What is the most useful mobile phone app

Added on: Tuesday 29th July 2014

Texting used to be chore until I got a smart phone. All the multi presses on tiny keys to get to a single letter meant I hardly used it at all.

All that changed with the virtual keyboard of the smart phone but even then switching from letters to other symbols and back again was cumbersome.

Luckily, I quickly discovered Swift Key on the Google Play Store and to date it is still the only application I have paid for because I feel it is so essential.

As of now though, Swift Key is free at Google Play so head over there and get it as soon as you can.

The application takes predictive text to a whole new level as it learns from previous texts and emails and can access your Gmail account to see which words you tend to use more than others.

I invariably only have to type the first few letters of the word before it brings up the one I want as one of the three choices based on my keystrokes.

This is before the SwiftKey Flow option which allows you to swipe your finger over the letters that make up the word you want. I'm just getting to grips with this but it should make the typing even faster.

The app also shows how many keystrokes you've saved and a host of other statistics.

Swift Key

Have you actually attached that file

Added on: Friday 4th June 2010

I guess everybody at some time or another has sent an email saying a file is attached but forgotten to attach the file before sending. If you use Google Mail that may be a thing of the past.

I clicked the Send button in my Gmail account just now and got this message come up.

Google Mail warning

Neat - I got interrupted whilst writing it and had completely forgotten about the file I meant to send.

This got me thinking whether it would pick up different variations of content. It works with attached is, find attached and I've attached but File Attached doesn't.

I tried to find references to it on Google or anywhere else but can't. If anyone can find a definitive list of what words or phrases are picked up then let me know.

Another easy way to resize images

Added on: Thursday 29th October 2009

A while back I published an article on how to use the Send To Mail Recipient feature on a Windows computer to resize a batch of images. This is fine if you have an email client set up on your computer but what if you use webmail?

As I mentioned in the previous article, there is plenty of software around to resize photos but most of it comes with a bewildering array of options.

The other day, I came across a Firefox extension called Shrunked which will automatically resize any photos uploaded to a website.

I like this idea as the resizing is done from within the browser with no need for any additional operations in another program. The only downside is that it works with traditional File Upload boxes which only allow one picture to be uploaded at a time.

To get Shrunked, go to its page in Firefox Add-ons or search Add-ons for resize within the Photos, Music and Videos category.

On this page you will see that Shrunked is an experimental add-on so you will have to tick the box before you can install it. (see below)

Shrunked Installation

Once the Add-on is installed, select Tools - Add-ons from the Firefox menu, select the Shrunked Add-on and click the Options button. (see image below).

Add-ons dialog

There are two tabs on this window, Site Settings and Defaults. Click Defaults and set values for the maximum size of the images and the quality. (see below). 800px is usually OK for a website

Shrunked Settings

Click OK to save changes and then when you go to upload a photo you will see a new toolbar appear above the website window. (see below)

Shrunked Toolbar 

Click Yes and when the image is uploaded it will be reduced in size so that its maximum side will be the value you have set as the default. Note that you will get the Defaults window pop up again when you first upload to a website but you can select the 'Remember my answer for this website' option and you won't be asked again.

By the way, as stated on the site it doesn't save the settings in earlier versions of Firefox but works just fine in 3.5

10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines

Added on: Thursday 24th September 2009

I have just read an article on Smashing Magazine website which was fascinating, especially the one about the use of images with faces.

As usual with Smashing Magazine, the article is well written and is packed full of useful information.

What's more there are usually links to several other articles of interest on the topic too that give further information on the topic.

If you are a web developer or designer and haven't found Smashing Magazine yet, I urge you to take a look.

They post articles regularly (I would say on average one or two per day) and I find most are of them contain something of interest to me.

One gripe though and that is that there aren't enough hours in the day to spend wading through the incredible amount of material on the website!

Improvements in web typography

Added on: Wednesday 15th July 2009

Up until now, if a web designer wanted to use a certain font on a website they either had to play safe and use something like Times New Roman or use JavaScript and Flash to change the fonts when a page is loaded.

With version 3.5 of Firefox it now looks like these techniques are no longer required as all the major browsers now support font linking - a method of using fonts hosted on a web server.

