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The likely suspects June 26, 2015

Posted by flutebrarian in Generalities.
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Why would 25 people from six different countries descend upon the tiny English hamlet of Henton Nr. Chinnor every summer solstice? What do they all have in common? 

It’s the annual fan meeting and tour by the Midsomer Murders Society.

The group’s home is The Peacock Country Manor located in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Surrounded by lush farm pastures and lovely village homes, it is not unusual to open your curtains in the morning and have a friendly cow staring you in the face. Walking paths are abundant leading you past dog breeder kennels, horse and dairy farms, and through fields of all kinds. 

We first attended Midsummer in Midsomer in 2010 and returned in 2013 and this summer to share in the fun. So what does one do at a Midsomer fan convention? Tour locations and eat – lots.

Sabine Schreiner and Joan Street have written the book Midsomer Murders on Location outlining many of the locations used in the filming of this popular, long-running British murder mystery series. We have traveled to Thame, Long Crendon, Bledlow, Oxford, Hambleden, and various other small villages in search of post offices, churches, train stations, manor houses, and pubs.

Highlights of the tour include a quiz night including questions based on episodes from the series, a Midsomer store featuring merchandise ranging from mugs to t-shirts to coasters and bumper stickers exclaiming, “I’ve been to Midsomer … and survived,” and “rubbing out the blood stains.” 

And the food — don’t let anyone tell you that English food is boring or bland. The Peacock has some of the best food around with large portions as well. Our host Martin kept trying to convince us that we should order the full English breakfast on top of our cereal, yogurt, fruit, juices, and coffee/tea. Somehow, white or brown toast, eggs, bacon (ham), beans, sausages, and tomatoes is a bit much on top of all the other meals throughout the day. Especially when dinner isn’t started until 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. each night.

The best part of the convention is the people. The committee works hard to put together the three and a half day tour, arranging for everything from transportation to menus, itineraries to entertainment and even a keynote speaker. We enjoyed Douglas Watkinson’s talk in 2013 and his stories of writing some of the screenplays for the series, even though he doesn’t like including a high body count. This year, we listened to Ron Dowling, who had designed props for many years and showed us up close how someone can have a knife drawn across their forearm with a convincing flow of blood coming from it. It was a fascinating talk. He now uses his props skills to work with troubled teens and show them what could happen if they continue with gangs.

Will we return to Midsomer? I certainly hope so. The beauty of the countryside is definitely enticing, but the friendships will be the returning factor.


Publishing on Demand April 17, 2013

Posted by flutebrarian in Librarianship, Publishing.
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It’s been quite a while since my last post and for good reason. I’ve entered into the world of self-publishing, or, publish-on-demand.

I am president of our local historical society and as such was looking for a way to share some of the history of our community in a way that wouldn’t 1) break our small and meager bank account, or 2) force us to find a dry place to store 1,000+ copies of something that might not sell very well.

So, as I was browsing the help screens at Amazon.com one day, I stumbled onto a related service called CreateSpace.

I had experience in laying out documents, indexing, and editing and fortunately, we have a top-notch graphics layout person on our board. So I found a suitable manuscript in our archives on the reminiscences of someone who grew up in Alliance, Ohio in the late 1800s and the project began.

CreateSpace has a variety of layouts and options available and templates to use in Microsoft Word. I added several photographs from the historical files to enhance the narration. The process of uploading the correct format of PDF (I didn’t even realize there was more than one!) was the biggest challenge but once that occurred, the rest of the process was easy.

I was able to order a proof copy before unleashing it to the public which really helped to see what the final product would look like. Another great feature was being able to order copies directly from CreateSpace for sale by our organization. We added a link to the CreateSpace store on our website and the title also became available through Amazon.com. This alleviated the need for us to mail copies to remote persons (I hate packaging things for the mail).

We had a big launch party and sold almost all our copies at that event. We have been able to order small shipments since then and sell them before ordering more. It was so much fun, I’ve just finished our second book – this time a local history cookbook. I’m waiting the approval of the project even as I type.

