Atom Plugins for Web Development

I’ve had a number of students in my web-dev module asking me what plugins I’m using in my text editor, so I thought I’d dash off a quick blog post on the plugins I find useful day-to-day. (Actually, most people are normally asking me ‘how did you do that thing where you typed one word and suddenly you had a whole HTML page? The answer is I used a plugin, so ‘what plugins do you use?’ is really the question they should be asking…)

I’m using Atom as my text editor. It’s free, open source, and generally reliable. If you’re a student on my web-dev course you’re stuck using Sublime Text in the lab for now. I’m pretty sure most of the Atom plugins I use have either direct Sublime equivalents, or similarly functioning alternatives.

There’s a guide to Atom packages here and one for Sublime Text here

A quick google for ‘best atom packages web developer’ will probably get you to a far more comprehensive list than this, but here’s my current pick of useful plugins anyway:

emmet

This is essential for anyone writing any amount of HTML. This is the magic package that allows me to write ‘html:5’ in a blank document, hit the shortcut keys (CTRL + E in my setup), and suddenly have a simple boilerplate HTML page.

emmet auto-completion
emmet auto-completion

It’s ace. Not only that, but it can write loads of HTML for you, and all you have to do is write a CSS selector for that HTML:

html-css-selector-expansion
HTML CSS selector expansion

Great stuff. The documentation is here.

atom-beautify

This will tidy up your code automatically, fixing the indentation and spacing etc. It can even be set to automatically tidy your code every time you save a file. Awesome huh? Imagine being set a coursework where some of the marks were dependent on not writing code that looks like it was written by a five-year old child who’s addicted to hitting the tab key, then finding out that there’s software to strap that five-year olds thumbs to his hands so he can’t hit that tab key. Awesome.

atom-beautify
Atom Beautify tidies your code

color-picker

This one adds a colour picker right into atom. Just CMD-SHIFT-C and choose your colours!

color-picker
Colour Picker in atom

Another useful colour related plugin you may want to look at is Pigments, which can highlight colours in your projects, and gather them all together so you can see your palette.

linter

My last recommendation is linter. This plugin will automatically check your code for errors. You’ll need to install linters for whatever language you want to check, like linter-tidy, linter-csslint, linter-pylint and linter-jshint.

linter
Linter finds errors in your code

 

So there we go – a few recommendations to get you started. Found anything else interesting? Let me know!

Computational Journalism – ‘a Manifesto’

While Glyn and I have been discussing the new MSc course between ourselves and with others, we have repeatedly come up with the same issues and themes, again and again. As a planning exercise earlier in the summer, we gathered some of these together into a ‘manifesto’.

The manifesto is online on our main ‘Computational Journalism‘ website with a bit of extra commentary, but I thought I’d upload it here as well. Any comments should probably be directed to the article on the CompJ site, so I’ve turned them off just for this article.

 

The Graphical Web 2014

photo of the author outside Winchester cathedral
(Grumpy) Winchester Cathedral Selfie

Last week I had a lovely time down in Winchester with m’colleague, attending The Graphical Web 2014. This year the theme was ‘Visual Storytelling’, so I’d gone along to see what new things we could learn about visualisation to include in the MSc in Computational Journalism. We’d also already had a few conversations about the course with people who were going to be at the conference, so we were planning to take the opportunity to chat in person about their involvement.

There were many excellent informative and entertaining talks, ranging from the process behind the redesign of Google Maps, through how Twitter does data visualisation, and on to what happens when your data visualisation becomes immensely popular. I’d highly recommend anyone with an interest in any of this to take some time to look through the schedule and watch the videos of some of the talks – I’ll certainly be forcing the MScCompJ students to watch a few.

Scott Murray educates us on the best design process
Scott Murray educates us on the best design process

There were some interesting messages from people at the conference that I’ll be taking forward with my own work and trying to impart to the students. One that is key, I think, is to strike the right balance between detail and simplicity when presenting data. This was mentioned several times throughout the conference, but it really is important. Too much information in your visualisation and you can alienate the reader and confuse or hide your message. Not enough information and the context is lost, and the use of the design to the more advanced reader is reduced. It’s one of those balancing acts that we find so often when trying to mix both people and computers. Attempting to solve this problem and find this balance is challenging and interesting, and I look forward to seeing how the students next year cope with it.

