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  • Keeping Your Website’s Copyright Notice up-to-date

    Posted on December 31st, 2012 Lee Devlin 2 comments
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    I am often amazed at how some websites don’t manage to update the copyright notice at the bottom of the page to the current year. As I write this, I have hundreds of pages that have a copyright notice and in about 12 hours from now (since today is December 31st), they will automatically update to the year 2013 without me having to do anything. I noticed that when a new year arrives that for several months many websites will have the latest copyright date set to last year, and in some cases, they can be years out of date. When I see that, it makes me feel that someone is asleep at the switch.

    Google uses more than 200 ‘signals’ to measure the influence of a page, and it would surprise me if they didn’t include the latest date in a copyright notice as something that might be of interest. Fresh content is king, and stale content is like two-day old bread and that’s why the bots never stop crawling your content. But to see a copyright that is years out of date on content that has obviously been updated today, well, it makes the site owner look like he’s just not paying attention to the details.

    So, how does my copyright update without my intervention? Well all of my pages are sent through a PHP parser, and my copyright notice has this little snippet of PHP code:

    Copyright &copy; 2001-<?php echo date(Y); ?> Lee Devlin

    When it’s run through the PHP parser and rendered on a browser, it translates to:

    Copyright © 2001-2014 Lee Devlin

    I have that code in all my footers, both on my WordPress and static pages, and it updates the second date every year, without me having to think about it.

    If you want to edit your footer, WP themes generally keep the code in a file called footer.php in the wp-content folder. Feel free to copy that code into your footer, you have my permission. Just remember to change it to your name ;-).

  • Power4Patriots Review

    Posted on November 14th, 2012 Lee Devlin 73 comments
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    I’ve been hearing an ad on the radio lately about a discovery that the power company doesn’t want you to know about from a guy named Frank Bates. He mentions that he could get in a lot of trouble for talking about it and calls the power companies and the government “incompetent, lying crooks who are counting on your ignorance and fear to keep your electric bills and heating bills criminally high.” OK, I’m intrigued, so what’s this guy selling?

    He wants to show you the secret of how he beat ‘em, and how you can beat ‘em too. It’s described as a “weird” trick on the website. It sounds almost too good to be true. You can hear the commercial along with a video at the Power4Patriots website.

    Upon looking further into what Mr. Bates is selling, I discovered it’s a CDROM and downloadable access to a series of pdf ebooks (about 300 pages total) and videos covering the topics of solar and wind energy. Much of it involves DIY information on how to build your own solar panels, wind turbines, and solar water heaters from components you can find in local hardware stores and online for less than you can buy equivalent off-the-shelf products. The value of this ‘package’ is $297, but with the 90% discount, the CD and downloads can be yours for only $27 + 2.99 S&H. After purchasing it, you’ll find that if you pay $67 more, you get a physical spiral bound book along with 3 DVDs that also cover solar and wind DIY projects which is basically the same material, just in a format that might be more convenient for you. If you turn that down, you’ll be offered the printed book for another $27. After that, you’ll be offered heirloom seeds for another $67 to help you through any upcoming societal collapse. So there’s a lot of upselling going on after the initial $27 investment. I’m also now on the email list and I suspect I’ll be hearing a lot more from the company in the future.

    How do I know this? I know this because I invested the $29.99 in the ebook/CDROM product. After all, what kind of blogger would review a product he didn’t own? I gotta tell you, this guy’s good. I’m surprised I got out without spending another $134 for the physical book/DVDs and heirloom seeds.

    You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t heard all the fuss about how Chinese solar panels are coming down in price so fast that they are putting companies out of business that were trying to manufacture solar panels in the U.S. Witness what happened with Solyndra and Abound Solar.

    One of the ebooks and 6 of the videos are related to making your own solar panels. I was curious to see just how cheap these homemade panels would be and the book shows a bill of materials of $175 for a 65 watt panel. That’s almost $3/watt not including your labor, and the amount of labor looks quite substantial. I’d estimate the labor at 10 hours per panel or more. That’s not cheap, especially now that you can get manufactured panels that are $1/watt that are already assembled and guaranteed. The manufactured panels are designed to last 25 years, are safety agency-approved, and can withstand all kinds of weather, including hail up to 1 inch in diameter. So trying to roll your own solar panels would be a waste of time and money. And the cost of a solar system doesn’t just depend just on the panel cost. The inverter costs about $.50/watt which is quite expensive in the grand scheme of things, or about half of what you’d be paying for the panels.

