Category Archives: Technology

SEO Daily links + Bridge + Rel-author

My tool related learning of the day: I used Adobe Bridge for the first time. It is a “media manager that provides centralized access to all your creative assets.” I don’t know about “all,” , but it was great for finding the kind of images I needed for my work from the company’es vault.

My code related learning of the day: how to userel=author” to get my picture in to Googl’e search results. I just need to get a good picture of myself and then I am ready to implement it for my own blogs. Pictures help with higher clickthrough.

My fun learning of the day: how to make a cut up a horizontal portrait of myself and place it in cool chunks onto my Google+ profile page, or as the authors of the guide call it: How to Pimp Your Google+ Profile Design.

And now onto today’s SEO links with my comments in italics:

  • Andrew Shotland muses about What Will Google Plus Google Places Equal?
    Even if only half of his predictions come through it is a nice little collection of forward thinking possibilities. Whatever form the combination of these tools will take shape it will have serious implications for the SEO business.  
  • Barry Schwatrz pointed out the specs on how to get your products included into Google Product Search will change in September.
    I wasn’t even aware that there are recommended ways to get into the products search. I spent a few minutes trying to find out whether a client of mine can get in even if he is not a Google Merchant, but didn’t figure it out. Will spend some time on it, as the implications could be huge for them.
  • An article on SEOMoz on How Google+ Affected Social Shares and +1 Adoption Rates.
    I love numbers, particularly if they are visualized. This article doesn’t have cool infographics, just standard charts, but they are still interesting. They examined the top sites on Technorati’s list and found widespread use of the latest tools. No surprises there though.

SEO daily links + CSS absolute positioning + Photoshop paths

I am just slight ashamed to admit the two things I’ve learned today. I have studied how positioning works in CSS, but never really tested it. Today I had to to use absolute positioning for a website, so finally I had a chance to put in practice, whet theoretically I already knew. It was a pleasure to see it workings after I figured out the difference between various ways of positioning with CSS with the help of this video.

I also read about and seen the “path” tool in Adobe Photoshop, but never used it. Today I had to and I am slightly clearer on the concept. There is still a lot I don’t know, including tips and best practices for its use, but at least I believe I am initiated and on the right “path.”

The reason for my shame: I should have been using these for years by now. But I never had a real need before, so it’s better later than never, right?

Today’s links with my comments in italics:

  • Jason Stinnett offered 3 Ways to Use Google’s New Search by Image for Link Building: get background info, search for guest posters, find coverage that didn’t result in a link.
    I didn’t even know about the existence of the “search by image” feature tool. Here is how it works, “Just specify an image, and you’ll find other similar or related images as well as relevant results from across the Web.” Sounds fun, but the results weren’t very impressive with the first few images I tried.
  • Greg Finn pointed to an official Google video confirming that On Google+ “Non-User Profiles” Will Be Shut Down.
    This means we don’t have to rush with implementing Google+ presence for our clients as for now only individuals can be there and the business variety of the project will come later. 

End of an Amazon account

According to my records I had an affiliate account at Amazon.com since at least the beginning of 2000. It might have been earlier, but that’s when I first got payment from them. (An affiliate account allows linking to Amazon.com and earning a fee when somebody follows that link and buys something there.) On June 29 I received an email from Amazon stating that if the California Governor signs a new law they may terminate my account. (Full text of the letter.) As soon as I got the letter I started looking for alternatives. I signed up for Google Affiliate Network, which was a prerequisite for becoming affiliate with AbeBooks, Barnes and Noble (BN) and Google eBooks.

No longer Amazon AffiliateThe next day the Governor signed the law and my 11 years old Amazon affiliate account suddenly ended. (See termination letter.) On the same day I got approved to become an affiliate for AbeBooks and BN. A few days later I got declined to become an affiliate for Google’s eBook program. I was disappointed as that’s the program I was the most interested in. But they probably looked at my sites and decided they are not professional enough. There was no real explanation given for the decline. I might try again later, after I made the sites beautiful, useful and successful.

So now I am learning how to create links for AbeBooks. On the one hand their terms say “Affiliates are NOT allowed to direct link. Any sales generated through direct linking are not commissionable.” On the other hand they have a page for creating direct links. Confusing and I don’t have the time right now to sort it out.

