Matthew Daly's Blog

I'm a web developer in Norfolk. This is my blog...

10th July 2010 1:21 am

Staying Productive in Summer

Unless you live in the southern hemisphere, summer’s here. Right now it’s gone midnight but it’s still very hot, and being in the UK, where home air conditioning is not common, there’s little way to alleviate the heat besides opening the window (which you don’t want to do because people are continually having barbecues).

I have to admit to just not being a summer person - I don’t really like hot weather or outdoor pursuits in general. I’m happier in spring and autumn when it’s cool, but not cold, and I can wear my favourite Animal hoodie if it does turn chillier. When it gets hot I find it extremely difficult to get anything done unless I can do so in a fully air-conditioned environment, and have a lot of trouble sleeping at night, exacerbating the problem due to tiredness. Unfortunately, I’m now having to learn Perl from scratch during this time (a fairly daunting prospect at the best of times!), and it’s a bit of a nightmare trying to actually sit down and learn regular expressions properly when it’s hot and stuffy and you can’t think straight.

I’ll have to try going to a nice cool air-conditioned cafe with my Dell Mini, get a cold drink and see if I can get some work done that way. But I’m curious to know if anyone else has any good tips for remaining productive at learning a new programming language during hot weather that they’d like to pass on?

5th July 2010 8:01 pm

Five Things You Should Consider Including on Your Website

If you’re creating your first website, it’s tempting to think that once you’ve got the site looking the way you want it, and added some content, then that’s all you need to do. In reality, it’s extremely unlikely that this is the case. It’s fairly obvious with something like a blog that it needs regular care and attention, but even a static brochure site may need some additional resources to get the best out of it. Nowadays, there are loads of great resources around that you can use to enhance your websites, either for yourself or your readers (or both!) and knowing how to make the most of them can really make a difference in how well your site fulfills its intended role.

So here’s a list of five things you should consider including when you set up your first website that are easy to overlook, but can offer real benefits to both you and your users. Note that there’s more than a few Google tools here - this isn’t deliberate, it’s just that Google are so omnipresent in this area that it’s hard to get away from them.

  1. A way to record visitor’s details - With most web hosts you can just look at the log files, but that doesn’t provide very much information at all, nor does it present it in a way that makes it easy to see the information you need. A much better idea is to use a dedicated web analytics service. I’ve used StatCounter in the past, but my favourite has to be Google Analytics. Both give you access to a great deal of useful information about your website. For instance, you can see how many people view the site in Internet Explorer 6, so you can figure out for yourself whether it’s worth bothering to adjust for IE6 when you redesign the site next. Or you could see how many people view the site in a mobile browser. You can also see what pages are popular, how long people remain on your site, and how they got there in the first place. All this is extremely useful information that can give you good ideas as to how to improve your site.
  1. A comment system- OK, this is blog-specific, but comments mean you can gauge reader interest levels, and encourage more reader participation, so having a good comment system is essential. Most blogging engines have an OK comment system, but there are a few dedicated comment systems you can install on your blog that offer a lot more features than the default system. For instance, my blog uses Disqus in preference to the default WordPress comment system, because I find it’s far more flexible and powerful. It offers threaded comments, as well as support for readers logging in via Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, OpenID or Disqus, which means they can use an existing account to submit their comment rather than having to go through the rigmarole of signing up, which can dissuade people from commenting. Also, it offers fine-grained control of moderation and spam, such as allowing you to blacklist or whitelist commenters, automatically accept comments unless they include a link (very handy for tackling spam comments), and many other useful tools. I’ve also heard good things about IntenseDebate.
  1. RSS feed management - If your site has an RSS feed, you should seriously consider using Feedburner. It’s a great tool that allows you to present your site’s RSS feed in an extremely pleasant way that makes it extremely easy for readers to subscribe using whatever feed reader they like, or by email (always worth having because it’s ideal for people who don’t know what an RSS feed is). It also allows you to add easy ways for users to share your content from within the feed, or for you to add Google AdSense to the feed itself if you wish.
  1. A way to share content - Again, this is more blog-specific than something suitable for a static site, but you should make it easy for people to share posts they like with friends or submit them to social bookmarking sites. It’s probably to your benefit to do so since this will not only send more traffic to your site, but will mean you gain additional links to your site, improving its ranking in Google searches. Some WordPress themes include a way to share content, but other themes, or different blogging engines, may not offer this so an alternative way to share is helpful. In particular, I can recommend AddThis as a good choice.
  1. AdWords- If your site is something you’re hoping to make money from (such as an e-commerce site, or you’re hoping to attract people there to hire your services), then it makes sense to advertise. While I don’t wish to sound like one of those self-appointed “social media experts” who haunt Twitter, you do need to make an effort to get your name out there, and Google AdWords is a really great way to do that cheaply and easily. You only need to pay when someone clicks on an ad, and they only show up in relevant places.

What other services would you recommend using with a new website?

23rd June 2010 1:41 pm

Moving on to Perl

I’m glad to report that today I passed my CIW JavaScript Fundamentals exam with 98%! I was a bit concerned about this as some of the questions on the practice exam were downright wrong (as in the supposedly correct answers were in fact wrong), but thankfully this turned out not to be the case for the actual exam.

Next step is learning Perl. I’m particularly interested to learn more about Perl because it’s something you can get a lot of use out of - it can be used for regular expressions, general Unix scripting and web development, and I’m interested to see how it compares to Python.

22nd June 2010 3:57 pm

Exam Tomorrow

Just a short note to say that tomorrow morning I have my CIW JavaScript Fundamentals exam. Hopefully I should be able to pass first time (although I’m not impressed by how inaccurate the practice exams are, and how out of date the training materials are), and should then be able to get on with learning Perl next. I’m looking forward to learning Perl, as it’s more the kind of thing I’m interested in than JavaScript is.

20th June 2010 8:11 pm

Should You Have Adverts on Your Website?

When I set up this blog, I was torn over the decision whether to include adverts or not. On the one hand, the hosting costs, while not unreasonable, are still fairly substantial at around £10 a month, and any help in paying that would be very welcome. On the other hand, I was very concerned that adverts would drive away potential readers, and make me seem like one of the self-appointed “social media experts” that haunt Twitter, which isn’t my intention at all.

I’m an Adblock and Flashblock user myself, so I would never, ever consider the kind of nasty, intrusive adverts you see on many sites, either videos, images or Flash animations. The one kind of advert I don’t have a problem with is simple text ads, like you see on Google search results, and at a stretch, simple image-based ones. As long as adverts are simple, unobtrusive, relevant and don’t affect the visitor’s experience, then I don’t have too much of a problem with them in theory. The trouble is, few are.

Now, I had no realistic expectations that I would get rich from this blog, nor was I expecting that I would be likely to earn any money at all from it. I was simply hoping to offset some of the costs of hosting. I paid for web hosting because I was fed up with the limits of hosted blogging, and wanted to have the flexibility of blogging on my own domain, and I accepted the costs of hosting as necessary for that. I decided in the end that adverts were likely to be detrimental to this site’s health, would be disliked and wouldn’t earn much money, so I chose not to add them. I might consider using an affiliate program (such as linking to books or albums I like and would recommend), but otherwise my site is an advertisement-free zone, and for the foreseeable future I intend it to remain so.

What’s your opinion on advertisements on websites? What criteria do you apply when deciding whether to include advertisements or not, and what advertisements to include?

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About me

I'm a web and mobile app developer based in Norfolk. My skillset includes Python, PHP and Javascript, and I have extensive experience working with CodeIgniter, Laravel, Zend Framework, Django, Phonegap and React.js.