Monday, February 15, 2016

Reaching Utopia

After many months of work I finally released my first complete WordPress theme Utopia today and I'm pretty proud of it.

Unlike some of my previous attempts which were based on the Underscores starter theme, Utopia was pretty much built from scratch. The theme, which will be used on CSIRO Research websites, is designed to address many of the feature requests and deficiencies of the previous themes we've used on the site and elsewhere.

My colleague Taranii, with some help from Kate, another member of the team, did the design and CSS markup while I was responsible for the PHP coding. It was a remote collaboration due to the distributed nature of our team, but I thought it worked really well, thanks to some of the fantastic tools on offer.

We used Atlassian's Bitbucket, Sourcetree and git for source code management, which made it really easy to deploy on both our Windows development machines and Linux servers. Atlassian's Jira was used for bug tracking, along with Jira Capture for test sessions. Finally, most of our contact was via Cisco Jabber.

The Utopia theme, along with the post grid plugin we developed alongside it, has a number of very cool (to me) features. These include different colour schemes, the ability to use page, post and category feature images in the individual page headers, social media buttons, a local contextual menu, support for different page and post templates and a page and post listing grid with lots of options and the ability to be included as a widget or shortcode.

Another group in our organisation went to an outside specialist WordPress development house to build a theme for their WordPress blog. The result, which took quite a while to complete, was a theme that relied mainly on a somewhat expensive base theme and set of commercial plugins whose licenses are still causing us grief, especially as the users want more features.

So I'm proud that we built our feature rich theme ourselves! We do use some third party plugins, but after I looked at following a similar development path to the blog I realised that it would never satisfy the myriad of little issues and needs that our users always seem to have. At least this way we really understand our code a lot better.

I was up until the early hours finishing off some basic usage documentation and building the new top level site for the release. Exhausting, but very satisfying to finally get it out there to the users.

So, does the name Utopia mean that theme is perfect? Nope, there's plenty left to build in future! In fact it's all about building. Or trying to.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Gravitational waves observed!

So gravitational waves have been detected at last! The waves were observed from coalescing black holes 1.3 billion light years away. Rating the quotes from the linked Article's taken back to the more recent, though personally distant past, as an undergraduate at the Australian National University about 20 years ago.

Professor Dave McClelland was my optics lecturer. He and his team were heavily involved with designing a Laser Interferometry Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) in outback Australia away from human induced vibrations. Unfortunately the Australian observatory was never built, otherwise it would probably have participated in this observation and enabled observers to triangulate the source.

Despite the lack of an Australian observatory, the ANU team, and CSIRO, have contributed to the design and manufacture of the technology used in the gravity wave detection.

It just goes to show the kind of lead times involved with groundbreaking scientific research, something that certain science administrators would be wise to remember.

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