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Positive Attitude

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect it’s successful outcome.”
-William James

As you get older you begin to realize that everyone carries burdens and has faced difficult situations in their life.  I’ve heard it said and come to realize that it’s not about what happens ‘to’ you in your lifetime – it’s about how you handle those obstacles and whether or not you use them as a learning experience, rather than a definition of who you are.  What a waste our mistakes would be, if we learned nothing from them.

Learning the ins and outs of coding a website is a journey of trials and triumphs.  Not everything will come as easy to some, as it will to others, but it’s about learning new things and finding your place – you’re niche.  There’s room out there for everyone, and everybody who enters this field, brings with them a unique set of skills, talents and experiences that help mold them into the designer or developer they will become.  It’s such a blessing to be able to earn a living doing something that fascinates and inspires you.  Being able to ‘create’ something is a gratifying thing and having an outlet to express your creativity (in both design and development) is an opportunity many people in other fields never have.

We live in an age where the sky is the limit and the infinite possibilities that exist with the internet are both overwhelming and empowering.  If you’re new to this field, try not to get discouraged.  You will make mistakes, you will ‘break’ sites, you will come across some bugs you just can’t fix, but just remember.. nobody was born with the ability to create great websites.  We all started in the same place.. diving into code and learning tricks and techniques a little at a time.  So have a positive attitude about your own journey and know that one day you will look back and be amazed at how far you’ve come.


Honesty and Integrity

Have the courage to say No. Have the courage to face the Truth. Do the right thing because it is right.
~ W. Clement Stone

Honesty and Integrity should play a part in your personal and career goals.  It’s not the focus of many who are trying to get ahead these days, but for those with moral and religious backgrounds or beliefs, it’s something they think about regularly and hold in high regard.

This blog topic coincides with one of my previous posts “Compassion” that addresses the importance of incorporating moral standards into business practices.  Honesty and integrity are not something you see in very many company mission statements or business plans, but they should be.  If I were to run one of the most successful web companies in the world, I wouldn’t feel truly successful unless I had built that business and grown it on a foundation of honesty and integrity.

When I think about many of the Oklahoma based businesses that have been around for generations, I know that honesty and integrity are something they strive for.  Most customers aren’t going to return or refer their friends and family to a business that doesn’t make those things a priority. Without repeat customers and client referrals, most businesses won’t survive.  If you plan on starting your own business one day, hopefully you’ll incorporate these standards into your business practices.

An article “Examples of Integrity” by Sherrie Scott of Demand Media focuses on four main areas that both companies and employees can use to measure their levels of integrity in the workplace. They are:

  • The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • Honesty: Be honest with your customers, co-workers, boss, contractors, etc.
  • Confidentiality: Respect the private information of companies and customers

       (in web design/development this includes making sure security measures are in place when sensitive information is handled on a website)

  • Lead by Example: Set the example of how you want those around you to behave

If you plan on working for another web company, remember that honesty and integrity are something you should make a priority.  You can have the best resume, portfolio and skill set and those things will probably get you the job you want, but if you lack honesty and integrity, you won’t keep that job for long..

PHP: pChart


I am finishing up the beginning course for PHP and was asked to write a blog on a related topic.  I came across an article from Smashing Magazine about 50 useful tools for PHP developers. You can find the article here.  (the article is from 2009, but many of the technologies are still being updated/supported today)

There were tools for everything.. Debugging, Testing/Optimization, Documentation, Security, Code Compression, Version-Control, etc.  While many of these would probably be far more useful, far more often for any PHP developer, the creative/designer side of me was drawn to the Graphical tools mentioned in the article.

The first one I read about was pChart. It is a “class oriented framework designed to create aliased charts.”  This tool allows you to pull data from SQL queries to populate and construct a graphical chart.  Some of the core features of pChart are:

  • Native anti-aliasing (for all basic objects)
  • Shadow support (drawn using the internal anti-alias algorithm)
  • Alpha-transparency (directly computed by GD binaries for performance)
  • Spline, cubic curves

pChart has created classes that allow you to “fully configure your series and axis” so the raw data is stored with clean and efficient code. The site provides documentation for these classes on their website. There are custom classes for:

  • Building your data series (addPoints)
  • Defining the name of X/Y Axis (setAxisUnit)
  • Define the way to show values (setAxisDisplay)
  • Bind a series to one axis (setSerieOnAxis)
  • Name axis (setAxisName)
  • Set position of axis (setAxisPosition)
  • and many more..

