12 Reasons You Need to Install FireFox … Now!

12 personal(ly installed) reasons you shouldn’t develop church websites without getting plugged-in with the (mostly free) extensions developed for the FireFox browser installed on your computer.

  1. View Cookies – Some websites store cookies on your computer, so these sites can remember you. This can be very handy, but it can also be used to track everything you do on that website. So which websites use cookies and what is stored in those cookies? With the Firefox View Cookies extension, you can find that out easily. You can also remove the cookies.
  2. cuneAform – cuneAform is the community built Editor that anyone can use. cuneAform is designed to edit pieces of (x)HTML code and contains most of the features of the big boys. cuneAform is a community built extension to Mozilla products including FireFox and Mozilla. You can see a demo of cuneAform in action .. provided you’re not using FireFox to block even the good pop-ups.
  3. Copy Plain Text 0.2Have you ever copied text from a website and pasted it into an email program, such as Thunderbird, but been frustrated that the text formatting (bold, italic, font, etc.) were copied with it? This extension copies the text without all the formatting.
  4. Copy Image – Activates the inherent ability to copy images to the clipboard, moves the menu item down one position in the nightlies. That is, this plug-in adds a ‘Copy Image to Clipboard’ choice to the context menu, below ‘Copy Image Location.’
  5. AutoForm – Allows webdevelopers to avoid the boring task of filling out forms while developing. The process of save and load form data can be automated and configured. The form data will be saved into the preferences to its context, which is calculated on the base URI, the form name and and a hash value over all form elements. So every page should have it’s unique key where the values are stored.
  6. WML Browser – View WML (Wireless Markup Language) pages in Mozilla or Mozilla Firefox. In other words, use this to test your markup for your BlackBerry.
  7. IE View – this plugin is a simple Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox extension (for Microsoft Windows systems), which allows the current page or a selected link to be opened in Internet Explorer. While we all prefer to use Mozilla 99.99% of the time, but there are those moments — particularly when testing new pages, or when viewing that rare IE-only page that’s actually interesting — when we need to see what things look like in IE.
  8. Mozedit – an advanced text editor extension for Mozilla Firebird and the Mozilla suite. It was created with web development in mind, this editor offers quick editing of chrome and user.js files, html preview, document history, autobackup, find/replace with regex, JavaScript Console, multiple document buffers, a command line to run programs, and an ‘Edit in Mozedit’ Tools menu option.
  9. EditCSS a useful extension for web developers and web designers, that works for Mozilla Firefox. It allows you to edit current stylesheets of a page in live, and display the result as you type. It appears in a sidebar. The project is based on Jesse Ruderman’s “Edit Style” bookmarklet, that has done the essential work.
  10. JS Console – a tool for JavaScript developers to write and evaluate code snippets or JS files. It provides an interface to use XPCOM components, libraries for I/O and RDF management, dynamic script loading, as well as an assertion unit framework for test-driven development.
  11. Web Developer – Adds a menu and a toolbar to the browser with various web developer tools. Current tools include converting form POSTs to GETs, hiding images, outlining block level elements, disabling styles and many more. In other words — pretty much adds in one neat plug-in many of the individual plug-in capabilities listed above.
  12. Checky – Here is a one-stop, right-click menu interface to a large number of online webpage validaton and analysis services. Warning, once you start …

Now if the good folks at Six Apart would build me an editor/plugin for MovableType, I’d be set. I’m sure you WordPress and pMachine people are thinking along the same lines — then again it’d be nice if WordPress supported multiple blogs — then again, I should really experiment with TextPattern when I get the chance.

So what about you? Installed the FireFox browser yet? If so, what plugins are you using?

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For the love of Pablo

Many profuse apolgies for now having written sooner. I love my new job, but it has been keeping me mondo busy compelling me to practice absolutely everything I’ve ever written about regarding Web design and software development. None-the-less, you deserve more posts from me more often. Massive mea culprits.

