Archive for March, 2009

The Easy Way to Blog

MarsEdit 2

If you blog, Red Sweater’s MarsEdit 2 will simplify your life. They tout it as “Powerful Blog Publishing For Your Mac.” I agree 100%!

Have a look at the Macworld Review of MarsEdit.

Hey, Lauren! Is Apple’s 17-Inch MacBook Pro Expensive?

Mac Tax, Dell Tax, HP Tax

Microsoft’s new Windows ad, with shopper Lauren buying a cheap 17-inch HP laptop instead of a $2,800 MacBook Pro, has unleashed the whole ‘Are Macs Expensive?’ debate again Learn More

DAZ 3D Affiliate Program Landing Page

New Landing Page in the Works

Goals: We want a place where new users and current users can see an overview of all DAZ 3D products. The elements we would like to highlight are:
1) Free Content and Software
2) Our Software Suite
3) Our Unimesh Characters
4) The Platinum Club
5) New Releases
6) Galleries/Art
7) Tutorials

Affiliate Landing Page

Bouncy Ball Development

BouncyBall.jpg

Reasons why every web developer needs to carry a bouncy ball in his pocket at all times.

Web development has it moments. In a minor way, you can create a whole new world with every project. Creativity, problem solving, mathematics, all have their place in development and can be quite rewarding. In fact job satisfaction is the only thing that keeps this snowboarder/skateboard sitting at a desk day after day.

On the other end of the spectrum, frustrations can run high. Timelines, deadlines, and unforeseen issues add anxiety that can linger long after a project is complete. To help prevent ulcers, may I suggest a bouncy ball. A bouncy ball in your pocket can provide a few seconds of childish fun when things don’t work out as planned.

Below I have listed a sanity formula for some of the issues I face daily. I’m not sure Tony (in the office next to mine) appreciates my formula, but he can always get his own bouncy ball, right?

Lack of Organization (5 Bounces)

You know it, and I know it when corners are cut, hacks are implemented to save the day, directory structures are out-grown, shortcuts usually catch up to you. If you’re paying the price daily for a poor decision made years ago, take out that bouncy ball and unleash it against the nearest wall.

Unreasonable Deadlines (10 Bounces)

What can we have by friday? is a phase that occurs way too often at my place of work. Rolling a project and assuming there will be time later to add necessary features is a flawed mindset. There is never enough time to fix half-baked features, let alone repair customer perception. Sorry Tony, that will be Ten Bounces!

Network Issues (15 Bounces)

You have a deadline looming. You’ve cleared all of your meetings so you can code without interruption. Headphones on, your favorite up-tempo mix on itunes, game on! Then you realize, server lag. Type one character, wait two seconds. The IT guy that left and the company never replaced wasn’t that important until right now. Fifteen bounces (20 if the CTO comes downstairs and asks if you can see what you can do about the internet).

Bad Eye (20 Bounces)

Have you ever taken a job, and then excitedly came up with a perfect website prototype that is exactly right for your client? Then you remember that you promised 3 layouts by your next meeting so you come up with 2 horrible layouts that they will never like. Then in your meeting, your client decides that one of your horrible layouts it exactly what the company has been looking for! Twenty Bounces!

Right Job, Wrong Person (15 Bounces)

You’re hooked up this time. A perfect client that will look great on your resume. Your lawyers have reviewed the contracts, everything is signed, and two weeks into the gig, your point of contact is changed to “Cheryl” that sounds slightly older than your mother on the phone. That’s not bad, until her first question is, “Do you know how to use the Eyedropper Tool in Photoshop?” She then proceeds to ask for your company fax number, since she doesn’t quite have this “Outlook” thing figured out. Fifteen bounces.

Lack of Direction (25 Bounces)

You company is growing, your priorities are set, and the future looks good. The web team is half way through a project that is going to do wonders for the company’s core business. Then a company exec is playing on the internet and finds a feature on a site that isn’t in your market. Your priorities are shifted overnight and the web team is hard at work on a project that doesn’t really apply to your core business, but orders are orders. Then this buddy of that same exec (who happens to be an unemployed DBA) can’t believe what the web team is working on, but he has something he’s been working on with his brother-in-law that will revolutionize our business. New priorities for the web team. If this is you, I feel sorry for you. Twenty-five bounces and a trip to the mall to reload on bouncy balls.

IE 6 Compatibility (75 Bounces)

Seriously? Can IE 6 die yet?

Commission Junction

We recently updated the DAZ 3D affiliate program from a homegrown custom program to Commission Junction. Our custom built application was based around new users signups and was originally designed to payout on multiple levels. It was too complicated for customers to understand, so we simplified it. However, most affiliates complained about it, because we payed 20% of all transactions of a new user for 3 months.

