*   *   *   *   *    This site is no longer active and is for archival purposes only     *   *   *   *   *

Gene Hedge – New Website

gene-hedgeBefore I met Gene Hedge, he had struggled to find a web designer who would listen to the vision he had for his website. The other designers who he worked with were clearly good at what they knew how to do, but they forced Gene’s content into their own preconceived solutions. This did not satisfy Gene.

Gene had two strict requirements:

  1. He did not want to employ the typical “Light Box” design often used to display galleries of artwork
  2. He did not want the images of his artwork to ever be cropped by the browser window

Neither is earth shattering, but they are at odds with each other and with the general approach to modern web design. I admit that I too was hesitant, but I quickly saw what Gene was getting at and while the first requirement is easy enough to avoid, the second proved more technically tricky than I first imagined. Working with Gene, we came to a compromise where the browser window would only crop the images in rare edge case scenarios.

It was also clear that he would not benefit from building his website on the WordPress platform. Instead, I created a “static” site that requires no maintenance and is very fast.

Gene was the rare client who knew exactly what he wanted and it was a pleasure to help him build his vision.

Visit the site.

Hance Park Conservancy – New Website

Hance Park ConservancyInitially, I created a simple static place holder web page for Hance Park Conservancy that would hold them over until the park plans were complete and a full website could be built. But their expanding need to communicate with the public soon out grew the limitations of that first site. I was able to quickly put together a WordPress site for them that accommodates there content needs and is easy and quick to edit.

Like all my new site, it uses Responsive Design techniques to automatically adapt to desktop, tablet, and smartphone screens.

Visit the site.

Fountain Hills Bikes

Fountain Hills Bike Shop Website RedesignFountain Hills Bikes was using a stock GoDaddy template for their site which failed to capture the spirit of the shop and was not suited to showing off their bikes. I created a new site for them that focused on the owner’s priorities and added Facebook and Instagram integration.

The new site utilizes Responsive Design techniques to seamlessly adapt the page layout and design to best fit desktop, tablet, and smart phone screens while retaining the design intent and content strategy.

Visit the site.

Barbara Lacy

Barbara LacyBarbara Lacy needed to replace her old static site with a new site that would be easier and faster to update and one that better suited her aesthetic tastes.

We worked together to create a clean, simple, and elegant site that nicely sets off the bright colors and bold forms of her paintings.

Because the site runs on WordPress, content is easy to add and edit.

Visit the site.

Redesigned Site: Caregiver Insights Foundation

Caregiver Insights FoundationCaregiver Insights Foundation is a not for profit corporation located in Cortlandt Manor New York. Their mission is to inform and educate Alzheimer’s dementia caregivers through education videos.

I helped them to migrate from MobileMe to their own hosted website with embedded YouTube videos. Using WordPress as a base, I created a site that makes it easy to post, categorize, and find their video material. The site is also ready for language translation so it will appear in both English and Spanish once the Spanish translations have been completed.

Visit the site.

New Site: Slippery Pig Bikes

Slippery Pig Bikes Website ScreenshotSlippery Pig Bike Shop in Phoenix, Arizona is a unique shop that had a generic website provided by SmartEtailing that was not accurately or effectively representing the shop. I was hired to create a site that conveyed the spirit of the shop as well display their actual product line.

Like so many pre-packaged website solutions’, SmartEtailing gave Slippery Pig a cookie cutter experience. And worse, the inventory on the website didn’t match the inventory in the store! I built a new website for them using WordPress that gives them their own identity and a product database to manage their distinct bicycle lines. Visit the site.

Redesigned Site: Larry Knapp – Painter

Larry Knapp’s new site is now complete and online. I worked with Larry to update the design of the site and convert it to WordPress to facilitate updates. Larry is a painter who uses strong vibrant colors to create large impactful images of nature. We stripped the site of its aesthetic flourishes to bring additional focus on the paintings.

The simplicity of the site design combined with the extra large images really focus the attention on the art and lets it shine.

Shifting to WordPress has made categorizing the work much easier and will greatly streamline and speed up the process of adding new work. The addition of some social networking tools should also help Larry extend his reach and find new art lovers.

New Site: Oasis on Grand

I just completed a new website for a new artists’s live/work space: Oasis on Grand. I worked closely with Brittany Butler, the site manager, to create a website that would capture the spirit of the new apartment community. It was also a challenge to build in all functionality that this new venture would need to communicate all the goings on. This included sections for apartment and retail rental, publishing news about Oasis, and having an online gallery for the resident artists.

I really enjoyed working on such a different and unique project and Brittany was a blast to work with.

New Site: StarvingAtTheBanquet.com

I recently completed a new website for Lauren Grunebaum: StarvingAtTheBanquet.com. Her site acts as an online brochure for her private psychotherapy practice in Manhattan. She treats children, adults, couples, and families with a range of emotional difficulties. These include: depression, anxiety, marital issues, parent-child conflicts, career difficulties, and coping with chronic illness.

We worked closely together to insure the site conveys the right tone and represents her in a professional manor. I also helped her setup a Facebook Page, and linked her blog together with her website to maximize her online exposure.

She has told me that she has already had many complements on the website design.

It was a pleasure working with her and wish her all the best!

Questions you should ask about your web site

If you are looking to create a new website or reinvent an existing but under performing website, the list below will help you focus on some important aspects and bring clarity to your site.

  1. What is your business (be concise)?
  2. What does your web site do for your business?
  3. Who are your customers and how well do you know them?
  4. What do your customers want from your web site?
  5. How often will you need to update your site and how do you want to do that?
  6. How do you market your web site?
  7. What related web sites will link to yours (colleagues, professional associations, etc..)?
  8. What technologies and services does your web site need (downloadable content, accept payments, blog, bulletin board, etc…)?
  9. What do you want your site to look like (make a list of other sites you like)?

After answering these questions, a knowledgeable web designer/developer should be able to help identify whether you need a traditional ‘static’ site, or a CMS  (Content Management System), or a blog, or some combination of these.

Some of these answers will help you think about whether to use traditional forms of marketing, or if social media might be a good solution.

The most important goal of these questions is start looking at your website objectively, from the perspective of a potential client or user. To create a successful site that resonates, learn to look at it from the outside in like a user/client rather than from the inside out like an owner.

Google Voice

The reason to use Google Voice is that it lets you use your existing phones. So you can use your home phone, but the person on the other end only every sees your Google Voice number.

Google Voice is a free virtual telephone number. It’s not a physical phone. Calls to your Google Voice number get forwarded to any phone (or phones) you choose and the caller only sees your GV (Google Voice) number.

You can also make calls using GV from any of your existing phones. You can start the call from the GV website. Either select a contact, or type in a number then choose which of you phones you want to make the call from. When you hit the call button, your GV number will call you. Answer that phone and GV will then connect your call and the person on the other end will see your GV number, not the number of the phone you are actually calling from. You will be using minutes and incurring long distance charges for the phone you are using, unless you also use Google Talk with Google Voice.

Google Talk is a text and video chat plugin for Gmail that now also can make telephone calls from your PC (or Mac). Calling within the US is free and there are inexpensive rates for several foreign countries.

Google Voice has many more great features, like transcribed voice messages. When someone calls your GV number, but you don’t pickup it gets sent to GV voice mail where it is transcribed (with varying degrees of success) and delivered to your inbox where you can read it.

But I primarily use GV for calling clients from my home line. To do that,  I go to my GV account, find the contact I want to call (or type in their number), then choose my home phone (from a list of phones I’ve activated with GV) and click the call button. My home phone then rings and the call is then sent to my client and their phone starts ringing. On caller ID, they see my GV number and I am able to use my home phone which has unlimited long distance and often better sound quality than my mobile phone.

I can just as easily plug in my headset to my laptop and cal using Google Talk. my client still would have seen my GV number.

Getting Started With SEO

The following is a list of a few helpful resources to get started with understanding and implementing SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO is the process of getting your site into good shape so that search engines can find your content, index it, and then serve it up to people who are searching for it.

The term SEO it a loaded one, not everyone likes it and with good reason. There are ‘bad’ ways to do it that will piss off Google, you don’t want to piss off Google. The list below includes only ‘white hat’ SEO tips, tips that won’t piss off Google:

Free RAW Editor: Raw Therapee

Raw Therapee (THe Experimental RAw Photo Editor) is a treasure for digital photographers who shoot in RAW. It supports many RAW files types from the most popular Digital SLRs, details on supported cameras can be found on their site.

Raw Therapee opens and edits RAW files. Just point it to a directory of RAW files and it will generate thumbnails of RAW files (and JPEG files) from that directory. Double click on a thumbnail to bring it into the main editing window. Now you can make a wide range of modifications:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure
  • Highlight Recovery
  • Shadows/Highlights
  • Sharpening
  • Color Boost
  • Color Shift
  • Luminance Curve
  • Luminance Noise Reduction
  • Color Noise Reduction

These are the main options on the right hand side of the screen. On the left is a history panel listing each change you make. This is very handy, it allows you to simply click on an earlier action to see what the image looked like at that stage. And if you want to revert to that point, simply click on that action and continue working.

Raw Therapee Screen Shot

It is not a great way to manage your photo collection, Picassa does a much better job of that, but it is substantially better at making adjustments to an image. My work flow still starts in Picassa to quickly review my photos. I then delete the hopeless images and pick a few for further editing in Raw Therapee. Once editing is complete in Raw Therapee, I save the photo as a PNG. This is easily done with the “Save Image” in the lower right corner of the application and can be customized in the program options.

My initial response is that it is at least as capable as Photoshop (I have CS2), but probably better for ‘developing’ and image and certainly a lot faster. But it’s not a fair comparison, Photoshop is designed to do more then develop a photo. Raw Therapee is really in the same league as Lightroom and Aperture. I can not speak to how it compares to Aperture because Aperture crashed the first time I used it and I decided I did not need that in a photo editor and ended my evaluation there. I did use Lightroom during a 30 trial and really fell in love with it. I would purchase that Lightroom if it were not so overpriced. It is especially annoying to know that Lightroom was based on a free application.

The million dollar question: how well does Raw Therapee compare to Lightroom? I would prefer to use Lightroom, it has a broader set of tools. But, I use Raw Therapee because of the price. It’s free, but a program of so much value, I am glad to give the developers a ‘donation’. It is still under development so it might well become a threat to Lightroom.

Raw Therapee is available for Windows and Linux.

P.S. I’ve moved my blog over to Blogger. And I have a section for Photography News and Reviews. WordPress and Blogger are both great and I can’t really say one is better than the other.

HTML – Definition List – My New Favorite Thing

It is sad when one gets so excited with such a trivial bit of obscure code. That is what has happened to me… again. This time I stumbled across the Definition List tag. It operates similar to other types of lists, you start with a containing tag <dl> and populate it with a list of items. But, where it differs from ordered and unordered lists is that there are two item types in the list; Definition Term <dt> and Definition Definition (or Data Definition) <dd>. Most all browsers will render the two lines differently, typically indenting the <dd>, like so:

a place to grow food
a place to grow knowledge

The code looks like this:

<dd>a place to grow food</dd>
<dd>a place to grow knowledge</dd>

But, what got me so excited was the prospect of being able to seamlessly style to different types of data in a list. It is when you add CSS to the mix that things get interesting. Rather then showing you what can be done by adding CSS, I encourage you to go give it a whirl.

You might ask how I got this far without having learned anything about this before. That is one of the pitfalls of being self taught, and rather haphazardly self taught at that. I tend to wonder around HTML learning little bits here and there, I took no structured course, just learned what I needed when I needed it. It is a process that works as everything I learn gets puts into action right away and the chaff gets dismissed. But, it also leads to holes in my knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Safari on Windows?

I need to have a Mac if for nothing else so I can test and debug the web sites I create. Every browser has its quirks and some of the sites I work on have a higher then average Safari user base. That’s one reason I bought the MacBook last year, even though I primarily run XP on it. But now, Apple has removed my need to have a Mac with their release of Safari for Windows.

I can only guess that they are using Safari as a tease to Windows users in an effort to wet their appetite for more Apple software that can only found on the Mac. But that seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it. As a grumpy user who is not willing to sacrifice an ounce of system performance, I run XP on my Mac with Boot Camp, not Parallels, I have to reboot into OS X to test web pages. Well, not anymore, now I can run Safari right there in XP next to Firefox and IE7.

The newest rev of the MacBook Pros really peaked my interest and I am seriously considering upgrading in the fall. But the release of Safari for Windows has given me pause, serious pause. Because now I don’t need a Mac anymore. I have to weigh if it is really worth dropping an extra $200 for Vista and Parallels if I get the MacBook Pro. Hmmm…

But, in one way this release is not out of keeping, it continues the intrusion into Windows space started with Quick Time and iTunes. And it is a nice alternative, except a great alternative already exists in Firefox.

My guess is that Safari usage (on windows) will settle down somewhere between Firefox and Opera, closer to Opera as anything past Firefox is really just for the fringe who simply want to be different, and let’s be frank, who want to be difficult. As much as I like competition in the software arena, the desktop version of Opera is pretty unattractive. I use it a few times a week, but only for testing. It’s just too buggy and I have not found that it does anything better then Firefox. Heck, I’d rather use IE7. Oh, actually, Opera (and IE7 for that matter) does do RSS better then Firefox. Firefox is poop when it comes to RSS.

Portable WordPress

OK, so now you have XAMPP on your flash drive and you’re showing it off to all your friends. One of them (the wise-guy) will ask, “uhhhh… so, what’s that good for?” DOH! Well, here is an idea to avoid this moment of embarrassment and shame, “Well.” you say, “I use it as a development environment for customizing WordPress.” Smack-down! You win.

That’s right, if need a sandbox for developing WordPress and you don’t want the whole world to see your mistakes, you can install a local copy of WordPress and mess about with it to your heart’s content. This works if you install it on your local hard drive, or on your flash drive. It goes where ever you have XAMPP installed. And here are step by step instructions on how to do it. These directions start with installing XAMPP on your local hard-drive, but to install it on a flash drive, follow my instructions, then pick-up again after that’s done. Also, when creating the database, I found my options did not exactly match what is in the tutorial, but is was nearly the same: utt8_unicode_ci.

XAMPP: The Easy and Simple Web Server

XAMPPAre you an HTML and CSS jokey like me who needs to occasionally dabble in the magical art of PHP, or some other, server side environment? Are you deathly afraid of and confused by this stuff. Me too. But I found XAMPP a couple of years ago and it is a simple and easy web server you can install on your own computer to run a web server and test out some PHP. It runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. I run it on XP.

Still a little nervous about installing a web server on your computer, how about installing it on a USB flash drive? No problem! Download the ZIP archive (not the EXE, that’s for regular installs) from their site and extract it onto your flash drive. Then simply run the setup_xampp.bat file, let it run for a minute and presto! Instant web server!

Now XAMPP is like any other program in that you have to start it before you use it. In the folder on the flash drive there will be file called: xampp_start.exe, double click it and the server starts up. Windows may give you a warning, click through that. A terminal window will open up (small window with black background and white type), don’t close that, just minimize it.

Now you have a web server running! Great now what. Well, first check to see if it is working, open your browser and type in http://localhost. You should see something like, “Welcome to XAMPP for Windows Version 1.6.2 !”. Yea, it works!. If it does not, you are going to have to look elsewhere, I barely know how to run it.

OK, now you want to use it to render those PHP pages you created. Here is the thing you need to know, the files you are developing need to be in the Xampp folder. Not just any folder, the htdocs folder, like: E:xampplitehtdocs (assuming your flash drive is letter E). So drop a folder (let’s call it ‘web-content’) with some PHP files (one of which should be named index.php) in there and type in “http://localhost/web-content”. If your PHP files are written correctly, you will now be looking at them all processed and looking like they will when uploaded to a server (assuming that server runs PHP).

