1. The Best Mac Keyboard Shortcut EVER

    This is a little off-topic from my usual web dev posts, but this one is worth mentioning I think.
    If you’re a frequent screen shot taker like me, you may have tried browser add-ons, stand-alone apps or other ways of making the screen capture process easier. I’m almost always working in Photoshop so it is always open and ready to go, and on Windows PC’s the built-in screen shot method copies the image to your clipboard, from which you can just paste into Photoshop, Word, Email or whatever. When I started using Macs I was a little disappointed with the native screen capture behavior: (cmd + shift + 4) it automatically saves the image to your desktop, which can become a mess of random images. I might be the last guy on earth to find out, but there is a simple way to make a Mac behave like Windows…


    That’s it! Now the image is in your clipboard, ready to paste into whatever program you choose. (cmd + v) Aaaaah no more desktop waste, no more arbitrary ‘Picture-1.png’ files…

    Oh, You Don’t Like The default .png Image Format? Change it!

    Here’s how to change the default format that Mac uses for screenshots:

    Open Terminal and type:
    defaults write com.apple.screencapture type [image-type]
    killall SystemUIServer

    Just replace ‘image-type’ with your preferred image format.
    Types that work are:

    • bmp
    • pdf
    • gif
    • jpg
    • png
    • tiff

    That’s all for now…I found this to be incredibly useful since I take a zillion screen shots every day…I hope you get some use out of it!

  2. Free HTML and CSS Validation – Use It!

    One of the most important aspects to creating a website is making sure the pages can be interpreted by most web browsing software, like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and others. Of course all of these browsers have a number of different versions being used, which creates all sorts of issues for web developers in terms of making their sites compatible with all of the versions. While your site may look OK in IE7, it may fall apart in IE6, or look a little off in Chrome. This is usually due to the way these browsers interpret HTML and CSS code. Even though there have been huge efforts to standardize HTML, (W3C) there are still plenty of differences in browsers and the way they display web pages. But, the cause of most web page problems is due to sloppy HTML or CSS code, which is usually easy to troubleshoot.

    Where to Start When Troubleshooting Web Pages

    The simplest way to troubleshoot the code web pages are built on is to make sure it conforms to the W3C standard. While there is some debate about whether having pages ‘validate’ or not is really necessary, there is no doubt that the validator can find mistakes in both HTML and CSS, which can save you hours of searching for bone-headed coding errors. The W3C Validator should be your first stop on the road to troubleshooting code. If the site is live on the web, just paste the page link right into the validator, or if it is not live, just copy & paste the generated HTML right into the validator’s ‘Direct Input’ form. It will scrutinize your HTML and find any non-standard conventions, mistakes, or just typos, etc…

    Use the Custom Options

    A handy feature of the validator is the ‘More Options’ section – this allows you to fine-tune the results for your needs. Checking the ‘Show Outline’ box will give you an overview of the page’s structure to make sure you are using H1, H2, H3 tags correctly. This is a big help for SEO. The ‘Show Source’ option allows you to see the errors right in your original code. It’s like having a paper graded by your elementary school teacher!

    More Options in the W3c Validator

    The ‘Verbose Output’ option will give more details than you probably wanted, but the suggestions are helpful and you might learn something new.

    Don’t Forget the CSS Stylesheets

    The other important part of the validation system allows you to check your CSS code. It is very easy to overlook some of the obscure syntax (or even the not so obscure!) when writing stylesheets. Just paste a link, upload a file, or copy the code straight in – the validator will do the rest and let you know if there are any mistakes. It will also show any warnings for non-standard code.

    Just like the HTML validator, the CSS checker gives you options, even allowing you to validate against different versions of CSS – VERY helpful if you are writing mobile apps or web pages. Clicking the ‘More Options’ link will open a little dialog with the following dropdown for ‘Profile':

    More options for CSS validation

    The ‘Medium’ selections will even allow you to validate based on the intended viewing medium…screen, projector, print, braille, handheld, etc… Pretty cool!

    Save Time and Just Check It!

    It seems like a no-brainer, right? Just run your code through the W3C service and get quick, accurate results, which will save time and money. Best of all, it is free…and won’t confiscate your chewing gum.

    HTML Validation

    CSS Validator

  3. HTML5 vs. Flash – Waste of an Argument?

    As the iPad gained popularity and Steve Job’s resistance to Flash stayed the course, the issue became “If not Flash, then what?” which prompted plenty of heated arguments over the merits of each technology. Sure, Flash requires a separate download, Flash has security issues, on and on… But is HTML5 robust enough to take on the king of web animation? Not yet.

