UK Amateur Orchestras - News

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Sunday, February 28th, 2016

Searching has been one thing that I've been contemplating for some time. A quick look around my hosting site has revealed a little piece of cgi code that might work. In order to test it, I'm putting the code snippet here.

Search Query

If you try it and it works for you, let me know.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Finally bit the bullet today and tried to hunt down a problem that's been lurking for quite a while - character encoding. £$%^&*() Yes, all of those symbols should NOW look the way they were intended instead of the little symbol that you sometimes see - a question mark in a black diamond.

It turned out that quite a while ago I decided to insert a specific line in these web pages:


	<meta charset="utf-8">
	
No prizes, therefore, for guessing what character encoding your web-browser is expecting. So, if I save the web page code as Windows-1252, we know there is going to be trouble. And of course it turns out that the default character encoding that LibreOffice uses (I export to a data file for later processing), is Windows-1252. So far, so easy, since I can simply tell LO to save files in UTF-8, and I hope I remember next time. Of course what happens next is that the program I run against that exported data is itself saved in Windows-1252 (thankyou, Notepad++), so it can now no longer find the field separators I insert which are an "unusual" character to avoid clashing with the text. Once I'd worked out what that character was in UTF-8 and had fixed the program, all good again.

Except now, I have a whole file full of workarounds (such as &pound;) that I no longer need to use. I SHOULD go through and return them to their native state, but somehow I think that's a job that will have to wait for a little while longer.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

It's been a couple of weeks since the new design went live, and I've not had any serious complaints yet! I'd contrived to miss the link to the Yorkshire & Humberside page from the drop down on a number of pages, thanks to Jane Thomas for spotting that. It was of course on all of the pages that I make manually as opposed to the ones that are generated using my generation program.

One change that appeared under the covers was a change to the way that I obfuscate the email addresses of the various orchestra contacts. I've backed off from the rather complex script-based version to a simpler mechanism that should be kinder to people who use web-based email tools (gmail etc). I'm hoping that it doesn't make a major difference in the "findability" of email addresses, though I think since I first started this site there has been a significant improvement in the spam-spotting capabilities of the more reputable email services. Do let me know if think you're seeing increased spam.

Oh, and finally for the html geeks amongst you, I've tried to re-validate the pages for conformance to various standards. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that I've removed the XHTML conformance tag. I'm working on it...

Monday, May 11th, 2015

I've finally started the overhaul of the site to make it somewhat more friendly to screens other than the typical PC screen. As I've been hinting for a while (and thinking about for even longer), I couldn't resist the advance of the mobile device for ever, and the main orchestra pages were looking increasing congested. While looking for something else entirely last week I came across a web design framework that combined the 'responsiveness' I've been seeking with the relative simplicity that didn't involved learning a complete content management system.

The panel around this text is a small indicator of the sort of layout differences I'm trying, along with the navigation bar at the top of the page. It DOES have a light but significant JavaScript element, but my testing on my normal browsers, my Android phone and a borrowed iPad seems to indicate it's a design that will work in most places.

Here it is, let me know what you think. I'm sure there will be some tweaks along the way, along with a few more details of the look and how it responds to different devices.

Monday, August 11th, 2014

It's been over a year since I last did some public musing here. Of course a lot of the updates have been appearing as comments on the Facebook page (use the link above), so I've not felt the need. In the interim, the number of ensembles represented here has increased to over 1,000, some small tweaks have taken place on the site and I still haven't QUITE decided what to do about mobile access to the site.

In other news I've been trawling through some old inbox entries and discovered a number of requests for updates and new entries that for some reason I've neglected to fulfil. I'm sure adding the entry at this remove is no consolation and I hope I haven't offended. In some cases I've relaxed my somewhat vague criteria for inclusion, in others it's simply been negligence. As a firm believer in the "cock-up" theory of human history rather than the personal mendacity view, I'm the living embodiment. Anyway, if you're reading this and have any views as to how the site could be improved, both for "normal" viewers as well as mobile ones, please let me know.

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

So who's looking at this on a mobile device?

If you've been following these meanderings you'll know that I have been trying to follow what devices folks view this site with and have been attempting to set up the site so that it is at least readable on the majority of screens. I don't have direct information about what devices viewers are using (I used to use an external stats service, but it inserted a rather chunky bit of javascript), however.

I can infer something from the browsers used, and I see some interesting information. Here, for example, are the top 6 browsers used to view the site last month:

  1. Google Chrome - 31.4%
  2. Safari - 28.9%
  3. MS Internet Explorer - 18.6%
  4. Firefox - 12.2%
  5. Mozilla - 4.9%
  6. Android Browser - 2.2%

I can also see what operating systems are in use, but I'll spare you the details! In summary it looks like I'm getting more and more visitors using mobile phones or tablets - no surprise really - so I thought it was about time I did something to optimise their experience(how was THAT for marketing speak?).

I don't have an iPhone myself, but I do have a smart phone with a much smaller screen. I noticed that in particular the side bar with the links to the various region pages interfered badly with the main tables. Since I didn't want to produce a complete new "mobile" site, I searched for an alternative approach. Luckily I came across the viewport concept, which allows you to understand the width (in pixels) of the screen in use and tailor what appears based on that. So when you're looking at the page with a smaller screen the right hand sidebar automagically disappears.

I've also returned the orchestra name column colours back to solid ones (they look terrible if the row gets too tall as it tends to on a small screen). Over the next few weeks there will be a few more tweaks, hopefully not disruptive, just to make the site a little easier to use.

If anyone's reading, please let me know what you think!

Geoff


Monday, March 5th, 2012

Finding players - the other side

I've mused both publicly and privately in the past about my surprise that the site appears to work in helping people to find places to play and for ensembles to find players. I've also agonised about what ensembles to exclude, which has usually had more to do with attempting to keep the lists manageable than with any musical consideration. Apologies therefore to those I've chosen not to include - especially if it's seemed rather arbitrary.

In attempting to make up for these decisions I have tried kicking off a wiki with limited success, followed by a Facebook page which has certainly provoked some wide-ranging discussions about ensemble playing.

Recently, however, a new site has been created which covers the "finding somewhere to play" question from the other direction. The London Amateur Music Network is a rather more ambitious site than this that allows individual players to register themselves along with their location and self-assessed ability level and willingness to play. This looks like a great way in particular for ensembles to pro-actively find players either for permanent or depping duty. Watch this space for more information in the future!

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