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Development

// I am not sure if we need this, but too scared to delete.

Context Aware Development and The Internet of Things

August 19, 2016
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Ok…where to start with this one?! I’ve been doing a lot of digging lately. I’ve also been asking myself some pretty big questions. No, not the “what is life all about” question. More like the “where is the web going” question. What direction will technology take? How will technology fit into our lives in 5 years, 15 years, 50 years? I recently wrote a post on artificial intelligence and its place within the web, obviously it’s not there yet. Well…not truly there yet. It might be someday, but what I think we can count on as a virtual certainty is this concept of context-aware development and the Internet of Things (IoT).

What is the Internet of Things…

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Internet of Things, yeah? Well, just in case you aren’t, here’s kinda the concept. The IoT is everything that essentially has a technological pulse and its ability to collect, compile, and exchange data. From the electronic control module of an automobile to the smart refrigerator, your cellphone to your coffeemaker, headphones, wearables, even your washing machine. The Internet of Things is all these things being able to connect, not only to the internet, but each other. And that’s the rub, right? I mean, think about what you would do if your car already knew the best route to work dependent on the flow of traffic for that particular day. Or your FitBit woke you up and then signaled your coffeemaker to start brewing that morning cup of joe! It’s a compelling concept and one that’s quite executable… I think.

What I want to talk about is its connection to context-aware development. Now, some of you may not be familiar with this term, so let me elaborate. Development in websites, applications, mobile, and the like has taken an awe-inspiring (in my mind!) trajectory this last decade. Going from static HTML/CSS sites, to content management systems like WordPress and Drupal, and then onto scripting and programming frameworks that execute both client-side and server-side activities. We currently have more technologies that can talk to each other and work with each other than ever before. But context-aware development brings in the outside world.

Context-Aware huh?

Yeah, think about it for a minute. What is context? It’s the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed (courtesy of Google). So, context aware means that the behavior of a device will be enhanced dependent on the context. It will essentially take outside factors (like sunlight, movement, and signals from other devices) to determine what the best user experience should be. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re walking down a street, it’s super cloudy then all of a sudden the clouds break and the sun comes out. Imagine the website you’re viewing on your mobile phone adjusts the contrast so it’s easier to see the page. Now, I know what you’re thinking, there’s auto-contrast. But that’s built into your phone, not the website itself.

I’ll give you another example. Let’s say you are on the subway and reading a Boston Business Journal article. There is a particularly shaky section of track that you’re on and the subway starts rattling back and forth, making it extremely hard to read the text. Well, what happens if the text enlarges itself to make it easier to read. That would be a much better experience, would it not? Or the button that you want to click on gets bigger as a direct product of the condition of your environment. Or maybe the button turns white in a dark room, and black in a light room. That’s pretty kick-ass if you think about it.

Wearables…connecting your body to…well, everything else

The Apple Watch came out on the market and interested a certain section of the population. I don’t think it’s selling like hotcakes, but it’s still a pretty cool device. And let’s face it, it’s made by Apple, so it’ll just keep getting better as new versions of it come out. But there are a few things the Apple Watch and other wearables can do. The biggest thing I see is that most of these wrist devices can receive and collect information from the most pivotal environmental factor to a good user experience—your body!

Now, it can receive data like your heart rate (pulse), sleeping patterns, number of steps, type of activity (like jogging/cycling) and so on. As of right now, most all of these devices need to be synced up with an iPhone or similar device. But, again, as time goes on I think we’ll see these wearables getting smarter and more compact just like the cellphone. All the data it receives can be super useful in giving the wearer the ultimate experience. I also think that Google Glass (another wearable) will eventually make a big splash when the world is ready. For some reason it wasn’t well-received, I wonder why? Blog post for another day.

Let me give you an example of context-aware devices:

Let’s say you’re in the middle of a workout and your heart rate is elevated. Someone sends you a text and your wrist device holds off on letting it through until you can look at it when your heart rate is back to normal. Or the flip-side to that. Let’s assume you’re a doctor in the middle of a workout and someone needs emergency heart surgery. The sender can label the text message (or phone call) as “exigent” and your wearable can send you a quick buzz signifying that you might want to take this call! Or maybe you’re a senior citizen and you have a wearable that can tell if you’re having heart arrhythmia, you can’t get to a phone because of the pain, and your wearable connects to emergency services. Either way, you get the drift.

