1 comments Monday, April 28, 2008

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0 comments Thursday, April 24, 2008

I stay up pretty late, and get to work pretty early. That’s a combination that requires a hefty dose of caffeine in the morning; otherwise I get grumpy (although Sally would say that it doesn’t really make a difference). I’m not a fan of coffee, so I tend to get my caffeine through either tea or various soft drinks.

The other morning, I got to work, nice and early, and reached into my box of tea bags to discover that I’d already used up the last one. You’d think I’d have noticed that on the previous day, but I’m not the most observant guy in the world and sometimes things like that escape me.

Now, the vending machines here at the Tribune were recently replaced with shiny new ones, because the old ones kept stealing my money. I assume they stole other people’s money too, but I’m not really concerned about that. They stole mine on several occasions leaving me undernourished and poor. The shiny new machines, we were assured, are much better, and hardly ever steal people’s money.

Well, that’s sort of the case.

Off I walked to the coffee vending machine to test out the newly added “tea”. I put in my money, opting for a “large” cup, and punched in the code. What came out looked kind of like tea with milk, which was what I had requested, but it smelled a lot like coffee. Not to be discouraged, I took a sip and discovered that it tasted like tea, until the nasty aftertaste of coffee kicked in. Saddened and dismayed by this evil mixture of tea and coffee, that I would call “toffee” if it weren’t for the fact that it wasn’t delicious, I disposed of the drink, and went back to my desk.

A few minutes later, I returned to the vending machine with the remainder of my money and decided to buy a small hot chocolate. With a buzz, the machine sprung to life, and started dispensing my beverage. What it forgot to dispense was a cup. Leaving me penniless and thirsty.

And people wonder why I am grumpy.

This week, we launched our new California Weds publication, where you can find all sorts of wedding resources that are available in the county. There are also some articles that might help when planning a wedding. Our very own Marketing Assistant Extraordinaire, Nicole Bowers is featured in one of the stories.

We also launched a map of gas prices throughout the county. You can submit the prices near you by emailing Sally, or you can update it yourself if you are familiar with Google’s My Maps feature.

0 comments Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It’s been a while since I posted last, but I have an excuse, I’ve been really busy working on new stuff for you guys.

First, we have all new winery, dining and hotel listings which we’ve added to our community calendar software. These are a vast improvement over the old system as now in addition to finding basic information about the location, you can also read and write reviews, find directions, and list similar locations nearby.

I could go into detail about the technical wizardry that had to be performed to get these listings imported from our old database into the new one, but I’m guessing most of you don’t really care. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy, nor was it exciting.

We’ve also made some fairly major changes to the layout of MySLOCounty.com over the past few days based on some user feedback. We removed the left rail of navigation, and condensed much of what was there into a more concise horizontal bar at the top of the page. You can now access everything you want to do on the site from that bar, while the contents of the right rail display information about recent posts and other items that may be of interest.

Of course, as with all changes, we’re now getting some feedback from users (mostly grumpy Tribune employees), who have issues with the main column being too wide, and we’re examining what, if anything, needs to be done about that. If you feel strongly one way or the other, please let us know and we’ll take your suggestions into consideration (unless you’re a grumpy Tribune Employee, in which case, we’ve heard from you already, so you can shut up about it now. Thanks).

I’ve been using my membership to the IWA to attend some online Flash classes, which came in very handy with this week’s Grudge Match. After all, what is more convincing in an argument than a poorly made Flash animation demonstrating the merits of paper vs. rock or scissors? You’re right, nothing. Paper is clearly the winner.

0 comments Monday, April 7, 2008

I'm not sure how many of our regular story commenters actually read this blog (as many keep asking the same questions that I've already answered here), but here's my answer for another issue that I saw crop up recently:

A story about three men arrested for allegedly soliciting lewd acts at an Atascadero Lake Park restroom was posted to the Web site Wednesday, March 12. It got a fair amount of views for a day or two, and then - like most stories - fell off the homepage to make room for fresher news.

But then, a week later, the story showed up on the homepage again. This time it was under the "most popular stories now" section. A few readers saw it there, and left these "helpful" comments:

"This story is a week old...move on!"


"tt- c'mon...even on the ksby site has this is archived.
this is a sign you folks have nothing better [you think] to report on.
man up, turn off the net and go out and cover some news!"

Actually, we have nothing to do with what stories show up in that section - you, the reader, does. The 10 stories in that section are automatically updated every hour from a program that counts page views on a story. So why would a week-old story get picked up there? Several reasons. Most often, it's because it was linked to from an outside site. And once it makes it into that section, those people complaining about it being an old story on the homepage are just furthering the problem - each click you make will just keep adding it to the "most-read" list.

