The Amaral lab website is changing

For a while now I have been in charge of maintaining our website. I am the de facto webmaster of the Amaral Lab. As the mantle passed on to me, I was also tasked with restructuring the website as a whole. This doesn’t just mean changing the layout or adding/removing information from some pages. You see, our website was built using a web development tool called Django. It is a very powerful python-based framework that allows people with some programing experience but no knowledge of web-design (like me) to construct fully functional webpages. So restructuring the website actually means re-factoring existing pieces of python code and developing some other pieces. That and changing some html templates (there’s always some web design required).

The current website was built using an old version of Django and so we had to write a lot of custom code. The plan is to bring the framework all the way to Django 1.4 (the current stable version is 1.5) which means our custom code has to be rewritten or (luckily for future webmasters) trimmed down or even removed completely, because it is now handled by core Django functions. While most of these changes will not be visible to visitors, there are some significant ones coming, especially for lab members. We will enjoy a slightly different administration interface with new functionalities including the ability to change the status/highlight of many posts at once and being able to see which post a comment belongs to. The comments section itself will be harder for spammers to target!

Of course, there are also big changes coming, that every visitor will notice:

  • First, a quick look at the “Research” and “About Us” sections will reveal that they say pretty much the same thing. In the future all the information will be condensed into one new section yet to be named.
  • Second, in case you’re wondering why we have both a “News” and a “Blog” section to announce events to the world, then wonder no more! News will become a blog category in the new “Blog” section to come (yes, categories will actually work).
  • Third, if you want to know what our “Connections” are, you may be discouraged by the inordinate amount of time it takes for that page to load. Once the code is re-factored, you can immediately find out what institutions are connected to us (unless you visit us when everyone in Chicago is asleep and the RSS feeds are being updated).
  • Fourth, while the many students, post-docs and visitors that we’ve had in the past were wonderful and helped to shape the lab into the fantastic working environment it is today, they also occupy quite a large portion of the “People” page. We will now honor our alumni by giving them their dedicated sub-page.
  • Last but not least, one entirely brand new section will be available in the future after the framework update has been completed. We will have a “Resources” section which will include some of the awesome software that we have developed. These include python packages for plotting data, network analysis visualization tools and Monte Carlo hypothesis testing routines. They will be available to anyone for free.

So, when exactly will the big change happen? I can’t say yet since the updating is still underway but I guarantee that it will be soon…ish. Hopefully, when it does happen, the process will be smooth and without a hitch (famous last words?). Stay tuned!

— João Moreira