Happy New Year

list of networks

Snnyc.com received traffic from these networks and many others in 2013.


 
The Snnyc Blog had a good year in 2013.  Visitors like you landed here 21,362 times, coming from 134 countries on 6 continents.  Traffic was up 373% percent over that of the previous year.  Google Analytics reported incoming visits from all of the networks listed in the illustration above, and thousands more.  So, thank you for making this occasional endeavor the rewarding pursuit that it is.

Quick Recap
For technology professionals, constitutionalists and civil libertarians, 2013 will likely forever be remembered as the year of Edward J. Snowden.  While some may have instinctively known it before, Snowden finally made us all face the harsh reality that the US government and others have the means and the motive to monitor just about any electronic communications anywhere.  We learned that President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Senator Dianne Feinstein and others are willing to intentionally mislead the American people about it.  And we learned that many elected representatives in both parties don’t care much for the spirit of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  As a legal matter, it’s far from settled, of course.  U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon recently called it, “almost Orwellian”, and likely unconstitutional, while days later, U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled it lawful.  And now there’s something of a shadow over the US cloud computing, social media and mobile industries, with potentially billions of dollars in revenue at stake.  At least we’re not ditching our iPhones en masse and moving to cabins in Montana.

Looking Forward
For starters, I hope to do a couple of substantive product reviews this winter.  I have it on good authority that a second-generation iFusion SmartStation compatible with the iPhone 5/5s/5c should finally be out soon.  I’ve been living with an iPhone 4 that’s well past its prime so that I could keep using my first-generation iFusion SmartStation at the office.  Meanwhile, I just put in an order for a product that takes a different approach to a desktop handset experience for your mobile phone, the BlueSIM Bluetooth Desktop Phone.  While more expensive than an iFusion, it should sync with every smartphone out there.

There are also a couple of personal documentation projects that I’d like to work on when time allows.  The first is to share how to implement end-to-end encrypted e-mail on mobile devices and popular desktop platforms, one at a time.  Whether or not programs such as DROPOUTJEEP have hacked all our devices, I’d still love to see end-to-end encrypted e-mail become the norm and not the exception.  At least among the can-do tech crowd.  It’s not necessarily as hard as it might sound.

As for resolutions in the new year, I resolve to do more writing about technology, and less writing about writing.  So here’s to a successful 2014 for all of us. Happy New Year.

Becoming ‘Responsive’

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If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you’re at least as connected with technology as the average American living in 2013.  And probably more so.  Those of us now in our 30s or later can remember a time when we always read the Internet while seated in front of a traditional desktop computer.  Today we’ve got an ever-increasing array of options and devices for browsing the Internet, finding and even creating content.  On an average workday, we may transition from our smartphone to our office PC or laptop to an iPad, and back again, repeatedly.  Instead of trying to use one tool for everything, we’re constantly picking the right tool for the job.

Where Are We Now?
Webmasters are particularly attuned to the degree to which content consumption has shifted from traditional computing to various mobile devices and platforms.  In the month leading up to this post, for instance, 28.31% of visits to snnyc.com have taken place via mobile devices.  While the numbers vary from site to site, readers are often selecting their iPhone or iPad for their casual web reading.  It’s just so easy to grab an iPad off the coffee table and curl up on a couch, stuffed chair or recliner.  And consumers are voting for mobile devices with their wallets.  PC sales are down.  Tablet sales are up. Given the overall diversification of Internet client devices, what do we do about it?

Responsive Web Design
Wikipedia defines responsive web design as, “a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience – easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling – across a wide range of devices from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones.”  Ethan Marcotte coined the term and later wrote the book about it.  Essentially we’re talking about a web site that dynamically adjusts itself for ideal presentation on whatever device a person is using.

The Time is Now?
Back in December, Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, with 20 million unique visitors monthly, wrote a piece on Why 2013 Is the Year of Responsive Web Design.  “A million screens have bloomed, and we need to build for all of them.”  And just days ago, Forbes ran the headline, Why You Need to Prioritize Responsive Design Right Now.  Apparently having a separate mobile site is now passé, to say nothing of expecting your readers to zoom in and out on your content to adjust to the physical parameters of their current device.

