Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rule of Threes

Tonight, I will not regale you with my continued pining for the British Isles, though that does most certainly continue. No, tonight I want to talk about three fairly large projects that have kept me busy for the past eight months!

I really used to hate "web apps" and the idea that something that ran in a browser could achieve feature and performance parity with native desktop applications, but, much to my chagrin, I have now jumped feet first onto the web-based bandwagon. All three of these projects are written in Ruby on Rails, which you might remember me learning last summer and attempting make a video sharing website.


The first one does not have a cool name, so I'll explain its purpose: last fall I got a job working for the study abroad office at my university. Part/much of my job involves helping students who want to study or are currently studying abroad, and a large part of this is helping them find courses to fit their schedule. To do this within the office we use an in-house solution that is kind of clunky and has many strange bugs that we have to work around. After dealing with it for several months, I thought to myself, I can do better. So, over winter break, I did, and this is the result.
The sole purpose of the website as it stands is to facilitate the course review process: a student submits the information on a course they want to take, an administrator reviews this information, prints it out, and sends it to the department/reviewer, and when it comes back, the appropriate equivalency information is entered and the course is marked as approved. This provides an easy way for students and staff to see where courses are at in the review process, and have an easily searchable database of courses that have already been reviewed.
As you might guess, this app would be adapted for other purposes as well, such as general credit transfers. My goal, if the universe decided to give me infinite time to do such things, would be to flesh it out into a full-featured study abroad office groupware suite, because believe or not, that market actually exists and is very limited.

source code | online demo | license: MIT License

There is an online demo! Click the link above to take you there. If you would like to see the administrative capabilities of the website, or you are a university and would like to use this for your own office, send me an email! I'd be glad to talk with you and work something out.


I am a long time, no time paying user of Ancestry.com, and I love meeting new people through the site, but it sometimes frustrates me because that data is so restricted to paying members. It is also not super easy to back up. Previously, I tried to wrangle an instance of MediaWiki with Semantic MediaWiki addons, but that proved to be cumbersome and hard to update to keep secure.
So, this summer I have been working on a new genealogy site, but to be easy to use, collaborative, and flexible. I call it familiar, and it currently has limited features but is working well for what I do! It is not meant for hard core genealogists and does not include features (yet) that lend themselves to research - it is more meant for casual users who maybe just want to see some pictures of their ancestors.

source code | online demo | license: MIT License


This one comes from an idea I actually had while I was in England, then trying to make simple iOS apps and web backends but not quite succeeding. The idea was to have an app that would just sit on your phone, and at random intervals would pop up with two buttons: :) and :(. I thought it would be cool to location tag the responses and map them out - to get a relative happiness index of any given area, if it were to be widely used.
I never quite managed to do it then, but this summer I sat down and pounded out the web version in a few hours. It's a little more complex than my original idea, but the framework is there an app to plug in to. Additionally, you can enter your mood as a text field, and you can also enter why you're feeling like you are. Eventually I'd like to turn this into a sort of life development app like Mint.com or MyFitnessPal, except instead of financial or physical health, you would track your mental health.
The end result (so far anyway!) is something I'm fairly proud of and even use myself once in a while, to store little mental reminders to myself.
NOTE: if you're going to use the demo instance here, be aware that it is not very secure and the emotional notes you enter are NOT encrypted or very safe at all. Hopefully eventually I will change this.

source code | online demo | license: MIT License
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