Google Website Optimizer

Here is a video showing how Google Website Optimizer allows you to set up “experiments” by comparing two or more versions of a web page to see which one is most effective. This is a free service.

I’m reading an interesting (and very useful) book, Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. The book shows how to use the Web to build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust and it filled with action items. One of the tidbits I found this morning is Google Website Optimizer.


Google Website Optimizer allows you to set up "experiments" by comparing two or more versions of a web page to see which one is most effective. This is a free service.

This video gives a great 2 minute overview right up to the last 10 seconds: "My credibility within the organization has risen and people think I know what I’m doing. (laffin)"

This is a great tool for you (and your web developer) to use to increase the effectiveness of your web sites.

Have you used this tool? Add a comment and let me know how you changed your web pages. What were your results?


CSS Nested Vertical Menu

Judy Genereux, one of our Web Programming graduates, sent me a link to Devin R. Olsen’s web page showing how to created nested menus using pure CSS.

This one-page tutorial shows how to build up a menu, one layer at a time, and doesn’t add any extra information that might side-track you from the goal. When you are finished you will have a nice basic menu system that will be easy to modify for whatever site you use it on.

The best part is that this code works with IE5, IE6, IE7 and IE8 as well as FireFox and Safari.

Here is a link to an example menu.

Secrets of a Web Developer

These tutorials were written for anyone interested in learning
how to build web sites with no prior knowledge of programming or HTML.

Secrets of a Web Developer book cover
Secrets of a Web Developer
Over the years students have asked/suggested/cajoled that I write a book with the information I present in my classes. For starters I decided to pull together all of the tutorials I have written for my Web Development course.

The Secrets of a Web Developer is now available for $39.00. You can view some excerpts from the book as well as the complete table of contents out on the site.

There are over 300 pages covering all the major aspects of web page development with lots of screen shots and graphics and step-by-step instructions.

  • The
    Web and the Internet
  • XHTML markup
  • Page styling with CSS
  • Page layout
    using CSS
  • SEO – Search Engine Optimization
  • Design Principles and the Design Process
  • Web Marketing
  • An introduction to JavaScript

These tutorials were written for anyone interested in learning
how to build web sites with no prior knowledge of programming or HTML.

This is an entry-level book and all you need is an understanding file
management and basic typing skills.

The tools are all free. You will need a color-coded text editor (such as NotePad++)
and a browser. FireFox is recommended because of the many add-on tools that are available.

If you are interested in taking the complete Web Developer course online there is more information at

Browser Shots allows you to specify the URL of a target website and then proceeds to take “pictures” of how the page will look in each of the browsers you selected. This is a great way to do the final testing on how well your pages work without having multiple browsers loaded on your machine. allows you to specify the URL of a target website and then proceeds to take “pictures” of how the page will look in each of the browsers you selected. This is a great way to do the final testing on how well your pages work without having multiple browsers loaded on your machine.

Here’s what the home page looks like:

Click for a larger view
Click for a larger view

There is also a link that will validate your CSS code as well as your XHTML code.

The top graphic a look at my home page which is a valid (strict) XTHML page. Notice how text and images don’t show up on all the browsers including the new IE 8.0

Special thank to Tim for telling me about this valuable web site.

Why not use GoDaddy?

I just received this email question from one of my students:

I am currently working on a website for one of my clients. She said that she took your web design class and mentioned that you use for your hosting and domain needs instead of GoDaddy. My question is why? Why meaning is there a reason or just a preference that you choose Quality Hosting. Please let me know.

Here is my response:
Originally GoDaddy limited what you could install on the server. When I first hosted with them I quickly found out I couldn’t install Drupal. I still remember how arrogant the help person was telling me that the agreement did not allow a refund but that he was going to refund some of my money anyway…

The Drupal limitation has since been fixed although recently there was a snafu with a GoDaddy client using Drupal and being charged over $6,000 ( The only thing that helped resolve the problem was his article on Huntington and the furor it caused. All the bad press caught GoDaddy’s president’s attention and he stepped in to resolve the things and stop the bad press.

Their advertising is extremely sexist. Something I might enjoy looking at but not something I can recommend to students in class. Especially when one of my students started doing a web site for his church…

And, just recently, I tried to transfer my domain being held by GoDaddy to QualityHostOnline. It took me over two months to accomplish due to an unknown userid/password that was automatically setup without my input when I purchased a privacy option. Because my email on GoDaddy was no longer valid I had to fax, mail, and send scanned copies of my driver’s license and a specific numbered form to a branch of GoDaddy. They would also have accepted copies of my passport which makes me even more nervous. They made it EXTREMELY difficult to do the transfer. I had to send the request three different times and made numerous phone calls all to the answer of “I’m sorry, that is out of our control.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been with QualityHostOnline for almost five years now and have had excellent support, low cost, and overall good results on a consistent basis. They were very helpful and responsive during my domain name transfer. I’ve also recommended this hosting service to other instructors and many many clients and everyone is having the same positive experience.

So, there you have it.

Guess I’ll make this into a blog entry.


PS – You might want to do a web search for “GoDaddy ethics” It makes for some interesting reading.

Addendum: 09-15-09 I’ve been having a lot of downtime with and am migrating my servers over to based on recommendations from several of my students. I can no longer recommend QualityHost as I have in the past.

Tutorial videos from my courses

I’ve been creating some demo movies as part of my on-line classes and have posted them out on

I thought you might like to look at the series. I’ll be adding new ones on a regular basis.