HMI’s…the connection for all connections

Human Machine Interfaces is a pretty broad term that can be applied liberally to iPod’s, washing machines, coffeemakers, automobiles, stereos, computers, and so on. But it really started in the industrial space with things like heavy machinery, but in the age of computers, that’s kind of subsided. An HMI essentially provides a graphical user interface (GUI) which connects a human to a machine. A great example of this is your car stereo (I have XM!). But it’s a visual representation of all the different channels you’re going through to get to the music you want. You can also control the volume, bass, treble, etc. Now, with the Internet of Things, the ambulatory devices should be able to connect with the stationary ones. Human Machine Interfaces will allow for connections to be made (and synced) from your cellphone to your car, your wearable to your coffeemaker, your iPad to your whatever!

Here’s another example:

Let’s take everything we’ve learned and try to put it into scenarios that would work. Think about this, you get home from a long morning run and you need to get ready for work. Your wearable locates how far away you are from your home and signals your coffeemaker to start brewing when you get close. You’ve got a fresh pot of coffee when you get home. But wait, there’s more.

You forgot to wash your clothes last night so you program your washing machine to start a short cycle, then throw your clothes in before you hop in the shower. You get out of the shower and throw your clothes in the dryer. Then you get a text from your coworker saying that the morning meeting has been pushed up by 30 minutes, oh shit! That signals your car to start and put the AC on (or get warm if you’re in a colder climate) and it also signals your car to find the most appropriate and quickest route to the office that morning.

Now, your car knows that you’re going to be rushed (it can feel your elevated heart rate), so it finds a station to play soothing music (think Enya) while you drive to work. You get your clothes out of the dryer, throw on that nice collared shirt and hop in your air-conditioned car that’s playing relaxing tunes and already knows the quickest way to get you to that rescheduled meeting. Life is good! Sah-weet!!!!

Are there any ramifications?

Of course, there’s always another side to that coin, right? Technology already controls a portion of our lives. Many are addicted to Facebook and other social channels. People text and drive. People text and walk. We tune out the outside world to live in our virtual bubbles. But I think connecting the Internet of Things, using context-aware development techniques, and devices getting smarter and more compact, are just going to help improve our lives.

Now, some would say that being this connected isn’t great. It means people work longer hours, people lose touch with their family lives, but the truth is that we can take this technology and make it work for us.

Your wearable tells you if you’ve been stagnant for too long a period, and can jolt you to get moving. Well, what if it could say something like “hey, go do something fun like hang out with your kids.” What if your cellphone or computer knew that you were spending too much time on it, and automatically shut down? There are lots of ways we could use all this technology and the IoT to our advantage.

When will this happen? What will make this happen?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I know CSS4 (which is currently out, but doesn’t have much browser support) does do a little experimenting with context-aware elements like pointer and hover. It also boasts Level 4 Media Queries, which really shaped the face of responsive design when media queries first came out.

I think everyone knows that JavaScript is really the “it” language for making a lot of this stuff happen. JS can access different avenues of data through the browser, device, or database. Essentially, it can do some really cool stuff like get GPS locations, time of day, weather/temperature, and the list goes on.

With all these technologies, and all the people working on (and with) these technologies, I can’t imagine it’ll be more than 2 or 3 years before we start seeing context aware development integrated with the Internet of Things. Now, for how long it’ll take to perfect it — well…maybe that will be never! Is anything ever really perfected?

Either way, I’m looking forward to this next evolution in the technology space. Context aware development and the Internet of Things will change the way we interact with technology and ultimately each other.

Working With Premium Themes

July 12, 2016
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We’ve all seen it — the vividly pictorial mountain landscape as the main hero image for the newest theme out there. It screams out professionalism and beauty all in the same sweeping breath. It entices us to click ‘buy’ or ‘activate’ and then…nothing…”wait..where’d the cool picture go?” Working with premium themes (and free ones) can be a discouraging activity, but it can also be a largely rewarding experience when you figure it out!

