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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters

Presentation Slides

December 10th, 2014 by Erick

Thank you to those who attended yesterday’s presentation, whether in person on over TTVN. We apologize for the technical difficulties in getting the slides to show properly. Ellen has sent me the presentation, and I have uploaded it to Slideshare.


Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 Miscellaneous No Comments

New Location

December 4th, 2014 by Erick

The Division of Marketing & Communications has moved!  This is our first full week in the new offices.  Half of our stuff is still in boxes and scattered across floors and desks, but this is going to be a good change for us once we get settled in.  While there was some trepidation about how things would work out, I have already seen increased collaboration and communication between people who had not worked often (or well!) together.  Once everything gets unpacked, installed, and configured, we should have an amazing space.

The down side to all of this has been that the move has affected everyone’s projects and schedules.  We should be getting back on track quickly though, and have some of or projects finished be fore leaving for the holiday break.


Thursday, December 4th, 2014 Miscellaneous Comments Off

Adopting a Framework

December 2nd, 2014 by Erick

As most of you know by now, we are currently working on the next version of the university website.  We will be using this site a cornerstone for much of the work we do moving forward.  One of the elements that will be affected is how we build sites.  Currently we develop all of our CSS and responsive page looks by hand-writing our styles and setting our own media queries and break points.  Starting with the new site we will be shifting over to developing with the Foundation framework.

This is a big change for us, and frankly one that I am not yet wholly comfortable with.  Perhaps it is a generational thing, but I have never liked frameworks, or at least the modern interpretation of the term.  Rather than being a basic scheme upon which to build your own creation, modern frameworks push you down a pre-determined path – and deviation from that path can be difficult.  The GoMobile team even had a term for this, calling such sites “Bootstrappy.”   Further, because these frameworks try to be all things for all sites, the HTML and CSS required to use them can get enormously bloated.  (See Michael’s previous post on how to combat this.)

So, if we have a framework that we have to go to pains to override, and which includes a CSS file that is bigger than the entire page (including images!) should be, why did we decide to use it?

First, we wanted to create a standard that would be consistent across all of our sites.  While we have always been diligent about trying to remain consistent in the way we wrote our code, we inevitably  failed.  Every site had its own production cycle which systematically led to each site being different.  Even when two sites called for the same effect it often turned out to be done differently on each site. Standardization will let us resolve this issues, and thereby let us more easily maintain multiple sites.

We, both as a division and as a university, are experiencing increased staff turnover.  As new people come in it is easier for them to learn and maintain our sites if they are built on a standard codebase.

Probably most important, the multitude of new devices makes keeping up with technology easier when using a framework.  With new phones and tablets being released each month, and the ever changing capabilities of these devices, the framework makes it easier to maintain cross-platform support.  We no longer have to worry about knowing the latest specs on every device and knowing how to update our code based on those changes. Any needed updates can by incorporated through keeping the framework up to date as needed.

One thing that we have seen in adopting this new methodology is that you can’t follow the framework’s code to the letter.  It is a framework after all, which by definition is something that is there to support your code…not to determine it. Don’t try to do everything within the framework’s code — don’t fight it and look for ways to circumvent it —  but don’t hesitate to write your own styles on top of it.

So what does that mean for me personally?  I recently started editing a site that had already been built on Bootstrap and I honestly started reverting to what I knew, making hacks and overrides to effect the changes I wanted.   It is going to be a hard transition — probably on the order of moving from tables to CSS for site layout — but it is a necessary transition in order to remain current and relevant in our field.

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 Future Projects, Ongoing Projects Comments Off

uweb Presentation – New Date

November 20th, 2014 by Erick

We now have a new time and date for the uweb presentation on server exploits.  For a brief reminder of topic highlights, see our previous post.

The presentation will now be Tuesday, December 9 at 3:00.  For those wishing to attend the live event, we will be in Room 2605 of the General Services Complex.  The presentation will also be broadcast over TTVN on Channel 6.  (Reminder again for Mac users to see TTVN’s instructions for getting connected at

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 Area Events Comments Off

Shrinking Tools for CSS Files

October 30th, 2014 by Michael

We’ve begun using the Zurb Foundation framework, which includes a 176K stylesheet of everything that you might need just in case you need it. Well, for a recent one-page site, I guess that we probably wouldn’t need very much, so I sought ways to strip out unused CSS.  How much could I shrink the 176K CSS file without breaking the page?