To shut the web server down, look for the “xampp_stop.exe” file in the main XAMPP folder and click that.

I run XAMPP Lite by the way. It’s a smaller install and since I don’t know how to use any of the added stuff that comes with the full XAMPP, I figured it was a better choice.

Newsletter #4

Oops, looks like I missed an issue or two. No worries, I will refund all subscriptions fees for the past two months. I was too fat and bloated from the holidays to reach my keyboard, but I am back now.

This installment is designed to make you paranoid as I am discussing, once again, Scammers and Spammers.

Oh, and of some note, I have changed my name and web site. Crucible Design has been moth-balled, my new and improved business name is James Fryer Design Services. My new web site is JamesFryer.com. And accordingly, I have a new email address: jfryer@jamesfryer.com.

This month’s Main Feature was prompted by yet another piece of spam I recievied:

There are many ways to make money, some less honest then others. One of these ‘less honest’ ways involves companies representing themselves as some ‘official’ Internet source and trying to scare people into paying several hundred dollars a year for flimsy (and unnecessary) services. Here is one of the more benign examples: I received a fax the other day from “Official Internet Registry & Optimization Bureau” warning me that, “Major search engines may not be able to prioritize content on your site…” And it starts off with, “Forward to Accounts Payable” in large text. Why this sounds like a scam:

  • The name, there is not government mandated Bureau of Internet Registry & Optimization
  • The company logo is made to look like and official government seal, but it is not
  • It came to me as fax spam, no legitimate company uses this ‘marketing’ technique

I call this one rather benign because the fax does state in a couple of places that the service is not mandatory. But there are far more aggressive scammers out there that might contact you by fax, email, or telephone trying to convince you that there is some critical service you are missing. They may try to scam you into paying exorbitant rates for anything from Domain Registration to SEO. But they may also be interested in steeling away your domain name. So hang up the phone, throw out the fax, or delete the email. If you are concerned about the renewal of some service, call me or call the company with whom you have registared your Domain Name. Go straight to the source.

Every month (or so) the Crucible Design Newsletter will endeavor to enlighten you on issues relevant to your web site, the Internet, and related issues. The goal of this newsletter is to offer new tools, or new ways to use tools, to increases your effectiveness in the way you use the Internet and the computer.

If you have any trouble viewing this newsletter in your email application, you can find it online here with past newsletters: http://cdnewsletter.wordpress.com, but that will be soon updated to: jfdsnewsletter.wordpress.com

Scammers and Spammers

Identity thieves can some times get some of your personal data, but not enough to do anything with. But they will use it when the contact you to convince you that they are someone that they are not, like your bank or credit card agency. For instance, a thief may have gotten your name and the last four digits of your credit card from a discarded reciept and looked up your phone number online, or the phonebook. Then they will call you pretending to be your credit card company and ‘prove it’ by giving you this data to ‘confirm’ their legitimacy. Once you are on their hook, they will ask for another piece of information from you, like the rest of your card number or the expiration date to ‘confirm’ that they are speaking to ‘the real you’. If you proceed to give them this information, you have completed their objective and they can now use your card, or open a line of credit, or any number of nefarious things that you will not like.

To avoid this, don’t give any information to someone who is calling you claiming to be your bank or credit card agency. If it is a legitimate call, tell the person that you will call them back, then call the institution on their main number and either continue the business they had with you, or report that there is potential fraudulent activity on your account. The same principle applies to email correspondence. If you get an email that you are unsure of, go to that companies web site and see if there are any problems. But do not click on any links in that email, they may look OK, but they may take you to a fraudulent web site.

This is an old scam that predates the Internet. And it is not limited to financial institutions, a thief might pose as your cable, phone, utility, or some other vendor company to get more information about you to use for their own ends.

I am not trying to make you paranoid, but I probably did, sorry. If you think you might be the victim of fraud or identity theft, you can put either a three month, or seven year fraud alert on you credit profile with the three major Credit Bureaus. And here they are:

Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-525-6285
Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
800-685-1111 / 888-766-0008

Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 888-397-3742
Credit Fraud Center
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

Trans Union
Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-680-7289
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Phone: 800-916-8800 / 800-680-7289

The Google

Google Analytics is a free Google product that tracks detailed usage statistics of a web site. It lets you see information about who is looking at your site and how they are looking at it. It does not give you the name and address of a visitor, but it does tell you their city or town. It also offers details about their computer including the web browser, Operating System, screen size, etc… Two of the more valuable metrics are referral sources and key word usage. Referral sources tells you where your visitor is coming from, whether the be from Google, or a colleague’s web site. Key words are what your visitors are typing into a search engine that results in finding your web site.

It is also integrated with AdWords, Google’s paid advertising service, so you can closely track where your ad money is going.

It is an extremely powerful tool, but be warned, it is not terribly friendly to the uninitiated. It is a professional tool, and unless you are willing to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty, it will mostly just confound you. But that should not make you feel bad, I use it sporadically and it frequently confounds me.

Recommended Site

The Dilbert Blog: I thought you all might need some diversion after my little paranoia rift. Actually, the Dilbert Blog is often rather intelligent, but also rather funny, or disturbing, sometimes all three. Scott Adams is one of those people that is so smart it sometimes makes me wonder why I bother getting out of bed in the morning. I hate smart people, that is why I married one, to bring her down. Didn’t really work out that way though, she has me pretty much wrapped around her little figure. Which is a rather good trick as her little figure is really very little and I am not. Anyway, dilbert.com is also great, that is where the daily dilbert strip can be found, as well as old strips. If you have not read Dilbert before, it is not just for geeks, anyone who has worked (or visited) corporate America can appreciate Scott’s insights.

What is CSS anyway?

Casscading Style Sheets is a web technology that goes hand in hand with HTML. CSS is a method of applying style to a web page. That style can include many things including font, font size, font color, positioning of elements on the page, page color, element color, etc… In the old days of web site development, the ‘style’ of an HTML page was limited and rather painstaking to declare. CSS adds many new formatting and styling options and makes is more simple to implement. It allows for the style of the web site to be controlled from a separate document. The advantage to this is that updating that separate CSS document effects all the pages in the site and saves the developer from having to update each HTML page individually.

Here are two examples of the same web page, This One has a CSS file attached to it, This One does not. See the difference? The page is the same, but with and without CSS applied.

The Return of the Peek-A-Boo

I thought the Internet Explorer 7 had fixed the peek-a-boo bug, but I was wrong, it is still there. I came across this while creating a new site with a floated element. My jaw nearly fell off when I launched the new site in IE7 and saw the floated element disappear. The text in the element is still ‘there’, but invisible. I can still click on the now invisible links inside the invisible floated element.

I set the containing element’s height to 1% and the floated element is now visible in IE7 (always was in Firefox).

How amazing that Microsoft was not able to fix such a long standing bug.

Newsletter #3

In This Issue
Main Feature: Data Backup
The Google: Google Docs
Client Spotlight:
DR. David Kruger: MentorPath.com
Recommended Site: Techdirt.com
FreeWare: FileZilla & YouSendIt.com
Web Tech Revealed:
What is Flash Anyway?

Welcome the third installment of the JFDS Newsletter. If you get tired of it, just let me know and I will remove your email address from this list.

Before we get to far and I loose your interest, it is worth a few moments to take a look on the horizon about what Microsoft is up to. The two rather major projects that they have been working on are here (mostly). Internet Explorer 7 is available now and will probably be part of your next Windows Update. This is a long over due update to a woefully bad browser. Microsoft has made it more secure and added ‘tabbed browsing‘, but as a recent survey of reviews shows, it is still behind Firefox.

Windows Vista is Microsoft’s next version of windows, set to replace Windows XP. This too is long over due and has been gutted of its more promising features. Never the less, if you have not heard of it, you will begin to hear about it soon as it is scheduled to be rolled out to corporate users this month and consumers on January 30, 2007. There is a new ‘rendering engine’ (that is the part that controls how things look on screen) that looks nice, but is a power hog and will not run on many current computer systems. If you don’t have a high powered computer, it might be wise not to upgrade just yet. And if you are looking to get a new computer next year, Vista will be your new operating system (unless you go to Apple) so make sure the computer is powerful enough to run Vista.