I recently redesigned my portfolio website at adamlamagna.com, and what I mean when I say “redesigned” is that I used a pre-made theme. It’s called Uncode – Creative Multiuse WordPress Theme, it was hard to use at first, but I’m going to shed some light on that in the following post. I’ve used several premium themes on a number of my digital properties. The ones I’m familiar with are Divi, Nexus, and Harmony by Elegant Themes, Brook by Korra, and Uncode by undsgn. I’m also familiar with some free themes like Sydney by aThemes, and pretty much the entire suite of WordPress.org’s 20-something series—TwentySixteen, TwentyFifteen, etc. Working with themes is a skill that should be learned by everyone (my little sister learned how to do it) so people can have the freedom to put there stuff out there!

First, the differences between free and premium themes…

I’m not sure if there is a huge difference working with premium themes versus free themes, both need to be configured (some more than others), most are compatible with the suite of popular plugins including page builders, and given an eye for design… sites can look downright professional regardless of whether or not they cost money. So, I would say this answer depends greatly on your budget because the only real difference I see is the cost.

Premium themes do sometimes include premium plugins that you would have to pay money for if you didn’t buy the theme. They’ll also include pre-made templates (which is nice if you don’t have that eye for design like myself!), but some free ones include templates too. Years ago, a WordPress user would be browsing the themes repository and find a theme they liked, usually because they thought it looked cool. They clicked on the button to activate the ‘live preview’ and fell in love with the theme. But when they installed the theme and activated it, it looked nothing like the live preview! Now, that’s only sometimes the case. With many free and almost all premium themes, there will be pages, posts, portfolio pieces that are pre-made and configured for you. Most times, all you have to do is import the ‘dummy’ content with it, and you’ve got your site. Now just substitute your own content; images and text, and you can be up and running in a day or two depending on the size of your site.

The premium theme battle…

I’m torn between the premium themes I’ve used. For the sake of this post and not making it too long, I’m going to review 3 premium themes that I’ve used and have familiarity with. They are:

  • Divi by Elegant Themes
  • Brook by Korra
  • Uncode by undsgn

I’m also going to look at a few different factors:

  • Documentation
  • Support
  • Configuration Process
  • Ease of Layout/Intuitiveness
  • Responsive
  • Cost

Let’s begin…

DIVI BY ELEGANT THEMES

About two (or so) years ago, the Divi theme made a splash! It was released in 2013 as the most intuitive page builder and theme on the market. I personally know a lot of designers that use Divi to this day because Elegant Themes keeps iterating on it that improves the experience and the output. It is a cool and versatile theme.

Divi’s documentation is pretty vast and easy to understand, they also have video tutorials explaining the page builder and theme options. When I dove into building my first Divi website, it was pretty straightforward. All you do is click ‘Use The Divi Builder’ and you can start to create cool layouts.

Screenshot of Divi builder


It’s pretty intuitive right off the bat. As you can see from the above screenshot, it asks you to insert columns. You can choose how many.


Screenshot of Divi Builder columns


After you’ve decided how many columns that particular row will be, you can start adding modules, and the list of modules is pretty vast; images, text, headings, contact forms, call-to-actions, blurbs, etc.


Screenshot of Divi builder modules


Again, it’s pretty straightforward without having to read tons of documentation. So we click on a module, let’s create a ‘blurb’ – it’ll ask you for some information, like the title of your blurb, if you want to make your blurb a link, if you’d like to use an icon, etc. But the cool thing about the Divi Builder is that there’s instructions right in the module itself. See below:

screenshot of the blurb module on Divi


If you’re not all that familiar with modules or building websites in general, then those instructions really come in handy! What’s the end layout look like, though? Well, let’s see.

DiviBuild
The Divi Builder on top, and its output on the bottom

Now, it might not look like much, but it took me about 5 minutes to make that layout. And the more familiar you get with the modules and Divi Builder, the quicker you’ll be able to do it. Divi also has ‘Theme Options’ which are kind of like the global site settings. You can add your logo, favicon, integrate with MailChimp, enable social media icons and responsive shortcodes, fonts, smooth scrolling, and more. Responsively, the layout breaks down the way it should, with the left columns going above the right ones.

So, overall:

  • Documentation: Good documentation, easy to understand.
  • Support: Really great, quick to respond and informative.
  • Configuration Process: Relatively straightforward in the Theme Options
  • Ease of Layout/Intuitiveness: Super easy, build pages in minutes. Easy to get started without reading the documentation, but the deeper you dig into the modules, the more a beginner will need help and have to refer to the documentation or support.
  • Responsive: Works well on tablet and mobile.
  • Cost: Elegant Themes has a yearly (or a one-time lifetime) subscription model. I would recommend paying the extra dollars for the lifetime membership. See here for more details: https://www.elegantthemes.com/join.php

Overall, Divi is a pretty kick-ass theme!

BROOK BY KORRA

I find Brook to be a light and responsive theme that can’t be configured with a page builder (well…unless you add one in with a plugin, but let’s not!). Regardless, it does have a some good things going for it! It seems to me that Brook is geared toward blog sites, in fact this site that you’re reading now is done with the Brook theme! Again, it doesn’t have a page builder, so the way to configure the homepage is a little trickier. You’ve got to have your homepage as your latest post page, which you’ll find in WordPress core under Settings —> Reading. Now, you will need some content before this theme looks remotely close to what the ‘live preview’ looks like on Themeforest, and they give you an option to import the demo content. Right from the beginning the theme was a little more difficult to work with than the Divi theme, but I really liked the look of the live preview, so I knew I could get it to work.

But I had to read the documentation, and if it’s one thing Brook had going for it—it’s the documentation. It’s plentiful and easy to digest, from installing WP and getting the child-theme setup to widgets and theme options.


Brook Theme customizer


The Theme Options for Brook are in the native Theme Customizer seen above. It gives you options to add a logo and favicon in the General tab. You can change the layout of the header, sidebar, and footer. You can pick your own typography, color sets, and background and do a lot more.

One thing I noticed was that in order to get the carousel on the homepage to work properly, you had to crop all your featured images to be the same size. Otherwise the carousel will scale up to the largest sized photo in your featured images. But within a post, there are more options to add a certain sized featured image for different areas, the theme just recommends that you install the Advanced Custom Fields plugin. If your post was going to be in a widget area in your footer and you wanted to use a square image instead of a rectangular one, there’s options to do that. In fact, there are more post setting options to choose from when using the Brook theme and Advanced Custom Fields:

Back-end of Brook post settings


There are also different WYSIWYG formats and elements. So if you’d like to add a dropcap, like at the beginning of this sentence, you can! It adds a little more flavor to your site to be able to put cool elements in your post. You can also add different font sizes, icons, highlighted text, cool buttons and links, image sliders, Google maps, and more! I think it’s a really cool theme to use if you’re blogging about anything, but it’s not super intuitive, you have to read the documentation in order to get it!

  • Documentation: Plenty and easy to understand!
  • Support: Good support.
  • Configuration Process: Pretty straightforward with the Theme Customizer that is native to WordPress, but the homepage is a little more difficult to configure and the documentation will need to be referenced.
  • Ease of Layout/Intuitiveness: Not really easy. For beginners, this theme might be a little difficult to get right, but read the documentation and reach out to support with any questions.
  • Responsive: Works well on tablet and mobile, they even have a tablet and mobile screen option to choose from in the Theme Customizer, it’ll give you a break down of what your page will look like.
  • Cost: $44 on Themeforest.

Overall: This theme might not be for a beginner, but it is a super cool theme to use. I love it! People have commented to me that my blog looks really cool, and I agree. It’s simple, light, not too flashy, and it puts the content front and center (which is important!)