    And then there’s the installation cost. Of course, you can do the installation yourself if you’re capable and comfortable working on roofs. Once you add in the other ancillary parts and equipment, you can put together a solar system for about $2/watt these days using off-the-shelf components. That’s about half of what they cost just 4 years ago, thanks primarily to the drop in panel costs.

    A typical house in the U.S. uses about 730 kWh in electricity per month. To satisfy this need, you are looking at approximately a 5 kW system. That system would cost about $10,000 for materials even if you’re handy and can do the installation yourself. With U.S. electricity rates now at an average at $.12/kWh, it would take about 10 years to pay for itself. That’s not too bad, considering most things you buy for your home will just depreciate over time and not save you a dime, let alone break even or start making you money in the long run. My grid-tied solar system is 5.6 kW and I haven’t purchased any electricity since it was installed nearly 4 years ago but I do get charged about $8/month to be connected to the grid. I have accumulated a surplus (about 5000 KWh) on the meter that could run an electric car for more than 20,000 miles.

    The radio commercials imply that you could slash your energy bills and live free of these greedy utility companies but you cannot do that if you install a grid-tied solar system with net metering, which is the most common kind. To disconnect from your utility company, you’d need to have a battery storage system, a charge controller, and a backup generator for those times that you may have a few cloudy days in a row. A set of batteries that would hold a day’s charge of 24 kWh would cost at least another $4K and generator would add another $1K to it. So you’re looking at a much bigger expense when you talk about completely disconnecting from the power grid, I’d say at least $5K more. And those batteries would need to be replaced every 6 years or so. That makes the whole payback period kind of a moot point because of this extra recurring expense so unless you live in an area where there is no grid power, or you believe we are on the verge of complete societal collapse, it’s hard to justify an off-grid system when you can get away with the less expensive grid-tied solar system.

    There are some other books included in the package related to making and installing a wind turbine (probably good for 5-10% of the average household energy needs), and some simple solar hot water and solar hot air DIY projects. Bonus materials include ebooks on surviving disasters, storing emergency water, and building a solar cooker.

    So for $27, you get 10 ebooks all of which contain some useful information, especially if you’re into renewable energy or worrying about Armageddon. I didn’t feel ripped off afterwards, although the quality of some of the graphic images in the pdf files was pretty poor. I don’t know what the printed materials might look like, but the numbers on many of the charts were unreadable like the image shown below.

    Power4Patriots chart

    The poor image quality of many charts used in the ebook files makes the text unreadable.


    I’m always intrigued when I hear an over-the-top advertisement for an energy product. Most of the time they turn out to be truly worthless and horrible investments. But this one is harmless enough, and you might even find a few good ideas for your $27. But don’t get your hopes up that you’ll take your electric and heating bills down to nothing without a significant investment in time and money even if you follow all of the DIY information in the ebooks.

  • Five Essential Skills for Modern Web Design

    Posted on September 27th, 2012 Lee Devlin No comments
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    5 pillars of web designI teach computer related courses at Aims Community College, including introductory and advanced courses in web design and programming. I also do consulting in web applications, which usually involves PHP programming, e-commerce, and Content Management Systems (CMS) like Magento, ZenCart and WordPress. Periodically, people ask me what they need to know to be a web designer these days. Some of them may have had a passing familiarity with HTML from some web pages they created a decade ago, but web design has changed a lot since then and they want to wrap their minds around what it requires today to work in web technology. To be an effective web designer today, it is necessary to master what I call the 5 pillars of modern web design.

    1. HTML5

    When the world wide web was introduced back in the early 1990s, it was based on HyperText Markup Language (HTML), and it was simple. I recall back then you could learn web design by using the ‘show source’ feature of the browser to see how a page was constructed. Everything you needed to know was right there in a single page. HTML is the first pillar of web design, you must understand HTML to do anything with web pages, preferably the latest version which is HTML5. However, if HTML is all you know, the pages you create will look like they’re straight out of the 1990s.

    2. CSS

    Shortly after HTML was invented, a styling language known as CSS (Cascading Styling Sheets) was developed which took the appearance of the page and separated it from the content. Although having a separate styling language complicated things, it was for the best because you could change the way a page appeared simply by changing a few values in the CSS. However, unlike HTML, CSS isn’t so easy to learn by inspection. In fact, there are things about the way CSS works that can make it exasperating to learn. I consider CSS to be the second pillar of web design.

