LoriB.me

Rambling On…

Professional Frontend Engineering Video — 06/26/2009

Professional Frontend Engineering Video

This video, Nate Koechley: “Professional Frontend Engineering” from Yahoo! Video, is a great presentation about the current state of frontend web development (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). I was completely captivated for the full hour and a half that the presentation lasted.

Nate started out with a history of website development starting with a 1994 version of the Yahoo! website and continuing until the present. He also spoke about the evolution of technologies and trends over the years. It was interesting to hear about how table based design became popular and why it was necessary at the time.

Next up was an overview of current beliefs and principles of front end engineering, which covered progressive enhancement, unobtrusive javascript, and the importance of making the website available to the largest possible audience.

The next section, Knowledge Areas and Best Practices, covered rendering modes, doctypes, and using each technology appropriately, i.e. html for semantic markup, css for presentation, and unobtrusive javascript for behavior. One thing I found interesting was that he considered it more important to keep the css code for each area in the same place by using hacks for IE6 and IE7, even though it would prevent the css from validating. I usually use conditional comments and separate stylesheets for different versions or combinations of versions of IE and can definitely see the benefit of Nate’s approach, as well as how it could be a big timesaver.

The presentation wrapped up with the ‘Why It All Matters’ segment which brought everything together and included a call to action for developers to stay vigilant, keep up with modern technologies and the bugs that arise from them, and to continue making the internet a better experience for everyone.

If Clients Treated Others Like They Do Freelancers — 05/28/2009
Chalkboard Color Scheme for Komodo — 03/03/2009

Chalkboard Color Scheme for Komodo

This color scheme is updated regularly. (View Updates)

Komodo PHP Sample
Komodo PHP Sample

Komodo Edit 5 has been my default code editor for the past week or so. It is much faster and nicer to look at than previous versions that I have tried. I switch default code editors almost as often as I switch default browsers. There are so many good ones out there, but none feels exactly right. Considering I spend most of my days switching between browsers and editor, I like to keep up with the latest that is available for mac.

One of the things I am most picky about in an editor is the color scheme. It is very hard for me to find schemes that I can stand to stare at for long periods of time. Schemes with white/light backgrounds and colored text are usually too bright for me and dark schemes are usually either too high or too low contrast. For this reason, I usually end up making my own.

If anyone else is using Komodo Edit (or Komodo IDE) and is similarly picky about color schemes, I have made it available for download.

Click here to download the LB Chalkboard scheme

Komodo CSS sample
Komodo CSS Sample

I should mention that the only language specific colors I made changes to are PHP, CSS, HTML, XML, and JavaScript. Also, I am still changing things as I come across them.

Update (3/4/09): Changed CSS comment color from green to default grey.

Update (3/21/09): Downloaded the trial version of Komodo IDE 5 yesterday and noticed that schemes switched over automatically. [update: bought Komodo IDE 5 after trial expired. Still loving it (1/17/10)]

Update (3/24/09): Fixed issue with some defaults changing from white to black text after update to Komodo 5.1. Added language specific colors for Smarty.

Update (8/23/09): Changed Common Syntax bracehighlight background color from dark grey to yellow for increased visibility.

Update (9/17/09): Changed Find highlighting indicator background color from yellow to green for increased readability.

Update (1/17/10): Changed Tag matching indicator background color from orange to light blue for increased readability.

Update (4/20/10): Identifiers color added for JavaScript.

Update (5/30/10): Changed colors of identifiers and strings for JavaScript because the orange identifiers were burning out my retinas. Identifiers are now off-white and strings are light orange.

Update (10/14/10): A few settings were changed slightly after installing Komodo 6.0. Still assessing whether I will change them back or keep them as is.

Update (6/1/11): CSS identifier color changed to increase readability, reduce eye-strain, and match other scheme colors better.

Update (7/9/11): All is well in Komodo 7.0-alpha3 except for the new HTML5 scheme not matching at all. Will get to that if I can ever find some time.

Update (12/28/11): This scheme has been included as a default scheme in Komodo 7 and is now called Dark_Chalkboard. Thanks to ActiveState for including it.

BeeDragon on Facebook — 02/20/2009

BeeDragon on Facebook

I have been doing a lot of research into freelance networking. My favorite source of information is Freelance Radio, the FreelanceSwitch podcast. It is by far the best of the freelance podcasts I have listened to.

