Book reviews at techstatic

February 25, 2009

I’m reviewing books for techstatic (next month, my review is on MediaWiki and then April’s title is Library Blogging).

Review – Developing Facebook Platform Applications with Rails

Review – Content Management Systems in Libraries

i &hearts robot

April 24, 2008

I’m not one for product endorsements — for one thing, technology products are rarely as good as they seem they should be (Littermaid self cleaning litterbox, cool mp3 stuff that only works with ipods, etc.), but I think I love my new vacuum cleaner. Yes, I &hearts a vacuum cleaner. In case you haven’t seen/heard about it, the roomba is a self cleaning vacuum cleaner, a robot of sorts. Oh, wow, it is soooo cool. I can set it and voilá, my house is clean. Of course, it’s not perfect — it’s a little noisy, and it takes a while to get through the house.

So now, I’m wishing I had a scooba. One step closer to a rosie the robot.

opensource alternatives to common commercial products

September 13, 2007

Although the introduction of this article is overly simplified in terms of the changes in library technology (I couldn’t help but laugh a little in a couple of places) , once you’re past that, the rest is a good little overview of some of the more popular opensource products. I’ve hotlinked and listed the products below, the article gives a more indepth overview.

The products are:
ubuntu (ms windows alternative based on linux)
firefox (web browser; ms internet explorer alternative)
openoffice (productivity suite with wordprocessing, presentation, and spreadsheets; ms office alternative)
thunderbird (e-mail + rss reader; ms outlook express alternative)
songbird ( media player; windows media player alternative?)
gimpshop (image editing; adobe photoshop alternative)
pdfcreator (pdf creator; adobe acrobat alternative)
Audacity (audio burning software)
avidemux (video creation)

Other stuff (web publishing, etc.):
mediawiki and also twiki.

As far as libraries go, there is

I’ve talked a little about evergreen and vufind here. At home, I still run MS for the operating system and commercial stuff for my server; but then everything else is opensource or web based services (Firefox, gimp, ghostwriter+pdf, openoffice, etc.) Setting up these products on a small personal computer is fairly easy (really!). I’m not sure how that would translate to a large network, which could possibly be a hidden cost factor: installing these, configuring them as needed, and upgrading. Of course, admins already have to do that for any programs that they support. Training issues (oh the fun of trying to teach a group of web editors to use Drupal…) as well as potential security risks given the opensource nature would be other potential costs.

creating a e-zine — software choices

August 13, 2007

So you want to create an online newsletter, a magazine or e-zine? What should you use?
There are many choices, some of which depend on budget size. My budget size= ZERO dollars.
My investigation actually began in May with Drupal. These were reviewed as of August 2007.

System requirements for most of these (but not all): Apache or IIS server; MySQL or another db server; PHP ; also: installation experience; templating; CSS, patience

  • Drupal => Opensource. Largescale CMS (content management system); hosted on your server.

Not really magazine software but flexible enough to build most anything; also appears scalable with support for multiuser/multiauthority levels. I see a few drawbacks to Drupal — first the terminology is a little hard to wrap your head around if you are used to folder/subfolder/index/page thinking of web design. Drupal out of the box is eh…. ugly, too. Once the site is setup, then it has been structured and built with modules. No offense to the developers, they have done a great job, but they are in desperate need of some graphics & design folks. Although, one of the latest templates is following CSS/Zen Garden model, so at least one template provides some customization. Biggest drawback in creating a magazine is that it involves many modules and it takes quite a bit of time to put together.

I have wrapped the rest of the art site in drupal and will be working on pulling the site together into a more cohesive look. However, the lack of bridging between drupal and things like coppermine (image gallery) means that I may end up dumping drupal. Not sure. I’m trying to decide if I should choose choose flickr or coppermine or both. Another topic. 😉 Anyhow, Drupal does have modules for blogging, image galleries, etc. but definitely not as rich in functionality as some of the opensource stuff out there.

For my project: Third choice. With the various modules, Drupal does meet MOST of my requirements. However, its big sticking point is the lack of good module just for a magazine. There is a periodical module, however, I didn’t have satisfactory results with it; it seemed very limited and inflexible. Of course, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to bend it into what I envisioned, either. If you have time to setup a magazine in Drupal and want an overall robust & dynamic site (beyond the magazine), it would be a good choice. Beyond the Drupal installation, you should be willing to spend considerable time building the architecture for your publication.
Templating will be another issue. Can you give a true magazine feel? Not sure. Is there help? Sometimes. The user community is big, but it seems like a lot of questions just go out to a void, where they are never answered.

Wikipedia’s overview: Drupal

So Mambo was “the” CMS for a little while and then the developers left and started Joomla and then somewhere along the way Drupal arrive. At least, that is my take on the situation. Throw in a few egos, some developer politics, and well, there ya go. ;-D Several Mambo sites that I explored have changed to Joomla sites now. Mambo still exists. Joomla is around. Both are supposed to be more user friendly, but I don’t know. The graphics are kind of cutesy, and the development seems to be lagging. Mambo ( oops, only Joomla now offers this!) has an add-on commercial magazine module but it is a little out of my price range. Without being able to test and know for sure that it would work for what I need, I wasn’t willing to risk the money. Why didn’t they offer a trial? Probably because having a trial of a module is a hard thing to do. Oh, well, their loss! Also, all of the weird stuff going on between Mambo and Joomla seems a little sketchy. Both seem scalable; module built sites.

Wikipedia’s overview: Joomla
Wikipedia’s overview: Mambo

For my project: Fourth choice (Joomla); Mambo (unsure)

  • WordPress => Opensource. Originally blog software, but with plugins can work as a miniCMS. Runs either at or on your own server.

Pros: WordPress is amazingly easy to install. It has a huge user community. It is easy to template. It supports just about everything on my list although the prepublishing thing would probably be accomplished by marking posts “draft”. I’ve seen a few magazines done with wordpress but they still felt a little bloggy. This was my second choice because it is easy to use, the user community is strong, lots of plugins, and easy to format. Multiuser/multiauthority levels, built in. Cons: Not really magazine software; definitely bloggy.

A template for a e-zine using wordpress: morning after

For my project: Second choice.
Wikipedia’s overview: WordPress

  • PacerCMS => Opensource; newspaper publishing specific; runs on your own server.

Never heard of it? Me, either, until I stumbled across it at opencms. The developer posted a little blurb that he had created this for his student newspaper. Hmmmm… Interesting, but could I turn it into a magazine? Does it meet my needs?
Just about everything!

  • Almost “One push” installation — very easy, similar to wordpress
  • Issues with category & article support
  • RSS feeds for categories(sections) + overall site
  • HTML in articles; image/media upload (not sure about mp3; I have embedded youtube)
  • Database driven; template files & css
  • Archives
  • Pre-publishing
  • Articles can be edited/moved/etc.
  • User submitted articles/review process
  • Very good user support via the development group at google groups (really excellent!)
  • Spam control (everything goes through a review)
  • Security (no server problems yet, but not really sure)

I can’t really say enough good things about PacerCMS. It is easy enough to template it to give a different feel but still use all of the built-in features of newspaper publishing. Additionally, as it is very much in development, you’ll want to keep up with the new files releases as they come out.

For my project: The winner! See it in action at

Products that absolutely would not work:

  • PhpCow => For 19.95 you can host a magazine/newspaper on their site, using their software. Hmm. For a LOT more, you can host it on your server. Out of my price range.
  • Bricolage => Opensource. Bricolage is only backend magazine/periodical publishing and wouldn’t run on my server due to some security issues.
  • Campware => Opensource. Really looks cool, but I wasn’t sure if I could install it. I have to secureftp into my server; so although I have root access; it’s not as easy to get shell access.
  • Serendipity/Expression Engine: Both of these seem bloggy and if I were going to go that route, I would go with WordPress. Expression engine is commercial software which is nice (and I currently use it for my personal blog), but probably out of my price range for a small magazine.

Products which I looked promising/would consider/found after the site was up:

  • CoFAX: Developed and used by the Knight Ridder newspapers. I did look at this earlier, but wasn’t sure if I would legally be able to use it. TOS is a little unclear.
  • Props: Yet another project that seems to have fallen by the wayside. Yet, very promising.
  • Prensalibre: I feel more comfortable working with php + mysql (this is perl), so although this looked promising, I took it out of the potential list at some point.
  • Phpnews => A definite possibility although I couldn’t seem to get a clean download from the sourceforge site. I really wanted to test this one!
  • Hyperjournal => Nice looking opensource software for academic journals. Hmm. Maybe one day we’ll grow into that.
  • Open Journal Systems => Another outgrowth of the academic journal publishing; very largescale. I thought this one might be flexible enough in licensing to encompass an arts magazine, but a little bigger than what we need.
  • Collegepublishing => Web based service free “for their partners”. Only for college campus newspapers. I’m sure there are tons of this kind of thing out there.


Resources/reviews for Academic publishing

Free virtual sandbox to test opensource CMS before you download & install

CMS for bloggers

September 19, 2006

So, I’m still investigating a CMS (Content Management System) for the libraries web editors. A CMS is just a easy way to get content onto the web, without having to do much in the way of design. Blogger in some senses is a very primitive (primitive because it is limited in what it can do) CMS. Unfortunately, my quick and informal survey of web editors has yielded, ummm… not much. A lot of them still seem to use Dreamweaver and templates (our current setup), a few Contribute, and then every thing in the middle, including (shudder) FrontPage.

As for myself, I am in a similiar situation. It’s time to either renew my license with ee or skip on to something else. sigh.
I want something easy to use (ee is!) with a photo gallery (ee has but I’m not using it for a variety of reasons) and something that is not so expensive for a small commerical license. I’m currently operating under the personal license but it is definitely restrictive in terms of what I can do. So.
I want one thing to do everything. That would sound like a cms, no? One design software that I can control with css, that supports flexibility (alot of it) in terms of templating.

Here’s some interesting research:
searching for the perfect photo/gallery software

an article about mambo vs. drupal

Here is what I’ve tried and used so far with a brief review of features:

Expression Engine (now also a free version ‘Core’ for personal sites):
Categories & Subcategories
Photo Gallery builtin
Templating via CSS

and some knowledge of CSS

199$ for personal, noncommercial with annual fee of 19.95$
Drawbacks: Cost and limitations for what constitutes personal use
Plus: Excellent tech support

Movable Type (I used the free version, before all of the changes to a more commerical product)

Categories & Subcategories
Templating via CSS

and some knowledge of CSS

Cost: not sure now
Drawbacks: slow at times and very prone to spam

Categories & Subcategories
Templating via CSS

and some knowledge of CSS

Cost: free, no longer supported?

Free, no installation needed
Supports CSS
No categories, very little customization, not much support for images