January 16 2010 Photography Update

Over the past week, UMSwing has had a recruitment table up in an attempt to get new members interested in the club. During that time, we do a lot of dancing (a couple hours a day), hoping that some people will be impressed by it. We think it’s working, but we’ll have to wait until the open house to see.

As always, I welcome your comments. Add a comment below!

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I’m Back

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted; about three weeks, actually. To the one or two readers I have, my apologies that you don’t have something to waste your time on twice per week. I’m getting back into the writing mood, so I should be building up a buffer of things to write in the near future.

A lot has happened since I last talked about the IPAM presentation that I took part in. To start with the related topic, I was approached to do the presentation again, this time internally to other departments. Thus, the other co-op student and I set about cleaning up the presentation a bit, fixing some errors, and making it flow smoother. It went much better the second time, thankfully, both from a public speaking perspective and a demonstration perspective. As fun as it was to work on that, I’m glad it’s over and done with right now.

Speaking of work, the number of days that I have left at IPC are dwindling quickly as the new year approaches. I work until December 31st, at which point I’m back in class. It’s been a fun past couple of months, and the paychecks have been very nice, but I’m also looking forward to getting back on campus to get some more studying done. I’ve decided that I won’t get a job during the winter semester so I can concentrate on my studying; I’ll have more than enough money to get through four months, and then I’ll be working in the summer again.

After that presentation was done with at work, I found that I had a fair amount of spare time, as there weren’t too many tasks to work on. I spent that time learning Ruby on Rails, and putting that knowledge towards the new UMSwing site. Although on the outside it will look almost the same as before, this new site will have an extensive backend that will make UMSwing virtually paperless. Although you may not think we use that much paper, think again; I have a full 3″ 3-ring binder in our office that says otherwise. All of our memberships, attendance, and transactions will be tracked on the web application, thus eliminating the need for those pieces of paper to be printed in the first place. Anyways, I’ve been working very hard on the site, and it’s almost ready to be tested by some other people. So, if you’re interested in testing some software for an eco-friendly cause, let me know in the comments section and I’ll keep you informed.

That’s a quick update on what’s happened in the past few weeks at work. I have a few more updates to spew out in the coming days, one of them involving my server upgrade (*cough* RAID *cough*), and some involving some extra-curricular activities (including some new photos to go up soon).

From Paperwork to Web 2.0: UMSwing’s New Membership System

Nowadays, my life has a good amount of its time consumed with either work or swing dancing. I work every weekday, and four nights every week I’m dancing. Being the nerd that I am, I always look for opportunities to intertwine my hobbies, despite them being complete opposites. Being on the executive committee helps a lot with that, since I take the position of Web Administrator and Graphics Designer with UMSwing.

On the way home from an event a couple weeks ago, I was talking with a friend about the hassle of all the paperwork we have to go through every time we have a lesson; we need to fill out transaction logs for each payment, keep track of every person’s attendance for each class, and also mark it on their membership form that they attended and paid for that class. A single person dropping in to that class requires writing on three sheets of paper. When you’re trying to run everybody through quickly, that starts becoming an issue.

This friend, being the kind of person that seems to regurgitate good ideas on demand, suggested to me, “Brian, you’re a developer. Just write a program to do it for you. You’re learning Ruby and Rails, so you can do a web-based backend and a GUI frontend. Problem solved!”. Thus, I sat down and started planning. Rails seems to be yet another one of those languages that lacks any decent documentation or tutorials. If you plan on learning it, pick up “Agile Web Development With Rails“. It is by far the best development book I have ever read. If it’s any sort of selling point, one of the authors created the Rails framework; if he doesn’t know how to use the framework, nobody does.

As a method for potentially helping me brainstorm, I’ve decided to spill out some of my ideas and goals here. I’m only going to discuss a few ideas here; while I would normally immediately distribute this idea into the public domain, I’ve decided to keep this one closed source. If you have any suggestions or ideas, let me know and I will give you credit. Better yet, if you’re interested in this software, get in touch and we can discuss it.

Goals for Dance Site

  • Members: Keep track of all members, regardless of how long ago they joined. Eliminate the need to fill out a new membership form every semester. Each member should be assigned a member number, which can be put on a barcode. Keep track of personal information, interests, and attendance. Gather statistics/metrics from attendance vs. month/day/semester, etc.
  • Memberships: Handle multiple membership types, including drop-in. Integrate with finances to determine when a user has paid for their membership through drop-ins. Support for online payments through Paypal (ie. Mastercard, Visa, eCheck, etc.)
  • Finances: handle per-lesson incomes. Support for multiple lessons per day. Keep track of what is taught during that lesson. Provide unlockable content for each lesson; attendance to that lesson unlocks the content for that member; refresher videos, class notes, etc. Support for discounted membership dates/times.
  • Graduated system: attendance of X number of events allows you to attend higher level classes. Ability to override by administrator.
  • Mailing List: Separate old members by current members, allowing for class updates to be sent to current members, while global events to be sent to all. Ability to unsubscribe.

Upcoming Swing Events

For this Monday’s blog post, I’d like to stray a little from my typical technology discussions and focus on something far from that: dance. Not just any kind of dance, though. I’d like to quickly discuss swing dancing.

This might seem like an odd topic for a geek to discuss. After all, I’m supposed to be glued to my computer, make obtuse references to nerdy shows and movies, and have a natural inability to talk to women. While all of the above may or may not be true (heh), I also found myself two years ago to have an interest in swing dancing, thanks to a friend who convinced me to go to the University of Manitoba Swing Dance Club (UMSwing) open house (thanks Jacklynn!). Although initially I didn’t think I would enjoy it that much, I found myself addicted by the end of that open house, and walked out that night with a full membership. I’m still shocked that I’m even capable of dancing, but regardless, it’s a great way to get some exercise, meet new people, and get out of the house.

Two years later, and I’m on the executive committee for UMSwing as their omnipotent web administrator. I’ve met a lot of great people through the club, and by being on the executive committee, I can hopefully give back to a club which has helped me a lot. One of the events that is happening in just over a week is this semester’s open house, which I will be MCing. The club puts on one open house per semester, usually within the first few weeks. We pride ourselves on being able to teach anybody to dance, regardless of skill level. You don’t need to bring a partner to dance with, and you don’t need experience. We do some demos, teach you basic Jive, and do some social dancing. Oh yeah, and there’s a bunch of prizes that we will give away.

So, if you have nothing to do that night, come out and enjoy yourself.

UMSwing’s classes tend to be geared towards beginner swing dance. If you happen to have swing experience, HepCat Studio is a swing studio that is starting up today at 6:00pm. The first class today is free, and they will teach both beginner and intermediate swing dancing. You can find their website over at http://www.winnipegswing.com.

So, I will continue with random technological rants and whatnot next Friday. Methinks that my next post will probably discuss my upcoming server build and the parts involved. Although I had posted on it a while back, I’ve solidified my decisions for the next server incarnation. It will be awesome. Very, very awesome.