  • Dust-Me Selectors - a Firefox extension that reduced it to 18k, with no noticeable differences in the performance of the page. Unused code could be commented out, or removed altogether.
  • mincss - a Github project that reduced it to a responsive 10.5K, but the responsive slider stopped working.
  • unused-css – a commercial service that reduced it to 73.8k. It removed most of the code from the media queries, so the page was no longer responsive, but  the slider still worked.
  • Chrome Developer Tools – told me how many unused CSS rules I had, but doesn’t produce a cleaned version.

As you can guess, your mileage may vary. Some tools will flag redundant CSS but not unused CSS, or removes code that is only used at certain screen widths, or don’t work with LESS/SASS. But Dust-Me Selectors worked fine for me, for now.

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 CSS Comments Off

Worrying About Making CSS Faster

October 27th, 2014 by Michael

In recent years, I’ve become interested in improving website performance. Chrome Developer Tools (the Network and Audits tabs) make it easier to see bottlenecks and how to fix them.

One of my goals was to use more efficient CSS.  I could have been using * and + in my CSS, but I knew the more calculations and animations the browser has to make, the slower the page will run. Web developer Ben Frain singles out “expensive” features such as box-shadows, border-radius, transparency, transforms and CSS filters as particularly troublesome.

But Frain’s experiments also show that the number of CSS selectors – the size of the CSS file - affects page performance more than the type of selector. His conclusion: “It is absolute folly to worry about the type of selector used.”

So I’m ready to stop worrying. Enter the owl selector, as named by British designer Heydon Pickering because it resembles “an owl’s vacant stare.”

* + * {
	margin-top: 1.5em;

In this case, to enforce the rule, “All elements in the flow of the document that proceed other elements must receive a top margin of one line,” Heydon uses a single line of “axiomatic CSS” that potentially saves having to write dozens of lines of CSS.

And reducing the size of the CSS file does measurably improve site performance. In my next post, I will mention some of the tools I used to do that.

Monday, October 27th, 2014 CSS Comments Off

uweb presentation postponed

October 24th, 2014 by Erick

Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict has come up which will require us to reschedule next week’s presentation by the CIS security team.  I apologize for the short notice.  We will be in touch with the presenters to find another date and will reschedule for later in the semester.  Once we have that information will announce the details.

Friday, October 24th, 2014 Uncategorized Comments Off

Job Opportunity – New Position Available

October 15th, 2014 by Erick

The Division of Marketing and Communications has an immediate opening for a Web Communications Specialist.    This person would be doing primarily user interface development, but would be involved in all areas of development and support for several university web sites and applications.

The position summary can be found at   If you are interested or know someone who might be, please take a look at this and pass it along.

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 Uncategorized Comments Off

Has Your Site been Hacked?

October 13th, 2014 by Erick

Imagine you come into your office and sit down at your desk to start your day.  You log into your computer and visit your departmental website…and to your horror you see that the front page has been hijacked and it is now selling Cialis or streaming the latest pirated movie.  You have been hacked!  Would you know what to do?  That question was recently asked in two different groups that I have been in, both of which were filled with people who should have known.  Most didn’t.

Come join us at the next uWeb meeting, where the CIS security team will be talking about exploits on campus.  They will show a few examples of what has been reported on campus, some of the most common platforms that get exploited and how to prevent them, and advice on what to do if it does happen to you.

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday October 28 at 3:30 rescheduled for Tuesday December 9 at 3:00  in Room 2605 of the GSC.  The presentation will be broadcast on TTVN Channel 9 6 and will be recorded for later viewing on MediaMatrix..

Monday, October 13th, 2014 Miscellaneous, Web Security Comments Off

Texas A&M University System Digital Center of Excellence

October 1st, 2014 by Erick

I am part of a System-created Committee that is exploring the opportunity to provide a shared “virtual resource” for the Texas A&M University System to disseminate the best practices and specific channel strategies to:

  • Present a unified digital experience across online sites, mobile sites, social presences, and marketing campaigns in the System
  • Streamline processes for publishing content, moderating social communities, measuring campaigns, and acquiring tools
  • Create cost efficiencies

To that end, I am requesting your valuable input on your unit’s digital media needs and resources, so we can include this feedback when the Committee selects its areas of focus for 2014-2015.

Your help is needed to 1) rate the top five areas of priority that the Committee may explore in 2014-2015 and 2) help us identify the personnel, best practices, guidelines, and services that are available System-wide.

Please complete this brief online survey by October 14, 2014 so that your input can be included in the decision-making process.

Survey Link:

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 Miscellaneous Comments Off