Thursday, 17 May 2007

Monitor it . . .

Have you ever wondered whether your visitors see your pages exactly the same way you do? I don't mean the content, I mean the display. Are the subtle colours you've chosen for your site displaying exactly the same way on your visitors' screens? Is that carefully spaced caption or title displaying in exactly the same way in the other guy's display?

  1. They must, mustn't they?
  2. Never given it a thought!
  3. Is this a problem?
  4. Not bothered!

To answer the last observation first; you should be, or you're not putting enough effort into your blogging. Only you know what answer to give to the first two, but the answer to question 3 is an emphatic "Yes".

I have 5 monitors that I check to see how things are being displayed, especially when it comes to the 'size' of the display, but not one of them renders the colours exactly the same as the others. Close, but no cigar! No, this isn't degenerating into a play-ground bully mantra of, "My one is bigger than your one!" I was just trying to make a point that if I can't get 5 monitors to 'synch' to the same colour spectrum here under the same roof, what chance do you think you have of getting your colours to display the way you wish them to, across the internet? But you can do a lot to minimize the problem, and that is where a little 'tool' can come in handy (ouch! that is comparable to the play-ground bully comment above!).

Korax ColourDrop 4: A Color Picker with some subtle features. You can save your swatches too.

(Note: this is a direct link to the installation file. Since the file is an 'executable' I downloaded the file again and ran it through a virus checker and can declare it 'clean'. A habit you should adopt whenever you take stuff off the internet, whether or not you consider the source to be okay! It seems that Korax still hosts ColourDrop 4, but they don’t have a page dedicated to the application on their site).

If nothing else, it is a fun tool to use. You will never need to 'guess' a colour again, and you can even get the value of the colour of a single pixel, if that is your wish. In any case, download this little beauty and start to use it, and you might find you keep returning to it more and more frequently, even if it is only to satisfy yourself that your initial 'guess' was right!

By the way, it is FREE!

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The Tools . . .

I am sure that each of you has your own personal favourite for the categories I mention below. These are mine, and most of them are FREEWARE!

Text Editors

A good text editor is absolutely essential when you're working with the web. Word-processing packages just don't cut it. Honest! I have two in this category. Both are FREE. I use the first one constantly (disclaimer: I use the Pro version), perhaps because I discovered it first. If the first programme can be considered a superb replacement for Notepad, the second is "Notepad on steroids". However, I doubt that many 'first-timers' will want to use the second because of its apparent complexity!

  • EditPad Lite: This is a general-purpose text editor, designed to be small and compact, yet offer all the functionality you expect from a basic text editor. EditPad Lite works with Windows NT4, 98, 2000, ME, XP and Vista. If you are a Notepad user you will wonder how you managed to get things done before you discovered EditPad.
  • ConTEXT: This is a small, fast and powerful freeware text editor, developed mainly to serve as a secondary tool for software developers. The designer says that, after years and years of searching for a suitable Windows text editor, he was unable to find one that completely satisfied his needs, so he wrote his own. I suspect that this little beauty won't remain 'freeware' for much longer, so grab a copy while you can. You may start to use it some time in the future!

FTP Clients

My own personal favourite is WS_FTP Pro, a paid-for tool, that forces me to exclude the link here. The ones I have included are 'freeware' clients, but I have only used the first one and find it a superb tool for the job. I have not actually tried the others although they continue to get rave reviews (for freeware) in the computer press!

  • FileZilla: FileZilla is a free, open source FTP client for Windows. It supports FTP, SFTP, and FTPS (FTP over SSL/TLS). The main features are the site manager, message log, file and folder view, and the transfer queue. The site manager allows a user to create a list of FTP sites along with their connection data, such as the port number to use, the protocol to use, and whether to use anonymous or normal logon. For normal logon, the username is saved and optionally the password. The message log is displayed along the top of the window. It displays the console-type output showing the commands sent by FileZilla and the remote server's responses. The file and folder view, displayed under the message log, provides a graphical interface for FTP. Users can navigate folders and view and alter their contents on both the local and remote machines using an Explorer-style tree interface. Users can drag and drop files between the local and remote computers. The transfer queue, displayed along the bottom of the window, shows the real-time status of each queued or active file transfer.
  • AceFTP: Visicom Media’s AceFTP 3 Freeware is the easiest-to-use free FTP client software available for transferring files over the Internet. Its cool, uncluttered drag-and-drop interface, designed in a Windows XP fashion, lets you transfer files quickly and efficiently and navigate with ease between folders, both on Web sites and on your computer. This robust, free FTP software is a high-speed FTP program. It enables you to perform multiple file transfers simultaneously. Simply put, it beats many paid-for FTP client software products hands down.
  • FTP Commander: Simple and easy to use. It's really the bare minimum with no extra frills or thrills. It offers a no-nonsense interface consisting of two side-by-side local computer and FTP server panels. It's easy as pie to establish a connection. Pre-configuring a list of most frequently accessed servers will make your life easy. All you have to do is select the server you want on the list and push the Connect button. This FTP program occupies far less space on hard drives and RAM than other similar paid programs. It also allows you to delete, rename and and copy files, create and delete directories in the FTP server and work in command line mode. The program is absolutely free and does not contain any annoying ad banners.
  • SmartFTP: A solid freeware FTP client, SmartFTP offers loads of handy features, including a Windows Explorer-like interface, drag & drop support and resumption of broken transfers. Free for personal, as well as educational and non-profit usage. Unfortunately you also get a nag screen asking you to buy the product, but it is not crippled in any way.

