May 23, 2012

Visual Harmony is Ocala’s Premier HTML5 Animation Provider

Filed under: Flash,Ocala,Usability,Web Development,Website Design — Jack @ 1:25 pm

Thanks to HTML5, Flash is on its way out.  Although we are veteran Flash developers here at Visual Harmony, we are excited to be dropping our Flash development services in favor of HTML5 animation!  It has a lot of benefits over using Flash.

Here are some of the reasons its becoming more popular to use HTML5 for animation:

  • HTML5 is universally supported. With the exception of some archaic browsers and devices, HTML5 works practically the same on each and every machine, whether computer, phone, tablet, or microchip implant.  Just joking on that last one.
  • Adobe will no longer be updating Flash for mobile devices.  Apparently, Apple’s refusal to support Flash on their iOS devices was the beginning of the end for mobile Flash.  You can read more about this here.
  • In my opinion, Flash has always had a bloated feel to it.  It lacked the clean and cozy feel of other Adobe programs and the development environment was always a royal pain to work with.  HTML5 gets back to the spirit of the web, which is all about optimization.  By removing the proprietary overhead, the resulting source code can be much cleaner and the future of web animation is rescued from Adobe’s monopolistic claws.
  • Flash often causes your pages to fail HTML validation.  The most common way of adding flash relies on the embed tag.  The only problem is that the <embed> tag was deprecated in both the HTML4 and XHTML1 specs, which were used prior to HTML5.  Oddly, it seems that the <embed> tag has been reworked and is back in HTML5.  But that’s no reason to go back to Flash!
  • HTML5 has no accessibility drawbacks.  Flash made it harder for search engines to figure out what your pages were about.  This was eventually addressed and partially corrected by Adobe, but in HTML5 you can just add alt properties to your elements and be done with it.

Although Flash was a dear friend for many years, we are happy to finally be parting ways.  Stay tuned for our next few posts, which will showcase original examples of what can be done with HTML5!

May 19, 2012

Opinion: Why I Think Buying Facebook Shares is a Bad Idea

Filed under: Business,Miscellaneous,Opinion — Jack @ 10:47 pm

Forgive me, but I must rant.  Everyone seems to be drunk or something.  Maybe it’s just the media, but what’s with all the hype surrounding the Facebook IPO?

I mean, what does Facebook do exactly?  It claims to help you connect with the people in your life, but are we really connecting via internet chat and random posting?  Do I really need to post pictures of my morning coffee?  Do I really need to see candids of your one night stand from Wednesday? It’s like every die hard Facebooker is vain enough to think that he is in his own Truman Show, and that everyone else wants a minute-by-minute recap of all his inanities.

In my unqualified opinion, and I may be proven wrong about this, I believe Facebook sees the end of its social domination coming on the horizon. Going public surely appears to be nothing more than the private shareholders desperately wanting to cash in their chips while the picking is still good.

Please remember that Facebook has already made its founders incredibly rich.  Does it still have room to grow and create profits for all of the new shareholders?  That seems highly doubtful.

After all, it used to be all about the user, but like most “freemium” services, it quickly became more about making as much loot as possible.  This lead to a lackluster user experience that became increasingly convoluted with ads and other-non essential fluff.

And let’s not forget that somewhere along the way, they decided to start selling the intensely personal information of each and every one of the estimated 901 million users (as of March 2012, according to Facebook). Do you want fascist regimes buying up all your personal likes and preferences so they can use psychology against you in their marketing schemes, convincing you to buy their crap?  Well, that’s what you are investing in when you buy Facebook shares.  Hasn’t any one read 1984 in this generation?

I would also like to point out several which you may or may not be aware of:

  • Having nearly a billion “active users” on a website requires massive resources.  Maintaining that kind of server load requirement is costly to any company.  It may be getting too large for its own good.  If that’s the case, it sure would be nice to pass the buck to new shareholders.
  • Many of the “users” are businesses or people with multiple profiles.  So, clearly there can’t really be 901 million active people using the site.  Deceptive statistics, maybe?
  • Many of the “users” are spammers.  How many times do you get friend requests from people you don’t even know that start spamming you immediately after you approve the request?  I’ll wager it happens fairly frequently.
  • “Friends” aren’t the same as real friends.  Real friends need to breathe, eat, drink and sleep.  “Friends” remain tucked away on Facebook, waiting for you to log in so they can suck the lifeblood out of your social life.  Real friends will listen when you need to talk, while “Friends” may not be available on chat.  Real friends are always willing to lend a helping hand. “Friends” don’t have hands.
  • Many of the “users” click ignore on your posts.  So, you do have your own Truman Show in a sense.  It’s just that no one is watching.
  • Finally, 80% of the “users” are outside of the US and Canada.

Haven’t we all learned from the dotcom bubble years ago that investing in publicly traded internet companies is risky business?  And don’t forget about the financial disaster that Wall Street, a.k.a. the Den of Thieves, is capable of wreaking.  Simply put, there will always be more losers than winners and the biggest winners are usually the higher ups in the companies that are being publicly traded.