    3. JavaScript

    The third pillar of web design was introduced with client side scripting when Netscape invented LiveScript. A scripting language that runs inside the browser allows you to add dynamic effects to web pages, along with a useful functionality like checking forms are filled out properly before submitting them. LiveScript didn’t take off at first, but in an agreement with Sun, Netscape changed its name to JavaScript, and thanks to significant hype surrounding the Java language at the time, it began to gain traction. Today, JavaScript is the only language that works inside all browsers without needing a plugin thus making it a standard, and with the many JavaScript libraries that have been introduced, browsers are now able to render pages that have the look and feel of applications as opposed to static documents.

    4. Server Side Scripting

    The fourth pillar of web design is server side scripting. Over the years, many languages have been used for server side scripting, such as Perl, PHP, Ruby, Python, and ASP. These languages are intermingled with HTML and JavaScript but they are executed on the server side, thus rendering pages that have dynamic content. Consider the construction of an HTML table that forms a shopping cart. The server needs to keep track of the cart’s contents and generate the HTML to build the table on the fly when the user selects a button to show cart contents. These days, just about all the elements of a page can be rendered dynamically from a database using a scripting language, including much of the content on a page. In fact, the page you’re reading right now and all the associated content around it is stored in a database. That’s the way WordPress, the content management system that is displaying this page, works its magic. To edit the page, it’s a simple matter of working through some web forms, instead of hand coding the HTML/CSS and JavaScript you’d find if you looked at this page’s source code.

    5. Database

    The fifth pillar of web design is the database. Just about all advanced websites today have migrated to some form of a database-backed content management system (CMS). There are many CMSs to choose from, but what they all have in common is that they rely on dynamic calls to the database to get the data they need to render the pages. This means the web designer needs to understand how to interact with databases and have a good understanding of SQL (Structured Query Language).

    Even if you master these five essential skills, you’ll need a few more skills to put together attractive websites. For example, you still need to know about graphics design and how to edit images so that they look good and load fast on a web page. Knowing about typography, color schemes, and other artistic concerns are also very important so that your website doesn’t scare people away and for graphics skills, you may need to rely on an expert in that field since it’s a rare person who can write code and produce beautiful artwork.

    Now I know there are some who might argue that with modern Content Management Systems such as WordPress, much of the work is done for you and you can be a web designer without having to know anything about databases, scripting languages, CSS or HTML. That may be the case for simple websites, but if you don’t know the basics, you’ll eventually run into problems you won’t be able to fix. A client might ask for a simple modification to a theme or some file buried inside the CMS and if you don’t have the 5 essential skills mentioned here, you won’t be able to do it.

  • Damaged Photo Restoration Service

    Posted on May 21st, 2012 Lee Devlin 1 comment
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    A few months ago, my friend Don showed me a picture he had of himself as a young boy along with his younger sister and older brother. Don will turn 80 this year and it appears he was about 5 in the photo, so it was about 75 years old. The photo had some damage from creases, missing areas, and a few dark spots and he wanted to get it restored but didn’t want to let go of the original since it was irreplaceable. He had an photo scanner sitting next to his computer, so I scanned in the original and emailed it to Jay Yozviak at Photography by Jay, who is the premier photographer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I figured he’d know of a reliable service where the photo could be sent and restored to remove the defects it had accumulated over its 75 year life. You can see an image of the original photo here (you can click on images for higher resolutions versions of them):

    Damaged photo needing restoration and touchup work

    photo before restoration

    I know that Jay is very capable with PhotoShop but didn’t realize that he also does photo restoration as part of his photography business. In a few days, Jay had restored the image and sent back the results. My friend was extremely pleased with how it turned out. As you can see below, the defects are gone.

    damaged photo restored

    photo after restoration

    He also made up a framed version of the image in black-and-white:

    old image converted back to black and whilte

    Original image converted back to black and white

    If you’d like to get a quote on getting your irreplaceable photos restored to their original condition, you can contact Jay at:

    Photography by JAY
    284 Dennison Street
    Swoyersville, PA 18704
    570-288-1706

    If you’re curious how photo restoration is done, here’s a time-lapsed video of someone doing it on YouTube. The video is only a few minutes, but it shows about 6 hours of work: