|News Flashes latest at the top|
This started as some fixes to get round a bug in some browsers mobile devices and turned into the start of much more major enhancement to the site, in particular for touch screen devices. In essence, the existing responsive design works by reloading a modified version of the page when absolutely essential, for example when changed from portrait to landscape view on a mobile or a major reduction in window size. In some browsers this is relatively seamless as the information is cached locally and the page is left at the same point, in others such as Firefox the page is returned to the top which is disturbing especially if it was a brief and unintentional orientation change. Browsers and web standards have developed over the last 4 years and all currently supported versions of browsers allow an alternative method called Media Queries, a feature of CCS3, to provide an alternative way to implement a responsive design by only changing the 'styles' when, for example the screen width meets a certain criteria (A Media Query)
I have pruned a lot of the older Howto articles from the General Howto Articles and from the OU Articles Appropriate for OU Students and Tutors and put them into the Older and Reference section as most of them were very out of date and many were only appropriate to Windows which we have not used for 9 years. I do not plan to bring the legacy pages up to HTML5 - if any are updated they will also move back to their original area. A Mobile Friendly Icon has been added to links to updated pages.
I have made two subsections in the General Howto Articles namely: Communication and Computing on the Move and Web Site Design. I have added a Navigation Bar to move within the Web Site Design sub-section and all the pages in both of the sub-sections are now in HTML5 and are Mobile Friendly.
Mobile Friendly web Site design has become increasingly important since Google announced that they would be given precedence in its search results. They have provided a site where you can test if your page(s) meet there criteria. Google do not provide the exact criteria used but the main elements include:
There are many views on what Mobile Friendly actually involves. My objective is to have pages which can be used on a mobile device without any need to horizontal scrolling or zooming for content or navigation and automatically handles the change from portrait to landscape view. Furthermore the display should automatically adapt to take make best use of increasing sizes of viewport or window before eventually limiting as covered below under Responsive Design. Mobile pages should not depend on separate 'popup' windows or open extra tabs during normal use or depend completely on 'hover over' information although both may be additionally available on machines on conventional machines. Navigation and Settings should not dominate pages on a mobile device and automatic changes from Navigation Bars to Menus may be appropriate.
After a months development and trials of various techniques we are now starting to change the web site over to the new 'Mobile Friendly' layout. The main new features are:
At the time this page was updated the 6 'Entry' pages and three most recent groups of travel pages have been updated to allow further testing. Initially priority in updating will be given to pages or groups of pages which are linked directly from the homepage like this page.
Update August 2015 on conversion to Mobile Friendly Pages. All pages or groups of pages which are linked directly from the Homepage 0r Pauline's Page and the Linux Howto Articles have been updated. A Mobile Friendly Icon has been added to links to updated pages on the 'Entry Pages' and the Travel page. Changes have been completed on UK and NZ travel pages back to the point at which we switched to digital cameras and techniques (late 2003). It is not practical to update the earlier pages. This basically means that only the Small Firms section has major work outstanding - it has not been touched for ten years and needs major updating of content as well as format - most, if not all, are candidates for transfer to the 'legacy' class and not updated further or converted.
Update 8th January 2016 - Spell Checking Whilst looking at some of our pages from last year I realised that there were some spelling errors still present. I checked and corrected a few pages individually but I am looking for a more automated process as part of improving the user experience.
This has been precipitated by the use of Lightbox software which requires HTML5 if it is to be truly responsive and adapt image sizes to the device. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) adopted HTML5 it as a recommendation in October 2014, the first major changes to HTML since HTML 4.01 was recommended by W3C in 1999 and XML1.1 in 2001. The support for HTML5 is now very good both by desktop browsers and by Tab/Smart Phone operating systems and browsers, arguably better than HTML 4.01 has had.
In my case the changes requires are major because I have always validated against HTML 4.01 Transitional which allowed use of a number of attributes which depreciated but still supported. I worked on the basis that if it was not broke to not fix it. Changing to HTML5 means that a number of attributes used for layout now have to be replaced by use of css (Cascading Style Sheets) and this can not be done completely by even a series of global replacements.
I will change to HTML5 when pages need to be updated because of use of Lightbox or for normal updates. The overhead to change looks like 15 minutes per page on current experience although the 6 'Front Pages' for the main sections and the search page took much longer but from now on they act as templates for the pages under them. The pages which are changed will gain a new HTML5 logo with a link to the W3C validation site at the bottom right. This page was number 31 to be changed and 37 have been changed when I last edited this page. Update in May 2015- over 660 pages have been changed so far which covers the majority of the sites.
Responsive Design is one of the current buzz words for web site design. The increasing size of monitors at one end and the increasing use of mobile devices at the other means that it is difficult to design for everyone. I have changed the website to a more Responsive Design, more because it already had many of the elements in place. For this site Responsive means that the website content is fluid and the text flows to fit the browser window whilst under a given size of window and over that the width remains fixed with the page centred and with plain margins either side. In practice there is also a minimum width under which the fluidity breaks down and one has to resort to the scrollbars (or pinching) to see all the content - in my case that is set by having horizontal navigation bars or the fixed size of images on the pages (circa 550 pixels plus scroll bar say 600 pixels) - many of the 'travel' pages also have blocks of 4 images each of which can be 160 pixels wide giving a minimum 'viewport' of 640 pixels and the 800 relaxation for travel pages.