Another thing to consider is that in addition to their ostentatious cash bonuses, CEOs and other board room execs are often given bonus shares or stock options on a regular basis as part of their pay.  This bothers me.  By giving these shares away, isn’t the value of the other shares being diluted?  It pains me to see hard working people pay $38/share of an imaginary something that will be given freely in large quantities to the already super rich board members.  With so much padding at the top, what’s left for those coming in at the bottom?  Will there be any return on the investment at all or is it just thinly veiled thievery?

If you have disposable income at this point in time, wouldn’t it be better to invest in something tangible like real estate, gold, silver, livestock or other natural resources?  I certainly think so.

November 10, 2011

A Simple Way to Stop Facebook from Tracking You

Filed under: Anti-Spam,Miscellaneous,Online Marketing — Jack @ 12:36 pm

Thumbs way down for Facebook lack of respect for privacy!

Facebook has been described as the murderer of privacy. I deleted my personal profile months ago (a process which took over two weeks!) and I haven’t looked back since. Good thing, because it was recently discovered that Facebook’s controversial tracking cookies continue to track user behavior even after the user is logged out of Facebook. What other website puts 9 cookies on your machine (that’s how many I counted when I deleted mine)?

All that being said, I still have some business Facebook pages that I use for marketing and branding. It would be asinine for me to quit using these because they help to bring in additional revenue with very little maintenance overhead. So, if you only use Facebook to promote your brands, you probably don’t have too many privacy concerns to worry about.

Obviously, the simplest way to stop Facebook from tracking you is to delete your personal profile and don’t use Facebook as a replacement for a social life, like I did. I know many folks will not be willing to give up their Facebook profiles (I wasn’t at first), but these folks could at least browse a little safer.

To continue using your Facebook personal profile without being tracked, download an additional web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc.) and only use that browser for Facebook. That way they cannot track any of your online behaviors because you won’t be using any other sites with that browser. Use your default browser for everything else.

Alternatively, you can add an exception to your browser’s cookie settings to block all cookies from the domain facebook.com.

Maybe if I didn’t read the book 1984 when I was 10 I wouldn’t be so paranoid about privacy. Down with Big Brother!

November 1, 2011

How to change your Gmail, Google Apps or Google Account password

Filed under: Google — Jack @ 11:55 am
Change Google Password

Changing your Google Password is easy!

I needed to walk a client through changing her Google Apps password earlier today. I’m posting it how to do it here for future reference.

Here’s how to change your password for Gmail, Google Apps or your Google Account:

  1. First you need to log in with your username and current password. Gmail users can log in at http://mail.google.com/mail. Apps users can go to their Apps login screen. This is usually located at http://google.com/a/domain.com or mail.domain.com (replace “domain.com” with your domain name). The login screen for Google Accounts is https://accounts.google.com/Login.
  2. Once you are logged in, click on your name (or email address) near the top right of the page and then click “Account Settings” from the menu that opens.
  3. This brings up the user profile screen. Look for the section that says “Personal Settings.” Under personal settings, click “Changing your password.”
  4. This brings up the “Change password” screen. In the first box, enter your current password, then enter the new password into the second and third boxes.
  5. Hit save. That should do it!

If you are logged in, this direct link brings up the change password page: https://accounts.google.com/EditPasswd. However, this link could change at any time so it’s good to know how to get to the change password page without it.

June 28, 2011

Block Known Comment Spammers in WordPress

Filed under: Anti-Spam,Wordpress — Jack @ 11:55 am

A short while back, I did an article on blocking spammers in WordPress. After spending the past three hours going through our network of blogs and blocking the latest wave of spam poo, I have decided to post all of the IPs and stop-words we are blocking. This list can not possibly cover all of the spam nazis across the net, but it can save you some considerable time by eliminating all of the ones that have spammed us.

Just download the file below then select all, copy and paste the list into your WordPress comment blacklist (WP Admin -> Settings -> Discussion -> Comment Blacklist).  Enjoy!

Master-Spam-Block-List

May 20, 2011

Free Fonts are Taking Over!

Filed under: Fonts & Typography — Jack @ 10:20 am

Free fonts are everywhere. It used to be taboo to use free fonts in a commercial design. However, thanks to an increase in the number of font designers and more readily available font-authoring tools, many free fonts now rival the quality of commercial fonts.

Here a few free font resources we found that you may like:

March 10, 2011

Hello Web Fonts! Goodbye Verdana, Georgia, Times New Roman & Trebuchet!

Filed under: Fonts & Typography,Google — Jack @ 11:17 am

Making the transition to web design from print design was a welcomed change for me. Although the web is far more technical, print is much less forgiving. I do still design printed materials, but the days of eating the cost to reprint a job for having a one character typo are long gone.

