Listen while you work…to choir music

5 years ago I was with my college choir touring Europe.  It was an experience of a lifetime and I’m blessed to have an album of live records from those awesome concerts.  I like to listen to that album at work…in fact I’ve been listening all day!

CMS Exploration – WordPress, Orchard, Titan, & Sharepoint

At my day job I was given the task of finding a blog solution for my company’s internal Titan CMS website.  The site is built on Titan CMS, a powerful and expensive enterprise level Content Management System built with ASP.net.  It is good for big sites, with excellent file and site structure.  The downsides to this CMS is its cumbersome nature with some simple tasks, the load times can be slow sometimes, and it has no blogging engine.  (Plus you are shelling out 100 grand+ for the license.)  Titan and I have a love-hate relationship.  Since it has no blogging engine, I was tasked to find a solution that would be self-hosted and would provide a seamless transition visually from the existing site to the blog.

The first solution that was given to me was using the blogging feature in Sharepoint, which my company already owns.  There were some server security and logistics issues that made this a little more difficult, so in the meantime I entertained other options.

My first choice was, of course, WordPress.  This site is built on it and I have a solid level of experience custom theming WordPress sites.  I was excited that I could use WordPress for my day job so I started coding the custom theme to match the current intranet site.  I finished it in about a day and it looked great.  I did this locally on my work PC.  After my supervisor saw and approved it, I went over to IT to have it installed on the server.  It was then I found out that mySQL is feared in the world of MS SQL-only IT.  They were not comfortable installing mySQL, so WordPress was no longer an option.  This deeply saddened me.

I then set out to find a self-hosted blogging platform that would be run on MS SQL.  I then encountered Orchard CMS a Microsoft sponsored open source CMS.  It is built with ASP.NET MVC, so I was rather lost to start.  It uses a more logical syntax because of the MVC so I was able to almost figure out theming in Orchard.  PHP makes much more sense to me.  When I was ready with an Orchard theme I went back to IT and was told, “We would prefer not to install any other CMS’s on that server”.

Frustrating.

We were left with Sharepoint, which I messed around with unsuccessfully.  ASP.NET is messy for someone not familiar with the language (and more used to WordPress’ PHP).  We are now working on getting training/help with the branding of Sharepoint to be used for our internal blog.  We’ll see how long it takes.

Learning is important when you are employed by the internet; as a web designer, I relish learning new technologies.

Web Hosts: Choose Carefully

When jamespautz.com first launched, I found a really good deal with Dreamhost, so I signed on for a year.  Their regular price was a bit more, but it wasn’t horrible at the time.  When that first year was up they had raised the price by $3 per month and they also charged extra for decent customer service.  I didn’t have any problems with them, but I couldn’t afford to sign on again.

web serverI decided to shop around a bit.  It was then I came across a good deal that I could sign on for multiple years, essentially saving me $25 and some.  It was through IX Web Hosting.  The setup went great, domain transfer and hosting, but after a couple months I noticed a that my site was seeing some downtime.  (It happened for me two days in a row.)

It was then I decided to monitor more closely, so I signed up for a free account at Pingdom.com.  Pingdom is great.  It can ping your site everyPingdom minute if you want, it will notify you if you want, it gives you a nice display of statistics, similar to Google Analytics.  Needless to say, my site’s uptime wasn’t doing so great.  In the first 2 days I had almost 4 hours combined downtime, some periods up to 18 minutes at a time.

This prompted me to contact IX.  IX has great, prompt customer service.  The people you talk to on the phone are easy to understand and nice.  They don’t, however, do much to help you if your site is seeing downtime.  They tried a few things, but my site was still seeing only 93% uptime (as opposed to the the promised 99.9%). They even told me I would have better luck upgrading to a Dedicated Server (which would cost more).

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Learn to code!

I know how to write HMTL, CSS, and limited PHP.  I can add a jQuery plugin to my website if it is basic and has good instructions.  I can’t write Javascript….yet.

