Hints & tips


21st Mar 2013

CyanogenMod website

Geek hat firmly on.

People often talk about how Google’s Android mobile operating system is ‘open’, especially when compared to Apple’s iOS. For the average user the details of how the two companies’ philosophies differ aren’t a cause for concern, but there are certain scenarios in which Android’s openness makes it possible to achieve Very Good Things™. Here’s an example of one.

CyanogenMod boot animationCyanogenMod is a replacement firmware (i.e. underlying software) for Android phones which enhances the standard operating system and strips out the extra crud often installed by mobile companies. One good reason for doing this is that such companies often neglect to upgrade old but perfectly serviceable phones to the latest software, because they want users to ditch their old handsets and upgrade to shiny new ones (dipping their hand in their pockets while doing so, of course). Because Android is open source, it’s possible for third parties like the CyanogenMod team to take the code, implement the necessary tweaks to ensure compatibility with a particular phone’s hardware, and release the resulting firmware into the wild. Install the custom firmware and hey presto, an old phone can be brought bang up to date.

Various Android devices

In my case, I’ve just installed CyanogenMod 10.1 which is based on the latest release of Android Jelly Bean (version 4.2.2). This operating system is 1 month old, so it’s about as cutting edge as it’s possible to be. I’ve installed this on my Samsung Galaxy S2, a phone which first came out two years ago. As a result, my (in technological terms) ancient smartphone now supports the best that Android has to offer, at no cost and without the need to upgrade. New features like Google Now and the futuristic ‘Holo’ interface in Jelly Bean (including the significant UI speed improvements brought in by Project Butter) along with a ton of other new goodies mean that my phone’ll be rocking the good stuff right up until it’s time to renew my contract (I might not even bother replacing the handset so long as it continues to support the latest Android through CyanogenMod).

geekhatInstalling a custom firmware isn’t for the easily intimidated, however. There’s a possibility of ‘bricking’ (i.e. killing) your phone if you don’t follow the instructions, so it’s not advisable if you’re not comfortable with this sort of thing. That said, if you do feel confident enough to give it a try, or you’ve got nothing to lose in attempting to give a new lease of life to an old handset, it’s worth a shot. (obligatory disclaimer: 39steps ain’t responsible for any broken phones!)



Posted by Laurence in Hints & tips | Post a comment »

Making things move in HTML emails

7th Nov 2012

At 39steps we don’t generally go for whizz-bang and flashy marketing, but sometimes it just might have a place.

Traditional HTML email wisdom would have it that you can’t have animation or video in your email because most of the email clients can’t display video or Flash. This wisdom is of course correct, but there is one possibility for displaying animation in HTML emails. It’s been a while since we made one of these, so bear-with, but here it is…

Yes we are advocating the use of that 1990’s favourite – the animated GIF!

The example above is obviously very simple and you can see it working in our email newsletter, but there is a lot more that can be done with the animated GIF than just moving star bursts and flashing text! It is possible to make animated GIF’s from short movie clips and this presents an interesting way of having a small amount of video content imbedded in your email for nearly everyone to view (apart from those reading in Outlook 2007, who will only see the first frame of the animation).

Here’s an example html email with short video clips.

You can’t show very much, but it is an interesting technique to make an email campaign more eye-catching. Obviously we would not recommend going over-board with animated GIF’s, but we must admit we do like a bit of tack now and again!

Posted by Steven in Hints & tips | Post a comment »

Do you suffer from Browser Resizing Syndrome?

11th Sep 2012

Graphic depicting a responsive website on several devices

If you happen to know any web developers you might have noticed the recent outbreak of Browser Resizing Syndrome among them. Those afflicted can be found staring glassy-eyed at their screens, resizing their web browsers slowly left to right and back again, occasionally murmuring appreciative noises or unimpressed grunts. As yet there is no known cure, but symptoms can reportedly be managed by frequent ingestion of strong, freshly brewed coffee.

The cause of this affliction? A recent phenomenon in web design techniques known as Responsive Design.

What is Responsive Design?

Responsive design is a method of re-arranging, resizing or replacing/removing the elements of a web page depending on the size of the screen which is begin used to view the page. It allows web designers and developers to create a single site which responds to the available screen space on a myriad of devices, which is extremely important in the modern world of technology, where there are new internet-enabled gadgets in lots of shapes and sizes constantly being released. A fully responsive website can have multiple ‘steps’ which re-arrange the page’s elements to create a layout that is optimised for anything from the largest 30″ monitors right down to a 3.5″ smartphone.

Why’s it a good thing?

Usability and better communication

The basic idea in responsive design involves detecting the dimensions of the user’s screen then re-arranging/resizing/removing elements to ensure the most important element of the page — its content — is displayed optimally on the screen. Most of us have used full desktop websites on a smartphone, and while they work, they are often clumsy to navigate because of lots of unnecessary design elements which might look great on a desktop monitor but which crowd out the screen of a small handheld device. The use of mobile devices to browse the web is increasing at an exponential rate, so if users get frustrated trying to use a site that isn’t optimised for their device they’ll quickly go elsewhere.

It’s cheaper

Previously, to create a mobile-optimised browsing experience it was necessary to detect whether the user was using a mobile phone then serve them up a separate version of the website which existed alongside the normal desktop one. This is time-consuming and expensive, because lots of extra design, architecture and content management decisions need to be taken and a lot of work is duplicated because two sites essentially need to be run in parallel. Added to this, the list of devices to which the secondary mobile website should be served must also be kept up to date.

