Category Archives: Geek News

Carbon Neutral Website Development

Carbon Neutral Websites? Check your smug factor!
Carbon offsetting is very trendy right now. Just last week my boyfriend purchased a wind power offset. I was sort of surprised as we’d never discussed offsetting, and asked him what his motivation was. "It’s for the electricity that I use, this card makes government purchase wind power." The thing is, we live in Seattle, where electricity pretty darn green already and there’s a program for utilities customers to contribute to directly.

Via the 9Rules Network I ran across Darren Stuart’s suggestion on the Web2.0 Show that websites developers become carbon neutral and that not only is it a good thing for the Earth, but it’s a great for marketing. A lot of people chimed in right away with "Oh yeah…I’ll plant a tree! Great!!" kind of stuff. A quick search for “carbon neutral website” indicates the trend has already begun (at least it has in the UK).

There’s more to offsetting than planting trees

I was both excited to see that environmental responsibility is becoming so mainstream and at once dismayed at this continual emphasis on mindless offsetting. Like most political and scientific issues, the devil is in the details. Many early offset companies actually hurt more than helped, through poor planning and lack of follow through. The validity of tree-planting offsets remain questionable both as to the long-term effectiveness of successful programs and the lack of ability to guarantee said trees will remain healthy and protected long enough to do any good in the first place.

And then there’s basic concept of carbon offsetting. Many have criticized the practice as allowing people guilt-free passes for ongoing irresponsible behavior. I agree that it should be only part of a persons efforts to do their part. I mean if you’re driving an unnecessarily gas guzzling car, indulging in excessive and unnecessary trips or think recycling only has to do with your computer desktop then purchasing a bunch of offsets shouldn’t be your only focus! I’m already gritting my teeth at the inevitable trend of smug “carbon neutral website” banners on the sites of people who’ve never even bothered recycled their hazardous electronic equipment.

Now, lest I wreak of smug myself, I must announce: I am no saint. I don’t own a car, I walk to work, I bus or bike whenever it’s reasonable. I recycle avidly (including compost and proper disposal of hazardous materials) at work. But I must admit, I don’t recycle at home as well as I could because our landlord doesn’t offer options (or take opinions!) so it’s not convenient. I borrow my boyfriends gas hungry work truck usually only when I need it, but occasionally when I’m just feeling lazy. I indulge in long, hot showers. And more I’m sure. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to offset and especially if you’re going to toot your horn about, research your options and choose responsibly!

Should you purchase offsets? And if so, which ones?

The Wikipedia entry ‘Carbon offset’ is currently very informative and cites a plethora of references, both skeptic and optimistic. This should keep you busy for a while and help you determine whether it’s the right choice, or the first choice for you. The article Shifting Into Neutral by Emily Main on National Georgaphic’s Green Guide web site should help you understand the basic differences in available offsets. Then head on over to TreeHugger.com for the latest on carbon offset providers.

Major Search Engines Agree to Sitemap Standard

Excellent news for web designers…there’s just one sitemap standard to worry about for all the major search engines. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft agreed, this bears repeating, agreed to use the same Sitemaps protocol to index sites around the web.  Visit sitemaps.org to learn how to create an XML file that tells spiders where to go and what has changed. If you’ve already been using Google sitemaps, it’s the same protocol.

Read more on TechCrunch.

IE7 is Officially Out, Time to Switch to Firefox?

Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 1.5 Face Off
There’s been much buzz about the recent release of Internet Explorer 7 – and it’s true, the first new version of Microsoft’s browser to come out in half a dozen years is a vast improvement. Most important to your average user, tabbed browsing and rss feed support are finally here for the masses. By all means, upgrade, but while you’re at it, consider downloading a browser that’s been offering tabbed browsing and a dizzying array of optional plugins for years, Firefox.  My favorite .NET tech blog, Coding Horror, points out that while IE has caught up to Firefox (for now) in terms of core features, Firefox has extensibility and community support that IE will likely never match.

Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0

Zeldman, author of the vastly popular Designing With Web Standards, offers an amusing comparison of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 trends here are my favorites:
Web 1.0: Crap sites on Geocities.
Web 2.0: Crap sites on MySpace.

Web 1.0: Writing.
Web 2.0: Rating.

Web 1.0: Cool Site of the Day.
Web 2.0: Technorati.com.

He invited his readers to submit their own as well:

Web 1.0: Animated gif
Web 2.0: Badges

Web 1.0: Bloated Table Code
Web 2.0: Divitis

Web 1.0: “Under Construction”
Web 2.0: “Beta”

Web 1.0: Content is king!
Web 2.0: Contributed content is king!