So no, we don't just like to keep really old stories on the homepage - even if there haven't been that many new exciting headlines (which hasn't been a problem recently).

As always, if you have any questions about the Web site, don't hesitate to ask. And if you're interested, here's some older posts explaining the inside goings-on of sanluisobispo.com:

Why does this story allow comments, but that one doesn't?

That's hardly breaking news

Baloney polls

0 comments Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This morning, I arrived at work to hear rumours that the Cuesta Grade was closed, the reason given was that there was “something to do with elephant seals”. What the seals were supposed to be doing, I have no idea. Frolicking perhaps.

Since Elephant seals really have no business on the Grade, this made for an interesting story, but when Larissa looked into it, she found that the CHP had arrived to check out the report only to find that there were no signs of elephant seals, frolicking or otherwise. The whole thing seems to have been an April Fool’s prank played by local radio station KZOZ. Well done guys.

In the spirit of the holiday, I set about with a couple of pranks of my own. I started by taking small pieces of paper, roughly an inch square and writing “April Fools!” on them, then taping them to the bottom of my co-workers’ mice over the laser. Obviously, this stops the little laser from working, and so the mouse becomes useless. Yes, I know, that’s a simple prank, but I don’t have all day to spend thinking up pranks, and this one was unlikely to end in violence, or get me fired.

Next, I sent links to this very interesting article to Sally and Sergio.

Then, at lunchtime I went to the supermarket and bought a dozen cupcakes. There they are, pictured right, they look delicious, don't they? I brought them back to work, put them on a paper plate and made a sign saying “Happy April Fool’s Day!” I put them in the table in front of my desk, and waited to see who was brave enough to eat one. As I write this, they have been there for an hour and a half and no one has had the guts. Columnist extraordinaire, Bill Morem took a look at them, exclaimed that they looked “delicious”, picked one up, read the sign, put it down, and walked away.

To put this in perspective, most food left in front of my desk is gone within 20 minutes. This may be a new record.

So, avid blog readers, do you guys have any April Fool’s pranks to share?

1 comments Thursday, March 27, 2008

You could sense the excitement yesterday morning when an email went out from our fearless leader, Chip, informing us that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator himself, would be visiting The Tribune for a meeting with our editorial board.

The email went out around an hour and a half before Arnie was scheduled to arrive. No time to run home to get my copy of T2 – Judgment Day to have him sign it, and certainly not enough time to “set up live streaming video” as my boss, Sergio suggested. And it’s just as well I didn’t set it up – read on.

We decided that a good compromise to streaming video would be to have Larissa use our “shiny new camcorder” to videotape the meeting and edit it down to some highlights before posting it to the Website. Before that though, Larissa took some video of the protesters outside the building, and managed to get some shots of Arnie arriving at the Tribune office.

Not being on the editorial board, because I am a low-level peon, I didn’t get to meet him. I did, however, see him enter the building wearing a beige suit which was disappointingly less intimidating than the biker leathers and sunglasses, or partially uncovered endoskeleton in which I am accustomed to seeing him attired. He strode purposefully and directly from the main entrance to the conference room, waving and smiling. He muttered something indecipherable amid some half-hearted applause, entered the conference room and was then gone from sight.

Soon after that, Larissa left the conference room having been forcibly ejected by Arnie and his goons. OK, so maybe “forcibly ejected” isn’t the right phrase, but it sounds more interesting than “asked politely to leave”, doesn’t it? And perhaps “goons” might get me into trouble, so we’ll call them “security”, you know what I mean though. So, apparently when a movie star becomes a politician, they no longer want to have cameras pointed at them. Sadly then, we didn’t get to use the “shiny new camcorder” to videotape the meeting.

I will, however, work on figuring out a way to have live streaming video on the Website, just so we’re ready for the next time the T-800 visits us. I suppose in the meantime, I can set it up so that you guys can just watch me write code all day long. That’d be exciting, right?

1 comments Monday, March 24, 2008

For a while now, our reporting staff have been producing videos to accompany stories when appropriate, but until last week, they’ve always had to do so with either woefully substandard or mind-bogglingly technical equipment. That’s all changed now, because Sally managed to get them a shiny new digital camcorder.

After a couple of false starts, in which Larissa’s computer kept crashing, we managed to produce the first video using this camera, and so far it seems to be successful. If things work out the way we hope they will, then our reporters should be able to produce videos to accompany their stories more often.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t written an incredibly witty and entertaining blog post about Larissa and my trip to the Pismo Police Department, it’s because we haven’t gone yet. I’m beginning to suspect that maybe Larissa has something to hide, because all I’ve heard from her is that the chief is “out this week”. I think that’s a thinly veiled way of saying “we can’t go because I am wanted in connection with several unsolved murders/bank robberies/jay walking incidents”. Time will tell.

