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.

0 comments Monday, February 25, 2008

I noticed one of our regular web commenters has been asking why some stories allow comments, but others don't. The person seems upset that a seemingly non-comment-worthy item - such as a photo - gets a comment section, while a breaking news-type item doesn't.

Here's your answer:

Any story that gets published from the print edition (which shows up in the "Today's Headlines" section of the site) automatically gets a comment section. There's no extra step required by a human. That means all stories, not matter how innocuous, have that nice box at the bottom where you can post away.

But items we post manually throughout the day and night in the "Latest from the newsroom" section at the top of the homepage doesn't have that nice feature. After someone here at The Tribune posts a story to that section, they have to go in and manually add a comment section. It's an easy, three-step process, but sometimes the person posting may forget. On weekends and nights, several people in the newsroom are responsible for posting to that section. Because it's not their usual duty, it sometimes gets overlooked. I'll try and remind everyone to take those extra steps so commenting is allowed on all stories.

Our policy as of last year is that all stories should have a comment section. So if you notice a story doesn't have one, it was likely just overlooked by the person who posted the story. If I see it, I'll try to go in and add a comment section later.

As always, feel free to e-mail me questions at ldoust@thetribunenews.com.

2 comments Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It seems like there are some questions out there about our Web site. Why are there two of the same stories on the homepage? Why is a day-old story still considered "breaking news?" And why is that story breaking news at all?

Well, lucky for you, I have the answers.

Our goal here at sanluisobispo.com is to get you the news as it happens. We know you don't want to wait until the delivery person throws the rolled-up paper at your door early in the morning. By that time, the news is old. (That's not to say the printed product is worthless. It has many features not available online).

But our goal on the site is providing up-to-the-minute updates. So when I get in at 7 a.m. (or sometimes 5 a.m.), I immediately start looking for the newest news. I check for press releases e-mailed or faxed to us by local police or fire departments. I peruse the CHP Web site for any crashes or other mishaps that may delay your commute. I scan the news wire for stories from outside agencies (such as the Associated Press) that may be of interest to SLO County residents. I'll either write up the short article or copy and past, and then post to the section of our site called "Latest from the newsroom."

The items go up onto the site in the order I post them. So a story that may seem like bigger news may be under something was posted more recently. I do have the ability to reorder the stories, so sometimes a really big story will stay at the time, and newer stuff will go underneath.

Throughout the day, I try to keep fresh news up on the site. That means working with the reporters on anything they may have, and reporting and writing up anything I find. After I leave in the afternoon, night web producer Kim Bui takes over and can post any updates.

Sometimes we'll post stories in the "Latest from the newsroom" section that will run in the next day's paper. Example: A man was arrested Monday on suspicion of killing a SLO woman three years ago. You don't want to wait to read about it the next day, so we posted it to our Web site immediately.

But on Tuesday, we posted the same story under the "Today's headlines" section of the homepage. That's where all the local stories from The Tribune go. The problem - yesterday's web update was still on the homepage. Well, I'm trying my best to find you some new updates so that one will bump off. But because I can't create the news, there's not always enough to go into that section. Sure, I can post upcoming events or some minor happenings. But that's usually when I hear from you guys: "Slow news day??" "This is breaking news??"

I'm doing my best to give you fresh content that's also worth your time. So sometimes you may see two of the same stories on the homepage. Or a story from yesterday is still up there because there hasn't been enough new news to bump it off. Or there may be a really boring item that you don't think is worthy of being on the homepage.

OK, that's all I've got for now. I hope I've answered some of your questions. And as always, let me know if there's anything else about the Web site that you're curious about.

2 comments Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Justin Hoeger (pictured right), one of our nondescript editorial staff (I think he works on Ticket or something, I don't know) is misguided. Not only that, he’s also misinformed and mistaken. And probably miserable and misanthropic.

In his recent blog post he mentions that he and I are engaged in a brutal mix-CD-off to the death and in the process manages to hurl insults referring to myself and my nationality. He must be assuming that because of my gentle, non-confrontational manner that I will have no retort to his crude and unwarranted vitriol.

Haha. Funny.

Justin’s account of how the bitter feud came to be is slightly inaccurate; let me tell you a tale.