It’s a modern approach that’s future-proof

Responsive design solves these issues by being ‘device-agnostic’ — it doesn’t care what particular model of phone or tablet you are using, it just adapts the site’s layout based on the size of your device’s screen. This allows for much greater future-proofing; as the web standards behind responsive design continue to be built in to new devices, designers and developers can be confident that a responsive website they create now will work well on internet-enabled devices that haven’t even been released yet.

How do I see it in action?

The easiest way to see a responsive design in action is to grab the right edge of your browser and move it in towards the left. If the site changes as the available space gets smaller, this generally means it was built using responsive design techniques (but don’t bother trying it with our site — it’s something we will be getting round to, but cobbler’s shoes and all that!). Note that some older browsers don’t support responsive design — we’d always recommend the latest versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, both of which are cutting-edge and are 100% free.

Some really nice examples include,, and our very own (recently launched!) Sniffer website.

What’s the prognosis?

Unfortunately some of us in the industry are too badly affected by BRS, but this is good news for you as an (unafflicted) client. We’ve got the know-how to create great responsive sites that ensure your message is communicated across a broad range of devices, thereby maximising your online audience.

If you’re interested in a new web design project (whether responsive or not), or think a conversion of your existing site to a responsive design might be a valuable improvement to your online presence, please get in touch for a chat.

Posted by Laurence in Hints & tips | 1 Comment »

Cookie Crumbles: The EU Cookie Directive…

5th Jul 2012

[The tech press has been awash with cookie-related pun headlines, so we thought we’d keep ours simple…]

You may recently have heard about the EU’s Cookie Directive which came into force in the UK on the 26th of May. This pan-European law requires website owners to seek consent from users before storing any info about the visitor. It’s likely that even basic website for SMEs will use some form of cookie! So, is your website up to date…?

So, what ARE cookies? Apart from being things I dunk in my tea in front of the TV… (with thanks to the DBA for the guidance!)
A cookie is a string of data that a website places on the device from which it is accessed to store and remember things about that visitor. Broadly speaking there are four main types of cookies;
• advertising cookies;
• functionality cookies which are often used to remember a visitor when they later return to the site;
• performance cookies for example, those used to monitor the number of visits to a site; and
• strictly necessary cookies, such as those required to securely access the service requested by the visitor.

Find out more from the legal gurus at DBA: CookieCrumbles

Cookie Crumbles

When the cookies crumble...



Posted by Laurence in Hints & tips | Post a comment »

Taming the mercurial Web

19th Apr 2012

The bazaar

We all know and love the Web — access to an abundance of free information, the ability to communicate near-instantly across the globe, and timesinks like Angry Birds are things we all celebrate (ok, perhaps not the latter). Part of what makes the Web so vibrant is its open architecture, which allows it to develop and evolve at a truly incredible pace. Individuals and companies can innovate new products and technologies with very little barrier to entry, allowing new ideas to explode into cyberspace with a speed and vigour that exists in no other sphere of life.

Being left behind

Compuserve Information Manager 3.5" floppy discThis vitality creates practical problems, however. Long gone are the days when everyone used essentially the same basic configuration to access the web — the desktop computer with a 13-15 inch screen running a single web browser dialling in via modem to one of a handful of ISPs.

These days computers come in all shapes and sizes and connect to the ‘net with anything from a (nowadays slow) GPRS signal to a 100 megabit fibre optic connection. That’s to say nothing of the new software being released every day — web browser updates, new web technologies like HTML5 and CSS3, new programming frameworks and languages, cleverer Javascript techniques, and so on.

HTML5 stickerAnd to top all of that off, running at the apex of all that hardware and software technology are websites, which themselves evolve at a dramatic pace as web developers implement those new techniques or find cleverer ways to achieve what clients want using existing technology.

Needless to say, the pace of change can be bewildering.

Google Server ErrorThe unfortunate result of all that evolution is that things can and do break over time. What was once a rock-solid, standards-compliant website which worked great on all major browsers will inevitably become out-of-date as the Web moves on around it. Unforeseeable developments in browser technology or marketshare can mean that some Web users, including potentially those in a particular target market, stop seeing your website the way it was intended to be seen, which can result in your business losing credibility and trust. Added to that, some designs simply become dated over time, and if left unchecked this can have similarly negative effects.

Staying ahead of the curve

So, what can you do about it? Well, if you’re technologically-inclined and have the time, it’s possible to keep abreast of developments by reading and following good technology writers and blogs, of which there are hundreds on the Web (good examples include Ars Technica for general tech and Smashing Magazine for web development-related news). It’s also worth subscribing to a few choice RSS feeds and Twitter accounts to get the latest info delivered right to you. Everything you need to know is just a click or a cleverly-worded search away, provided you can identify what is and isn’t a valuable resource.

Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant - Mitch KaporIf that sounds like an awful lot of work, or geekery just isn’t your thing, there is another way.

Not coincidentally, we as a web development agency are experts at this kind of thing. Web technology is our bread and butter, and keeping up with browser releases and the latest whizz bang is what gets us out of bed in the morning. So, rather than taking time out of your day to read up on the latest web news yourself, why not tap into our expertise — after all, we’re immersed in it daily because keeping abreast is a crucial part of our business.

Our website maintenance agreements are designed to give you the peace of mind that if things go a bit awry with your website, we’re there to sort it. The basic idea is that you purchase blocks of our time, which can be used for anything from a CMS security update to fixing an element that’s gone skew-whiff following a browser update. If no problems arise with your website, the time you’ve purchased can instead be used to add new features, tweak its design or even for some refresher CMS training. All that without the added expense of admin hours spent estimating for the work!

If you’d like to know more about our website maintenance agreements, email the team.

3.5″ Compuserve floppy disk photo by James Cridland.
Google Server Error image by Remko van Dokkum.

Posted by Laurence in Hints & tips, Latest News | Post a comment »


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