BN doesn’t seem to allow creating more than a few direct links and I would need hundreds. I still have to figure out how this system works and the help/FAQ fils I studied so far didn’t help. Have to invest more time into it if I want to make it work.

I am not going back to hundreds of pages and blog posts to remove the Amazon.com links. But from most of my sites where the links are generated in a more automatic fashion (eg. from a database or from Drupal) I already removed the links to Amazon.

This fiasco made me rethink why I am building these sites (SocRelig, KabbalahBooks, and FilmAndReligion). On the one hand these cover topics I am interested in and I thought I can provide a service to the online world, by making them. On the other hand I always hoped that one day they can generate some revenue for me. I never earned more than few dollars a month via my Amazon.com account, but at least that contributed towards the ISP fees. Now I have to ponder upon

  • how important it is to make money from these ventures
  • how much energy I can put into them if they don’t
  • what other channels/methods should I explore for them to generate revenue.

I need a bit of time to figure these out…

Drupal Learning Journal 25. Drupalcamp summary

Now that I logged my learning of the Drupalcamp I attended (1, 2, 3) I can also summarize my impressions of the whole event.

  • First of all I am very happy that I went, because I learned a lot and were among people. I don’t do enough of the latter nowadays.
  • I am a bit disappointed as I didn’t socialize at all, didn’t have a conversation with anybody throughout the two days. I can be a bit shy in new situations, so that was a major reason for this. But also the program didn’t have any social activity built in, besides a few “Birds of a Feather” sessions. But they conflicted with other sessions I was more interested in. Lesson learned: at future Drupalcamp’s I cannot afford to be shy if I want to have a social experience as well, not just a learning one.
  • I also realized, that I am no longer the most junior drupalista. I was already familiar with a lot of the content of the lectures. This was the positive way to put the fact that I didn’t have a chance to maximize my learning: about 30% of the time I was listening to things I already knew. Despite the fact that I very carefully selected which sessions to attend.
  • The quality of the organization, the location and lecturers were superb. I can’t think of anything that could have been better, with the exception of extracurricular activities.

Drupal Learning Journal 24. Drupalcamp, day 2, afternoon

I was torn what competing session I should start off the afternoon of the second day of Drupalcamp at Stanford. After hearing about “greyboxing” yesterday for the first time I was tempted to go to Floor Vahn’s session on “The Art of Wireframing: Using the Greybox Model to Visualize the User Experience.” But when at the description of the session I found the link to Chapter Three’s excellent blog entry on the same topic and I assumed that that’s what they would present. That entry not just outlines, but explains in details the method and they even posted the downloadable templates. Thus I felt free to go to the other session on “Configuring WYSIWYG editors” During lunchbreak I asked the presenter, Jennifer Lampton of Chapter Three, whether the session will cover Drupal 6 or 7. She explained that there is only one module difference, otherwise the process is the same and that she will demonstrate the process on Drupal 6. I already managed to configure WYSIWYG on a Drupal 6 site once correctly (I hope), so I wasn’t that enthused. But on the other hand I didn’t manage to finish it on another site and it is definitely not routine for me yet. So I went and was very please with that I did, because I learned more tricks of the trade. I won’t describe the whole configuration process, because I don’t have her files yet. She said that she will later post a link to it at the session’s info page. But here are some highlights that were mostly new to me.