There are mutiple chart formats you can create with pChart. You can create a standard chart such as plot, line or curve charts.  You can also create bar and stacked bar charts, radar and polar charts, 2D and 3D pie charts, linear bubble charts and more!  Sample documentation is given for these individual chart types on the website as well.

Some of the extended functionalities of the pChart library are pSpring that allows you to create a visual rendition of a network, sandbox engine that allows you to design a chart and generate the code, and pCache that allows you to store a cached version of previously created charts (from SQL queries already generated by other users) and output it directly for better performance on frequently viewed data sets.

For more information or help on setting up pChart on your server and generating charts for use on your sites, visit pChart’s forum support section at wiki.pchart.net/forum/.

Sources: http://www.SmashingMagazine.com, http://www.pChart.net

Say What?

COMMUNICATION is a key factor in the success of a web designer or developer.  Communication in web design doesn’t just entail verbal communication, in fact, visual communication is extremely important too.  A breakdown in communication can lead to unhappy clients, long hours spent redesigning something you thought was on track and websites with poor usability.

What are the three main areas of communication designers and developers need to focus on?

  1. Communicating your services to others
  2. Communicating with your clients
  3. Communicating with your website’s end users

Let’s focus on the first one: Communicating your services to others

If you’ve ever owned a business, you know clients do not come to you without knowing you exist, what you offer (products/services) and why you are the best option for them.  In this field, you absolutely must have a web presence and develop a campaign to promote your website.  Your website needs to communicate to potential clients all of the services you offer, demonstrate knowledge and experience in the technologies behind those services and key points and examples of why your business is the best option compared to your competitors.

Next, you need to focus on: Communicating with your clients

After a client has hired you to create a website for them, you need to sit down with the client and communicate effectively to make sure you understand exactly what the client is looking for.  You need to ask the right questions and lay the framework for what can be expected during the design process.  Communicating with the client about what is expected from them (i.e. custom artwork, blog post content, logos, etc.) and the timeframe within which they need to submit those items is crucial to the success of the project.  You also need to communicate up front any deposits that need to be made, contracts signed and a projected completion date.  Make sure to explain to the client that any delays with content submission on their part will result in an extension of the project deadline.  Throughout the project you need to communicate with your client about where you are in the process and let them know if you have run into any problems that may affect the deadline.  Keeping your client informed and making them feel like they are part of the process will lead to a more positive experience for them.

Lastly (but just as important) you need to focus on: Communicating with your website’s end users

Our business is to create websites for clients that will be attract users, not scare them away.  Just as you’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money into getting an individual or company to hire you, your client has invested those same things into attracting clients, members, users, etc. of their own.  Creating a site that will engage their users and make them want to return to the site should be a high priority.  After talking to the client and understanding the purpose of the project, the target audience and the functionality needed, you need to focus on how to incorporate all of those things into a website that is easy to navigate, visually appealling and organizes content in a way that is easy to understand.  Even small things, such as adding alt tags to images and creating navigation that doesn’t require scrolling will go a long way to ensure your site it accessible across multiple devices and to users of varying abilities.  Always ask yourself, does this site communicate to me in 5 seconds or less What It Is For – What I Can Do Here – Where I Should Go Next.  As designers and developers this becomes increasingly challenging the more experienced we are.  Having outside users test your design and functionality is a great way to make sure you are communicating everything you need to on the website.  As George Bernard Shaw once wrote: The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Focusing on these three areas of Communication and using outside sources if necessary to make sure you’re on track, will lead to a better overall experience for both you and your client!


During this Christmas season we are reminded of the importance of showing compassion for others.  I have heard stories of the person in the Starbucks drive-thru paying for the order of the person in line behind them.  I’ve heard about anonymous people paying off Christmas presents that families had in layaway at department stores and I’ve seen my own family doing things to show compassion for others.  All of these acts of compassion had an affect not just on those who were directly involved, but on everyone that heard of the kindness shown by one person to another.

