0 comments Friday, December 28, 2007

Now that Christmas is over, the season of re-gifting has begun. It seems one of our copy editors has amassed a fairly impressive Spider-Man collection without actually having any affinity for the character. Since she recently turned 30, she has apparently decided that the time has come to pass this collection on to her less mature friends.

So, without further ado, let me introduce our newest team member, Spidey, the life-size inflatable Spider-Man doll who now sits directly in front of my cubicle.

Yeah, it's been a slow week.

1 comments Friday, December 21, 2007

Sally’s tyrannical reign of terror is over! …at least until mid-January when she gets back from her vacation. That leaves me free to work on new projects for you guys without the constant threat of Sally breaking stuff and making me stop what I’m doing to fix it.

Earlier this week, I received an e-mail from a reader asking whether we plan to launch crime maps for the South County police departments. I’m sure there are others out there who are wondering the same thing. Yes, we are planning to provide maps for other departments and will be working with them to get reliable feeds of data. I believe the map that’s most likely to be developed next is Pismo Beach. Look out for that sometime early next year.

We don’t plan to launch any new features in the next week, so here’s a quick status report on what we’re working on:

First up, the caption contest kept me pretty busy yesterday. We had 117 entries, which is great. Our judges had a good time picking the finalists, although it took a while to get a clear top four. Thanks to all who entered, and remember to vote.

Most of my time this week has been spent working on a new project that for now we’ll call the “community site.” This new site will allow us to replace our shockingly inadequate discussion boards, while also allowing more user-generated content such as stories, photos and blogs. We currently have a highly polarized, yet small group of readers who contribute their opinions, and it will be great to be able to focus some energy on promoting our user-generated features and expanding that group.

Finally, I just wanted to mention that it’s not too late to submit your house into our Holiday Lights map. Now, I'm not saying that if you don't take some pictures of your lights and submit them that Santa won't visit you this year, but is that something you really want to risk? Some of the ones that have been sent in look really great.

If you have any questions about the Web site, feel free to e-mail me, or leave a comment on this blog. I’ll do my best to answer them.

0 comments Tuesday, December 18, 2007

We are proud to announce the launch of our new online calendar of events, which you can access from our home page and at events.sanluisobispo.com.

There, you can browse listings and maps of events and restaurants, search events by date, name and category and even submit your own event. You can save events in your own personal calendar, send them to others and add your reviews of existing events and restaurants.

In coming weeks, we will merge the online calendar with our print calendar. But for now, we still need you to submit your calendar items for the newspaper the same way you have been doing, by emailing calendar@thetribunenews.com.

If you’d like your event to appear on the online calendar as well, you can submit it here. You need to be a registered user of sanluisobispo.com to submit an event. It takes just a couple minutes to sign up, which you can do here.

By about mid-January, we will be accepting calendar listings only though this online form, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and get started using the easy submission form now.

If you have any questions about using the calendar, please email me at sbuffalo@thetribunenew.com.

0 comments Thursday, December 13, 2007

I have to say that the response to the new cartoon-based caption contest has been amazing. It just goes to show what a difference promoting it in the newspaper makes. We got 147 entries this week, when typically we've been getting anywhere between 30 and 50. Of course, the fact that I've been pushing everyone I know to enter has to help too. Even my Gran back home in Scotland entered. Thanks, Gran!

Anyway, your tasks as readers haven't ended yet. Now that you've entered, you need to vote for the overall winner. Our judges have selected our favourite 4 entries, and I've put them in a poll. You have one week to decide the winner.

If you weren't selected as one of the four finalists, well, you just weren't funny enough. I'm very disappointed in you. Try harder next week.

0 comments Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Books are not only a popular holiday gift, they're also among the easiest to shop for. Just hop online, start browsing and click to add something to your shopping cart!

If you're stuck with where to start, we have some suggestions in a new interactive guide.

You can find it on the Living page.

Happy online shopping.


A helpful fellow informed me the other day that our site is not as good as www.nytimes.com or www.reuters.com.

What? No way!

OK, I admit my first reaction was a bit brash. This nice gentleman was only trying to find reader-submitted photos of the big waves that crashed into our shoreline last week. The print edition promised we'd have them online, and he could not find them.

After calling The Tribune and talking with at least one colleague (not associated with the Web site), he was transferred to me.