  • In an ideal world (from the developer’s perspective) everybody would know HTML, but you cannot tell the client that they need to learn HTML.
  • WYSIWYG will be part of Drupal 8, but that’s probably two years away.
  • “Input format” is a bad name: it should be called “output format”
  • Users should not see the the notes under the textbox explaining what tags are allowed, allowed code, what gets converted automatically (email and URL to links) and that  lines break automatically. Most users wouldn’t understand it, just confusing them.
  • Putting WYSIWYG onto the “Full HTML” input format is a potential security risk; create a new “input format” instead.
  • Don’t let anonymous users use the input format with WYSIWYG in it.
  • If you are using WYSIWYG then disable the “line break converter” filter, because the WYSIWYG editor will take care of that.
  • Use <em>, not <i>; <strong>, not <b> in the setting where you whitelist what tags are allowed for the input format.
  • WYSIWYG” module provides a generic API for editor; this is the module that will go into Drupal 8
  • If you uncheck the “allow users to choose default” option then the options don’t show up in the user interface, i.e. they won’t confuse the users.
  • On the screen where you check what buttons should show in the user’s WYSIWYG field the linked options are plugins. These might be useful (beyond the usual ones): “removing format,”  “paste from word,” “paste text,” “HTML Block format.”
  • If you want consistent look and feel don’t allow people to change font colors.
  • Under the “cleanup and output” section if you check the “apply source formatting” will make it easier to read the code if you need to. If you do this though then uncheck the “remove linebreaks” option.
  • The “Better Formats” module (D7 in dev) establishes default user format per roles or per node types. But they are excuted in order, so you need to move the admin editor up. Which is a potential security risk, have to tighten the lower levels. It also helps to remove the “input formats” link under the body field. (Use the permissions to set up correctly what to show.)
  • The “WYSIWYG filter” (D7 is planned, not in dev yet) module is a slightly more intelligent version of HTML filter.
  • The “FileField Sources” module (D7 is coming along slowly)  lets people to find their images from multiple sources.

The second session I attended this afternoon was John Bickar‘s “Intro to Drush” . John is Stanford’s “User Services technology Specialist.” Drush is a “veritable Swiss Army knife” that makes your life easier when maintaining Drupal sites. John’s (2 page PDF) handout is posted on the session page. It’s prety self explanatory and I don’t have notes to share beyond that. My goal for attending this session was to demystify Drush for me and it sure did. In theory I can use the basic commands now and I see how it can speed up Drupal management a great deal. However I have to keep in mind that drush disregards any security/permission settings that was set up in Drupal. it assumes that if yuo are already using Drush you are allowed to do whatever you want. In other words I can seriously mess up if I don’t know what I am doing. On the other hand a lot of routine tasks are much-much faster to get done view drush’s command line interface than via Drupal’s own GUI.

There were two options for a third session this afternoon. I was not interested in the one titled “So what’s this “Drew-paul” thing you do? (aka explaining Drupal to others).” The other session initially sounded interesting: “What you don’t know you don’t know about Drupal 6.” However the presenter posted his slides at the session description and based on that I decided I don’t need to go. More than half of the things mentioned there I already knew and the other half was clear from the slides. Thus instead of staying for a fifth session of the day I drove home and caught a family member’s birthday party that otherwise I would have missed.

Drupal Learning Journal 23. Drupalcamp, day 2, morning

The morning sessions of the Drupalcamp at Stanford is over and I am rushing to write it up before the afternoon sessions are starting.

First I attended Harris Rashid’s (another Chapter Three employee) Theme preprocess functions in template.php” session about “How to intercepts data coming from core and modules and customize them for your own needs.”

  • It was a very hands on session, going through customizing both a node.php and template.php and deconstructing the $content variable
  • Started off with Acquia Prospero theme.
  • Tools used: devel module, admin module, firebug, “Basic” theme (started, based on the Zen theme)
  • Example: Overriding: $submitted in template.php
    – look for “theme_node_submitted” function in node.module
    – copy the function from there to template.php and change it
  • Always override, never change a core module
  • Use dpm($vars) (drupal print message) from the “Devel module” that prints out the all the variable what’s available in node
  • http://api.drupal.org/api/function/check_plain – useful to sanitize content coming from users
  • There was much more, but without I didn’t manage to copy the code form screen and without that it doesn’t make much sense to post more here.

The second session I attended this morning was Sean Lange‘s “Using Panels to Make Smarter Pages” One of these days I will just need to sit down and play with Panels myself. Till then it doesn’t make much sense to make notes of the steps involved. Instead I just mention some highlights that I want to remember for the future.

  • An older version of Sean’s slides are available both from the Drupalcamp site and from his own at seanlange.com.
  • His professional site also has good content: http://webthingee.com/
  • We went through creating panels for his imaginary “Heroes of Badcamp” site.
  • Use “selection rules” for defining what type of nodes should have the panes specified.
  • Different panels are called “variants.” Drupal follows them in order: the first one on the appropriate list is executed.
  • Advantage of having a panel with a single pane: if users click the “edit” button, they can edit only the top part. The dynamic or view part under it is left untouched.
  • Draggable views” implements a weighing system, making “rows of a view “draggable” which means that they can be rearranged by Drag’n’Drop” by the users.
  • Each pane can have a visibility rule, by user role and/or node type.
  • The biggest evolution for Panels in Drupal 7 is “In-place editing”
  • We didn’t get to what I’d call “smarter” pages, but I still learned a lot of new functionality.