A little over a week ago, Justin came rumbling into my cubicle spouting “facts” about Amy Winehouse that were obviously based on false information. When I did not conform to his way of thinking, he laid out his terms for war and then proceeded to invade, decimate and occupy my cubicle for an extended period of time, apparently without an exit strategy of any kind. Perhaps it is his American-ness that makes him predisposed to jumping into confrontation with those different to him without thinking of the consequences, I’m not sure. He then started mumbling something about me being an illegal alien and threatened to deport me.

I also think his CD may be some sick form of torture.

His condescending attitude made it clear that he expected to win and with the might of the editorial department (and two mix-CD veterans) behind him, I was sure to be the underdog. What Justin failed to realize is that we Scots are always the underdogs.

And so Justin issued his challenge, in between bites of cheeseburger, being generally uneducated, having no concept of the world outside his immediate surroundings nor any concept of irony in addition to acting out several other stereotypical American traits. The terms were laid out, we were each to create what we considered an “awesome” mix CD, limiting ourselves to what will physically fit onto a single disk – and we had one week to do it.

So I set to work thinking of a theme for my CD that would put Justin in his place. I decided that since his opinions on British music seem to be skewed towards, well let’s just say “not awesome”, I should make a CD consisting of awesome British music. So I did. And it’s awesome.

Here are my track listings and the reasons I picked them. Also for reference, here’s my packaging.

And here’s Justin’s.

I’m quietly confident.

U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name
The opening track to what is often regarded as on of the greatest albums ever made. The intro to this song has been described as “musical foreplay”. This is a truly awesome song in an album made entirely of awesome songs.

The Who – Baba O’Riley
What makes this song awesome? Well, House (played by British actor Hugh Laurie) seems to like it and he’s definitely awesome.

Genesis – Land of Confusion
Anything featuring Phil Collins is automatically going to be great, no question. The man oozes talent from every orifice. Have you seen the video to this song? Awesome.

Simple Minds – (Don’t You) Forget About Me
The fact that hearing this song instantly conjures up images of one of the defining movies of the ‘80s is pretty impressive. The fact that the song is by a Scottish band makes it awesome.

Jamiroquai – Canned Heat
You know that song Napoleon Dynamite dances to at the end of the movie? Yeah, awesome.

Tears for Fears – Head Over Heals
Another movie reference, the scene in Donnie Darko that makes use of this song is an awesome example of how to use music in film.

Queen – Under Pressure
I resisted the urge to use Bohemian Rhapsody in favour of this song because it combines two legendary British artists, Queen and David Bowie in one song here – Awesome. Even if the bass riff was later stolen by Vanilla Ice.

Led Zeppelin – Immigrant Song
I couldn’t make a compilation of awesome British music without including Led Zeppelin, and after careful consideration, I decided this was my favourite – Awesome, because they’re all awesome.

Coldplay – Clocks
An awesome minimalist masterpiece by one of the biggest artists around. They layering of simple rhythmical piano and drums into something so complex is genius.

The Police – Roxanne
A song inspired by the prostitutes Sting saw from his window while staying in a hotel in France. Not only that, it’s a tango. Awesome.

Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
I went to the Ozzfest in the UK in 1998 where I saw not only Ozzy, but Black Sabbath. Ozzy will always rule, and I’ll always have stories to tell.

Derek & the Dominos – Layla
My wife and I are expecting our third child in a couple of weeks. We’ve been told to expect a girl and are planning to call her Layla. You want to try and tell me this song isn’t awesome? Didn’t think so.

Elton John – Daniel
We’re naming our daughter Layla, so it’s only fitting that I follow that song with the one I was named after. There are a lot of awesome Elton John songs, but come on, just the fact that I was named after this one surely bumps it up a notch or two.

John Lennon – Imagine
Rolling Stone called this the 3rd greatest song of all time. I can’t argue with that.

Stereophonics – Handbags and Gladrags
The theme song to the undeniably awesome British version of The Office. I know this isn’t the original, nor is it the version used in the show, but the Stereophonics are a great band and deserving of inclusion into this CD.

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
Honestly, there isn’t a Pink Floyd song that couldn’t have been used in this CD, and I had a hard time choosing one. I guess I just like this one the best.