This is quite a big month for computer technology. Not only is there a new operating system from Microsoft, but the PlayStation 3 (a wildly expensive gaming system that I do not think will fair well against the Xbox 360 over the long haul) and the Nintendo Wii (a much cheaper gaming system) are also being released this month.

This month, in addition to the regular columns, I have added a new section: Client Spotlight where one of my client’s business and web site will be spotlighted (hence the name).

Every month the Crucible Design Newsletter will endeavor to enlighten you on issues relevant to your web site, the Internet, and related issues. The goal of this newsletter is to offer new tools, or new ways to use tools, to increases your effectiveness in the way you use the Internet and the computer.

Data Backup: Carbonite.com

I hope that none of my clients have ever had a major computer meltdown that resulted in data loss, and I hope that none ever do. But, computer failure is a real threat to your business and your personal life, how many family photos do you have on your computer? There are a dizzing array of products on the market to backup your data. Most come in the form of CDs/DVDs or external hard drives and are hard to use, time consuming, and expensive. And the biggest problem is that, most likely, the backed up data is sitting a few feat from the primary data! That is, the backup hard drive is only a foot or two from the computer it is backing up. Sure, that guards against a spontaneous computer malfunction (unless it involves an exploding battery), but what about fire, flood, act of God, annoyed cat, bored dog, or one of any number cataclysmic event?

OK, enough with the hypotheticals and scaremongering. Here is your solution: Carbonite.com. Carbonite is a service that automatically backs up your files onto the Internet as you work. The backed up data is far from your office and it’s cornucopia of potential catastrophes. It is simple to setup, once you create an account and download there application, you need only choose those files and file folders that you want backed up and then let it run. The first backup may take some time depending on the size of the files you are backing up and the speed of your Internet connection. After that, Carbonite monitors the selected files and uploads them when you edit them, automatically. As Ron Popeil would say, “Set it, and forget it.” Two other features of this service make it a no brainer; A) it is cheap at $50 a year, and B) there is no limit to the amount of data you can backup. got 120 GigaBytes of data, do it.

I have been using this for a few months, and it has been working well, but I have not had to use the “Restore” mechanism yet, so I can not comment on effectiveness of that. But the described process is straight forward, login to your account and hit the “Restore” button to begin the process. This can also be done as a simple way to migrate you data to a new computer. This is the simplest and cheapest backup solution I have seen.

Sorry, the Mac version is not yet available unless, like me, you are running XP on your Mac.

The Google

Last month I introduced you to Open Office, a complete and free office suite comparable to Microsoft Office. It is a great application (or suite of applications) and came in handy once again a few weeks ago when I was putting together a presentation for the Texas Furniture Makers Show in Kerrville, Texas. I used ‘Impress’ their Powerpoint clone and was very pleased.

But it is not a Google product so why am I continuing to gush about it here in Google’s space? Because it leads into two free Google products: Google Docs & Google Spreadsheets. As their names imply, the first is a word processor and the second a spreadsheet program. They are both rather basic so don’t look to do too much advanced editing with either. Don’t get me wrong, they both do what they do well and meet my needs amply. But they are no match for Open Office.

So, what then, makes them special. They are applications that run over the Internet. Think of Hotmail and Outlook, both are email applications, but the first works in a browser only when you are online, the second runs on your computer and can be used anytime (though you can not send and receive email while off line).

The benefit of an online application is that you can work on it anywhere from any Internet connected computer. That means that you don’t have to bother with bringing you computer with you on your next trip, just use the computer in the hotel, Internet cafe, or the one at your parent’s/child’s house. Another advantage is that documents created with these online applications can be very easily shared with others. If you are developing an article with someone on the other side of the planet, you can easily collaborate on one document without emailing it back and forth.

I am writing this newsletter in Google Docs right now. I use it for the newsletter so I can get to it anytime from anywhere and add a new idea.

I have long struggled with how best to keep track of my hours (so I can bill you and afford that fancy bicycle in the window). In the past, I tried every method from paper to digital, with one unifying consequence, I would loose track of it. Google Spreadsheet offers me one central location to store my hours and it has worked for me like a charm. No mater which computer I amusing, I can easily track the hours I slave away to improve your sites.

These two applications are also very friendly in that you can upload Microsoft Office and Open Office documents into it with no problem. Also, and very importantly, you can export from Google Docs & Spreadsheets into common Microsoft Office and Open Office file types and download it to your computer. Oh, it also exports to PDF for no charge, yet another handy little feature.

Client Spotlight

Dr. Krueger mentors professionals and executives on the art and science of success strategies: ‘Mind over Matters.’

In his own words:

“Success involves creating a new story inside and outside: an evolving internal model combined with new experiences. I help my clients write the next chapters in their life and business stories. As executives and self employed business people develop their success skills, they come to know themselves and others better. They apply human dynamics to strategic growth and personal fulfillment.”

“Are you doing what you are passionate about? Have you fully developed your talents? And do those two go together?”

David’s sight offered new challenges in integrating payment systems coupled with delivering digital downloads. He offers both audio (MP3) and book (PDF) downloads. By using the combined power of PayPal and E-Junkie (to be covered in a later issue) his site can now receive payment and deliver products automatically.

David’s site also offered the opportunity to work with a graphic designer, Walid Khalil, who created a clean and expressive logo/masthead.

David was also kind enough to share his thoughts on my performance:

“As a product and web designer, James Fryer is the best. His business savvy and “No problem” approach makes him a unique collaborator. He has also empowered my clients to achieve extraordinary success.”
-David Krueger

Recommended Site

Techdirt.com focuses mainly on tech related news, but from a much smarter angle then most. The writers have a much better grip on legal issues surrounding technology and they have a dangerously sharp wit. A very smart blog.


FileZilla is an FTP (File Transfer Protocal) program. It is simple, works flawlessly, and is free. FTP is used to transfer files over the Internet, the most common usage is to upload files to a web server. As an example, once I have finished the files that I create for your web site, I then use FilleZilla to connect to your web server (web host) and use it to transfer the files from my computer to your web site.

YouSendIt.com is not a program per say, but it is related to Filezilla in that it lets you transfer files over the Internet, but it does it more easily with email. Log on to YouSendIt.com, upload your file (using your browser), specify an email recipient, done. The recipient gets an email with a link to the file that they can then download. Sending large files as email attachments is bad because email is not designed to do that and the file can be corrupted, it can jam up your recipient’s inbox, and your email service probably has limits to the file size you can send. YouSendIt.com alleviates these problems. With the free service you can send files up to 100 MegaBytes.

Web Tech Revealed

What is Flash anyway?

Flash is a web technology for creating animated and interactive content for publishing on the Internet. It is powerful and flexible. It can be used to create simple animated text to fully interactive games. It is often used to add visual interest to a web site through animation and is a good tool for telling a story visually. Flash files can be integrated into a web page or a whole web site can be created in Flash. Here is a site that is an interesting use of Flash: http://www.leoburnett.ca.

Not everyone is a fan though, Jakob Nielsen, says, “Flash tends to degrade websites for three reasons: it encourages design abuse, it breaks with the Web’s fundamental interaction principles, and it distracts attention from the site’s core value.” Granted, this is from an article from six years ago, but, as he mentions, many of the problems remain. I am also generally not a fan of Flash. It is a little too vulnerable, can not be indexed by search engines, and can not be made to be accessible to the disabled.

Newsletter #2

In This Issue:
Main Feature:
The Google:
Gmail and Google Calendar
Recommended Site:
Open Office
Web Tech Revealed:
What is HTML Anyway?
What is SEO Anyway?

Hello again, here is the new JFDS Newsletter. The newsletter is now regularly scheduled for the 12th (or sometimes the 13th) of each month. If you get tired of it, just let me know and I will remove your email address from this list.