Here’s a link showing all the videos available out on

I’m using ScreenFlow to create my onscreen videos. This is an amazing program that allows me to capture video and sound and edit using scrolling and panning. Mac only. What is displayed here is only the video portion of the more complete tutorials I offer as part of my online and face2face courses.

The videos shots of my whiteboard talks are taken using a very inexpensive ($150) Aiptek HD1080P pocket-size video. Chad Peterson, one of my students is working on the editing. These resulted from one of my online students asking me to record my entire class. That is very difficult, getting good sound, but I thought I’d try some simple videos that focused on specific concepts to see how enhance the learning activities for each module.

I’d be interested in your comments on how useful these would be to you as a student. Thanks!

Who has YOUR domain name?

Who has your domain name?

As domain names become more scarce you might want to think about saving your own. Many people use their own name. Right now this may seem like a vanity thing, but it could be a valuable professional asset in the future.

Think of 5-10 domain names that you would like to own, then do a search to see if they are available. You’ll be surprised to find out how many are already taken. You can use Network Solutions to see if the name is taken. (Virtually every hosting service allows you to check domain names.) You can register your domain name for around $15/year.

Once you have a domain name you will need to get a hosting service if you want to have a presence on the Web. Some hosting services offer free domain registration, but their monthly rates are much higher.

Be smart and get the license to your own domain name now while you still can. Most likely it will become a valuable asset in the years ahead.

Photo from

Problem Solving

Every semester I get frustrated emails from students containing the phrase, “I just spent ____ hours on this and couldn’t figure it out.” Here’s a short excerpt that I usually include with my reply:

I can sure understand how frustrating it is to do something without success for so many hours. But, next time something like this happens, and after the first half hour, stop and ask for help, do something different, or find another resource. It depends on the problem but, normally if you are spending more than a half hour trying to solve a problem than your problem-solving skills need some work.

Here’s a checklist that will help you build up your problem-solving skills and hopefully speed your way to solutions:

  1. Stay focused. Don’t try to multi-task. Behavioral scientistists have proven that trying to do multiple things at once makes all of the tasks suffer.
  2. Simplify the problem. Web page not changing? Try typing in some odd letters (XYZ) in the middle of the page to see if they display. If they don’t you might have been spending the last hour typing in one file and looking at another!
  3. Keep track of what you have tried. Write it down so you aren’t repeating the same thing over and over and over. Be organized and consistent on how you look for a solution. Don’t just shotgun things over and over and over.
  4. After each failure try something different. If one combination doesn’t work think of something different to do. (Use number keys instead of number pad, check caps lock, type out the password in a simple editor to see the results…)
  5. Google is your friend Do a web search with the error message or a short phrase so you can see if others have had a similar problem.
  6. Think about the problem differently. Maybe what is broken is something completely separate from what you are focused on! Think of what else might be causing the problem.
  7. Go do something else or take a short nap After a set period of time, stop what you are doing and do something else. I usually give myself 1/2 hour to an hour depending on the problem.) Go take a shower, or sit down with a cup of tea, coffee, or pop and sit quietly, go take a 15 minute nap. Let other alternative solutions come to mind and then jot them down. Don’t force them, they will run away like minnows in a clear pool. Set a time limit for this activity. You should have 3 or 4 alternative things to do in 15 minutes of sitting quietly.

    No, playing video games does not count here. That just focuses you on other problems that may be more interesting (at the moment) to solve.

  8. Imagine what the solution or success looks like. If you don’t believe something will work, it probably won’t.

Photo from I tell my Java students that this is what the Java compiler looks like :-)

Hosting Traps to be Aware of

One of my students sent me a link to an excellent article on things to be aware of when purchasing a web hosting server package. Here are some highlights from Jason Faulkner’s article:

  • Be cautious on paying for your own dedicated server
  • Be skeptical of the claim “Our Data Center Is Top Notch”
    • Cisco router and firewall (I have a Linksys – a division of Cisco – home router with a built in firewall).
    • 100 mb backbone (all my equipment and NICs are 100 mb capable), but you would probably see gigabit backbone instead.
    • Backup power supply (pick any consumer level battery backup).
    • Climate controlled environment (we have heating and air conditioning).
    • [insert a stock photo of row of server racks here which I paid $20 for the rights to use.]
      Granted this is a very absurd example, but you get the idea of how easy it is to stretch the truth.
  • Avoid The “Free” Domain Registration With Hosting Package
    If there is nothing else you take from this article, remember this: Never let your hosting provider register your domain name for you as part of a hosting deal. Often times you can purchase a hosting package which includes free domain name registration and renewal as long as you remain a customer. While this may seem appealing, it is the worst thing you can do because your hosting provider, not you, owns the domain. This may not sound like a big deal, but as soon as you want to move hosting providers, guess who controls your domain? Not you. Worse yet, there is absolutely nothing you can do to get control over your domain unless the current owner (the hosting provider) transfers it to you.
  • Be Aware of “Unlimited Bandwidth and Storage”
  • Less Than $5 Per Month Hosting: As the adage goes… you always get what you pay for. Putting it bluntly, if you are paying $3 per month for hosting, you are only going to get $3 worth.
  • Beware of the claim ” 99.99% Up-Time Guarantee”
    If you do the math, 99.99% up-time means the server is only unavailable 4 minutes and 22 seconds per month (53 minutes an entire year).
  • Don’t trust the offer of “100% Free Hosting”
    bandwidth is not free. Make sure you read the fine print in any agreement claiming this as most likely there are ads embedded somewhere in your site, or the hosting package is so limited that it is virtually worthless.
    1. Go out to Jason Faulkner’s article for all the details.

      Thanks Pat for the great tip.