Overall, it was a really good conference. I met a number of interesting people,  found a whole set of new people to follow on Twitter, and returned to Cardiff excited about the year ahead.

 

Unified Diff and recruiting Guest Lecturers

Last week I gave a quick lightning talk at UnifiedDiff – a local tech meetup here in Cardiff. The main point of the talk was to try and recruit more industry involvement for our new MSc in Computational Journalism – preferably by getting some web developers and software engineers in to give guest lectures on the tools, languages and processes they use.

The talk went well, and I’ve had several offers from people wanting to get involved and add some real value to the course, which is brilliant. Of course, there’s always room to add more, so if you’re interested in coming and talking to our students, get in touch!

If you’re interested, the slides from the talk are here

 

MSc Computational Journalism about to launch

For the last two years I’ve been working on a project with some colleagues in the school of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) here at Cardiff University and it’s finally all coming together. This week we’ve been able to announce that (subject to some final internal paperwork wrangling) we’ll be launching an MSc in Computational Journalism this September. The story of how the course came about is fairly long, but starts simply with a tweet (unfortunately missing the context, but you get the drift):

An offer via social media from someone I’d never met, asking to pick my brains  about an unknown topic. Of course, I jumped at the invite:

That ‘brain picking’ became an interesting chat over coffee in one of the excellent coffee shops in Cardiff, where Glyn and I discussed many things of interest, and many potential areas for collaboration – including the increased use of data and coding within modern journalism. At one point during this chat, m’colleague Glyn said something like “do you know, I think we should run a masters course on this.” I replied with something along the lines of “yes, I think that’s a very good idea.” That short conversation became us taking the idea of a MSc in Computational Journalism to our respective heads of schools, which became us sat around the table discussing what should be in such a course, which then became us (I say us, it was mainly all Richard) writing pages of documentation explaining what the course would be and arguing the case for it to the University.  Last week we held the final approval panel for the course, where both internal and external panel members all agreed that we pretty much knew what we were doing, that the course was a good idea and had the right content, and that we should go ahead and launch it. From 25th July 2012 to 1st April 2014 is a long time to get an MSc up and running, but we’ve finally done it. Over that time I’ve discovered many things about the University and its processes, drunk many pints of fine ale as we try to hammer out a course structure in various pubs around the city, and have come close on at least one occasion to screaming at a table full of people, but now it’s done. As I write, draft press releases are being written, budgets are being sorted, and details are being uploaded to coursefinder. With any luck, September will see us with a batch of students ready and willing to step onto the course for the first time. It’s exciting, and I can’t wait.

KSRI Services Summer School – Social Computing Theory and Hackathon

I was invited by Simon Caton to come to the KSRI Services Summer School, held at KIT in Germany, to help him run a workshop session on Social Computing.  We decided to use the session as a crash course in retrieving and manipulating data from Social Media APIs – showing the students the basics, then running a mini ‘hackathon’ for the students to gain some practical experience.

I think the session went really well, the students seemed to enjoy it and the feedback was very positive. We spent about 90 minutes talking about APIs, JSON, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, then set the students off on forming teams and brainstorming ideas. Very quickly they managed to get set up grabbing Twitter data from the streaming API, and coming up with ways of analysing it for interesting facts and statistics.  A number of the students were not coders, and had never done anything like this before, so it was great to see them diving in, setting up servers and running php scripts to grab the data. It was also good to see the level of team work on display; everyone was communicating, dividing the work, and getting on well. Fuelled by a combination of pizza, beer, red bull and haribo they coded into the night, until we drew things to a close at about 10pm and retired to the nearest bar for a pint of debrief.

Hackathon Students
Teams hard at work hacking with Twitter data

It was a really good experience, and I think everyone got something useful out of it. I’m looking forward to the presentations later on today to see what everyone came up with.

Our slides from the talk are available on slideshare. As usual they’re information light and picture heavy, so their usefulness is probably limited!