Sunday, May 27, 2007

SD Card: The New Standard?

The SD card, or Secure Digital is fast becoming the industry standard for digital cameras. It had succeeded the No.1 card of the late 1990s, Smart Media, by the early 2000s; and now virtually all digital camera makers, not to mention PDA, camcorder, mobile phone and GPS manufacturers use the card.

SD CardHaving said that calling it the "New Standard" is something of a misnomer. Although used by big brands such as Casio, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Kodak, Panasonic and Konica Minolta there are three big names in the industry that use their own cards. Olympus and Fuji use the xD card in their digital cameras and Sony use the Memory Stick. So unless your electronics product is made by Sony, Olympus or Fuji, the chances are that you'll need an SD card.

The SD card hasn't reached this level of dominance by chance, this is a quality card and I always ensure that any device I buy either exclusively uses an SD card or at least has an SD card slot. This not only makes all the cards that I have collected from my other devices interchangeable but also mean when I upgrade to a bigger capacity card it can be used in all my devices.

microSD CardAnother reason for their popularity is that SD cards have two smaller cousins that are used in many mobile phones at the moment, miniSD and microSD. The miniSD cards are small at just 20 mm x 21.5 mm x 1.4 mm but the microSD cards are even smaller at just 11 mm x 15 mm x 1 mm and weighing less than half a gram, making them smaller enough to use in even the tinniest of devices. All the mini and micro SD cards sold by Horizon Flash Memory come with an SD adaptor so that they are also backwards compatible with any SD card readers.

Of course the only draw back is that the smaller the cards become the more expensive they are.

xD picture cardThe miniSD and microSD cards aren't the only reason for the dominance of the SD cards. SD cards have a faster read/write speed than the likes of the xD card and a maximum capacity of 8GB (only 4GB are currently widely available and coming soon on Horizon Flash Memory), compared to the 2GB max of the xD card. But the SD card has a theoretical maximum capacity of 132GB, four times the theoretical limits of the Memory Stick and 32 times that of the xD cards!

As I said I use them in every device that I can and at the moment that is two mobile phones and a Panasonic Lumix digital camera. The speed and 2GB capacity means that when using my Panasonic Lumix camera I am able to just keep clicking away taking pictures continuously and can store about 700 pictures on the card. On one mobile phone I have a 1GB microSD for storing music, TV shows, documents etc, a life saver when on the move. The other has a miniSD card as is used mainly to transporting documents. The adaptors for the miniSD and microSD mean that they can also be used in my camera and in any card reader that accepts SD cards.

compact flash cardThere are many that believe the SD card is the successor to the floppy disk. Which in my view is an ideal replacement that seems to have been a long time in coming. The demise of the floppy disk has been dragging on for years. I miss the floppy, not the slow speeds or the errors or low capacity but the fact that every PC had a floppy drive, they were universal and you could save your work and take it home with you in your shirt pocket, slot into your PC at home and carry on. There have been many attempts to get that kind of flexibility, there was the ZIP drive, but they were expensive and not everyone had them or could afford to have them. Saving your work to a ZIP disk and then making the journey to work/friends or wherever, only to find that they didn't have a ZIP drive!

Then came the CD and DVD, both though had the same problem, they didn't fit into my shirt pocket, or trouser pocket, or any pocket for that matter. Of course then there was the bigger problem of taking information on a CD but then being unable to change it and save it back to the same CD when out and about! Something that was taken for granted with floppies.

Flash Memory Card ReaderAs for USB flash drives I have found them very unreliable and for some reason not as handy as an SD card. Most, if not all, new PCs come fitted with card readers, all of which read SD cards. They are small (even the largest of the SD family fit into my shirt pocket with room to spare for a card reader), fast and the readers are almost ubiquitous so the SD card is at last the perfect replacement for the floppy.

Unlike the floppy disk though, SD cards are used and will be used in all manner of gadgets in the home. At the moment it is printers, TVs, Cameras, Camcorders, PCs, Media Centers, and DVD recorders with SD card slots but it won't be long until fridges, cookers, microwaves and even washing machines have them.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Be Ranked No.1 on Google!

"We can guarantee to get your site a Top Ten ranking in Google, MSN, Yahoo, and Lycos…."

I get emails like the above quite a lot, usually I can't go a week or so without having some random company sending me an email guaranteeing that they'll get my site ranked No.1 in Google, or even just the Top Ten for the less optimistic ones.

The fact is that no one can guarantee any kind of ranking on Google and the other search engines, not a top ten ranking, and certainly not the prized No.1 position. Many of the so called SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialists that send these emails are just after a quick buck. Some won't even attempt to get you higher others will get you ranked for a keyword or phrase that you are already highly ranked for, such as in our case Horizon Web Development, which we are already in the top two for, as you can see here (I'll save you having to type in "Horizon Web Development").

Others use unscrupulous tactics that could get you banned from Google and other search engines, typically after you've paid. A common tactic is what is known as keyword spamming or keyword stuffing whereby they literally cram your pages with keywords in lists or in such a way as to make sections of your site unreadable. Tactics such as this usually work quite well at first, normally right up until after you've parted with your cash and thanked them for the good work, and then get you banned.

A famous US company that employed unscrupulous tactics is the one mentioned in this article.

So how can you be sure that you're aren't being conned into parting with your hard earned cash for little or no benefit? Well here's a bit of advice:

  1. Always check out their website and find out how well it is ranked.
  2. Carry out a quick Google search to see if you can find recommendations or complaints out there from any of their previous customers, or to just get a general idea of their reputation.
  3. If they have a list of previous clients, contact one or two to ask what they thought of the company.
  4. Ask them what they are going to actually do to get your site better ranked. Never hand over control of your site to a company without knowing exactly what they are going to do.
  5. Ask for a detailed invoice so that you can clearly see what your money has got and don't let them blind you with jargon.
  6. Finally make sure that you check to ensure that they've delivered what they have promised, preferably before you pay!