BuzzBoost May 25, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Web Design.
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A bizarre name to be sure, but it saved me a ton of work.

The task at hand was to make an easy way for the golf group to post updates to their website for rain info, meetings, etc. without messing with the HTML and web pages on the site. I will be setting up a blog for them but we wanted the info to go into the actual website and not make the members go to the blog for the info.

Google to the rescue (again).

I had heard of Feedburner but never thought I needed to use it. But I discovered that Google now owns Feedburner. Great! I didn’t need to register for yet another account on the web. So I logged in and added FluteBrarian to the feed list. After a little searching of the help files, I discovered a “publicize” tab and a service called BuzzBoost.

After filling out a few customization fields, my script code was generated and I was able to plug it directly into the HTML for the page. Couldn’t have been easier (unless I had discovered it sooner 😉

Ahhh, Springtime… May 19, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Web Design.
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Ahhh, Springtime. A time when a girl’s thoughts turn to … golf!

I was recently contacted to create a website for a regional women’s golf club. Since I’m not one who has ever hit a golf ball beyond the mini-putt course, I went into student mode and learned all about handicaps, team play, and standing rules.

But even though I know very little about the game, I enjoy the beauty of the lush grass courses on which the game is played. How about rotating pictures of the various clubs in the league? They liked the idea.

I was thinking in terms of a small rotating gallery done with a JavaScript file I had used several times before. No, they’d rather have a full header for the page fading in and out of the various clubs.

Time to search for a new script.

At first I found a php script that randomly changed the background image every time the page was refreshed or reloaded. This was a snap to put in place – download php, create image directory, put all images and php in this directory, point the CSS file to the script and you’re done. You can add and delete images without having to alter any code in the script, CSS, or HTML.

But it didn’t fade in and out. So back to the drawing board and this time a new JavaScript.

This time, I found an image cross fader from slayeroffice.com. Although it wasn’t as straightforward as the php script, it was much more robust and the images fade in and out quite nicely. And changing the setTimeout value from 1000 to 5000 increased the fading time between images from 1 second to 5 seconds so one doesn’t get dizzy from the changing golf course images.

There are two CSS files and one JavaScript file to download. The images to be used are listed one after another in the HTML file where the fading images are to appear. So, there is more maintenance involved if the images are added or deleted.

But the client likes it, and that’s what counts.

How to REALLY Experience Beethoven February 13, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Music Performances.
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Last night the Tuscarawas Philharmonic performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to a near capacity crowd.

And I had the best seat in the house. You see, I am the principal flute and sit dead center in the orchestra.

You have never experienced this monument of music unless you have participated in it. And with my location on stage, I had all the strings in front of me, the winds surrounding me, and the 140-voice chorus and soloists behind me. The result – incredible.

The quartet solo in the finale transferred me to another dimension, especially when Patty Boehm floated up to the high B so effortlessly. This was by far the best quartet that we have ever had perform with us.

So, chalk up another stupendous performance as part of our 75th anniversary season. Next year, Carmina Burana. Beethoven will have to wait another 5 years for our 80th year.

Why Not to Let Your Domain Name Expire February 3, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Domain Names.
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What a day. A new client of mine expressed concern that their domain name had expired and their website was down. The frantic client had become the “accidental website manager” with no information about where the domain was registered. After a whois search, I determined the DNS owner and proceeded to make some calls.

The whois record stated gloom and doom (it had expired in early December) – “Pending delete restorable” , “Registrant ID: Domain-Resale”, and “Registrant Name: Pending renewal or deletion”. What did all this mean?

I learned that after a domain name expires, the owner has a grace period of 30 days to easily reclaim and renew the domain name. Beyond that, there is a 5 or so day period when the domain name goes into a redemption period. You can still get the name back fairly easily, but it will cost you.

Well, it’s been 60 days or so since it expired. The name was deleted from the domain name administrator’s database and returned to the registrar for the whole Internet. Oh great.

Fast forward about three phone calls and visits to as many registrar’s websites. Each one seemed to get harder to navigate and the friendly toll-free numbers began to disappear like the treeline of a tall mountain.