But why do we need a maximum width for the content? The reason is that it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to read the page on a large high resolution page on a Desktop. It is quite tiring reading a 100% width site on a 1920x1200 or higher screen. The eye does not like scanning lines 20 inches wide! This is why newspapers and many magazines adopt a multi column format which is not available to us if when also have to cope with tiny screens on a Smart Phone or tablet - multiple columns and small screens are a disaster as I found with a digital magazine subscription.
The web site already has a fluid design so the change required is to limit the maximum width. There has been much discussion on the optimum size but I have taken a pragmatic approach and decided that a width which is half of a 1920x1080 'Full HD' screen is a good starting point. Fortunately most browsers also have scaling built in so it is easy to increase the scaling to fill a medium resolution screen or match a Smart Phone, Tablet or Laptop. The width is controlled in a single Cascading Style Sheet file for the whole site so this can be easily changed from the 960 pixels it is set to at present to say 1024. Going up to 1280 currently gives layout problems on some of my older pages so 960 or 1024 are my favoured options and visually 960 gives a nice number of characters per line for easy reading and is best for a split screen high resolution monitor - 1024 is probably optimum for our tablets in landscape mode.
There are a number of addition techniques which I am applying to cover smaller devices including making image sizes adaptive and changing from Popup windows to using 'Lightbox' techniques where the image is superimposed over the screen and adapts to the size. That is a major task with 600 pages and over 7500 images mostly in three sizes. It has been put to the test on the last 4 travel write-ups - a total of 23 pages to date and it has been tested on all standard desktop browsers and Android Tablets and Smart phones. So far it looks very promising.
Any feedback will be appreciated especially from less usual devices.
We now have three domain names registered www.pcurtis.co.uk and http://www.uniquelynz.com . The Uniquely New Zealand site and www.pcurtis.com now have separate content but with cross links on the navigation bars so that the change is almost transparent. Most of the pages covering our personal activities have been withdrawn from the main sites. These actions will hopefully reduce traffic on the main site which has been rising rapidly and has now exceeded 750 Mbytes per month (up from under 200 Mbytes/month a year ago) and we are seeing up to 650 independent visits a day. This huge increase is not reflected in our existing counters which only record visits to the entry pages because our lower level pages are receiving visitors directly via Search engines - more are visiting from NZ than the UK! Even so the simple counters showed we passed 6,500 hits in early July 1999, 10,000 in November 1999, 20,000 in November 2000, 30,000 in August 2001, 50,000 in August 2002, 66,000 in August 2003 and 82,000 in August 2004. By January 2015 this had increased to 204,000.
The principles laid out in the Small Firms pages have been applied to more sites for small firms see: Theale Fireplaces The Craven Bed and Breakfast and a new site is under development for an up and coming artist, Katrina Richards.
The increasing consultancy works means we are becoming much more rigorous about standards and every time a page is updated it is being checked against the new HTML 4.01 standards and a validator link/image added at the bottom of the page. The pages are also being updated to use linked Cascading Style Sheets and have a slightly improved navigation bar.
A number of changes have been made to improve navigation round the site and additional areas are being covered.
Small Firms Section: This new section of our site is directed in particular towards supporting small firms who need a presence on the Web. It also covers other aspects of the computing needs of a small business - networks, backups, disaster recovery etc. I believe there is a very real need for such information - I see many examples of the same problems and the same mistakes being made in small businesses.
A number of new pages (6 to date) have been written to augment those in the Howto Series of Technical Articles out of which this section has grown. I am also considering offering just enough consultancy to get them up and running so that they can become self sufficient and be able to carry on using the level of technical support provided on our site.
We have now registered the domain name pcurtis.com so the web site URL is now www.pcurtis.com and we can be contacted by email by anything in front of the @ and the domain name. The CompuServe mailbox at email@example.com will be kept for a month or two - the CompuServe web space has been so unreliable that we have had warning splashes to use our other sites for months and only the entry pages are ever updated. We will keep http://www.corinna1.freeserve.co.uk as a mirror site although the site has now outgrown the 15 mbytes limit and the Uniquely NZ section on Freeserve is without images.
"Uniquely New Zealand" A new section of the site is being developed which will be a Touring and Camping Guide enabling one to get to the places a "Package" can thankfully not reach. It will concentrate on the things that make New Zealand special and what has shaped the country, its people and their leisure activities. The simpler the lifestyle one is prepared to adopt the closer you will be able to get to the real New Zealand and the better one can experience it's scenery, wildlife and sports. It will include our experiences of activities such as sailing, fishing and camping which are fundamental to the Kiwi way of life. It will initially draw on our the inputs to previous years newsletters, the picture galleries and the series of "Letters from the Antipodes" we periodically Emailed to friends this year. We plan to cover in some detail the various options for Transport and Accommodation from Hotels and Motels through cabins to campervans and tents including costed listings of the additional kit required and advice on the best sources.