That was when he dropped the bomb. He uses both The New York Times' and Reuters' sites daily, he said, and never has a problem. He tried 25 times to find those surf photos, to no avail.

If you're not familiar, those are two of the biggest news agencies in the world. Yes - world. While we are the foremost online resource for news and information in this county, we're dealing with far fewer resources.They've probably got dozens (hundreds! thousands!) of people dedicated to the web. We've got, let's see, Danny, Sally, Sergio, Kim, Laura and... me. And half of that list is only on the web part time. (For more on what we do, count down four posts to Danny's Dec. 3 entry).

So bear with us on site design and navigation. We’re working on it. Our site has changed dramatically in the past year, and you can expect more - and even better - changes to come.

And if you’ve got questions, or need to find something, or wonder why your comment didn’t show up on that story (that horrible Tribune deleted my comment! Censorship! Why they… wait, what? I posted it on a different story? My bad.), feel free to call or e-mail me anytime at 781-7936 (direct line) or ldoust@thetribunenews.com. I know you all don’t spend as much time on this site as I do (and if you are on here 8 hours a day, and unlike me aren't getting paid for it, well, maybe you need a hobby. But thanks for the traffic.). So far, I’ve been able to help most people quickly find what they’re looking for (and I promise I'll do it cheerfully, not matter how silly the question may seem), or can at least pawn the question off on someone else.

Oh, and if you're looking for those photos of the waves, you can find them here.

It was only two clicks away.

2 comments Monday, December 10, 2007

Today, with mixed feelings, we launched the new Atascadero Crime Report. On one hand, it’s great that we’ve launched it, the database that powers it is robust, and it seems to be working well. On the other hand, we’ve managed to include maps for the San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles police departments, and were unable to for Atascadero.

In order to explain this catastrophic and seemingly unforgivable failure, I need to explain how the systems work. First off, while the results appear almost identical, the code powering the SLO and Paso crime maps are completely different. This is because we manually retrieve a text file from the SLO PD, and we receive a PDF file from Paso PD. This is because of differences in the computer systems used by the respective departments. The Atascadero system works the same way as Paso, so I’ll concentrate on that system for now.

When we receive the PDF from the PD, it is run through a script that converts the PDF into raw text. That raw text is parsed and then the data is inserted into a database. Next, system attempts to geocode the addresses through either Google or Yahoo’s geocoding tools. Any address that can’t be found will be flagged by the system so that someone in the online team can manually plot the point. Manually plotted points are then added to another table in the database that contains points of interest in that city; those points will then be cross referenced for next time an address is not found so that we don’t need to re-plot say “Paso Robles High School” every time it occurs in the police report.

Still with me? Fantastic. So the problem we had with Atascadero is that because of the new housing developments in the city, many of the addresses that need to be geocoded simply don’t exist in either of the geocoding tools. In addition, the police department uses business names as addresses more often than the other departments. The last time I checked, in one weekend’s worth of data, I had 40 incidents to manually plot, and many of those I simply couldn’t find (no matter how hard I look, “next to Karen’s office” does not jump out of the map at me).

I don’t blame the police department for this; they don’t control the rate at which new addresses are added to Google and Yahoo’s maps. They use business names because that’s what works for them. I’d also like to thank all of the police departments we’ve worked with for helping us get our maps launched.

I’ll continue to work on getting a map feature working for Atascadero, but it may need to wait until we have up-to-date geocoding tools.


0 comments Friday, December 7, 2007

Today we launched a slightly different version of our caption contest. Until now, we have been selecting a photograph from our wire service that we thought looked funny enough to get some interesting captions. You'd post those witty and ever so entertaining captions, we'd select a winner, and then repeat the process.

Our forward thinking, progressive Web team are firm believers that our print product should promote the Web site and vice versa. So it always seemed to me like a good idea to post the results in the paper as well as online. Sandy (the executive editor) expressed her concerns over publishing photos of real people with comments that might be deemed offensive. That being the case, we have decided to publish our caption contest in the newspaper and use cartoons rather than real pictures. I've seen some samples of the cartoons, and I'm sure you guys can think of plenty of hilarious captions for them.