Finally, in desperation, I returned to the original DNS administrator’s toll-free line and found a helpful soul on the other end of the line.

He gave me a couple options:

  • Pay the steep redemption fee and they would do all the legwork with the forms
  • Backorder the domain and bid on it with the hopes of getting the name back

After conversing with the tech about the pros and cons, I decided to not gamble with the client’s domain name and take the first option. He told me there were no guarantees with either option, but the former would likely take as few as 6 or 7 days while the latter would only become available when the name was formally released to the public.

In either case, the client is still going to be without their site for at least a couple more weeks.

Moral of the story: Keep track of your sites. Record where they are registered with expiration dates. If you don’t set up automatic renewals, then make sure you keep the contact person’s email address current.

Gallery Complete January 30, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Web Design.
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With a little bit of tweaking, the galleries are now complete. Using only CSS techniques for the main hover of the thumbnails and display of the images, one can temporarily view the full-sized image without having to click to another page. If the image is too large to be viewed, a little JavaScript allows the viewer to click on the image and “set” it in the viewing space to scroll up and down to study it.

Not bad.

The only thing I don’t like is that very small originals look mammoth in comparison to really large originals since they are all set for the same width for display on screen. I may play with that some more before all is said and done.

You can see the results of the project at www.flutebrarian.com/mccallum/ and clicking on one of the Paintings buttons or the Prints button. Please note this is the temporary work-in-progress site, not the final site.

Gallery in Progress January 8, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Web Design.
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Progress is being made on the image galleries for artist Steven McCallum’s updated website. Following the detailed tutorial for this technique at “How to Create a Photographic Gallery Using CSS” I have managed to get this far:

Beginning of Painting Gallery

The opening screen of the painting gallery

The thumbnails have moved from the right side of the gallery to the left; the thumbnails are displayed in a scrolling overflow div; the titles and information for the paintings are moved to the top of the large image; and a default image explaining how to view the images has been added to the background of the image viewer.

The next steps include resizing all the files and renaming them to web-friendly formats (no spaces, all lower case).

One final tweak that I will try is to allow clicking on the thumbnails so that one can scroll up and down the screen if the enlarged image is too tall for the screen. This technique was discussed in an online forum on Webdeveloper.com.

Stay tuned!

Creating a Gallery Using CSS January 3, 2011

Posted by flutebrarian in Web Design.
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My next project is a website for an artist. He wants to showcase his paintings and prints so I’d like to do this without programming and keeping the number of pages utilized to a minimum. I found this example: How to Create a Photographic Gallery Using CSS which I had successfully used for the Kiwanis site but it will need to be tweaked severely to make it conform to the rest of the newly designed site.

I hope to keep a log here of the process of transforming the look of the original here. Time will tell…

Working for Google (without leaving Ohio) December 19, 2010

Posted by flutebrarian in Librarianship, Web Design.
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For the past 17 months, my real job work week has been reduced from 40 to 30 hours due to State budgetary issues. Many viewed it as a hardship but I viewed it as an opportunity and have enjoyed every minute of it. It was like working for Google, or getting a sabbatical.

Employees at Google are encouraged to take 20% of their work week to work on personal projects. This gives the employee the freedom to explore new territories, technologies, and ideas that will ultimately help Google develop new products and keep the employees from burning out.

Academics have also had sabbaticals available to them for these very same reasons.

However, in the public library field, this is unheard of.

So, with the opportunity to have 20% of my work week free for other pursuits, I took advantage of it to hone my web design skills and officially start a side business – Flutebrarian Web Design, LLC.

I took online courses in MySQL, web form design, PHP, web analytics, and more advanced CSS. The MySQL and PHP are still rather shaky, but I have managed to set up a couple of databases and get coding in place to actually make them work over the web. And one is for my day job (Gift and Memorials database)

After 27 years as a professional librarian, it was definitely time for a sabbatical. I return to my 40-hour work week on Jan. 3 with new and expanded tools in my belt. I guess I’ll have to leave the cat at home, though.