The panel is excellent. The host, John Brougher, does a great job of keeping the podcast on topic while still allowing room for tangential discussions about issues relating to freelancers. John and the other panel members, Kristen Fischer, Von Glitschka, and Dickie Adams, share tips and information based on their years of experience as successful freelancers.

The other day, I was listening to a ‘Super Mailbag’ episode where they answer questions sent in by listeners. One question was about ways to do marketing and the topic of having a Facebook page came up. There were some good points about how it is a great way to get your link out to a lot of people for free without being overly pushy about it (like when people spam twitter with business ads and links).

Facebook is a place where people who may not usually keep in touch with each other can catch up with old friends and have ‘day to day’ type communication with people in a way that time and distance would not normally allow. It is also a place where people share links and other information, allowing word to spread very quickly about anything from a new flower for your virtual garden to a great web business that you know about!

Today I created a Facebook page for BeeDragon. As a start, I posted screenshots from my portfolio to an album and a special offer for Facebook users to get 10% of their next order. I am still researching ways to use Facebook for business. If you know any, please feel free to post them.

If there are any BeeDragon fans out there who would like to share the love on Facebook, please head on over to the new page and click on ‘Become a Fan’.

Thanks 🙂

WordPress eCommerce Plugins: Shopp vs WP e-Commerce — 12/30/2008

WordPress eCommerce Plugins: Shopp vs WP e-Commerce

Update (10/21/09): Comments for this post have been closed.

Thanks for your comments everyone! It has been nearly a year since I wrote this review. It is based on WP e-Commerce 3.6.9 and Shopp 1.0. Both plugins have had significant upgrades since then.

I bought a developer license for Shopp and have used it in several projects. I still love it.

When I have some more time, I am hoping to give WP e-Commerce another try and post a review the new version.

I have been working on a large project for the past couple of months. It is a custom WordPress site for a client, which includes a store. I have never used WordPress for an ecommerce site. The closest I have come is to create a WordPress site and an ecommerce site with matching themes, so that the end user would have the experience of a single site. This solution is not ideal because the site administrator would have to do store administration separately.

I had been experimenting with various beta and RC versions of WP e-Commerce (WPeC) from time to time. When I began working on my project, there was a relatively working version of the plugin available. After paying $25 for a single site license for the “Gold Cart” files, my nightmare began. The Gold Cart adds multiple image upload, a product search option, and some additional payment gateways including authorize.net.

The first challenge was customization. Making (what should have been) the simple change of showing the product images on the right instead of on the left of the product description involved some pretty insane CSS. And then some more for IE7. And more for IE6. Luckily, I find a CSS challenge to be a fun learning experience.

There were a few bugs at first, but nothing that seemed like it couldn’t be fixed. It is here where I would like to mention Shayne from S-Tastic Designs. Anyone who has had the frustrating experience of working with WPeC has probably gotten help at some point or other from Shayne. He is not one of the developers, but I think he may be a top reason why people do not run screaming from this plugin. That, and the fact that there are were no alternative ecommerce solutions for WordPress that offer as many features and payment gateway options. WPeC seems to get buggier with each new release.

Enter Shopp, a brand new ecommerce plugin for WordPress. So new that it was just realeased earlier today! Shopp costs $55 for a single site license. Payment gateways other than PayPal Express and Google Checkout require an additional $25 module.

I have been beta testing Shopp for a while and have been impressed from the very beginning. The developer, Jonathan Davis, has been amazingly supportive of the beta testers. He has been available through various means of communication every day and always answers questions in the forums. If you have ever had the experience of trying to get help through the WPeC forums, you will know the joy and satisfaction that this kind of support can bring.

So, on to the comparison! Versions tested are current as of today. Shopp v 1.0 with Authorize.net module and WP e-Commerce v 3.6.9 with Gold Cart addon.

Support

As mentioned above, Shopp wins. No contest.

Features

Display Options – Shopp offers a choice of list view or grid view for store pages right out of the box. The customer has the option to change the view. It took under a minute to make the same display change that I made in WPeC.

