Category Archives: Web Design

Few more tweaks

I’m still playing with the site and the new WordPress Twenty Fourteen theme.  Though the help of the excellent Fourteen Extended plugin, all posts are showing in reverse chronological order on the home page now.  The featured posts at the top are not necessarily the three most recent anymore.  I’ve also changed the homepage to show excerpts only, and when you click to view the full post it uses the full content area width (no right sidebar).  Still working on some image sizing issues, but the site is much closer to how I wanted it to work now.

Ten years of Punaro.com

June 11th marked the 10th anniversary of Punaro.com. In actuality, this site has existed since my freshman year at RIT in 1995. The web was brand new at that point, and my roommate geeks and I were competing to see who could have the coolest website. It was a smorgasbord of repeating image backgrounds, animated gifs, and horizontal rules being guarded by Lemmings. Luckily for all of us, no evidence of that site exists anymore.

The second version of my site was a lesson in trying to build cross-browser compatibility using frames. Over 10 years later, that’s still a pain in the ass.
Sp00f!'s Niche on the Web

By Version 3 I had built my own content management platform with CGI scripts and server-side includes. I was also doing nearly what we term today as “blogging”, although I didn’t keep a historical record. When you came to the site, you’d see whatever it was that was up there at the moment. It would likely be replaced by something else the next time you showed up. It was the antithesis of LiveJoural, where everything was saved. Ick. Who would want that?

I created a 4th version in 2003 when Amanda and I got married so we could share the site. That was the last version to operate on my homegrown CMS, as I jumped to WordPress in 2005.

So, after 4 years on WordPress, I’m starting to work on implementing a new theme. Actually, I started this a few months ago and just haven’t found much time lately, so in all honesty, it will likely be fall before anything new gets rolled out. I still do most of my HTML in a text editor, so even editing a pre-existing theme can take a bit of time.

It’s been a fun project to work on for all these years, and even though I don’t post here as often as I would like, I will probably always have a site up at Punaro.com. It just becomes a part of you after so long.

Arbitrary website security and design

Poorly designed websites, and arbitrary security policies peeve me. Why is it that my online banking sites never require me to change my password, but my healthcare reimbursement account site, on which I cannot do anything except look at what claims have been paid and what my balance is, now requires me to change my password every 60 days. This is a little ridiculous. I thought having to change my LAN password at work every 90 days was a pain, but every 60 days for a website that I can’t do anything on? Of course, this company (Ceridian) rolled out an “upgrade” of their system this year which in my opinion is a complete disaster. The website has wasted menu pages with only one link to click on, full new window popups (how 1998!) and randomly organized tables of data (instead of say, chronologically). Not only that, but this also apparently affected their backend processes, so while I used to get a [unnecessary] single page “tear off the edges to open” statement in the mail, I now get an envelope with 3 sheets of paper in it – a cover sheet with my address on it and the amount of the reimbursement (which is direct deposited), a second page which has my account balance, and a blank form for future claims. The first page is half blank space, the second is a third blank space, and the last page is completely unnecessary because most claims are submitted electronically to Ceridian. On the off chance I need to submit a claim myself, the form is available as a PDF from both their website and my company’s intranet.

How about other websites? Why does del.icio.us sign me out after two weeks? Is there a big threat of someone adding a new bookmark to my account? My Yahoo! pretty much never logs me out and it has a bookmark feature.

I’m looking forward to the day when we have more OpenID (and similar) based systems, which might lead to some standardization in password rules and persistence. As far as stopping people from downgrading their websites in attempts to upgrade them? I’m not holding my breath for that.

Of RSS and Twitter

There are lots of great applications and technologies out there for us internet addicts to use as we read and blog. Generally these technologies are invented to fulfill a specific need, but then are frequently adapted by others to extend beyond the original purpose. Generally that purpose is advertising or spam.

Take Twitter, for instance. Twitter was originally developed as a microblogging platform – a counterpart to the unlimited length of text regular blogging allows. With that lack of restriction sometimes comes a bit of inertia to overcome, as some bloggers, myself included, often feel that short little posts about where you are or what you’re doing at that given moment aren’t “worthy” of hitting the blog’s big stage. Enter Twitter, where that’s the sole point of the service. It’s like broadcast instant messaging, where one can announce to everyone at once the thought that crosses their mind.

Twitter is often used by bloggers to do something I’m not crazy about – announce that they’ve posted something new on their blog. It’s not that this breaks any rules of Twittering, it’s that there is a much more suitable technology for following people’s blog’s – RSS.

RSS has completely changed the way that I, and many others, read blogs and websites, and I suspect that we’re really just at the beginning of this movement. RSS is to the web what DVRs were to television. DVRs made it simple to break free from the rigid schedule of programming supplied by the broadcasters and aggregate it’s content into a single location, allowing you to consume what content you wanted to see when you want to see it. RSS readers do essentially the same thing. Instead of me keeping a list of a bookmarks of my favorite sites and continuously click through them to see if there’s anything new, I can subscribe to each site in my RSS reader. When one of those sites posts something new, my RSS reader keeps track of it for me until I either read the article, or mark it as read if I’m not interested.

I’ve read some people’s comments that they’re not interested in using an RSS reader for a number of reasons. They like actually visiting the site of the person/publication to read the article. They start following too many RSS feeds and get bogged down reading too much. Sometimes they just don’t get the concept at all. Put your fears aside, folks, because syndication is the way of the web future. If you can provide quality content, the UI of your site is irrelevant. As more and more people start using RSS readers, the number of people actually visiting the site itself will decline (this will unfortunately lead to more advertising in RSS feeds, but that’s a topic for another day). Graphics designers might get a little nervous at the thought that the need for their services to design web site front ends might decline, but as always – content is king. Making a web site pretty who’s main purpose is to provide content, such as news sites, is really a wasted effort for the end product.

My RSS reader of choice is Google Reader, which after trying several has easily earned the top spot on my list. The main advantage to me is that it keeps my feed list centralized, as opposed to client or browser plugin RSS readers which are specific to the PC you’re using. This isn’t a big deal for the individual who does all their surfing on their home PC, but for people like me who regularly use two or more computers, having Google Reader keep track of the articles I’ve already read in a central location is a big time saver. Google Reader has a lot of other great features like keyboard shortcuts for power readers, the ability to share some of your feeds with other people, and a statistics screen that you can use to see what feeds have gone inactive or that you’re ignoring so you can prune your list of feeds.

My number of feeds hovers around 200. Several groups of feeds I only read at work, like SharePoint or Lotus sites. Some I primarily follow at home, such as my political feeds. One of the great features of WordPress based blogs is the ability to follow the comments for an individual post. This is really useful when you comment on someone post and want to follow the responses. As an aside, one of my biggest pet peeves is when some WordPress templates do not include the link to subscribe to that post’s comments, however, you can work around this by taking the post permalink (URL) and adding “feed” to the end of it to add it to your reader of choice.

Some Twitter users only use it as a notification service that they have added a new post to their site, and I choose not to follow those Twitter accounts. Twitter is a great microblogging service, but a poor way to follow syndicated content. I personally can’t imagine trying to follow 200 Twitter users and use my Twitter Find & Follow screen to figure out what I have and haven’t read. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

Both of these technologies have proven themselves in today’s Internet and will likely gain in usefulness for years to come. If you haven’t yet tried either, now is a good time to get on board. Just keep in mind what the strengths are of each and you’ll have a better experience using them.