Drupal Learning Journal 22. Drupalcamp day 1

I am at my first Drupalcamp (a conference where training and discussion on Drupal is happening) ever and loving it. It is at Stanford. This morning, I wanted to check directions and parking instruction on the event’s site, but they changed the design and it was so bad that I couldn’t read anything on it. I should have taken a screenshot of it to show it to you, particular that by now (evening) the design has been restored to its regular and functional version. As a result of my imperfect instructions I parked more than a mile away from the correct location on campus, so I had to rush through campus in the hottest and most humid day of the year. (I didn’t make that up. I am staying with my cousin, who has been a professor here for 6 years, and he said that he never experienced such a day here.)

I signed in 15 minutes before the first session and mentioned that the site was illegible. They reminded me that it was April 1. finally it dawned on me that it was a prank design. And now onto what  learned today on the three sessions I attended.

The first session on “How to Execute an Effective Design Process” was led by Nica Lorber. She works at ChapterThree, a drupal design and training company, that was sponsoring the event.  Her talk was an extended version of her blog entry with a similar title: How To Run A Creative Design Process For A Big Project. A lot of what she shared was not new to me, because of my training in “information science”, having worked for more 15 years with web projects and in general having a mind that is geared towards architectural thinking. Her work, talk and focus was about large projects, with lots of people working on a site both from the developer and from the clients’ end. So far I didn’t find myself in such a scenario, so her tips were not applicable yet, but they all made sense. I won’t repeat everything she wrote on her blog entry that you can read, just sharing some of the highlights of my notes.

  • When somebody asks what I like to do I often say that I like to organize large amount of information into accessible ways and chunks. Nica’s personal motto covered a similar idea: “What I am good at: Making sense out of the chaos.”
  • Her list of tools was great, despite many of them Mac only. From the non-Mac tools I plan to check out Fireworks and Open Atrium
  • Her blog entry includes a downloadable example of all the project deliverables. Very useful considering what they are: project schedule, strategy document, content inventory, site map, template page content and goals, use cases, wireframes, graphical comps, and style guide.
  • The idea behind the two boldfaced entry comes from the idea that wording/content is important. This is not a new idea, but, according to Nica, that is a shift towards rediscovering it. It is the basis of a new book called “The Elements of Content Strategy“, available from ABookApart.com.
  • Scenarios, uses cases, user profiles – these are all things I learned about, but never did. She did and emphasized their importance in the design process.
  • New idea for me was to create a “greybox version of a wireframe“. Supposedly it is very easy to do in Fireworks and it acts as a mockup for the real site, but it is all greyscale. Useful to show it to the client as part of an earlier stage the delivery process.

The second and third sessions I attended were both about “Development best practices” and led by two Chapter Three employees:  Jenifer Lampton (director of training) and David Needham (themer and trainer). Both sessions covered two topics, so essentially I had these four mini-sessions.

