Putting Code Together Since 1987

Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

WordPress Auto 301 Feature

In Wordpress on January 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

If you change a slug in WordPress it will automatically generate a 301 redirect – helping keep your search engine juice nice and rich.

Try it with the following link – it shouldn’t work, and I’ve not done anything manually.  Yet it does:

http://www.interconnectit.com/wordpress-course-7th-8th-february-2008/

Some nice tricks inside WordPress.  Keep up the good work lads!

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Producing Instructional ScreenCasts

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2008 at 3:47 pm

Sometimes there’s a need to produce training videos which show how you carry out a certain piece of work.  Simply explaining a technique isn’t always possible in words.  You need to show people how it’s done.

Alternatively you may wish to demo your lovely piece of software.

And for that, there’s a rather wonderful piece of software called CamStudio.  Even better than being great, it’s also Free Open Source.  Go get it…

Cosmetic Surgery Web2.0 site. A Website Looking For Trouble?

In Uncategorized on January 27, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I’m not really one to moralise.

But I’ll say that I feel a slight tingle of concern over Face By Fix – a new website where folk can upload their photos and visitors can say what cosmetic surgery they should consider!

In a way a shocking idea.  In another way quite cool.  If we were all well balanced individuals then we’d be able to take the discovery that our ears look funny in good humour.  But allowing the public to choose what you need improving – especially when the public doesn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart… well really.

So what do you think?  Good or bad?

New WordPress User Guide

In Wordpress on January 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Please Note – This version of the guide is now obsolete and been superceded by our WordPress 2.6 User Guide which can be downloaded from Spectacu.la

One of the things lacking, in the free downloads world, so far as we could see, was a simple, easy to follow WordPress guide designed for non-techie WordPress users.

There are two versions available – the latest which is for WordPress 2.6, and the previous version for WordPress 2.3 – the latest is only available from our Spectacu.la WordPress Themes Club.

Silk Icon from famfamfamTo download the NEW WordPress User Guide follow this link to Spectacu.la

Silk Icon from famfamfamDownload the OLD! WordPress User Guide Version 2 beta for WP 2.3

I think the document still needs work, but I would greatly appreciate any feedback, comments, or even offers of assistance. It would be quite nice to GPL this but we haven’t done so yet and I personally am 50/50 about it. What do you think?

If you want to help popularise this guide, please digg it, or add it to your favourite social bookmarking system – it would be much appreciated!

Some Interesting Stats on WordPress and WordPress.com

In google on January 21, 2008 at 9:03 pm

I was doing a little thinking about WordPress and its rival CMS systems. And then I thought… it’s not hard to find comparisons if you know where to look. Sadly it’s hard to find hard numbers – people hold this data dearly.

Still – I had a play with Alexa and Google and the stats were interesting to see. WordPress.com has practically exploded. If Alexa’s 2% reach is correct then that makes WordPress.com and all its blogs into one of the most potent internet nodes.

Looking for traffic to WordPress.org and its rivals (I’ve put in Joomla, Plone and Drupal) is also illuminating. I recommend a good play around with the charts. Also look at different regions if you’re working with Google.

Google’s CMS traffic

Alexa’s CMS traffic

I find these stats sites great fun. You can also see the effects of certain events. For example, searches for the word Botfly shot up and into existance last year – and these correlated with spikes in traffic to my story of my own experience of the little blighters. The reason was a TV show.

You can also get a taste for the desires of certain countries… French Kissing, it seems, generates huge interest in Pakistan. They also like English Girls.

iPhone 1.1.3 Update – What does it give?

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Hmmm – there’s strangely little information about this new update so far, and I know this isn’t really a blog about the world’s most hyped pocket MP3 playing web browser (with built in and ok-ish phone) but it’s hot news, so what the heck?

What do we get?

Here’s the official list according to Apple when the download started.

iPhone Software
Version 1.1.3

This version of the software includes additional new features, bug fixes and supersedes all previous versions.

New features include:

• New Maps application
– Find location
– Improved UI
• Send SMS text messages to multiple recipients
• Customize Home Screen
– Rearrange icons
– Add Safari bookmarks to the Home Screen
– Create up to 9 Home Screen pages
• IMAP support for Gmail
• Support for iTunes Store movie rentals
• Enhanced Video Player
– Chapters
– Subtitles
– Alternate language tracks
• Lyrics support in iPod

The SMS fix was badly needed, but the most interesting, to me, is the Map Find Location gee-gaw. How this works, I’m fascinated to learn. I’m going to play and add more to this post once it’s installed (as long as my phone isn’t bricked… eep!).