    Choosing The Best Technology

    Instead of arguing over which technology will ultimately win the war, I’d rather focus on choosing the right one for a given project. Sure, HTML5 is new and has a long way to go before it catches up with Flash, but the future is promising thanks to aggressive developer efforts. Plus, HTML5 offers some things that Flash does not, and it is an open language – not a proprietary technology whose future is determined by a big company. So, How do you know which is right for your project?

    HTML5 Compatibility

    The main hurdle we face today with HTML5 is browser compatibility. Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari all have varying levels of support, while IE trails far behind. Add to that the fact that Internet Explorer does not have an aggressive upgrade approach like Firefox, which (constantly) prompts it’s users to upgrade with each new release. IE is also widely used in the corporate world, where a browser update can mean broken intranets, web applications and other related mayhem, so full compatibility is still a couple of years away at the earliest.

    Breaking Down the Issues

    A recent project inquiry prompted me to face the HTML5/Flash topic head on. If you take some of the big issues with each technology and break them down, you can narrow your choices down quite easily. Does the content need to display on iPad or iPhone? Use HTML5. Is SEO a concern? Use HTML5. Sure, there are some workarounds for SEO in Flash, but let’s not get too far off. Is the animation and multimedia very complex? Use Flash. Sorry HTML5 aficionados, but HTML5 just isn’t there yet. Not even close really. No doubt this will change over time, with the HTML5 language gaining traction quickly.

    For Now, Use Either As Needed

    Flash isn’t going away any time soon, and still reigns supreme for complex animations and interactivity…just not on iPads or iPhones! There’s always Apple’s XCode if you need a rich graphic/multimedia app for those platforms, but for the web we are ‘stuck’ with HTML5. I say pick the one that works best for the job and worry about the battle between technologies another day! I’m off to learn some more HTML5 coding…

  4. Web Applications: Development Beyond Contact Forms

    web apps for business

    Whether it’s a corporate intranet or public-facing website, businesses often under-utilize the power of the web. Once their site is up and running with the bare-necessities, they usually leave it untouched for months or even years, much to the detriment of the site itself. Going beyond the basic ‘About Us’ and ‘Contact’ pages can make a site more engaging for visitors and more productive for a company and it’s employees.

    web apps for business

    What is Possible With Web Apps?

    From the most basic contact form to elaborate accounting systems, today’s web application architectures can support complex programming and database functionality, making modern web applications behave similarly to desktop apps like Word or Excel. Job applications, banking services, appointment setting apps and more can be built to live right on a web server, available to users with no installation or complicated software update processes. Web apps can also be designed for compatibility with any type of computer, be it PC or Mac. Why limit your users based on the hardware they choose?

    Adapting Desktop Applications to Web Apps

    On a past project, I was tasked with translating an existing support desk ticket system to a web-based application. The existing program needed to be installed on each user’s PC, requiring valuable support time from the help desk, as well as compatibility troubleshooting for each new operating system change that occurred, making the desktop app more trouble than it was worth. Moving to a web-based system meant that software updates could be done once on the server and would be instantly ‘rolled out’ to all users. In addition, users could access the program from any computer with internet access, whether it was from home via a VPN (virtual private network) or via the corporate office computers.

    Security For Web Apps

    A well-designed application can utilize the same security technology as your bank or a government website, with the proper security measures built-in to ensure the data is safe from hackers or other prying eyes. Secure logins and encrypted data transfers make sure the database and user info are protected from attacks, while giving full access to the app’s users where needed. Modern browsers support these technologies better than ever before, making them a solid platform for secure web-based business software.

    Informing Business Owners of the Options Available

    As mentioned before, most sites stop at the basic static pages, never taking advantage of the myriad web application possibilities available. A web project manager or developer should help the company identify processes that could benefit from a software solution. Many day-to-day functions could be streamlined to save hundreds or thousands of man-hours, thus saving the company money. Private intranet sites and internal applications are more and more common these days for large companies, but can also be utilized by small businesses trying to cut down on costs by reducing tedious jobs or recurring tasks that would be well-suited to a web app. Some Examples are: appointment setting programs, calendar apps, order taking apps, custom contact or information request forms, accounting software, or employee scheduling apps. Mobile web applications are another entirely new frontier, offering portable functionality with the same access as desktop apps with a simple, mobile-friendly interface. The possibilities are truly endless, and in many cases the app itself can help to generate new business, by engaging the customer in new ways.

