Apple Goes “Flat”

I watched the blog ticker yesterday of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference to see what all will be coming down the pipe for iOS and Mac OS. I have to admit that lately I’ve been less than impressed with the lack of seeming innovation coming from Apple. The last couple of years have seemed like more of the same – nothing too special on the UI or functionality standpoint of the line of Apple products. After all, Apple is supposed to be leading the industry, right? With Windows 8’s complete overhaul on design to a “flat”, blocky grid I was mildly impressed with the effort they put into their style guide.

iOS7
The new “Control Center” in iOS7

So, coming into the conference with a somewhat jaded viewpoint (from a true Apple fanboy), I wasn’t expecting to be too excited. But, lo and behold it appears that Apple has done what it does best once again … mash super-simplicity with highly refined elegance. The new “flat” UI kicks the skeuomorphism to the curb and brings a vibrant, polished look to the stage – complete with parallax depth and scrolling effects that are tied to position of the phone, giving the home screen much more depth. I’m actually quite impressed. As people are now more intuitively understanding how buttons, swiping etc. work on a smart phone or desktop the need for hyperrealistic imagery like leather stitching, ripped notepads etc. is no longer a need to guide people in how to use a device. This idea of flat design is kind of a next step into a maturing user base of device users and it creates the flexibility to get super-clean with design and let it “get out of the way” so to speak.

Apple design guru, Jony Ives, described their philosophy of design as taking complex functionality and making it beautifully simple. Booyah! Check out the video here. That’s the challenge all designers face and I think from this first peek it looks like Apple has done it well.

One of the best features of the new iOS 7 is the task-switching feature. This always makes me crazy with my iPhone. I hate that I can’t quickly switch between apps without one closing down and another opening up. Having two apps running concurrently and rapidly switching between them should just work!

In summary, I’ve been a long-time Apple junkie and after a couple of years of feeling a bit “bored” by the lack of excitement I’m pretty excited to see how the new OS (Mavericks) and iOS 7 work in real life.

Are Penguins Attacking your Website?

Penguin - Recovery is Possible
Website, meet Penguin 2.0

Just when you think you’ve got Google figured out things change. If you’re any bit involved in keeping your website hovering at the top of search results you know how this past year has been quite a ride for a large portion of the web. With Google rolling out algorithmic updates to prevent “spammy” websites from ranking higher than legitimate sites, a lot of the old tactics we webmasters used to employ to rank higher are coming back to bite.

Watch your search engine ranking this next week or two and if you see a dip then you’ve probably gotten hit by the “Penguin 2.0” update. This latest update cracks down on shady backlinks and overall spammy content. If you’ve been hit, there are a few things to do right away if you haven’t done them already.

  1. Remove all crummy backlinks immediately. C’mon, do you really want to be associated with those sites anyway? Use your gut … if it feels off, it probably is.
  2. Fix your existing content. Does is sound artificial and overly rich with keywords? Honest, informative and interesting content is king.
  3. Write new, relevant content on a continual basis. Own your niche and be the content authority for your industry. By being the authority go-to resource for your industry, you’ll naturally gain a following by those looking to learn from your expertise … and that’s true SEO value! Think “shareable” content and you’ll be well on your way to dominating the rankings.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For more information on recovering from the latest Google algorithmic updates contact me and we can talk SEO.

Good luck!

The Miles Come and Gone

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17 years ago, on a spring-like April morning my dad dropped my friend and long-distance hiking buddy Bryan, aka. “Blue Cougar,” and myself off at the parking lot for Springer Mountain. At that point, I had hiked the northern half of the Appalachian Trail except for Maine, and I was ready to conquer the long green tunnel they call the southern half. I remember being rather unimpressed at the time having recently hiked the incredible White Mountains a few months earlier. After all, I’d grown up in Georgia and visited the area dozens of times as a child visiting Amicalola Falls and Dahlonega. At this point I was thinking, “let’s burn some miles.”