So – here we go, I’ve got images showing the new bits…

iPhone - first thing…

So here we go – the install’s in, and that’s the first thing we see – an instruction about home screens.  Neat – multiple home screens, allowing you to get nicely organised.  Or disorganised, depending on your nature.

iPhone - not much changed

Not much changed, but the iTunes link has moved from the right to the left.  Presumably because of the facility to do your own icons and move them around.

iPhone jiggling away

They’re blurry because they’re jiggling around.  As you can see, I’ve moved the Calendar icon down to the bottom left, just for illustration.

iPhone Maps locator

The Map application locator uses triangulation to work out where you are.  At one point it thought I was at the green pin.  That was when I tried to use the directions option and said “from current location” to our office in Liverpool.  But the big blue ring is massive – that’s about two miles wide, at a guess, or about three kilometers or so.  Next time I tried it, it got closer, but was still out by half a mile.  The green pin is approximately one kilometre from where I actually live.

iPhone map extras

Click on the eye and you get various options.  Show Traffic showed nothing.  I’ll be interested to see if this works in Europe.  You can drop pins, and you can easily see the different types of map.

iPhone Map Routes

The routing isn’t great at finding where you’re starting, but it works nicely.

iPhone Safari 1.1.3

Now to Safari – nothing much to see here except I’m sure that the search icon wasn’t there before.  But I’m not 100% certain – anyone care to double check and comment?

iPhone Safari 1.1.3 Bookmarks

Now here’s an interesting thing.  Mailing links is handy, I guess, but being able to add something to your home screen is very handy indeed – especially if you’re into the various mobile (and in particular iPhone) oriented web apps that people are developing.

iPhone Safari 1.1.3 Bookmarks on the Home Screen

And as you can see – there’s a link to our company website – Interconnect IT.

iPhone 1.1.3 Update Timer Sleep Feature

You can sleep your iPhone on the timer now.  Not sure how useful it is, and a part of me is thinking “was that there before?”

iPhone 1.1.3 Update SMS Multiple Recipients

And last, but one of the most important for us text mad Europeans… the ability to text more than one person at a time!  Finally!  Thank God Apple actually listen.  As you can see, the process is easy, and you can tap that plus sign as often as you like for more entries.

And that concludes my epic day – I’ve blogged three times on this site today, a personal record.  And not only that, but achieved most of my work related to-do list in spite of phone calls aplenty.  Something’s wrong.  Did I o/d on vitamin pills or something?

Go from three inches to, erm, 40 inches!

In Design, iPhone, Web Design on January 17, 2008 at 10:52 am

No, not spam, for a change, but the problem of designing for a world where your website could be viewed on anything from an iPhone or Nokia N95 (tiny screens, no Flash) through to a Playstation 3 or Wii connected to 40″ or larger TV screens.

They all have different resolutions, colour rendering (view the pictures below), interfaces, and so on.

Let’s take a look at this picture:

Three Browsers, at vastly different sizes

In the picture, you have three things connected to the internet, all wirelessly, running three different browsers and on different resolutions.

I’m now going to be quite geeky and go through the different displays and browsers involved…

LG 26″ LCD TV, Opera Browser on a Nintendo Wii

Now, sadly the Wii isn’t known for its high res capabilities. It runs at This means that the best it can do with most websites can be described as ‘passable’. The browsing experience isn’t actually too bad once you’ve got your favourites in. Funnily enough, the requirements for good design on this setup are remarkably similar to the little iPhone hiding beneath it – because of both the low resolution (a Wii, I believe, outputs at 854×480) and the clumsy control systems on both. You need big, easy to click links, clear design, and no Flash.

The screen is 56.5cm by 34cm giving an area of 1921 cm2 and 409920 viewable pixels.

Laptop 14″ Widescreen, Running XP and Firefox

Now this is a more conventional screen resolution. 1280×768. The dpi is conventional (I’m guessing about 96dpi off the top of my head) and the OS, browser and CPU all are up to the job. Most people should get it right for this sort of system, but it’s worth bearing in mind a few things… you can see that it’s nothing like as bright or white as the other two displays in the image. Yep, you got it – all screens render colours differently. That means you have to pick your colours carefully. We had a burnt orange on a website that a client insisted on once. It looked like an insipid green/orange on a cheap old Dell screen.

