Improving a website contact form

On another website, I have had a contact form but it was missing some functionality. For instance, it stored the input in files on a web server instead of emailing them. That was fixed more easily than expected using the PHP mail function. Even so, it remains useful to survey corresponding documentation on the w3schools website.

The other changes affected the way the form looked to a visitor. There was a reset button and that was removed on finding that such things are out of favour these days. Thinking again, there hardly was any need for it any way.

Newer additions that came with HTML5 had their place too. Including user hints using the placeholder attribute should add some user friendliness although I have avoided experimenting with browser-powered input validation for now. Use of the required attribute has its uses for tell a visitor that they have forgotten something but I need to check how that is handled in CSS more thoroughly before I go with that since there are new :required, :optional, :valid and :invalid pseudoclasses that can be used to help.

It seems that there is much more to learn about setting up forms since I last checked. This is perhaps a hint that a few books need reading as part of catching with how things are done these days. There also is something new to learn.

Keyboard shortcut for Euro currency symbol on Windows 10

Because I now have business dealings in Ireland, there is a need to add in the Euro currency symbol to emails even though I based in the U.K. and use U.K. keyboard settings. While there is the possibility to insert the symbol in Microsoft Office and other applications, using a simple keyboard shortcut is more efficient since it avoids multiple mouse clicks. For some reason, CTRL+SHFT+E got into my head as the key combination but that turns on the Track Changes facility in Word. Instead, CTRL+ALT+4 does the needful and that is what I will be keeping in mind for future usage.

A look at Google’s Pixel C

Since my last thoughts on trips away without a laptop, I have come by Google’s Pixel C. It is a 10″ tablet so it may not raise hackles on an aircraft like the 12.9″ screen of the large Apple iPad Pro might. The one that I have tried comes with 64 GB of storage space and its companion keyboard cover (there is a folio version). Together, they can be bought for £448, a saving of £150 on the full price.

Google Pixel C

The Pixel C keyboard cover uses strong magnets to hold the tablet onto it and that does mean some extra effort when changing between the various modes. These include covering the tablet screen as well as piggy backing onto it with the screen side showing or attached in such a way that allows typing. The latter usefully allows you to vary the screen angle as you see fit instead of having to stick with whatever is selected for you by a manufacturer. Unlike the physical connection offered by an iPad Pro, Bluetooth is the means offered by the Pixel C and it works just as well from my experiences so far. Because of the smaller size, it feels a little cramped in comparison with a full size keyboard or even that with a 12.9″ iPad Pro. They also are of the scrabble variety though they work well otherwise.

The tablet itself is impressively fast compared to a HTC One A9 phone or even a Google Nexus 9 and that became very clear when it came to installing or updating apps. The speed is just as well since an upgrade to Android 7 (Nougat) was needed on the one that I tried. You can turn on adaptive brightness too, which is a bonus. Audio quality is nowhere near as good as a 12.9″ iPad Pro but that of the screen easily is good enough for assessing photos stored on a WD My Passport Wireless portable hard drive using the WD My Cloud app.

All in all, it may offer that bit more flexibility for overseas trips compared to the bigger iPad Pro so I am tempted to bring one with me instead. The possibility of seeing newly captured photos in slideshow mode is a big selling point since it does functions well for tasks like writing emails or blog posts, like this one since it started life on there. Otherwise, this is a well made device.

A look at Emacs

It’s amazing what work can bring your way in terms of technology. For me, (GNU) Emacs Has proved to be such a thing recently. It may have been around since 1975, long before my adventures in computing ever started in fact, but I am asking myself why I never really have used it much. There are vague recollections of my being aware of its existence in the early days of my using UNIX over a decade ago. Was it a shortcut card with loads of seemingly esoteric keyboard shortcuts and commands that put me off it back then? The truth may have been that I got bedazzled with the world of Microsoft Windows instead and so began a distraction that lingered until very recently. As unlikely as it looks now, Word and Office would have been part of the allure of what some consider as the dark side these days. O how OpenOffice.org and their ilk have changed that state of affairs…

The unfortunate part of the Emacs story might be that its innovations were never taken up as conventions by mainstream computing. If its counterparts elsewhere used the same keyboard shortcuts, it would feel like learning such an unfamiliar tool. Still, it’s not as if there isn’t logic behind it because it will work both in a terminal session (where I may have met it for the first time) and a desktop application GUI. The latter is the easier to learn and the menus list equivalent keyboard shortcuts for many of their entries too. For a fuller experience though, I can recommend the online manual and you can buy it in paper form too if you prefer.

