Collecting the Internet So You Don't Have To

We work on the Internet. As such, we are constantly consuming information. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. Sometimes we even forget things unless we write them down. Our blog covers everything from web standards to the muppets, php to comic books, music and everything else that we find interesting. Leave us a note when you drop by.

Beware of the Leopard

General
Dwayne Kristjanson
Dwayne Kristjanson Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:154
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Dwayne Kristjanson Indifference Engine

As you may be vaguely aware, the CRTC has ruled that it's A-OK for Bell to charge overage fees to not only it's users, but also to resellers who make use of Bell's network to connect their customers. They did back off a little bit, and mandated a 15% discount for the little guys. Not for you, of course, but for those DSL resellers. That's possibly just enough to keep the competitions' noses above water, not that it matters to the end users. Canada already had the worst deals for internet and cellular connectivity in the (first) world. Now things are even worse. Yay.

However, since this has been portrayed in the media as a Bell Canada thing, you may not be aware that this affects everyone. They didn't really go to great lengths to make anyone aware of this. I just double-checked with my ISP (Shaw) and, yes, they will be charging for overuse. I was told $2.00 per GB over 100GB for my plan (Extreme), but online the number is $1.00 per GB. Not sure who to trust here (and in any case, according to some the actual cost to Shaw would be less than an penny per GB). According to customer service, in February and March I can expect a notice on how much I went over on my bill, and then in April they'll start charging. This is likely to be as much fun as per-minute phone charges. i.e. Full of inexplicable overages and sudden unexpected increases in your monthly bill. But even better, someone driving by your house can probably use your internet connection to download, well, whatever they want.

In any case, my monthly internet bills are set to double or quadruple, depending on whether or not I need to go up one level or two to match my current level of use. Unfortunately, I don't really know what that is. Apparently this month I used 107GB, but this month I used more than normal. But I'm not sure how much more. I'd be less annoyed with this if I hadn't tried this summer to get Shaw to activate the bandwidth usage logs associated with my account so I could see how much I was actually downloading. At the time I just wanted a rough idea of how much data I used so I would know for certain that I couldn't afford to get all my data by tethering over my phone. Since I already knew the answer to that question, I gave up after calling them every week or two for three months straight. Every time they said it was set up now, and every time they were wrong. If they'd actually set that up for me, I'd already know what to do. (I'm similarly annoyed with Rogers for my phone's data plan. The first two months were unlimited, but they wouldn't show me what I actually used so I'm going into month three blind.)

So, I'm not especially confident that what I was told today by Shaw is true. But I should hopefully have a few months to hack into my neighbours' wifi figure out what my usage actually is. If you, like me, are a Shaw customer, set up an account at my.shaw.ca and check that your bandwidth usage actually starts showing up. They'll be charging you for what you use, so they'd better keep you informed. I was told the website would be relaunched (it was) and that I could find my bandwidth usage there (I haven't been able to find that yet). If you don't use Shaw, find out where to go to get a detailed account of your bandwidth usage. Get to know how much data you actually use, keep a close eye on it, and lock down your wifi.

Update: Just spoke with Shaw technical support again, apparently they don't show your overage until you have gone over 2 months in a row. And, if I understand customer support correctly, they will stop showing this information if you go a month without going over. This is, to me, completely unacceptable. So I'll be harassing Shaw until I get that information.

Update 2: Finally got access to my bandwidth usage from Shaw's website. (Although my.shaw.ca is still down, secure.shaw.ca works somewhat.) For some reason they've hidden this link behind a popup combined with a meta-refresh. So if you block popups (and everyone should, they suck) you can't see your usage. The real link is https://secure.shaw.ca/customer_care/internet_usage/monthlyGB.asp. I'll be having words with them about the inanity of this. And for some reason I can only see usage for part of November, part of December and January. That better improve too. (And, no, we haven't won even if the government reverses the UBB decision. Not unless you were a customer of one of the DSL resellers directly affected. My bill is going up just due to a cash grab timed to look like it was related to this ruling.)

Can I Replace Mail.app With Postbox 2?

Business
Wil Alambre
Wil Alambre Senior Programmer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:152
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Wil Alambre Whiteboard Ninja

Just over a week ago, I decided to switch mail programs from Apple's provided Mail.app to something a little different. I had been frustrated by a few things in Mail.app, just bored by others, and a little change could be healthy. So out of a list of several excellent options, I downloaded the thirty day trial of Postbox 2.

Introduction to Postbox 2

On the surface, Postbox 2 does not deviate too far from Mail.app, or from most applications designed for the Mac. The same sidebar with mail accounts and mail folders. The same list of action buttons along the top. The same list of headers above and message pane below. You won't find a unique interface change as you would with Sparrow, which makes the switch over a little easier.

Moving over was a snap. Postbox 2 easily pulled over my account information. Within minutes, I had Postbox 2 set up just like Mail.app was... and that's when I started to realize just how badly I had set up my Mail.app to begin with. To make a long fumbling story short, I had setup up my imap accounts in such a way that I was downloading and copying all the messages two or three times. No wonder my Mail.app was cumbersome to use sometimes! Even if I switch back to Apple's email program, this whole experience was worth it just in shedding light on how I should be configuring these things. But I digress...

Classic Pane Layout

I picked Postbox 2 over several other mail applications for a few reasons, a couple of which I immediately started to use and enjoy. First was the vertical pane view, which places the header list and the message pane side by side. This is similar to downloading and running the WideMail plugin for Mail.app. If you have to sort through a lot of messages while also having messages open, this gives that header list a lot more room.

Another great feature is the threaded message view. Though Mail.app does support threading messages in the header list, Postbox 2 will also show that entire thread in the message pane, similar to how Gmail threads a conversation.

