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Unit 11, week 2: Thoughts on VMs

This week’s assignment is to discuss using a pre-configured VM instead of building our own, for the purposes of this class.

I think that the repetitive nature of installing new VMs from scratch was generally good practice, and I don’t begrudge the time I spent repeating the same process multiple times throughout this class, and 672 before it. Especially since our instructions for completing each assignment varied (e.g., editing the repositories, using wget, using FTP, etc.), I think that by the end of the class, we’ve gotten to practice a number of different ways of doing the same thing and generally have an idea of our preferred methods and their pros and cons.

From that pedagogical perspective, it might have been interesting to vary the new VMs — running different distributions for each install, perhaps, instead of doing the same basic Ubuntu Server install over and over. I really liked having one unit (I think it was DSpace?) that used Tomcat instead of Apache, and PostgreSQL instead of MySQL. A lighttpd one might have been neat, too. On the other hand, I imagine the difficulty troubleshooting such different setups would have been frustrating for many, and for those with slow internet connections, downloading multiple distros would have been very time-consuming.

If the advantage to using pre-configured VMs would have been getting to spend more time playing with the installed program, I would argue that taking the time to install and configure that program gives a lot of depth and insight into its workings that merely using it pre-installed wouldn’t add.

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Unit 5: Tired of Drupal Yet?

For this week’s assignments, we spent some more time installing and configuring Drupal modules. One of our assignments was to choose our own module to install. I chose Print (http://drupal.org/project/print), which allows someone visiting your Drupal site some convenient buttons for saving content on a page (print, save as PDF, or email options). I thought this would be well-suited to a collection that’s writing-focused. However, a snag is that since I chose to upload files to my Drupal database, the actual site doesn’t really display the files — you have to download them. I guess in the real world, people would really want their writing files to be visible on the site itself, and might be more likely to copy/paste the text itself into the post in the content type, rather than attaching a file.

Installing it was a breeze — I just used wget to download the module in tarball format from Drupal’s FTP server, and then used the “tar” command and then the “mv” command to unpack it and sent it to my site’s folder on my VM. (Just an aside — isn’t wget kind of like magic? I often use it instead of GUI to download files on my Mac when something gets stuck halfway through a download or whatever.) It wasn’t very hard to configure — I just went ahead and allowed all three options.

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Unit 3: moving right along with Drupal and digital collections

I was kind of tempted to just post “argh!” for the response to the question re: workload this week. Yeah, I kind of brought this on myself, what with taking two other challenging classes and working full time and my volunteer project and attempting to have a life (I think it was doing a yoga class before my homework today that was my big mistake!), but it’s been a bit of a rough week. It reminds me of the “hard weeks” in 672 — and that’s just watching the videos, doing the readings, and doing the Drupal install and configuration. It’s not that it was “hard” in the sense that I couldn’t get something to work, either — it just took a decent chunk of time all week to get through everything, and I still have a few pieces left to do before Unit 3 is finished. Since 672 started out with “easy weeks,” moved into “hard weeks,” and had some “easy weeks” thrown in every so often even so, the pace for 675 is seeming a little more grueling. It feels like taking the hardest parts of 672 and adding on additional readings and discussion posts. (Yeah, there aren’t quizzes anymore, but the quizzes didn’t take much time and were pretty helpful for identifying whatever hadn’t been absorbed.)

On the other hand, the stuff we’ve been reading has been really interesting and probably will be helpful for future jobs, so I don’t want to say we should cut down on the reading. Ditto for the tech assignments and discussion. So I guess at this point, I’m feeling a little stressed out, but I’m not ready to cry uncle. I just keep looking at job postings for web developers (or “web ninjas,” as one particularly tempting posting I found this week put it) at libraries, and seeing how much of this stuff goes right into the experience they’re looking for, so I really like getting to learn it. I do wish it could slow down occasionally, but maybe it will soon.

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Unit 2: CMS options

This week’s assignments were an interesting mix of theory regarding managing digital content, and practical readings and assignments focused on JHOVE (JSTOR/Harvard Object Validation Environment: pronounced “jove”), which is a framework for format validation, and Drupal, an open source content management system (CMS). I’d gotten to play with Drupal a little bit in the past, so it’s been interesting learning more about it, and although I knew absolutely nothing about JHOVE, I imagine I’ve used it unawares when I’ve searched, say, the JSTOR database.

One of our reading assignments was to skim the 2006 Library Hi Tech issue (Issue 1) focusing on CMS issues in the library world. The article that I chose to read in-depth and discuss on this here blog post was “Beyond HTML: Developing and re-imagining library web guides in a content management system” by Doug Goans, Guy Leach, and Teri M. Vogel.

