WordPress Workshop @UMass

Yesterday I took a day away from BCC campus to visit UMass for a NERCOMP workshop on WordPress.  It was nice to do something different and be around other folks who work in higher ed that also maintain WordPress sites and administer WordPress systems.  It was also nice to visit UMass as I used to work there back in the early 2000’s and it had been quite some time since I have been on campus.

UMass is always fun to visit and see what has changed and what has stayed the same.  One of my very first jobs out of college and at a college was in the Parking Services department at UMass, so it was interesting to see that the parking garage is now fully computerized with no human interaction required.  There were many days I had worked the booths collecting tickets and giving folks the bad news of what they owed.  Parking at UMass has always been expensive, so paying only $6.50 after validation was a good deal for the day.  It was also nice to see all the solar canopies over the lots right near the Parking Office!  My second job at UMass was in the Housing Services Technology group however I didn’t really have time to reconnect there.

The workshop itself was pretty good overall, although as with any workshop, there’s always a few parts that just aren’t applicable to what you really do.  Still, it was interesting to hear about ideas such as a Headless WordPress, which is WordPress without a back-end so it runs faster and is more secure.  There’s some tricks to doing this, but the secret is using this technology called Gatsby.   The talk about accessibility was fantastic and you will find the presentation on the NERCOMP page for the event. The biggest takeaways are that you can do some really easy minor tweaks to make your WordPress site more accessible but the most important thing to consider is the theme you choose.  Many WordPress themes are listed as being accessible so if you are creating a new site, starting with one of those is a good first step.  I used some of the tools shown to test this very blog and as a result I will be making some tweaks.

There were two presentations from researchers who were making sites for digital library collections and they discussed how they approached those projects by creating dynamic databases pushing content to WordPress.  While it was interesting, it didn’t really apply to me or anything we do at BCC, at least not on the scale of the projects they were showing.  It was fascinating, however, to hear about the saga of Wheaton College and their main website as it was a nightmare when the presenter took it over and he was able over the course of a few years make migrations and design changes to be far more scalable, supportable, and decrease downtime.

One of my favorite parts of any workshop or conference is networking with other folks who do similar work in the same field within higher ed.  I managed purely by chance to sit at a table with three folks from Williams College which is also in the Berkshires.  In fact I worked in the old Sawyer Library at Williams, now demolished and rebuilt, back one summer when I was in college myself.  There’s connections everywhere!  Over lunch I met a delightful individual from Roger Williams University who also works in a library, also flies drones, also dabbles in VR, and we have eerily similar first and last names!  Networking and finding how other folks approach similar situations is one of the other very valuable part of these sort of events.  I’m hoping that in the future we might be able to collaborate on some project — who knows what!

Overall it was a great experience for a variety of different reasons.  If there was one disappointment, it would have been the buffet lunch that was provided at UMass.  It wasn’t bad, I think I’m just spoiled by our excellent cafeteria and dining services staff here at BCC.  I’m looking forward to my next workshop/conference!  I just put in a proposal this morning to present at TLSD 2020 at Roxbury College on April 3, fingers crossed!

Flight Over Frozen Cheshire Lake, With Insurance!

The weather for drone flying has been pretty crumby lately, although yesterday there was finally an opportunity.  While it was a little windy, sustained winds about 7mph and gusts at 400 feet of up to 25mph, I believed that the little Mavic Mini could handle it.  So around 11:30am on a sunny Sunday I headed down to the causeway at Cheshire Lake which is a super short distance from my home.

There were a number of people ice fishing, some folks feeding the geese, and a quite a few individuals simply enjoying the nice sunny weather, I think it got up to almost 50 degrees yesterday afternoon!  I also used this opportunity to test out the process for pay-by-the-hour insurance for my flight.  I did some research on the different apps and companies and decided to try SkyWatch.  I went with SkyWatch for a few reasons, first the app looked well put together, second it supported logging in with my Google account which I like because I hate filling out redundant forms and this simplified the process. The final reason I chose SkyWatch is because it was recommended by another drone pilot who’s opinion I hold in high regard.

The flight itself was a success!  The Mavic Mini performed great in the wind as I had thought it would.  I did get a high wind warning several times inside the DJI app and I didn’t fly much higher than 250 feet just to be safe and stay away from the worst of the gusts.  As always, I notice things in the video that I would improve if I had it to do again, and I’m sure I will be flying at this spot in the future so there will be a chance.

SkyWatch Policy

SkyWatch Policy Document

I was pretty happy with the insurance process from SkyWatch as well. Not only was it quite affordable at only $10 for an hour of coverage with up to $1 million in liability coverage, but the process was super simple.  I was even able to draw a box in the area where I planned to fly to make sure the quote was as accurate and affordable as it could be.  The whole process of buying insurance took maybe 5 minutes tops including the time to download the app.  Since there was a parking lot nearby, and some gusty wind, and with it being my first time flying at the lake, I wanted to have the extra piece of mind.  In the future when I have risky flights or fly in a location off BCC campus where insurance is required/necessary, I will definitely be using SkyWatch again.

The only thing I’m not sure about is the policy seemed to cover everything but my drone itself and I couldn’t seem to find options in the app to turn that on, if possible.  There were subscription plans that the app offered and perhaps you need to signup for a tier for that to be available. Always more to research, one of the things I enjoy about technology!

Physics of Drone Flight – Now With Maths!

This past Fall semester I gave a 60 minute Forum presentation for STEM on drones, the different types of drones, and the physics of drone flight.  Over the weekend a WIRED article from a few months back popped up on my news feed with some actual physics, as in with math, that students can perform on a drone!

To summarize the experiment, either myself in advance or students in the classroom would take a slow motion video of the drone accelerating forward. Then, using an open source software tool called Tracker, analyze the video to capture the angle of movement and take actual measurements for the acceleration of the drone.  There’s some compensation that needs to be done based on the frame rate of the camera, however one just need to keep this in mind. Once you know the acceleration, and then measure the mass of the drone, you can use F=MA calculate the force of the drone’s movement.   (It’s a little more complicated than this, I’m breaking it down to it’s simplest elements to explain easily.)

This could be a fun experiment for physics students to perform here at BCC or anywhere really.  The article is pretty in depth, and it shows how students can use Tracker to make a parabola and includes all of the equations needed.

This could be a fun subset of a drone presentation for STEM Starter Academy or perhaps just something to build into my next forum presentation.  I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my presentations more educational or ways to bring experiments with technology into the classroom.