WPeC has a module called Grid View available for an additional $15. I did not purchase the Grid View module, so can not compare. List view was similar in both plugins: product thumbnails and descriptions. Product links in WPeC were constantly breaking. There is a link in the administration settings to ‘Fix Product Group Permalinks’. Why can’t they fix themselves?

Both plugins offer the option for downloadable products. These are handled very nicely in Shopp. After purchasing the download, the client is sent to an order completion page that includes a link to the download. They also receive a nice looking email with order details and download link.

WPeC’s implementation of downloadable products was so buggy that I am not even sure I can describe what it is supposed to do. Different versions of the plugin contained different bugs, including no download link in the emails received by the client. One place where WPeC wins over Shopp is in the downloadable product administration interface. WPeC incudes a list of available downloads to choose from, while Shopp wants the product path.

The product upload feature did not work for me in WPeC due to the large file size of the products. I did not test this feature in Shopp because the files were already on the server.

Product Variations are included in both plugins, but once again Shopp’s implementation is miles above WPeC’s. Product variations are things like different colors or sizes available for a product. Shopp offered more options for per variation settings, such as different shipping fee, product weight, sale price, etc.

WPeC’s product variation interface consisted of a few blank text fields with the labels of ‘Name’ and ‘Variation Values’.

Promotion handling such as coupon codes and other types of discounts is another place where Shopp shines. WPeC offers the option for coupon codes with a choice of dollars or a percentage for discounts. Start date and end date can be entered, along with additional options to use just once and to apply to all products.

Shopp’s promotion options are pretty impressive. Promotion types are dollar or percentage discounts, free shipping, and ‘Buy X Get Y Free’. Options for start date, end date, and whether the promotion should apply to the catalog or order are provided. The best feature is the conditions for the discount. They are “booleanesque” for lack of a better word and work similarly to setting rules in most common email programs. An example of this would be ‘For products where (all/any) of these conditions are met: (Name, Category, etc.) (is equal to, does not contain, etc.) CD.’

Shipping Options were similar for both plugins except that the options actually work in Shopp. Some of WPeC’s shipping options are broken and seem to break even more with each new release. I have been trying to get support for shipping problems for a while now, along with other folks having similar problems. No reply from the WPeC developers. Stores remain unusable.

Administration

I like Shopp’s administration interface better than WPeC’s. The WPeC admin interface is unusually wide. I have a 24″ monitor at 1900 x 1200 resolution, but I like my browser windows at a more manageable size.

The WPeC admin is a little clunky, but overall works pretty well. One feature I really liked is that on the Products admin screen, editable product details appear on the right when you click a product link on the left. I do realize that it is the wide interface that makes this possible. This made switching products and adding or changing details very easy. As far as the actual Product Details section goes, I found it cluttered, but usable.

The Shopp admin is much cleaner and for the most part, more intuitive. One thing I found confusing is that you need to select a product type of ‘Shipped’ for items that are not donations or downloads, even if they do not require shipping. It is easy enough to use since all you have to do is uncheck the Shipping box to make shipping options go away and remove shipping references from the cart and checkout.

Conclusion

Shopp wins. Do not use WPeC if you value your time and/or sanity. Up until now, WPeC has been the only game in town, but not any longer.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Shopp after finishing the beta testing. Other than that, I have no affiliation with Shopp and do not receive commissions on sales. Since I have been using Shopp for a shorter period than WPeC, I will update this article if any undiscovered bugs pop up. I am also currently biased against WP e-Commerce due to the weeks of irritation, frustration, and annoyance that it has caused me. It would really be a great plugin if it wasn’t so buggy and had better support.
Poetic Prophet | Design Coding — 12/11/2008

Poetic Prophet | Design Coding

Stumbled across this while reading about browsers at molly.com. I am not completely sure if it will appeal as much to the non-web designer/developer crowd as it did to me.

By Poetic Prophet – SEO Rapper (aka Chuck Lewis)

Lyrics:

Design Coding

Your site design is the first thing people see
it should be reflective of you and the industry
easy to look at with a nice navigation
when you can’t find what you want it causes frustration

a clear Call to action to increase the temptation
use appealing graphics they create motivation
if you have animation
use with moderation
cause search engines can’t index the information

display the logos of all your associations
highlight your contact info that’s an obligation
create a clean design you can use some decoration
but to try to prevent any client hesitation

every page that they click should provide and explanation
should be easy to understand like having a conversation
when you design the style go ahead and use your imagination

but make sure you use correct color combinations
do some investigation, look at other organizations
but don’t duplicate or you might face a litigation
design done, congratulations but it’s time to start construction

follow these instructions when you move into production
your photoshop functions then slice that design
do your layout with divs make sure that it’s aligned
please don’t use tables even though they work fine
when it come to indexing they give searches a hard time

make it easy for the spiders to crawl what you provide
remove font type, font color and font size
no background colors, keep your coding real neat

tag your look and feel on a separate style sheet
better results with xml and css
now you making progress, a lil closer to success
describe your doctype so the browser can relate
make sure you do it great or it won’t validate

check in all browsers, I do it directly
gotta make sure that it renders correctly
some use IE, some others use Flock
some use AOL, I use Firefox

title everything including links and images
don’t use italics, use emphasis
don’t use bold, please use strong
if you use bold that’s old and wrong

when you use CSS, you page will load quicker
client satisfied like they eating on a snicker
they stuck on your page like you made it with a sticker
and then they convert now that’s the real kicker
make you a lil richer, your site a lil slicker

design and code right man I hope you get the picture
what I’m telling you is true man it should be a scripture
if it’s built right you’ll be the pick of the litter
everyone will want to follow you like twitter
competition will get bitter and you’ll shine like glitter

if you trying to grow your company will get bigger
design and code right man can you get with it

WordPress 2.7 — 12/08/2008

WordPress 2.7

Earlier today, I updated this site to WordPress 2.7. It was a completely smooth upgrade, even though I forgot to disable my plugins and 2.7 is only a release candidate. I have been using the beta version, and now RC1 on a website I have been building for the past couple of months. It has been amazingly stable since even before it was in beta.

The administration section is completely overhauled for the way better, in my opinion. The main admin links are moved from the top to a sidebar with dropdown panels for each section. Here is a screenshot of the ‘Add New Post’ page as it appears while I am writing this:

WordPress 2.7 Add Post Screen
WordPress 2.7 Add Post Screen

One of the most exciting new features is the automatic core upgrade. Amazing! Better than that. For someone with a single site, it is amazing. For someone who is responsible for many WordPress sites, it is a dream come true. It has been working, but behaving strangely on the site I have been building. For some reason it always fails on the first two tries and works on the third. No harm is done on the failed attempts. I will see how it goes with this site.

Another handy new feature is the ‘Install Plugins’ page where you can search the WordPress Plugin Directory by keyword, author, or tag, or browse by tag, featured, popular, newest, and recently updated. You can also upload .zip files of plugins you have already downloaded.

There is much more to say about WordPress 2.7 but I am too tired to say it now. Maybe I will post again when the final version is released. I was kind of impressed with myself for holding out this long before installing it on LBnuke. Don’t think I would have made it if not for having another site to play on. I mean work on.

Pictures Without Words — 11/28/2008

Pictures Without Words

Today I found FFFFOUND! FFFFOUND! is an invitation-only web image-bookmarking service that also dynamically suggests other images that may be of interest to the user based on their tastes and interests. It was hard to get away from it even long enough to post this.


Image credit: Design You Trust

There were a few things that made FFFFOUND! stand out from other image-bookmarking services. The first was the quality and interestingness of the images. I am pretty sure this is due to the invitation-only nature of the site. My favorite thing about the site is that there is no text other than the linked title of the page containing the original image and the usernames of other folks who have also bookmarked the image.

When viewing an image, thumbnails of other images that may be of interest are shown below. There are no descriptions or comments about any of the images. The experience of using the site encourages a very ‘free association’ style of browsing. Seriously mesmerizing.

Wordle — 11/03/2008

Wordle

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

I spent way more time wordling yesterday than I care to admit here. It was kind of mesmerizing. I made one by entering the main LBnuke URL and a bunch by entering the feed URL. The ones with “Things” as the big word is from the feed and contains words from a broader search than the one with “Time” as the big word. I liked how changing the colors and layouts affected which words stood out the most when viewing the images. Of course the largest ones always stood out the most, but color brightness and word orientation made a big difference in some cases too. There is a gallery at the Wordle site containing images from other people’s wordles. I found the ones from the presidential and vice presidential debates pretty interesting. All images in this gallery were created at Wordle.net.

Baltimore — 09/25/2008

Baltimore

LB and K at the party

LB and K at the party

Mon 9/22/08 10:46am

On the plane from Baltimore to Oakland, stop in Denver. Had lots of fun in Baltimore. We went to an overnight birthday party for a couple of K’s friends that were turning 40 and had a great time. I really like K’s Maryland people. I am strangely comfortable around them. They remind me of people from Buffalo. The party went all night. At some point, I got tired of people and went to read in the living room. Most of the people were outside. I was happy that I had a book I could read. Got a Robert Ludlum book at the airport. The Ambler Warning. It’s a fast reader that does not require a full attention span. Other people started coming in and reading too after a while. I thought that was pretty funny. There were some books on the coffee table. K kept bringing people over to say hi and hang out for little bits of time. That was fun too. Little spurts of party.

The next day was fun too. Lots of people had slept over and others came back in the morning. After the party, we went to Kim’s place and then out for a drink. On the way home, she gave us a great tour of her neighborhood. I love tours with stories and she know a lot about her neighborhood. It was great to get to see her again after such a short time.

The first night we went to a restaurant/bar that a couple of K’s friends are opening soon. The place was amazing! Huge. They were building most things themselves, including booths and other assorted furniture from old church pews. It was fun to hang out there. Can’t wait to go back when it is open. We also helped K’s folks with their new fiber optic tv system. It was nice to be able to do that. Some stuff that is very hard for them is very easy for us. K will help them some more tomorrow. She is not coming home until Thursday.

I am looking forward to being home. Have work to do. Server was down for a while yesterday. Of course it has to happen when I am out of town. Got stuck in a loop and was overloading the CPU. A reboot fixed it, but today I got an email that the main hard drive partition might be dying and needs to be repaired or replaced. The server will need to be down for 1-4 hours. Crap. I told the techs to monitor it and reboot if it goes down again, but to wait until 3am US eastern time to take it down. I think it will affect the least amount of people at that time. Update: It did not go down again and is repaired now.

I met with the business consultant again before I left. New plan is to meet twice a month for 2 months, 2 hours each time. We covered a lot of ground in 2 hours. Got the basics of a contract written for my next project. Should be able to easily adapt it for other projects. We spoke some about pricing and how I need to raise mine and also about some other ideas I have that will bring in some steady income.

I am trying a new system of tracking hours. Only got to try it once before I left, but it actually worked. I was reading an article by David Seah that described a system where you set a timer to go off every 15 minutes and then fill in ovals on a piece of paper to track what you are doing when the timer goes off. I don’t do well with paper systems and the online version was alpha and not quite my style, so I combined some programs that I already had to do a similar thing. I set up a spreadsheet in Numbers with a sheet for each project, then set a calendar alarm to open up a 15 minute repeating timer in Alarm Clock Pro every weekday morning at 8am. The timer is set to make the spreadsheet pop up every 15 minutes. When it pops up, I just check a box for the project I am working on. The spreadsheet keeps track of how many hours I have worked on each project for each month by counting the checkboxes and dividing by 4 to get time in hours.

Turbulence. Hate it. The lady who was sitting next to me at the beginning of the flight kindly gave up her seat to another lady with a baby. She got free drinks for doing it. I usually don’t like being near kids on planes because they are loud, but I don’t mind it so much at the moment. Cute kid. Nice mom. Some screaming when they first got settled, but quiet now. My ears are clogged anyway. Enough writing for now.

Thu 9/25/08 3:54am

I never did get around to posting that. It is nice to be home. K is coming home tomorrow. I can’t wait to see her 🙂 We both have a little time off before going back to work. I am hoping to use the time to do some business stuff that I hardly ever have time to do. Today I set up an online project management system to make it easier to communicate and share files with clients. It is very similar to Basecamp, only open source, free, prettier, and hosted on my own server. Currently, I am using it to manage my hosting affililate program project. The affiliate system is ready to go, but still needs a couple of web pages, graphics for banner ads, and text ad copy. I am also thinking of starting a newsletter to send to clients and other interested people every few months. I would like to announce the launch of the affiliate program in the first one. Hopefully I can get that done this week because I have a big project starting soon.

It is 4:06am. I think I should go to sleep. Jetlag.