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On the subject of Technology


June 25th, 2008.

Design tools

Recently there has been a lot of talk about what software designers should use, or whether they should just skip the entire process and go straight to HTML & CSS.  The debate continues, but  I want to echo some of the responses made and emphasise that design software in any form is just a tool, and that which tool you use hugely depends on what you are trying to achieve.

We have a huge variety of clients and design needs here at Datadial.  Over the last month I have used Photoshop, Visio, the good ol’ fashioned pen and paper and in one case I did go straight to HTML/CSS.  What method do I like to use?  It all depends on the client’s needs!  The project that I went straight to HTML with had a very minimalistic layout that is hugely dependant on typography.  The ones I use pen & paper on require a large level of creativity and speed that you cannot get from going straight to a computer.  Photoshop is very flexible and creative, likewise for Illustrator.

I don’t think the tool really matters either. As long as the end result is what the client is after and works for their audience, then whether or not you use Photoshop doesn’t come into the equation.  The tool is not going to make a successful website – that comes to understanding who is using the site and designing for them.


June 23rd, 2008.

Valuable resources for web designers

My bookmarks toolbar in Firefox is full with great websites at my fingertips to keep up to date with what is happening in the web design industry.  I have recently moved to London from New Zealand and I accidently left my great list of resources behind – whoops! I really should get into online bookmarking!

So I’ve had to rebuild my bookmark collection and thought it would be nice to share some them with you here (in no particular order…)

  • Web Designer Wall – perhaps my favourite website of all, the mixture of news, tutorials and resources is just spot-on!  And the site looks so pretty :-)
    Spoon Graphics and Design Reviver are in a similar vein with that magic combination of content.
  • Best Web Gallery is a great spot for research and inspration.  I really like it how this gallery doesn’t discrimate about the technology used on the featured site, like there are Flash sites mixed in with Web Standards sites – but they are all chosen because of their outstanding design.
  • A List Apart – the authority and cutting edge on web standards developments.  Publishing techniques like the Faux Absolute Positioning is just invaluable, and illustrations are just so gorgeous…
  • Which brings me to illustration websites.  Unfortunately most of the great illustration sites I used to have bookmarked were ones I’d stumbled upon by accident, but Keven Cornell’s site is a superb website that inspires me before I even read a word!
  • Signal vs. Noise is a must read for anyone in the web world.  Likewise for other blogs by the industry leading guys such as Douglas Bowman, Jeff Croft, Mark Boulton and John Hicks.  I still miss Andy Clarke’s old blog, but keep an eye out for the occassional post at Stuff & Nonsense :-)
  • Design Float is a great website that collates other blog posts about web design.
  • Other design resources like ColourLovers (perfect for fleshing out colour schemes), Photoshop brushes, free fonts and more tutorials.
  • Viget Inspire is a great blog by the web designers at Viget, addressing many issues regarding web design.
  • And last but by no means least is the Web Standards Group email list.  Over the last year or so I’ve found that the list itself can be rather tedious at times, but then once a week Russ Weakley puts out the Links for Light Reading which is a summary of what’s going on around the blogosphere and in the web design/standards world.


June 20th, 2008.

What happens if your site goes down…

With Sainsburys website going down this week and Amazon’s the week before it is worth taking a moment or two to consider what would happen to your business if your website was out of action.

For most e-commerce clients this could have catastrophic consequences: not only would sales evaporate but you would also lose access to all your sales  and customer data.

However, hosting and the quality thereof is often totally ignored in client briefs.  It is definitely not a priority and is only ever occasionally paid lip service.  This may have been ok a few years ago when websites were just an experiment and an addition to an existing business rather than the core to a business.

However, it is difficult to convince people to invest in proper corporate hosting as there is a perception that hosting should be practically free. It’s true there are some companies offering hosting for £10 per year of less.  Honestly, what do you think these companies would provide in terms of back up or reliability servcie lever agreement.  Not much I think.

So what should you consider when hosting your website.   There are many things to consider, here are just three.

