GC Digital Signage

by Michael Clark
August 8, 2011 4:06 PM

Digital signage shows information, advertising and other messages utilizing electronic displays. You might be more used to seeing them in places such as retail stores and airports among other places.

As you walk into the Gardner Center, you might notice four plasma screens hanging above the Welcome Center. These screens used to display some basic static information so one of the projects I've been working on recently is an attempt to revamp them. Screen one now displays a static image with 'Freed-Hardeman University' displayed in the middle. Screen two is reminiscent of a slideshow, but is actually a series of .swf files playing in succession. Screen 3 shows all of the current guests currently visiting Freed-Hardeman (more on this later). Screen four displays more images in a simple loop, two banners at a time with information about upcoming events, and a simple flash flip clock.

In order to accomplish this, we utilized a set of free software called Signage Studio and Signage Player available for free from a company called Media Signage. Both Signage Studio and Signage Player utilize the Adobe Air platform to facilitate cross-platform development of signage.

Signage Studio is where the actual development of the signage takes place. Inside the Studio, you can manage layouts, resources (anything from .png images to .swf files), campaigns and sequences and even preview your presentation to get the kinks out before publishing. There is still a ton of functionality in the Studio that I haven't begun to play around with.

Once you are finished with the Studio portion, it's a simple matter of saving your presentation and opening Signage Player. Everything is linked to a user account set up with Media Signage so I can easily move between computers to edit and view my presentations. Once logged into Signage Player, I just tell it what presentation to load and view the results on the screen.

Before I close, I wanted to mention the current guests at FHU portion currently displayed on screen three. We created a simple program that allows for up to 7 lines of information outputted to an RSS file. The signage presentation then reads this RSS file and displays the information as it currently exists. This allows us to easily modify what is displayed as guests come and go on campus.

While there some kinks and nuances to learn once you get in the software, it's pretty straightforward to get some simple signage up and running. 


Learning jQuery

by Ethan Kershaw
July 20, 2011 7:33 AM

Last summer, one of my first projects was a simple jQuery plugin. jQuery is a javascript library that allows for easy manipulation of elements on a page. It didn't seem easy at first though. That simple project took me about a week. Looking back, I could probably make that plugin in two hours tops. Something that has helped me learn jQuery is the online tool Visual jQuery.

Visual jQuery (http://api.jquery.com/visual/) is a command dictionary with a tree structure allowing you to find the right jQuery method for your task at hand. Once you select a method, you see a description of the method as well as the parameters it receives. There are also multiple examples showing you how the method works.

While I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of jQuery now, I still pull up Visual jQuery at least a few times a week. It seems I also learn something new every week about jQuery. Two little shortcuts I have found over the past week have drastically decreased the amount of code needed for a few tasks.

First, when you are looking for an element that has some specific text in it you do not have to loop through every element checking the .text() of it. Instead, simply using

$(".myClass:contains('the text you are looking for')");
will select any element with the class 'myClass' that has the shown text. So what used to take 3 or 4 lines of looping through a bunch of elements can now be accomplished with 1 line. I wish I had learned this months ago.

Second, when selecting elements there are some usefull criteria such as :visible, :selected, :first and :contains() as seen above. These can also be used with the .is() method. To check if an element is visible, you can simply use 

$("element").is(':visible');
Since the .is() method returns a boolean value, it is most useful in conditional statements.

I learned both of these time/code saving shortcuts on Visual jQuery. Not only is it a great tool to start learning with, its also great for continued exploration of jQuery.

Visual jQuery


Easier Web Development

by Michael Clark
July 14, 2011 10:35 AM

Something I've been playing with in the past week or so has been a product called Microsoft WebMatrix - a free web development tool from, you guessed it, Microsoft. It includes everything you need to put together a complete web site - including a Web server, database, and programming frameworks.

When you start the program up, you get four options - open previous WebMatrix sites (My Sites), Site From Web Galley, Site From Template, and Site From Folder. A Web Gallery site allows you to seamlessly connect to popular and free open-source Web applications such as WordPress and Joomla. WebMatrix goes through the process of downloading, installing, and configuring everything for you. There are also 5 templates to choose from - Empty Site, Starter Site, Bakery, Photo Gallery, and Calendar.

Upon opening a web site, you can go straight to writing code or manage the settings of your web site - enable SSL, select the .NET Framework, enabled PHP, etc. The file editor is your typical editor with line numbers, syntax highlighting, and code completion. You can also create multiple different files from within WebMatrix - including HTML, ASPX, CSS, and JavaScript files.

When you are finished editing, you can click the run button on the ribbon to view the results in your selected browser.

I'm still playing with the product to learn its ins and outs, but it seems like a pretty good starter development kit. Check it out for yourself at http://www.microsoft.com/web/webmatrix/.


Week 7: Summer of Code

by Lance Williams
July 1, 2011 12:01 PM

This week has been a productive week to say the least. I have recently completed all tasks associated with the core functionality of the back channel app. This included adding the ability for any user to join, search for, and create a session. Users that are affiliated with Freed-Hardeman have the ability to create or search for a session based on a certain class they might be involved in. Outside users still have the ability to create a session, it's just not tied to a particular class. We also added the ability to send out email invites to any one that the creator might want to have access to their session. We've also completed our roles and their functional privileges.

One additional functionality that was completed yesterday was the creation of our own application account management. Originally we had used the default ASP Membership accounts as the template for our Contribute Accounts, but it didn't work out so well. The Contribute Account also allows for the retrievals of forgotten passwords, so at the point that you log-in to the app, you'll never have an excuse to not be able to join again. 

Like I said it's been a very productive week and it's only going to get better. I'm learning a lot and becoming even more interested in this project than I already was. I'm looking forward to sharing some new features that will be added in the next few weeks very soon!


Usable Web Forms

by Michael Plyler
June 24, 2011 6:59 AM

UX Booth is one of those sites that has really good resource articles. I visit this site often when I'm looking for information to help improve the usability of our websites at FHU.

One such article that I found is entitled "Creating a Usable Contact Form". Many of the items in this article can be translated to any type of form.

There are some very simple things that you can do for your online forms to make them very usable and to help bridge the gap between your users that are very tech savvy and those who are not.

Some of the important, yet most overlooked areas of form design are discussed in this article: failing gracefully and providing an alternative to the form.

It is important to consider several different user roles, computing environments and levels of communication when developing web forms.

You have to keep in mind, these forms are the way that your users are communicating with you. Good communication is two-way. Poor communication frustrates those involved.

For forms that you've seen or used online, what did you like most about them? What seemed to work well?

What didn't seem to work so well? Please share.