This means that it is no longer the fonts on the users browser that determine how a website looks. Previously if the user didn't have the specified font on their computer then it would be substituted with a standard serif or sans serif font.

Some browsers have supported font linking for some time. (Oddly Internet Explorer was one of the first albeit requiring a proprietary format). The problem though has been one of copyright.

Most of the fonts you can download from the Internet have some form of licensing restriction so that you can't just load them on to your server and link to them.

I have just been alerted to the Open Font Library which has a selection of licence free fonts that can be downloaded and used for websites. They also encourage linking to the fonts on their site.

The good thing is that it just requires a declaration in the CSS file so many CMS systems can use this technique without any changes.

One problem I mentioned earlier is that with Internet Explorer you can only link to fonts that are in their proprietary EOT format.

However, Microsoft provides a free tool to convert True Type fonts (only works on Windows systems though)

Dont let Outlook mess up your emails

Added on: Wednesday 24th June 2009

There is a move going on at the moment to try to get Microsoft to remove the Word rendering engine from Outlook 2010. Whats more the campaign is being mounted using Twitter.

Back in Outlook 2003 (I think it was) Microsoft suddenly took a backward step and started using Word's rendering engine to display HTML emails.

All of a sudden many emails that looked perfectly good in earlier versions were totally different and in many cases unusable (as forms didn't render at all).

Although its been a slow journey to get all the major web browsers to support similar standards we are finally getting closer with the release of IE8.

The same can't be said of emails though - we are still using table based layouts and its very much a case of the lowest common denominator when it comes to features.

If you are a web designer or IT Professional you should definitely tell Microsoft to move forward rather than backwards.

But even if you just use email to keep in touch with customers you should also care because ultimately you want your emails to look the same whoever is reading it and you don't want to spend hours and hours testing each one.

Head over to Fix Outlook to voice your disapproval at this move. (NOTE that you will need a twitter account)

The site background shows all the Twitter users who haved 'tweeted' about it and also has an excellent example of how an email looks in Outlook 2000 and Outlook 2010.

Getting news feeds via email

Added on: Saturday 6th June 2009

Although most blogs and larger websites have rss news feeds it is thought that only 3% of computer users are familiar with how they work.

So an astonishing 97% of users aren't using feed readers to get up-to-date information from their favorite sites.

...and more importantly they aren't getting YOUR updates.

Feed My Inbox is a service which allows anyone to subscribe to any feed and get notifications sent to their email address.

Once you have confirmed your address an email will be sent each time the feed is updated, but no more than every 24 hours.

Website owners can also add a simple form to their sites to allow their feeds to be received by email.

I've added one to this site so you can try it out!

Reading Publisher Files without Publisher

Added on: Friday 10th April 2009

I was recently sent a file containing a poster design to put on a website that I look after. The only problem was that it was a Microsoft Publisher file and I don't have Publisher on my computer.

Well I do have a copy of Microsoft Office on CD but I am loathe to install a program I hardly, if ever, use just to open a single file.

Other programs with proprietary file formats such as Word have a free viewer available and are also so widely used that many other progams can read and write to them.

However, it seems that Publisher isn't. A search on Google revealed solutions ranging from 'it is not possible' to an article on Microsofts' website showing how to load the file into Microsoft Document Imaging and save it as a tiff file.

Again this latter solution involved loading a program that I would seldom use - so I wasn't interested.

After looking at several technical forums it seems that there isn't another program that will read a Publisher file.

Then I found the link to convert to pdf. This is a beta online application which does 'exactly what it says on the tin'.

It couldn't be simpler - you point it to your file (there is a 6MB limit) and then click the Convert button. I uploaded a 100kb file and it was ready to download or email in a matter of seconds.

The list of supported file formats is extensive and includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher as well as WordPerfect, OpenOffice and StarOffice and several image file types.

A PDF file may not be the ideal solution but for me it was fine as all I needed was to extract some of the text and have it as a download.

Flexible working

Added on: Monday 6th April 2009

An amendment to the Flexible Working Regulations issued by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform comes into effect today.

The right to request a flexible working pattern will be extended to cover employees with parental responsibility for children aged 16 and under.

