Thursday, 21 July 2022

A New Toy - Ricoh Pentax K3 Mark III

Couldn't Resist


I'd pretty much always planned to replace my main camera at some point, but particularly if I was going to go back to Africa. I had resigned myself to waiting until the end of the year and seeing if there might be a bit of an offer around Black Friday. It was always going to be expensive, but the current camera is more than eight years old and starting to get a little bit twitchy in the buttons. It really doesn't owe me anything, having been to Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, Uganda and Zambia with me and taken almost 60,000 photos.

So, I've splurged far too much money on a new one, as the prices were heavily discounted and inflation is rampant. This is a Pentax K3 Mark III, and it's better than the old K3 in just about every field except perceived battery life. I'll need a lot of time to get used to it, but I've still got a full six months until I head off to Tanzania and I should be used to it's quirks by then.

I'm starting off slow with a few simple landscapes and lots of plants to test out the colour response, but so far, it is nothing short of fantastic. Everything is quick, intuitive and very smooth. I've got to do lots of adjustments to get the Autofocus response and the colour settings just how I like them, but that shouldn't take too long once I spend a few hours just taking photos.


Sadly for my bank account, I couldn't resist finally getting something to replace the venerable - but now long gone - Sigma 50-500mm zoom as well. That something is the Pentax 150-450mm HD D-FA F4.5-5.6ED DC AW. (That's quite a mouthful, but it describes a 150mm to 450mm zoom lens designed for full frame with fancy glass in the lenses and special coatings on the glass). It's been back-ordered, so a good job I decided to get it now rather than in the autumn.

That's by far the most money I've ever spent on a single item without wheels - twice in a row. The lens is even more expensive than the camera body and I've now got to try and get my money's worth out of the combination.

A Few Samples


I'll add a couple of photos here to give just a hint of the quality that comes right out of the camera. They are all taken with the K3 Mk III and my trusty but compact Tamron 18-200mm walk-about lens. I'm starting off slow, trying to get a feel for the colours and focussing abilities first.






Friday, 10 June 2022

Tests and Trials of Life - Paths and Choices

A Basic Philosophy

It seems to me - and it has taken me a long time to realize this - that life is just a series of trials that you have to pass in order to be happy. Everyone is different and some people cope with these trials better than others. I think I'm one of those who struggles with every one of them, but seems to get there in the end.

Life - a series of endless binary choices.

Learning by Trial and Error

As a child, you have limited scope to manage the changes in your life, as most of them are outside your control and the trials and upheavals you face are mostly only faced by going with the flow. I don't know if I had a difficult childhood or not - looking back now, I think I was happy more than I was sad which can't be too bad.

The trials were there though. Losing Dad was something I've never managed to shake off. I never really got to know him, but remember enough to miss him and think about him often - saddened by the fact that I'm now the only member of my family to remember him at all. Even though I was only four, that day is etched in my memory and fundamentally changed the course of my life forever.

Life does go on, though, and Mum meeting someone who I am now proud to call Dad - he has done the job for almost 50 years after all without complaint - lead to us leaving the Island for a time and having a new life in Salford. This came with a whole set of new trials - trying to make new friends and fit in to a place where I was the odd one out with the strange accent and parochial, country kid outlook.

I don't think I made any friends in my time there really. I was isolated, still grieving, shy, nervous and self-absorbed. I was often drifting through my own fantasy worlds and just let the real world pass me by. I was moody, aggressive and a real handful for my teachers, but they showed a level of patience and understanding that I didn't realize was there at the time. I was bullied for my isolation and lashed out at anyone who tried to help. Was there a hint of my sexuality in all of that, even at that age? Well, with hindsight, perhaps a little.

So, I faced the trials of being "Away" and made many errors in how I faced them. Only by taking these wrong turns can you hope to learn the right path. There's no Satellite Navigation for Life!

Coming Home

One of the big reasons for our return to the Isle of Man when I was eleven was for me to be able to go to a better school than was possible in Salford. But, for me, this was just another set of trials to be faced. I'd been away long enough to have been forgotten by the few friends I had made at school here years before and just had to start all over again. Once more I was the unknown new boy - maybe not as bad when the Grammar School has an intake from so many different junior schools, but there still. Now I once more had a different accent - I never lost my Manx one totally, but it has been softened by those five years away from the Island and is now fairly neutral north-west England. My vowels are shorter than I remember they once were for example.

