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Archive for the ‘Web Design’ Category

Ad Blockers and My Art Title Generator

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

Automatic Art Title Generator

A few days ago I added an Art Title Generator to my web site. I did so as a consequence of having writer’s block on coming up with a title for a generative artwork I had created at the beginning of the week. I wrote the Python program for the generator using word dictionaries I had created for a Haiku generator I had written using Java. I added it to my web site and promoted it via some of my social media accounts.

I was surprised when I heard from a couple of people who said that it was not working. Surprised because this is a Python program running on the server and delivering to the user a complete web page with the generated artwork title clearly visible. I couldn’t imagine why these folks were not seeing the title – but were seeing the rest of the generated page.


I went to my son’s computer and used his browser (Chrome) to view the page. And what I saw was no title. It just wasn’t there – which was impossible. I did a view source to take a look at the code that was received by his browser – and the title was there – right where it was supposed to be. So why wasn’t it visible?

And why did the art title display in my Chrome browser but not my son’s? Then it occurred to me. I asked my son if he was using an ad blocker. He said yes. Looking at my CSS, I had used a CSS class that I had named "contentad" and used it to display quotations about art at the bottom of quite a few of my web pages. The only explanation for the invisibility of the generated art titles was that an ad blocker was looking at the name of the CSS class and saying to itself "oh, this is an advertisement so I’ll hide it from the viewer."

To test my theory, I renamed the CSS class and then updated the 102 html files on my site that used it – as well as the Python program. I went back to my son’s browser and voila – there was the art title in full view – no longer hidden by the ad blocker plugin.

To read more about my art title generator and generate a title for yourself, you can proceed to the introductory page Automatic Art Title Generator. Or if you are the impatient sort and want to see an art title right now, load the Art Title Generator.

Here’s hoping that you enjoy the algorithmically generated artwork titles.

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My Social Media Holiday

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Digital Art Prints website screenshot
Coming Soon
Digital Art Prints website screenshot

My use of social media has always been erratic because it has never been a high priority for me. That does not mean that I don’t have accounts on many platforms – I do. A number of the accounts I set up are simply for learning about that platform’s features and usability – an area of professional interest for me.

To improve my knowledge of social media, I’ve read articles, books, and taken online classes. I’ve even taught classes for artists and photographs on how to use social media. But knowing and doing are two separate things. Let me provide an example. I attended an online seminar on how to be successful at Twitter. The key take away from this class, other than the completely generic advice to post great tweets was that the teacher spent three hours a day every day engaging on Twitter. For me, that is far too high a price to pay just to be popular on Twitter. Personally, I don’t spend three hours a year using Twitter.

My periods of absence from social media are driven by two key factors. First is the availability of time. Second is the variety of platforms I have accounts on. The more accounts you have, the less time you can devote to any one of them and skipping out on one makes it easier to skip out on the others.

Social Media Platforms

The main social media platforms I have accounts on and on which I am actually at all active are:

I have left off this list the many niche social networks I am on as well as sharing platforms like Tumblr and FLickr. And of course there are the more-than-a-handful of social media platforms that have gone out of business.

It has now been several months since I have engaged on any of my social media accounts. What happened? The most striking of my absences is from Linkedin – which was in large part driven by Linkedin’s own actions – two in particular. First they made a number of platform changes that were particularly harmful to members who managed groups. In trying to make the platform more mobile-friendly, Linkedin eliminated a number of usability features. Fortunately there was a strong user backlash and Linkedin eventually restored many of those features. The second was driven by the fact that I stopped receiving group updates from Linkedin. I reported the problem to Linkedin and their response was to basically say "yeah, we made some changes to the platform and a small number of our users were adversely impacted. But because it’s a small number, it’s not a priority for us to fix it." What is small for them was critical for me. That sort of customer service led me from using Linkedin on a daily basis to being only an occasional visitor and that in light of the fact that Linkedin had a couple years ago wanted me to promote the fact that I was in the top one percent of profiles on Linkedin!