WordPress Responsive Themes
If you’re not aware, WordPress is a free and open source content management system that underpins snnyc.com and many millions of other blogs and web sites the world over.  A site like snnyc.com consists of a base WordPress installation, coupled with a ‘theme,’ potentially a ‘child theme’ containing further customization, and typically a variety of ‘plugins’ and ‘widgets’ that gives the site its look and feel.  When I first came to WordPress as a neophyte in early 2011, I began with the default Twenty Ten theme, coupled with child theme customizations created by a friend and web developer.  That path isn’t the same one that I’d recommend today.

If 2013 is truly the ‘Year of Responsive Web Design’ that we should all prioritize “right now,” there are much easier ways to go about it.  Especially if you’re already running WordPress.  Many WordPress theme designers have been hard at work creating a variety of responsive themes suited to industries of all types.  The typical theme has a relatively modest cost and allows a decent level of customization.  With some patience, a little research and perhaps some online help, anyone can purchase, install and customize a responsive WordPress theme to suit their particular needs.  And once you’re done selecting colors, layout choices and widgets, your site can still look unique among the millions of others out there.

Becoming Responsive
If you’re a repeat visitor here, you’ve likely already noticed that the snnyc blog looks a little different today.  But just how different depends on what you happen to be using to read it.  If you’re on an iPad right now, you’re in for a particular treat as you rotate the iPad from landscape to portrait orientation, and back again.  Try it.  Narrow screens, including an iPhone or an iPad in portrait orientation, now show all the content in a single column for easiest reading.  Wider screens, such as an iPad in landscape orientation, or a traditional desktop or laptop computer, show a two-section layout similar to what had been here before.  The site detects your device and accommodates it.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday, I looked into, purchased, installed and customized the responsive theme that will be the framework of snnyc.com for the foreseeable future.  You’re looking at the Magazine theme from StudioPress, at a cost $79.95.  Installing a StudioPress theme is easy, particularly for anyone with prior WordPress experience.  If starting a blog from scratch using Magazine, it may well be a completely menu-driven affair using only the WordPress Dashboard.  Because I needed to accommodate certain choices that I’d made long ago, I found myself having to make a few manual code changes to a cascading style sheet.  The StudioPress support team has been quick to answer most of my technical how-to questions, even on the weekend.

In order to set realistic expectations, I should mention that patience and a willingness to experiment are still required.  Over the course of two days, I found myself adding and removing several plugins to accommodate various features that I was looking for.  And I may yet replace the JavaScript-based slideshow plugin that I recently started using.  It seems slower in Magazine and currently gets improperly cropped on an iPhone.  So, as it turns out, switching to responsive design is a new beginning, and not really a destination.  No doubt I’ll continue to tweak it here and there going forward.

Bottom Line
If you have or are contemplating your own personal web presence, you may want to look into responsive web design.  This is the year, so they say.  And if you happen to use WordPress, responsive solutions are already available at a reasonable price.  If you’re responsible for the web presence of a large organization, perhaps you’ll consider responsive design in your next major overhaul.

Subscribe to the Snnyc Blog

I’m not a particular fan of blogging about blogging.  It feels a little bit wrong somehow.  Like a self-referential journalist reporting about their acts of news-gathering, rather than reporting the news itself.  In the technical sphere, we might call this recursive.  So it’s my hope that today’s post is none of that.

Actually this is a response to a reader request.  Someone from the DC area asked if I could make the snnyc blog available via e-mail, and qualified the request by saying that RSS is not an option.  Maybe they’re using Google Reader, which will cease to exist after July 1st, 2013.  Adding e-mail alerts to the blog is something that I’ve wanted to do for awhile.  I’d been asked about it more than once when the blog first went live two years ago.  At the time, I wrote a post about using RSS instead.  That was then.  This is now.

