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Problems, Problems, Problems

July 17th, 2017 by Edward

Every website project that I have ever worked on has problems. Some years back I used to think that this was because of me. Now I have decided that it is just the ‘nature of the beast’ that brings with it little snares set deceptively along the path that leads to website perfection.

Where do these problems come from? Here are a few examples of problems I have had to deal with recently, most of which are nobodies fault particularly, they are just ‘how it is.’

Its stopped working… 

After a couple of years of gentle persuasion this client decided that at last, it was time to make her site responsive, and to update to the latest versions of joomla/wordpress. No biggie – until the image gallery stopped working. To be fair, this wasn’t a surprise – old versions of plugins often fail when software is updated. This time though, the new version was SO FLIPPING different that it meant some fiddling around to get it to look the close to the earlier versions. ‘Can we fix it’ – what do you think?

Can we just…

This is one my favourite sayings, along with ‘I want to make a small change’ or ‘It’s just a little thing’. In my experience clients (but especially designers!!!!) often do not appreciate what makes a small change. This client wanted a responsive image rotator – wait for it – that swapped out images and used different ones on mobiles screens – not different ‘squashes and squeezes’ of the one image, but real, genuine different images. After some more fiddling around we came up with a jQuery solution that ‘sniffs’ for the screen size, and then re-writes the code as appropriate to drop in the new images. I was pleased with how well this worked! If only all ‘can we justs….’ were really as ‘just’ as this one turned out to be.

I already have hosting…

Ugh. Shiver, shiver. This can be a biggie…  This client wanted me to build a pretty complex site on my dev space and then move it onto their buddies server. (ok – should have built it on his buddies server… there was some reason we didn’t, but I can’t remember…) And all seemed well when the site went live… then I began to notice that one of the pages we had made a fix for had stopped working as well as it had been, and just for fun, only on mobile screens. Here was an issue I could do nothing about – a feed from another site (in php) was not being rendered the same way on the ‘buddy’ server as it was on my development server. It took some time and careful inspection of the code to see this. Thankfully there was a solution…

 

So there you have it – three problems int he last couple of weeks.

If you’re a web designer – developer why not tell me that you have no problems like these at all! Go on – make my day.

 

 

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Oakwood Kennels and Cattery enters ee-web’s Museum of the Internet

December 1st, 2016 by Edward

Clients come and clients go. Often they leave because they sell their business and the new owners decide to go elsewhere. So, Oakwood Kennels and Cattery enters ee-web’s Museum of the Internet. This is the little corner of cyber-space where my old sites are retired to – and I wish I’d thought of the idea years ago because, well, you develop a sort of affection for your own work.

This site sometimes caused strong reactions – partly I think this was because of the colour scheme that was developed based on the logo which i was supplied with, so didn’t have much control over. 

Whatever you think of the visual elements, the site did show all the information you might need and did generate enquiries for the owner – which is the point. It would have generated more if the content had been keep up-to-date and the site pushed a little bit. Sad when clients don’t make the most of the foundation that ee-web can provide.

about page from Oakwood

There were some design elements that I was really pleased with though, like the menu:

oakwood menu

oakwood mobile

The mobile layout was good too. I also like the use of animal silhouettes throughout the site.

Now the site is entered into ee-web’s museum of the internet. Which is a little sad. There is can continue to gather dust, which is the lonely fate of so many small business websites.

You can see the exhibit here – but don’t try to get in touch with them!!!!

www.oakwood.ee-web.co.uk

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Kusuma Trust header

September 8th, 2016 by Edward

Recent clients, the Kusuma Trust have some really beautiful photography that draws the viewer in and helps to tell their story. From the outset it was decided to place different pictures across the top to act as the Kusuma Trust header, upon which various menu items would go. They were keen however, not to have a background strip for the menu text to sit on – which clearly creates potential usability issues regarding textual contrast.

The brief suggested that the image was to be :

  • full width
  • fixed depth
  • look good on all screen widths
  • possibly have some headline text fixed to its bottom on a semi-transparent background
  • and… easily maintained by the user

read more Read more…

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How Much for a new Website?