Postbox, Message Threads

You also have the option to send a quick reply from anywhere within the thread. Doing so opens a simple text area right in the message pane within the thread where you can bang out a quick message and shoot it out. If you ever felt it was overkill to open an entire new message window, complete with multiple header fields and attaching signatures, just to send a quick "Message received, thanks!", this little feature was designed for you!

Postbox, Quick Replies

As I described above, I had done a terrible job of configuring my Mail.app, specifically when it came to filters, preferences, and moving or copying messages to other folders. When I switched to Postbox 2, this was a great opportunity to toss all those settings and start fresh. Though I set up a few folders, I ended up using the focus pane. This works like a combination of Gmail's labels and Mail.app's smart folders. Effectively, it allows a user to quickly filter a big list of message by customized labels, senders, date arrived, read or unread, and more. I rarely get more than a dozen emails a day, so the focus pane was a simpler way for me to get through my list, but I can see how power users (those that would have to get through upwards of a hundred or two hundred a day) could benefit from this if combined with sorting emails into folders.

Though there are a lot of upsides to using Postbox 2 so far, there have been a couple of trouble spots.

I adore the vertical pane layout, but once you have the folder pane, the focus pane, the header list, the message pane, and sometimes the super useful message inspector pane, you'll be struggling to fit it all on screen. Even on my Macbook Pro's 17 inch widescreen display, the panes were feeling cramped. This was doubly annoying when I had to keep resetting what columns I want to see in the headers pane. Maybe I'm missing a preference setting somewhere, but it seems no matter how many times I remove it, Postbox 2 insists on adding in the 'Location' column.

That brings me to another minor annoyance. There are a number of super useful configuration settings that, like me, you'll look for and simply won't be able to find. Stuff like getting Postbox 2 to stop adding extra dashes on your signatures. That's because there isn't a checkbox or pulldown for those settings, they are tucked away in a buried config window, behind a semi-scary "if you fiddle with this, you might break everything" confirmation button.

Configuration Warning Screen

I can understand why they did it, but it still strikes me as purposely difficult to tuck them away back there, especially since many of them are settings for the cool features new users like myself want to fiddle with to customize.

Other issues, like not entirely understanding how to properly use tabs, having Postbox 2 seemingly not able to list messages properly when selecting certain combinations of mail accounts, mail folders, and focus pane topics... ; I'm willing to chalk up to needing to read through the documentation a little better. But somehow, I always feel an application has failed a little bit if I need to read instructions to understand how to use it normally, rather than how to use its more advanced features.

Postbox, Tabbed Views

Just as I write this, Postbox 2 is available for thirty bucks on the Mac App Store. However, if you go to their official website, not only can you download the thirty day trial as I have, if you poke around a little bit you can find Postbox Express, a complete free version that unfortunately has some of the cooler features disabled or removed. If you have enough elbow room to give it a try, I recommend Postbox 2. It will not revolutionize how you handle your email, but it may make it a little more enjoyable.

HTML Email Specifications and Best Practices

Business
Ross McDowall
Ross McDowall Senior Web Developer
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:151
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Ross McDowall Fearless Dwarven Warrior

Email browsers currently do not have any hard set standards associated to the display of HTML coded email. It is important to remember this as the HTML engine of email browsers, in some cases, is approximately ten years behind that of Web browsers. This means that much of the user experience related functionality that you see on web pages is not available in an HTML email. For example rollover buttons, javascript transitions, css transitions and effects, video, and audio are not reliably available in most email browsers.

The following items should be taken into consideration when developing a design for an email template.

  • Designs for email templates should be limited to 600 pixels wide at most.
  • Graphics must be sliceable on straight vertical or horizontal lines.
  • Multiple columns are available.
  • Text will not wrap around anything.
  • Transparency does not work. Any transparency effects should be done within the graphics and rendered as finished images.
  • Fonts to be used in the template as live text must be standard fonts available on all computers.
  • Safe font choices for sans-serif generally include the following: Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Tahoma.
  • Safe font choices for serif generally include the following: Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond.
  • Viewing images in emails is a setting on each person’s individual email browser. Assume that images may not be visible in the email. It is best to have all of your copy live text.
  • Video and audio cannot be embedded reliably into email templates.
  • A permanent video or audio file can be embedded into the template ahead of time as long as the file is hosted elsewhere on the internet. Best practice is that videos are linked to their actual web site.
  • Rollovers for links and navigation are limited to CSS hovers for links. These will only work in email browsers that support the CSS standard, otherwise they will only appear as standard links.

For more information on standards in email, please take a moment to visit the Email Standards Project. Visual Lizard has implemented its own targeted email system for which we develop email templates that follow the current limited standards found in the Email Standards Project. It is our ambition within all areas of web development to promote standards. We invite our design partners to join in that effort.

VisualLizard.com Version 8 Goes Live!

Business
Julian Moffatt
Julian Moffatt CEO / Partner
Visual Lizard
work
1 (204) 957-5520 ext:1
toll-free
1 (888) 237-9559
url
http://www.visuallizard.com
Julian Moffatt Purveyor of Good Times

It has been over 3 years (maybe even 4) since we last repainted our site. With help from our friends over at Fusion, we have "stealth" launched our latest version. There is still so much to do, but this version is so much better than our last site, we couldn't wait. 

Version 8 features:

  • HTML5
  • CSS3 in the user experience layer (can you find the bits?)
  • our Catalyst CMS
  • a brand new blog engine that ties your comments to your twitter account via oAuth and NOW includes our URL shortening
  • new projects
  • a services list
  • an awe inspiring footer
  • microformats
  • secret goodies on the about us page
  • and more

Watch this blog post in the coming days for more details.