Every month the JFDS Newsletter will endeavor to enlighten you on issues relevant to your web site, the Internet, and related issues. The goal of this newsletter is to offer new tools, or new ways to use tools, to increases your effectiveness in the way you use the Internet and the computer. In addition to a featured topic every month, there will be regular sections devoted to special areas including; ‘The Google’, ‘Recommended Site’, ‘FreeWare’, ‘Web Tech Revealed’.

If you have any trouble viewing this newsletter in your email application, you can find it online here with past newsletters: http://jamesfryer.wordpress.com.


A blog is an online journal that is easy to manage and requires only a browser and a keyboard to work. Because Google likes websites that frequently update their content, blogs can help build your online presence and drive traffic to your site. They are easy and generally free. There are several companies that offer blogging platforms, but the two most notable (in my humble opinion) are WordPress and Blogger (owned by Google). In addition, many Web Hosting companies offer blogging features with there services, this allows you to build a blog right into your web site.

And, as I mentioned, they are easy to setup, manage, and use. When you sign up, the name you choose for your blog will become part of the URL (web address). When I signed up for one of my blogs, I named it jamesfryer , so the address became: jamesfryer.wordpress.com. If your Web Hosting company offers a good blogging tool, you may have the option of a more professional looking URL like: www.yourdomain.com/blog. But, as long as you link your blog to your web site, the potential web traffic will increase.

Once you have a blog, all you need do to start creating ‘posts’ is to login with your browser and start typing, then hit the ‘publish’ button and your latest thoughts are now shared with the world. But don’t worry, you can always go back and edit a post later. Each blog comes with options like weather or not to allow comments. With most blogging platforms you can choose to let anyone leave a comment, restrict it to registered users, turn off commenting completely, or have comments stored (not displayed) until you can review and either except or reject them.

Jacquelyn Ekern, who runs EatingDisorderHope.com and whose blog can be found here , has good insight into blogging:

“Foremost, I want to caution those considering a blog on their website to carefully evaluate what level of liability this might subject their site or company to! I try to stay on top of new postings to the blog and remove anything that might be perceived as ‘pro-anorexia’, ‘pro-eating disorders’ or generally inappropriate for the blog discussions (like suicidalideation, discussion of weight loss numbers, etc).”

Additionally, she points out that a blog in a vacuum is not very helpful, better to use it with a community or have a specific purpose and plan for it:

“I have also seen the blog posting volume ebb and flow. It seemed to be most active when many of the members from an ‘in person’ eating disorder group I was running were posting more frequently. So, this might be a useful venue for folks who want their groups or other gatherings of folks to be able to stay in touch, build familiarity, etc.”

It is important to remember that, like with anything on the Internet, there is no telling who will find it, or where your blog might turn up. Don’t be surprised if Stephen Colbert starts picking on it, that’s what he does. Some blogs have the option to not be “searchable” in an effort keep a blog private. Trying to keep a blog private is going to be about as effective as politely asking a bear not to eat you… while you are poking him with a stick. The eventuality of a ‘private’ blog breaking loose for the world to see is an absolute inevitability.

The Google

Gmail is a free webmail service offered by Google. What makes it standout from its competitors (Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc…) are a few things:

  • 2.5 Gigabytes of mail storage
  • Email ‘aliasing’ – This features allows to send and receive different email accounts all through one inbox. For instance, I have five email accounts all being funneled to my Gmail account. I can send an email from any email address and I receive the email from all five accounts in my one Gmail inbox.
  • Free automatic forwarding and POP3 access, so you can access your mail from a desktop mail application like Outlook Express. I use this feature to backup my Gmail to my computer.
  • Very good Spam Filter.
  • Built in Chat feature.
  • Gmail automatically groups an email and its replies into a ‘conversation’. This feature takes some getting used to, but after initially hating it, it has become one of my favorite features.
  • Scans all attachments for Viruses

The benefit of any webmail system is being able to access your mail anywhere, from any Internet connected computer, anytime. Gmail offers a different and more streamlined interface. Like all these services, it has an address book, filters, folders (Google calls them ‘labels’). Google has a mantra of doing things differently, and signing up for a Gmail account is certainly different, because you can’t. Not without giving them your mobile telephone number, or getting an invitation from a Gmail user. Don’t worry, if any of my clients are interested in getting a Gmail account, all they have to do is let me know and I will send them an invitation.

Gmail is the best email solution I have used, and currently it is all I use for both my businesses and personal accounts.

Google makes money from this service in a controversial way, they serve adds to you based on the content of your emails. Google swears up and down that they do not read your email and only scan it to deliver the ads and they don’t use that data for any other purpose. You have to trust Google to use this service, but the reality is that privacy is a concern with any online service.

Gmail is integrated with Google Calendar, which is also like its competitors, but better. It makes sharing calendars easy, I share my calendar with my wife and she with me, so we can always know what the other is doing. In addition to this, a Google Calendar can be shared with the world by being integrated with a web site, like so. Standard features include setting up reminders, sending invitations to events, and mobile device support.

Both Gmail and Google Calendar take full advantage of Google’s search technology, so you can easily find an email or event.

Recommended Site

DownloadSquad.com is a blog dedicated to new software, software issues, and stuff that people who like to read about those topics find interesting. They cover office suites to Internet applications to silly free games. I have found a lot of great stuff there that has helped me build many of my clients’ web sites. It is probably too geeky for most people, but it is my Holy Grail. You finally know just how much of a nerd I am.


I was on the phone with a good friend (who is older and wiser) a few weeks ago when he asked me which version of (Microsoft) Word I was using. When I responded with a perky, “What’s that?” I could feel his eyes rolling up into his skull. He knew he was in for another one of my Microsoft rants.

I explained to him that I use Open Office for all my office application needs and that I don’t have Word, Excel, or Power Point installed on my computer. That was as far as I got before I could sense he was glazing over. So I did not get a chance to complain about the cost, the size, the bugs, the software activation, virus vulnerability, or the system resources that Microsoft Office hogs. Open Office is a free and nearly complete Office suite similar to Microsoft Office.

Rather then ranting on and on about Micro$oft, I will just concentrate on Open Office, which is free, totally. Here is what it comes with:

  • Writer is the word processor, it functions in a very similar way to Word and has all the common bells and whistles, but not the more obscure functions that Word has picked up over the years.
  • Calc is a powerful spreadsheet with the standard tools to calculate, analyze, summarize, and present data in numerical reports or graphics. Similar to Excel
  • Impress stands in for Power Point. This may be the least featured and trickiest to replace of the suite compared to Microsoft, but having been exposed to the contamination that is Power Point, I will do anything to avoid future contact and Impress is my ticket.
  • Draw creates drawings, at least that is what I have heard. I have not used it.
  • Base is the database program. That’s right, Open Office even includes a database application.

The feature that drew me to Open Office in the first place was its built in PDF creator, open any document and save it as a PDF.

OK, I like Open Office, but it does have some issues. It does open Microsoft documents and can even save to Word and Excel formats, but I have noticed on occasion that a Word document does not look quite right. I can see everything, but the formatting often does not come across perfectly. So it might not be the best solution for people who work with Word files all day. But I don’t do that, so it is more then adequate for me.

Web Tech Revealed

What is HTML anyway?

Hyper Text Markup Language is the markup language used to create web pages. Note that I said ‘markup language’ and not programing language. A markup language is much simpler then a programing language. The main purpose of a markup language is to format text, where as the primary purpose of a programing language is to create simple to very complicated programs. If these types of languages were vehicles, the markup language would be a uni-cycle and the programing language would be the Star Ship Enterprise.

In the early days the Internet was used mainly to publish and share research papers and HTML was well suited for that. But as time progressed and the Internet went commercial, HTML was not adequate. So HTML began to evolve and though much of it remains as it was, it is now also a framework to hang more powerful components on like Flash for animation and java script for fancy things like online credit card processing.

