The Happs

New Cogneato people

For a small company like Cogneato, it’s always exciting to bring in new people. New personality, new ideas, new experience, new opportunities. We hadn’t brought on any new people for probably two years, and had even lost a few from our maximum. And most importantly for me, we have only brought in two new developers in my entire tenure, only one of whom remains.

With increasing business and one of our “contenters” (who do client communication, work on content, light development, etc) leaving near the end of the year, we decided to bring on not one but two more people. One of them is a contenter (who has already started) to replace the one leaving, but one is a developer. We just signed her on last week and she will be starting by the beginning of December. She doesn’t have a lot of web experience, at least on paper, but has a masters degree with a focus on programming. It will be nice to have some help and to have another person to discuss development things with. I’m excited.

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The Happs

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted a Happs or any blog post. I think a lot of the things I want to post about, I want to post a dedicated post, but that doesn’t always end up happening.

Conferences

The weekend before last, I went to two conferences. I took notes, which I plan to post once I get them digitized and cleaned up. I enjoyed the conferences even though having both in one weekend, with one in Pittsburgh, was a bit tiring. I went to Rustbelt Refresh and Pittsburgh Tech Fest.

Rustbelt Refresh

I had gone to this last year (the initial year) as well. I was pleased with the talks again. It’s a single track, single day event on general front end development and design. It brings in some of the “celebrities” of the industry. This year included Karen McGrane and Jeremy Keith, for instance, and last year had Eric Meyer (our local web “celebrity”) and Jonathon Snook. It is definitely nice to be able to hear talks by some of the people driving the thoughts in the industry. I had a good time, the talks were good, and I learned some things or shored up some ideas I already had.
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The Happs

These happs blogs don’t always allow me to go into as much depth as I would like, but they are definitely a lot easier to write. I have been writing much more frequently now that I’ve started them. “Remember, a writer writes, always.”

WordPress Starter Theme

After much time and effort, I’ve finally released my WordPress base theme, TJMBase. It is the very bare parent theme for what my website has been running on for several months now. These days, I don’t use WordPress for very much, but I have done several projects with it, especially earlier in my web development life, and to some extent still like it.

Years ago, I had made a theme starter that was basically bare of any styles and extra fluff, the kind of thing you might want to start with if you wanted a good starting point for doing a theme basically from scratch. I never released it (didn’t release anything open source at that point), though I did use it for some projects and let at least one interested party use it. I had stopped doing much with WordPress once I got my current job, but I did want my theme starter to be useful to the community. WordPress 3 came out and brought some important changes that made my old theme behind the times, missing some important features.
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Using Symfony alongside an existing system

At Cogneato we’ve had a CMS that has been built up over more than a decade. We started working on a completely new system a while back to have a new and more powerful interface, add new features, and get rid of a lot of the cruft that the old system had from being developed over such a long period by many developers with different styles. We decided to use Doctrine as an ORM and Symfony as a framework for our back end.

We have maybe 200 sites running on various versions of our old system though, and we need to be able to add the new system’s features without having to completely redo them. We needed a way to be able to leave all the current stuff in place and pull in the Symfony stuff to the existing files with a simple include.
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Workings of Late: Symfony, Less, Responsive Design, Etc

As I’ve mentioned, at Cogneato we’ve been building a new version of our CMS using Symfony on the server side. I’ve spent a LOT of time with Symfony now. I like it and will be using it for some other projects outside of work as well. We’ve been working on some eCommerce type sites that will hopefully be launched in the coming months, while building the system that all of our sites will eventually run on.

Though I like it, there have been many challenges to deal with, especially with making Symfony work with our old system. We have way too many existing sites with more than enough custom programming to convert them completely to a new system, so we’re setting it up so that both can be run side by side on old sites, while new sites will eventually only need the new system. But it has been a lot of effort to get the two working together properly. Symfony is inflexible in some ways, and not well documented in some areas. I intend to, in the coming months, write about my solutions for the various issues we’ve dealt with.
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Cogneato: Lost a Developer