So what have I done with the time I gained by ignoring my social media accounts?

Reading is FUNdamental

Two principle areas occupied my reading time. One area was for pleasure and knowledge. The other area was for professional development. Yes, its true, following are books I read for pleasure and knowledge:

  • Business
    • Making It In America – A 12 Point Plan for Growing Your Business and Keeping Jobs At Home by John Bassett and Ellis Henican
    • Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch
  • Space Development
    • The Business of Space: The Next Frontier of International Competition by L Brennan et al
    • Realizing Tomorrow: The Path to Private Spaceflight by Chris Dubbs
    • Crowded Orbits: Conflict and Cooperation in Space by James Clay Moltz
    • Law and Regulation of Commercial Mining of Minerals in Outer Space by Ricky Lee
    • The Twenty-First Century Commercial Space Imperative – SpringerBriefs in Space Development by Anthony Young

The books I read for professional development dealt with computing: specifically web design and programming.

Web Design

Earlier this year I decided to dig into learning the Bootstrap framework for responsive web design. I had already converted by own sites to mobile-friendly designs using the general principles of responsive web design – but I wanted to learn Bootstrap. My first tangible product was to convert the
Chicago Society for Space Studies website to a mobile friendly design using Bootstrap. Having learned Bootstrap to an acceptable level of proficiency, I was able to design and code and implement the new site in a single weekend.

I am still learning Bootstrap and am close to releasing a new web site – Digital Art Prints which will feature some of the artwork and photography that I offer for sale on a few of the POD (Print On Demand) services I have accounts with.

Python Programming

For some time I’ve been wanting to learn the Python programming language in order to create scripts for GIMP and possibly Blender. What finally pushed me over the edge was the decision to create a new web site (Digital Art Prints) and to use a Python program to construct the web pages from a database I maintain for all my art and photography. My first actual productive use of Python was to create an auto-mailer program for email distribution for Chicago Society for Space Studies. I also have a couple of other projects in mind for interactive website queries.


I give a number of talks over the course of a year. These talks tend to fall into four distinct categories. As a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador, I give talks about planetary science and planetary exploration – the most recent of which was about the New Horizons mission to Pluto. As President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies, I give talks that focus on space business, space development, and space policy. For more about this, see my Chicago Society for Space Studies Speakers Bureau page. As an artist, I give talks on a number of digital art subjects and on various aspects of web use for art marketing. You can see a full list on my lectures and presentations page.

My last presentation was last Saturday (for details see Space Art Program At Elmhurst Art Museum). My next presentation will be this coming Monday for the Nineteenth Century Club and Charitable Association on the topic Globalization of the Solar System – a presentation that asks the question can the economic and technological principles that make globalization possible here on Earth work for a human civilization that is spread across the solar system?

I also completed work on a new presentation titled The Impact of Space Policy on Space Settlement and am working on a presentation about the history of lunar art and another on Earth imaging and remote sensing.

Digital Art Prints website

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on a new web site – where I will have a portfolio of art and photography that I have made available on certain POD (Print On Demand) sites, like Redbubble and Crated for example. The design of the site, which is built using the Bootstrap framework, is complete. I’m not using a CMS (WordPress for example) for the site but am instead working on a Python program that will take the information I have for each artwork and use that information to automatically build the site’s web pages and image gallery. This will allow me to swap out web page designs very easily. I have also written a program using the Processing programming language to automatically generate all the images that the web site will need. Stay tuned as I hope to have the site up before the end of November – assuming no more computer problems.

And What About Social Media?

I certainly expect to return soon to the world of social media but probably not until after I have rolled out my Digital Art Prints website, which is my number two priority at the moment. My number one priority is putting together the next issue of Spacewatch – the quarterly e-newsletter of the Chicago Society for Space Studies.

In the event that I don’t have any more blog posts before Thanksgiving, here is wishing everyone a happy and hearty Thanksgiving.