As a mother, I want to instill in my own children the importance of thinking of others and showing compassion.  The best way to teach them is by example.  As a child, our family would go out the week or two before Christmas and cut mistletoe down from the trees here in Oklahoma.  We would take the mistletoe home and separate it into smaller bags and then go door-to-door in our neighborhood, selling it for $1.00/bag.  After we sold all of the mistletoe, we would bring the money home to see how much we collected and then take it to the Jesus House in Oklahoma City and donate all of it to help families who were less fortunate.  As a child, it’s hard to understand that some children don’t have what you have. I remember walking through the Jesus House and seeing children who looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in a while and their clothes were worn or too small.  It left an impression on me that I still vividly remember as an adult and it made me realize how blessed I was to have a roof over my head, clothes to wear, food to eat.. etc.  Many families are having a difficult time financially this Christmas, but even so, we all have so much more to be thankful for than we probably realize and need to have compassion for those who are struggling.

Compassion is something you should have at all times and in all places.  It’s not just something you show for your family and friends, or to random people you come in contact with.  It’s also very important to show compassion for those you work with.  Your boss, your coworkers, your customers…  I’ve heard the phrase (and even said it myself) “business is business”, but I absolutely believe you can run a successful business and still show compassion for those around you.

I’m sure most people have heard the verse “Give and you shall receive.” Have you ever given something to someone and then realized how happy it made you to do something nice for someone else?  Showing compassion for others is a blessing to you as well, but not just in the feeling you get from helping someone.  In business, if you show compassion to those you work with, you will gain the respect of your coworkers.  If you show compassion for your customers, they will remember you and probably refer a friend or associate to you.  Showing compassion will also help you stand out among your competitors – customers and clients tend to want a company who is sincere in their efforts to help them. Compassion is not a substitute for good business practices and a quality product or skill, but it compliments those aspects of your business and will make you stand out above your competitors and give you the peace of mind, knowing you’re doing what’s right and setting a good example for others to follow.

Arthur H. Stainback once said “The value of compassion cannot be over-emphasized. Anyone can criticize. It takes a true believer to be compassionate. No greater burden can be borne by an individual than to know no one cares or understands.”  Remember to be compassionate for others in all aspects of your life – you never know, you may be the one who depends on the compassion of others some day..

Smarty templates

As part of my database development and Drupal class assignments, I was asked to research something related to the course. I have been learning about Drupal and how content is added to a site, but I knew there were other ways of adding content other than just typing it directly into the CMS. For instance, if you have an e-commerce site with regular customers who have signed up for an account, they may have unique content that should be pulled into certain nodes within your site based on their specific login credentials.  I decided to look into Smarty templates and what they are, how they work, and why they are used.
Smarty is a template engine for PHP. It allows you to use the more simplified Smarty syntax to create templates which are compiled and transformed into PHP scripts and are cached for quick retrieval. The entire concept behind Smarty templates is to separate application logic from presentation logic. When you are trying to create a semantic HTML site and then attempt to add in PHP it gets messy and creates workflow issues when you have designers and developers working on a site simultaneously. When you have a large amount of content (especially dynamic content) and multiple pages within a site,you can use Smarty templates to separate the server-side logic from the display logic to keep coding cleaner and easier to manage on large sites.
To begin using Smarty you should visit the website at http://www.smarty.net and look around, view the link Crash Course and look through some of the sources to templates created by others in the FAQ(wiki) section of the website. After you have familiarized yourself with Smarty and how it works you can follow these steps:

  1. Download the Smarty library files from this link: http://www.smarty.net/download
  2. Unzip the files/open the Smarty folder/ copy the ‘libs’ folder into the root folder of your website
  3. Create the following folders in your libs folder: ‘templates’, ‘templates_c’, ‘configs’, ‘cache’
  4. Create an ‘index.tpl’ file in your templates folder
  5. Create an ‘index.php’ file in your htdocs folder (located in your site files)

(Note: this is only a brief overview of the steps for setup – for full documentation, see the Smarty website)

Now that your files are in place, you can open your index.php file in Notepad++ and add the following:

require_once( ‘smarty.class.php’);                  (this calls for the Smarty library/code)
$smarty = new Smarty();                  (this creates a new object – know as a smarty)

This is the file where you will create objects from arrays and display them in your index.tpl file.