The site traffic has increased dramatically in the last year. The first two years averaged only a hit a day but last summer the traffic started to increase with 1000 hits being reached in June and 2000 was reached during the Christmas period. This had risen to 4000 hits just before we returned from New Zealand in late March. We added some intelligent counters to monitor various parts of the sites in the Autumn to gain some understanding of the reasons for the increase. Much of the traffic comes via the Freeserve Gateway which features high on the outputs from a number of major search engines for people looking for information on Freeserve. The Freeserve support team are also pointing people towards our site. The other major site traffic is for Pauline's Open University Pages which again cover the free ISPs and latest on FirstClass as well as being used by her own and other M206 students. We get some very gratifying feedback via Email on both the technical articles and the OU pages and there are an increasing number of links on other peoples sites as well as referenced in Conferences and Newsgroups.
We have been experimenting with some of the free ISP services such as Freeserve from Dixons. Freeserve is much faster and more reliable than CompuServe and gives 15 Mbytes of web space. Our site is now fully mirrored at http://www.corinna1.freeserve.co.uk and extensions will use the extra web space now available. CompuServe has been so unreliable that you should bookmark the new site immediately. The Technical Howto Articles series has been extended considerably and covers Freeserve and a competitor Telinco in some detail and there are articles on changing and Using multiple ISPs.
A major new section of the site Pauline's OU Pages has's been set up to support her Open University Teaching on M206, B889 and T843. It provides easy access to the material used in her presentations, resources for tutors and students, an introduction to or experiences with OU and Related Software on our Home Computing System including a detailed "diary" of our Installation, Configuration, Utilisation and Assessment of the relevant software. We cover our Experiences with a small Laptop which allows us access to the same Communications we have at home whilst we are traveling on our Narrowboat Corinna. Our experiences have led to several articles being added to Peter's existing series of "How to" technical articles.
We have obtained a tiny Toshiba Libretto Laptop computer and a Motorola CELLect PCMCIA card which connects it to our mobile phone. This gives us not only the full connectivity on the boat that we sought but provides full Internet Access, Fax, EMail, Compuserve and OU FirstClass anywhere in the world which supports a GSM phone and has a 12, 110 or 240 volt supply. We are no longer constrained to home for Pauline's OU teaching on the latest courses where even the marking is electronic. Have a look at our Experiences going Mobile.
Pauline will be teaching the new Open University Course M206 which is completely "electronic" and makes extensive use of the Internet for delivery and marking. This has meant upgrades to our machine and we have a new objective of full connectivity on the boat. Details of the Course are on the OU Site for M206. We are planning a new section on our site to support her work.
A series of Technical "How to" Articles have been added to the site. An Index to the series of articles written on how to set up and support various activities has been added. The articles mostly originated in Diary of a Home Page as detailed documentation of various steps in setting up the computer, it's software, it's communications and the site itself. Recent reports cover favourable experiences with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4, the Active DeskTop, Upgrading machines and installing OSR2.
At the beginning of May we set off on a major trip in Corinna to explore the Northerly parts of the Canal system we have never had time to reach even "weekending". We first went via Stratford and Gloucester to Sharpness then back via Gloucester up the Severn and the Staffs and Worcester to join up with the owners club for a big "ring" taking us from Red Bull down the tidal Trent, up the tidal Ouse to York and Ripon - the furthest North part of the connected system. Our return took us onto the Aire and Calder as far as the start of the Rochdale, on to Huddersfield then back over the Leeds and Liverpool to Manchester before returning home. The complete trip came close to 1200 miles and took 3 months. A report covering The Northeast Waterways is available with maps showing the journey.
We have put some of the more spectacular pictures from the 22 films Pauline took in New Zealand into North and South Island Picture Galleries now they have been digitised onto CD ROM. There is also a Report of the Trip concentrating on South Island.
We have started to think seriously about whether there was any justification in having a page. We quickly realised that our original thoughts leading to a title indicating it was an information source on us was actually useful. There will always be those who arrive by browsing but we have decided to mainly direct it to those we know or communicate with by conventional means such as snail mail or Email and to that end have already included the site address on our Letter, Fax and Email templates. We have tried to encapsulate the rationale and users in a "Mission Statement" to follow the modern jargon. We now have to decide what is useful to the disparate contacts who may want a little background on those they deal with.
The home page was started just before we went on holiday in February 1996, for all the wrong reasons. We had seen in PC Direct Magazine that CompuServe had produced a Home Page Wizard and that it gave the opportunity to register an alias for our ID instead of the 101520,547 which nobody can ever remember. We therefore put together, in a few hours, a single page saying who we were, that it would be developed when we learnt more, added our Email address and went on holiday. Technology pull with little thought to the potential user!
I would be very pleased if visitors could spare a little time to give us some feedback - it is the only way we know who has visited the site, if it is useful and how we should develop it's content and the techniques used. I would be delighted if you could send comments or just let me know you have visited by sending a quick Message.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Spelling Corrections: 8 th January, 2016