I never really did make friends - well I don't think so anyway - I hung out with mates, but we've never kept in touch and most of them moved away. I certainly didn't have relationships -  I'm not sure I even ever had a crush on anyone at school, although it was sometimes fun to watch the struggles of others.

Still, you cope and you make mistakes, getting some trials wrong and some trials right, learning to understand the system and how to navigate better. And boy, did I make some big mistakes. I may not have been forgiven for them, but I feel I have paid for them and moved on.

The Fear Factor

I've said before that I didn't want to go to University. Sure, I could have tried hard and worked more and done so if I wanted to, but I would never have coped with the first day and deep down I knew it. It can be really difficult to explain just how powerful this anxiety about new things can be, but I'm going to try and do so here.

Just imagine I've had a phone call from a new customer - out of the blue they've been given my number by someone else and told I'm the "Computer Expert" who can solve their problem. No worries!

Well, actually, there are a whole big bowl of worries right there!

  • Where do they live?
  • Will I find the house?
  • Will I be on time?
  • Can I fix the problem?
  • And on and on...?

This list bounces around in my head from the moment the call ends until I arrive at their door, building and growing into a cacophony of fear and dread. This fear is real - not quite on the level of the lion roaring in the darkness just metres away - but gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing, adrenaline-pumping fear. The full-on panic attack is only moments away and I have had them a few times over the years.

Now, this is just another trial, one that has to be faced and overcome like any other. And, I do overcome these trials. It isn't easy, but it does get a little easier as each trial passes. It never goes away though and it clouds my life with a thin veil of permanent anxiety. The fear of change forces us onto the path of isolation and the safety of doing the same thing every day.

The Working World

I left school at 18 into a world of massive unemployment, social unrest (more in the UK than here!) and rampant inflation. I struggled for a couple of years and eventually Mum sent me to see the RSM at the army camp because they needed a boilerman urgently. It took me almost ten minutes to step over the threshold of the office block, but I knew that this was just another trial and I had to pass this one.

Five minutes later I was working at my first real job. (Thanks Brian, but I know you were desperate!) Within a few years I was in the Civil Service and learning to drive, but even then I hated the monotony of working for someone and am happier now working for myself and keeping my own timetable. I am lazy - I do the minimum to be content - even if I sometimes have to work 14-hour days to be lazy the next. So, I have that part of my life sorted - apart from the anxiety of every call-out and work visit of course!

Meeting People

This may seem obvious, but in my chosen profession, I get to meet lots of people. I get on with people - I talk too much, but I like to think I'm nice and kind and considerate so that balances out. I do like to have friends, but I also know it is hard for them to get to that position. They have to make the effort to be a friend because I just can't take that step. The few people who are my friends know who they are and I'm grateful for them all.

Meeting Someone

I'm going to be a little vague here - not because I have no memory of events, but rather because what started out as a secret relationship is still mostly a secret, even though we haven't been together for years and we are both now safely and happily out of our closets.

What do you do when a cute guy - much younger, more gregarious and confident than you - wants to hang out with you with a work related pretext. Well, I didn't know what you do, but I think I really wanted to find out.

I was told, when I came out, that it was obvious I was gay. Well, some people could see it was obvious, apparently even when I couldn't see it in my self, and some people were totally surprised by it. This guy could, I think, see this too. I knew him from work, setting up the computer for his family, so, sure we could spend a little time together if he wanted to. I'd be happy to help with his work and college stuff if I could.

Anyway, we spent some time together and then a little more time not really working - you know, watching a movie, going for a drive and a walk with me taking my camera - the social stuff I never normally did. That watching TV would be usually at my place, in my room with a massive projection TV at the foot of the bed. It's just where it was, no hidden agenda. I guess that's how it is though. You're getting on well and - with hindsight - things are a little flirty between you - nervous but flirty!

So, I could tell he was gay and clearly he could tell I was gay. Well, in that case, there's no harm in watching a romance on the TV - is there? And yes, one thing does lead to another - not necessarily right away or in a giant leap of passion, but the path is there to be taken. I was clearly attracted to him, but I'm not sure I understood that at the start - after all, I'd never really been attracted to anyone before.

I think I settled into the role of a gay person much easier than he did - although I still wanted no-one to know. I'm a bit bisexual, but much prefer men to women and prefer the label of gay now. He was young enough to not be sure and I was strangely happy to let him find out in his own way at his own pace. In some ways, he tried his best to break my heart, but for almost ten years we kept coming back to spend time with each other in a kind of comfortable never-quite-close-enough-for-me relationship.

I loved him - and I told him so - but he never really felt quite that deeply about me and we eventually just stopped communicating for about four years. I think, perhaps, that he was ready to accept himself and come out of his closet and feared that I wouldn't be able to do the same or that I would be outed by accident because of him. I hold no grudges and few regrets. This is another trial of life that must be passed or failed. I didn't fight for him because deep down I knew that I wouldn't win. Perhaps I failed this test, but I like to think that I just managed to scrape a pass. We are, I think, still friends and that is perhaps the most important indicator that I did pass this particular test.

Keeping It All Together

If there is a reason for this rambling post, it is a fairly simple one. I find the act of writing this stuff down cathartic. It makes me feel better to get it "off my chest" and out of my head. These days I do that by writing, mostly because I enjoy it, but also because I hope that perhaps one person's experiences can help another person to understand a situation better. Once, in the past, this sort of stuff would be written in a private, secret, journal or diary, but I'm too modern for that and my handwriting is bloody awful after writing thousands of vehicle logbooks before they were computerized.

When I had to see a psychiatrist - yes the depression and heartbreak can get that bad - she was perceptive enough to see that I would be best served by being told how to analyse and help myself. Of course, she listened to me and encouraged me to talk about my feelings as well, but you only get so much of their time and the anti-depressant drugs only help take the edge off. She told me to read some stuff, try some NLP (I never did), recognise your mood and take action to stem the negative thoughts.

So, that's what I do - in my own way.

That's why, when I was feeling so bad about being secretly gay, I knew the only way to fix it was to come out and stop worrying about it. I wasn't seeing anyone and I could keep it to myself, but knew I needed to say it out loud. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do - and there have been some very hard things in the last 50+ years - but I did feel instantly better for it. Thank you Enid and Michael for being there to hear it first and not judge!

When I have thoughts that won't go away, I drop them onto a keyboard and they fly out of my head and into the world where they can't harm me any more. There isn't a cure for mental illness. There is only management and control, but that can be enough to leave you happy.

Also, if you can't fix it, don't worry about it!

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Back to Africa - 2023 Tanzania Plans

Remembering Tanzania

I first went to Tanzania in 2010, flying out of a snowy Ronaldsway to an even more snowy Manchester in January. My friends, Fred and Elizabeth had been there since before Christmas with a third friend, Chris who I was yet to meet, but would be sharing with. I managed to negotiate Manchester and Amsterdam airports and eventually arrive late at night at Kilimanjaro International and meet my pick-up for the short drive to the airport guest house.

I woke early, as the sun was rising and soon found the view I had dreamt might be possible from the airport. Mt. Kilimanjaro looms above the plains to the north of the airport, with Mt. Meru off to the west as well.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, capped with snow, appears through the hazy dawn.

For the next sixteen days, we would visit some of the most iconic safari destinations in Tanzania and Africa, doing a tour of part of the northern circuit. After my first trip to Africa, I was already hooked, but this would be the trip where I would finally get to see the big game that I craved: a trip that would more than match my expectations and leave me totally addicted to the safari experience.

Black Rhino with calf, keeping their distance in Ngorongoro Crater.

A few of the million or more Wildebeest at Ndutu.

Lions devour an unfortunate Wildebeest just south of Ndutu.

My first Leopard, dozing in an acacia in the heart of the Serengeti.

I didn't know when I might get back to Tanzania, but I really enjoyed the first trip and hoped to return one day.

Thirteen Years

I never thought that it might be thirteen years before I would be able to return to Tanzania, but many trips to other countries in Africa and then a global pandemic have all marked the passage of time.

But, in a very quick decision process, we have made our plans (or rather, Fred has done sterling work and made plans) and we are returning to Tanzania at the start of February 2023. Although I would love to revisit some of the places from my last time there, we have decided to head further into the wild and concentrate on some of the southern destinations this time.

Tanzania is home to some of the largest and wildest National Parks and Reserves in the world and it's time for me to see some of them.

We'll fly with KLM once more - still my favourite - and land at Dar Es Salam very late at night on 3rd February, where Fred promises us a "modest B&B". I've had experience of Fred's modest bookings before and we'll be fine because anywhere is better than the Hotel Vanilla in Bundibugyo or the UWA Bandas in Semliki!

Tanzania with Parks and Reserves marked and our
destinations highlighted

A comfortable 300km drive to the south will take us to Mikumi Safari Lodge, for a couple of nights at one of the smaller National Parks, but with the promise of plenty of game. We'll also spend a day visiting Udzungwa National Park - mountains, forests and waterfalls with endemic primates and birds.

Next we head another 280km to the south-west and then spend time in and around Ruaha National Park, the largest in Tanzania at more than 20,000km². We'll start at Ruaha Hilltop Lodge which promises spectacular views over the plains and plenty to see and do. We'll then head to Tandala Tented Camp and probably just sit on our veranda and watch the comings and goings at the waterhole below. There's the tantalizing possibility of Painted Wolves (Wild Dogs) there in the back of my mind.

Finally in the Ruaha area, we'll spend a few days in the park at Mdonya Old River Lodge, right in the heart of the park for epic game drives in a true wilderness.

Finally, we fly from Ruaha to what is, for me at least, potentially the highlight of the trip. We're heading to Lake Manze in Nyerere National Park - the new park formed from the northern part of the Selous Game Reserve. The park is newly formed, but the Selous reserve (all 54,000km² of it - if it was a country, it would be somewhere between Croatia and Costa Rica, about two-and-a-half times the size of Wales). The Selous forms one of the last great wildernesses in Africa. I'm looking forward to the game drives and the possibility of a boat trip on the lakes and rivers looking for birds.

As you may be able to tell, I'm pretty excited to be returning to the Dark Continent once more and getting the camera back into action.

Saturday, 28 May 2022

First Release of Facebook Advert Builder

Ready To Try Out

I've managed to pull enough of the software stack together to release the first version of my Facebook (or other Social Media) Advert Builder. It's available to download from my business website at www.davidkinrade.com and is free for anyone to download and use.

It has been designed to be as simple as possible, with drag-and-drop for any images (with buttons if you prefer) and sliders to position anything on the screen. Basically, you create a series of styles for your layouts that are consistent with your business style. These styles have a couple of foreground objects that will overlay your product or promo image. You can create different style shapes for square, portrait and landscape orientations.

Once you have some styles defined (and you may need a bit of help with the creation of suitable PNG files for this), you can then start to create new adverts. Add your product image and then type any text that you need. You can also add an unlimited number of splash objects - little graphical highlights like the star below. These can be positioned and sized to fit with your photo and layout.

I've added range of basic photo effects for you to try - just a bit of blurring, greyscale conversion and pixelization. You can also specify an overlay colour and play with the transparency to create sepia-tone and similar effects. Mix and match to see what you can come up with.

Finally, there are potions for creating a final output. You can make a PDF, JPG or PNG file and then upload to Facebook our any other platform that you might use.

This is the main screen while editing an image-based advert

This is adding and positioning a splash image to the main advert layout

This is the Style editor, where the basic style layouts are created.

Unfortunately, the manual for the program isn't finished yet - the link will open an empty PDF file. I'm starting to work on it, but don't want to go too far until I have finalized any layout changes I may want to make and fixed a few more minor bugs.

Stay Tuned!

Thursday, 19 May 2022

Summer Mornings and Productivity

Summer Mornings

I've always tended to need only about six hours of sleep and I'm a fairly broken sleeper - I wake many times in the night and turn over. I do sometimes feel the benefit of getting a good eight hours, but can quite happily get by with less.

This pattern is exacerbated in the summer months. As the days get longer and the light evenings and - particularly - mornings draw out, I find I can't sleep as long as I can in the darker months of winter. If I wake at 5am, like I did this morning, then I struggle to go back to sleep and find myself getting up and wishing to use the time productively.

