26 August 2008

Google for webstarters

How did I miss this? Google have substantially improved their provision of web pages for all and sundry. So if you want a web site you can have one. Free, and not too bad looking. At the moment it seems so new that it is definitely experimental but I would expect it be to be running well soon.

Google Pages never really caught anyone's imagination although, at the time, it was quite unique. Google Sites is much better. As usual, it doesn't get much promotion and is buried deep in the More section of their tools and services.

They'll have to work hard to catch up with Microsoft's Offoce for Small Business offering which also gives us a nice free domain of our choice. I still find that amazing and the tools are dead easy to use. Two quite different approaches and, whilst Big Blue are out in the lead, I still fancy a tenner on Google in the long run. Remember Moonfruit anyone?

Google for webmasters

Sometimes Google doesn't exactly make a brilliant job of helping us to find their own services. There are lots of useful tools lurking in strange places behind the familiar search page that we all stare at at some point in the day.

One of these is their webmaster tools section. The main reason you'd want to go there is to get Google to recognise your site and some nice reports on who knows about it as well as lists of what Google perceives as problems.

On the search page, there's something called Business Solutions. Click that and then look for Web pages. (I guess you'll need a Google account but it's free and well worth getting anyway.)

Click that link and you'll be able to register you sites and get all sorts of useful information. Registration is reasonably straightforward and certainly quick. You simply enter the site address in a box and then will be asked to verify the site. This is to make sure that you are actually a webmaster and not just a passer-by. Verification can be done in a couple of ways but the easiest is probably to add a new page to your site. Google will provide the name - some long combination of characters.html - so you just make a new page and save is as whateveritis.html (best to copy and paste the name!) Keep the Google webmaster tools page open.

Upload that file to your server and then click the box on the webmaster tools page to get Google to verify the site. A second later and there should be a nice tick appear and Google will start doing what Google does best.

There's a bundle of stuff about sitemaps too. It's all pretty heavy stuff, though, and the help files and further links seem to have been written by aliens. Do I have Python on my server? is a frequent question, for instance. I don't think I shall worry too much about sitemaps just yet.

14 August 2008

There are more than 2 fonts on your computer

Sometimes even the several hundred fonts that you'll have on your computer don't provide quite the one you want. There are lots that are almost the same too which can be quite annoying but I have never managed to pluck up the courage to delete them or, at least, stop them taking up space in the font list in programmes.

In fact, that reminds me of another question. In Excel, if you want to change the font for a header or footer you have this tiny box to scroll through. Typing an initial letter, which usually focuses in well in other places, doesn't seem to do much so you're left struggling from Arial to Verdana. I'm afraid that I dislike Arial. Helvetica's fine and I can see the point of that but Arial just never, ever looks right to me. A particular hate of mine is getting mail in Arial bold, size 12+. I could even cope with Times New Roman bold and italic for a while longer before running for cover as long as the sender didn't add underscore which, unfortunately, many do for good measure.

On the underscore front, there are precious few occasions now when that U button is needed. There isn't one in my menu as I type this blog. On the web it tends to mean this is a link (especially in that colour) so if a designer does go for the U button he's risking a lot of users' frustration in meaningless clicking. In documents, headers look good in a bold font of an appropriate size. I'd go further and say that you really shouldn't underline very big headings, and certainly not title page stuff. In Word or Word-like applications it is simple enough these days to add a whole line background too which is often far more appealing than the line. And don't even mention individual word underlining, please. The very thought makes me worry that I may even recall the shortcut for it if I linger any longer!

If you must have a line then use the whole line line thing which can look quite reasonable. It's in the Borders menu somewhere.

This post started with fonts and that's where I need to return if my sanity is to remain. Handwriting fonts can be great but there are few in that long list. Whilst Windows provides you with umpteen whacky fonts and a myriad Times clones it doesn't do much on the writing side, other than some very old fashioned scripty things that you'd only use to invite Grandma to a wedding. What you may well look for in vain are some fun but not over-the-top or excessively childish fonts. There are lots around and many are free.

Take a look at http://www.getfreefonts.info/ where you have pages and pages of the things.

To install a font in Windows, download it, unzip it if necessary then move the font file to the Windows | Fonts folder where it should install itself happily and be available next time you open applications.

Spaces on the web

In the old days we were taught to leave two spaces after a full stop. Unless you're trying to reproduce an old letter in Courier, though, that's a rule you can forget now, especially on the web.

Thought of this when someone asked me about spaces on the web. The basic rule is that web pages don't recognise any more than one spacebar space. The reason is mainly because spaces need to have a flexible size (eg for justified text). I usually find that it is no problem and you should use a table where you simply need to separate things more.

Occasionally, I suppose there will be a desperate need to have more space and a table won't do what you want. In those instances, there are a couple of tricks:

The space gif
Make an image the size you need (or, if you don't know, make one that is 1 pixel wide and 1 pixel high). Save the image as something like space1x1.gif. Then you can put as many as you need next each other to build up an 'invisible' space. Beware, though, as images can move when browser windows are resized but small ones ought to be OK. They need to be aligned correctly or may break text lines where you don't expect! (You can do this simply in Serif DrawPlus, GIMP or similar or may be able to do this in Paint but you must save it as a transparent gif. If you can only make a bmp in Paint then use Irfanview to save as a gif afterwards.)

The text colour cheat
Just type something to fill the space required and change the colour to the background of that part of the page. This is a quick and dirty fix, and will only work if you have a solid colour background, a very tight texture or can be sure that the text is placed over an appropriate part of an image the same colour.
Beware, though, that some people's browsers may change text on web pages to a default colour and show it after all (pretty rare) and if they were to highlight the text by dragging the mouse across the page your text will show (possible) and, of course, printing the page may well include your text, either because white text is printed as black or because the browser is set not to print web page backgrounds thus revealing the fix (common)!

The code for a space is #nbsp but, as I said, browsers seldom seem to recognise two in a row. The moral of the story is, basically, find another way to present information and use a table. It's like Word in many ways - you should never, ever, use more than two spaces in a row in word processing and I can't quickly think of an occasion when, in fact, I would use more than one nowadays.