Design statement

Designing with you in mind

Ackadia is smartphone and tablet friendly. Check with your mobile, or with Google webmaster tools.

This site is regularly revised to take into account the latest standards and technology.

In the early days even adding small images was a luxury, one you also paid for, given slow connection speeds and per minute landline billing to connect – while also tying up your home phone line (no smartphones back then). After that came various iterations of HTML, then the addition of style sheets, followed by moving to responsive code, and now developing and writing with Accelerated Mobile Pages in mind (AMP).

Ackadia is not perfect, but I do my best, as you have to balance looks, style, and expectations with security, load times, and budget, but on a scale of 1 to 10, or F to A+, I aim high.

Just in terms of hosting and related costs, web sites can be dirt cheap – or not. You can create one as little as a few quid year; the cost is hidden – in slow loading, poor response times, sites going offline. Quality sites, well, £30 a month is a starting point, £60 to £100 a month if you are serious, considerably more for an eCommerce site. The really big sites cost millions to tens of millions a year to run.

There is a hidden cost here too though: in tightening security to just secure browsers, older tech can get blocked – notably on older phones. So, testing this site on our ageing Samsung tablet I was advised that "This web page is not available". Updating the browser on the phone might help and, looking, I saw it was version 80 for Chrome, while the current version is 85. I added the Opera browser to the tablet and that saw the site fine, so I uninstalled and re-added Chrome and the site was working just fine for Chrome too.

(It should be noted that I am atypical for my generation in that I am a computer expert, with experience in most areas, including app development. Ironically, I neither have nor want a smartphone or tablet myself and approach the things with the same trepidation as a new parent discovering the teething nappy from hell. If it’s broke on your phone, tell me, I won’t really know otherwise. Boomers, eh! Boomer smilie in a wheelchair).


On revisions

A lot depends on my free time, obsessions, distractions, and health concerns, but every so often I get it into my head to fix this place up. Revising a site with five pages is a doddle, fifty, a challenge, but five hundred, or five thousand, manually?

Layout and redesign are easy, slap a new child theme, shuffle the widgets and sidebars, jobs done in ten minutes.

Custom changes to the stylesheet, well, can be a tad more work. Adding a new class is a doddle, a line or two of code and it’s available sitewide. But if the new look is class="SoPretty" and the old look is class="NotSoPretty", that means either repeating the code (easy, but sloppy). Or – better – a global search and replace to sort it, which is a tad more technical. But sometimes it is not an option. Instead, you have to manually work through thousands of pages of code and text.

Then there are the external links. There are tools to search your site for broken links, but links to sites that are live but now inappropriate, that’s a different matter. Manual check required.

Then there’s crap like this, below, which a buggy tool added site-wide, seemingly at random. On inspection, it took offence to any character that was not alphanumeric on a US-centric keyboard and replaced it with gibberish. So, perfectly normal quotes, hyphens, accented letters, currency, symbols, all trashed.

Newsflash, America, you didn’t invent the Internet, a Brit did!

If something is in the ASCII character set and or agreed code set by the W3C and or Unicode, then leave it the hell alone. The fact a programmer would trample over the following short sentence is infuriating:
I spent £5 in the café.
I did just type that, though normally I will code symbols, and often quotation marks. So, £ for the GBP symbol. For a sentence so standard and everyday use to generate four errors in a backup and restore program is unacceptable!

As it was during a migration, rolling back was not an option, so, between everything else, I am now fixing the thousands of instances of these. I still have around four hundred posts with this particularly issue.

 

Corrupted html codes

 


On images and pictures

Then there’s pictures and images. Those change over time.
Initially, of course, the bandwidth was tiny, and images were not an option. At all.
By the time 56k modems were available, in the mid-90s, smaller images were acceptable, in moderation. Video, if anywhere, was the size of a standard small postage stamp.
Broadband changed all that.
Huzzah!

Then impatience, plus mobile usage took it away again.
Alas.
In the 90s, the early days of the internet, a few minutes to load a page, a few hours, or even days to get a file was normal. These days, unless a page loads in under 3 seconds, “I’m offski, don’t got time for that”.

.gifs are dated and .png look nice, but are larger files, so they have to go too!

.jpeg? Nope, old news.

The new format of the web is either jpeg 2000 (JP2), or ideally .webp. I use Paintshop Pro Ultimate (2021) and it doesn’t fully support either of these formats as ‘export’, but is buried under ‘save as’. The latest PSP (2022) has better .webp support, but £65 for what is basically a patch update is a bit much.

It may be no surprise to some that Google are pushing .webp, which they created. In all fairness to them though, it is a an open format extension. Its development probably had something to do with parasites and patents trolls trying to claim patents on .jpeg and .gif and wanting the world and co. to pay them royalties, backdated decades. (Goes back before 2006, if you are interested. U.S. PTO smashes JPEG patent)

So, .webp is finally sorted and works in the latest WordPress patches too. Huzzah!
Well, sort of! Webp is much smaller in file size than jpeg, etc, without losing quality, so desirable, but it’s new, so there are questions over backwards compatibility with older browsers etc. Adding an image as a .webp instead of a .jpg to a new post, fine. Replacing thousands of embedded photos etc., more of a chore. You can get plugins to do it, but they have pro’s and cons, but it’s not as simple as a global search and replace.

The large banner logo below was created in CorelDraw, then exported as jpeg, imported into Paintshop Pro and then exported out as webp. It is a lot of faffing about!

Testing with current (PC) browsers, it shows fine in Opera, Firefox, Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge, so all the main bases are covered.

Why bother though?

Well, my current bandwidth usage for Ackadia is 15Gb a month. Reducing the file size of all the images by up to a half will drop than below 10Gb, better for me, better for my host, and much faster for anyone viewing a page. With the added bonus of improving web ranking.

jpg banner
{ 1314×273 .jpg banner, file size: 56k }
webp banner
{ Same 1314×273 banner as .webp, file size: 34k }

Rules for feature images keep changing too, so that is added to the list. Another work in progress.


On grammar and readability

Now to the real stuff, the writing.

Passive voice is out, for the most part.

Equally, more verbose, and academic tomes are too hard to read for the general public.

General rule now is to keep the words small and simple, and the sentences short.

(Going back some years, I nearly choked when my daughter informed me that – according to get her English (literacy) teacher – spelling and grammar doesn’t matter for exams now, “so long as you get the meaning across.” Apparently, textspeak is now acceptable for whatever replaced the old ‘O’ level and GCSE English exam. (e.g. “How ru m8”).

So that means rewriting everything I’ve written over the past few decades to suit modern audiences. I’m OK with that*. There’s a lot of errors I missed of the years. A LOT. so I’m quite happily working through those.

*(Though Hell will freeze over before I accept the heathen gibberish of textspeak.
I’m still annoyed at Chambers for adding ‘lol’ to the actual dictionary, even though I understand the reason. However, ‘lol‘ is not a word, it’s an acronym, it belongs in the back of Chambers, with the other acronyms.
Ditto with the W3C for removing acronym from HTML5, possibly over a spat with Microsoft. It was perfectly fine to have both. An abbr(eviation) is not an acronym!
)

 

But people don’t have time for that.
People who can binge-watch entire seasons on Netflix.
People who can spend an entire day surfing Facebook, but don’t have time to read the articles they are commenting on. They reply (to the picture or title), or they troll, then get a like, or a bite, and move on. But read a page? Hell no. I do despair some days, and lament the introduction of this otherwise wonderful technology, and the loss of reading as a pastime.

So, now I am (thankfully) using tools like Niram’s most excellent online Read-O-Meter. Copy the text in and it will tell me how many words are there, and how long it would take the average reader to browse the page. It’s the little things that please me 😀

 

 

After this there’s the matter of readability, for which we have Grammarly, and online tools like Readable, they are many more. Microsoft, for instance, allow you to set readability within Word.

Flesch Reading Ease test

This test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard files, you want the score to be between 60 and 70.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

This test rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.

Similarly, SEO-based WordPress plug-ins like Yoast look at your content and judge you, the ideal target being for the average (impatient) people browsing.

 

Yoast

 

So, every post needs the code, images, grammar, and readability reviewing and updating. While writing new content, and studying. Not a small undertaking. Finding a middle ground for each post with Grammarly is a job in itself. Not that I use or need Grammarly for blogging, much, but it’s useful for academic papers, and quickly fixing other people’s copy, without having to proof-read twenty times.