Web 1.0: drop shadows
Web 2.0: reflections

Web 1.0: “Site best viewed with Internet Explorer”
Web 2.0: “Site best viewed with anything but Internet Explorer”

Web 1.0: “Looking for an experienced designer. Must be able to design and implement websites using HTML, CSS. Knowledge of Javascript a bonus.”
Web 2.0: Looking for an experienced designer. The candidate must be affluent in XHTML, CSS, Javascript, DHTML, AJAXY GOODNESS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, JSP, SQL, MySql, ASP.net, XML, Actionscript (2.0 and 3.0), Adobe CS2 products, Dreamweaver, Coldfusion, Quark, eCommerce, SEO, linux, unix, IIS.

And I reworded a couple:

Web 1.0: Surfing
Web 2.0: Consuming

Web 1.0: Webmonkey
Web 2.0: A List Apart

State of Web Development

SitePoint, a great web development resource, posted survey results from over 5,000 web designers on the State of Web Development. An interesting read, I was amazed at how there was no clear lead in platform.  Also, the sheer numbers of PHP vs. .NET developers was suprising but I think this is a testament to their readership…if they had poled 5,000 web developers via ASP.NET forums they’d get entirely different results.

AOL – Bad News All Around

box full of aol cds - bad, but not as bad as their actual service
photo by optovox on Flickr, check out his giant fish art bike made with recycled AOL CDs!
There’s much ado about AOL (formerly America Online) these days. Blogs have been buzzing for weeks about AOL’s recent security blunder – publicly releasing over search records on 650,000 users, which evenutally resulted in their CTO’s resignation which was widely reported this morning.

“If you are an AOL customer, I feel sorry for you.” says Michael Arrington in his article in early August, AOL Proudly Releases Massive Amounts of Private Data, and continues, “AOL is hitting bottom when it comes to brand image. This story comes on the heels of the recorded phone call with customer service disaster as well as a just-in story about a woman who is unable to cancel her deceased father’s AOL account, nine months after his death.”

As if that weren’t enough, I recieved notice through my webhost this afternoon that an email alias I set up for a friend (so email @theirdomain.com could be forwarded to their AOL account) wouldn’t work anymore because AOL’s technologically stunted anti-spam measures automatically block all of Dreamhost’s IP addresses because they don’t target only the original spammers.

This is just another slap in the face, as far as I’m concerned. In August of 2005, America Online settled with the office of NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over complaints about how arduous AOL made it to cancel service. Consumerist posted AOL’s Retention Manual that instructs it’s customer service reps on how to make it difficult for people to unsubscribe. Before that there was their preposterous email tax idea where you pay them to ensure your doesn’t get tossed in the spam bucket.

I was suprised to find only 28,000 hits for the literal string “i hate aol” on Google. I searched for “i love aol” and was shocked to see almost 26,000 results…but then I started reading some and many turned out to be satirical citing reasons like “an endless supply of coasters” and I Love AOL = I Love ‘All Outdated Logic”.
Related:

AOL on Wikipedia – company history, major events and general info

AOL Chief Technology Officer Resigns – New York Times

Heads Roll At AOL – TechCrunch

The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time – PCWorld Magazine (guess who’s number 1!)

No More AOL CDs – a website that collects AOL CD’s with plans to dump them at AOL headquarters when they reach a million.

Blogger Upgrade – Google Integration

My first blog post back in 2000 was powered by Blogger, though my site runs on WordPress now. A few of my client’s blogs are still powered by Blogger and everything still works great, helped in part by the fact that Blogger has changed very little. When Google bought Blogger in the summer of 2003 many people were left wondering why. Their questions remain unanswered, and then people wondered why Google has let Blogger stagnate the past few years as both blogging and blog software options exploded on the web. And now Google junkies and tech gossips will doubtless mull endlessly over the sudden beta release of the new, improved, Google-integrated Blogger.
Blogger will now use Gmail accounts

Reminiscent of Flickr’s move to YahooID’s after their buyout, my Google Account was already detected and a link encourageming me to switch my Blogger user account was presented. Already, I like this. I use several Google services including Gmail, Calendar and Sitemaps and like most people, I’d like everything to be simpler and easier. Integration all communication tools holds great efficiency potential.

I doubt the redesign will have much impact on self-hosting bloggers…that is, people who run blog software on their webservers as opposed to a hosted version. WordPress and similar full blown open source software applications boast incredible flexibility, customization capabilities and user-based support. Where blogger could pull ahead is in your hobbyist and non-tech blogger realm. They must realize that as the three features the beta highlights are:

New ways to customize your template – Drag and drop page elements and easily change your template’s font and color scheme.
Private blogs -Create a blog visible to just your friends and family, not the whole world.
Labels -Give your posts a category label so that you and your readers can easily sort by topic.

