Blogging

These entries are about my blogging learning curve with comments to my clients for their edification.

Bewildering Barcelona

The day after Christmas, I went to Barcelona on a whim. More or less. (Wait, Some background.) As an architecture student in the late sixties, when I discovered Antoni Gaudi, I was in awe. He was unbelievable. What a genius. In the sixties, the “Less is more” International Style was dominant and de rigor at my school–the University of Minnesota. As I recall, I found Gaudi outside the classroom. This made him more personal, more astonishing and maybe a bit forbidden. In August of 1967, I was in Spain as a midshipman. We were docked in Valencia and with the weekend free, I was looking forward to going to Barcelona and Gaudi. But the trains were completely full that day, so I went to Madrid instead and that lost opportunity lingered.

There are other reasons for choosing Barcelona on the last week of the year, but let’s move forward: Barcelona was marvelous. Though I did some homework, I was unprepared for my eight days in BCN. Have you been there? My friends who had been there were unanimously positive. In many ways I was lucky. A friend of a friend of a friend (I’ll explain later) offered to show me around. But, my luck aside, the city’s uniqueness and charm is exceptional, far more stimulating than I had imagined. When I came back, I found New York dirty, aggressive and mundane. That too was unexpected. (Could it be something about the Mediterranean?)

I didn’t have an agenda in Barcelona, other than to see Gaudi’s church — the Sagrada Familia — and some of his residential projects.

Hanoch-PivenWhere to stay? What to prepare for? (Everybody kept talking about pickpockets.) I knew one person in Barcelona, the masterful illustrator/artist, Hanoch Piven. He was going to be out of town, but he did point me to a hotel in the Old Town or Ciutat Vella, aka Gothic. (Names might get confusing here as somethings are referred to in English, Spanish or Catalan. I would explain, but let’s not make this longer than necessary.) Gothic is about one mile by one and a quarter mile, the size of the Financial District in Manhattan below Chambers Street. (see maps above) It was built by the Romans and defined by a protective wall that expanded into the middle ages. The Gothic area is ad hoc, organic town planning. I don’t know why that has always appealed to me. Maybe because it has its own intrinsic logic or because in my Midwest, it is unimaginable. The streets and squares just seem to happen. Most streets are quite narrow. This area still contains the city government but it is also a busy tourist destination. The best way to describe things is by comparison but Barcelona is different from anything I had experienced, notably Rome or Paris. Maybe that is why I was so impressed. I am still trying to understand what I experienced. I am no expert on Barcelona, nor intend to be, so I am doing some research now in an attempt to be somewhat accurate in this post and add to my limited knowledge.

kbs1563drawing900*Here is a page that talks about the walls of Barcelona. http://museuhistoria.bcn.cat/en/node/670 Fascinating. I realize one reason why I like the ad hoc streets so much, they exude history. Also, unlike the grid, your experience is always unfolding as you walk. And you do have to walk. I think all but a few streets are closed to cars in Gothic. I never took a taxi. BTW, the Metro (subway) was excellent.

While the Gothic was impressive, it was the Modernisme architecture that was most arresting. There must be an equivalent to Stendhal Syndrome for BCN. Yes, I went to see Gaudi, and he did not disappoint, but it was only a small part of what I saw and cherished. There are a limited number of Modernisme buildings in the Gothic. With the industrial revolution, Barcelona became wealthy in the late 19th century and the walls were torn down. The city expanded. I read that the name for one prominent Modernisme district – Eixample, means expansion. This is where I found three of Gaudi projects below.

“Modernisme is equivalent to a number of other fin de siècle art movements going by the names of Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Jugendstil in Germany, Sezession in Austria-Hungary, Liberty style in Italy and Modern or Glasgow Style in Scotland, and roughly began in 1888 (the First Barcelona World Fair)” -taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernisme

Is that too much background for looking at some photos? It may be foolish to write this blog post in an attempt to understand and share my experience in Barcelona. The more I write, the more questions I have. So be it. Bear with me, dear reader.

Web Sites on All Devices with Responsive Design

before and afterSmart phones and tablets now account for an increasing percentage of all internet traffic. Oh, you knew that. Do we agree that your site should be optimized for all devices? In this post, I will discuss one design response to this web access evolution.

You probably have a smartphone. You may have a tablet. I bought an iPod Touch three years ago and an iPad in November 2010. When clients and friends question my fascination, I ask, “Do you know anybody who says they regret getting one?” I have written about my adoration here. Top of the list: I prefer to read from my iPad than from my desktop or laptop. (Writing is the reverse.) I expect that we have all adapted to surfing the internet on mobile devices. My client’s websites are all accessible (no Flash here), they are just reduced in size. There could be designs for each device but that would increase the design costs. For the past three years, I don’t think one client has asked about this. When I bring it up, adding a mobile design has been nixed for budgetary reasons.
Now there is a solution and that solution is referred to in the web development community as Responsive Web Design (RWD). Much has been written about it lately. An excellent overview, The Ultimate Responsive Web Design Roundup from Wed Designer Depot, should get you started. I will update this post with pro and con links as I find them.

While there seems to be a huge upside, experience has taught us that there are rarely any Silver Bullets. Will it really be low cost once integrated into my design approach? Does it dictate design or branding solutions? The only way for me to judge this is to dig in. I am starting my first two sites with this approach. I will add updates here as we progress.

Pro RWD Links: Experimenting With Responsive Web Design, Less RWD Framework, WebDesignShock Explains RWD, Responsive Print Styles, Responsive Images
Responsive Ads

Responsive Web Redefined

Responsive Web Graphics with SVG

Con RWD Links: Responsive Web Design is Boring

Note: I have not redesigned my own site because I have not had the time. I know I should (bad) and I have started a redesign but clients have keep me that busy (good).

