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A Day in the Life Of

February 18th, 2013 by Erick Beck

As part of a biographical sketch I was recently asked “what do you do all day?” That question, as simple as it sounds, brought me to a complete stop because there is not an equally simple answer. I wish I could say that everything was structured and followed an organized process, but it doesn’t. While some days are spend in front of the screen writing code all day, others head in directions quite unanticipated. Let’s look at this morning as an example.

After hearing about something on the radio on the way into the office I browsed over to CNN.com to get the full story. While reading that story, the “NewsPulse” section caught my eye. This is essentially a list of what stories are trending at the time. I had thought briefly in the past about applying something similar to TAMUtimes, but hadn’t done much about it. This morning, though, I decided to look closer and found that there is a Google API that gives access to our Analytics information. A few weeks ago I had asked Michael to start looking at Google Analytics and trying to pull out our most read stories so that our news team could get an idea of what’s popular and what’s not. Now, once we do some research, we can combine these two, using the API to post trending TAMUtimes stories on the site. It isn’t there yet, and the research might show it isn’t worth it, but a casual look at a news story has now lead to an upcoming project.

While reading over the API to accomplish this, one of the pages that I clicked on was the APIs Explorer, which lists all of the services that Google offers an API to. This, of course, was a must read.

The service that caught my eye first was for their Translate service. Translation of websites is a frequent topic of conversation here. We have a large contingent of international students, and providing a translation in multiple languages could be beneficial to them. Also, as a land grant institution we are charged with serving the typically underrepresented population of the state, which largely speaks Spanish.

So, the translate widget caught my eye, and with the ideas above in mind I set forth on the creation of a test page to see how it would work. It was quite simple and (after checking to make sure) it didn’t seem to provide a huge hit on page download speed. So technically it was feasible, so the next question was should I put it on the agenda for the team to consider.

[While writing this I thought it would be a good idea to post an example of the widget here as an example. This led to a side trip where I saw that I would have to update the entire site template instead of embedding it on a single page, so the effort was abandoned.]

A quick search showed that very few universities offer the service, and only one that I found did so as part of their general site template for every page. That left the question of why — if we were to add it would that make us one of the leaders, or would we be implementing something that everybody else had rejected. That was a tough question, because the sample page I had built made it look really cool and potentially useful.

I went to howto.gov, which tries to codify best practices for government agencies, and they explicitly recommend against relying completely an any software-driven translation. They further site a study that casts doubt on how accurate these translations are. A quick mental note of departmental staffing options and commitments showed that it would not be possible to find someone to verify the translations for every page that we own.

The next significant argument against using the software came from Notre Dame’s disclaimer page about their own use of Google Translate. It reminds us that “all prospective international students are required to achieve specific competency requirements demonstrating English language proficiency.” This being the case, even if translations might be convenient, all incoming students should be expected to be able to read the English version as well.

After taking these points, and several others not included in the time line above, I decided that for the time being it was not something to discuss with the larger Marcomm group. Perhaps we can revisit the matter again later when the software translations have become more reliable.

Everything so far in the day had been a complete aside to the schedule I had written for myself Friday. With half the morning gone I went back into developer mode and worked through a rather complicated submission form for one of our ongoing projects, checked on the progress of the rest of the team, and lined up a task list for this afternoon.

During lunch an email came in from someone that I had showed the draft of a previous blog post to, and reviewing it promoted me with the idea of this post. So if you have ever wondered where our ideas come up with, now you know that they are not always the product of serious thought and brainstorming. We have lots of asides that push us in unexpected directions, and which can lead to the introduction — or not — of projects to any one of our sites.

Monday, February 18th, 2013 Miscellaneous
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