Thursday, December 25, 2014

A nice tool: Dynamik Website Builder by CobaltApps

It's been a while since I blogged about something technical so today I want to say a few good words about a terrific tool that we've been using as of late and which we may 'standardize' on.

Many of you know that we do our websites in WordPress and with it we use the Genesis Framework. For those who don't know what a framework is, it is enough to say that these beasts add facility, ability, and stability to WordPress. There are lots of good frameworks out there. We like Genesis.

Traditionally developers have two choices when doing a site. a) Start from scratch. b) Use a template, often called a 'theme.' Most developers start with a theme.

A theme is basically the layout of the homepage and in reality is boxes within boxes where you put content.

A theme is great if the client likes the layout, but it can get cumbersome to make structural changes... like move a box from here to there or add a new box somewhere.

One of the current trends is to offer a third option... a "theme builder" theme. There are several of these out there. Most can be rather cumbersome to use, but that's a story for another time.

The 'builder' we are using is called the Dynamik Website Builder (DWB) theme which only works with the Genesis framework.

Originally DWB was its own framework, called Catalyst but Eric Hamm, the head-honcho at Cobalt Apps decided to 'throw in' with Genesis, probably thinking "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" I think it was a good decision for him and the rest of the large Genesis community of users.

There is a ton of documentation on the CobaltApps site about DWB and I'm not going to go over it here. I'm only going to point out some of the reasons we like it and why you might want to consider it for yourself or your clients.

1) It gives us simple tools to create boxes (known as widget areas.) We can easily create any layout we want without writing any code (besides a splash of CSS.) So when a client asks for a layout with three rows of four boxes where some rows have boxes of varying size, it is simple to do. Before DWB we'd have to find a theme that maybe had 3 boxes in a row and then make modifications as well as add more rows. If you've ever had to deconstruct a theme, you know what a PITA is it.

2) A lot of thought was put into the product in giving developers what they wanted most... easy menu-driven styling... fonts, colors, widths, etc., so that instead of having to write a ton of custom CSS, you just check some boxes or add color codes or sizes to the design menus... done and done. And the developers have made the chore of getting sites too look good (resize) on small devices much easier.

3) Having only one learning curve has been a a productivity enhancer for us. Even though most themes that run under Genesis have things in common, often there is enough in differences that each time you use a different theme for your clients you have to learn or re-learn the nuances of it. With DWB it's a "learn it once, know it forever" kind of paradigm. (Sort of like the old "write once, run everywhere" motto of Java in the 1990s!) Yes, there is a learning curve but it's a one-time deal and the curve is not very steep. This is not Ruby on Rails!

4) The docs, videos and the community are all very helpful. You got a question? Pop it on their forum and in an hour or so someone will tell you how to do what you are having troubles doing. These are nice people... and sometimes "the man" himself (Eric) will pop on and contribute his knowledge. This is NOT a Debian newsgroup (for those who know that wild-ass bunch in the Linux world!)

Dynamik is a very nice system. Yes, it cost money, and a case can be made that it should not cost as much as it does. And no one likes the "hold 'em hostage" method of support by extorting users each year for updates. Most people will pay a reasonable amount, but 50% of the original license each year? Some would call that 'greed.' Others would not. All I know is that the "hostage" paradigm has made us look very, very carefully at what tools we buy because if we get dependent on them and the vendor decides to raise the renewal price into the stratosphere, we're stuck. But again, that's a story for another day.

If you do websites for others for a living (or part of your living) you would be wise to check out the Dynamik Website Builder. There is no demo, but you can see all of the design screens on their site, as well as the video on their homepage.

You might like what you see.

We have, so far.

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner 
NewMedia Website Design
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA   916-962-9296

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Annual Holiday Letter - 2014

Family and friends:

This started out as a good year. Everyone was healthy and sane (sanity is somewhat relative in our house!) 

Business was good... a good year.

The weather was nice, we even had a good crop of cherry tomatoes.... a good year!

Jane started taking French lessons as well as attended classes in photography... a good year!

I went to New York City for my annual book convention and  landed several good (i.e. paying!) clients for the web biz ( ... a good year!

Our HVAC system didn't crash and burn like we expected, but it's going to... anyone want to give us $10K for a new one? We lived in fear all summer... and we dodged the bullet... a good year!

We had a wonderful visit with my mother in Florida, who turned 89 this year... still lives independently, still drives, and still thinks I'm ten years old (You'd think I'd know at age 67 to wear clean socks and underwear, but no, not in Florida!) 

It was a good year!

Then, on a dark, dark day in November it all stopped. Life as I knew it ended. My tranquility and serenity was immediately transformed into total chaos. Nothing was the same, everything was different. My world turned from a bright happy place to one of constant stress, trials, and tribulations. 

What are you thinking? Sickness? Divorce? Death? Catastrophe? No. Wrong. I could deal with all of that if necessary. But what has been impossible to deal with is ... OUR NEW PUPPY. 

He chews everything, he bites everything, he pees on everything, he barks at everything, and he has singled me out specifically as the one life he wants to make most horrible. 

We call him Peppy, or Pepsi or Peps... or "you $#@ing dog!" depending on what shoe or piece of clothing of MINE he has chewed, eaten, or peed on. 

With Jane he's sweet and gentle and even calm. With me he becomes terrorist-dog from Al-Qaida Kennels. I heard TSA put him on a no-fly list! 

Do you know what sleep deprivation is? I do. Oh yeah!. He has a high-pitched yelp that sounds like Rush Limbaugh going off on Hillary!  Did you ever have cops show up at your door after they drove by and thought there was a strangulation going on? It's embarrassing! 

And the cost? Can he eat normal dog food? Oh no, his regal-ness has to have premium food... and the more it costs the better he likes it. He does it just to spite me.

And poor Penny, who is actually the wild thing's aunt, is getting beaten up daily. I'm telling you, this will be the first dog sent to Folsom Prison!

So why did I get a puppy? Because I'm married. (What else do you gottta know?) 

But Jane loves him... and I kind of grudgingly 'like' him... when he sleeps... which is not very often. Still, he's new life in the house... and we lost our older dog, Jack and our older cat Karmi within a couple of weeks of each other this fall. 

I'm told that if we can live through all of this, we'll get a really good dog out of it. I've also been told the Cubs will win the World Series in my lifetime. 

So that's it from here. Of course we wish all of you a safe, healthy, and prosperous New Year... and I'm offering $1200 to anyone who comes and takes the puppy-from-hell home with them! 


Jane, Al, Ziva (the crazy calico cat), Penny (the sainted Aussie dog) and... Peps (Call now. Operators are standing by!)

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner 
NewMedia Website Design
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA   916-962-9296

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho - IBPA Board of Directors - CALL FOR APPLICATIONS

Hi Angela:

Thanks for this little piece of holiday cheer. I got a good laugh over the fact that you folks think you're really fooling us with this nominating process. 

I mean, lets face it, this is a rigged procedure very similar to how candidates were chosen for the old Russian Politburo of cold-war days.

It's a contrived system and everyone who has more than a year in IBPA knows it. But just like the Russian days of old, everyone plays along with it, because after all, IBPA is run MOSTLY for the benefit of IBPA and its vendor supporters and not for the membership... similar to how the Soviet Union was run by and for the benefit of the Communist Party of the time. 

Does anyone really know who is on the Nominating Committee? 

Ms. Hay is supposed to confirm these members. My guess is that there really isn't any such committee. But let's assume I'm wrong and that there is...  is it hand-picked by Deltina? Are the names made public? I've never heard or met anyone who was ever on this committee. But I'm not surprised. Let's face it, you can't rig an election out in the open too easily. It takes secrecy and you must limit the participants... and since the fall of the old Soviet block, no one has done it better than IBPA.

