My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Summer endings, September beginnings

Hello September. I have missed you. You might be my favourite among all months, but don't tell the others. And no, it's not because my birthday is in September (although that helps). Nor is it because September signals the start of fall television, with new episodes of Castle, Chuck, House, Stargate Universe, etc. More than any other month, even that notorious January, September is a month of changes and new beginnings. For those of us biased in our perceptions by our position in the northern hemisphere, summer will soon be a memory; the leaves will change colour; and I'll be back in school, where I belong.

I spent this summer doing research and quite enjoyed it. We didn't make as much progress toward a solution as I had hoped, but I learned a lot, both about mathematics and research in general. I'm comfortable using LaTeX (which is sexy) and have had some experience with Macaulay2 (also pretty hot). I even went to a conference, something that surprised me.

With my research finished, I have these two weeks off before school begins on September 13. Next week I return to work at the art gallery. I don't look forward to returning to the job that much; my relative solitude of this summer has left me even less eager to interact with people in a customer-service-based position. But I do miss my coworkers, my fellow front desk attendants, so I look forward to returning to them.

I anticipate another great year of school as well. This is my honours year for my math degree, and the Honours Seminar will consist of a sort of research-based project supervised by a prof. We'll have to write a math paper and give a talk. This is a nice departure from lecture-based courses (I don't much care for lectures); also, having done research, read papers, and written up results for the past four months, I feel somewhat prepared.

And with summer endings and fall beginnings come changes. My site last had a major redesign over two years ago. I'm still happy with the design in general; however, there have always been certain rough edges I wanted to correct. Now I've done so. A few weeks ago, I rolled out tweaks to the design and significant changes to the backend.

I've reorganized the content on the home page. It's my portal on the Web, something that lets people access my content whether it's on this site or elsewhere. I've tried to lay it out so that everything is on offer.

You'll also notice that I have a new background image. Now that is definitely tea. The other image was tea, but ambiguously so, and the berries were an odd addition--it was a very Christmas-like cup of tea. It was the best photo I could find at the time. This new photo is exactly what I envisioned when I originally decided to use a cup of tea as my background image, and I'm very happy with it.

For a long time, the only real content on this site has been my blog and the About section. Everything else consists of links and a little aggregated content. I have plans to change that soon and add more pages dedicated to original content (or specific aggregated content). For example, you'll notice that my home page no longer displays my most recent book review from Goodreads. I want to keep my home page compact, and you can easily access my 15 most recent reviews from the books on the sidebar. Instead, I intend to create a new section of the site devoted to my reading habits--not just reviews, but top 10 lists, statistics, etc.

This sort of flexibility is thanks to the new backend. I've finally gone over to the dark side and started using a CMS--but not just any CMS. It's Symphony, an XSLT-based CMS that is both minimalist and developer-friendly. The custom-coded backend I was using was rubbish, and I don't need anything as powerful as an entire framework. Symphony is exactly what I need, and I highly recommend it.