  1. Features module: The official description of the module is a good start but it doesn’t explain well enough what it can do: “The features module enables the capture and management of features in Drupal. A feature is a collection of Drupal entities which taken together satisfy a certain use-case.”
    – As I understood it “Features” is a way to pack together a lot of exportable parts of a Drupal site (e.g. certain views, menus, permissions, content types…) and export them as a “feature”, that can be used as is at another installation of the same site (e.g. dev, test, live) or possible at another site.
    – The example that was shown during the presentation was a photo gallery.
    – We used this site for the example.
    – During the QA I made notes to check out the Strongarm module (although the presenter disliked it.
    – Features is good for version control within the team and managing the lifecycle of one site. Not the best of using the exact same feature on sites of multiple clients.
  2. GIT – “free & open source, distributed version control system”
    –  The notes for this part of the session can be downloaded from session’s description at the Chapter Three website.
    – This session was a bit over my head as I never used extensively any versioning system. The session was going fast, as we were running out of time, so I am not sure I followed everything. But I was told that I cannot mess up totally and will be easy if I start using it.
    –  Important to note that “commit” does not mean “push”: you have to “push” your files and changes to the server repository from your local/dev copy.
    – During the presentation I accidentally saw that the presenter is using http://www.fillerati.com/ a cool site to get  “filler” text content for sites under development.
  3. Theming – I decided to attend this session as this one the areas that I need to learn now and am less comfortable with
    –  Theming is a system of overrides: base overrides core templates, sub theme overrides base theme’s templates.
    – It works like  “cascading template files”.
    – Base and sub theme can both go to sites/all/themes.
    – Each theme needs a .info file. In it name, core, engine, description, (base theme).
    – Drupal will scan the disk for a css. If it doesn’t exist it will not print the link to it in HTML. (smart)
  4. Module writing
    – The most important lesson I took away from this session: “don’t be afraid.” The presenter assured us that once you get started with it you can do it; assuming you know PHP and how to look things up at http://api.drupal.org/api/drupal
    – Modules have cascading naming system. E.g. for blocks you have block.tplp.php (any block) ->  block-left.tpl.php (left side block) – > block-user.tpl.php (blocks showing up for users) -> block-user-1.tpl.php (first block showing up for users).
    – Every module needs a “.info” file with name, description, core, version, dependencies (if needed) and package (if we want to show up  in a particular section of the Modules admin page).
    – “.module” file starts with “<?php” but drupal will close this tag for you; you don’t have to.
    – Need to check Context module.
    – Do php things in code, not in the GUI, don’t put php code it through a text box in the GUI.
    – Don’t use the Contemplate module because it slows down things and it’s a security risk too.

Drupal Learning Journal 21. Ubercart 2

I spent more time working with Ubercart, a drupal ecommerce tool and couldn’t help learning a few things. :-)

  1. I wanted to create custom invoices as part of the ordering, order management process. I got that far that I made a modified version of  the /sites/all/modules/ubercart/uc_order/uc_order-customer.tpl.php file, but it didn’t want to show up in the GUI as an invoice template I could use. So I posted my request for help at the right forum and in a few hours I got my answer. Turns out there is a little module designed for this specific purpose, called UberInvoice. It works and yet again I am grateful for the spirit of open source development.
  2. There is not much I can document about it, but I am happy that I now understand conditional actions in Drupal. E.g. I managed to set up the sales tax handling: 9.25% for people with California billing address. (Yes, the company I am  making the site for is based in CA.) I also configured five different shipping options and prices, also using conditional actions. Pretty nifty tool.
  3. I also managed to install and make work a module that allows the store/site to have both specials (discounts by % of $ off on certain items) and coupons (using unique code customer gets $ or % off). It was another module, Ubercart Discounts (Alternative) that allowed me to do it. I made the mistake of thinking that I can just using it, but it didn’t work right away. Once I read and followed the “readme.txt” file’s instructions all was well. I still have some learning to do about how to set up all the possible specials and coupons, but the option I was interested in ($1-2 off from certain items) is working now.

Drupal Learning Journal 20. Ubercart +

I am in a very active stage of developing a drupal ecommerce site with Ubercart. I suspect the next few “Drupal Learning Journal” messages will relate to that. Here are a few tidbits from the rounds I did today.

  1. I finally manged to configure a WYSIWYG option for textboxes from scratch. (I.e. exactly those word style formatting buttons show up at exactly those fields, that I want) The site I am building is in Drupal 6, and I suspect I will need to relearn it for Drupal 7. Fortunately I am going to my first DrupalCamp this weekend and plan to attend a session devoted to this issue.
  2. Installed and configured SexyBookmarks, which not just looks cooler than AddThing, but also is more standard compliant. (They are both tools to enable visitors sharing the URL of the visited page at various Social networking sites.)
  3. Played with the image setting of the product catalog. Now the thumbnails, product images and full size product images work as they should. Lightbox works too, meaning that if you click on an image it will pull up the full size of the image in another layer of the same window.
  4. My best accomplishment of the day was setting up and management page of the products, where administrators can search the products by a number of criteria and the list of products is showing half 6-7 columns of related information. The best part is that then you can select any number of products and do some actions with them in batch, e.g unpublishing them (out of stock), re-publish them (back in stock), adjust price and a few other tricks.