If there is a committee, what standards are used to select the nominees? What interview questions are asked? Do you think anyone who disagrees with how the association is run has a chance? I once thought that Pat Bell and then later Peter Goodman would shake some branches, but it never happened. 

I'm not saying that IBPA membership does not offer any benefits. If I did I would not be a member. But each year it is getting harder and harder for me to rationalize renewal. 

I've been asked by many over the past twenty years to fill out the nomination form and 'run.' 

But I've said for twenty years that I would never serve an organization where I was not elected in a free and open process where the WHOLE membership was involved, and not 'appointed' by a secret committee chosen by who knows whom and voted on by ONLY those FEW members who attend the annual "meeting" when Pub-U is held. 

(How hard would it be to hold an on-line election? Probably very difficult since the IBPA technology is about five years behind that of the average kitchen refrigerator!)

This whole nominating process and subsequent 'election' is a sham and worthy of nothing more than a good laugh. 

It's good that IBPA does this process during the Christmas season because there are commonalities. The process is as fictional as Santa Claus and Mr. Scrooge, but everyone believes! Indeed, it is the season of joy!

IBPA's board and officer selection process give an added meaning to "Ho, ho ho."

Alan N. Canton, Managing Partner 
NewMedia Website Design
"Websites for authors, publishers, and small businesses at an affordable price"
Fair Oaks, CA   916-962-9296


On Dec 17, 2014, at 9:54 AM, Angela Bole, IBPA Executive Director wrote:

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Reminder: Wednesday, December 31, 2014 is the deadline to apply for a seat on IBPA's board of directors. See information below.

Dear Alan,

This is a friendly reminder that those interested should submit their application for a seat on the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA's) board of directors no later than Wednesday, December 31, 2014. 

Five seats are opening on IBPA's board. All IBPA members in good standing are welcome to apply. See below for more information and, as always, please let us know if you have any questions. We're happy to help!

Application Deadline: December 31, 2014

Each term on IBPA's board of directors is two years in length. Members are allowed to serve two consecutive terms. Potential candidates will be asked for a personal interview in addition to the written application. Here is the election cycle:

• Nov 14, 2014: Online application opens for IBPA's board of directors.
• Nov 30, 2014: IBPA's Board Chair confirms the members of the 2015 Board Nominating Committee.
• Dec 31, 2014: Online application closes.
• Jan 1 - 31, 2015: Board Nominating Committee interviews potential candidates.
• Feb 1, 2015: Board Nominating Committee chooses a slate of candidates for the five open seats.
• Feb 9, 2015: IBPA sends the Board Nominating Committee's slate of candidates to the full membership for consideration.
• Apr 11, 2015: IBPA membership votes to approve the slate of candidates during IBPA's Annual Members Meeting at Publishing University in Austin, Texas.
• Jul 1, 2015: New board members take office for a two-year term.
Being on the IBPA board of directors is an important way to help carry forth IBPA's mission of educating and supporting independent publishers and self-published authors. As a member of IBPA's board of directors you will directly contribute to the success of our 3,000+ members who pledge to adhere to the following Code of Ethics. . .
• To uphold the highest standards of our industry, to create works of lasting financial and/or cultural value, and to pursue editorial, design, and production excellence.
• To respect the rights of authors and other creators and stakeholders, to observe all copyright laws and conventions, and to never knowingly publish plagiarized work.
• To reward authors and contributors for their work, to be honest in our financial dealings, to write contracts in understandable language, to resolve all disputes promptly and fairly, and to foster equal opportunity in our workplaces.
• To not mislead readers or buyers with false promises, inflated sales data, or manipulated reviews.
• To recycle and reuse and to follow green practices.
In Partnership,

Angela Bole
Executive Director
Independent Book Publishers Association
1020 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Suite 204
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
P: 310-546-1818