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A Mobile Friendly Artsnova Blog

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Google Developers Mobile Friendly Test Page
Google Developer Says I’m Mobile Friendly

Last night I held my breath and swapped out my old blog theme files and CSS with the new responsive web design replacements I had just finished coding up. Why? Well, if you follow the news of the web then you are no doubt aware of the big change Google made last month (4/21 to be exact) to its search engine ranking algorithm. The heart of that change was to penalize web sites that are not mobile-friendly – or to put a positive spin on it – to reward web sites that are mobile friendly.

It was last September that I re-coded my main web site using the responsive web design paradigm to make my web site mobile friendly. You can read about that in my post Artsnova Digital Art Gallery – Mobile Friendly At Last. And in December when I launched my Jim Plaxco Photography web site, I did it as a mobile friendly web site from the start. It’s much easier to design a mobile friendly web site from scratch than it is to convert an existing web site!

Tackling my blog was another matter entirely, particularly since I had to first edit all of my previous blog entries to ready them for use with a responsive web design layout. That took time. Plus I had to insure that the responsive design theme I came up with for my blog provided the same look and feel as my separately managed web site. This extra challenge is a consequence of having created my web site first and only later adding a blog – for which I simply used a default theme at the time. With all the other items on my agenda, I really did not want to spend time making this design change but I viewed it as a necessity given Google’s actions. Note that mobile visits to my web site for the last month accounted for 16.9 percent of my traffic.

I’m happy to say that the implementation work is now done. I only have two more tasks. First I must revisit all my posts that contain embedded videos and determine how I will handle them as they use a fixed-width definition (just 425 pixels wide so not a big deal – I just need to create a CSS class for them). Second, I need to revisit every blog post using a combination of browsers and mobile devices to make sure that nothing broke in terms of the page layout. You could say that I’m doing my testing in a "live" environment. This is not considered good practice but given my time constraints, it is a better course of action for me to pursue.

If in the course of wandering around my blog you find something amiss, please contact me so that I can put things right. Thank you.

Happy Surfing!

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Artsnova Digital Art Gallery – Mobile Friendly At Last

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

Artsnova Digital Art Gallery responsive design for Smartphone
Artsnova Digital Art Gallery responsive design for Smartphone

One of the projects that I’ve been working on – off and on as time permitted – over the last few months has been to recode my Artsnova Digital Art Gallery web site in order to improve the site’s usability for mobile users. Specifically I was working to create a responsive web design version of my web site.

My old design (which this WordPress blog still uses) used a fixed-size layout so that no matter what your device’s form factor (screen size), the relative size and placement of images and the flow of text was identical across the board. This made design and maintenance a simple matter. Pages would look the same to everyone. This approach works great for the desktop.

As more surfers spend more time using their mobile devices to surf the web, it becomes more important that web sites migrate to a design methodology that is friendly to mobile users. This is because of the way in which mobile device browsers display traditional web pages. If you pull up this blog post on your smart phone’s browser, the entire page will be displayed on your screen – but everything is going to be so small that you won’t be able to read anything or click any of the links without first manually resizing the content. In addition, my site was using the hugely popular CSS dropdown menu method for site navigation. It works great on the desktop but not on mobile devices.

The percentage of traffic my site gets from mobile users is in the teens – up from the mid-single digits of just a couple years ago. As I expect that trend to continue, I felt it was time for me to sit down and create a web site that would be friendly to mobile users.

I opted to go with a responsive web design solution as that would require only a single code base – as opposed to maintaining one code base for desktop users and one or more additional code bases for mobile users. What is responsive web design? Responsive web design uses HTML (HyperText Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to create a web page whose layout is dependent on (responsive to) the size of the screen it is being viewed in. That’s it. The main benefit is that responsive web design allows me to create a single web page that gets delivered to all users – as opposed to creating one version of a web page for desktop users, another version of the page for smartphone users, and another version of the page for tablet users. My web site currently has 329 HTML pages (not counting the pages associated with my blog). Responsive web design means 329 pages and one set of CSS definitions. The non-responsive alternative would mean 987 pages and three sets of CSS definitions. That’s a lot of work and means a lot more maintenance in the future. And it’s worth pointing out that I don’t use a CMS (Content Management System) for my site. I’ve coded everything by hand as static HTML pages.