After switching camps I quickly noticed that I wasn’t able to use all of my pretty (and expensive) fonts on the web pages I created. This is because a site visitor can not see the font you are using unless he has that font installed on his machine. So, for many years all we could do was specify the desired font and then set a few backups, like so (a generic CSS style):

.hope_and_pray_the_user_has_my_desired_font_choice {
  font-family: "Bodoni", "Garamond", Georgia;
}

Referring to the CSS snippet above, if the visitor has the font Bodoni it will be used but if she doesn’t Garamond will be used. If she doesn’t have Garamond either, Georgia will be displayed as a last resort.

The next major breakthrough was sIFR, or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement. This technology allowed a very tech-savvy web developer to implement their font of choice by embedding it in a special Flash file. The chosen font could then be called into a web page to replace the default.

However, sIFR is not a perfect solution namely because it requires the use of Flash and it can be a royal pain in the ass to implement and style correctly. Flash is unsupported by most (if not all) mobile devices so using it for anything mission critical is a very BAD idea. Also, anyone familiar with Flash probably wouldn’t use it as their first choice for doing any kind of type setting. I have implemented sIFR on a few sites and although the result was pleasant, the hassle of doing so was not.

Next, designers discovered they could load fonts into web pages using the @font-face property. I could explain @font-face here, but Tjobbe Andrews of Milton Bayer has done such a nice job already. So check out his explanation of @font-face for a very thorough introduction. Just know that to use @font-face legally, you need a web license for the font.

Well, web designers everywhere now have a reason to rejoice. Google isn’t waiting around for the w3c to solve the font-licensing issues. They went ahead a created a repository of open-source web fonts for everyone to use. Here’s a simple way to use a font from the Google Web Fonts library:

  1. Include the web font as a stylesheet. We are using Buda here, but you can change it to whatever you want:
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Buda">
  2. Use the font in a CSS style. We are using it on the paragraph tag:
    p {
      font-family: 'Buda', serif;
      font-size: 12px;
    }
  3. That’s it! In our example, all paragraph tags will now use Buda! For more info on using Google Web Fonts read Getting Started (Google Fonts API).

Now there’s no excuse to keep kicking it old school. Most of the major font foundries are getting with the program. They are now making web versions of their fonts and usually include them free of charge when you purchase the standard font license. And many thanks to Google for extending our font repertoire!

Hopefully, we won’t see the likes of Verdana, Georgia, Times New Roman, Arial or Trebuchet until designers decades from now are looking to exhibit a retro feel in their work. I would have included Helvetica, but I don’t think designers will be dropping that one anytime soon.

March 9, 2011

Block Annoying Spammers from Commenting on Your WordPress Site

Filed under: Anti-Spam,Wordpress — Jack @ 9:55 am

Spammers are some of the worst scum in cyberspace. I’m not even sure they are human. It’s almost as if spammers are the mutant offspring of the direct mail marketers that keep piling up our landfills with crap no one even wants to see.

However, they can be stopped. You just have to be diligent in your efforts. Most spammers tend to lurk in the same murky corners, using pay-per-use internet hotspots or anonymous proxy servers to fling their slime. As you block each one, the spammers will eventually run out of outlets and will move on to easier blogs to prey on.

In WordPress, navigate to Settings -> Discussion and scroll down the page to the area labeled “Comment Blacklist.” In this box you will enter any words or IP addresses that you want to blacklist (or block) from commenting. Be careful what words you enter as it also matches inside words. For example, if you entered “net” as a blacklisted term, comments containing “internet,” “network,” and “netting” would all be blocked.

To build your list of IPs to block, go to Comments in WordPress. Now create a new document in your favorite text editor. Copy and paste all of the IP addresses that are associated with spam comments into your new document (one IP per line). When you have copied over the IPs for each spam comment, copy and paste all of them to the Comment Blacklist box under Settings -> Discussion and hit the Save Changes button.

Save the text file and continue to add new IPs to it as more spam is posted. Use the file as your master blacklist. The great thing is that you only have to make this list once and then you can use it on each of your WordPress blogs.

Good luck in your battle against the bastards of spam. This won’t keep them off your site, but at least it’ll stop them from commenting. For God and Country!

February 22, 2011

Design for a Better Tomorrow

Filed under: Inspiration,Website Design — Tags: — Jack @ 6:22 pm

Design something. Do it today. It doesn’t have to be revolutionary. Just create something that makes the world more functional or accessible in some way.

Design is everywhere. When you use silverware, you can taste the design that went into making it. Design can also be heard in beautiful music. From traffic patterns to light switches to gloves, design plays a role in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

However, design isn’t about inventing something new, it’s about improving and putting your own spin on something old.

Design benefits all, including the designer. Arise and design!

FishingInTheGulf.com, A New Resource for Gulf Shore Anglers and Fisherman

Filed under: Business,Web Development,Website Design — Jack @ 5:45 pm

We are happy to announce the launch of FishingInTheGulf.com, a new online resource for gulf shore anglers and fisherman. Please visit them if you are a gulf fishing enthusiast or just to see some of our latest work.

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