Often, this finds me sitting at my desk and working on whatever coding project I'm currently thinking about - or watching YouTube!

Productivity

This month's project is to try and make a Facebook Advert Generator, following a suggestion from Richard at DW Cars. It's surprising just how much benefit can be gained from a consistent approach to any online advertising - identity and consistency are vitally important here. You need to engage your audience and then become recognisable with each new view.

What I'm trying to do with this simple app is to help with that consistency by providing a template-based framework within which adverts that are as similar as possible in look and feel can be created very quickly with minimal input or effort.

I find that, working for a couple of hours - maybe between 6 and 8 in the morning - I can get a lot of work done in that short and otherwise wasted period between sleep and going out to work. These days I'm not the sort of coder who can spend ten hours of concentrated effort on a task, so a couple of hours at the most now seems to suit me well.

I'm not going to charge for this once it is done. I'll revisit it when it is complete and include a download link to the app and the manual when it's production ready. That will be a few days away at least - I still have to implement the splash objects and photo effect options yet and then decide how to handle PDF output for exporting to other media.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

Heartstopper Reflections

The Passage of Time

When I left school at 18, I didn't want (and couldn't afford) to go to university and honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. I spent two years on the dole - along with thousands of others during the Thatcher era and was glad to get a job working for the MOD right here in Jurby. It meant I could walk to work - which was great as I didn't want to learn to drive at the time - that soon changed and I enjoy driving now very much.

I never settled in any job really, and I'm delighted that I now work for myself and can write my own agenda. I like the freedom to decide to do nothing - I know I don't take advantage of it - but the freedom to do so is still there. I like the freedom to just say YES when Fred and Elizabeth say "Are you coming to Africa for a month?" And, yes, that means I must make a positive response to the email I just received­čśÄ

I think I love that my work is so varied. I'm just the IT guy! Well, not really. Taking time last year to build a gunroom for someone made a refreshing change and reminded me that I'd helped my friends building an extension and a workshop - as well as a massive stone garden wall - when I was much younger and fitter than I am now. I now spend my time doing the usual PC repairs and support, but also many hours each week doing CAD, 3-D printing and CNC machining - something for which I have no qualifications whatsoever - just like everything else I do!

It's all computer-controlled these days and one drawing program is much like another and the ability to program apparently can be easily extended to cover everything from computers to micro-controllers and even CNC machines. I never was any good a languages at school, but then we didn't really do C, Python, HTML, JavaScript or CSS. They are all both easier and harder than French or German!

The Passage of Life

I come from a time not just of economic hardship, but one so different from now in so many different ways. I'm naturally shy and anxious by nature. I'm quick to blame myself and equally quick to bounce back - most of the time anyway. If I was pretending to be an analyst, I'm a bit of a manic depressive with fairly severe agoraphobia and a tendency to repress my feelings. I'm actually not too bad with the open spaces bit, it's the crowds, public spaces, new places and new situations that have all been known to bring on a full-scale panic attack. You learn to cope, you train yourself to get better at it and you get by!

I think it makes me tend towards a low profile. I'm not putting myself out there - I'm the one sitting at home behind the keyboard after all - and I don't want to rock the boat or even raise by head above the gunwales.

Slow to Change

So, another week later and Heartstopper is still in my thoughts. Like many people of my age, apparently, I have enjoyed such an uplifting and thought provoking show. Many of the thoughts and feelings, however, have been - to say the least - mixed. I can see so much of myself in the amalgamation of Nick and Charlie that it truly can be painful to watch at times. Such fine acting from the two young leads really makes it feel so real, but raw too.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I came of age in a time very different from today. Public perception and even the laws governing our behaviour were very different than they are now and that is one of the most profoundly uplifting things about being Manx. It may have taken far too long, but the Isle of Man appears to have embraced equality and diversity pretty well - and certainly much better than many other places.

Because I've always kept to myself, finding any sort of romantic connection was always going to be difficult. I'm not going to do the pubs and clubs thing and I'm probably not going to start a conversation even if I am in a social situation!