In addition to developing the necessary CSS code to implement a responsive web design, I had to recode and test each of my site’s existing web pages. While for most pages these changes were fairly standard, I have a number of pages that presented particular challenges due to their content.

Another aspect of my design is that it does not use Javascript. Everything is done using HTML and CSS3. I’ve avoided Javascript for two reasons. First and foremost, not using Javascript makes for a faster page load – particularly for mobile devices. Second, not using Javascript means that there is one less component of my site’s code base that I have to maintain. Of course not using Javascript means that my web site lacks the dynamics and interactivity features that Javascript makes possible. However, hopefully you are coming here for the content and not visual bells and whistles.

Last night I put the finishing touches on my new design and took the plunge of rolling it out – even though I haven’t tested as thoroughly as I should. However, my schedule over the coming months has little spare time so better to act now and deal with issues as they arise.

To see a full side by side visual comparison of my standard vs responsive design home page as seen on my Android smartphone, clip on the image below.

Artsnova Digital Art Gallery site comparison image

What About My Blog?

If you’re reading this on a mobile device, you can see that I have not converted my blog to a responsive web design. Converting my blog to a responsive design would take almost as much time as it took me to convert my web site. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I created my web site and blog separately. Later on I created custom WordPress templates in order to visually integrate my blog into my web site. This approach has worked quite well but it means that the two are designed and maintained separately. For the foreseeable future, I will not have the time to spend on converting my blog to a responsive design.


In learning about responsive web design and in coding up my design, the two books that I made the most use of were:

Closing Thought

As a parting shot, I’ll leave you with this quote by Microsoft’s Bob Herbold: "It’s not the technology, folks, it’s the people. When we trace [the errors] back, it’s always human error." Of course what he doesn’t say is that for the most part the people making those errors are Microsoft’s programmers.

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Pinterest for Business

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Pinterest for Business
Pinterest for Business Page

At the end of 2012, Pinterest introduced a new class of accounts – Pinterest for Business. At that point in time I wasn’t even using Pinterest. Over the last year I have rather slowly added content to my Pinterest account while not pushing my Pinterest presence. It wasn’t until the end of December 2013 that I created a Pinterest for Business account.

When I signed up for the business account, the sign-up page provided the option "Already have an account? Convert here." Rather than converting my existing account into a business account, I decided to create a separate business account purely for my art business. Doing this gives me the freedom to post irrelevant content/pictures to my personal account while preserving my business account for images that pertain specifically to my art.

In setting up a business account, one of the tasks you need to perform is to verify your web site (meaning proving that you actually own your business’ domain name). Pinterest offers a few different methods for the verification process. The verification option I chose to use was to upload a small html file to my web site for Pinterest to find.

The first feature of the Pinterest business account that I took advantage of was the Pin It button. Adding a bit of Javascript to the 190+ web pages of artwork means that now when someone hovers their mouse over my art, a little Pin It button pops up – making it very easy for someone to pin my art. Pinterest then uses this as a part of the analytics data they provide for business accounts.

Pinterest describes these features as follows: "Once you’ve added the Pin It button and verified your website, you’ll be able to access your web analytics. Analytics shows you what content from your website is most popular on Pinterest. Find out how many people are Pinning from your website, seeing your Pins, and clicking your content." Now I don’t need Pinterest to tell me what’s popular on my web site – Google Analytics does that for me. What is of value to me is making it easier for people to share my art on Pinterest and having access to Pinterest analytics telling me which of my artworks are being shared on Pinterest. This is particularly useful for artists and photographers.

From a use point of view, I have seen no difference between regular Pinterest and business Pinterest. It’s basically the same interface with the same editing capabilities. So if you have a personal Pinterest account, setting up and using a Pinterest for Business account will be no challenge – assuming that you have your own domain name.