Recently I signed up for Codecademy, a new startup that teaches users how to code Javascript for free.  In the future, they plan to add more courses, but for now it is just Javascript.  It is very interactive and teaches you by making you do it.  As you progress through the different courses, they award you points and badges (so you can compete with friends).  View my profile.

I look forward to learning more code so I can program better for the web!

 

Vertical CSS Timeline

My supervisor had a really good idea for our new company internal website: a timeline of our company’s history.  It is a 100+ year old company so it really makes sense to create an interactive timeline, especially for the benefit of new employees (like myself).   So, naturally, I googled “CSS Timeline” to see what is out there already.

Mostly I found horizontally scrolling timelines, many of which required some Javascript or jQuery.  I already had a couple jQuery plugins for this company website, and I didn’t want to have to deal with plugins interfering with each other (plus the CMS doesn’t give you a lot of freedom to extend functionality like this).  Also, I love just doing things with basic HTML and CSS.  Simple is usually better.

Some vertical CSS timelines I found were nice, but not degradable down to older browsers or they were boxy and ugly.  So I decided to make my own, based somewhat on a cool concept for an organizational chart.  I made it straightforward, semantic, and browser compatible all the way back to IE7. It is also responsive to different browser window sizes (you can actually read it in a mobile browser).

The HTML is very simple.  For the sake of semantics, I used ordered lists (timelines flow in order).  First I ordered the top “Jump Strip” bar for easy access to decades.
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CSS Tooltips (no javascript or jQuery)

It was requested of me at work to figure out a way to make hover tooltips that look nice and are do-able.  The content management system my company paid for (that I have to work with every day) is powerful, but it is not always easy to do things or extend it with plugins.  Incorporating jQuery plugins can be difficult (I tried 3 different lightbox renditions before I was successful).  I wanted something that was easy to add to this CMS and looked decent.  I figured it could be done in only CSS, especially with the power of CSS3, so I googled it.  I came across Six RevisionsSexy Tooltips with Just CSS“.  I was very pleasantly surprised and immediately worked out the code for myself adjusted it and used for my company’s website.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I replaced the jQuery plugin vTip (the website for this doesn’t exist anymore) with the “Sexy CSS” method.  Check it out in practice on my portfolio page.

Here is an example of the HTML: Continue reading

Responsive Web Design

responsive web designThis website and blog are my first attempts at creating a responsive website.  This website will change its look to be optimized for any reasonable screen size, from smart phones to desktop computers.

I used the CSS media queries method to adjust the styling of different elements of this website on different size screens.

It isn’t perfect by any means, but you can’t learn something without trying.  If you do notice some problems or just have comments on improving this page, please leave me a comment on this post.

Selling on Amazon

Throughout college and after I made myself a little money by selling my unwanted textbooks, novels, etc. on Amazon’s Marketplace. Amazon makes it very easy for people to do this. I am going a step further and making it even easier. Click on the link below to a PDF that I created as a tutorial for new sellers to set up their account.

{Selling on Amazon.pdf}

If you have any questions about things that I didn’t cover, just comment on this post. Happy Selling!

For businesses, selling through Amazon requires a bigger commitment. There is cost involved in becoming a “Professional” Seller, but for businesses that move their inventory, Amazon can be an invaluable tool. For smaller businesses who wish to sell through their website, it is not pricey and very worthwhile to use Amazon as their e-commerce tool. Not only do you not have to worry about website encryption and other security issues (Amazon covers that), many people have Amazon accounts which means they would not have to enter their credit card or shipping information to buy things from your website if they already have it saved on their Amazon account. E-commerce can be tricky, but there are many tools to make it safe, convenient, and plausible for any business.

Being formally unemployed, I’m always looking for some freelance work. At the end of last week I finally got my wish. I bid for a logo design and won. The logo turned out great and my client loves it. The client is a small business start-up in Milwaukee called Sunnyvale Organics. I wish Sunnyvale luck on their business ventures and thank them for their business!