I didn't kiss someone romantically until I was 38 years old - and yes, that's more than 20 years later than it should have been. That that person was a man didn't come as a complete surprise to me, but I knew right away that it was me being myself at last. It took me more than ten more years to come to terms with it and be able to admit it to other people, but better late than never. So I find I can relate to Nick's confusion and Charlie's anxiety pretty much in equal measure and it is probably that, above all, that makes a show like this resonate so deeply.

Do I regret that my journey has been such a slow one? Well, possibly. I do accept however that it has been the only journey I could have made and the pace of change is my own. I've been out for a few years now and the response from friends and customers has been the expected mix of surprise, affirmation and overall acceptance. I should have done it years ago - except I simply couldn't!

So, why the change of Facebook profile picture to include a rainbow flag? Well, why not? I guess I just need to affirm who I am to myself and there isn't any need for an explanation but you get one for free anyway. I've never felt the need to be a part of the Pride movement - I just get on with my life, but I'm comfortable and happy to say that I'm Gay and there's certainly no shame in that.

If you haven't seen it already, try and watch Heartstopper - romance is romance whatever the orientation of the couple and you'll thank me for it later!



Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Television: A reflection on lost Time

Binge-Watching - A 21st Century Phenomena

I'm too much of a YouTube addict to watch much TV anymore. TV with the family every evening used to be a ritual that the computer has broken for me. We do still watch some stuff, but mostly our few regular documentaries and my brother and I enjoy a bit of Sci-Fi (Dad doesn't!). We have Amazon Prime and I'm happy to download anything else if I see something of interest.

I've also never understood the need to binge-watch anything until recently. I know it's not a new thing, but I have always preferred to take my time and draw out the pleasure episode by episode. I first changed my mind about that when the "Wheel of Time" finally came out on Amazon over the Christmas break, watching the whole first season in just three days and finding I enjoyed it immensely because I kept in the flow of the story.

There are many detractors - mostly die-hard fans of the original books who will never accept a bit of a change to their beloved story - but I really enjoyed this first series and look forward to the second and beyond.

Profoundly Thought-Provoking

In the last two weeks, however, I found myself watching a complete series binge-style, and then having to watch it again just a few days later. When you watch four hours of TV, twice, download the soundtrack playlist and watch all the YouTube interviews of the cast and crew, then I guess that borders on obsession, but sometimes - very rarely - a show comes along that is so profoundly perfect and thought provoking in so many ways that it just resonates.

Ok, I found out about it by chance, just because Joe Locke is from the Isle of Man and it made the local news websites that I do kind of keep up-to-date with. It isn't something that would otherwise have been on my radar, as I'm not really the target audience - forty years too old! So, on a quiet weekend with no work - for a change - I decided to watch Heartstopper.

I don't want to gloss over the reviews and reception of the show - it has almost universal positive reviews and audience reaction has been perhaps the best Netflix have ever had for a show. I know many will feel that that's not saying much!

Heartstopper is absolutely the best TV show I've ever watched. Everyone - regardless of age or orientation should watch it and have their hearts warmed - and maybe stopped a few times too.

It really is so refreshing to have a light-hearted drama that is so totally warm and approachable for a change. The angst is minimal and the feel-good factor of a happy ending is just wonderful.

And, getting to the point at last, it really does make one think. What would my world and my life have been like if things were like they are now forty years ago when I was a Teen. I come from a different time - a time that now seems so different that it must be another world. A time without acceptance, without inclusion and for many, a time without hope. A time when you wouldn't even dare think that you might be LGBTQ+, let alone talk to someone about it.

Our western world is almost there. We have a dream of inclusion and an end to discrimination that is, very nearly for most people, a reality. Of course, there will always be people who simply cannot accept that others may be different, but that will always be the case anywhere.

Sadly, some of my favourite places in the world are almost polar opposites, countries where tribalism, evangelical religions (many of them) and sexuality all come into constant conflict that borders on the truly dangerous. It doesn't mean you don't feel welcome, just that you keep looking over your shoulder!

In the far-flung corners of the world, time moves more slowly than it seems to move at home. But, times do change and perhaps shows like this can help some places to move in the right direction.

What Could Have Been?

So, would my life have been different? Probably not much when all is said and done. I'd still be as shy and anxious either way, so I'd probably still be doing what I'm doing right now, sitting in front of a screen and dreaming of what could have been - if only things had been different.