There are other criteria they need to fulfill such as having worked for a company for at least 6 months but effectively this could mean changes for employers, especially if they haven't got the IT infrastructure to deal with this.

However, at its simplest, all that is required is an Internet connection to provide email communication with the office and for those that have it a secure VPN.

This is where SAAS (software as a service) applications come into their own as everything you need is online already.

Further information:

A CRM solution for flexible working.

13 Reasons you should Embrace the Web

Added on: Friday 20th March 2009

A website design company in Australia has created this simple site to show people (or remind those that know) why the Web adds value to any business.

Have a look and see whether your company is reaping all of the benefits of the Web.

If not, then as the site says, you need to contact your web company.

A decent travel search engine

Added on: Wednesday 11th March 2009

You've been there before - select your start point and destination, enter the dates you want to travel on and the results page says sorry there are no flights/ferries on that day.

It really frustrates me when I am trying to book transport on the Internet and the website expects me to know beforehand which days the flight or ferry or bus goes on.

The other annoyance is when you want to get the best deal by looking at other travel dates and you have to search through each day at a time.

OK, more sites nowadays give you the option to search a day or two either side of your chosen date but you still get the feeling that they don't really want you to find the best option.

Having spent years developing search engines on various database driven websites, I've often thought that it isn't difficult to show the user a variety of dates and time for their journeys and even price options based on the search parameters.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I came across Skyscanner. This has to be one of the most user friendly travel search sites I have seen.

Right from the beginning they give you as much information as possible. Click on the Whole Month option on the front page and the search results are displayed as a bar chart with days of the month along the bottom and prices up the side.

You can then see at a glance which days there are flights to your destination and how much they will cost.

There is more though, hover the mouse over one of the bars and it gives you the departure and arrival times and the airline.

Even the destination dropdown box is colour coded with green for direct flights and red for indirect.

You can also select a departure airport and a destination airport and see which airline (if any) flies direct and which airlines offer indirect flights.

The whole interface is really slick and uses AJAX (I guess) to update in real time.

I haven't yet gone through to the airlines website to check the accuracy of the prices and to make a booking but will definitely be doing this soon.

Uploading images to a website

Added on: Tuesday 3rd March 2009

If you maintain a website using a content management system then uploading photos to the site is one of the trickier tasks to do.

Many content management systems only allow you to upload one picture at a time - mainly because of the size of the files involved.

If you can import several files at a time then either you have to sit and wait while they are all uploaded or you need to get to grips with FTP software so that you can transfer the files directly to the server.

Following the article on resizing photographs on your computer before uploading them, our content management system now has the option to email these files straight to your site.

A dedicated email address is created for each site and this email is checked every time someone logs into the site administration area.

If there are emails then a message appears before the summary screen showing the subject of the email and listing any attachments. For each email there is the option to Process or Delete (if the email looks suspect).

Note that when the emails are processed any which don't come from a registered email address are ignored.

The Process page shows all the images in the email and at this point you can select which ones to keep, add a caption to each one, create a small version of each and also add them directly to an existing list (gallery) on the site or create a new list.

Process Uploaded Images

This is a much more efficient way of uploading photos to a website gallery and I'm going to look at this method when working on my paperless office.

A global telephone directory

Added on: Saturday 28th February 2009

From 24th March everyone will be able to register a .tel domain. This new top level domain is very different to all the others that are currently used though.

The idea of the new .tel domain is that it is used to store contact information for companies or individuals.

You might argue that this is already done by having a website on any of the other domains.

The difference though is that you won't need a website as the details are stored directly in the DNS. You can think of this as similar to doing a whois lookup at the moment - the owner, admin and technical contact details are all stored against this record.

With a .com or .co.uk domain for example when someone requests a URL the DNS looks up the location of the page and this is then loaded into the users browser.

The .tel domain doesn't need to forward you to a slow loading website but simply loads all the contact information for that company or individual into your internet enabled device (it could be a mobile phone or palm top device).

So what are the advantages in this? It is being touted as a single point of  contact for a company or individual enabling them to publish all their contact details such as telephone numbers, fax numbers, email addresses, website links etc and also include location information and keywords for search engines. In short a global directory.