June 15th, 2016 by Edward

I have been making websites now for 15 years. This post is about one of the hardest questions that I am asked in  my work as a web designer. Can you work out what it is from these images?

bell curve of string length

 

If that’s too hard what about this one?

rular with string on it

of course, it’s ‘How long is a piece of string?‘ or rather

How Much for a new Website? 

I get several inquiries every month directly from google – if you want that too ….

The conversation usually goes something like this. Let’s call the caller ‘Bob’:

read more Read more…

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Enfield Carpentry enters ee-web’s ‘Internet Museum’

May 19th, 2016 by Edward

It’s been a good project, working again with a local business called ‘Enfield Carpentry’. I did their first site – quite a few years ago, which was beginning to suffer from old age. I have taken the old site, and lovingly re-hosted it for posterity. So Enfield Carpentry enters ee-web’s ‘Internet Museum’ as the first entry!  As you can see its small – small fonts, small images, small scope and in many ways I love it because of that. The other thing is that it loads almost instantly- guess what, that’s because the amount of code behind it all making it work was small too. It was a piece of cake to maintain, and in fact it worked too – they got work from it.

enfield carpentry old site - enter the museum of the internet

Health warning… Some of the image librarys and so on might not work for you – not since those nasty people at Apple killed of Flash and half of my work with it…

A New Site is Born

The new site is so different  – larger fonts, bigger images, more, well, just more ‘techy’ somehow. And of course it has to work on lots of different screen sizes, play more carefully with google, and be editable by the boys at EC – something that was much harder to do back when the first site was completed. The shot below shows just the a part of the homepage – you can see the differences…

enfield carpenty home page

James seems very happy with the new site, and has been changing the content already; you can read his testimonial. I am sure he’ll get work from the new site (he’ll be banging on my door if he doesn’t and who could blame him).

There was something lovely about the internet in those days – something which I think the money behind big business has taken away now – but that’s another post. If you would like to take a trip down Memory Lane the please look at ee-web’s Museum of the Internet.

 

 

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Website Problem Solving – VST

April 21st, 2016 by Edward

About 50% of my time is spent in what you might call ‘website problem solving.’ When I started making websites, well over 15 years ago I thought I’d be spending my time …. creating websites. But everyday, for every project new or old there are problems to solve.

So here’s the first of what might (who knows) become a regular post – ‘Website Problem Solving’  – the VST booking form stops working.

‘Our booking form has died’ – time for Website Problem Solving

Having built their website about 2 years now I have continued supporting this client who provides training course which the SELL via their website. One day this email arrived:

” Someone phoned me to say made a booking and got funny message.   The booking came through but she did not get a confirmation email.   I did a test booking and also got funny page and no email confirmation.”

Since VST main role is training, this is a serious error. Panic Stations! Claxons blaring. Time for a dose of ‘Website Problem Solving.’

error  message - website problem solving needed

I want to point out at this point that the plugin used for booking is first rate and in no way is this to be seen as a knock on them.

A few minutes investigation revealed that the user was being taken to this url. It didn’t look right to me – just felt wrong. I suppose somehow you get a knack for these things.

...email=&option=com_registrationpro&...processor=payoffline&user_id=...details=VST%20will%20invoice%20you%20to%20the%20address%20on%20your%20booking%20form.%20Please%20pay%20promptly%20and%20before%20the%20course%20date.

So, I posted on the forum of the plugin – this is where paid support comes into its own, and is one reason why I recommend buying it to my clients.  This time the reply came back very soon – ‘we have found a bug and here’s a patch.’  Couple of days later a new version is released.

Result – booking forms back on line.

I didn’t solve the problem, but I was able to look into it enough to work out that it wasn’t anything the good people at VST were doing, or a hosting issue.

I got these emails from VST

Phew yes it works now! Thank you. Please invoice us for your time.
Maddy ???

Excellent  news. 
Thanks
Linda 
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A Developer’s Perspective – S2E Challenge @ the Houses of Parliament

December 14th, 2015 by Edward

cupola view

View through the ISS Cupola of Big Ben

On Wednesday 9th December I went to the Houses of Parliament for the very first time to witness an event planned to showcase some of the work that’s gone on for the ‘Space to Earth Challenge.’ Here’s a short article about a web developer’s perspective on this space project.