If I've learned anything in the forty years since I was fifteen, it is that you just need to get on with life and take it as it comes. If you can't fix it, don't stress about it! Change takes TIME and Tempus Fugit!



#heartstoppertv

Saturday, 26 February 2022

Another New Website - DWCars.info

Here's another new website - this time a major update for the most popular site in the portfolio that I manage, with more than a million hits to the previous iterations of the site. Like many others at the moment, Richard at DW Cars felt that their website needed a better reach and a more mobile-friendly nature. Once again, I turned to a pre-built template as the basis for the site and then heavily modified it within the framework provided to achieve our aims.

Compared to the site constructed for Hearth, this is a much more involved and complicated undertaking, just the list of software required is a testament to that, as is the amount of time involved in the creation and testing of the combined systems necessary.

Graphics and Video: Serif Drawplus X8, Adobe Photoshop CC, Paint.NET, Adobe Premiere Pro.

Web Code: Microsoft Expression Web, Atom, Windows Notepad.

Web Tools: FileZilla, Opera Browser.

Development: Anywhere Software's B4J, Java 14, InnoSetup Compiler, DB Browser (SQlite), JavaFX SceneBuilder by Gluon.

So, the big difference here is the database application that now sits on Richard's PC and manages the content and updates of the site. All the stock is entered into the database and then the software can build all the pages quickly and cleanly. This ensures that they remain consistent and error free. As an added bonus, the same software can create a datasheet for each vehicle and make that available as a PDF file that can be emailed to a customer or printed out as a handout.

I've always been a fan of offline website management - believe-it-or-not, the coding is simpler than trying to do the same thing online and I find that any changes are quicker and easier to implement and deploy.

I use a RAD environment called B4J. It uses a BASIC language dialect and form layout files to create an application that is ultimately compiled to the JAVA language, but the code is simpler to understand and quicker to implement. This JAVA application is then packaged as a windows program and deployed to the client's computer.

The program provides a front-end to a SQLite database that provides speed and resiliency for the data and allows a single file to store the entire website - something that makes backups a breeze. Adding a new vehicle becomes a simple case of ticking a few boxes and dragging some photos into a window.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Back to Websites

After a long period of inactivity on the website design and publishing front, I'm finally back in the production saddle, with a couple of projects being worked on at the moment.

I'm delighted to be helping www.hearth.co.com to bring their new website together. Based on a very simple and clean-looking template, the site is initially a single page that is device responsive and elegant.

Hearth Website

I'm loving working with pre-made bootstrap templates more and more as I slowly get used to the CSS that the main part of the platform uses. As always, the more you do, the easier it becomes. Using a pre-made template as a starting point dramatically reduces the time-to-complete on a project like this. In this case we took considerably less than 20 hours for the whole page, including all the graphics, text and quite a bit of troubleshooting on the hosting side.

It always surprises me when I add up just how much software goes into the creation of even something as relatively simple as this: Photoshop, DrawPlus X8, Paint.NET, Notepad, Expression Web, Atom, Opera and FileZilla all have their part to play in the construction of assets and editing of code.

I use DrawPlus X8 to create graphical assets - buttons, logos, etc. It is a bit long in the tooth now, but I'm very familiar with it and well aware of the limitations. I do have Serif's Affinity suite, but just can't quite be as productive in the newer tools yet.

Photo editing and retouching is split between Adobe Photoshop and Paint.NET. I could probably do almost all of it in the latter package - which is free - but Photoshop has the power to do some really amazing stuff very quickly.

Like some of the other software I prefer, Expression Web is a competent editor, but now very out of date and unsupported. I'm slowly switching over to Atom - a very modern, open-source code editor with some really great features. I still need to have something like notepad handy as well, for quick edits and temporary space.

Finally, My browser of choice is Opera - they are almost all Chromium-based at this point anyway. It has a nice developer console that helps with debugging javascript and css codes. Upload to the final webspace is with FileZilla, a great free FTP client that I've used for many years now.

Don't get me wrong, websites can and do sometimes cost thousands, but with a little care, you can have something that reflects positively on your business for just a few hundred pounds.