Archive for the 'Site News' Category

Event Updates by Text

At this year’s AGM, several people expressed an interest in keeping up to date with the latest programme information by text message to their mobiles. A method has since been found of doing this at zero expense, either to the group or to the individual member.

The text facility is provided by a company called Zapier (pronounced to rhyme with “snappier”, apparently) who integrate various online services together via tiny programs called “zaps”. You’ll need access to the internet (and an email address) to sign up and request your texts, but once you’ve done it it’ll run without requiring further attention – so this can easily be done on a public library PC if necessary.

I’ve written some step-by-step instructions on how to get connected, or you can just pitch in and choose one of the following zaps:

I hope this helps everyone stay up to date with what’s happening. Now all we need is lots of events to get those texts flying…

Programmes by Email

Following discussion at the AGM last week, some new features have been added to GEMS, the group’s online programme system. You can now get an email sent to you whenever an event is added, moved or cancelled. You can also get the whole programme emailed to you whenever you want one.

How It Works

You can control what GEMS sends you by simply sending an email to with a single command word in the subject line. It doesn’t matter what (if anything) you put in the body of the message, it’ll be ignored. There are no usernames or passwords to remember – GEMS will recognise you by comparing your email address with our membership records. If you’ve not told us your email address yet, now would be a good time!

Note that there’s a possibility that messages sent by GEMS could be swallowed by your spam filter. All messages will be sent from the address – so if you add that address to your “white list” of trusted email addresses, all our messages should get through.

Here’s the commands you need to know…

Full Programme

To get a complete list of upcoming events and their details, your message should just have the command word PROG in the subject. This works for everybody, even non-members, though they won’t be able to see organisers’ email addresses.

Email Alerts

You can tell GEMS to send you an email with details of the event whenever one is added, moved or cancelled, by sending the command ALERTON. You can tell it to stop sending them with the command ALERTOFF. This feature only works for group members.

Other Commands

You can get a list of all commands and what they do, by sending the command HELP. Though there currently aren’t any more than the ones mentioned here! You’ll also get the command list sent to you if you send a message without a recognised command word in the subject (if you’re a group member).

Other Ways to Keep In Touch

So as not to fill your inbox with alert emails, GEMS only sends messages (if you ask for them) about new events, date changes and cancellations. It won’t tell you about new slideshows or remind you about upcoming events and payment dates. If you want that, you need to follow our Twitter account: @leicesteryha. There are various services out there on the internet that’ll send you an email whenever a tweet is sent, if that’s what you’d prefer.

What we don’t have, yet, is the ability to send text messages to your mobile instead of/as well as email alerts. It should be possible in the future, but it’ll probably be something that has to be paid for, rather than offered free. Watch this space!


Weather Update

Days after weather forecasts were added to the Event listings, the service has got better.

Having taken another look at the Met Office website, I noticed that they have a useful but underpublicised API that allows third parties to use their weather forecast data – including a 5-day forecast for 5,000 places around the country.

Weather Underground provide a ten day forecast; but their forecasts are less detailed, and probably less clued in to the vagiaries of British weather, than the Met Office service. They also provide a rough forecast of likely weather on any date, based on historic weather data gathered for that location.

So we can now provide a weather forecast for all future events, the exact nature of which will depend on how far into the future the date is:

0-4 days
Met Office daily forecast
5-9 days
Weather Underground daily forecast
10+ days
Weather Underground historically based forecast

The Met Office forecast contains a variety of details, including likely UV exposure level. These levels are colour coded as below (we don’t tend to get beyond level 8 in the UK):

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Point your mouse at any UV box and you’ll get advice on how to protect yourself from that level of sunshine. It seems like an odd feature to be adding to the website in October, but we can always hope…

And now the Weather…

Another new feature has been added to the website – weather forecasts.

When an upcoming event is less than 10 days away, a weather forecast for the date(s) and place concerned will appear on the event’s page just under the map. You can see it in action (as I write this) on the  Wain Bunkhouse event.

The forecasts are provided by an American company called Weather Underground. To be honest, I don’t expect them to be as accurate as the ones from the Met Office – but they do have the advantage of being free for us to use!

So, keep an eye on our website to see what the weather will be like on that walk – but take your waterproofs (and suncream) with you anyway.

Local Pictures

Have you ever wanted to know what an area is like before booking on a trip? A new feature added to the website today could be just what you’re looking for. At the bottom of every event page there’s now a selection of photographs taken in the area, so you can see what you’re letting yourself in for!

The pictures come from an online project called Geograph Britain and Ireland which aims to collect photographs of every square kilometre of Great Britain, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. These images are licenced for other sites to use, which is how we’re able to use them on our site.

Photographers in the group might like to join Geograph and submit some of the pictures they take from around the country.


Mappy New Year!

The turn of the year is a traditional time for ringing in the changes, so here’s a tweak to the website to mark the start of 2011!

As you know, each event the group organises has its own page on the website which includes a map of where the event is taking place. The maps are powered by a free service from Google called the Google Maps Javascript API. The changes I’ve made are a result of moving to the latest version of the service.

A couple of features have been lost in the new version. The overview map that used to appear in the bottom-right corner has disappeared, as have the grey markers that used to mark other group events. I may reinstate the latter when I work out how to do it, but I’m not sure anybody notices them anyway. What’s more important is two exciting new features that I’ve been able to add…

The first is Google Street View. Click on the orange “peg man” that appears to the left of each map and drag him onto any street on the map. You’re rewarded with a photographic reconstruction of the street in question that you can explore at your leisure. Google’s efforts to photograph the whole country might be controversial, but there’s no denying it’s a brilliant way to get a sneak preview of where you’ll be staying/walking!

