position, I work primarily in Joomla. In fact, I’d never worked in Joomla before this job.

It was a bit of a shock to the system, to put it mildly.

Though I’ve grown to appreciate many things about it as a CMS, such as the module system it uses for adding content, the more familiar I get with it, the more things drive me up the wall. But this post isn’t about Joomla. Continue reading

Reflections on the LLC jQuery Workshop

This last Saturday was the jQuery workshop run by my local branch of Ladies Learning Code (LLC). I can honestly say I got out of it what I wanted, namely an introduction to the relationship between JavaScript and jQuery and some real-world examples of how they’re applied. Nevertheless, I’m left ambivalent

To be perfectly clear right out the gate, this is by no means a reflection on Ladies Learning Code, its fantastic organizers, the instructor or the mentors. They all lived up to the high standard I’ve come to expect from the organization, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve committed to mentoring at the upcoming CSS and WordPress workshops. In fact, I would like to give a shout-out to Bree for all her hard work behind the scenes, Kim for handling her first time in the instructor’s chair with confidence and grace, and Susan for her personable and knowledgeable mentoring.

The ambivalence comes from being in that funny in-between as a learner. I’m not exactly a novice, but hardly experienced. I came in already knowing programming fundamentals – variables, loops, objects, methods and so forth – which meant that large parts of workshop was a retread for me. Rather than learning the concepts from scratch, I used my participation to 1) deconstruct how the lesson plan broke them down and built on them (smoothly with little wasted space or time – bravo!), and 2) annotating the guided changes to the learner package web page with my own observations connecting LLC’s approach to that found in Eloquent JavaScript.

This wasn’t particularly a surprise; I knew going in that this workshop is geared toward learners who don’t have prior experience with programming or JavaScript. Nor do I regard it as a drawback. There is enormous value in having widely-accessible beginner-friendly sessions like this; my appreciation for it is a large part of why I’ve chosen to volunteer as a mentor wherever I can of late.

In terms of my own learning, I wanted to come out with some reinforcement of what I’m already learning. I can honestly say I’ve achieved that. I’m more confident that I’ve made the right choice in how I’ve approached JavaScript this time around, and that I can start working with it on a web development level without getting bogged down as badly as I did the first time around, with my overly ambitious game idea.

All in all, I gained a better idea of how the moving pieces on a website with JavaScript work in relation to the CSS and HTML, and of the types of things JavaScript and jQuery are commonly used for. It revealed for me that a few things I’d thought were straight-up advanced CSS tricks are actually some pretty simple jQuery, and that jQuery also streamlines implementing some pretty neat interactivity features, things that I’m now eager to try out on my local WordPress install. On that front, it was good to have a primer on event chaining and timing, particularly in relation to using JavaScript to implement event-specific CSS modifications. I also appreciated the segment on plugins; I only had a vague notion of what they entail before, one largely informed by working with WordPress.

It is at once satisfying and a little maddening that I’m at the point in my learning where this particular workshop couldn’t offer much of a challenge. The only issues I ran into over the course of the day can be traced to two things: still being in the adjustment period with Windows 8 after years of nothing but OS X, and a syntax error in which I forgot the period in front of a method and just couldn’t see it. As it stands, the latter tells me that checking for missing periods when troubleshooting is going to have to be for JS as checking for missing semicolons was while I was learning PHP.

The challenge will come; I simply need to find it on my own now. I have a new set of resources and lessons to explore, and a website to tinker with. And I can’t complain about the way I’ve been taking it slow learning JavaScript; clearly it’s been working.

Besides, where else would I have learned that browsing random websites with the console open can be an amusing and revealing pastime (thanks, Susan!)?

Reflections on a Digital Conference

Or, The Trials and Tribulations of Live-Tweeting

A few weeks ago, the Contemporary Ukraine Research Forum project wrapped up with a conference. 

The Forum itself is a bit of an experiment, and the conference was no different. It was conceived of and conducted as an international exchange of ideas, with academics participating from several institutions in Alberta, Canada and Ukraine. 

During the course of the project, we met monthly via video conference. These were occasionally challenging to schedule due to the number of conference rooms to coordinate, never mind the time difference between Edmonton and Kyiv, but despite a few glitches, they proved an effective and valuable component of the project. It was a great way to put names to faces, and ensure everyone involved was aware of what their colleagues were doing.

Thus, it was a natural extension of these video conferences to present research papers at the concluding conference the same ways. The project’s coordinating committee collected video from each presenter, and arranged to have the whole proceeding broadcast over LiveStream, interspersed with commentary and introductions from participants at each institution’s video conference centres. 

I was involved in this process in a technical capacity. I updated the website with announcements from the coordinating committee, set up a page indexing the presenters’ abstracts, made blog posts with announcements and further information, and created a presenter gallery cross-referencing portraits to each person’s talk. For the LiveStream, I set up a page with the stream embedded in it alongside social media widgets for discussion. 

On the day of the conference, I attended at the University of Alberta’s conference room to monitor the website for comments, make any necessary last-minute updates, and to live-tweet the event while the Project Coordinator did the same on Facebook.

From my perspective, the conference proceeded smoothly. I was able to devote the vast majority of my time to updating the project’s Twitter account (@EuromaidanForum) with information on and salient points from each speaker. 

It was intense.

Twitter is a great medium for providing capsules of information as events happen. It forces you to distill information down and hone in on the most important parts. This requires the ability to swiftly discern and capture points, and the judgement to pick up on when to give up and move on to the next point.

It was challenging to maintain active listening and simultaneously write out speakers’ points in a form suited for Twitter. I swiftly began copy/pasting the speaker’s name followed by a colon to the beginning of each tweet, so I could save time typing and move on to capturing the topic at hand. It helped immensely, but came with its own problems – in one instance, I didn’t realize until much later that I’d copied a misspelling of one person’s name. The error, which normally would have jumped out at me, was lost in the flurry to write out his points. 

Another challenge was that I couldn’t always pick up on a person’s points or details about them to present it on the Twitter stream. Faced with a barrage of information, I rarely had the opportunity to ask others for clarification, and often simply had to move on or risk losing the thread entirely. As such, some speakers were better represented than others, something I regret particularly as a native English speaker attempting to represent terms and concepts from native Ukrainian speakers presenting in English. Pausing to check my spelling on an unfamiliar Ukrainian term tripped me up more than once, which I feel was a disservice to those speakers and their work.

One thing that particularly helped on this front was input from academic observers. On a few key instances, I was able to re-tweet their observations, which provided a welcome alternate view and enabled me to provide valuable commentary to followers in instances where my own capacity had stumbled. This also required some snap judgements regarding what to include or pass by, but for the most part was a welcome supplement.

However, commentary from others had its drawbacks as well. In one instance, the forum account had an argument tweeted at it when observers disagreed with a speaker’s point, and the account’s notifications were peppered for a while with the exchange. It was at once fascinating, from an academic perspective, and highly distracting.

As a whole, the event was an exercise in integrating social media. Despite the challenges, I received positive feedback from the coordinating committee and others. My impression is that it was overall a valuable addition to the conference, and I’m pleased to have ended my time on the project on such a high note.

For those interested, a recording of the conference is available to watch over LiveStream. I have also collected my live-tweets via Storify.

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