Now I’m convinced by… Sass

My current job role partially tasks me with trying to optimise our web site production processes, finding opportunities for us to improve productivity and quality.  Part of this process involves working closely with front end developers (who have a stronger focus on HTML and CSS authoring than perhaps I generally do) to marry up the bespoke software we implement using PHP & MySQL, and the user interface, typically crafted in HTML and CSS.   I’ve noted for some time the ubiquitous usage of CSS pre-processors and how they have matured and developed, and so felt that I should investigate what benefits usage of such a tool might bring to us as a team that build web sites.

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Controlling project budgets as a developer

I’ve not yet had a chance to work in an authentically agile way on any of my projects, but have given a lot of consideration to finding ways for me and my colleagues to try to keep on top of and anticipate problems with available timescales for development tasks.  We still use the waterfall model and rely heavily on software estimates to be able to implement this effectively.  As is explained perfectly in this blog post by Michael Wolfe, software development estimates are very rarely accurate.  As developers, we can help our businesses address this problem before, during and after each project.

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Remembering that what you’ve built is better than what you had

As I mentioned in my previous post regarding the available approaches for handheld optimisation of web sites, sometimes the choice we’ve made as a web development company is to provide a specific handheld-optimised experience in the form of what we call a ‘mobile website’.  This is a website based upon the same content management system, base content and functionality as the desktop site, but with more filesize-conscious templates and a design that is more touch aware than relying on small click areas for a mouse pointer.  We have found that this works very well where a ‘desktop redesign’ isn’t required for a web site, as it provides a more cost-effective way for our clients to maximise their mobile conversions.

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There is not a “one size fits all” answer to the “handheld device optimised web site” problem

As someone involved in the maintenance of web sites up to 15 years old, a common question I’m answering these days is “What should we be doing about mobile visitors to this web site?”. I find that rather falling to the same answer every single time, I am giving different answers to different people dependent on their situation. And I think this is the approach we should all take right now, providing the solution that’s right for the situation in question, rather than the solution we’re most comfortable providing.

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Quality Control and why it matters for your web development business

As web developers, we all-too-often fall in to the trap of releasing new web sites (or more commonly, new functionality on existing web sites) prematurely.  I think this problem is particularly prevalent on the web because of how easy it is to apply changes to our software post-release.  This is in stark contrast to the games industry (where games ship on disks and are in a way much more ‘final’ than a web site release, and where patches can be released they have to go through a long and expensive approval process with the platform vendor e.g. Microsoft or Sony).

Whilst we are blessed with a simple ‘revision’ process, what we don’t consider is the damage that releasing and retrospectively correcting broken web sites does for all involved in the creation or use of the web site.

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mod_rewrite and MultiViews

After several months of having to work around a really annoying issue with random mod_rewrite rules in my .htaccess files failing, I’ve finally got to the bottom of the problem.  It’s all down to a component of mod_negotiation called MultiViews, which intercepts requests to file paths that do not exist and makes a ‘best guess’ as to which file to serve (a colleague informs me that this can be useful when making use of HTTP/1.1 content negotiation).
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Ubuntu Server within VirtualBox on Windows 7

In the past I have used an old Dell PC for my development server, generally installing a server distribution of Linux (first CentOS, recently Ubuntu – I made the move primarily because of the great documentation available for Ubuntu, and for the fact that is used by more people).

Just recently, the HDD in my development server has started to become noisy and so I took the decision this morning to replace my development setup before it was forced upon me at an even more inconvenient moment.  I decided that I am not a big fan of using the electricity it takes to power two individual machines, plus it takes up quite a lot of space in my home office.  For this reason I decided to investigate virtualisation and whether or not I can run Ubuntu ‘within’ Windows 7 (my ‘host’ OS).  Whilst not comprehensive, this set of instructions will hopefully help someone out a bit if they’re ever looking to do something similar to this….

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