If you’re familiar with WordPress from a technical perspective, then you’re well aware of the staggering number of plugins available to achieve just about every function imaginable.  It took me all of thirty seconds on Google to find an e-mail subscription plugin that looked promising.  It took me another minute to download and install it.

Subscribe2, by Matthew Robinson, is humbly billed as The best WordPress email subscription plugin.  At the time of this writing, 970,380 people have downloaded it.  Subscribe2 has received more 5 star ratings than not.  Once downloaded, I spent a few minutes tweaking it to provide only the functionality that I desired.  While Subscribe2 is free, I felt it appropriate to send a few dollars to the author via a PayPal donation link.

Now we’re all set.  If you wish to be notified when new posts are added to the snnyc blog, simply add your e-mail address in the subscribe window over at the upper right, and hit the button.  You’ll receive a confirmation e-mail.  Following that, you’ll receive a simple message containing a link when each new article is posted.  Should you later wish to unsubscribe, the process is just as easy.

As always, thanks for reading.  While I’ve yet to put in the time that I’d like to here, the blog has received no less than 50 visits per day this month.  On one recent day, 139 of you stopped by.  While two posts on Apple iOS and Microsoft Exchange have pulled in a few thousand visits in total, there’s still consistent interest in older topics.  Yesterday 11 people read a post on the AT&T 3G MicroCell from nearly two years ago.  Seeing that makes my little endeavor oh so worth it.  So here’s to you.  And to the occasional post.  Which you can now be alerted to via e-mail. Cheers.

Tell Me When You Post

At the time of this writing, the snnyc blog has been actively mentioned to only around ten people outside of those who had a hand in the site’s development.  I’d rather build some content here and get in the groove of writing prior to publicising it.  Having said that, twenty percent of you have asked to be notified when new entries are posted.  While a mailing list may be incorporated later, why not talk about how you can proactively alert yourself to new content posted on this and many other sites today?

RSS iconWe begin with a discussion of Really Simple Syndication (RSS), a technology built into the snnyc blog and most blog and news site that you visit today.  If you’re not already very familiar with RSS, you’ve almost certainly seen the RSS icon regularly for the past five years or more.  An RSS feed is essentially a list of individual posts on a web site that is updated in real-time as new posts are added.  An RSS reader can monitor one or many RSS feeds and alert the user to new content when posted.  Some sites deliver complete articles via their RSS feed while others deliver article summaries with links to the full article for interested readers.

Use an RSS Reader Application
RSS readers are available for every operating system and generally for free.  As I’m currently using Ubuntu Desktop Edition 10.10, installing an RSS reader was as simple as opening up the Ubuntu Software Center and installing Liferea Feed Reader.  After a quick installation, I fired up Liferea, clicked New Subscription, and pasted in the feed address: http://snnyc.com/feed/.  FeedDemon for Windows is similarly easy.  Using an RSS reader, while convenient enough, still requires action on your part.  You must initially subscribe to the RSS feeds and then fire up the application periodically to check to see if any new posts are available.  This is a time savings versus checking lots of blogs and sites individually, but possibly slower than just checking one particular web site that you’ve previously bookmarked.

RSS Readers

How to Identify an RSS Feed Address
As you probably noticed, the feed address (in our case: http://snnyc.com/feed/) isn’t the same as the web site’s address (http://snnyc.com).  How do we identify it?  Wherever you see the RSS logo or the words RSS on a web page, it typically hyperlinks to the feed.  If you’re using Firefox 3 or 4, you can right-click and choose Copy Link Location to copy a feed address to your buffer, after which you paste it into a reader application.  If using Internet Explorer 8, right-click on an RSS link and choose Copy Shortcut, after which you paste the address into a reader.

Use an Online RSS Reader
If you’re regularly signing into Gmail or other Google services and would like to have access to your RSS feeds from any computer without installing software, Google Reader may be for you.  After signing in to Google Reader, we can choose ‘Add a subscription,’ paste in the feed address of http://snnyc.com/feed/, and click Add.  When we enter Google Reader again in the future, we’ll be able to see any new posts.  This still requires some manual effort on our part, but requires no software installation and is typically accessible from the top menu bar across your Gmail account after the first use.