UNCODE BY UNDSGN

My new portfolio site that I mentioned above was done with Uncode, and I will say that this was the most difficult theme to use out of all 3 of them, and this one has a page builder. The page builder is Visual Composer, but Uncode’s customized version of it. When I downloaded Uncode and imported the demo content, it broke my site. I will say that this is a hosting provider issue, apparently I did not have enough memory space with my hosting provider, so that was an issue. Simple fix though, I just called up my hosting provider and they told me how to add more memory. I will say with all the themes I’ve used, I’ve never had one that has maxed out my memory.

When you install Uncode, it tells you to install about 9 different plugins to work the way the live preview does. It has two premium slider plugins included, Layer 5 and Revolution slider, so that’s cool.  And they also have upwards of 60 different layouts preconfigured with the Visual Composer (VC). Which was nice, because if I didn’t have those page layouts already configured, I’d have no idea how to create them. VC is pretty intense.


Visual Composer screenshot


It can separate the elements by content or structure, widgets or WooCommerce (if you have that installed, you don’t need it if you’re not selling anything). But then when you drill down, the options for a single element are super complex. Because there’s not only the element, but the container that it’s in. You can adjust the row settings, the column settings, the element settings. Divi was the same way, but not nearly as many options as Uncode, which could be good or bad depending on how much freedom you want with your layout.

Icon settings for visual composer
Element settings

Row settings - Visual Composer
Row settings

 

Column settings - Visual Composer
Column settings

So, for every element, you essentially have 3 different components to adjust. And you have to watch out for the overrides. Let’s say you leave a color blank, well it’s going to grab the default color that you have configured in your ‘Uncode Theme Options’ – it took me a while to figure out what was going on when I couldn’t get the text to be light on a dark background, even though I had those settings placed in the element. It was because of the default settings in Theme Options here:

Uncode Theme Options
Uncode Theme Options

There are a lot of different theme options, from typography to social media (connections) to individual pages, posts, portfolio pieces, and content blocks. What are content blocks, you ask? Well, they are Uncode’s very own custom post type. Built in to make cool headers, footers, or other content to be used globally if need be. But you have to make sure that when you are adding a layout, you either need to override the theme options, or the look will be what the defaults are set at.

Content blocks took me awhile to figure out too. When you look at a page from the front end:

Classic Agency page - Uncode theme


It looks super cool!! But then look at that same page from the back-end:

Classic Agency - Uncode - backend


You’ll notice that the Heading text in the back-end page is not “Thinkers & Designers” like the front-end page says it is. And the featured image in the right hand corner is not the featured image on the page, so how does this exist? Good question, it exists in content blocks. If you scroll all the way down on the back-end of the page, you’ll notice this little area:

Page options Uncode


Page Options —> Header, and you can select the type of header that you want, which will be placed at the top of the front-end output of the page. The page layout with Visual Composer will start below the content block header, unless you don’t have a content block selected. There are little intricacies like this across the entire site. I was pulling my hair out at times, but the support is really awesome! They also have a lot of documentation, I would strongly recommend starting there because even for a seasoned site builder, who’s used to configuring themes, this one took me awhile.

LAMA website - home page

Now, I will say that the end product looks really cool and the design is worth the hassle, but be prepared to connect with support if you are a beginner…and even if you’re not.

  • Documentation: Lots of it!
  • Support: Great support.
  • Configuration Process: Not straightforward, there are lots of interconnecting pieces to this theme and you have to be familiar with all of them to get stuff to work, and to troubleshoot.
  • Ease of Layout/Intuitiveness: Not really easy. The Visual Composer was not that intuitive for me because there are just soooo many options. After a few days you’ll get used to it and be able to design layouts quicker.
  • Responsive: Works well on tablet and mobile.
  • Cost: $59 on Themeforest.

Overall: This theme did frustrate me, more so than the Brook theme, which I thought was way easier to use. Uncode is big, it’s a lot of code, it’s got a lot going on. But the design is freaking awesome, so it’s definitely worth it in my mind. There’s a cool plugin called VC-Particle Background that I use on my homepage, check it out – adamlamagna.com

Continuing to work with premium themes…

I’ll most likely always work with premium themes, I do think they’re fun to use and can look really really good if configured properly. If you’re just starting out and not sure whether a premium theme is right for you, check out some of these links below!