Another change is that we'll no longer be giving our coffee cards to the winner. Instead, the winner will receive a black and white print of the opinion page with the cartoon containing their winning caption. I know, it's not coffee, but sadly coffee cards don't grow on trees, while apparently printed cartoons do. I'd rather there be a more tangible prize, but I'm not a part of the decision making process. I just complain a lot, which makes giving me a blog a really bad idea. I could try and put spin on this and say that the new prize allows thousands of people around the county to see your name next to your winning caption, and that the glory associated with that is worth far more than mere coffee, but I'm not going to do that.

We will be selecting the funniest 4 entries at the end of the week, and then opening up the voting process to our readers. A voting form containing the proposed winners will appear on the caption contest page, and the 2nd phase of the voting process will begin. It's like American Idol, except without the talentless screeching and with slightly fewer nonsensical ra
mblings from the judges. We even have a British guy on the judging panel (me!).

Finally, the name has been changed to "Open Mike Cartoon Contest". You see, the cartoonist is named Mike Peters, he's a Pulitzer prize winner from the Dayton Daily News. I suppose knowing that helps make sense of the name.

Anyway, you can find the Open Mike Cartoon Contest here.


0 comments Thursday, December 6, 2007

The punishing surf this week was fun to watch - as were the brave souls who ventured out to surf the big swell.

We have some great photos sent in by readers that you can see here.

If you have photos you'd like to submit to the gallery, email us.

Features reporter Pat Pemberton headed out to the coast with a video camera to capture big wave madness. You can watch his fun video, set to music by local band Rhodes, here.

1 comments Monday, December 3, 2007

In an attempt to humanize and therefore endear our hardworking and dedicated Web team to you, the readers, I thought I'd write up some introductions. These should also help you in figuring out who to complain to when problems arise.

So, here, in alphabetical order are your sanluisobispo.com Web team:

  • Sally Buffalo — Web Editor. Sally is like the queen of sanluisobispo.com. I mean that in the sense that she's a powerless figurehead in what is largely a democratic system. She's in charge of editorial content on the Web site and is constantly looking for new features to provide. I believe her main purpose is to provide an endless stream of development work, thus keeping me in a job. Thanks Sally.

  • Kim Bui — Night Web Producer. Have you ever wondered how the stories that appear in the newspaper manage to get online? No? Too bad, I'm going to tell you anyway. It's not by some magical process, it's done by Kim. She works through the night converting the files that go to the press into files that can be used with our content management system for the Web site. In order to better serve you, she has forfeit sleep and social life, yet does it with a smile on her face.

  • Larissa Doust — Web Producer. Larissa publishes the majority of the breaking news updates to the Web site. I think her primary function is to badger the reporters into providing said updates, and she does a phenomenal job. She also keeps track of our Web statistics (things like how many people visited our Web site and what stories were most popular — that's right, she spies on you). Until recently, she also had to spend way too much time creating the morning and afternoon e-mail newsletters.

  • Sergio Holguin — Online/Marketing Manager. If Sally is the queen of sanluisobispo.com, then Sergio must be the king. I'd say that also makes him a powerless figurehead, but he's my boss, so I won't. Instead I'll point out that he works tirelessly to bring new promotions to our Web site in an effort to drive traffic. He also gets to talk to the public, which is something they don't let me do. Sergio is manager of both the Online and the Marketing departments, which means he must work twice as hard as everyone else and deserves two paychecks for it. I hope he remembers me saying that when it's time for my review.
  • Danny Thorogood — Web Developer. Me! I lobbied for the title of "Executive in Charge of Awesomnecity," but they went with "Web Developer" instead. Apparently awesomnecity isn't a real word. Who knew? My job is to take the ideas the other guys have and try to make them actually work. I spend most of my days chained to my desk writing code and keeping things like the crime maps and caption contest running.

  • Chris Wickers — Online Sales Manager. Chris is in charge of making sure the Web site makes money. I'm not sure how he does it, but I'm pretty sure I've heard screams of agony come from the sales staff when they don't perform well enough. Without him, we'd all be out of work.

Edit by "powerless" figurehead Sally
Of course, we wouldn’t have anything to put on the Web site without the terrific work of the newsroom, and especially the photographers who create slideshows, audio and video. Laura Dickinson, who was the paper’s online department before we had an online department, does all three, as well as give up her Saturday night to post all our Sunday stories.

That's all of us. If you need to contact any of us, you can click our names in this post to send an e-mail. As always, we welcome comments and suggestions.