Google Reader

Use an RSS to E-mail Service
Would you rather be alerted to new posts at your favorite sites without any recurring effort on your part?  Then an RSS to e-mail service may be the way to go.  The service will monitor RSS feeds and send you an e-mail when new posts are made.  One popular option is Feed My Inbox.  Feed My Inbox allows you to subscribe to up to five RSS feeds for free and will e-mail you once every 24 hours notifying you of new posts to those feeds.  There are also several paid options that allow you to subscribe to more feeds and customize your alerts to an extent.  If you’d like to receive e-mail alerts from Feed My Inbox when new posts are made here at the snnyc blog, submit your e-mail address below.  Feed My Inbox will send you a confirmation message, after which you’re all set.

Email Address: 

Summary
While every site on the Internet would prefer that you visit them directly via your web browser on a regular basis, that’s not necessarily the best use of your time.  RSS readers and RSS to e-mail gateways can allow you to tune into new content – when available – from the sites that interest you most.

Why and How?

I value knowledge more than just about any other commodity.  That’s not to suggest that I posses any great knowledge or insight, only that I’m inclined to pursue knowledge when I’m at my best, and that I’m at my best when pursuing it.  I’m the guy at work who, when he discovers a new bit of technical information that should become common knowledge among the team, feels compelled to write it up and share it.  Perhaps, then, it’s inevitable that I would start this blog.  But enough about me.  For those readers who might feel compelled to follow a similar path, let’s walk through one way among many to get it done.

Unlimited Options
When starting a blog, the range of options, considerations and costs are nearly as boundless as human creativity itself.  You can do it entirely by yourself at no financial cost other than the value of your own time.  At the other extreme, you can outsource the entire effort to a professional who will, if successful, transform the vision in your head into reality.  Some professionals may well exceed your initial vision and introduce you to ideas that you had no idea that you wanted until you saw them.  When putting together snnyc.com, I ran it as a lot of technology projects are run these days.  I brought together the right mix of professionals, products and service providers from diverse locales via the Internet.  With so many options available, where do we begin?

Your Topic
If you’re going to go to the effort of starting a blog, you’re undoubtedly motivated by something.  Are you motivated by your work?  By a hobby?  Is it your family or friends?  Music?  Fashion?  Pop culture?  Writing on a regular basis can be difficult, even to those who naturally enjoy it.  Choose a topic that you can’t help but think about a high percentage of the time anyway.  Writing about it will feel the most like fun and the least like work.  In my case, there was little question that my primary topic would be Information Technology.

Selecting a Name
While selecting a topic for your blog may be as simple as listening to your heart, selecting a name becomes dramatically more complicated as we have to consider the technical realities of publishing on the Internet.  At this point, the non technically savvy reader may need to seek the assistance of an Internet consultant while the technical professional may be bored by much of this section.

Your blog’s Internet domain name must be unique from every site currently in use on the Internet.  While there are some free hosting services that add your blog’s name as a prefix on an established domain name, taking a format such as  http://myblog.wordpress.com, we’re going to focus on finding a unique Internet domain name belonging only to you as I have with http://snnyc.com.

At the time that I began writing this post, there were over 93.7 million active domains registered with the most common extension of .com.  In the prior 24 hours, over 74,000 new .com domains were created and over 61,000 were deleted.  With 93.7 million .com domains registered, you’re not likely to find that your first idea is still available with that extension.  The situation improves if you’re willing to go with a .net domain, but even so, there are 13.8 million .net domains active at this time.  So how does one find a unique name?

