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Drupal: now moving to its own section

I've come to the realization that Drupal site breakdowns, tutorials, pedagogical materials, and musings are evolving into their own project, and will consume the blog if I don't move them elsewhere. So, I've created a new section of this site to publish and organize things related to using Drupal for higher education. There's a separate RSS feed for it as well.

To start with, I have the previously-blogged site breakdown for the virtual research environment I created in 5 hours, and a breakdown for this very site, alongside Drupal jargon explained! and my notes from Do It With Drupal a few years ago.

I've also posted my weekend manifesto, If an institution could support just one tool for teaching and research, it should be Drupal. Cue the firestorm.

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Drupal jargon explained!

Note: this post has been moved to the new Drupal-specific section of the site. Read the full post here.

Drupal has a reputation for having a steep learning curve, but I remain convinced that it's largely overstated. Nonetheless, it's true that right from the start the new Drupal user has to contend with documentation that uses unfamiliar, arguably non-intuitive jargon. That said, "What's a node in Drupal?" is a harder question to answer than one might think. Because the pieces of Drupal are usually inter-connected, an easier term to define, like "CCK", depends on the reader understanding what a "node" is. The Views documentation might tell you how to create a Block, but without understanding what each of those things is, it's easy to get frustrated.

So, for the sake of Drupal newbies who want to like Drupal but are struggling to get past the jargon, I've put together my own attempt at some practical definitions, and a diagram of how the pieces link together, at the bottom. My goal here is to make things clearer for the sort of Drupal site developer who will mostly be using the UI; when having choose between technical accuracy and clarity for practical, hands-on purposes, I've sided with clarity. I've organized it in such a way that, with some exceptions, each definition provides prerequisite information for understanding subsequent definitions.

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Building a virtual research environment (VRE) in Drupal (in under 5 hours)

Note: this post has been moved to the new Drupal-specific section of the site. Read the full post here.

I recently sat down with a fresh Drupal install, and by the time the winter sun was setting, I'd made a lightweight custom virtual research environment (VRE) for a collaborative project. It took about eight hours, but if you cut out the e-mail answering, eating, false starts, and rethinking how I wanted to structure things, I bet I could re-do it in under five hours-- and so can you.

It was a familiar story-- two scholars, separated by geography and a time zone, gathering data from a variety of sources to illuminate a common set of real-world things from different angles. They had been passing Word documents back and forth, and had recently switched to Google Docs, but that wasn't doing what they needed, either. They had a data problem.

I've been using Drupal for website projects for years. It has a way of making my programmers sob when they look at the database. Sometimes it refuses to cooperate. I've never done a major version update (I abandoned my 4.x project before 5.x was released, and my 5.x project was winding down when 6.x came out), but I hear it's agony. That said, it's amazing what you can spin up given a single day of work, without writing a line of PHP, and keep running for quite some time with little attention or effort.

The custom VRE is I built very emphatically custom, with content types, taxonomies, and data views specific to a particular project. As such, I don't think it would be a good candidate for an installation profile, but my goal here is to write out the general steps for what I did, so anyone can repeat them with some tweaks for a different project.

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Frogr: the Flickr uploader for Ubuntu I've been waiting for

Last summer, I tried to survey the landscape of software available for uploading photos to Flickr on Ubuntu. My conclusion at that time was that there were no good options that met my needs-- which I felt were fairly modest:

  1. Change the title
  2. Freely add tags
  3. Add a description
  4. Add the image to sets

jUploadr met those requirements, but was downright painful to use. Postr seemed promising, but I was never able to get it to work. Since then, I've stuck with the official Windows Flickr Uploadr, on Karmic, using Wine v. 1.1.31, since combinations of more recent versions of Wine and Ubuntu had failed to work*.

Enter Frogr

FrogrAccording to the Frogr page, versions 0.1 and 0.2 were released in mid-2009, and there had been no further activity as of last summer, so I'm not surprised I overlooked it. Last December, version 0.3 brought a lot of bug fixes, but it was the release of 0.4 on February 5th that turned Frogr into hands-down the best Flickr uploader option available for Ubuntu.

Everything I want, and more

Frogr has all the functionality and ease-of-use of the official Flickr Uploadr, and then some. You can drag-and-drop photos into Frogr (something I've missed, because I've never gotten it to work for the Flickr Uploadr on Wine.) You can add photos to sets (using an interface I think is better than the official Uploadr), and create new sets. You can add photos to groups-- which isn't an option in the Uploadr. You can easily set privacy levels and content types for photos individually, and by default using Preferences settings. You can add titles, tags, and descriptions to photos as a batch. You can cancel an upload without the losing the metadata you've added to your un-uploaded photos. You can have multiple accounts. Another feature that the Flickr Uploadr doesn't have is tag auto-completion-- which can be a big help if you're trying to be consistent with your metadata.

Nitpicky stuff

Frogr autocompleteThere's very little I can say against Frogr-- it's a solid piece of software that does an excellent job meeting my needs. All things being equal, I'd probably prefer to have the metadata panel appear on the right whenever a photo or photos are selected (like the Flickr Uploadr), instead of having to double-click, but in practice double-clicking is much less of a nuisance than I feared it would be.

The interface that lists the accounts you've authorized shows your name, rather than the username. Both of my accounts have my name on it, so other than trial-and-error (or remembering which one I authorized first) there's no way to tell which account I'm sending photos to until they show up there.

I appreciate the thought that went into the tag auto-complete, but I wish there were a way to turn it off. With over 50,000 heavily-tagged photos, I've got thousands upon thousands of tags, and they take a long time to load (there's a loading tags step in Frogr, though thankfully only once each time you launch it) and the auto-complete is more annoying than helpful. On my less-powerful netbook, the autocomplete makes Frogr stop responding for a few seconds, though it does recover. Fortunately, I can out-type it most of the time, so I'm done tagging by the time the auto-complete pops up.

(2/25/10 update: Mario Sanchez, the awesome developer behind Frogr, has already made a couple changes so that the list of authorized accounts also includes the account name, and there's a setting in the preferences to turn auto-complete off. I've tried an unreleased version and it's great! Look for those changes in the next release.)

Go download Frogr now

If you use Flickr and Ubuntu, Frogr is a huge leap forward from whatever you've been using to upload your photos, providing one of the best feature sets available, and hands-down the best user experience. Go download Frogr-- it's fantastic.

* The situation has recently improved for the official Flickr Uploadr on wine-- I've successfully gotten it running on Maverick using Wine 1.3.13. At this point, though, I think Frogr is a much more compelling option.

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