All of these things essentially make it easier for regular (non web-coder folk) to customize their blogs.
The new template customization seems to use the concept of web parts – movable configurable zones, similar to your customized Google, MSN or Yahoo homepage. This will allow people a more organic way of customizing thier site and allow them to feel in control without knowing any code.

Giving users push-button ability to make thier blog private is truly brilliant. All the loud mouths (like me) that want to shout their business to the world are already blogging – those left that don’t have blogs are either uninterested, intimidated by the technology or are concerned about privacy. Way to read your target audience Google!

The label feature is really just Blogger catching up to everyone else. Labels are more commonly referred to as categories or tags. Google’s chronic use of the word ‘labels’ instead of the popularly accepted ‘tags’ is perplexing and possibly confusing for some folks (IMO – it really just irritates me).

Beta blogs are invite-only (no one invited me *schniff*) so for now head over to Google Operating System and TechCrunch for an inside look at the new blogging features.

Internet Explorer 7 Beta Now Public

Astute and dedicated bloggers were all over this yesterday, but it bears repeating – IE 7 beta is now available for public consumption. But wait! Before you look at IE7 and audibly declare “Cool! Tabbed browsing!!!”, save yourself from looking like a technological has been: most of its cool new features have been available for years in other browsers like Firefox and Safari. If you want to truly be on the bleeding edge, get a browser that keeps you there. If you want to truly be on the bleeding edge, get a browser that keeps you there.

New York Times just posted an excellent review/editorial of IE 7 (beta):

ABOUT 85 percent of the Internet population uses the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser to surf the Web, even though it’s relatively ancient, crusty with neglect and about as secure as a screen door. [...] Those consumers aren’t actually choosing Internet Explorer; [...] [t]hey just use what came on their Windows computers. Thanks to this built-in following, Microsoft hasn’t felt much need to keep Internet Explorer current. Version 6 has been creaking along for five years — an eternity in Internet time.

And, as NYT writer David Pogue goes on to say, you can download the brand new version of IE, right now if you want.

Why do I have to hit enter to see Flash?

First thing today my IT Director says:

“Why do I have to hit the space bar to use [our web app] now?”
[screenshots below are examples of some random sites - not mine]

Press spacebar or enter to activate and use this control

She was seeing a ‘Click to activate and use this control’ or ‘Press SPACEBAR or ENTER to activate and use this control’ whenever she encountered a flash component. Even after hitting the spacebar she still had to click on the flash object to get it work.

click to activate and use this control
What had I done to our websites, she wondered? At first I assumed she had changed a security setting in her browser. But then I saw the message on my browser. Ack! Little did I know…it’s not a security change, it’s a new compulsory behavior autoupdated by Microsoft as a result of their losing a lawsuit.

I use Firefox and frequent web standards type tech blogs as much as possible, which is probably why I hadn’t heard of the Microsoft v. Eolas (University of California) lawsuit. Due to the patent litigation, an Internet Explorer update was released on April 11th that is autoinstalled via Windows Update which requires users to “activate” embedded objects and plug-ins before they can interact with them.

Of course, users running the Firefox, Safari or Opera web browsers will not be affected by this update. I would recommend taking this opportunity to make the switch to Firefox, it’s better over here. However, if your workplace is like mine and has web applications that rely on proprietary protocals and legacy vbscript, you may be suck with Internet Explorer. For you, Adobe has posted a flash demo showing users how to activate embedded objects on site’s that display this new message.

For developers out there who use any ActiveX controls such as Apple’s QuickTime, RealNetworks’ RealPlayer, or Adobe’s Flash, some work-arounds are emerging. You will have to change the way these objects are embedded.

Related:

Update (2006.05.10) Workarounds:


100 Percent Web Based Office

Lifehacker asserts that it’s possible to run your office using only existing web applications, citing some great resources at IT|Redux including the blogger’s own Office 2.0 setup. Especially exciting to me is the Office 2.0 Database, a rather succinct collection of the most commonly needed business applications offering at least one online alternative for your calculator, calendar, contacts, desktop, email, fax, file manager, instant messenger, mind mapper, personal organizer, photo editing, presentation, project managmer, spreadsheets and of course word processor. And for the geekier mobile business person 2.0…command prompt, RSS feed aggregator, database (!?), and weblog.

ITRedux.com Office 2.0 Database

I find the idea of web-based everything quite tantalizing, and have pontificated the emergence of Google as a provider of web-based software solutions that will replace a need for anything but a RAM-packed high-speed internet conneced dumb terminal. I’m all for it, imagine no more grueling software installs, upgrades and licensing issues. Of course, if a web service goes down, too bad for you! But would the uptime be comprable, better even, than your private network?

The real beauty of Google’s method is their sharing of source code, APIs and use of open standards…let the savant, the prolific, the prodigious programming hobbyists of the world create all these next generation web-apps – then hire/aquire/adapt away. Talk about agile development…