If you’re looking for a unique Internet domain name, you could just go straight to a domain registrar such as Scottsdale, AZ, based GoDaddy.com and start punching in your ideas.  They will tell you if the domain name is still available with any particular extension, and may also show you close alternatives to your original idea.  This should be easy enough.  If you find an available domain name that you wish to purchase, I’d urge you do so the moment you discover that it’s available.  Unless you’re on a very tight budget, don’t take a few minutes to think about it.  Definitely don’t sleep on it overnight.  You don’t want to let your idea become one of the 74,000 new .com domain registrations that someone else does today.  A 2-year .com domain registration with GoDaddy.com including private registration recently cost me $38.32.  Once registered, no one but you can use that domain name for the duration of your registration period.  Each time that your domain name comes up for renewal, you’ll have an opportunity to renew the registration and retain control of your name indefinitely.

I took a slightly different route to come up with snnyc.com.  As a matter of personal preference, I wanted a .com domain that was as short as was still available.  Given my current proximity to and personal affinity for New York City, I wanted to try to work the letters ‘nyc’ into the domain name if possible.  Finally, with my primary focus on Information Technology, I needed it to sound “techie.”  So, I  did a Google search for ‘domain name generator,’ where I found NameStation.com, a free service created by New York-based Acceli.  Once there, I entered my parameters and quickly found that snnyc.com was available.  I felt instinctively that I had a winner and I registered it on the spot with GoDaddy.

Technology people seem to see all the letters from the word ‘sync’ in snnyc.com and interpret it as an adaptation on that concept, despite the letters falling out of order.  Though few seem to notice, it subtly pays homage to NYC.  Finally, if you pronounce it phonically as my 4-year-old nephew does, it sounds like ‘cynic,’ which I choose to interpret as ‘cutting through the hype.’  The subsequently designed logo serves to cover both the ideas of ‘sync’ and ‘cutting through the hype,’ while conveniently forming a stylized S at the same time.

[While I was the first to register snnyc.com as a domain name for use in this technical blog, others have used the same combination of letters ‘snnyc’ for other purposes.  Neither the snnyc YouTube channel nor the OkCupid profile are mine.]

Pick a blogging technology
Choosing a blogging technology is akin to choosing a word processor prior to the Internet era.  Just as you might write a traditional letter using Microsoft Word, you need specialized software to create, post to and manage your blog.  I went with WordPress software almost by default, as I wanted to become more familiar with this most well-known platform as part of the exercise.  At the time of this writing, there are over 25 million blogs based on WordPress.  Examples include several New York Times blogs, TechCrunch and Think Progress.  There are over 1,300 themes and 13,000 plugins available to help customize the look of your WordPress blog.  Best of all, WordPress software is free and open source, so there’s no charge to acquire or use it.  Other blogging platforms include Google’s Blogger, TypePad, Movable Type and even Apple’s iWeb.

Pick a hosting provider
After determining which blogging technology you plan to use, you’ll have to determine where your blog will be hosted.  In other words, you’re selecting the Internet servers that your blog content will reside on.  If you don’t know enough about this to care one way or another, it may make sense to get started with one of the free hosting options such as WordPress.com, the hosting arm of the WordPress.org software.

I went with LA-based hosting and virtualization provider Media Temple at a cost of $200 for 1 year of their Grid Service.  While feedback on Media Temple has been somewhat love-it-or-hate-it, a potential concern, they bill themselves as an organization designed to host sites such that they can sustain a sudden rush of traffic.  While I’d prefer to never buy something based on a sales pitch, Media Temple is also one of four hosting providers mentioned on the WordPress.org site, which I took as a tacit endorsement.  The process of signing up for Media Temple and performed a ‘1-click install’ of WordPress 3.1 into my account was a relatively painless, as it should be.  My site has loaded quickly every time that I’ve looked at it since.  So far, so good.

[Update: Media Temple suffered their first service outage affecting the snnyc blog four weeks after this original post.  Details are here.  I noticed no other issues affecting the site through the remainder of 2011.  If anything, the performance has improved.  Nearing the one-year point, I couldn’t be happier with Media Temple.]