Here is an example of a couple simple/static smarty objects created to populate a welcome section on your homepage (refer to the Smarty website for info on using arrays):

require_once (‘smarty.class.php’);
$smarty = new Smarty();
$smarty->assign(‘name’, joe smith’);       (creates a Smarty object called $name,value = ‘joe smith’)
$smarty->assign(‘username’,’jsmith2345′);      (creates Smarty object called $username,value = ‘jsmith2345’)

$smarty->display(‘index.tpl’);  (states where these Smarty objects will be used/displayed)

Now that you’ve created your Smarty objects you can write the template markup in your index.tpl file (example):

<title>Welcome Page</title>
Hello, {$name|capitalize}<br>
username: {$username}<br>

The resulting output would be:


Hello, Joe Smith

username: jsmith2345

This is just a very basic example of using Smarty.  While using Smarty you can create an array (and arrays within an array and so on..), loop over an array, cycle through values, call functions, control caching and do many more things to make your Smarty objects and templates do what you need them to for your sites.  For more information, and to access the Smarty files visit http://www.smarty.net/.


Every minute of every day we are given opportunities to make choices. Some choices are easy, some are hard, some are small, some are big, some are insignificant, and some are life-changing. We make choices about when to get out of bed, what to eat for breakfast, what to do for the day. In web design and development there are lots of choices to be made everyday too!

For example, designers might choose what color scheme, fonts, images to use on a site. Developers might choose what programming languages work best for them, how to approach the functionality requirements of a site, what queries to write, which shopping cart to use for the latest ecommerce site project, etc. Designers and developers aren’t the only ones making choices though! In the beginning, the client is making the choice about what they want out of their website and which person or company they want to hire to build that site for them. They may decide to approach one person/company or a few to compare – then they make other choices based on those decisions. Once a site is completed and live, users access those sites by entering search terms and choosing which website(s) are the best fit for what they’re looking for. Users also make choices about whether or not to stay on a site they visit or move on to another.

All these choices are important ones to consider when you are designing and developing a website. You need to think about what choices a client might make before they approach you, so you’ll know how to market your services and ‘sell’ the client on your experience and talents. Then you need to ask the right questions, so you can get a feel for what the client is looking for when making their choice for a designer/developer. Whether you’re a designer, developer or both – you’ll need to at least be familiar with the choices that are made for both aspects of a website project so that you can see the ‘big picture’ and understand your role in that project. You also need to familiarize yourself with research and statistics on how users make choices about what website(s) to open and how functionality and design have a direct affect on the time a user spends on a website.

“Let the views of others educate and inform you, but let your decisions be a product of your own conclusions.” (Jim Rohn)

For more information on the importance of choices in web design read the article: Design Choices Can Cripple a Website by Nick Usborne at A List Apart

“In a Perfect World…”

I had the privilege of job shadowing at ONEsite for a day this week – what a great experience!  This was the first time I had the opportunity to observe the workflow that goes on behind the scenes with web design and development  (and the first time I’ve ever seen the ‘stand-up’ desk!.)  One of the phrases I heard repeated throughout the day was “In a perfect world..” because in the world of web design and development you have browser-compatibility issues, constantly changing technology and new challenges with every project.  In a perfect world, everything would work right the first time, you could design without limitations and ‘bugs’ and ‘glitches’ wouldn’t exist.  Instead you have an evolving world where you commit to a lifetime of learning and perfecting your craft – but that’s what keeps things interesting! – and at the end of the day (or 3-month project…) you can sit back and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

I started out the day with Derrick, one of their developers and he walked me through some of the PHP, SQL and JavaScript he was using as he worked on creating an elastic search function for a website and pulling content into the site from a database.  This particular site was for a video game company and will be available in multiple languages.  He explained how they designed the site, knowing that the content would have to be available in multiple languages and the content would change based on what gaming console choice the end-user selected.  The results of just these features alone, meant that each product had upwards of 9 or more different content sets just for the product info pages.  He also showed me where employees are assigned ‘tickets’ for bugs or other issues that need to be addressed on client sites.  While I was observing, he fixed a bug in a site that has a reward points feature.  Users are rewarded points that they can redeem for prizes – the problem was that the coding behind the feature would allow them to select a prize and the feature would ask for all the shipping information before actually letting the user know if they had enough points for the prize.  He changed the coding to correct the order of those functions and then submitted it for approval, after which point, it would be reviewed, tested and then added to the live site.