All last week, I was working on a new and (hopefully) much improved winery listing, which should allow us to provide more details about the wineries as well as information on events to be held there. I think I’m getting close to being done, so we should be releasing that in the next week or so.

A couple of weeks ago, a reader left a comment on the community site complaining about the Flash content on sanluisobispo.com taking too long to load. I’ve spent some time looking at this and we may have a solution. It’ll take a bit of testing to make sure it works correctly, but we should be able to make the Flash content load after the rest of the page, making the actual content load much faster.

We’ve just put a new Grudge Match on the community site in which we’re pitting the awesome Hannibal Lecter against the not-quite-as-awesome John Doe from Seven. This might be a closer match than the last one in which Poison took a pounding from Def Leppard.

Finally, congratulations to my sister (although she probably won’t read this because she doesn’t find my banal, sarcastic commentary entertaining), who gave birth to my nephew, Archie, on Easter Sunday. We’re all proud of you.

0 comments Wednesday, March 12, 2008

You may find the news about Eliot Spitzer intriguing, but not after the seventh time you've been told about it. Or even the second. I’d never even heard of him until yesterday, but that may be due to my own personal lack of interest in current events. Alternatively, it could be because I am foreign, so politics in this country frighten and confuse me.

Unfortunately, a problem with our publishing system caused our breaking-news alert about Spitzer’s resignation to be sent out 6 more times than was intended. It may even have been more times than that — I lost count. It was definitely more than the one time that it should have been sent.

We’re sorry. We’re tracking down the cause of the problem and will get it fixed as soon as possible. The alerts have stopped for now though.

This week we have been working on setting up a test version of the community site which should allow me to make code changes without potentially breaking the live version. I know, that’s not terribly exciting, but this blog is supposed to be a look at what’s going on behind the scenes here, and that’s pretty much it.

This week’s Grudge Match on MySLOCounty.com is a hard-fought battle between Han Solo and Indiana Jones. As I write this, Indy is ahead by a single vote despite my argument for Han including a pretty chart. Go vote for Han.

Next week, Larissa and I intend to visit the Pismo police department to see what we can do about having them provide data we can use to create a Pismo crime map. I hope we’ll be able to figure something out — I know quite a few readers are anxious to see more crime maps posted. Stay tuned for more information on that next week.

0 comments Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I returned from my “baby vacation” yesterday to find a suspicious yellow envelope on my desk. I say “suspicious” because typically, no one sends me mail that’s not of the "e" variety, so I consider any envelope left on my desk, yellow or otherwise, to be suspicious. Upon inspection, the envelope appeared to have been sent by the International Webmasters Association, which helped to abate my suspicions somewhat as I am familiar with that organization. The Tribune has in fact recently signed me up as a member to gain access to some training courses.

I opened the envelope to see what goodies lay awaiting me inside, and found a green cardboard folder containing this:

It’s a certificate declaring me “duly qualified and accepted” into the IWA, which is great, especially considering that my only qualification as far as the IWA is concerned is that the cheque for the membership fee cleared. I intend to frame the certificate and hang it on the wall of my cubicle next to my printouts of funny headlines from the newspaper – that’s how proud I am of this honour.

Imagine my delight to then find tucked behind the certificate a letter bearing this:

That’s right, not only am I “duly qualified,” I am a card carrying member of the IWA. If that’s not $50 well spent, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, on to business.

In my absence, it seems things went relatively smoothly. Sally, Larissa and Kim made some updates to the Web sites while Joe and Chrissy engaged in a stirring debate over whether or not Muppets suck. Sally did manage to break the caption contest, but only briefly. Uncharacteristically, I’m not giving her too hard a time over it. It meant that I got to claw back a few hours of vacation time, since I had to work from home to fix it, and I’ll take all the time I can get.

So far this week, I’ve made a few small changes to the community site. Photographs uploaded will no longer automatically be promoted to the front page, since they already appear right at the top of the page. Pat and I have started an all new Grudge Match on whether Paul or John was the better Beatle (hint: John). Also, I’ve made a Grudge Match block on the right hand rail as a form of shameless self-promotion.

The rest of the week is likely to be spent digging around in database infrastructures, which is about as fun and interesting as it sounds, so I won't be boring you with any details.

0 comments Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Danny is still off tending to his new baby, but despite what he'd have you believe, we're still adding new things to the site.

Today we added live traffic data, so you can see in real time where there are wrecks, road hazards and other incidents of note. You can see it at www.sanluisobispo.com/traffic, or select the Live Traffic info link in the navigation.

At some point, we hope to be able to map this information for you, but for now, a quick check of our web site will give you all the information you need before you head out onto the roads.