Backup Your Website on Bluehost

Database diagramI have my prejudices. I like to use WordPress to build websites and I like to host those sites on Bluehost. WordPress uses a database to store most of the website information. I use a plugin to backup that database information once a week. This is a safety measure and it is important to backup the database whenever you upgrade WordPress. If something were to go wrong, like a digital hiccup, the database backup would be there to rebuild your pages and posts.

Now I should point out that in four years of building more than one hundred sites, this has never happened to me. (Thank you Deity of Your Choice! Mine is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) But what if the hosting server were to malfunction in some horrible way? This has come up in discussions we have had at the New York WordPress MeetUp Group I belong to. Buried in the fine print (which I rarely read) of almost all the hosting plans for small sites, it says that they are not responsible. They, being most web hosts. Again, this has never happened to me, but when someone tells you about how it happened to them, it is very scary as you think of all the hours it would take to rebuild a site. It would be a nightmare on those sites where I have the design on my computer, the client has the photos on his/her computer and we have to use the database to retrieve the blog and page text.

Blue Host Site BackupFear not! This Spring Bluehost remedied that by offering a site backup service called Site Backup Pro. It sounded very promising so I first searched to see what opinions others had with Site Backup and found this excellent article by Don Campbell: Backup and Restore Your Website with Bluehost. It even includes a video tutorial by Don.

I was convinced. I signed up and am recommending it to all my clients. Hopefully we will never need to use it, but $13/year is a bargain for this insurance.

Breaking News, at Least to Moi!

For the most part, this blog is directed to my clients, current and future, as well as other designers and developers who share my interests. I began building websites about ten years ago and for the past three years constructing them with WordPress. When not building them, I am reading/watching tutorials and monitoring the uber developers to improve my knowledge and skillz. That would include not just software knowledge f or me but what is available on the web that aids my client’s self promotion.   With that in mind, I want to share  a couple of “articles” I found this past week that stood out.

Google SearchFirst, The Dirty Little Secrets of Search, is a New York Times article about how J. C. Penny “gamed” the Google search engines. The Google formula that parses its searches is a closely guarded secret. David Segal gives the most informative investigation I have seen about this process. SEO (search engine optimization) is always of interest to my clients and fellow geeks. Web Words That Lure the Readers is another New York Times article on the subject of SEO.
UPDATE 022711: Seeking to Weed Out Drivel, Google Adjusts Search Engine

history of typeSecond, was a link from Swiss-Miss.com to a Tim Brown lecture, More Perfect Typography as Vimeo screencast and LogoTalks blogpost. Typography has been an obsession for the past thirty years and yet there were some new ideas here that, even if I don’t agree with them, they are certainly worth considering. I thank Tim for sharing his philosophy.

Facebook pagesThird is Facebook. (I should probably do a post just on Facebook but until then….) Facebook has been getting more and more attention as destination that is driving the web. Could it be Web 3.0? I think it is too early to say, but it must be considered now and I am advising my clients to add it to their knowledge base if they want to promote themselves or some product. How Brands Can Make the Most of Facebook’s New Pages from Mashable is a great place to start.
UPDATE 021911: I got caught in my first Facebook spam today. A trusted friend posted a link where she got a free iPad for being an iPad tester. I clicked and started filling out my contact information. Soon it became suspicious as it went on and on. Later I saw a note from her apologizing to all her “friends.” Facebook’s reputation depends on excellent security. Negative publicity will tarnish it.

WordPress App for the iPhone

iphone320wpThis is pretty sweet. I am writing this post from my iPod touch. I was schmoozing with Brad Williams of WebDevStudios at WordCampNYC today about iPhone apps. I knew he had Bump and I would like to have tried it but I took it off my Touch. Being WordCamp, Brad asked if I had the WordPress app. What? I didn’t know. He told me to be sure and get WordPress 2. I just did and this is my Hello World. So let’s save this puppy and move on before the Colts/Pats game begins.

UPDATE: That worked well. I didn’t try adding photos yet, but will. What I can not do with the WordPress app on my iPod, is make a link. So now I will make a link to Brad and WebDev while editing/chained on/to my desktop ‘puter looking out onto Broadway. It’s a beautiful day. The Colts prevailed!!!

Apture, Mobify and Flowers

25-tulips450Recently I discovered two website features that could be of interest to my clients: Apture and Mobify.
First Apture. Apture gives a web page reader hyperlinks without having to leave the page. You can see it at work in the text on this page of drawings I recently did on my iPod Touch. (Or see it now by clicking on the iPod Touch link.) I think it is a great advantage to not leave the page to see maps, video or Wikipedia snippets, but you will be the judge of that. Another great feature of Apture is that it can be added by the client without special software. After I add some code to the selected  pages, he/she can edit the Apture links from within his/her browser (Firefox, Safari, IE). There are some quirks to it. Or maybe it is me, but the more I use it, the more I expect I will master it and the developers at Apture will improve their code. See the Apture website for more details. It is not as simple as drag and drop, but for certain sites, the payoff is well worth it.

Now Mofiby. I sent the Flower Series page to a friend to beta test and got back the reply, “Sorry, Flash is not iPhone friendly.” Damn! That’s right, I use Flash to show the time lapse drawings. I also know that Apture can demand a lot from the iPhone Safari browser. Though it is much improved on the OS 3 upgrade, it should still be thought of as Safar Lite.

I love my iPod Touch and believe that smartphones are definately the future of digital data. My web sites need to designed to account for this. If you are viewing this on a smartphone now, the Flower Series page is a good test for adapting rich media pages to the small screen. I had heard of Mobify from web guru Chris Coyier but had not had a chance to explore it. Mobify is also a bit glitchy. But like Apture, I am in the process of mastering it and believe it can be a good solution for this web development issue.