First, where is your website being hosted and who manages and owns the servers.  Most websites in the UK are hosted in Telehouse in Docklands where there are massive generally well managed datacenters.  But have you ever seen inside a data center, have you ever asked about their air conditioning systems, their own back up power supply, their connectivity to the web?  Then what about the servers; who owns them? Who is responsible for updating them with critical patches? When is this done? What happens if they crash? What is the rebuild time? How many other sites are their on the same server as yours? How secure is the access to the servers?  If you are not asking these questions then you are not taking your website presence seriously.

Second there are back ups.  How often is your site backed up and where are the back ups kept? If your service provider’s data center is blown up (a very realistic proposition, especially if you house your website in Telehouse in docklands) will the back ups go up with it.   If they are kept offsite how often are they taken offsite.

Third, what about redundancy.  If your server crashes is there a mirror server which will automatically take over?  What if your website is overloaded with visitors, can your server handle the traffic?  Is there a load balancing mechanism that will automatically divert users to an alternative server?

All these issues need to be addressed when considering hosting and website owners need to change their mindset from considering hosting as essentially a free service to one that is valued and is invested in appropriately according to business requirements and risk assessment.




June 17th, 2008.

Open Office 2007 Docx files in Office 2003

If you are on office 2003 user this plug in will enable you to open office 2007 docs.  I haven’t the strength to tell you how idiotic Microsoft are to have created this problem!


January 31st, 2008.

Firefox Developer Extensions

Here is a list of 25 Firefox Developer Extensions that we find extremely useful at Datadial. These extensions are geared towards web development, SEO, network administration and end user marketing.

1. Firebug

Firebug integrates with Firefox to put a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. You can edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript live in any web page… More

2. Web Developer

The extension is actually a large collection of various tools for a Web master. Using Web Developer, you can get extensive information about page elements: link details, size, attributes, and colors. More

3. View Source Chart

Draws a colour-coded chart of a web page’s source code. More


4. Total Validator 5.0

Provides true HTML validation (HTML 2.0 to XHTML 1.1) using the official DTDs, plus added attribute checking.
Also performs accessibility validation (WCAG, US-508), broken link checking, spell checking (5 languages), and takes screenshots using 25 browsers on Windows, Linux, and OS/X. More


WASP is the Web Analytics Solution Profiler, a free Firefox extension aimed at web analytics implementation specialists and web analysts who wants to do quality assurance and understand how their web analytics solution is implemented. More

6. FireShot

FireShot is a Firefox extension that creates screenshots of web pages. Unlike other extensions, this plugin provides a set of editing and annotation tools, which let users quickly modify captures and insert text and graphical annotations. Screenshots can be saved to disk (PNG, JPEG, BMP), copied to clipboard, e-mailed and sent to external editor for further processing. More

7. JSView 2.0

All browsers include a “View Source” option, but none of them offer the ability to view the source code of external files. Most websites store their javascripts and style sheets in external files and then link to them within a web page’s… More

8. Router Status

View the status of your router in the tool or status bar. More

9. Console² 0.3.9

Console² (pronounced Console Squared or Console Two) replaces the JavaScript Console with what could be the next generation Error Console… More

10. GA? – Is Google Analytics Installed 0.6

Checks to see if Google Analytics is installed on any given page. More

11. IE View 1.3.5

Lets you load pages in IE with a single right-click, or mark certain sites to *always* load in IE. More

12. Professor X 0.4.1

The Professor X Extension let’s you see inside a page’s head without viewing the sourcecode… More

13. EditCSS 0.3.7

Stylesheet modifier in the Sidebar. More

14. SeoQuake 2.0.11

Seoquake is a Mozilla Firefox extension aimed primarily at helping web masters who deal with search engine optimization and internet promotion of web sites. Seoquake allows to obtain and investigate many important SEO parameters of the internet… More

15. 1.0.10

Create free disposable email addresses and paste them directly in forms. This helps to protect you from spam mails and could be useful when subscribing to forums or newsletters… More

16. ViewSourceWith

The main goal consists to view page source with external applications but you can also…

– open page source as DOM document, read faq
– open CSS and JS files present on page
– open images using your preferred image viewer (e.g. GIMP or ACDSee)
– open PDF links with Acrobat Reader or Foxit Reader or what you prefer
– edit textboxes content with your preferred editor and automatically see modified text on browser when you re-switch focus on it, this simplifies wiki pages editing, read faq
– open server side pages that generate the browser content, this simplifies web developer’s debug, read server-faq
– open files listed in Javascript console. When editor open file the cursor can be moved to line number shown on javascript console.