Next I met with James, a designer at ONEsite.  He showed me around the ONEsite control panel and the drag and drop feature that allows the designers to quickly add modules to a page with custom html content or Smarty-templates and Wonders.  He was working on creating a web page based on a mockup from the client in .jpeg format.  He showed me how he sliced images from the mockup in Photoshop and added them to the page.  They used original artwork with the typography included for links to pages on the website.  He demonstrated how they could drag and drop sections into a web page they were designing and then choose from an extensive list of template options or add custom html content to the section.  We talked a little about HTML5 and CSS3 and I asked if they used web fonts on many of their sites.  He said they normally didn’t because of the processing time and multiple server requests required to implement those font kits on a website.

Afterwards, I met with Whitney, a project manager who was trouble-shooting, trying to determine why a particular section of a web page wasn’t showing up.  She referred to this section/feature as a “Wonder” – I had never heard of a Wonder before and tried researching to figure out exactly what it was, but could only find references to it on the ONEsite website.  From what I observed, and read on the website it’s a custom module created by ONEsite that provides an interface for clients to go in and update content (i.e. text, pictures, etc.) on their own after the site is live.  After trying different options on this particular project and getting nowhere, the creative director sent an IM over with a suggestion and she added it to the code and it worked!  Once the Wonder appeared on the page, I watched her work through the styling of it.  It required more custom Photoshop work to create an original background gradient with decorative lines and a separate image for the hover state of tab links that looked like an arrow pointing to a slideshow feature that was also included within the same Wonder.  This feature was included on the website to resemble a similar flash feature the client had seen on another site, but without requiring the use of flash.

It was really interesting to see what a typical day for an actual designer or developer is like.  Everyone was very welcoming and took the time to explain what they were doing.  It was a great experience and I gained a better understanding of how I’ll be using my skills after I’m done with the program.  Thank you to everyone at ONEsite for this great opportunity!


“Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well” ~John W. Gardner

Every day we have opportunities to strive for excellence.  Whether it be at home, at work, at school etc.  Before you begin a task, you’re faced with a choice.. Do I do this to the best of my ability, or do I do just what I need to get it done?  This is a choice I face with each new project or assignment I’m given in the Web Developer program.  I know that I can just rush through an assignment and get it done faster, but I’m not going to school just to get a certification – I’m here to learn!  I know that if I take the time to really give something my best effort I will not only produce work with a higher quality, but the benefit of experience from the extra time and effort will help me absorb the information I’m learning and be able to draw from it as needed in the future.

You have to commit to a lifetime of learning in web development and that can be very difficult if excellence isn’t a priority for you.  It’s not just about exhibiting excellence in the presence of your peers, it’s about knowing that you put forth your best efforts and can be proud of your accomplishments.

Workplace Ethics

There are too many people who think that the only thing that’s right is to get by, and the only thing that’s wrong is to get caught. ~J.C. Watts

It has been said that having ethics is doing the right or moral thing when no one is looking.

So what does that mean?

  • It means that you do your job to the best of your ability every day.
  • It means not using your cell phone or playing on the internet when nobody’s around.
  • It means going outside your job description to help someone or do something that benefits the company.
  • It means always being professional.

Every employer strives to determine whether or not a potential employee has a good work ethic. This is crucial for companies who invest time and money into hiring and training new employees.  Employees with a bad work ethic can easily ruin a company and it’s reputation.

Over the years I’ve noticed different businesses that are notorious for employees that are rude and never helpful.  I have also noticed businesses that have happy, helpful employees that go ‘above and beyond.’  (Which one do you think you would patronize?)   There are many occasions where an employer hired someone who they believed was a good candidate, only to find out from complaining customers that they were wrong.  However, I think some of the responsibility falls on the employer as well. In an age where companies expect employees to perform more and more duties without an increase in pay and instances of loyal employees spending their entire careers dedicated to one company, only to suddenly find themselves without a job, has led to a decline in the morale of many employees.  With a little research, you will discover there is a new trend emerging among companies that recognize that happy employees = productive employees!
Here is an interesting article on the effect of employee morale on production: Happy Staff

Having a good work ethic makes you a valuable resource to your employer and can open the door to great opportunities in the future.

For more information on how to improve your own work ethics, check out this article: How to Improve Your Work Ethic in 3 Easy Steps