I mean, my lack of posting wouldn’t have been so bad had I turned you onto a neat set of free-as-beer tools like those offered by Pablo Software Solutions – a site I found by religiously reading Gadgetopia, who writes of Pablo’s pages:

Here’s the thing: Pablo’s site just seems…I don’t know…happy. Like he’s Johnny Appleseed with a copy of Visual C++, skipping down a country road, flinging free apps around the countryside…

The point is, since all the utilities offered by the generous and capable Pablo van der meer are free for non-commercial use, I suggest giving them the once over as some might help you maintain a more usable and accessible church website. Here is a quick enumeration of just some of the tools I found useful:

  • ASP 2 VB – an ASP to Visual Basic ActiveX DLL Converter. This utility converts one or more ASP source files into a single Visual Basic 6.0 project that can be compiled into a ActiveX COM DLL
    for maximum performance, safety and security. Include files are integrated in the output VB classes.

    This could be potentially useful in those cases where you’re transitioning to .NET and want to encapsulate legacy server-side functionality — provided of course you’re running on an IIS Server.

  • Cookie Viewer Version 1.04 – Cookies provide websites with a mechanism to store and retrieve state information on your computer. This mechanism allows Web-based applications the ability to store information about selected items, user preferences, registration information, and other information that can be retrieved later.

    As a developer, this can be incredibly helpful when dealing with Open Sores code which utilizes cookies very well, but document how they’re used all that well.

  • Little Install Builder Version 1.04 – There are a lot of setup applications available, but I found that their code may add more than 250KB to the total size of the final setup application, and because most of my applications are not much bigger than 100KB, I decided to write my own installation builder.

    This one could really help you out when you deploy a little piece of software for your church and charity without all the overhead of InstallShield.

  • MDB 2 XML – Version 1.0 Build 002 – This utility converts a MS Access database (MDB) to an XML document. Simple enter the name of the MDB file, give the name of the output file and press Convert. The total number of converted records is displayed in the results list control. MDB2XML makes is build using the classes CXmlDocument and CXmlElement which are explained in the Classes section of this website.

    A must tool for those of you with older versions of Acess that don’t yet convert/export to XML. Which could really put your XML programming on steriods when you think about it — you use MS Access as a sorta visual design tool for your layout and schema, use MDB 2 XML and presto — output!

  • Visual Scripter – Version 1.0 – Visual Scripter is a visual script designer where the user can visually design the scripts without having a lot of programming experience. This is a complete solution with a build in expression parser and debugger to test the created scripts. The user can drag objects (nodes) from the toolbar to the document area and link them together using linking arrows. You can also define error links in case a node fails to execute.

    Yo Pablo, if you’re reading this. This rocks already, but I wouldn’t think it would take that much more to push the underlying engine to create a simple use case diagramming tool — I think if I could just replace the icons I could force it to work for me to create executive summaries that could be understood by the non-geeks helping me run RBC.

  • WYSIWYG Web Builder – Version 1.53 – The program generates HTML (HyperText Markup Language) tags while you point and click on desired functions; you can create a web page without learning HTML. Just drag and drop objects to the page position them ‘anywhere’ you want and when you’re finished publish it to your web server (using the build in Publish tool).

    In other words, programmers will find this an excellent tool for quickly prototyping mock-ups and/or quick content … just make sure your wanna-be geek pastor doesn’t see this page or your website is toast!

So now that I’ve got you droolin’, go and play. Just remember, don’t come crying to me if and when you shoot your foot clean off.

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Fundamentals : The Salem Baptist Temple

Note – please be aware this case study was written back in October of 2004, and as such does NOT reflect the improved implementation that currently exists in February of 2011.

The good folks at the Salem Baptist Temple have recently reached out to me to let me know that they’ve updated their site.

You’re eagerly and strongly encouraged to visit the vastly new and improved site, a WordPress-driven version that does not suffer the issues detailed in the personal opinions of mine written some 6.5 years ago.  – Dean, 09Mar11

I’ve got nothing against those whose love for His law is such that they not only adhere to it strictly, but also strictly adhere to a single interpretation of the original Hebrew and Greek. After all, how they practice their faith is no more different, at least to me, then someone who insists on matzos over saltines or singing four part chorales over contemporary praise songs. Paul addresses this issue of practice in many of his epistles most notably 1 Corinthians 10.