So not only do we have to think about all the different sizes, we have colours to worry about too! For our own designs we check on a number of screens to make sure colours don’t go weird. Some will, some won’t, and it’s hard to predict.

The screen is 30.5cm by 18.5cm giving an area of 564 cm2 and 983040 viewable pixels.

iPhone, Running Safari

The iPhone is the current geek status symbol mobile phone. I got mine as a Xmas present and in terms of web browsing it’s really moved the game forward. As a phone it’s a bit sucky compared to more phone like mobiles (if you see what I mean) – no voice dialing and ropey bluetooth support means that making phone calls as I drive is no longer a safe game – I can’t simply prod the bluetooth button on the dashboard, say the name of the person I wish to speak to, and continue. But I’m going off on a tangent.

By bringing us a very neat and portable web solution, the iPhone and iPod Touch have made surfing the net while waiting at a train station, or sitting in the garden a far easier proposition. And they’ve sold millions of them so far. And you can be anything that people owning them are visiting your website. And if your site is hard for them to use, they’ll get their kicks elsewhere and maybe, just maybe, be drawn to a rival’s website. You wouldn’t want that would you?

The screen is 7.5cm by 5cm giving an area of 37.5 cm2 and 153600 viewable pixels.

Right, So They’re Different…Tell Me Something New!

Now ok, that’s shown they’re different – quite markedly so. And what does that mean? Well it means that if you want your website to work with all browsers, you’re going to have to take a good, long hard look at what you’re offering to those different users.

An iPhone user is possibly on the move, trying to poke links on a moving bus. A Wii user is shakily pointing their remote at a screen that may well be larger than the owner. A laptop owner has a nice, precise mouse. A desktop PC of course could be a different proposition. A friend of mine uses a simply vast 30″ monitor for doing artwork – his browsing experience is vastly different.

And consider this: the screen area of a 26″ TV is 51 times larger than an iPhone, and the resolution of a laptop screen is way higher than most other things. I saw one laptop with a 1920×1200 screen recently and the dpi was ridiculously dense (if slightly gorgeous for picture viewing!) – that means they may have larger fonts. What’s your design going to do with that?

Ten years ago screens ranged, mostly, from around 640×480 to 1280×1024. Anything outside of that scope was rare or had a very limited browser.

My point then is that if we’re going to service the needs of the now widely varied viewers, we have to make some hard decisions. Fluid design isn’t the answer – reading a 20″ long line of text on a big monitor is horrible. Perhaps larger sites, with more money, could serve up different versions of their content, designed for different screens. BBC does that, with designs for tiny WAP mobile phones, PDAs and full browsers. Our sites have a mobile css for small screen mobile phones, though it doesn’t detect all of them. It just serves a cut down text only version of the site.

The web industry is starting to get hard, both businesses and designers need to know this. I believe that their current practices could leave them only servicing 40% of potential visitors in the near future. And that simply won’t do.

Does the web industry suck?

In Business, Web Design, Web Development on January 17, 2008 at 9:22 am

I’m not going to rant here about all the great clients, who understand that time is expensive, who listen, pay attention, and do their own research.

But what I do think is that there’s a significant chunk of people out there, with no clue as to the Web, what it’s for, and how it works, who currently seem to be desperate to jump onto the bandwagon. They sometimes actually have some pretty sound business ideas.

Thing is, they turn up at our office with these huge plans. And a budget of £250.

There then follows an awkward silence as we have to explain that £250, like in dentistry, doesn’t really buy you a great deal of cosmetic awe. Even if the underlying software is free, you still need someone with the ability and understanding to implement it correctly. And they’re in demand.

But then that brings up another issue – the one of the wannabe web designer. Very little understanding of the technology or business, but does have a copy of Frontpage, Dreamweaver, or worst of all – Flash and only Flash. And thinks they can design for the web because they’ve done some ok print jobs in their time. They over promise, often raising expectations, under-quote (causing pricing pressure) and under-deliver.

Not all are actually that bad in overall design terms either, but they have a habit of disappearing when things get difficult. If one of their sites is hacked they have absolutely no idea why, and can’t do much about it. They don’t understand what the difference between CHMOD 777 or 766 can mean to the security of their site. In fact, to make their life easier, they simply switch everything to 777. And they’ve got so little money from their £300 job that they most definitely can’t afford to pay a TruePro (my TM, maybe. Perhaps) to come in and get digging, and to configure their site correctly.