 

Grammarly goals


Archives changes to ackadia

Sept 2020

Quickly got sick of issues with Bluehost (a sister company to Hostgator) and moved Ackadia to WP Engine.

Uptime, security, and page loading speeds and responsiveness, amongst other factors, are being significantly improved.


Aug 2020

Upgraded the server slightly and made a number of design changes to get the page loading faster. Some of the speed rating tests give mediocre results, but the page load times are between 2.5 and 3s to complete, which is good.


Updated June 2020

Moved from wordpress.com to a managed, shared server with BlueHost. Slower than I’d like but I have the option to upgrade through VPS and dedicated, but it gets eye-wateringly expensive and I can’t justify the cost as I don’t get that much traffic and I don’t charge for the other sites I develop and host here, ‘cos friends and such.

Currently using the free version of the Customizr WordPress theme. Looks good. Few things could be better, but free and it ticks a lot of boxes. Contemplating the full ‘pro’ version.

Unfortunately, it turns out, the developers of Customizr rely on and have embedded FontAwesome in the theme for the gloss. I dare say some people like FontAwesome, but load speed really matter and wants to be under 3 seconds – and this garbage can add a few seconds all on its own! The term ‘lipstick on a pig’ comes to mind. Beautiful as it looks, I cannot recommend Customizr or any other theme that needs such junk code to work.

The moved from WordPress corrupted some characters so there is some weird shit like ¥© for an apostrophe in various pages, but fixing 600-odd pages manually is just a chore for another day, or never.


Updated March 2018

:
Moved from a dedicated server to a managed wordpress hosting. Does limit my options a little in terms of theme design, but I can work with this. Still prefer flat the old school hard coding and ftp style of web development, but the world moves on. At least the themes are ‘out of the box’ responsive and mobile friendly, but backing up, and restoring / repairing when you move hosts is a complete pain.


Updated April 2015

:
Moved over to WordPress now but it’s server heavy and a security nightmare, not to mention the hassles of backups and archiving. Needs must I guess but I prefer flat coding!


Nov 2013

Caveat first!

As I am currently (Nov 2013) in the process of moving Ackadia over from hand-coded strict xHTML .php pages to WordPress framework I am constrained a little by developers. That said, I am using mobile responsive HTML5 designs* and testing as I go. *(The one I currently have isn’t HTML5 – yet – but should be soon). All the statements below were valid at the time and I will endeavour to adhere to my own quality policy. As such, as far as possible, Ackadia should work well on any browser – and any form of device from the smallest mobile phone to widescreen smart TV’s.

If it doesn’t, please let me know via the contact page and, as Picard would ask, I’ll Make it so.

Note, however, I will no longer attempt to validate for all older browsers because, frankly, you shouldn’t be using one – to keep secure you should be using the latest version yourself, fully patched and preferably then hiding behind your Internet security software.


Standards tested and viewable With Any Browser

(from 2006:)

Ackadia should work at nearly all resolutions, though it is really optimised, visually, for 1024×768 or above. Also, though there’s little difference across all the browsers, I think Firefox renders it best.

This site has been tested successfully on multiple platforms and browsers, including text-based ones like Lynx, although very old ones like Netscape 4x may have problems due to their limited CSS support.

I have also used Vischeck’s colour blindness simulation and other resources so that Ackadia will hopefully be equally useful and enjoyable for all our colour blind visitors. [ Read my article on colour blindness and web design ]

I am continuing to work to make Ackadia comply to the W3C WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) and WCAG 1.0 and to U.S. Section 508 Guidelines.

By validating and rating Ackadia I am working to make this site accessible to all. I am also looking at support for Internet phones, text to speech and related technologies. If you are in these fields, drop me a line.

Childsafe logo - ICCS Kids approved and certified website

iWatchdog logo - shows bulldog with arms folded over ICCS

Internet Content Rating Association rating logo

Safesurf rated logo

(Of the four above, only Safesurf remain, the first two now going to a toy site, the third ceased, as such.)


(Feature image by Pexels from Pixabay)

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