One of the fun things about HTML is just how easy it can be. All you need is a text editor like NotePad and some knowledge of HTML. That is it, no advanced degree or expensive programs. Of course there are advanced degrees and expensive programs for HTML if you like those sorts of things. Another nice feature of HTML is that it is a self replicating thing, there is a boat load of tutorials and help sites online (in HTML) to get you started or to help you with HTML. Here is one Example.

What is SEO anyway?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of tweaking your web site so that it appears as high in search engine results as possible. This is accomplished by understanding what the search engine (like Google, Yahoo, and MSN) are looking for. This is obviously a great idea and can be very important to an online business. Imagine if your online company that sells fur balls comes up as the very first link when people do a search for ‘fur balls’. Now image if your fur ball company comes up as search result number 7,893,635. Someone looking through those search results would need to click through 789,363 pages of search results before they got to the one that has your link on it.

Suddenly SEO seems like a brilliant idea that you are compelled to implement right now. And that would be true but for a few annoying facts:

  • There seem to be a number of SEO companies that are less then reputable and will promise to move you to the head of the line of search results. Well, they are frequently promising that to you and your closest 100 competitors.
  • Google employs the smartest programmers around in order to create a search engine that produces the best, most relevant search results. They don’t share their secrets, so people practicing SEO need to be at least as smart as Google programmers. But if they were that smart, Google would hire them. Slight paradox.
  • Google, MSN, and Yahoo are always working to improve their search engine, that means that your web site needs to constantly shift to stay on top. That gets costly (except for my clients).

Google does have their own thoughts on SEO here.

All is not lost, Google does in fact have some guidelines for good placement (they just keep secret their big ideas). These guidelines are actually relatively straight forward and logical. They suggest to build an easy to navigate sight with good content. It is that simple. That is what they are looking for and what all their fancy algorithms are designed to seek out.

So the moral of the story is that, if you have a well laid out web site with relevant content, you are already optimized. These are the qualities I endeavor to instill in the sites I work on.


I have published the second Crucible Design Newsletter, but the first ‘professional’ one.

Each newsletter will be archived on a brand new blog I setup just for that.

If you missed both links above, here it is:


More crazy metal art


These guys are crazy cool. I am way too temped but thousands and thousands of dollars worth of their work: www.robot-models.com

Newsletter #1

New Phishing Threats

Typically, a “Phishing” scam takes the form of an email that you would receive from a large company that you may have an account with. Ebay, PayPal, and City Bank have been some of the most common companies that have been used as a cover. Though Phishing emails may appear to be coming from these companies, they are not and the scam artist is hoping that you will not notice this and click on one of the links in the email. The link will take you not to Ebay’s web site, but the the scam artist’s web site (that will be made to resemble Ebay) where you will be asked to input your user name and password. Once the scammer has these, he can access your account and do things that you probably don’t want him to do (like take all your money).

I have discussed this issue with many of you in the past, but I think an update is in order as scam artists are starting to use smaller brands to hide their fraudulent emails. As reported by Techdirt, scammers are becoming aware that their methods are becoming easily recognizable and are shifting to a new model. Now it appears that they are using smaller companies, or topics of interest that you may not expect. So please be cautious when clicking on links in an email, you don’t know where you may end up. Though in some email applications and in both Internet Explorer and Firefox, you can see the full URL of the link when you roll your cursor over it. The URL appears in the status bar at the very bottom of the email or browser application window (see attached image). If the link in the status bar does not appear to match what is in the email, there may well be a problem with that link.

Dotster ‘does’ web design

Dotster now offers 'custom' web design. The part I like best is, "And the best part is our services are affordable, starting at just $199 for a basic 1-page site." Yeah, $200 for one page, what a deal. And what do they mean by custom? Their service starts at the 'Basic' level where the sucker customer can, "Pick a sample design. Our designers incorporate your content." Sounds like you get to choose one of their templates and they throw a bit of stuff in for you. Funny, sounds like the same thing that both Google and Microsoft do FOR FREE, with some work from you.

Granted, with Google you don't get a professional looking domain, but you do with Microsoft's 'Basic' Office Live service and its free. I have already written. about Google Pages and Microsot Office Live.

Dotster does not stop there, you can also pay them $859 for a single web page with their 'Intermediate' service which provides, "Start with a sample site. We design around your content with lots of extra features." So maybe you get to pick from a different set of their templates and then they make some minor changes to it. Then there is their 'Advanced' service for $1299 (also just one page). But they don't even bother trying to justify the expense saying rather, "When only the best will do." Best what?

And I am guessing that with these services you get to pay Dotster for their over priced domain registrations and lack-luster web hosting.

Now with Google Pages and Microsoft's Office Live you have to make the page yourself, but the tools are easy enough if you only need one page, and did I mention that both are free. No design fee, no registration fee, and no hosting fee.

I used to love Dotster, but they are just crazy now, their web hosting barely works, their registration is over priced, and now they have a very overpriced web design service. There are many independent web designers out there (including myself: Crucible Design) a cheaper and better job.

sweet new blog

Found a sweet new blog for people who like to make stuff, check it out – Make:.

Scam Alert : Reservation Rewards

Seems like the scams just keep on coming from Shopper Discounts & Rewards (shopperdiscountsandrewards.com). I found a charge on my credit card bill this month from ReservationRewards.com for $9. Never heard of them before and never authorized them to charge my card, so I was a bit puzzled how they got my credit card number. A quick look at their site explained what happened, their address is: P.O. Box 855 Shelton, CT 06484. That just happens to be the same address for Shopper Discounts & Rewards. Just a couple of days after I canceled my ‘account’ with Shopper Discounts & Rewards, they billed me for an ‘account’ with ReservationRewards.com. That is just the hight of brazenness, I cancel one account, so they push me over into another ‘coupon’ or ‘rebate’ or what every they call their ‘business’ scheme. Their offerings of coupons is so pathetic that it is hard for me to imagine how anyone could use the service and come out ahead.

I have disputed the charge with my credit card company, so hopefully this will be the last I hear from them. But if they pull anymore crap like this, I will report them to the Better Business Bureau. Let us not forget that this all started over at Dotster.com, so I should probably report them too.

Et tu, Google?

Oh brother, here we go again. It  was not enough that Microsoft wanted to take my business (web design for small businesses), but now Google has jumped in as well. Yesterday Google launched Google Pages, and it looks like the best low-tech HTML web site builder I have seen. It is free and has no adds. I played with it for a bit and built a nice looking site in 20 minutes. Yea, great new product from Google. Boo, it will cut into my business.

Thankfully, it has a major weakness, users don’t get to control their URL. A web site created with Google’s new tool will have a URL composed of the user’s gmail address, followed by ‘googlepages.com’ (jamesfryer.com.googlepages.com in my case). So it is no good for businesses (or serious hobbyists). But I imagine that this will change at some point. Maybe Google will offer domain control as a ‘premium’ service.

This is what I see: a potential client wants a web site, they think, ‘Hey, Google has those for free, I will try that.’ The potential client tries it and makes a pretty bad site. But since they don’t know any better, they don’t know it is bad. So they never call me. That is what I think will happen with both Google Pages and Office Live. Oh well, such is life. I guess I still have a shot at people too computer illiterate to figure out Google Pages.

Oh, great, now Microsoft is after me

I design web sites for small businesses and I think I do a good job of it at a good price. Now, Microsoft is going after my slim little business with their new Office Live project. They are giving small businesses domain names, web hosting services, and web site design tools away, for free. I would not mind competing with Microsoft head on, I think I would whip them. I have much better customer support and think I am a better designer. It is the ‘free’ part I see having trouble competing against. What is Microsoft doing giving stuff away for free anyway? I thought they were the ones making all the money. Who do they think they are, Google?