Radiohead – You
How do you make a song with the time signature 23/8 (or 3 bars of 6/8 and one of 5/8 in 4 bar phrases) sound good? You need to be awesome.

Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
If you have Sting singing backing vocals for you, you know you’re awesome. Also, have you seen the music video to this song? Impressive, considering it was released in 1984.

0 comments Monday, February 4, 2008

The community site is starting to grow. We have gained quite a few new users over the last week, and although only a handful have posted anything, I’m encouraged that there are those out there who are willing to help make the site a success.

People have started making their own forum topics, and some are even getting replies. It’s hardly a staggering amount of content, but it’s a start.

Our Ninjas vs. Pirates poll has come to a close with ninjas only just edging out a win. Congratulations go out to ninjas everywhere.

Replacing that poll, we have an all new one featuring a point/counterpoint by our very own Pat Pemberton, and some other guy. The topic: Football Vs Soccer. Vote for the winner and discuss who you think should win here.

0 comments Wednesday, January 30, 2008

So today we had a “soft launch” for MySLOCounty.com, which essentially means that we put a banner on the homepage and sent out an e-mail to our newsletter subscribers. Hopefully that will generate some new users and those users will generate some new content.

It appears that ninjas still have the edge on pirates, but only by a single vote. The discussion has been heating up, and has made for an interesting diversion from wrestling with all the little problems that have arisen since we started using the site. If you have an opinion and haven’t voiced it yet, now’s the time.

You may have noticed on Monday afternoon that the community site became unavailable, or that all the pictures disappeared. This was caused by some problems that our hard-working friends at McClatchy Interactive had when trying to move the site over to its official and final home. They got it fixed by Tuesday afternoon though, so no lasting harm was done.

In a classic display of great timing, our community evangelist, Kim, has gone in for surgery and will be out for at least the next week. Sally will be taking on her community site duties in her absence.

Last night I set up a private messaging system on the community site which allows users to send messages to one another. It works kind of like email, except you have to be signed into the site in order to use it. So, if you need to report any problems with the site, you can click here or you can visit my profile on the site and click the “Send a private message to Danny” link. Otherwise, you can still reach us via the “contact us” link.

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed to the site, and even bigger thanks to those who have given feedback.

1 comments Friday, January 25, 2008

While some people consider the new community site to be simply an area in which users can share photos, stories and opinions, I see it as something far more important. True, it is all those things previously mentioned, but chiefly it’s a place to have discussions about what’s most important to people in the community.

Right now, I am engaged in an engrossing discussion on “ninjas vs pirates”.

You can see that I have a keen awareness of what matters to people. It’s not the election, nor is it the war in Iraq – currently ninjas are just edging out pirates, and that’s what’s important. If you disagree, join in the discussion.

We’re still making small changes to www.myslocounty.com based on the feedback we’re getting. If you haven’t taken a look yet, try it out and let us know what you think.

0 comments Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We’re almost ready to launch the new community Website, but before we unleash it on an unsuspecting public, I want to give my loyal blog readers (I think there are about 5 of you) the opportunity to take a look at it and let us know what you think.

First order of business is the name. We’ve decided after much discussion to go with myslocounty.com. As names go, I think it works quite well.

On myslocounty.com you can post your own stories, pictures, blogs, or start some discussions in our new forums. You can log in using your existing sanluisobispo.com username and password, or if you don’t have one, you can sign up for one here. This new site is entirely dependent on user generated content, so we’re counting on you guys to participate.

We’ll hopefully be officially launching it in the next few days with some kind of marketing campaign. I’m hoping for a gala event with an aerobatic show, a parade, fireworks and live music, but we’ll probably just place some ads in the newspaper and on the Website. We just wanted to give anyone who’s interested an inside look at what we’re doing, and a chance to give us some feedback before anyone else.

Kim, our Night Web Producer, will be taking on the role of community evangelist, drumming up new users and thinking of ways to improve the site. I might pop my head up too from time to time, although it’s generally considered a good idea that I don’t talk to people all that often. So we’ll see.

If you do test out the new site, let us know what you think. It’s not too late to make changes.


