T-Mobile Internet, Part I: HotSpot

I’m writing this in the Starbucks Irondequoit in Rochester while Joyce finishes her health/drug testing for her new job. I just signed up for the T-Mobile Unlimited HotSpot and GPRS Internet for $20/month. Not a bad deal, I get all the minutes I can use and Internet for a total of $60. I’ll let you know how the GPRS works after I get my new BlueTooth phone, the Motorola V330. This Internet connection is fine, if insecure. I’ve only had a couple of minor problems:

  • I can’t seem to send mail — it appears to be prevented somehow by T-Mobile.
  • There’s a way to make the connection secure, but it only works on Windows — boo!

That’s all — I’m not unsatisfied, and as of right now I’d recommend the service for anyone who travels frequently or spends a lot of time in Starbucks.

Security on an insecure connection — some ideas

For those of you who are technical enough or interested enough to figure this out, there are ways to make a completely insecure connection safe for sensitive information. SSH, the “Secure SHell” is the most obvious one if you have access to an SSH server. For example, I solved my email problem above by SSH-ing into my computer at home in Pittsburgh. SSH even allows you to connect to your graphical user interface. If SSH is inconvenient, you can still rest easy if you can encrypt your email and chat programs. gnuPG or PGP are two asymmetric-key methods to send encrypted email.

Just make sure your computer’s individual firewall is enabled.

Anniversary!

Well, we’ve made it an entire year with very little bloodshed, Joyce and I. She’s working today, which is not her fault, but the fault of some evildoers, no doubt. Here are a couple of stories.

VirtualFlowers.com

I bought Joyce some flowers for our anniversary. I wanted them delivered at the hospital while Joyce was at work, and the website led me to believe that they could be delivered on a Sunday. I would have been willing to pay a little extra to make it happen. Instead, Joyce got a page yesterday after she got home. The flower guy wanted to know where she was so he could deliver the flowers. I ended up going out in the rain to get the flowers for her, because they had to deliver them early. When I got there, the guy said, “I hope you have a pen, you can’t get these flowers without a signature.”

I asked him why he didn’t have a pen, and his reply was nonverbal, but fairly off-putting. Anyway, we accosted some poor fellow on the street for his pen, and I got the flowers.

When I got home, I gave them to Joyce. She opened the romantic card that was included. I had expected a computer printed card with the romantic message that I had typed into the website. Instead, there was a handwritten slip of cardstock. It was signed “Thomas Michael”. Best $70 I spent all day.

Internet Explorer?

[Update: The comment about the Kanji style doesn’t apply here in WordPress… yet.]

Please, get a decent browser. It’s for your own good. If you have Firefox you can update the style of this website so it doesn’t look like crap. Go to the Style page and select the style Kanji.

Fancy graphics

I had a discussion with my mom over her website the other day. I had built a demo website for her to show how I would organize her company’s information into a sensible and easily navigated design tree. Her reaction surprised me. She was looking for shiny colors and eye candy (which weren’t there), and was fairly unresponsive to the clear design and structure that had been my point. It got me thinking: I need to make sure my clients understand that unlike music, in web design, lyrics come first.

Iterative Design

An iterative design process requires the basic website to be structurally excellent. Without that underlying fortitude, how can you iteratively improve the lesser parts of a website? I liken it to trying to add onto a house with a cracked foundation. Websites that are constantly growing and changing require a really good plan to keep scope and direction sensible to the real customer, the website’s visitors. I consider this planning to be the most important part of my work. Anyone can improve, add onto, or polish a website when it’s well-planned.

So how can I get my customers to understand that before you can build a website with fancy graphics, you have to build a website that works? Well, I guess I’ll have to do that iteratively, too. I’ll start by telling them. Of course, what kind of web designer would I be if I didn’t have something to prove? So in addition to this blog, I’m also going to try to throw in some stylistic improvements as the days go by. Stay tuned.

Design with Meaning

What’s the point? At first glance this question seems like a cliche, but it’s not asked often enough. The point of an informational website is to make a statement — not a visually artistic statement, but an argument that is, first and foremost, persuasive in its wording.

Visual design is important, but it’s not fundamental to the meaning of an informational website. That is why the modern language of the web is distributed into three parts: The meaning, the design, and the behavior.

A website that has only verbal meaning is basically complete. It’s a structure that can fulfil your viewers’ needs from any sort of device, be it web browser, cell phone, screen reader, or printer. This is where we start.

CSS dressing will make your (X)HTML salad taste good without sacrificing any of its inherent healthfulness. If one day you decide you don’t like the way your site looks, you can change it radically in a few minutes without disturbing your structure at all.

It is possible to keep them separate without sacrificing looks, and the benefits are real, but often overlooked by management. It’s a rare manager who can forego the instant gratification of an easy table-based website for a long-term view.

My company has what they call a “web style guide.” It’s intended to present a uniform view of the company across our myriad of websites, product sites, subsidiary sites, regional websites, intranets, and transactional sites. It primarily dictates layout, leaving content up to the particular site.

Prior to my arrival at the company, all the websites had been built with old-school table layouts, tons of javascript to clean up the design flaws of older browsers, and occasionally, enormously expensive content management systems. During the three years that I’ve worked there, the company has changed the web style guide three times.

Many of the older table-based sites have not caught up with the first change, after two-and-a-half years. After each change, the enormously expensive content management system had to be updated at additional expense. That took several weeks.

My sites were all updated within an hour of the release of the new web style guide.