Who knows, maybe it will be a big flop and drive more business my way (yeah, it’s called being delusional). I used to think that given the choice, any smart small business person would opt to pay a little more for a better product, but that idea was shaken a few months ago when I was underbid. As unbelievable as that is, it is true, I was underbid for a web site by a guy in California. I was not too worried about it because I was busy at the time and was sure that the underbidder would do a substandard job and the client would came back to me in the end. Well, the site does look pretty dreadful and it is not even done. That was one of the reasons, aside from being underbid, that I lost that job, the client wanted it done more quickly then I could do it. The other designer promised two weeks. Well, its been three months and I still see design changes occurring. I wonder if the client is being charged more in the end too, I bet so. But all this just goes to my point, cheaper (and free) are too tough to compete against these days, regardless of the quality. I think we have Walmart to thank for that in no small part.

Now I will just have to find something else to do with my time, I have done it before and will do it again. We just have to hope that Microsoft does not enter the field of Veterinary Medicine, then Jen and I are really screwed.

And all this on my birthday, thanks Microsoft…

Scam Alert : Shopper Discounts & Rewards

Well, I have just had a nasty little shock. At the end of one of my transactions with Dotster.com, I opted to get a $10 rebate. This required that I sign up with Shopper Discounts & Rewards (shopperdiscountsandrewards.com). Nowhere in the offer did it mention that there was a $9 monthly charge for this ‘service’ and I was not asked for any credit card information, but my card has been charged for this ‘service’. They must have picked my credit card information right off of my Dotster transaction. I have gone back and reread all the emails I have received from Shopper Discounts & Rewards, and they do mention there is a monthly fee in the first email, but it is far down in a lengthy email that I thought was simply a confirmation for a free service, so I was not looking for it.

I am shocked and appalled at this swindle. I trusted Dotster and extended that trust to their affiliates. I now see just how unwise that trust was and have revoked it.

I have used Dotster for many years, but they have just lost all my business. I am moving all my domains to GoDaddy.com and will also be canceling my hosting with them.

Yes, it is my fault for not paying close attention to the fine print and for trusting Dotster, but I have now learned my lesson, do not trust Dotster. Dotster, I hope you die a slow and painful death. Oh, and I will no longer be recommending your services to my clients, from now on it will be Yahoo Small Business or GoDaddy for them.

Internet Explorer 7 Beta!

Yeah! The public Beta is finally here! I have only just installed it, but all looks good so far. I have viewed most of the recent sites I have designed and they all work fine, just a few minor glitches here and there. IE7 seems to handle some instances of padding and or margins differently from IE6. I will have a closer look at that and report back later. I am just very relieved that there is no major breakage in any of my sites.

Rumor has it that IE7 will support transparent PNGs, a quick test reveals that this is indeed the case, Yeah again! Wow, this is going to be cool. Once IE7 has a reasonable acceptance percentage you can expect to see HEAVY us of this in web design! If IE7 has better support for current CSS, this too will have a huge impact on the way sites look. Designers will finally be able to unleash the coolest CSS effects that have been left on the self because of dumb old IE6 and its very poor support for CSS.

One other CSS effect has definitely changed and acts much more like Firefox. That is the handling of background and the pseudo anchor classes. In IE 6 and earlier, I was able to set a background color that would spill over the edges of a linked image and change the color based on the pseudo class. The effect would look like there was a colored border around the linked image and it would change color when moused over. No longer. Just like Firefox. the background color now collapses to be just an underline below the image. I actually quite liked the effect in IE6, but had stopped using it as it did not work with Firefox, still, I am actually sorry to see this change in a way. But it is for the best, better to have all the browsers render CSS that same.

So this is what IE7 Beta looks like:

Though this is with XP in ‘Classic’ skin, so it probably looks better with the default XP skin (if you like that PlaySchool look) and it will no doubt look a lot better in its final release on Vista.

As for how good the new browser is, well, it will take some time living with it. Will it draw me away from Firefox? Too early to tell. And let us keep in mind that this is only the Beta release, so I will not be making any final decisions based solely on this. I do hope they tweak the look some, it looks a bit unrefined, but again, just a Beta. Currently the tab bar (Yeah, finally tabs!) is always on. Hopefully this too will change before final release. It would be silly to have gone through the trouble of streamlining all the menus and icons to give up so much space to an empty tab bar.

Linux is here

Kubuntu is a Linux distro with KDE that works. It actually works well enough for a Linux noob like me to install and use. So what is so special? It was easier to install then XP, that what is so special. Not that you have to install it, they offer a ‘livecd‘ that lets you try it without installing it. Just download the ISO , burn to a CD (just one CD) and boot your computer from the CD. Kubuntu will boot up an run. It was a bit slow for some tasks on my 2 year old Sony Vaio, but that might have had something to do with it running off the CD.

After booting from the CD, I was able to use the browser (Konqueror) to browse the web (my network was automatically found and configured). This was my first experience with Konqueror and I am impressed. Very nice looking tabbed browser with very nice image handling. Though it could only work with the ‘simple HTML’ version of Gmail. Not really much of a problem as I am a Firefox guy and would likely use that. And, being a noob, I wonder if there is not some way to configure Konqueror (or the system) to be able to access Gmail fully. OpenOffice is also on the live CD and worked just fine.

The desktop is beautiful and pretty easy to get around. KDE (graphical desktop environment) strikes me as somewhere between Windows and OSX. To me, it was immediately familiar and only a little foreign, but in a good way. It is certainly easier on the eyes then XP, but not as pretentious as OSX.

I also installed Kubunto on an old ThinkPad (PII 400). It is pretty slow, but still usable (if you are patient). It seems like it is about as fast as XP would be on that old of a machine. So Kubunto does not get any lite weight awards, except for the install disc which is a single CD.

I feel like I could really move over to Kubuntu, I already use a free, open source browser, email client, ftp client, and html editor. But then, I would have to leave my Adobe products behind. I am too married to that to switch. That and even though it looks nice, I have no real beef with Windows. My XP Sony works well enough, it only has the occasional issue of coming out of sleep mode. I intend to add Kubunto to my mix and play with it for a while. I already switch between Mac and PC for some apps, maybe I will find a good use for Linux too.
Two thumbs up for Kubuntu.

MAC on a PC???

Oh, this was cool. Download Squad has a link to FlyakiteOSX who have assembled a bunch of hacks to that lets a PC clone the look and feel of a MAC. I tried it out for a few days and was very pleased, but in the end I had to return to Windows Classic theme. It just did not seem right. And I was getting a little confused with the keyboard shortcuts. My real MAC has a Windows keyboard where the Windows button acts as the Apple button. I love Download Squad.

AMD Kicks Intel… Again

Once again AMD is producing significantly better chips at lower prices then Intel. Yet AMD still has a very low market share. Makes one wonder if there is any truth the AMD’s accusation that Intel used unfair business practices to maintain their dominance. AMD chips have always been cheaper, and sometimes faster, so why have the PC makers stayed away? Why has the low cost leader Dell not used AMD to further reduce the cost of their PCs? Both AMD’s dual core and 64 bit chips are beating the tar out of Intel, yet still not much movement.

I have both Intel and AMD chips in my computers and found the AMD to regularly be a much better value. We saved $400 on Jennifer’s last laptop by choosing the AMD version instead of the Intel version of the Averatec 3200. Which by the way is working out splendidly. My mother bought the Intel version and I intend to run some informal tests when we see her in December. But a $400 split is just too crazy to explain. Both have the same clock speed.

I wonder if Apple made another mistake in going with Intel over AMD.

Massachusetts, OpenDocument, and THE Microsoft

Massachusetts is proposing to implement a new file format for all government documents called OpenDocument. OpenDocument is an open source XML based standard document format for text, spreadsheet, chart, and graphical documents. It allows users to share files across different office suites seamlessly, no interpolation required.

From what I understand about OpenDocument, it is not as feature rich as Microsoft‘s proprietary file formats, but being an open standard the files can be traded back and forth between office suites. That is a mighty compelling feature itself. And for government work, it might not be such a bad thing to limit the amount of ‘features’ a document has in it. Lastly, since it is an open source standard, it is certainly possible to add more functionality later.

So is this bad for Microsoft? Possibly, but probably not, or at least not so much. First, because OpenDocument is a open standard, old MS could simply add it into their office suite. And I bet that they eventually will. If not, then there is a business opportunity here for a software company to create a plug-in for MS Office that can read and write to the OpenDocument format.