The second is the addition of driving directions below each map. Type in where you’re starting from (I suggest using your postcode), click the “Show” button, and you get turn-by-turn instructions on how to get to the event. The route’s marked on the map too. It’ll tell you how to go all the way to Ratagan if you ask it to! Try the street view there too.

If you’re looking at our maps and not seeing any of the changes outlined above, you’re probably using a really old web browser called Internet Explorer 6. The latest version of Google Maps doesn’t work with IE6, so you’ll still get the old version. You might want to consider upgrading to something more up-to-date.

So, have a play, and let me know if you encounter any problems.

Taming Twitter

When I was setting up our Twitter account last year, I thought it would be good to post an update whenever the weather forecast on an upcoming event changed. It’d give some extra publicity to events in the week when they occurred, and the irregular intervals between messages would make them more interesting.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. What I didn’t realise is just how often the forecasts changed – meaning the feed is swamped with messages that the temperature is one degree higher or lower, or the outlook has changed from sunny with showers to showery with sunny spells.

So it’s all changed! The system now checks the programme every morning, and tweets about any events happening on the following day or in 7 days time. It also checks for the date when advance payments are due and reports them too – so you have a reminder to send Dave your cheques!

Another twittering problem has been with slideshows. It’s supposed to tweet whenever a show is added or when new pictures are added to an existing show. The problem is, now that all the pictures are hosted on Flickr, their search facility is not 100% reliable. Sometimes they give the wrong number of pictures for a particular show – leading to spurious “new picture” notifications.

So, with regret, I’ve changed the system to only report when a whole new show is added. If pictures are added subsequently, I’ll report it with a manually added tweet.

Now that we have a more useful Twitter feed, how can you use it in a way that suits you? Originally, when I was designing this part of the site, I was going to have my own “What’s New?” change notification feature. The reason I chose to route those notifications through Twitter instead is to make use of all the ways a Twitter stream can be read, without needing any extra work. So here are a few ways to keep up-to-date:

Join Twitter yourself (it’s free) and follow our feed. You can do so either through the Twitter website, or via a range of client programs.

If you’d rather get an email sent to you instead, you can sign up with a service like TweetByMail to mail our tweets to you when they happen.

If you use a news reader to keep track of blogs, there’s an RSS version of our Twitter feed that you can subscribe to.

Finally, and most simply, you can keep an eye on the Twitter box on the home page of this site, or click the link at the bottom of each page.

Slideshow Instructions

Newly posted to the members’ area of the site, a detailed set of instructions on how to share your photos with the rest of the group via our Slideshows. Now you’ve got no excuse for hiding your photographic talents from the rest of us. I look forward to seeing a lot more pictures of group events!

New Website Design Launched

If you’ve visited this site at any time in the last ten years or so, you’ll probably wondering what’s happened to it. The familiar green and yellow design has gone, to be replaced by a dramatic new look.

Despite winning the President’s Award this year, the old design was looking tired and dated. Since Christmas, I’ve been working on a new layout that would refresh the site’s appearance and pull together the group’s various online activities more effectively. These efforts are finally ready for a public airing. Here are just a few features of the new design:

  • Colour Scheme:  The new scheme uses a range of natural greens, yellows and browns. As well as being appropriate to our outdoor activities, these colours complement the new banner image and other pictures on the site.
  • Google Search: As part of the new ethos of using freely available services instead of doing it ourselves, the site search has been outsourced to the leader in the field: Google. The prominent position of the search box might mean people use it more too.
  • New Front Page: The home page has been totally rewritten, in order to better welcome people into the site. A Twitter widget (see below) and some news feeds give an at-a-glance guide to what’s happening in the group and in the wider world of hostelling.
  • Twitter: We’ve been posting to Twitter for nearly a year now, but the new design makes it a lot more visible. Tweets are automatically generated whenever new content is added to the site, and can also be written manually by committee members. The widget on the front page makes it easy for everyone to see what’s been happening lately.
  • Advertising: Nobody likes ads, but they do help to cover the costs of running the group. Placing ads above, below and (sometimes) beside the content of each page should attract a few clicks, and a few pennies!
  • Footer: A new area at the foot of each page gives easy access to the Group’s other web outposts. As well as Twitter, we’re also on Facebook, Google Calendar and Flickr. You can also get to the group’s new Amazon store,  where every purchase earns us a small commission.

This is only phase one of the redesign. The next step will be to review each page on the site, correcting any outdated information and trying to make them easier to use. The “Frequently Asked Questions” section will be an early candidate for a revamp.

I’d be interested to hear any feedback – positive or negative – or ideas you may have for further improving the site. Please talk to me in person, by email, or in the comments section below.

New Slideshows Mark 2

A few people have reported difficulty in seeing the group’s slideshows since I changed the system last year. Even those who could see them had to put up with tiny images, and Flickr’s habit of serving them up in random order.

So I’ve changed it again! The “back end” is unchanged – the photos are still stored on Flickr and can be contributed by any member – but the page that shows the slides is totally different. Now all the slides are shown at once (in order!), and you just have to click one to start a big, impressive show. Take a look at the shots of our recent snowy ascent of Cader Idris to see what I mean.

On a related note, I’m still waiting for more photographers to come forward and contribute to the site. If it just falls on one or two people, they inevitably tire of the burden and the group suffers. Get in touch if you want to know how to help.