My advice: if you are an artist or a photographer or anyone whose business is reliant on images, I would definitely create a Pinterest for Business account. For help and reference purposes, I recommend that you check out the following resources:

In closing, the best thing about writing this article is that it spurred me to go on a board creation/pinning frenzy last night so that there would actually be something for you to see on my Pinterest business account page.

So visit my Artsnova Pinterest for Business Account and repin, repin, repin. Oh, and don’t forget to follow me while you’re there.

Happy New Year everyone.

Pinterest for Business

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New Art and the Artsnova Web Site Redesign

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Web Site Redesign Before After
Artsnova Web Site Redesign Before (left) and After (right)

Finally after a couple months of somewhat intermittent work I have deployed the redesigned version of my Artsnova Digital Art Gallery web site. One big consequence of the redesign is that I now have a much larger portion of my art online. Prior to the redesign I had 79 artworks on the site. As a part of the redesign I added 117 additional works of art (creating the additional 117 web pages for the art involved more work than the actual redesign!). The art I’ve added spans a number of years – going all the way back to 2002. Much of this is art that I have not previously made available for sale.

I also took this opportunity to remove all the photography from my web site. My plan is to, at some time in the future, create a separate web site for my photography. One site dedicated to art and another site dedicated to photography is a much more appropriate approach from both a business perspective and a search engine optimization perspective. So now I have total of 188 works of art on my site – with yet more to add as I find the time.

Back on the subject of the redesign, my five objectives in redesigning my site were:

  1. to widen the content area to support larger images for the art gallery
  2. to simplify and streamline site navigation
  3. to reduce the number of art gallery subject categories
  4. to give the design a cleaner look primarily by eliminating the sidebar
  5. to prepare the site to be upgraded to a responsive design for mobile browsers.

Widening the Content Area

For me the most important part of the redesign was to widen the content area so that I could use larger images to display my art. In the figure below, you can see a before and after image of one of my artworks – Beyond the Mountains

Beyond the Mountains Gallery Art Before and After
Beyond the Mountains Gallery Art Before and After

The darkened, desaturated component shows the area of the original image and the larger, colored background image shows the new size. It may not look like much but going from 600 to 670 pixels wide makes for a large difference on smaller screens.

Streamline Site Navigation

The second most conceptually difficult part of the redesign was to simplify site navigation so that I could eliminate an entire category of links. This required a rethinking of how I would organize content – while keeping in mind that the critical factor was making it as easy as possible for visitors to find what they were looking for.

Reduce the Number of Art Galleries

The most difficult part of the redesign was figuring out how to reduce and organize the number of art galleries I had on my site. With the old design, art was organized into the following eight different categories:

  • Abstract Art
  • Astronomical Art
  • Computer Art
  • Moon Art
  • Nature Art
  • Portrait Art
  • Space Art
  • Technology Art

Combining the Moon and Astronomical galleries into a Space gallery was easy. How to handle the abstract, nature, and technology categories proved to be much more difficult. For information about the new galleries and an explanation as to the contents of each, see the Art Gallery Index

A Cleaner Look

Giving the site a cleaner look was easy. Shrink the masthead, eliminate the sidebar, reduce the number of top level site navigation categories from five to four, and reduce the overall page width. The serendipitous aspect of this was that by eliminating a navigation category and the sidebar, I was able to decrease my overall page width while simultaneously expanding the content area.

Responsive Design Preparation

One of my many objectives for the coming year is to create a mobile-friendly version of my web site using what is known as responsive web design. The redesign accomplished this by simplifying the html page structure. This should make it easier for me to code up a responsive design. Stay tuned.

Now for the Bad News

The bad news is that I have not yet modified the template files for this blog so my blog is now not one but two generations of redesign out of sync with my web site. One of these days hopefully I will find the time to go in and redesign my blog so that it matches my web site.

If You Find An Error

If you find an error or mistake on one of the Artsnova pages, please consider dropping me a line. You can use the Artsnova Blog Contact Form to reach me.

Thanks and happy surfing, Jim

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