Will it work? As with any directory or listing it will only really be useful if it is taken up by the majority and there seems to be little or no hype relating to it at the moment even though priority registration has been available since early December.

Also, as of the time of writing you can't access any .tel domains from a web browser and a google search on companies such as IBM or even Google itself doesn't present a .tel result.

It seems as if most people are waiting to see what will happen before they jump on board and at the moment its just another 'must have marketing tool' being forced on them.

The difference though is that it will use the DNS system which is the backbone of the Internet so it is tried and tested technology which so far has proved extremely reliable.

I must admit that I will be watching this closely as I like the idea of a single, easily updatable point of contact and if it is universally adopted it will revolutionise the way we get information. Whether it will replace the likes of Google, Facebook etc as marketing tools is another debate.

Your website and the law

Added on: Tuesday 24th February 2009

Besides the obvious one of making sure you own the copyright (or are licensing it) on all content on your website there are several other issues you need to be aware of - even on the smallest website.

I went to an interesting seminar last week that discussed the legal issues involved with setting up and running a website.

In addition to copyright, you will need to think about disability discrimination - (can disabled users get access to the same material as anyone else?), data protection - (are you processing personal information on your site - the answer is probably yes!), email marketing - (do you have an opt IN policy and not an opt OUT for anyone signing up to receive newsletters or other correspondence?) .

You also need to make sure that there are contact details somewhere on the site and for companies the registration and VAT numbers should be displayed.

See these sites for more information:

Information Commissioners Office

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive 2003

Web accessibility

Screen capture of web pages

Added on: Wednesday 18th February 2009

Have you ever needed to take a screen grab of a web page you are viewing? You can press the Print Screen button but if you want to edit anything you have to load it into your image editing software.

There is an excellent tool called Fireshot available as an add on to both the Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers.

One of the best things about it is that it enables you to grab the entire page in one go even if it scrolls off the screen.

There are also some fairly sophisticated editing facilities built in that allow you to crop the image, add annotations and apply other effects.

One I use all the time is the blur tool. I can quickly take a copy of a web page and obscure any sensitive information before emailing it or uploading it to the web.

A built in email button converts the capture into an image and attachs it to an email - what could be easier. And if you do need more powerful editing options you can save it to a file and load it into your main image editing software.

Here's one I made earlier (of adding this article to my blog)

Fireshot screengrab

Visit the Fireshot site for more information.

Video screen capture

Added on: Tuesday 10th February 2009

If you ever need to record a video tutorial of something on your screen then this great online application is the ideal tool

Screen Toaster is a FREE online video screen capture tool. It is fairly basic but that means it is easy to use.

Once you have created an account you just click the Record link and it downloads a small applet onto your computer.

Once this is installed a dialog pops up and when you click Start Recording you have five seconds to get to the page you want to record.

You can use audio and subtitles but at the moment there is no way of exporting the file with either of these options so the video has to be hosted with screen toaster.

There is an option to upload to youtube but this is still experimental and doesn't work that well.

Anyhow, I'm going to be exploring more as I am wanting to create video tutorials for our content management system, contact management software and email marketing package.

For now though here is my first attempt at using this software:

Resizing Photographs for your website

Added on: Thursday 5th February 2009

Most modern digital cameras nowadays have very high resolutions which means that the photos are larger than most computer screens let alone web pages.

Even when displaying larger pop up images from a thumbnail in a photo gallery you only need a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels - unless perhaps you are selling photographs online in which case you should have some sort of watermark to prevent downloading.

Although many website content management systems allow you to resize images via the administration area, you still have to upload the file first and with typical sizes of 3+MB this may take some time.

Try to upload half a dozen or so together and you'll probably be timed out or be told you've exceeded the maximum file size.

There are lots of tools around that can be used to resize images on your PC but most of these come with a huge number of options to rename the resized images, save or overwrite the original etc.

Here is a little used way to easily resize a group of photos in Windows without any additional software. The method below describes how to do this in Windows XP but Vista will be similar.

Firstly, go to the folder with the photos in and select the ones you want to resize. Once the selection is complete click the right mouse button on one of the photos and select Send To > and then Mail Recipient.

