2007 August

Updates to site

| tools | No Comments

Hi everyone. Just a quick update on a couple of changes I am making to this site. Today I have started using FeedBurner to monitor my site feeds. So if you have already signed up for the old feed, please signup for the new feed instead. For anyone not familiar with RSS and feeds, I will be posting an article on this in the upcoming weeks.

I am in the process of officially adding this blog to technorati, you can check out my Technorati Profile.

I have taken down the gravatars for now, as they didn’t seem to be showing up. If anyone knows the solution to this problem, please let me know and I can put them back up.

I have also added a small Google AdWords banner at the bottom of my posts. I wasn’t going to add advertising to this site (not for a while anyway) as I wanted to keep the clean look and stray away from the advertising scene for now, but there are bills to be paid and I need all the help I can get. If anyone really hates it, please let me know and I can move/remove it.

The last couple of days has been a bit of a whirlwind with lots of nice feedback on my gtd project as well as potentially scoring a new client. I am going to try really hard to put up some more info on the gtd project this weekend, so please stay tuned.

A big thank you to everyone for their support, you guys rock!!!

Goals to achieve before the end of 2007

| goals | 6 Comments

Two posts in one day… wow!!! I was going to leave this post for another day, but since I have already written it, why procrastinate anymore. Here is a list of my current goals. Now while non of them are really anything new, it is time that I write them down in a place where I can access them later. Also if I post them here, maybe I will feel more motivated to make sure they get done. Each goal is set out in the following format: Name, why I want to do this, when I want to accomplish the goal, how the goal is measurable or can be considered successfully complete.

1. Learn Ruby on Rails
Why: I have been working on this for a month or two now, but I want to get as in-depth a knowledge as I can because it is such a fantastic programming method and I plan on making it my focus point for future projects.
Due: I am a bit of perfectionist, so I will probably never feel I know everything I want to, but by the end of the year I want to have completed reading the books I already have, and be confident enough to take on any project that is thrown at me.
Measured by: Finished reading books, read as much as I can from the web, made at least one workable app, and written up help documents to teach others.

2. Compete GTD application
Why: So that I will have a central storage/managment point for all my tasks and goals, as well as become more productive and organised. Also helps to fulfil my goal of creating at least one RoR app this year. For more details on this project refer to my last post.
Due: Stage one – end of September, Stage two – end of December
Measured by: Stage one and stage two specifications

3. Blog more
Why: Share knowledge and improve my writing
Due: This is kinda never ending, but for now I will set this frequency until the end of this year.
Measured by: At least one blog entry a week.

4. Save money
Why: Why would you not want to save money? The key reason being so that I can travel overseas at the end of next year.
Due: $8K by November next year – thats a pretty tough goal for me, so let’s see how we go.
Measured by: Ummm not spending the money in my savings account, and putting in at least $250 a fortnight…ouch.

5. Study interface design (and usability)
Why: Refresher for design, to learn good practices and so that my applications are so easy to use that people will WANT to use them.
Due: 01 November 2007
Measurable by: Reading all the books I have, doing some research on usability and interface design and writing some blog articles about it

6. Study Information Architecture
Why: To get a better understanding for how to structure information, competitive advantage, to make better applications.
Due: 15 December 2007
Measurable by: Reading all the books I have, doing some research and writing some blog articles about it.

7. Complete another two projects by the end of the year
Why: To work towards my goal of running my own business, expand my skills, knowledge , experience, and network. (also i really like working on new projects)
Due: 31st December 2007
Measured by: Completing two projects (one of them can be my GTD project, if I get it to the state where other people can download and use it). If you would like to suggest another project, please leave it in the comments, or send me an email.

I will post some info on setting, managing, and meeting your goals when I get a chance. Until then if you are looking for help on setting goals make a post below or send me an email and I will be more then happy to help out.

First screenshot of my GTD project

| gtd project | 10 Comments

For anyone who doesn’t already know, I am currently working on a Web application to organize my tasks, goals and quite simply make my life easier by reducing the amount of needless thinking and procrastinating I do. This is the first app I have made from scratch using Ruby on Rails (RoR), and I am really looking forward to seeing how it all works out.

Ruby on Rails logo

So far working in Ruby has been an absolute dream. For any developers, or even designers out there, who are thinking about learning Ruby on Rails, I can’t recommend it enough. I have only been working with it for about 2 months now, but I have found it an absolute dream to work with. I am completely self taught and started off by reading Build your own Ruby on Rails web applications by Patrick Lenz, and Agile Web Development with Rails by the Pragmatic Programmers. I highly recommend both of these books, and will write up a review for each once I get a better grasp of RoR and get this project under control.

Anyway I will write more about RoR later, for now let’s get back to my web app. Currently I haven’t come up with a nice name for it, so if anyone has any ideas, please post them below. The applications goal is to help me manage day-to-day tasks; weekly, monthly and lifetime goals; and to make thinking one step easier for me. I am also going to trial out integrating a ‘meal planner’ so that I need to do even less planning everyday. I will detail each of these concepts in more detail later, but for now let’s just say that I am hoping that this will make me more productive, less stressed, and just an overall happier person.