But, really, what this is about is the world being freed from the tyranny of Microsoft’s proprietary file formats. That will allow us to freely choose whatever office suite we want. So how is that not bad for MS? Well, I think it is likely that people will still choose MS Office, not only because it is what they know, but also because it is just so feature rich. And the masses seem to like it. And when the customer has the chance to choose the product, they then have a stake in it and become defacto advocates for it. As an example, a few years ago I became so fed up with MS’s blatant unfair practices around Internet Explorer, that I did everything I could to avoid using it. Well, after a few months I came to the conclusion that IE was in fact the best browser of the day and acknowledged that it would have become number one regardless of the games MS was playing. I was very adamant about it. Of course that changed when Firefox matured. I switched to Firefox because Mozilla had finally put out not an equal browser, but a superior one.

And MS always has Outlook, the ultimate bloatware that is massively habit forming. Thunderbird (which can be integrated with OpenOffice) is light years from Outlook, it is like a better version of Outlook Express.

That is not to say that I will be using MS Office, I have already switched to OpenOffice. But I am usually in the minority, I expect that I will be in the minority on this topic as well. For me, MS Office is just too frustrating to use. I have to work to get past all the crap that they throw at the user, like the ‘help’ window. Just like with the new design of XP, MS Office 2003 has more stuff that does not help me use my computer, it just adds stuff that gets in my way. I am very thankful that MS incorporated the ability to change the overall GUI to that of Win2K. That is my greatest worry with Vista, that MS may abandon the ‘classic’ theme and have some even more hideous GUI. If that is the case, it could well send me to MAC or Linux. Though, I would not look forward to that and I have to be hopeful that Vista will be at least as good as Win2K.

The Colour of Magic : Lord of The Rings meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Great idea, first book in a wonderful series

Not well crafted

The Bottom Line:

If you like Douglas Adams, you will like Terry Prachett, not necessarily this book, but definitely his later work.

Ok, maybe not the most original or clever way to start out a review, but I think it is the fastest way to get the most people to understand the basic concept of the book. The book is one part typical fantasy world and one part comedic satire, smashed together to make an original read.

The book is about a “Wizard” (Rincewind) who cannot cast a spells, and the archetypal bumbling “Tourist” (Twoflower). Rincewind is constantly trying to get out of his own way in an effort to flee from trouble, which only leads to something worse. Twoflower is a good-natured optimist who does not have a clue, but has luck, lots and lots of luck. That and very loyal travel chest.

Be aware that this is the first book in a long, long series. Though series might be the wrong word. Most of the books can actually stand alone, but together they create quite a world. However, this book is not a masterpiece in itself. It lacks polish and seems to be in a rush to get through with itself. Youthful exuberance got in the way of craft.

The two things that got me through this book are, 1) the idea of a fantasy farce is brilliant, 2) I had already read “Good Omens” which is truly a gem, so I knew Pratchett had talent.

And I have kept on with the series. The first several books are packed with great ideas but still suffer from a lack of craft and subtlety. Pratchett eventual works out his issues and has been writing great books ever since.

Back to my opening, this is very similar in spirit to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If you like that, my bet is that you will like Terry Pratchett, maybe not the first few books, but certainly the last twenty or so. Both Douglas Adams and Terry Prachett take genres that are often too serious and stuffy and busted them wide open with satire.


HEY! Throw those spyware filled computers my way will ya!?


OK, I think I am better now. But wow, people are dumb, I Mean People Are Dumb, NO REALLY, PEOPLE ARE DUMB!!!!

OK, really, I will be fine.

But boy, how dumb can people be?

So here is what is happening, people (supposedly smart people with PhDs and Yale professors) are throwing out their computers because there is too much spyware on them. I know what you are thinking (Holy Crap, am I right?).

Don’t believe me? Have a look at the NY Times.

See, I was telling it straight. Now that I have had a bit of time to think on it, it strikes me as funny. Hey, you can either laugh or cry when you see the world falling apart. I prefer to laugh, because frankly, crying is a bit too damp for my taste.

One of my favorite lines was by a Microsoft exec, “We saw that a significant percentage of crashes and other problems were being caused by this.” Ya, thats it. It has nothing to do with your crappy software, it is all the spyware’s fault. It is a great scape goat, is it not? I am a little afraid that Microsoft will start making spyware so they can create an even larger smoke screen for the real problem, them. I am only a little scared, because I doubt their spyware would actually work.

OK, enough MS bashing, sorry, but you guys really asked for it that time. Really, I don’t hate MS, they make it just so easy. I actually like the Xbox (except that it is really ugly and loud). To be honest, I have more computers running windows than running OSX.

So back to the article. People, send your computers to me. I know how to fix this stuff, pretty simple really. Do a web search and most times you can get detailed info on how to fix each problem. It certainly does not take 15 hours to learn how to do this as one guy said. What was funny about that guy was that after fixing his box, he wipes his drive, nice. If all else fails, wipe and reinstall windows. It is not that difficult. And once you have a clean install, try putting some decent (and free) anti spyware on your box:
Spybot Search and Destroy
Though, to be fair, some of the people in the article had four year old machines, so replacing them was not unreasonable.

But, overall, the article does prove my point: dumb people are stupid.

Scam, scam, scam, scam….

Yippy I won a prize. Or at least that is what the blue post card from Silverleaf Resorts said. So maybe I was a little suspicious, but it said I am guaranteed to have won one of their great prizes. But according to this story, it is not a prize I am guaranteed to have won, but a chance, actually a slim chance, to win a prize.

When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Especially when it comes in the mail and is blue. Guess I will have to fall back on the Nigerian deal I got an email about…

Thank you Mr. Internet, you saved me again.

COX – overpriced and unreliable

I have lived with COX in the Bryan/College Station, Texas area (internet and cable tv) for three years, the last two have been truly dreadful. My main complaint is that they continually change their services without notice in an effort to get the customer to pay more. For instance, they have changed their internet services four times since I have been with them. First I had 1mb for $30 a month, then they canceled that and I had to switch to 128 kb for the $25, then they canceled that and I had to go back to dial-up. Then they reintroduced 1mb for $30, but recently canceled that again and now I am at 4mb for $40. OK, so at least I am getting more for my money, but I don’t need 4mb, I would rather have 1mb and pay $30. There is no technical reason why they can not sell me 1mb for $30, or like the local DSL 1.5mb for $25. They just like my money and look for every angle to get more of it. Hey, I know that is business, it is just that they are so sleazy about it and I have to constantly watch my services and charges.

They are just very sleazy in the way they go about changing their services, not to give the customer better choices, but to squeeze more money out of them. I am in an area where DSL is unavailable, otherwise I would have dumped Cox and gone with DSL and DirectTV.

Cox’s Cable TV service is no better. Over the past month my channel line up has changed three times. With the last change they took away CNN, so I am left with only local channels, but I have Spanish channels. I need those like I need another whole in my head. But, I have to pay for it to get the internet access, so really, I am paying $60 for 4mb, not so much of a bargain.

Their customer service is dreadful, hold times are regularly over ten minutes and that is when I can get through, often the line is busy. Then I get bounced around from one department to another because I have multi part questions, which never seem to get answered.

Their advertising is very misleading, they are currently offering Digital Cable with a DVR for $25. Sounds great, except it is bogus, you first have to order, not one, but two tiers of digital channels to get this deal (the $25 is on top of the charge for the two tiers of digital channels) and the $25 is for the first two months only, what a joke.

And to add insult to injury, Cox’s service is unreliable. Their internet drops anywhere from one to five times a week. Usually, after restarting the modem, it comes back in just a few minutes. It typically does this at very inopportune times, like when I am sending a large email attachment or playing an online game. Ironically, their advertisements focus on how their service will not go down in a storm, like satellite, but it does. Curiously, the internet service goes down much more frequently then dose the cable tv.

I am moving next year and will be glad to be rid of Cox once and for all.