Project planning at Ultralab – using xTime Project

One of the projects that I work on involves setting up a website in partnership with the Design Council, as part of their work on the Schools’ Renaissance campaign. The website is a form of questionnaire for which we use the ‘Gearbox’ software developed by Nick and Alex at Ultralab.

The online metric project, as it is being called, is a fairly complex beast and for the first time at Ultralab I have started to use a piece of project planning software called xTime Project.

This is a simple project planning tool which allows me to add resources we will use (including people, hardware, software and time for holidays, etc) and cost these into a budget. The software allows me to link events in the project together so that we can see the flow of the work we are doing but more importantly than all of that it integrates nicely with iCal and can be exported to a web server as well.

This means that using iCal I can broadcast the entire project plan as a series of diary events to the Ultralab WebDAV server for anyone else to see and subscribe to. xTime also integrates with Address book so I cn easily add people and resources that way, and it keeps track of the budget for me, showing totals against events (events mean work done by people on the project) and I can even export this financial summary to Excel for the finance admin team to get to grips with.

All in all a cool piece of software, well worth the money ($129 for the standard version, but it is easily worth the $249 for the ‘Pro’ software, which we use), easy to use and very visual in what it does.

Skinning Drupal – changing the colour scheme for your blog with CSS Edit

I had a go at changing the look and feel of the blog tonight. I quite liked the original ‘X-template’ look, but wanted to have a go at changing the colours.

The obvious changes were to alter the header images – look in the themes folder and navigate to ‘pushbutton’ and all of the images used in the theme are here. However, much of the drupal site depends on cascading style sheets… and this needs opening in an application such as CSS Edit – there you will see a huge number of items to change, and by working through the source code for the page you will see what class or style is attached to each element. You can then locate that in CSS Edit pretty easily and alter the colour values.

I found the ‘Digital Colour Meter’ in the Utilities folder pretty useful here too! (That is the Apple Mac ‘Applications/Utilities’ folder… nothing to do with Drupal)

Any thoughts about colour schemes welcome – it shouldn’t take too much to alter again now I can see how it all hangs together!

Thanks to Matthew Eaves for the prompts on getting started with this!

DVD Editing and Authoring with MyDVDEdit and DVD Studio Pro – targeting the loop point

Using DVD Studio Pro 3 from Apple enables us to create some exciting DVDs for Ultralab. An example of this would be the latest SummerSchool DVD which was completed before Christmas and is full of extraordinary examples of young peoples’ creativity.

As good as DVD Studio Pro is, there are some limitations which mean some things can’t be done in the way you want. In order to enhance the work you can do, you need to use an editor which works on the files you create with DVDSP. Such an editor would be MyDVDEdit by Jerome Cabanis. This small app lets you ‘look’ inside the DVD structures and alter the scripting that DVDSP writes for you so that you can make your DVDs even more interactive.

One example of this is to target the loop point in a motion menu… currently in DVDSP you can’t return back to the point in an animated menu where the buttons appear after watching your footage. You either have to sit through the entire opening animation, or the DVD has to contain a second menu which is static and has the buttons on it. This, of course, takes extra space on your disc. However, with MyDVDEdit you can very easily open up the VIDEO_TS folder, locate the menu and add the necessary lines of code to add this functionality.

I have written a brief tutorial available from (originally hosted over at ) which explains exactly how to do this using MyDVDEdit. I should add that this application is not alone – there is a far more fully featured application (which is also licensed by the DVD Forum, by the way) called TFDVDEdit – both are Mac based apps.

MyDVDEdit is shareware, TFDVDEdit is a fully professional editor. I get the distinct feeling that MyDVDEdit will continue in rapid development and will be adding more and more features as time goes by. The fact that it isn’t licensed by the DVD Forum shouldn’t put you off using it, but the old rules apply… always make a back up of your VTS folder and work on that. Neither Jerome, nor I, can be held responsible for anything that you do to your projects!

Thanks go to Alex Alexzander for the editorsbin site, and to Jake Russell, who started the whole idea in my head! Jake is part of the TFDVDEdit community, and a lot of good work is done over there about this kind of post build editing. Ian Sheppard is a good example of someone who began to develop this particular technique. Jake posted the first article I saw about it, and mine simply follows his work.

Harrods customer service part II

Last week I returned the DVD that I got from Harrods and left it with a chap called Ben. He assured me he would sort out the problem, but didn’t give me a receipt at all. I was to trust him on his word (and why wouldn’t I? This is Harrods after all…)

On Friday Ben rang me to let me know that the replacement DVD was in stock and that he would be sending it out to me free of charge. If all goes well I should have the DVD by the middle of next week – I’ll wait until Wednesday to see what happens, but I am continuing to be impressed by Harrods customer service!

NPQH Success

Good news today – after a long wait and a lot of hard work, my partner, Kara, received a letter from the National College for School Leadership informing her that she has been successful and passed her NPQH!

For those that don’t know, NPQH is the National Professional Qualification for Headship in the UK, and will probably very soon be a mandatory requirement for anyone intending to be a headteacher. Even if you are not, doing the course can help in so many ways if you are working as part of the leadership team in a school. I am thrilled for her!

Oh – and NPQH was developed and designed as one of the projects at Ultralab some time ago… part of the course is participation in an online community discussion – the development of which also grew into one of Ultralab’s largest national projects. The software was originally run by Oracle as ‘’ and this was developed further by NCSL as ‘talk2learn’.

I didn’t get the opportunity to study it as I was appointed to headship before I could enrol, but I would thoroughly recommend it all the same!

Well done Kara!