Wireframe and storyboard tools

I’ve been playing with the idea of getting into the field of “Information Architecture (IA)” for over a decade, ever since I first got my hands on “Information Architects,” by Richard Saul Wurman and Edward R. Tufte’s “Envisioning Information,” both rather beautiful books. However between 1997 and 2005 I haven’t done much with the idea, besides keeping an eye on how the visualization tools are developing.

Later, when I was working on my MLIS between 2006 and 2008, the field came up again as a possible direction for me to take. For a number of reasons I had to get my degree fast, so I didn’t have enough time to take the summer week-long intensive conference/workshop ran by my college (UW) that sometimes focused no IA. I missed an opportunity there, but for one of my classes I created a simple little website titled “Information Architecture Resource Guide.” As I haven’t updated it since its creation in 2007, it is woefully out of date, so I do not recommend the site as modern resource. Nevertheless it has a list of books, sites, blog that can be useful if you doin’t mind that the missing recent additions.

Towards the end of my Masters program I spent a little bit more time in exploring what Information Architects do. I’ve been reading Jacob Nielsen’s Alertbox at least since 1997, but now I subscribed to the Information Architecture Institute‘s email list too. I was on it only for half a year as the discussions were bit boring. Half of them were about terminology and pinning down exact definition for terms that the people obviously had different understandings of. The other half was talking about practices that were unintelligible to me as a non-practitioner of the art. I know it was my fault that I didn’t devote enough time to learn the basics. But it bothered me that they talked a lot about wireframing and storyboarding and not once did I hear mentioning what tools they used for them. I am a hands-on kind of person and learn best by doing. But I didn’t put the extra energy in to finding out what tools should I use.

Now however I will be working on a redesign of a client’s website. After the initial discussion with the client, where I learned why the redesign is needed and what the major sections of the revamped site would be, I offered doing wireframing and storyboarding. So I finally crated myself an opportunity to learn these techniques by doing. Just in case you don’t know what I am talking about here are some basic definitions:

  • A wireframe, also known as page architecture, page schematic, or blueprint, is a highly simplified sketch of the important information in a page. The goal is to reflect the relative importance of different elements, including the content and the navigation.
  • A website storyboard is a visual representation of your website’s structure. It maps out all the components of your site and how they inter-relate. Creating a website storyboard can help you plan and organise your website and even plan the internal linking structure between pages. Using a storyboard you can plot a visitors path through your website to find your most important pieces of content.

After all of this introduction, here is what you probably came for this page. I did a little search for free and/or inexpensive tools. Here are the results of my research. I found three lists of wireframing tools from 2010:

The last one is not just the most comprehensive, but also includes a handy table at the end with the prices and scores. Two of the free tools got “excellent” score there by the editors: Pencil and Lovely Charts. Both shows up on the other two lists too. So does the third recommended free tool: Mockingbird.

Next, I started to look for similar lists about storyboarding tools. I found only list, which seemed comprehensive and annotated, although only barely: Alejandro Cuervo’s blog entry from January at queleimporta.com has basic notes no each tool but it’s a good start. The other useful resource is the discussion about “What are the best online tools for storyboarding a website?” on Quora. Both sources mention Pencil and Mockingbird as good, free, storyboarding tools. I consider it a simple blessing if the same tool can be used both for wireframing and for storyboarding. So the circle of tools to check out in depth has been  narrowed to these two.

Mockingbird’s main advantage over Pencil is that it allows online collaboration; i.e. it is online thus platform independent and it allows more than one person logging on to the same wireframe and edit it. Their free plan allows only two users doing only 1 project with up to 10 pages. (They also have 4 levels of other plans ranging from $9 to $85/month allowing more users/plans/pages.)

Pencil can be used as a Firefox add-on or as a standalone application (for Linux and Windows). Thus it is platform independent to an extent. But it is not an online tool, you are saving your wireframes as files on your computer. There are no limitations on the number of pages or projects, but online collaboration can only be approximated by sending files back and forth. Nevertheless I tested this first, because I couldn’t sign up for Mockingbird, see below. Not a good first impression: