Adam Bird

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Case Study (Part 1) - kings-medway.co.uk

A view of the Kings Church Medway homepage

If there has been a common theme running so far through the early stages of this year, it has been work. Not the professional kind, which I’m still playing the waiting game on as to what my future holds exactly - but the stuff I do from home, the little something for a mate, or a friend of a friend. I’ve got a couple of little projects boiling away nicely, including my first Arabic language website which will prove to be an interesting technical challenge, a website for a local car accident repair centre as well as trying to keep up with the brilliant and inspiring courses from Code Academy.

Today then, I’m going to attempt something wholly new to this blog and add to my increasingly crazy workload, by starting a series of blog posts looking at the life cycle of a web development project. Starting at the beginning, in looking at an existing website, where it falls short, what it does well, all the way through to research, design and eventual redevelopment and deployment of a new site that hopefully practices everything that has been learnt during the whole process.

In doing this, I’ll hopefully be able to demonstrate in documented terms the challenges of a typical web development project, learn about what works and what doesn’t from the steps I’ve decided to take and most importantly, leave a trail of legacy documentation for the client whose website I’ll be reviewing, advising and working on.

Who is the client?


The website that I’ll be looking at is www.kings-medway.co.uk, which is a church in Chatham run by my Uncle Matthew. He is the Pastor of the church and has a team of people who look after, build and maintain the current site and related on/offline media.

The church itself is over 100 years old but has been known as Kings since 1977. In most recent times, under my Uncle Matthew’s stewardship the church has become a vital source of community resource, with Caring Hands - a drop in centre for the homeless opening and providing warmth, shelter and food for those who need it.

I’d like to thank Matthew for allowing me to do this. I know that his team have spent a lot of time getting the website ready and have spent many hours working on it. As I said to him, you’ve a member of the family that works as a web developer, so use him - family resource is free!

A look at the website:


A view of the Kings Church Medway homepage

Some of the problems:


- Generally, the overall design of the site is old fashioned and tired. It suffers from a lack of consistency with colour, type and template. The homepage has been split into two pages, one a dashboard type page covering everything that is happening and another a collection of links to further buried site content.

- The welcome page contains panels which animate, or cause flickering, whilst in itself is fine, too many repeating animations give the page an unattractive appearance. As a further note, a rough rule of thumb dictates that if the user cannot choose to pause or stop an animation it should self expire after three iterations.

- The colour scheme of the site is rather eclectic, which again is fine in moderation, but doesn’t work in its current guise.

- Collections of links are not grouped and consistent within their group. For example, social media icons should be familiar to the end user and grouped together so that all links are of the same format and ideally, of same size.

- Reviewing the code of the site, much of the content on the homepage has been sourced from third parties, whilst again, is okay in moderation, it is important that they are correctly used. For example, each rotating banner is calling an individual JavaScript file, which has been referenced within the page multiple times. This file should only be referenced once and called by however many objects appear on the page.

- Incorrect verb used on the Facebook link. By saying “follow us on Facebook”, it implies that you can subscribe to the Churches Facebook updates. But actually the user will have to add a friend request. The church, as a business should instead set up a page, whereby the end user can choose to “like” or “unlike” to receive notifications within their news feed.

- From a search engine point of view, there is nothing, apart from some short meta content within the head of the document that tells the robot what the site contains. All the content is image and javascript based, so there is little that can be used by Google (for example) to index the site.

- The Caring Hands part of the site deserves further prominence, but doesn’t stand out amidst the kaleidoscopic nature of the welcome page.

Next steps:


Alongside Matthew and his team, we need to look at the website in its entirety, work out what the website needs to do, what its function really is. Is it a brochure that tells the people of Medway about the great work that the church does for its wider community? Or is it a portal for its congregation to use as a resource and spiritual guide - is it a place for both?

Also, together, we need to work out what the limitations of the team are. Does the use of third party plugins and flash highlight a lack of html and css knowledge? Can this be found within the church - or can I offer my services in a way that makes it easier for the team to proceed once the new site is live?

Further feedback:


If anyone has anything further they'd like to add, I'd be really interested to hear of anyone else's opinions. Leave a comment below, or email me at: adamdbird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Fat Birds Fighting for Fitness

Fat Bird

Towards the end of last year, my father proposed a family challenge - to lose weight. The person who loses the most weight, by April 1st out of my parents, my sister and her husband, myself and Stephanie would be treated to a weekend away at my fathers expense. We all signed up, agreed and now it is game on!

We could all be playing for a weekend in Allhallows, it doesn’t really matter, we all recognised that 2011 was a year of indulgence and our forever expanding waistlines needed to be sucked back in. Stephanie of course had the benefit of an excuse on her side, she was pregnant for most of the year and feeding for two - not that you would have known, she actually weighs much less now that she did before she fell pregnant so she must be doing something right.

It’s been interesting so far to see how all six of us have tackled this particular challenge, whether it is signing up to a diet scheme like Weight Watchers, skipping meals or cutting out various items of high-fat food and alcohol. For me personally, I never considered that I ate particularly badly in the first place, I just ate too much of it and at the wrong times.

Coming home from work, putting Oliver to bed and reading him a story, Stephanie and I tend not to eat until around 8pm, which I consider far too late for an evening meal. Our bodies don’t get time to metabolise before we go to sleep, so the more we eat then, the harder our bodies task is to do its job. My idea for this competition, rather than pay out for expensive diet campaigns and calculated calorie counts is to simply half my portions sizes of an evening, swapping out lunchtime sandwiches for lunchtime salads and cutting out the naughty indulgences, cakes, crisps and the odd biscuit or ten.

Just to make sure that I really am burning off fat, no weight loss campaign is complete without a little exercise. I’m not one of these people who enjoys exercise naturally, I find the gym a place for egomaniacs who love themselves more then they’d care to admit, but I do enjoy competitive sports like racquetball and football, even if I struggle to find someone equally as bad at both sports as I am to participate with.

Instead, I’m picking off where I left last year with good old fashioned running. When we were training for the Great River Race last year, my friend Stuart suggested to me that perhaps we could run down to the river from home, rather than drive. I surprised him with a yes and a new fad was born. Despite my initial lack of anything close to what was required, stamina, mental strength, decent footwear I slowly got better, a little faster, a little further, before Phoebe arrived as a convenient excuse and my running stopped before it really got started.

Nevertheless, with a new incentive, the running has got back on track and with eating better it won’t be long until I’m more a more comfortable, healthier size as part of a more comfortable, healthier family. And just maybe, in three months time, when the competition is over, it will be Stephanie and I on the beach at Allhallows supping from a can of diet coke and tucking into a batter-less fish on a wholemeal sandwhich thinking how worth it the whole thing has been.

Banner image from Dreamstime.com

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

New year, new plans

2012

Last year I decided to try and up the ante slightly, by posting a regular blog and writing at least once a week which I did, I even managed to complete the annual challenge successfully, which surpassed my own expectations. This year, we’ve only reached week two and I’m already struggling with finding something to write - the problem I have is, I can’t quite bring myself to break the habit just yet!

January is generally a tough month, financially and for some, emotionally taxing. With the dawn of a new year comes a series of resolutions to make the forthcoming twelve months worth something, to do something new, to challenge oneself and to make a difference to their lives. Reading Facebook status’s over the new year gave an interesting insight into how people perceived how they were treated; “2012, better be better than last year”, or “Bye Bye 2011, what a year that was!” For Stephanie and I, 2011 couldn’t have treated us any better.

I wrote at the beginning of last year that I wasn’t expecting too much from 2011, a year of getting used to being married and living in relative calm and harmony after the preceding chaos of 2010, stag weekends and wedding preparations. I’m obviously no Nostradamus as we ended the year with a beautiful baby girl and the final piece of our own private puzzle was complete!

With all honesty, I cannot tell you what this year is likely to bring, nor am I in a place at the moment to even guess. I find myself career wise at a bit of a cross-roads. Uncertainty in the workplace can sometimes be stressful and cause for worry, but I’m fairly philosophical and have the attitude of “whatever happens, happens”, but until I know with any assurance what my future, or indeed the agencies future is I’m unable to plan ahead and make decisions for the best interests of me or my family.

We’ve all got our worries and problems, it doesn’t matter what year, or month or even what day they fall on. I’m fortunate that I have great friends and family around me, they are my support network and I’m sure that rings true for anyone reading this. Jobs are lost, relationships break down and sadly people depart unexpectedly and leave us behind. I wouldn’t wish any of that upon anyone, but the truth remains, that those things are likely to happen to us one day, or have already and we are coming out the other side. For all the exotic holidays, new houses, new cars, babies and marriages or things to look forward to, there are those experiencing the not so enjoyable opposites.

So if anyone asking me, what’s the plan for 2012, it’s to remain healthy, to keep growing as a person and to appreciate the love and support of my friends and family - and most importantly, to appreciate and enjoy them every day, not just this year but the next.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Eyeballs, Needles and Two Brave Birds

Phoebe

Last weekend Stephanie and I saw in the new year surrounded by the love and comfort of my parents, my sister, her husband and clan of children along with Phoebe and Oliver of course - but either side of that was two quite different and unexpected experiences with hospitals, needles and two females I love dearly.

Firstly, I was asked by my Grandmother if I could take her to the eye hospital on Friday, the day before New Years Eve, which was fine with me. A routine check-up she told me, no problem I thought. Except, my Nan is 92 years old bless her and from right out of the Devonian old school, loud with it too, which can be cause for moments of embarrassment from time to time. Like singing “hear comes the bride” in the middle a busy waiting room at one of the nurses as she walked by. The nurse took it in quite good fashion, apparently Nan has been doing it for the past eight months despite the nurse not getting married until September!

Anyhow, what ended up being a routine check-up turned into another treatment for glaucoma on my Nan’s right eye. Again, “No problem” I thought, or I did until learning that treatment involved an injection into the eyeball itself - happening whilst the patient is still awake! If that sounds rather grim to you, trust me, I can’t personally think of anything worse!

Not wanting to let a 92 year old women down, I went into the treatment room with her, helped her get onto the bed whilst the engaged-to-be-married nurse applied preparatory eyedrops to the necessary place. A doctor came into the room and began her work, whilst I held a shaking Nans left hand. When the doctor applied a clamp onto her eyeball, revealing all but the back of my Nans eye I asked her permission to turn away. It wasn’t very pleasant viewing at all and I’d perhaps forgotten just how large our eyes actually are. It was only out of morbid curiosity that I remained facing my nan and watching the procedure as it took place.

I have since decided that its quite important when given the opportunity to see something like this, that you should take it and learn something from it. I’m not going to say that it wasn’t that bad after all, as I’d be lying. But it may well happen to me one day and sitting there watching my Nan go through something like that I can take her courage and apply the memories of what I witnessed to aid my own reassurance.

Once I’d gotten over that experience and tried blocking it out over the new year with a large portion of turkey curry, a full glass of festivity and a small dose of revelry with my nearest and dearest, it became clear that Phoebe had spent the better part of new years day getting progressively more ill. She’d started developing a cold in the lead up to Christmas and over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day she’d had a blocked up nose and a steady cough, but on New Years Day her cries were notable of pain and discomfort rather than wanting cuddles and feeling sorry for herself.

Stephanie, for her own reassurance more than anything took Phoebe along to the Doctors, which was fortunately still open and from there she was told to take Phoebe along to the hospital so that she could get checked out by a pediatrician. The good news was, that although Phoebe had a rash that neither of us had noticed, she hadn’t caught meningitis but an overnight stay at the hospital was to be in her best interests.

Having Oliver in bed at home, I was caught in two minds. Both of us can’t be at the hospital and at home looking after Oliver at the same time, so I elected to stay at home and wait for Stephanie to call me. She was with her mum, so had plenty of adult company and of course the all important shoulder to cry on if the worry became too much for her. In the meantime I’m at home waiting, all the worst kind of thoughts and worries running through my mind and just as I find myself on the verge of mild hysteria, I was saved mercifully by Stephanie’s good friend Claire. She was originally supposed to pop in for an overnight bag for my wife, but suggested she swap places with me instead, which is how I came to find myself in another treatment room watching hopelessly as someone dearly beloved to me gets poked with a hypodermic needle.

I’ve never had a phobia of needles or a fear (in the eyeball excepted) when I’ve had to have an inoculation or blood test, but I can sympathise with anyone who says “I’ve a fear of needles”. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me in years to come if Phoebe turned around and said those very words to me, no doubt caused by the psychological damage from new year etched forever on her sleeping mind.

Finding a two month old babies vein is quite a difficult task by all accounts. It involves bending the wrist back quite acutely and tapping quite violently the front of the hand whilst cutting the blood supply off from the elbow. On the first attempt Phoebe certainly felt everything that was happening, especially the needle as it entered her hand and missed a vein entirely. Her ordeal was postponed for an hour or so as the Doctors had a greater need to attend to, which was fortunate as by the time they came back, Phoebe was able to sleep all the way through the second, successful attempt.

Seeing your children in hospital, wired up to monitors and being probed and pricked with hospital equipment is a nervous experience. We are fortunate that Phoebe had a fairly uncomplicated gastric virus and is now home and has since shown vast improvement. Plenty have and will go through much worse, but there isn’t much rational thought at times of worry.

Maybe it’s a way of life passing on a symbolic message, the end of a year and my grandmother, the beginning of a brand new one and my two month old daughter. Whatever the intention, I’ve certain learnt not to be squeamish, and that one day, I can only hope to be as brave as my Nan was. Something tells me that I won’t be, they’ll have to put me to sleep, so I don’ know anything about it - just like Phoebe.
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