DrupalCon Austin

LSST E-News : 

The LSST web team made its annual trip to DrupalConJune 2-6 with the maturing LSST website redesign project in mind. Drupal is a free, modular, and open source content management framework used by LSST for its websites. DrupalCon, the largest gathering of Drupal developers and users, afforded the LSST web team the opportunity to meet, brainstorm, and share lessons learned with the approximately 3,300 other Drupal users who attended. During the week in Austin, Texas, the team focused on sessions addressing “Frankensites,” accessibility, security, and best practices for upgrading to new Drupal versions.

LSST Web Designer and Graphic Artist Emily Acosta concentrated on content strategy, particularly avoiding “Frankensites,” or websites built piecemeal from a hodge-podge of elements from other existing sites. The key is thoughtful site architecture and content mapping. Palantir shared a robust spreadsheet template that can be used to create a build spec for a website project.

“Basically, it takes everything I plan out in my head and maps it nicely so I can coherently talk it over with team members,” Emily said. “The tool helps to foresee potential redundancies and problems in a site’s overall configuration.”

Printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose
- Emil Ruder

LSST Document Specialist Rob McKercher attended a session on Accessible Design, in other words, how to maximize website design for the largest audience, keeping in mind that different disabilities have specific design considerations. The presenter shared web-based resources for accessibility testing one’s site.

“He pointed out that accessible design is universally applicable because everyone suffers from at least situational disabilities such as age, background noise, or the inability to read a smartphone screen in bright sunlight,” Rob said.

Beyond enabling common accommodations such as closed captioning and screen readers, designers should employ less obvious solutions for conditions such as color blindness, light sensitivity, and cognitive disabilities. Font line weights, cues other than color to emphasize text, and screen contrast all contribute to whether content is accessible. Busy sites with lots of animation, video, and sound can disorientate people with cognitive disorders. Rapid, repetitive animations can also have physical, medical implications for some users. Pages should have narrow focus in line with their purposes and should provide contextual clues to make calls to action as obvious as possible.

LSST Systems Administrator Iain Goodenow sought out best practices for securing LSST’s Drupal stack. The primary take-away was that whenever possible, LSST sites should be on a DMZ. As a sub-network that contains and exposes an organization’s external services to the internet, a DMZ provides an extra security layer between the organization’s local area network and an external attacker, who only has direct access to the DMZ’s contents.

Iain also was introduced to mandatory access control (MAC) and two factor authentications (TFA) as potential security enhancements. MAC restricts the ability to assign security attributes to the administrator only; users cannot override or modify security attributes, accidentally or intentionally. TFA implements a two stage process to verify the identity of an entity attempting to access the network.

NOAO Web Designer Mark Newhouse, who contributes ten percent of his time to LSST, attended a session providing guidance on how to mitigate the inevitable glitches associated with migrating one’s sites to a new version of Drupal. LSST uses Drupal 7; the Drupal community plans to launch Drupal 8 sometime in 2015.

“The ‘Future-Proof Your Drupal 7 Site’ session was a good survey of modules that can be installed in Drupal 7 that will provide the same functionality as what will be in core in Drupal 8,” Mark said.

“Core” is the standard release of Drupal; it contains basic features common to content management systems, such as user administration, menu management, taxonomy, and system administration. However, the Drupal user community contributes add-ons, known as “modules,” to extend core’s capabilities, add new features, or customize site behaviour and appearance. As of February 2014, more than 30,000 free community-contributed modules were available.

More than one million people in 200 countries, and organizations such as The White House, The Economist, and Edmonton International Airport, use Drupal as the back-end framework for their websites. LSST began using Drupal in 2010. The non-profit Drupal Association hosts and organizes the annual DrupalCon.

Approximately 3,300 people attended DrupalCon Austin, including the LSST web team.

LSST E-News Team


Suzanne Jacoby (Editor-in-Chief)
Robert McKercher (Staff Writer)
Mark Newhouse (Design & Production: Web)

Emily Acosta (Design & Production: PDF/Print)
Additional contributors as noted


LSST E-News is a free email publication of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Project. It is for informational purposes only, and the information is subject to change without notice. 
Copyright © 2015 LSST Project Office, Tucson, AZ



Financial support for Rubin Observatory comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through Cooperative Agreement No. 1258333, the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under Contract No. DE-AC02-76SF00515, and private funding raised by the LSST Corporation. The NSF-funded Rubin Observatory Project Office for construction was established as an operating center under management of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).  The DOE-funded effort to build the Rubin Observatory LSST Camera (LSSTCam) is managed by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science. NSF supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.
NSF and DOE will continue to support Rubin Observatory in its Operations phase. They will also provide support for scientific research with LSST data.   

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