How to Get the Most Out of a Premium WordPress Theme

Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Premium WordPress Theme

Enjoy your day!

Talking Drupal…and selling it too!

February 11, 2016
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I recently had an appearance on the Talking Drupal Podcast — Had a great time with John Picozzi, Stephen Cross, and Nic Laflin. That episodes topic was Selling Drupal, so they had me on to talk about sales in relation to…what else….Drupal.

Here’s the video:

I had a really fantastic time! Steve, John, and Nic are great guys to be around and we always have thought-provoking conversations! Even though, I feel like this conversation fell into a talk about Drupal versus WordPress, that’ okay!

Now that I’m in website security, I would love to be asked back on to speak about securing Drupal! Hopefully, in a few more months you’ll see me back on there to discuss security matters.

Love being a part of the open source community and the Drupal community!

WordCamp RI and the Open Source Community

October 2, 2015
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As you all may know, last weekend was WordCamp Rhode Island. It was awesome! I had a fantastic time. My talk – Coffee’s for Closers – went really well. I got a lot of great feedback and compliments afterwards. But I want to talk briefly about the different types of sessions and the community itself.

There were three tracks this year for WordCamp RI – 1) WordPress for Beginners. 2) WordPress for Developers. 3) WordPress for Business. This was the first year we had something like this, and it turned out to be very successful. I think it was the biggest representation of the open source community in Rhode Island ever! Nice job, everyone!

It really had something for everyone. If you were just getting into WP and wanted to know how to set yourself up with a .org CMS, instead of a .com, that was available. If you were a hard core developer and wanted to know how to contribute to WordPress core, that was available. And if you were a part of the business community in WordPress (selling WP sites), then there was something for you too!

Unfortunately, I was unable to see very many talks because I was stuck behind a booth (which I enjoy!) talking to people about WordPress, letting them take some Oomph swag, and just being there to answer any questions. But there were a couple talks that stuck out. In case you didn’t realize, I was most comfortable in the WP for Business track!

Aileen McDonough, owner of 3amWriters (they are creative communicators) talked about content – Content is King – her stage presence was elegant and her knowledge is vast. She talked of tools to use to make your lives easier as content creators much easier. Thanks for telling me about TweetDeck! Super cool!

Then there was Brett Cohen from eMagine (a digital agency), he talked about landing bigger clients. Their whole strategy for getting clients is based on outbound sales. Even Brett will admit they get clients”the hard way!” But he talked about starting eMagine and the successes/failures he went through to turn it into one of the east coast’s premier digital agencies. He gave me some great advice on landing better clients.

Jesse Friedman, from Automattic, gave the Keynote speech. It was awesome! He was funny, serious, and heartfelt. He talked about how far the internet has come! Look at what we’ve done in just a short amount of time. He discussed how important it is to be a part of the open source community and giving back to it. And thanked us all for being at WordCamp. His keynote was inspirational!!

All in all, WordCamp was a fabulous weekend. I met some terrific people and companies, and had a wonderful time helping those who had questions. It’s just nice to be a part of a community that accepts any one at any skill level. The open source community just wants people to be jazzed about the open source community….and WordPress!

Virtual Reality Coming Soon

September 14, 2015
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On my drive into work today I was listening to NPR – oh, how I love NPR. The TED Radio hour was on and it started off talking about corporate office calls. How journalists can call in via conference calls to corporate stakeholder meetings. This particular meeting was of Mark Zuckerberg explaining to his stakeholders why Facebook just spent 2 billion dollars (that’s right, BILLION!) on Oculus, a virtual reality technology. And Zuckerberg apparently did this in March of 2014, where was I when this happened?

But this is interesting, right? Because what is the next big technology out there? I remember virtual reality (VR) in the 80’s when Disney Imagineers (engineers who make cool rides at Disney) were playing around with this technology.