17. FireFTP 0.97.1

FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP client for Mozilla Firefox which provides easy and intuitive access to FTP servers. More

18. KGen 0.2.1

KGen (Keyword Generator) is an extension that allows you to see what keywords are strong on visited web page. Then, you can retrieve them for social sharing (tag filling) or webmastering/SEO. More

19. Extended Copy Menu 1.4

Provides the option to copy selection as plain text or html… More

20. PageDiff 1.2

Pagediff is a simple page compare application. It helps web developers and designers to see HTML-code(text) differences between web pages… More

21. IE Tab

This is a great tool for web developers, since you can easily see how your web page displayed in IE with just one click and then switch back to Firefox. More

22. View Dependencies

View Dependencies adds a tab to the Page Info window, in which it lists all the files which were loaded to show the current page.  More

23. MeasureIt 0.3.6

Draw out a ruler to get the pixel width and height of any elements on a webpage. More

24. Add-ons Sidebar 0.2.2

View your Add-ons in the sidebar by pressing Ctrl+Shift+E! More

25. Update Notifier

Notifies you when updates are available for your extensions and themes. Allows quick access to your extensions and themes and the ability to check both types for any updates. Easily configurable for automatically installing updates when available… More


November 27th, 2007.

Disclaimers & signatures

Disclaimers and signatures in general are very easy and quick to implement. Saying that if you are a small business running exchange 5.5 2000/2003/2007 and need to ensure that all users are setup with a standard Disclaimer and Signature or other advanced features you would normally need to use a third party software.

There is no better product than Exclaimer to achieve the desired results. In the Scenario where a client with over 50 users needed to add a disclaimer, Signature and auto-reply (to certain groups) with different responses. My only request to the client was send me a list of all user details and request all users to remove signatures before they leave at the end of the day.

An hour later after updating there Active Directory with staff details I was able to setup a centralised location for all Signatures and Disclaimers.
All user’s information is pulled in automatically from the active directory, and groups where setup with different auto-responses.


August 29th, 2007.

Global Web Stats

Just how popular is Vista today? How many people have switched from IE6 to IE7? Just what share of the browser market does Firefox have?

For answers to these questions and more it is worth regularly checking W3 Counter’s Global Stats which can be found here:

These stats are generated by tracking the last 32 million unique visits to 5,500 websites that represent a broad cross section of internet traffic. From each unique visit, the web browser, operating system, country of origin and screen resolution can all be determined to produce a reasonably good picture of just what general web traffic looks like today.

From looking at the latest stats for 20/08/07 we can see that a person in the USA, running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6 with a screen resolution of 1024×768 is your average Joe web surfer, this accounts for 6% of web users. Myself I am based in the UK, running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 7 (as my primary browser) and screen resolution of 1280×1024. Only one in a thousand computers run the same combination as I do.

But lets look at the really interesting stats.

Starting with web browsers we can see that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the market with an approx 66% share. This is not taking into account the stats for IE5, IE4 and earlier, which I am sure some systems in less developed countries are still running. However the real story here is that IE’s lead is slipping due to Firefox’s continuing popularity – Firefox versions 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0 now account for approx 25% of all web browsers. Safari still has an approximate 2-3% share, however it is unclear whether Safari or Firefox dominate the browser industry for Macs.

Operating system stats show that it’s been a slow start for the brand new operating system from Microsoft – Windows Vista. Just 3.33% of the OS market in August, but recent trends show that share increasing. In May 2007 it was 2.13% and has increased by 1.2% over the past 3 months. XP still dominates, but I expect to see Vista’s share increase more rapidly over the next few years as more people buy new PCs or upgrade. Mac OS X users still account for just under 4% of all users suggesting that the marketing managers at Apple need to do more than their latest “Mac vs PC” advertising campaign to encourage more people to make the big switch.