And clients sometimes need to accept that they can’t just say “gimme a website!” to a designer/developer and expect them to magically mind-read their true desires. For free, of course.

Thing is – how’s a client to know the difference between a good or bad web company? It’s no easier than knowing the difference between a good or bad engine design in a car. The only way people learn is by watching what or who gets the most reliable, dependable and economical cars out there. And if there are none, then eventually someone will come along and do just that. Like the Japanese did to the British motorbike industry, so, surely, will the good web companies overtake and close down the bad ones.

So to answer my own question – I actually think the web industry does suck right now. But it’ll get better – slowly, top web brands will move to the fore, and the rubbish ones will fade away. And it won’t be from expected sources either. For example, WordPress.com is likely to become a major force for many small business websites, with many moving to self-hosted WordPress sites once they need more control or uniqueness. Why does any startup in a non-tech field need to commission a custom site when there’s plenty of great, free or cheap designs available?

And that’s where the future website designing and hosting brands will come from. The small one man web companies need to adapt to this market and consider that the direct one-to-one model of web design & development is approaching its death knell. Instead, these small companies will become facilitators – finding the best solutions for the non-techie clients, setting them up, and then briskly moving on to the next client. The technical knowhow, fixing up and hacking will be concentrated in key points. They’ll set up or review systems like SugarCRM, Plone, WordPress, and more.

Bigger clients will of course still need their own web applications built to suit any unique business models they operate, and they’ll be able to afford the fact that few of these can ever cost less than five figures. So that business model will continue, and should pay more too as the solutions become critical to firms.

I know I’ve just had something of a ramble there – it’s purely a stream of consciousness thing. I think the web industry is on the verge of maturing. That doesn’t mean the days are over for specialists. Just that the mass market will move to commodity systems, while the specialised stuff will actually start to pay the kind of rewards that should be available to people who work with a difficult and challenging technology.

Bug Tracking

In Web Development on January 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm

Want to know how we keep track of all those websites and bugs?

It’s quite simple – we use Mantis Bug Tracker.   It’s not as powerful as some, but we’re a three man company – a more heavy solution would probably simply be going over the top with things and would carry a support load that we simply wouldn’t be happy with.

In other words, it’s a great fit for our needs and requirements today, and for the next few years.

The Wicked Problem

In Design, Web Development on January 10, 2008 at 5:41 pm

I was reading through some project management methodology just now (yay! My life is full of joy at last!) and came across the phrase “The Wicked Problem” in this line on Wikipedia:

Steve McConnell in Code Complete (a book which criticizes the widespread use of the waterfall model) refers to design as a “wicked problem” – a problem whose requirements and limitations cannot be entirely known before completion. The implication is that it is impossible to get one phase of software development “perfected” before time is spent in “reconnaissance” working out exactly where and what the big problems are.

It’s worth following the link.

I think software and design processes often end up trapped within this circle where nothing’s ever perfect. The iPhone isn’t perfect, for example – it may be ever so pretty, but it’s quite rubbish at Bluetooth connectivity, for example, or sending texts. In fact, it’s rubbish at a lot of things. One of its smartphone rivals, the N95, has a habit of crashing in certain situations, and flattening its battery in two hours because it’s furiously running an application in the background.

Same with websites. Our company site, Interconnect IT, will never ever, in my opinion, be perfect. Unless we simply devoted all our energies to that site – but then we’d have no time to working on client projects. We’re still a three man company, so we can’t have a £200k site. But we can be clever and cover 95% of the requirements.

With client sites it’s even trickier – we have to interpret a clients’ requirements, write them down, and send them back in a proposal with a rough mock-up, pricing and structure. They’ll read it quickly and usually accept. But once started they’ll look at the design, try it out, and realise that actually, the front page should have a simpler message. That may mean a restructuring. A week later, someone may point out that the colours they preferred have negative connotations in certain cultures.

All these require changes, sometimes at a late stage, and sometimes involving a lot of work. At some point, someone has to simply say – “OK, that’s good enough!”

Other clients, however, quite like the waterfall method. We have forms for certain business sectors, with consistent requirements, where they simply tick off what they want and like, choose an off-the-shelf design, and a couple of weeks later we deliver the website – all loaded up and everything. They then sign-off, or they ask for some revisions – images changed, copy edited and so on. It’s particularly suited where a small and busy firm needs a website, but it’s not really crucial to their business – it simply provides a service to people who already know them. Dentists, for example.