5 comments Friday, January 18, 2008

Our annual Top 20 Under 40 feature published today, and I have to say that I am shocked and outraged to find that I wasn’t even nominated. Next year I’m going for top honours – make it happen people. If you happened to miss the feature in today’s Tribune, you can find the bios of the winners here. Congratulations to the award recipients.

The other day I received two interesting emails on the same topic. I’ll quote the first of them below:

Your Internet website poll is boloney. Everytime I go to your website I can vote in your poll. I can and did vote multiple times. Not an accurate way of running a poll. Someone should “fix” the ability of people to vote as many times that they want or do away with it. Just being honest. Kevin
He raises an interesting point — however, our polls are not designed to be a scientifically accurate method of gauging public opinion. They are just for fun.

Yes, there are ways to circumvent the system and vote multiple times on the same poll. You can’t, however, as Kevin suggests, simply revisit the page and vote again. At least not without messing around with some browser settings, the details of which I’m not going to go into. I am guessing that Kevin is using Firefox as his browser, which means that while technically he can vote as many times as he wants by revisiting the website, only his first vote will actually be counted.

The second email I got on this topic was forwarded to me by one of our editorial staff. It seems that someone called Kevin (this may or may not be the same Kevin) from an off-road enthusiast Web site was soliciting members of that site to vote in our poll on the Oceano Dunes. The email came from a reader who was concerned that the results of our poll did not reflect the opinions of local residents.

I can appreciate the concern of the reader.

As a county paper, we primarily serve residents of the county. On the web, however, we have a wider reach, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it reflects the interests of those who visit or have ties here. Plus, Kevin's solicitation of new users to our site gave us more visitors, which we’ll never argue with.

The other side is always welcome to marshal its supporters to vote in response. We welcome the site traffic.

So thanks for the traffic Kevin.

0 comments Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Today we launched a new movie widget on the Website. Now you can find your local movie listings, find a map of local theatres and search for specific movies all from one convenient little module. You can still get a synopsis of each movie, but now we’ve added a list of movies released this week. The new layout fits out site design better, which is nice.

The old movie tool was one of the last remnants from our former owners, Knight Ridder. We are gradually replacing all these old elements from our site and replacing them with what I’m sure will all be new and improved versions. This one certainly is anyway.

The people in charge of what’s really important have come to an agreement on the header for the community site, so we’re now one step closer to launching it. I’m not sure exactly when we plan to launch now; our resident ostrich-straddling scribe, Sally, is working hard to get the last few loose ends tied up.

Spidey is looking a little deflated. I guess that’s what working such long hours will do to you. He never leaves his desk, which shows a level of dedication that eclipses even mine. If he’s promoted ahead of me, I will not be impressed.

If we don’t manage to repair the puncture, I’ve been dared by the production department to “wear” Spider-Man. While that would provide me with some blog material, and some entertaining pictures, suffocation might hamper my productivity, so I’m hoping we can fix him.

Yesterday I was asked why we include an “I don’t know” option in many of our polls since the polls are voluntary, and why would we possibly care about the opinions of people who “don’t know”.

Since I’m not familiar with our editorial policy, I forwarded the question on to the far more qualified Larissa who provided the following response:

“There’s almost always some votes in the “I don’t know” section, so I keep it in there.

And I think we do care – it could be that people really don’t know what the best answer is. Others may just not care, but those are the ones who probably don’t vote. The I don’t knowers could not have enough information about the subject, or haven’t made their mind up yet.

I have also used “I don’t care” in the past. But I reserve that for special polls.“
I can see Larissa’s point here. If there are a significant number of “I don’t know” responses, we know that readers might want some additional information so that they can make an informed decision. I’m not sure I necessarily agree with an “I don’t care” option since being apathetic would suggest readers wouldn’t have even bothered to read the poll in the first place. But what do I know?

0 comments Friday, January 11, 2008

I am often criticized for using too much technical jargon when I explain how or why things happen with our website. With that in mind, let me quote an email I received yesterday from our corporate technology staff:

"Today at approximately 2:50 p.m. EST, McClatchy Interactive's production infrastructure experienced a service disruption that affected InSite and Site Manager.

Any user attempting to sign into Site Manager would have received a blank (white) screen. Additionally, any end users (consumers) who attempted to access pages behind InSite would have been asked to repeatedly login - even if they had previously done so.