    Leverage the Web’s Power and Reap the Rewards

    On your next web project, think beyond the same old static content and find some ways to incorporate web software solutions that help increase your productivity. Chances are there are existing business processes that would be well-suited to a browser-based program, or new creative solutions that could be introduced that will enhance the business and save valuable employee time.

    Contact Jgm3 today for a free web app consultation

  5. SOPA Makes Red Very Sad

    Internet Marketing Director Red - Very sad about SOPA/PIPA

    In a (misguided) attempt to thwart online piracy, our friends on the Hill have come up with a frighteningly overreaching bill that will give content providers and their legal eagles far too much control over what goes on the web. I don’t need to explain the whole bill – you can read all about it here. I just want to pile on the opposition to it.

    SOPA + PIPA = Slippery Slope?

    If this bill passes, the legal fiasco(s) that will ensue will be such a mess that the internet as we know it will slide into the abyss of censorship, financial warfare and corporate control. In other words, once things start sliding down the slope, the mess will be far-reaching and can’t help but hurt us in ways that don’t really help the situation they are ‘trying’ to fix (piracy/intellectual property rights,etc…)

    They Just Haven’t Caught Up Yet

    Even With all of the intellectual firepower at hand on this globe of ours, the entertainment industry just has not been able to figure out a way to protect their goodies, which has created a divide in the world of finance and the world of entertainment. There’s an ‘old guard’ and a new one, which boils down to one side has embraced the new economy and ‘gets it’, while the other side is so bogged down in the old ways and their corporate minutia, they can’t get a foothold on this new system. So what do they do? Of course, create ridiculous legal spiderwebs to catch and sue the violators…which will affect us all in the end.

    Don’t support it, tell your rep you hate SOPA/PIPA and tell your friends who don’t know about it. Awareness is an amazing tool when used correctly.

  6. Choosing Good Keywords For Your Site

    selecting good keywords

    Gone are the days of randomly guessing what terms people will search for on the web. These days competition is heavy to get on top of the search engines, and the only way to compete is to know your stuff. Instead of picking terms out of thin air and peppering your site with useless phrases you ‘think’ will get you found, there are some much more strategic ways to approach the issue.

    Don’t Guess Which Phrases Will Rank Highly

    Let’s say your business is Auto Glass & Windshield Repair. Certainly you can fill your site with the terms related to ‘Auto Glass’ and ‘Windshield Repair’, which are obvious terms, and also high-competition terms. Some people might just search for ‘chip repair’ or ‘cracked windshield repair’, along with the city or county name where they are located. Google has become pretty specific in how it handles phrases and the order of words within them, to the point where getting the right combination of terms can be the difference between page 1 and page 2 of the search results.

    Keyword Tools Focus Your Efforts

    There are tools we use to discover the appropriate terms and variations on them which will bring the most traffic. Google even provides it’s own keyword tool which takes some learning to really use properly, but provides valuable insight into what phrases people are really using. The info can be interpreted in many ways, so it is definitely a good idea to have an expert assist or take the time to study the ins & outs of the system. (I can recommend just such an expert!)

    SEO Campaigns Take Time

    Business owners want to see results fast – any business expense should have tangible ROI that returns real results in a reasonable amount of time. Instead of randomly choosing search terms and hoping your site will jump to the top of Google, it pays (pun intended) to learn the ropes or hire an expert to do the legwork when it comes to keyword research and implementation. Even with the right keywords, there are other factors to consider, such as avoiding ‘spammy’ usage of terms, ‘keyword stuffing’ which flags Google that you’re gaming the system, etc… Many neophite SEO consultants will jump in a little too heavy, going overboard with adding keywords in ways that can actually hurt the site’s ranking. Dirty SEO tricks are no longer tolerated by search engines…they are getting too smart to be fooled easily!

    Keep things Fresh

    Once you have established good SEO habits and have some targeted phrases, be sure to keep them updated – don’t think you can ‘set and forget’ with web content. The search engines are smart enough to know when your content has changed, and they give more importance to new content in most cases. There is plenty of voodoo involved as to how this really works, and is a subject for another article…but for now, just remember to keep things from getting stale – the competition may just be a little bit fresher!

    Contact Jgm3 today for a free SEO consultation