At my place of work, Cogneato, we recently lost one of our developers. It’s kinda sad because I talked to him the most out of the people there. I was also feeling somewhat comfortable with the number of people there. Sometimes I had to look for things to do, but now there will probably be more than enough for me. I will be taking over parts of what he did, so I will be doing more back-end type development. My job at RPM was much more in the back-end area, so it shouldn’t be much trouble. I will get to work on and learn about our CMS, which will give me much more knowledge about building them. I’ve been trying to build my own for a long while now, and this will give me a lot more capability to do so. They have been upgrading the CMS to use Qooxdoo, a framework for web applications, so I will be learning that as well. I’ll probably post some of what I learn with that here. Hopefully it won’t be too hard for me to jump into this upgrade in the middle of it. With this change, I will also be getting more of various tasks such as development type fixes and solutions for sites, upgrading the CMS for older sites, and dealing with server issues. And possibly I’ll move away from doing SEO and some other more front-end tasks. I’ll probably continue doing layouts, most likely handing them off to others earlier though, dealing less with the content and specifics.

Hopefully this change will work out for the better. And hopefully our lost developer will do alright wherever he ends up.

David Hawkins: JQuery Image Reflections

The design of the gallery portion of the David Hawkins site I’m working on at Cogneato called for a reflection of the current image below that image. This could have been done by making reflections for each image in an image editor and then adding them to a separate field in the CMS. That would have been a pain and would require (most likely) us to be involved for each image added.

Luckily, since this site was already going to be using jQuery, I was able to find a jQuery plugin that handles the reflections automatically on page load. People without javascript just won’t get reflections. It works in modern browsers and IE 6-8. It is less than 2kB, which would be much smaller than even a single separate reflection image, though the now-more-bloated 72kB jQuery might ruin size benefits if we weren’t using it already. And as far as adding images to the site, the reflection is added automatically, well worth it.

Because of the design of the site, I had to modify the script somewhat to make it work properly. One issue was that I had a border around my images. Continue reading David Hawkins: JQuery Image Reflections

Cogneato: Three Months

I’ve now been at Cogneato for a little over three months. It is definitely long term now. I am still liking it, especially since I’ve been branching out into other areas even more. I’ve been doing more programming in PHP and Javascript to set sites up and add functionality, and have even gotten to work a little with SQL again.

For example, on one site, called Pink Rave, I had to add blog functionality, which isn’t quite built right in like with WordPress. For the standard “archive” box, I had to make a bit to spin through all posts and chunk them based on date, then output the represented dates in the box. For the search functionality, Cogneato’s CMS has nothing built in, so I had to do custom queries. They are using the BLOB data type, so I couldn’t use the FULLTEXT searching, instead having to build concatenated LIKE statements. Luckily, the CMS can easily put the results of custom queries into its result objects, so it is easy to then work with them like I otherwise would. In fact, for this blog, I handle all multiple item listings with the same output script that just fills the object array with different data depending on the type of page.
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Cogneato: SEO

In addition to my front-end development at Cogneato, I’ve begun doing site SEO.  I’ve always done the very basic SEO that comes from clean HTML structure with descriptive content and basic accessibility considerations as well as simple but descriptive URL structures.  However, for Cogneato, we are going much deeper than that.  It’s a good opportunity to learn more of this SEO stuff, but so far I haven’t liked it that much.  I’d much rather be cutting up layouts or programming or working with data.  The SEO can be very boring.  For instance, setting up and monitoring rankings for a big list of keywords can be boring and tedious:  Perhaps it will be more interesting when I’ve gotten to look at trends and use that information to modify things.  There’s also stuff I don’t like about it in principle.  Throwing keywords into title tags, headings, and alt text can potentially go against usability and accessibility (the blind love keywords repeated over and over).  We aren’t nearly doing the blackhat type stuffing with bunches of keywords stuffed everywhere, mostly just one per area, but I still don’t like it or having to figure out creative ways to make it work and make sense.  Also figuring out ways to put in different phrasings of the same basic keywords isn’t fun, and can potentially make a site look less professional in my opinion.  I’d much prefer all this happening in the copy, as there as a lot more room to work it in without it being so glaringly noticeable.  And I don’t like moving away from semantic structure for search engines.  I did a FAQ with li’s, h2’s, and div’s rather than dt’s and dd’s.  I’m not sure what the “best practice” is for that, but the dl seemed more appropriate to me than the ul.

Still, I think I’ve learned a good starting bit about optimizing for search engines and will continue to learn more, which will be very useful for my own sites, even if I don’t go all out with them.  I’ve been doing some research and watching some Lynda courses on the subject, which has helped a lot with learning some best practices.