Graphics Manipulators

This is a difficult one. Simply put, you get what you pay for! There aren't many 'freeware' programmes in this category, unless you count 'Paint', Microsoft's bundled graphics programme which is almost as good as useless. I use a combination of Adobe Photoshop (that's an OUCH! in the $$$'s department) and Xara Xtreme (much more affordable - and it can do things you never dreamed of!), but when it comes to 'bang-for-buck' the FREE IrfanView takes a bit of beating. Hunt around and you can get many plug-ins for this 'viewer' that will allow you to 'manipulate' your photographs. And did I mention it is FREE?

  • Irfanview: IrfanView is a very fast, small, compact and innovative (FREEWARE - for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista. It tries to simplify things for beginners, and yet it can be a powerful tool for professionals. IrfanView tries to create new or interesting features in its own way, unlike some other graphic viewers. IrfanView was the first Windows graphic viewer WORLDWIDE with Multiple (animated) GIF support, one of the first graphic viewers WORLDWIDE with Multipage TIF support, and the first graphic viewer WORLDWIDE with Multiple ICO support. Some of the feature set for IrfanView are: Extensive list of supported file formats Multi language support Thumbnail/preview option Toolbar skins option Slideshow (save slideshow as EXE/SCR or burn it to CD) Show EXIF/IPTC/Comment text in Slideshow/Fullscreen etc. Support for Adobe Photoshop Filters Fast directory view (moving through directory) Batch conversion (with image processing) Multipage TIF editing File search Email option Multimedia player Print option Change color depth Scan (batch scan) support Cut/crop IPTC editing Effects (Sharpen, Blur, Adobe 8BF, Filter Factory, Filters Unlimited, etc.) Capturing Extract icons from EXE/DLL/ICLs Lossless JPG rotation Many hotkeys Many command line options Many PlugIns Only one EXE-File, no DLLs, no Shareware messages like "I Agree" or "Evaluation expired" No registry changes without user action/permission! and much much more.

Those are just a few to be getting on with. What are you waiting for?

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KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid has always been a favourite adage of mine, student or instructor, man and boy!

I spend hours trawling the web for information and it is only when I am researching something specific that I have the patience to read ALL that an article or post contains. Even then I tend to skip huge chunks when it becomes apparent to me that the author is being self-indulgent about his or her subject by mentioning every trivial detail.

Of course, there is a delicate balance in deciding how one imparts information. Assuming that the reader has absolutely no knowledge of the subject is presumptuous and a bit supercilious, and can often give offence. Yet, assuming, often erroneously, that the reader has a basic understanding of the subject and skipping some parts that might seem too trivial to mention, turns the exercise into a total waste of time for many!

To be honest, I don't have the answer to how to handle the balance. So, anything I write in this Blog is just going to have to be aimed at the 'lowest common denominator', which should meet the requirements of the majority although it might be boring for a few. To the latter I just have this to say; I am sure you can find similar information elsewhere that will appeal to your level of intelligence and understanding. This blog is here to help those who are just about to dip their toes in the water!

If you've read this far I have to assume that you have an interest in wanting to do something with your blog, but have been too hesitant to ask. Well, now is your chance. No question or request will go unacknowledged. You'd be surprised at how many people, myself included, glean information by just reading questions and answers. Sometimes it is pertinent, sometimes it can be ignored. But if nobody asks, nobody gains. And my crystal ball is fairly cloudy at the moment!

A Forum would be a better vehicle to handle questions and answers, but actually handling the queries on a Blog page gives the viewer a visual idea of how things should ultimately turn out. The fact that this is a New Blogger blog somewhat limits the information to users of that resource but, since the initial request(s) have been from bloggers who use this software, this is what it will continue to concentrate on.

I shall post a few general 'hints' and 'tips' to keep the ball rolling, but it is only you that can keep the whole thing 'alive'.

Over to you.

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