With Commission Junction, we opted for a more traditional program that pays 5% on all transactions when a user clicks on an affiliate banner. Have a Look.

PC Info Page
Commission Junction

Renewal Tool and Notification for the DAZ 3D Platinum Club

DAZ 3D recently realized that a significant portion of Platinum Club members are not renewing their memberships because the process is too difficult or they are completely unaware their membership needs to be renewed.

Our goal is to notify customers without being too bold in our messaging. We want to let every customer know how long they have left on their membership and when there is a problem with their payment method.

Even though we are in the middle of a redesign, we needed roll this feature quickly. We added a notification link to the header that looks like this.

Notifications

There are several states to the notification:

  • Join the Platinum Club
  • PC Member through MM/DD/YYYY
  • Your Annual Membership Expires Soon
  • Your Monthly Membership Expires Soon
  • You have Received a Membership Extension
  • You are a Published Artist and Receive a Limited Membership
  • There is an Error with Your Subscription
  • Your Membership has Expired. You can renew until MM/DD/YYYY
PC Notification
PC Membership notification in the site header
Expired Notification
Expired Membership notification in the site header
 

Subscription Management Page

Currently the way to update a PC membership is quite dated. Below is an example of the existing page.

PC Info Page
An out-of-date admin page we are replacing

Here is the example I sent to Josh to code up. The goal is to provide one area to completely manage a Platinum Club membership. The comp includes a model for updating and adding PC payment methods as well a model cart to manually add an additional month or year to a Platinum Club membership.

PC Info Page
Comp of the new tool

Completed Pages

Here is the version of the tool we came up with.

PC Info Page
Screenshot 1
PC Info Page
Screenshot 2
PC Info Page
Screenshot 3
PC Info Page
Screenshot 4
PC Info Page
Screenshot 5
PC Info Page
Screenshot 6
PC Info Page
Screenshot 7

Here’s what I think the pricing should be for your little “renew for 1 yr / 6 months / 3 months / 1 month” platinum club renewal applet:

1 Mth = $7.95
3 Mth = $22.95
6 Mth = $39.95
12 Mth = $69.95

Coda 1.6.2 Review

Coda

It’s the little things I love about Coda

I’ve been using Coda for a month now. It took a day for me to realize this was the editor for me. The simplicity, ease of use, feature set, and Mac design just made sense.

After flirting with BBEdit and Textmate, and trying out several flavors of Ecipse IDEs, I decided to give Coda another go. I’d looked at it a year earlier and it wasn’t for me back then. I guess I didn’t look close enough, because a year later things are a different story.

Panic didn’t set out to make the best text editor, CSS editor, etc… They set out to make one single application that contains all you need to build a website. And Panic has done a great job….Shawn Blanc

There are plenty of online reviews of Coda. Shawn Blanc provides a detailed review much more eloquently than I ever could. It is titled Coda: The One-Window Wonder and you can find it and many other interesting tidbits at his blog.

My goal here isn’t to analyze the details of what makes this application tick. I’m not even sure I’m qualified for such an undertaking. I do feel I owe it to the people at Panic and the development community to at least state the things about Coda that make my life easier on a daily basis.

Coda is about user experience. Very few applications ever achieve a GUI that increases productivity. Coda hit the bull’s eye here. In some ways the detail that went into increasing productivity reminds me of Basecamp.

I love Basecamp. If I were designing a site, I wouldn’t have done it the way the Basecamp guys did. It doesn’t have all the features other project management applications have. I sometimes request new features (I’m sure customer service loves me). But something about the simplicity and usability saves me time. I can’t always put my finger on it, but it increases productivity.

I feel the same way about Coda. Coda simplifies everything about my daily work. Fewer clicks, gorgeous GUI; it’s a tool that makes work fun. I’ve decided to list my favorite features that collectively have simplified many hours of my work week.

Source Control Status Window

Some things at my company are great and some are a mess. Our roll process is the latter. We have web designers and developers scattered across two floors and three departments often working on the same projects. To avoid stepping on each other’s toes, we all have our own subversion branch (kudos Matt). Marketing materials roll live daily, which means my branch is usually not updated.

With a simple Command + Control + v, all of that changed. Now as I’m working, I see co-workers adding and committing files. I can’t help but click the update button. I swear I have the most up-to-date repository in the company.

The Source Control Status Window has changed what used to be a major headache in a not-so-organized roll process, into a complete after thought. I never worry about an svn up because of Coda. And if anyone at Panic is listening, please let me save my workspace. If there’s a way to load the Source Control Status Window when I launch the app, I can’t find it.