I found this article especially pertinent to my volunteer project last semester, helping with the CCP’s website redesign. Previous incarnations of that website had suffered similar problems to the ones described by the authors, of each author of a particular page (especially the online exhibits) simply creating their own page, with its own unique (and more- or less- usable) fonts, color schemes, and pathways, rather than making sure that everything cohered to a style for the site as a whole. The CCP was eventually redesigned using Drupal, but reading about GSU’s choice to use a custom CMS based on ASP and MYSQL was very interesting to me, since their concerns with integration with Microsoft products, like IIS, would definitely be shared by the team who develops the website for my library system, the Pima County Public Library. Just because the open source solution worked for the CCP does not necessarily mean it would play nicely if PCPL decided to migrate to Drupal. (Although, and perhaps this is something that will be covered in future classes, I believe that Drupal 7 does integrate better into non-open-source environments than previous verisons did.)

In any case, it was clear that GSU’s decision to use a CMS led to greater consistency and usability across their site, as well as making the content editable by a variety of people who would not have had the skills necessary to manage the form.

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Unit 1: Back to the Beginning

Nope, I haven’t flunked out and had to repeat 672. Instead, my loyal readers will get to see my progress through the next class, 675. So here we are with another Unit 1, in which I will describe a small collection of digital objects, which I assume I will be devoting future blogs to different methods of cataloging and organizing. (Pretty excited to play with Drupal and Omeka!)

This was a surprisingly hard topic to choose. I mean, it’s not that I don’t own digital objects, or physical objects that I could use a digital surrogate to represent (e.g., taking pictures of my various shoes). No, I think my problem is more that I’m not much of a collector. I think there’s a gender dynamic where most guys generally tend to collect something, and identify as a collector, while most girls don’t. That’s not to say it’s a hard and fast rule, but in this case, I definitely fall into the latter category. Sure, I own stuff, but it’s not a collection that I feel passionate about…it’s just stuff. And it’s hard to say if whatever grabs my interest now will be something that works well over the course of the whole semester.

That said, what I ended up choosing to organize is a selection of personal writing. Yes, all the files will be the same kind (some form of text, not sure yet how I will format them), but at least they should be reasonably diverse in terms of tagging and metadata, since I write a lot of different kinds of things: papers for school, blogs for work, poems, short stories, essays, a personal blog, book reviews, etc. (Would including something from this blog be too meta?) My reasoning here is that they’re all objects that I care about, and they would represent something that I could see myself curating on a personal website, with an audience of readers. I could also see myself organizing a digital collection of writing in the future for a work-related project — perhaps if I were working on a library website, I could partner with a local writing group (NaNoWriMo?), or patrons who attend a creative writing program, to host a collection of writing from that library’s community.

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Unit 11: Post-php thoughts

Well, I feel a little sad now that I finished the last assignment with my virtual practice machine! This last unit,

And here you can see my dorky cat nickname query in its full glory.

And here you can see my dorky cat nickname query in its full glory.

11, was creating some simple php queries for last week’s mysql database assignment. I wanted to make sure I was understanding the syntax, so after I finished the assignment, I went back and did it again with my silly cat database that I made in unit 10.

Looking back on the semester, I can’t believe how much more confident I feel working with all of the LAMP tools. None of it was completely new to me, but the practical exercises starting from the beginning really cemented how everything interrelates, and filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. It also helped me clarify what gaps are remaining: I could tell that the php I was working with in this assignment wasn’t ready for a real website, and I could tell what kind of research I’d have to do regarding security and hardening an actual server. That doesn’t mean that I’m now an expert, or qualified to implement this stuff right away, but it means I know the right questions to ask someone who knows what they’re doing, and also the right questions to eventually become a person who knows what I’m doing. I’m really excited for 675, and to take this new knowledge further.

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Unit 10: MySQL, the sequel

Okay, I’m just going to come right out and admit it: I really enjoyed this week’s assignment. I know that admitting you like database work is probably right on par with saying your dream job’s accounting, or that you would rather read a book than go hang-gliding, but whatever, I do like it. Just like with working with any programming language, there’s the puzzle, and then the little rush from figuring out the puzzle. (This is also why I enjoy Unix and cryptography, which is probably right up there with database work, but whatever.) But beyond enjoying that, there’s something deeply satisfying about organizing things *exactly the way I want*. Which, with MySQL, you do twice: when you create the database, and when you query it.

Don’t get me wrong: this was not one of the easier weeks. It reminded me of another class where I ended up spending hours trying to figure out why my Base queries were returning duplicate results. But I can definitely see myself spending more time with databases in the future. Hey, I bet Indiana Jones loved databases.

P.S. Is it horribly stereotypical that I made a database of cats I know? Oh dear. I think I need to get a tattoo or something.

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