We identified and resolved the problem by approximately 3:30 p.m. EST.

All applications and services were operating correctly at that time and we have experienced no further complications.

Consequently, we do believe this was an isolated incident and not a sign of an ongoing issue. However, we will conduct tests in our Q/A environment during the next few days to replicate the problem to determine if further action is required.

Please accept our apologies for today's disruption and any inconvenience it may have caused."

Now, allow me to translate that the way I think I’m supposed to:
"At 11:50 Thursday morning, our website broke. We’re not sure what happened to make it break, it just did. What we do know is that it wasn’t Danny’s fault, nor (surprisingly) was it Sally’s. We got it fixed by 12:30 though. Sorry about that."

Interestingly, I only got one angry email about it, so you guys must not be paying enough attention.

Sally is back from South Africa where she rode an ostrich. I don’t think that was the purpose of her trip, but it does appear to have been the highlight. She arrived back looking very tan, and exceptionally tired, which is what 40-something hours of non-stop travel will do to you.

We’re still working on putting the finishing touches to the community site and will soon debut it to our newsroom staff to build up more content. There’s still some additional stress testing that needs to be done and hopefully they can tax it sufficiently. If we break it, I’ll let you know next week.

1 comments Monday, January 7, 2008

At around 4:45 on Friday afternoon, the Tribune office filled with the high-pitched beeping sound made by the UPS devices that back up power to our most important computer systems. Around the building, computers suddenly went blank and cries of anguish could be heard from staffers who had failed to save recently.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve lost power here, but it’s the first time since I started working here that the emergency generator has failed to kick power into the main office.

Being a dutiful, dedicated former member of the IT staff, I immediately offered my services to IT to help them run power from the emergency outlets to the computers that would be needed to output the paper that night. We were fully confident that somehow, someone would get the generator running so that we could bring our servers back online, and maybe get some light into the office before it became too dark to see anything.

That didn’t happen.

As it got darker, I started to worry about what would happen when there was no more light. It was then that I had an epiphany. It was an idea of such magnitude that surely lesser minds would never have been able to comprehend it.

We needed flashlights.

So off I went, HR director’s company credit card in hand to look for flashlights. When I got to the store, I discovered that somehow, someone else had come up with the same genius idea as I had and purchased all of the flashlights in the lighting department. Not wanting to return empty-handed, I thought about where else I might find some, and then as I walked back through the store I noticed something in the toy department.

That’s right, because of my heroic act, the Tribune had at least a little illumination in the form of "Cars" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" flashlights.

Many others played their parts: copy editors Adrienne, Annie and Chrissy and our presentation editor, Joe, had to converge at the home of Jen Robillard, one of our copy editors, and her husband, Andrew. There they created the newspaper on laptops, getting local stories and photos via email. It should be noted that Jen wasn't even scheduled to work that night, so she truly went above and beyond the call of duty to allow such unsavory characters into her home. Meanwhile, our production department scrambled to find other options for printing the newspaper, including attempting to print in Santa Maria, Fresno and Atascadero. I feel confident, however, that my contribution eclipses that of any other.

In all seriousness though, it was really amazing to see how well our staff handled this difficult situation. Were it not for the hard work and dedication of our editorial, production and IT staff, we might not have been able to publish at all.

Well done guys.

3 comments Friday, January 4, 2008

Another week shortened by a holiday leaves me with little to report, but a little thing like having nothing to write about won’t stop me.

I made a correction to all three of our police reports when I discovered that they wouldn’t display any incidents that happened in 2008. For reasons you probably don’t care about, the database didn’t want to compare dates that spanned multiple years. Effectively this meant that none of the police reports displayed any results from January 1 to sometime on the second, when I fixed the problem. No one noticed though, so don’t tell anyone.

The rest of the week has mostly been spent working on the new community site that we hope to launch in a little over a week. It’s coming along nicely. Kim has been busy filling it with content and we’ve been making tweaks here and there. There are a few more issues we want to resolve and a few more features we want to add, but we’re pretty confident that it will be ready by launch date.