Camera WorkI think of VR as a video game or a simulation. But for the future, this is a very viable option for how we will live our lives. We are all becoming attached to our phones/computers. Think about it, when you want to know something, you don’t stop and think about it, you immediately look at your phone to find the answer. I walk through the airport and literally 3/4’s of people are on their phones or laptops.

People have this innate necessity to feel connected. People like being connected to each other, which is cool. I, myself, like being connected as well. And that’s why we’re all on our phones and computers. We get into accidents over this, we walk into people on the sidewalk, we totally drown out the actual real world when we’re on our computers. It’s fascinating! And a little disturbing, but this is what we do because we feel connected.

So what does this mean??

So, what does this mean for the world and how we’ll interact with our devices. Well, Mark Zuckerberg thought that our experiences would be much more immersive, much more augmented. Instead of pulling up a companies website on your mobile phone or computer screen, you’ll put on goggles and step into their websites. You’ll be immersed in their experience and be able to interact with it.

If you think about it, this could work. Imagine putting on goggles and being in a classroom of people all over the world listening to the teacher, looking over at the next desk and seeing your classmate, asking them a question. It’s cool!!! Imagine walking through the grocery store in the comfort of your own home and being able to go up and down the aisles, picking up a food product and checking the label to see how much sugar is in it. That’s super cool!!!! Imagine you have some kind of a rash on your arm (not cool!) and instead of getting in your car and going to the doctor’s office, you just pop on your VR goggles (the doctor does the same) and you interact with them in a virtual world. They’d be able to diagnose you without you ever leaving the house and without them ever leaving their office (or where ever they choose to be) – they could be somewhere in Paris or the Bahamas diagnosing people all over the world.

It’s really quite interesting and scary, all at the same time. I feel like people are less connected on a human level, and more connected on a digital one. With this new technology that’s coming down the pipeline, trust me, it’s definitely coming, will we be more connected because we’ll be able to actually see one another face to face? Online people seem to have a disinhibition effect which is partly caused by no face-to-face interaction. Would virtual worlds end that? I mean, you’d have to look at someone, people would see your face. Would people then not do the stuff they’ve done in the past online, I’m not sure, but it’d be interesting to find out!

Whatever comes of this technology I will definitely keep my eyes peeled to the screen (no pun intended).

Keep ownership of your domain and know your cPanel

January 28, 2015
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Simply put, a C-Panel is a control panel. It’s used in computer software from operating systems to hosting platforms. We’re going to talk about the latter.

Why are C-Panels so important?

From the view point of a user, control panels are important because they let us interact with what ever technology that control panels control, right? Yup! But from an ownership standpoint, knowing how to use a control panel can make all the difference to you and your company. You get a host to serve up your webpages. Something like 1and1 or GoDaddy, both of which I don’t recommend. In fact, if you’re working with WordPress, then go with WP Engine. They are a little more pricey than your 1and1’s and GoDaddy’s, but they are much more secure, they don’t go down (and leave your site useless for hours) and they’re much more helpful.

What ever cPanel you are using, you’ll want to check out that specific tutorial which is usually given by the company you’re hosting with. Here is a great piece for the WP Engine setup. But here’s why it’s important to know this. It comes down to ownership of your domain, your website, any email associated with your domain and so on, so forth.

You, no one else, needs to be the owner of your domain. If you don’t own your domain, then talk to whoever does and get it back from them. Usually, it’s the agency or person who built your website. They, in the past, have bundled that in with your package or what ever they did for you. And now people are getting much more wise when it comes to owning their domains. This is an important step because let’s say you come up with some really great idea or your own blog starts getting traction. If you don’t own your domain name, the company who does can hold that domain over your head and potentially do whatever they want with it. They can charge you and arm and a leg to get it back.

I usually buy my domains on NameCheap and from there I can point that domain to my hosting company. This way I still keep ownership of my domain and I’m able to do what I want with it, without having to go through a third party. Once you sign up for a hosting company you can also buy your domains from that company, usually.

CPanels are pretty easy to navigate once you get the lay of the land. Most companies have set cPanels up so that they’re user-friendly. You can set up your email, so you get one of those cools emails like [email protected] You can upload new files to your site, and set up subdomains to have a development environment.