No, what perplexes me more than once is, how can people who love the law to such a degree for issues far more important than the Internet not also practice the laws governing good web site design? Case in point: the website for the Salem Baptist Temple in Salem, Oregon.

Here we have a page that has paved their portion of the Information Highway starting out with a large picture of their church, well centered against a blood-red background. I’m sure their intentions are good, but I could think of at least 95 ways of making their church website a bit more usable merely by making it a bit more readable and resource-filled.

For example, since this page is essentially brochureware, why not at least put the times of the services and a hyperlink to an online map on the front page? And instead of a hazy picture of a small building locked-up tight, why not at least show us an action photo of God’s love going on inside – such as the picture of their Morning Service?

friends do NOT send email to this addresss - spammers, go ahead and harvest THIS e-mail addressAnother way I might heal this website would be to take all the webring information gobbling up bandwidth on the home page and port it to their existing links page. In the process I’d the 1997 era graphics such as animated mailbox and I’d rework the “Heaven … Can you know for sure?” graphic so it’s not so beveled and a bit more inviting.

I’d rework the navigation buttons on the left so they use CSS rollovers to avoid unnecessarily representing text with graphics. The frames would be gone, so would any any and all instances of text that is underlined that isn’t a hyperlink. We do after all worship a God of order, having people clicking on plain text only causes your users to utter things in strange tongues which would give any interpreter cause for pause.

But mostly, I think I’d lay hands on the content … or the lack thereof. One thing I know about my more fundamental brothers and sisters, they’re into the meat, the solid food of the Gospel, so why not reflect that by offering first time visitors something a bit more detailed.

Sermons come to mind, but so do missions and Bible studies. Community outreaches, prayer requests, perhaps even a bit more on the church’s history. In other words what would help this church website would be something, in fact anything, a bit more substantive that might compel a like-minded worshiper new to town to grace their doorstep on a Sunday morning.

So how about you? Got any good suggestions on compelling content this cool little church — or in fact any church — could add to their website? Leave a comment in love.

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Do drop-down menus suck like a remora?

There’s no way around it, drop down menus are hard, especially when supporting cross-browser compatibility. I’m not the only one who thinks this, “Mr. Cool” from the Usability “A-List” writes:

“Now, me, I hate drop-down menus. I hate them as a user. Too many choices. It’s like those big laminated menus you get at a New York diner. Spaghetti, diet plate, French Toast, broiled filet of sole, pizza, ice cream sundae, Atkins menu, veggie burger…. The eyes blur. You slam the menu shut and order coffee.

As a designer, wherever possible, I avoid drop-down menus. For they almost always create an inferior user experience versus drilling down through clearly labeled, intelligently organized categories.” – Jeffrey Zeldman, 29 Jun 04

While I don’t agree 100% with Zeldman (don’t think I don’t I hear some of you gasping in horror), he’s got a point. I’ve seen more than one not-so-youngster get hung-up either kissing the screen to determine the choices or mousing furiously in a vain attempt navigate the timing of sublinks.

I’ve also seen some pretty hefty chucks of Javascript that require a busload of bandwidth and can be murder on those of us who use any variety of web publishing tools to generate our navigational links. For example, I’ve still got on my to-do list an upgrade the automagically generated Milonic Menu I use on RedlandBaptist.org so my Safari users don’t feel left out.

So why bother? I dunno, let’s talk about it … in the form of a comment below. In the meantime, let me turn you onto a slightly easier-to-implement CSS-based drop-down menu that is not as compatible to as to be all-things to all-OLDER-browsers but is far easier to maintain:

Based on the original IE-only suckerfish drowpdown detailed at A List Apart, this new puppy, available at HTMLDog, is more accessible and only 12 lines of Javascript fat. This son-of-a-female dog also works in Opera and Safari without a hack in sight and supports multiple-levels.

Of course, this means you’re going to have to figure out a way of supporting sub-page navigation for the three ‘youngsters’ in your church visiting your sermons page with Netscape 4.7 … but that’s another sermon for another day.

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