WebKit Preview

All applications have some sort of preview. In my world of development, there are many applications open at once with limitless windows. Having a copy of Safari (webkit) inside of Coda saves me hundreds of command + tabs per day. It doesn’t seem like much, but it saves me time.

CSS Editor

Here is a feature I really don’t use but I use it everyday. Coda has a built in visual CSS editor. It’s functional and gorgeous. When I write CSS, I’m in the habit of splitting my screen with the CSS editor in the top window and code in the bottom window. Even though I code nearly exclusively in the bottom window, it’s still nice to have the visual editor in the top window as a reference if I ever need a memory refresher.

The editor itself is much nicer than the DreamWeaver sidebar CSS editor. The GUI reminds me of where the Adobe team was going with the GoLive CSS editor (minus the messy code) before it was end-of-lifed. I know there are many nice CSS editors our there (cssedit is one I’ve used and like) but why? The less I command + tab, the more I simplify my life.

Note: I’m not adding window splitting as one of the things I love, mostly because all editors I’ve used include this functionality, but if you ever need to compare long lists, the vertical window split is a very useful tool.

Transmit

Transmit has been OS X’s favorite ftp/ssh client for years. Numerous awards, seamless system integration, once again the guys at Panic hit a home run. Coda includes transmit, and modifies the UI to fit in the sidebar. Fitting the entire application in the side bar means usability suffers a little. You have to tab back and forth between local and remote files, or drag and drop files directly from your desktop or finder into the sidebar. To me, this isn’t that big of a deal considering Coda plays well with Transmit.

The beauty occurs at install when you are prompted to import your favorites from Transmit. Coda is immediately populated with all of your transmit favorites with a single click.

Integration between Transmit and Coda is well thought out. In my work process I often drag files from my dev platform in Coda to other servers I have open in transmit. It seems any drag and drop functionality available in Transmit works as well in Coda including drag and drop between the two apps.

Live Collaboration Via Bonjour

Ok this feature makes me Jones. As I mentioned our office has designers and engineers scattered across our building. This means I am constantly running downstairs to the opposite end of the building. I like working out, but I love working less. The one co-worker that used Coda would share edit with me via the Subetha Engine included in Coda. The stairs were no longer my enemy. But that one worker has now moved on to the greener pastures of iPhone development and I’m left running up and down stairs.

Code Navigator

The Code Navigator is my friend. I haven’t seen one mention of it in any online review, nor on the Panic website, but it is very dear to me. As I scan through ginormous files for lost “id” tags, the perfectly placed Code Navigator saves me time. I find myself navigating to tags and functions out of habit and not necessity because it is so perfectly placed. It feels almost like the left menu navigation on most websites, except I’m skipping over thousands of lines of code I hope to never see again and landing directly on the line I need. Once again…timesaver.

BTW, if you aren’t skilled at Terminal (which Coda also includes), the grep functionality integrated into the file find and replace system will leave you with a smile.

Overall, Coda is a MUST have for me. I’m a fan and I hope Panic continues to surprise me with more amazing products.

A Feeble Attempt

Talking is a New Thing for Me

Welcome to the Blue Alta Media blog. Here I, along with my business partner Scott, will attempt to explain the struggles, thought processes, frustrations, breakthroughs, successes and complaints of daily web experiences. I’m not out to change the world, but maybe re-invent my portion of it a little.

When it comes to code, design, QA, roll process and all the clutter that makes up the world of web development, I struggle daily to find simplicity. Naively, I assume that simplicity in my workflow will translate into quality of my products and overall satisfaction in the limited hours that make up my existence.

I’m like any designer/developer. I can’t sleep mid-project. I always wonder if there is a better way. I struggle to find the middle ground between meeting the deadline, and hoping for perfection with every keystroke. I work WAY too much. My mind won’t stop.

Unlike many programming geniuses, my passion for my work, isn’t my long-term passion. I don’t dream in “C” (shoot me please if I ever do). It doesn’t take much of an argument to get me out of the office and driving up a canyon road with the top down on my beloved SAAB convertible. I could walk away from code all together, if my alternative was a CABO beach house with my 2 kids and cute little wife. The adrenaline of a midnight ride on my longboard down Alta Canyon helps me concentrate on things that are important. A Powder Mountain season pass is the light at the end of the tunnel. I could go on and on about my interests outside of web development, but I’m sure you’ll hear plenty of that in future posts.

This blog is about the things the make me click, and the decisions I make that have real financial impact on my company, clients, employees and friends. Hopefully, some of the things I say will make sense, and when they don’t, your comments will set me straight.

-Jeff Cemer

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