Emailing Photographs

A window will then pop up options to make the photos smaller or keep at the original size. The Make all my pictures smaller option is selected by default.

If you click the Show more options... link at the bottom of the window you will see a list of three sizes - Small, Medium or Large. Small is the default but Medium is also OK for websites.

Photo Sizes

Select the size and click OK. This then generates a new email message with the photos as attachments.

At this stage there is no need to send the email (although you can of course use this option for sending to other people) but you can simply select File > Save Attachments... from the menu in your email software.

Select a new folder to put them in and you now have a set of photos resized ready for your website.

So, how do you get them on to your website? Well thats the subject of another posting but our content management system has a secret weapon that makes this very easy!

Is your software weatherproof

Added on: Tuesday 3rd February 2009

As some parts of the country experience the worst winter weather for 20 years can your business cope if no one can get into the office?

Car in snowUnlike North America or other European countries, a little snowfall here seems to disrupt the entire transport system.

This means that many people can't get into the office so businesses are running at reduced capacity or in some cases not at all.

However, with the increasing availability of broadband connections and web based software many companies are now able to operate from anywhere with access to the Internet.

Obviously, if the business relies heavily on transport and delivery or needs key workers in the field then this isn't going to help but much of the administration could still be done online.

It is much easier than you might think to put your existing system online and our online contact management software has many of the features needed already included as core modules.

And because its modular the only customisation required is for specialised areas of your business.

As I sit here writing this the snow is once again falling heavily outside but I don't have to go anywhere!

Using RSS feeds

Added on: Wednesday 14th January 2009

How to get information sent to you rather than having to go out and find it.

An RSS feed is used to publish frequently updated information such as blog entries and news headlines in a standardized format.

It includes full or summarized text, plus other data such as publishing dates and authorship.

These feeds are great for readers who want to subscribe to updates from their favourite websites.

RSS feeds can be read using software called an RSS reader, feed reader, or aggregator, which can be web-based or desktop-based.

A standardized file format allows the information to be published once and viewed by many different programs.

The details below show how to subscribe to and read a feed using Google Reader but the process is similar for most feed reading software.

1. Open up Google Reader

If you haven't already got Google Reader then first of all go to the Google home page. At the top left of the screen you will see some options. Click on the more link and select Reader.

The next screen will ask you to sign in to your Google account. If you haven't already got a Google account then click the Create an account now link below the sign in panel.

Once you have created an account and logged in then you'll see a Reader link listed under the My Services heading. Click this link to open Google Reader.

Google Reader

2. A quick guide to the reader

The left hand panel shows the number of unread items and a list of current subscriptions.

The right hand panel shows the  unread items under the heading A look at what's new.

To read an unread item, click the item title in the list in the right hand panel.

Reader Item

This will open the article in a new window.

3. Subscribing to an RSS feed.

More often than not you will subscribe to an RSS feed from the site you are visiting (if there is an easy way to do it) rather than from within Google Reader.

On most sites with RSS feeds you'll see an icon similar to the following:

RSS Subscribe buttonorRSS Subscribe icon

The page you see when you click on the icon will vary depending on what site you are on but what you want to look for is some reference to Google or Google Reader (see below)

Add RSS feed

Clicking on Add to Google displays the following page:

Add To Google Reader

Click the Add to Google Reader button and you'll then be asked to sign in to your account. Once you've done this, the subscription will display in the left hand panel of Google Reader and you'll see a list of items (initially all marked as unread) on the right hand side.

To subscribe to a feed from within Google Reader you either need to know the full address of the feed (feed url) or hope that it can be found from a search.

RSS Add Subscription

If you enter the feed url you will be automatically subscribed to the feed. If you enter a search term you will be presented with a list of results with a Subscribe button next to each one.

4. Getting the latest news without logging in to Google Reader

Google Reader saves time by 'pulling' new articles and announcements from various sites without you having to visit each site to find out whats new but you still have to log in to Google Reader regularly to get this information.

I have added the Google Reader Gadget to iGoogle so that when I go to Google to search for something my unread articles display on the same page...but thats another article!

Further reading:

Google Reader for Beginners