So far all it really does is allows me to add new tasks, which I can view in a quick list, or click on an individual task to expand and see additional details such as project, date due, status, notes etc. The application will be loosely based around the Getting Things Done principle by David Allen, however I will also be trying out other organising techniques such as time blocking, to find what method works best, and most likely, create a hybrid of many organising techniques.

First screenshot of my GTD project

As you can see I am trying to keep a very simplistic design. Currently I think this is a good thing, but we will see how it goes once the app gets a bit more functionality and I start using it daily. I will try and post weekly or maybe bi-weekly posts about this project so that I stay on track. If anyone has any ideas as to how to improve this, or would like to signup for the beta, please post below or send me an email. I will add more details on this project in the projects section when I get a chance, but until then, just keep reading this blog to stay up to date.

Thanks for the support everyone!!!

How not to integrate Google Adwords into your site

| design, info architecture and usability | 3 Comments

Don’t get me wrong I actually like Google Adwords. But there is a time and place for them. Here is a good example of how NOT to integrate google AdWords into your website that I came across while looking for AJAX tutorials today.

Example of bad use of Google AdWords
Source: http://ajax.stealthsettings.com/how-to/ajax-basics/

Whats wrong with this picture?

1. Hard to distinguish the difference between the Google ads, and the real content.
Now while some users (those who claim to make 5 digit incomes from Google ads) suggest that this is a good thing, think about your users. If someone stumbles across your site, for example looking for a tutorial on AJAX, and accidentally clicks a Google ad when they thought it was part of your site, do you think they will realise their mistake and come running back to you? Or will they just close the window and search elsewhere? If you answered yes (to them coming back to your site), congratulations you must have a loyal band of followers. But for the rest of us, chances are they won’t come back to your site again.

2. You can’t read the actual content
In the example above they have placed the ads between the article title and its body, which is a problem because:
a) it’s hard to determine which text is related to which article
b) you can’t quickly see how many articles are on the page, and if there are any that are relevant to what you are looking for
c) you need to scroll just to read one article which has only a couple of lines of text

So where should i put my Google Ads?

I personally find the best place for Google ads, is either at the end of an article (before the comments) or in the right column with any other advertising you might have. Google ads are clever in the way that they display ads based on the content for your page, so using them at the bottom of an article, can be a good way to provide users with additional information, without the need to research it yourself. This is also the most probable time (in my opinion) when users would be willing to click ads, as they have already found (and hopefully read) what they wanted, and are open to suggestions as to where to go next.

Want more information?

Here is just a couple of sites that I came across with some useful information on Google Adwords/Adsense.

Official advice from Google: Where should I place Google ads on my pages?
Smashing magazine: Google AdSense – Facts, FAQs and tools
ProBlogger: Positioning your AdSense Ads

Bring on the gravatars

| development (web) | 2 Comments

Today I have updated this site with Gravatar so that all you nice folks that leave me comments (you know who you are) can now also include an avatar. Gravatar ( Gloabally Recognized Avatar ) allows you to store an 80 x 80 pixel image on their servers. They even have a nice tool to help you crop your image. Then each time you leave a comment on a gravatar enabled site, it will automatically add your avatar, based on your email address.

Sounds nice, where do i sign up?
To signup, just go to http://site.gravatar.com/signup pop in your email address, upload a picture, and you are ready to go.

Run your own blog and want to add gravatars?
The good team at gravatar have created plugins for most of the popular blogging engines, so just head over to http://site.gravatar.com/site/implement and download the plugin for your site.

Edit (15-08-2007): there appears to be an issue with Gravatar not always displaying pictures. I have taken them down until I can be sure that they are gonna work,  if anyone has any suggestions as to how to resolve this issue, please let me know.

Simplicity in design – quick start guides

| design | One Comment

When it comes to ‘quick start guides’ for new software/hardware components (aka installation manuals), more often then not they consist of pages upon pages of small hard to read text, detailing everything from how to install, how to configure, what to do if something goes wrong, and of course the 4 page reminder that electronics and water don’t mix. But do we really need all of this information in a ‘quick start guide’?

If we want to include all of this information (and in some cases we definitely should), wouldn’t this be the kind of information better suited under the title of help manual and keep just the bare basics to the quick start guide?

Today I purchased a Seagate 500GB external hard drive. This is the first thing I saw when I opened the box:

Seagate FreeAgent packaging - this won't take long

This is a perfect example. Friendly, clean, simple.
(The little yellow sticker says ‘hello’ in case you were wondering)

When you open up the manual its even easier. It opens up to show four steps (one per page).

Seagate FreeAgent installation - four simple steps

That’s a hell of a lot easier to comprehend then a 24 page, 8pt font, text from margin to margin manual if you ask me.

Generic install manual

Now if only everything could be this simple.