The stats for the countries of origin offer no real suprises with the US of A leading. Germany and the UK in 2nd and 3rd place respectively and a suprising Latvia in 4th. The Chinese account for just over 2% of all users who visited the web pages in question, but recent media reports suggest this statistic is far higher (almost as dominant as the US). It is well known that the Chinese government have blocked internet sites, which could include many in these reports, or that it may be that the sites in the report are more westernised, located in the US (may be blocked), or are written in languages that Chinese web users are generally unlikely to understand – you can only speculate.

Screen resolution statistics are largely trivial, but the most common is 1024×768, which I am sure will remain dominant for many years to come. Many IT professionals, gamers and experienced computer users generally opt for higher resolutions such as 1280×1024, or widescreen resolutions such as 1280×800 or 1440×900. If any of these statistics should be taken into consideration its that 8.42% of web users are still using a low resolution of 800×600. This figure is falling slowly, in May 2007 it was 9%. While many of the systems running 800×600 may be in less developed countries, nevertheless it is important for web designers to design websites with this low resolution in mind. An example of how not to do it –

Because of the lack of legacy data, it is difficult to put some of these stats into context over the past few years, but rest assured I will be keeping track of them over time and a review of the stats will come in the shape of another blog article towards the end of the year.


July 19th, 2007.

Virtual Desktop Screen

If you are like me where you have to give support on several different systems and are constantly hopping desks looking for a free mac or linux, or you have several machines in front of you and you are having to switch between machines using a kvm switch you are going to love this tool synergy.

I lined up 4 Desktops and monitors with different OS that I constantly use. I then installed synergy on all machines, after 15 mins I was in control of all machines using only one mouse and keyboard and Scrolling typing and opening programs from left to right across all desktops as if the computers where welded together
Matt Cutts shows how to configure Synergy in six steps


July 12th, 2007.

Surface Computing

Ever thought you could exchange Pictures from your PDA or Camera buy simply placing your device on top of the table,
or Placing an order a la minority report style

Minority Report

Surface Computing

Microsoft have finally revealed Surface Computing a technology where users intereacts with the desktop
Completly by touch.

Official Surface Computer Site

Video Demo By Znet


July 12th, 2007.

Building a PC

Have you ever thought of building your own PC, but have been put off due how daunting the task maybe?
Well if you can put together a lego kit you can put together a pc from parts.
Jeff Attwood has written an excellent article he explains how to put together the components, test stability and overclocking the PC.

Build PC Part I
Build PC Part II
Build PC Part III


June 25th, 2007.

Spam or Viruses that seem to be Origintated from Clients Organizations

One of the most common questions I get asked from clients is, why do I get spam or email virus that appears to originate from inside our organization.Spammers and Viruses are becoming evermore resourceful in trying to elude us to open their emails. One of the simplest ways of getting you to open an email is spoofing email address of users we trust. There are several ways they can get hold of user’s emails the question is how you stop spammers and viruses from faking addresses.Today’s anti-spam are composed of several layers for detecting spam. One of the methods for detecting fake or spoof emails is inbound authentication and Identity verification technically known as SIDF.

How Sender ID Works

  1. The sender sends an e-mail message.
  2. The recipient’s inbound e-mail server receives the message.
  3. The inbound e-mail server checks which domain claims to have sent the message and checks
    the DNS for the SPF record of that domain. The inbound server then determines if the IP address
    of the sending e-mail server matches the IP addresses that are published in the SPF record.
    E-mail messages that fail may be deleted, blocked, or sent to the Junk e-mail folder.
  4. As a recommended option, the Sender ID result can be combined with reputation data about the
    IP/domain holder. This reputation data enhances delivery decisions for all e-mail, including
    messages sent from both legitimate senders and spammers which may pass the Sender ID check.
  5. When combined with the receiving network’s anti-spam and anti-phishing technologies, the
    e-mail may be delivered to the Inbox, the Junk or Quarantine folders, or may be blocked and deleted.


Question is, so why are fake emails still getting through?
Many small businesses do not know or still have not implemented this extra layer of security until a majority of business implement the SPF on their domains we will still continue to receive fake emails or we could opt to block all emails that have not implemented, this solution is risky as businesses could possibly lose important emails from potential clients

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