First a little background. I was approached to become the projects web developer – this means my main role is to build the website, based on the teams designs. So, if you like I am they techy geek. What is really exciting for me, is that often the developer is locked in a cupboard, and fed ‘pop tarts and coffee’ until the work is finished (only kidding). In this case I have been involved as part of a large, multidisciplinary team, got the chance to visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, and even (deep breath) had the best part of a day teaching a small group of yr10/12 pupils who helped us gather some of the excellent resources on the website.

Visiting the Houses of Parliament was fun; being surrounded by all that history can’t be anything else really. But in a way that paled into relative insignificance.

group with space suit

Pupils, a cardboard Tim Peake, the real Lauren Steadmen and a Christmas Tree

There were too many adult speakers to mention – but highlights for me were:

  • David Morris MP, Chair of the All-Parliamentary Space Committee who hosted the special event,
  • Dr Jon Scott who spoke about the importance of exercise on the ISS to reduce bone loss and muscle atrophy.
  • Lauren Steadman, a Team GB Paralympic athlete, describe her triathlon training and how children could take up the Space to Earth Challenge.

For me though the young people stole the show. School children spoke with great enthusiasm about elements of the challenge, ranging from the different sports they had done to cover the distance to the ISS, through to working with some of the exotic materials used in space research. Their smiles and fascination shone through. Several students got to wear a space suit – how cool is that – and why do adults never get asked eh?

pupils demonstrating

Great presentations

It’s been really exciting seeing the project take shape. I have seen it go from an idea sketched out in a piece of A3,  though multiple stages of development and now we’re just 1 day away from Tim’s launch (as I write). Best of all those was seeing how the pupils and their teachers were using the work done by the S2E team, and being really  inspired about it. And I had a part, along with the team, in making that happen.

Makes all those hours in the cupboard worthwhile!

maths challenge

Maths Challenge in action

what's this then?

Wow – what’s going on here then?

graphics work

Graphics students present the designs for S2E posters

Image credit: Max Alexander/UK Space Agency

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A WordPress ‘Google dog’s dinner’

November 30th, 2015 by Edward

dog eating dinner

Recently, there was a bit of a discussion on a local social network forum. Somebody had been using one of those ‘build your own site whilst mowing the garden’ type of services (now these can be good, but that’s another blog post). Getting back to this post the person in question was asking if they should move over to wordpress. Amongst the well thought out and well meaning contributions was something along the lines of ‘google loves wordpress‘.

On one, somewhat misleading level this is right. On several others of course it’s just that. Misleading.

  • It gives the impression that if you use wordpress you’ll rank high in google. This is wrong.
  • It gives the idea that using wordpress is the best bet for your website. This can be wrong too.
  • It suggests that wordpress and google have ‘something going on’ which is also wrong.
  • It suggests that wordpress might have some ‘magic formula’ that will ‘take care of your search engine needs for you.’ Guess what, this is wrong. Probably!

So, what’s right then

read more Read more…

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Pupil Achievement Data Analysis System

November 24th, 2015 by Edward

This is SUCH a cool job, and so EXACTLY up my street. It ticks so many of my boxes  – so when I am working on this project i am a happy little programmer.

middleton assessment login

Middleton is a small school offering specialist care. They have been using a great program, based around Excel to store all their assessment data, and produce a variety of specialist reports for a range of audience – teachers, parents, governors, Ofsted and so on. However, support for this program is no longer available, and whilst it still works its becoming less and less future proof.

read more Read more…

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Space to Earth Challenge

November 3rd, 2015 by Edward

Space to Earth Challenge

In December 2015 (at the time of writing) a new programme for pupils in Key Stages 2 and early 3 is being launched. This is called the ‘Space to Earth Challenge‘ and its based on visit of British Astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station. I have been delighted to be a part of the team charged with creating this fantastic educational project.

As an ex secondary school science teacher I can say with certainty that there is only one subject in science that pupils find more interesting than space … any ideas what that might be?

read more Read more…

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