So, instead of having your developer or the agency you’re working with take care of the hosting part of your site, take the time to learn a little bit about it. It’ll only make you smarter in the long-term and save you lots and lots of money if you ever want to switch companies.

NEWDcamp

November 3, 2014
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Yeah, it sounds kinda provocative, right? NEWDcamp, pronounced nude camp, it actually has a double meaning and none of them are inappropriate. New England Drupal Camp and the New Drupal Camp. It was a great turnout for the first ever NEWDcamp!

Even though I stood behind a booth for the majority of the event, I still met a lot of great people and managed to see Jeff Robbins keynote talk. It was right up my ally because he incorporated his life as a rock star into the speech.

Jeff Robbins was the front man for a band called Orbit in the 90s, when all those grunge bands were around. Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc. There was Orbit too, and maybe they didn’t get the fame that Pearl Jam got/has, but they were in the game!

Jeff talked about keeping things fresh and challenging yourself. Instead of going after every client out there, pick the ones that are right for your company. Qualify them a little more. I did get the chance to ask Jeff a question about qualifying potential leads. Is there a criteria for what Jeff calls the N-B-C (No Bad Clients)?

He had a great answer – NATM, Name, Authority, Timeline, and Money. Is this a client that can go on your portfolio or is it a client that just wants you to do some design that they already mocked up. What is their role in the company that’s looking for an agency? Are they a stakeholder and have significant pull or authority to make decisions? What’s the timeline? Is it something that needs to be done within two weeks, do they have a strict deadline? And how much money do they have? This is the tricky part, not too many people want to give me their budgets, but I need to know a range because it will dictate what I propose for you.

So, thanks Jeff, great answer! I really enjoyed being a part of the first ever NEWDcamp. It was a blast and hopefully next year I can go to more sessions.

Agile Methodology

October 7, 2014
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The agile approach is called many different names – scrum, sprints, agile. They all have similar concepts and they all work differently for each individual team. While building any type of software, whether it’s a website, phone app, or some type of cloud based CRM, the agile approach is the best way to go. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you, but first….

For those of you who don’t know, there are essentially two different approaches to web projects – waterfall and agile. Waterfall is your traditional approach to a project. An RFP is given to an agency. That agency wins the RFP by writing a killer proposal or one that’s priced according to the client’s budget. And the project begins, usually with a kick off meeting discussing important core features and business objectives. A discovery then occurs where developers come in and get a feel for the client’s information architecture (content types, categories, etc.) and database structure (fields, fieldsets, etc.). The designs are started and shown to the client, either with a yay or nay. And then the build takes place. The critical part to remember is that the design comes before the build in this approach. That means that you have to build according to the design and not the other way around.

This approach can be tedious – relentlessly. What happens if that design you made doesn’t fit right over the build you’re architecting? What happens if that little tiny icon over that image breaks the navbar? What happens if newsletter signup gets cut off on a tablet or mobile device? What happens if, what happens if? These are the questions you’ll find while taking a traditional approach. So, what we do is change that approach to be agile. It’s a cool word, right?

Agile is the evolution of collaboration and iteration unveiling the right solution. And you do this by prototyping the build first. There are some great core values that the agile approach preaches and you can find them written in the agile manifesto. You do all the normal things you would do in an engagement like a kick off meeting and a discovery phase where you learn about the company, objectives, structure and architecture. But when it comes time to get down to the nitty gritty, you prototype and then you iterate. And you start the design while you’re prototyping. What does this give you? It gives you a working, clickable, browsable, some-what designless website – what we call a gray site. But then you keep iterating and things start to take shape. It’s a process that lets you build a site that works properly and doesn’t lock you in to a final technical spec.

And trust me, the design will look good, great in fact! But it needs to sit on top of a fully functional website. What will make a visitor leave your site quicker? Not having that cool icon sitting over the image the way you wanted it to or having a website that loads slow and doesn’t function properly across all platforms? Yeah, I thought you’d say that!! So, if you run a team of developers and are thinking about going agile, I strongly recommend it.