Do you need an SSL certificate?
If you’ve ever done online banking or made a purchase from a web store like eBay or Amazon.com, then you’ve used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption.  This technology protects your web traffic by encrypting it such that anyone who observes your traffic in transit across the Internet can’t read it.  The technology behind SSL includes the use of a certificate at the server that is typically issued by a well-known, trusted certificate authority.

If you plan to post to or administer your blog from public settings such as coffee shops and airports, you may want to protect your login credentials by encrypting them in transit using SSL.  Frankly it’s a smart precaution regardless of where you’ll post from in the future.  For snnyc.com, I purchased a one-year SSL certificate from GoDaddy.com for $49.99.  I then installed that certificate in my hosting account at Media Temple, which was once again an easy process.

Do you need professional artistic services?
Those who have known me for years have seen me illustrate some fairly convincing logos and take some decent photos using professional equipment.  That was awhile ago.  As I got started on this project, I was under a fair amount of unrelated mental stress and wasn’t feeling particularly creative.  I felt from the start that creative services might be a good investment.  You’ll need to make an assessment of your own skills and time available in transforming your creative vision into reality.

The snnyc.com logo is the result of Melbourne & San Francisco-based 99designs and freelance designer ‘seerdon‘ (Charlie Symour M. Caballero) of the Philippines.  I launched a $295 contest at 99designs.com to create the new logo.  Seerdon’s winning entry was one of 86 design variations submitted over 7 days.  At the conclusion of the contest, I paid the fee and received the image in the formats requested along with a document transferring ownership of the work.  Needless to say, I was very satisfied with the outcome.

Next, I wanted a photo of myself for the header image.  Finding a photographer in New York City is as easy as posting an add to the Creative Gigs section of Craigslist.  Be prepared to take your add back down within twenty-four hours, as you may well get a hundred responses in that period of time.  Joe Giraud was the first to respond to me.  It was obvious from Joe’s web site that he has the necessary photography tools, experience and vision to do great work.  I didn’t have to wonder whether he could capture the image that I had asked for.  His quote of $200 for a photo  session and unrestricted use of one edited photo, while not the lowest, was a solid value.

Working with Joe was easy.  He and his Assistant Cat met with me the first time down at the southern tip of Manhattan.  After taking the photos, Joe sent me two edited views later the same day.  Ultimately Joe and I got together for a second session in Midtown to pursue a new slant to the original concept, an idea suggested by a friend who I’ll introduce in the next section.  Our second session yielded the header image that you see today.  Joe was as pleasant, professional and accommodating the second time around.  I paid another $200 for the second session, the outcome of which was clearly worth it.

Do you need web design or WordPress customization services?
Snnyc.com is based on the Twenty Ten theme, the default theme shown when you install WordPress 3.0 or 3.1.  You’d easily find tens of thousands of sites based on this theme alone if you were to look very hard.  Having said that, I may not have arrived at what we see here today without the valued assistance of WordPress Guy, all-around creative genius and respected friend, Brian Watts of Olmstead Township, OH.  In addition to injecting an idea into the photographic process from 500 miles away, Brian patiently translated my various requests into technical reality.  Over a period of two weeks, Brian fielded a series of requests ranging from modifying the style sheets several times to researching and deploying certain gadgets to repeatedly moving around, resizing and adjusting the shading of the logo relative to the header photo.  Brian made good use of his 10.75 hours and charged me a modest $537.50 for his work to this point.  Again, this was money well spent in turning the vision in my head into technical reality or better.

Begin Writing
If you’d been running a calculator while reading this, you’d note that I spent $1520.81 launching this blog to the point that I was ready to write this first post.  Like so many IT projects these days, this effort pulled in contributors and service providers from as diverse a geography as the Philippines, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Scottsdale, Olmsted Township, OH, New York City and Connecticut.  Launching in this manner way was a logical extension of who I am and my place in time.  And Thomas Friedman is right.

In future posts, I hope to bring the minimum narrative necessary and more technical how-to information.  If you have questions or ideas for upcoming posts, leave a reply below.  Thank you for reading today.