At Horizon Web Development we design our websites with Search Engine Optimisation in mind and are always on hand to offer advice of keywords, SEO, rankings and search engines.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Is your site well designed?

It's a common problem. Many businesses have websites designed by local web design companies and believe that they've received a good service, when in fact they receive an absolute turkey of a website that looks like it was designed by an unskilled amateur ten years ago. But how can you tell if you have a well designed site?

The first thing to check your site for is what's known as the 1990s look. These are sites that were either designed in the early days of the internet or by designers who learnt their trade in the early days and haven't updated their skills. A classic example of this kind of site is Northbridge Police Department.

How to tell if you have a site from the 1990s

  1. Background image - The days of the quirky repeating background image are fortunately long gone. If your site has a repeating background such as the one in the above example you should think about a change. A background image shouldn't interfere with what's on the page or make the text difficult to read and it certainly shouldn't repeat an image over and over.
  2. Animated GIF's - Another sure-fire way to make your site look dated. The animated GIF was a novel idea, briefly, and has long since lost its charm. Nowadays annoying flashing animations such the US flag in the above example make a site look out of date, cheap and unprofessional and should be avoided at all costs. It is much better to have a nice clear picture that complements your design than some meaningless moving picture.
  3. Music – It is simple to embed a little sound clip into a page and so about ten years ago everyone was doing it, and to be fair I was one of them. But I soon realised that there is nothing more annoying when trying to read text than having the same piece of music playing over and over and over. It is not only distracting, but if it can't be turned off, deeply annoying. Remember the person viewing your site may be doing so late at night, on a train or during a meeting, so the last thing they want is to have a crap little ditty that you particularly liked blaring out uncontrollably. If your site plays a little tune, remove it. If you disagree and like having the sound effect, try reading your whole site text with it playing and see if you change your mind.
  4. Splash Pages – Something else that was 'in' several years ago. It seemed that if you wanted to portray an air of professionalism on your website then you needed a splash page. However today nothing could be further from the truth. If you have one, get rid of it as soon as possible. Apart from wasting the most important page on your site and being annoying it is one of the most obvious giveaways of a site from the 1990s. Most web designers avoid these now, however some clients still ask for them.
  5. Site Best Viewed with…. – If your site has "Site Best Viewed at 800x600" or something along those lines then it is in serious need of a revamp. These kinds of messages were popular in the late 1990s, I didn't actually use them myself but most sites did and even today there are some relics of sites that still have them. They are completely pointless as no visitor would ever really change their screen resolution just to view your site, they'd just go elsewhere. It also shows laziness on the part of the web designer, as if they either couldn't be bothered or weren't capable of designing a site that looks good on any screen resolution. The other popular "Best Viewed with…" message from the time was "Best Viewed with Internet Explorer/Netscape." These messages (in most cases buttons) were from the browsers wars of the mid-nineties between Netscape and Internet Explorer. If your site has one of these buttons (and many do) remove it immediately. The so called 'Browser War' ended in 1999 (yes that is eight years ago!) so you are making your site look incredibly dated. More so if you have a Netscape button as Netscape pretty much disappeared and now accounts for less than 1% of the browser market so if you are claiming that your site is best viewed with Netscape on your homepage you are alienating 99% of your visitors.
  6. Blinking/Scrolling Text – These are both now seen as something of a joke among web designers. Blinking text was never really that popular amongst designers but because it was a simple effect, achieved by just placing <blink> either side of the word you wish to make blink (e.g. My <blink>Flashing</blink> Text), that didn't require a knowledge of JavaScript or DHTML it was widely used by hobbyists and amateur web designers for homepages. It was a similar story with scrolling text and both became associated with poorly designed, amateurish sites and so just about everyone stopped using them by the late 1990s. Again if your site has them, look for a new designer.
  7. Garish Text/Background Colours – This is another sign of a bad web designer or a really old site from the 1990s. Simply because you could have a variety of different coloured backgrounds many people, especially new or amateur website designers did. This led to sites that had text that was near on impossible to read. Colour clashes such as a bright red background and yellow text were highly popular! Some sites even had sections in different colours resulting a multi coloured mess that was impossible to read. The general rule of thumb when it comes to backgrounds is to have a white or very light coloured background with black text or a very dark or black background with white text. Most sensible designers don't try to go for something in between. If your site has a coloured background and coloured text you should certainly think about a change. Not only does it make your site text hard to read but it makes it look like a personal website from the late 1990s.
  8. Non-Standard Fonts – Another technique that was popular with novices back in the 1990s was to make good use of the available fonts, I have even come across sites that had different fonts for each paragraph! While it may have seemed a good idea at the time, designers must remember that not everyone has the same fonts on their PC. Even those that did have the necessary fancy fonts would most likely find the text difficult to read. If your site is using fancy fonts as the main site text you should think about a changing to a more common font, such as Arial, Georgia, Tahoma or Verdana. Studies have shown that the easiest fonts to read are Sans Serif fonts such as Arial and Verdana so while it may look fancier to have a great unique font, the viewer won't appreciate it and will probably think your site is from the late 90s.

If your site doesn't have any of the above then you can breathe a sigh of relief but that doesn't necessarily mean that you have a well designed site. There is more to a well designed site than simply the look of it but we'll come back to this in a future post.

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