Fast-forward 17 years later. I’ve got a 10-yr-old that loves the AT, a 5-yr-old that is game for anything and a fearless 2-yr-old … all boys and all ready for adventure. So, I packed up the two oldest and we trucked it up the long forest road up to Springer for a quick overnight backpacking trip. This was the 5-yr-old’s first backpacking trip and it turned out amazing.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” — John Muir

It was strange how this time around, in anything but a hurry to rack up some miles I was able to thoroughly enjoy this iconic stretch of trail. The views at the top at sunset were outstanding of the valley below and Fort Mountain looming in the distance. We tented out by the shelter in a little grove of trees and gave the boys the full tour of the shelter, the bear cables, the spring and of course the privy. The privy is quite the object of wonder to a boy, especially the ones with open doors … and views to boot.

I’d love to thru-hike the trail again at some point but for now I get to slow down, savor the moment and teach my boys about backpacking. Hooray for the wilderness!

Springer
In the tent on Springer Mtn

Content Before Design

I know this is old hat but the longer I’m in the business of building websites – and designing for print for that matter, the more I see the importance of crafting your content before the design visuals. By nature of the act of designing you are aligning and presenting information in a fashion that communicates most effectively.

Sure, a general look can be agreed upon and a brand should be defined before the supporting components such as a website, brochure etc. but my point is this. Lorem Ipsum can only get you so far. The nuances of context and explicitly defined calls to action are key to coming up with a winning design.

Figure out the content in detail first, then drive the design home with intent and purpose! Otherwise, you’ll just spin your wheels as the content changes.

Drupal Views PHP and Text Values

Man, after much tinkering and frustration I have finally realized that when using Views PHP to construct fields you cannot print actual text values out. Instead it will produce the entity number in your output code.

So, in case you are trying to get a Global PHP field to write out an actual value from your database using a $row variable it’s not going to work. You’ll end up with the entity number instead of the text you’re retrieving. Either you have to use a Global text field and available tokens or retrieve the raw text like this using $data:

<?php print ‘<p>This is the text here. And, here is your ‘ .$data->field_field_yourvalue[‘0’][‘raw’][‘value’]. ‘</p>’; ?>

Here’s some more detail on this if anyone is interested. http://drupal.org/node/1140896

YouTube iFrame and Dropdown Menus

Ever get that annoying issue where your drop down horizontal menu expands down and the YouTube video you embedded with the standard iFrame code remains on top of your menu? This one has buggered me a few times and maybe I’m not the only one but I figured I’d share how to resolve this.

Basically there’s a z-index problem here where iFrames want to always be on the top of the window. The fix is to use a parameter in your embed code from YouTube.

Simply add “?wmmode=transparent” to your video url in the embed code. Here’s an example.

src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/qDZ_zCynqgA?wmode=transparent”

What it does

Well, wmode=transparent is nothing new but rather an old-school method to explicitly declare layering instructions when using .swf embeds. The “transparent” basically tells the browser to render the .swf below everything that could be positioned above it in a layout.

Hopefully that was useful for someone.

Copyright Year Automatic Update

I hate having to go in and manually update the year in the footer on websites next to the copyright text. This isn’t anything fancy or new but just something to keep in your brain so you don’t have to go around updating the year every January in your website footers.

Simply use this little bit of PHP and it’ll update automatically:

<?php print date(‘Y’);?>

So, for example your html might look like this:

<p>&copy;<?php print date(‘Y’);?>, Josh Merriam, maker of websites. Don’t steal and stuff.</p>

Adding an Extra Fancybox Close Trigger

Tonight I had to figure out a way to have a secondary close button for the Fancybox modal window I’ve been working on for a client. I hadn’t come across this before but know how magically neat jQuery is, I knew there had to be a way.

Turns out it’s actually quite simple. Basically all I had to do was add an class (or id) to the object that I want to trigger the close  and call the function using jQuery.

Here’s the code that worked for my instance. I had an image that I wanted to trigger the close event on click.

<script type=”text/javascript”>
$(function() {
$(‘img.close-popup’).click(function(event) {
$.fancybox.close(true);
});
});
</script>

Easy enough!