One thing that I discovered recently is that external factors can sour the impressions of a piece of software.For instance, I was using a UNIX session where the keyboard mapping weren’t optimal. There’s nothing like unfamiliar behaviour for throwing you off track because you felt your usual habits were being obstructed. For instance, finding that a Backspace key is behaving like a Delete one is such an obstruction. It wasn’t the fault of Emacs and I have found that using Ctrl+K (C-k in the documentation) to delete whole lines is invaluable.

Apart from keyboard mapping niggles, Emacs has to be respected as a powerful piece of software in its own right. It may not have the syntax highlighting capabilities of some, like gedit or NEdit for instance, but I have a hunch that a spot of Lisp programming would address that need. What you get instead is support for version control systems like RCS or CVS along with integration with GDB for debugging programs written in a number of languages. Then, there are features like file management, email handling, newsgroup browsing, a calendar and calculator that make you wonder if they tried to turn a text editor into something like an operating system. With Google trying to use Chrome as the basis of one, it almost feels as is Emacs was ahead of its time though that may have been more due to its needing work within a UNIX shell in those far-off pre-GUI days. It really is saying something that it has stood the test of time when so much has fallen by the wayside. Like Vi, it looks as if the esteemable piece of software is showing no signs of going away just yet. Maybe it was well designed in the beginning and the thing certainly seems more than a text editor with its extras. Well, it has offer a good reason for making its way into Linux too…

So you just need a web browser?

When Google announced that it was working on an operating system, it was bound to result in a frisson of excitement. However, a peek at the preview edition that has been doing the rounds confirms that Chrome OS is a very different beast from those operating systems to which we are accustomed. The first thing that you notice is that it only starts up the Chrome web browser. In this, it is like a Windows terminal server session that opens just one application. Of course, in Google’s case, that one piece of software is the gateway to its usual collection of productivity software like GMail, Calendar, Docs & Spreadsheets and more. Then, there are offerings from others too with Microsoft just beginning to come into the fray to join Adobe and many more. As far as I can tell, all files are stored remotely and I reckon that adding the possibility of local storage and management of those local files would be a useful enhancement.

With Chrome OS, Google’s general strategy starts to make sense. First create a raft of web applications, follow them up with a browser and then knock up an operating system. It just goes to show that Google Labs doesn’t just churn out stuff for fun but that there is a serious point to their endeavours. In fact, you could say that they sucked us in to a point along the way. Speaking for myself, I may not entrust all of my files to storage in the cloud but I am perfectly happy to entrust all of my personal email activity to GMail. It’s the widespread availability and platform independence that has done it for me. For others spread between one place and another, the attractions of Google’s other web apps cannot be understated. Maybe, that’s why they are not the only players in the field either.

With the rise of mobile computing, that portability is the opportunity that Google is trying to use to its advantage. For example, mobile phones are being used for things now that would have been unthinkable a few years back. Then, there’s the netbook revolution started by Asus with its Eee PC. All of this is creating an ever internet connected bunch of people so have devices that connect straight to the web like they would with Chrome OS has to be a smart move. Some may decry the idea that Chrome OS is going to be available on a device only basis but I suppose they have to make money from this too; search can only pay for so much and they have experience with Android too.

There have been some who wondered about Google’s activities killing off Linux and giving Windows a good run for its money; Chrome OS seems to be a very different animal to either of these. It looks as if it is a tool for those on the move, an appliance rather than the pure multipurpose tools that operating systems usually are. If there is a symbol of what an operating system usually means for me, it’s the ability to start with a bare desktop and decide what to do next. Transparency is another plus point and the Linux command line had that in spades. For those who view PC’s purely as means to get things done, such interests are peripheral and it is for these that the likes of Chrome OS has been created. In other word, the Linux community need to keep an eye on what Google is doing but should not take fright because there are other things that Linux always will have as unique selling points. The same sort of thing applies to Windows too but Microsoft’s near stranglehold on the enterprise market will take a lot of loosening, perhaps keeping Chrome OS in the consumer arena. Counterpoints to that include the use GMail for enterprise email by some companies and the increasing footprint of web-based applications, even bespoke ones, in business computing. In fact, it’s the latter than can be blamed for any tardiness in Internet Explorer development. In summary, Chrome OS is a new type of thing rather than a replacement for what’s already there. We may find that co-existence is how things turn out but it means for Linux in the netbook market is another matter. Only time will tell on that one.