Finally, the other day I found this on my desk. It’s one of those little rubber bracelets that you wear to show support for some cause or another. This one is from the Maynard Institute. Now I always thought that the idea behind these was that because you support the given cause, say cancer research, you don’t mind wearing what is effectively a coloured rubber band around your wrist. It is in fact a kind of sacrifice that you are willing to make to show your support for that cause. Why then would the “institute for journalism education” think that I would want to tarnish my already rocky fashion sense with their hideous orange band?

Not clear on what cause I have been solicited to support, I did a little research. Apparently the Maynard Institute was founded to expand opportunities for minority journalists, which is noble enough, but not a cause I typically associate myself with. What confuses me even more is why I would be singled out as the recipient of this bracelet - I am neither a minority (despite being a foreigner), nor a journalist.

So I’m not going to wear the bracelet, but as a sign of my unwavering support of the Maynard Institute and all the hard work they do there, I will happily forward it on to anyone who wants it.

0 comments Wednesday, January 2, 2008

As most journalists can attest, it’s frustrating not knowing how many people are actually reading your stories. Sure, if it makes A1 “above the fold,” it’s probably going to get a lot more eye scans than inside a back section. But there’s no way to really know how many of those who pick up the paper read which stories.

That’s what makes the Internet so great.

Thanks to technology, it’s now easier to track visitors on Web sites. Part of my job as web producer at The Tribune is to keep track of “page views” on each story. Essentially, that counts how many times the story page is opened, clicked back to or refreshed. (I also see how many people visit our site each day, find out which outside sites have picked up our stories and more, but we can talk about that later).

I’ve gone back to mid-April, which is when we switched over to a new web analysis program, and found the 20 stories with the most page views. I plan on sharing it with our newsroom, and because everyone likes a “Top 20 list” (admit it – you’ve seen at least some of those VH1 shows), I thought I’d share it with you.

Some explanation: Sometimes our stories are picked up by outside Web sites, and linked back to us. For example, our No. 1 story this year – the photos of the troops being taken down at the Paso post office – was picked up by drudgereport.com, a new aggregation Web site made up mostly of links to mainstream media stories. Such a link gave us tens of thousands of page views – much higher than a story would normally get if placed solely on our site.

Also, a few of the stories on our list weren’t written locally. A continuous feed places national and international stories on the site each day. Sometimes, those versions of the story get picked up by an outside Web site (what a tangled World Wide Web it is). So even though no Tribune staff wrote the story, it still became one of the most-read items on sanluisobispo.com in 2007.

And though we can't know for sure if everyone who clicked on the story read it, it does give us a bit better measurement than we can get with the print edition.

But enough from me already. Sanluisobispo.com visitors, here’s what you looked at this year:

1. Photos of troops overseas are gone from Paso post office inspiring outrage (Oct. 20)
2. FBI surveillance: It's come a long way (Aug. 30)
3. The military telegram arrives and a marriage is forever changed (Nov. 10)
4. SLO girl, parents dead in apparent murder-suicide (Oct. 4)
5. More details released in last week's apparent murder-suicide in SLO (Oct. 9)
6. Woodland dentist says breast rubs were appropriate (Oct. 12)
7. Shooting victim 'was loved and admired by his many friends in San Luis Obispo' (Dec. 7)
8. ‘Drain’ is a drag (July 8)
9. Shark seen circling surfer in Cayucos (Oct. 5)
10. Paso: Cars still speed — just more loudly (Nov. 23)
11. NFL: Shotwell ‘still in shock’ (Sept. 5)
12. Jail officer allegedly flashed inmate (Oct. 21)
13. Five die in Christmas Day crash (Dec. 26)
14. Two-car collision kills one, injures five on Highway 1 (Nov. 13)
15. Teens in fatal Hwy. 41 crash identified (July 25)
16. Investment fund fails; locals lose millions (Oct. 28)
17. Family’s life marked by divorce filings, addiction (Oct. 4)
18. Vegas priest pleads guilty to battery (Sept. 21)
19. Hasay’s talent hits an international stage (July 11)
20. 4 p.m.: Police release names of three people found dead this morning; murder-suicide suspected (Oct. 3)

If you have any questions, or want more information, feel free to leave a comment here or e-mail me at ldoust@thetribunenews.com.