Mickey Mellen https://www.mickmel.com WordPress developer, husand, father and partner at GreenMellen Media. Tue, 06 Jun 2017 13:30:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 120783630 I’ve finally found the perfect Twitter app on desktop, and it was right in front of me the whole time https://www.mickmel.com/ive-finally-found-the-perfect-twitter-app-on-desktop-and-it-was-right-in-front-of-me-the-whole-time/ https://www.mickmel.com/ive-finally-found-the-perfect-twitter-app-on-desktop-and-it-was-right-in-front-of-me-the-whole-time/#comments Tue, 06 Jun 2017 13:30:41 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2431 Having used Twitter for a bit over a decade now (here was my first tweet back in 2007), I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the best desktop app for Twitter. Some of my favorites in the past include Sobees and Seesmic and HootSuite, and I’ve spent a lot of time using TweetDeck.

To be honest, TweetDeck is still my favorite, but I simply can’t use it consistently enough. Despite my three-screen setup, TweetDeck would often get buried behind other windows. If I kept it on top I’d use it quite well, but it would inevitably get hidden behind one of the other 20 applications that I had open. I needed to find a solution that had a clean single stream of Twitter that I could use as a sidebar with applications open next to it, not on top of it.

I explored quite a few options but ended up with a very simple answer — the mobile version of the main Twitter website. If you simply go to mobile.twitter.com on your desktop, you can use the slim, clean mobile version of their site.

Chrome makes it awesome

If you use Google Chrome on Windows or via a Chromebook, it gets even better. You can save the page to your desktop using the Tools–>”Add to Desktop” option in Windows, or Tools–>”Pin to Shelf” option on your Chromebook. I’ve never understood why this option isn’t available on Mac, because it’s great!

This does two things for you. First, it adds an icon to your desktop. Second, however, is the great part — it opens the site as if it were an application, so there are no browser tabs or options in there. It’s super clean and takes up even less real estate. Here’s a screenshot of how it looks on my right-hand monitor; it can stay on top all the time, but still leave plenty of room for applications to run next to it.

All these years later, and it was right there in front of me. No application to download, no amazing solution to find. Just use the mobile Twitter site and it works great!

How do you manage social media on your desktop?

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Learn all about WordPress with A Brighter Web https://www.mickmel.com/learn-all-about-wordpress-with-a-brighter-web/ https://www.mickmel.com/learn-all-about-wordpress-with-a-brighter-web/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 10:21:54 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2420 I’ve spent much of the past month or so working on a huge revamp of A Brighter Web, and we’re proud to be able to show it to you now.

We’ve had our local Meetup running for about five years now. We’ve hosted over 100 meetings with around 3500 total attendees, and we’ll continue to host that (see what’s coming up next). We’ve also had a few other resources around the Meetup, along with a few new ones that we’ve been building, so now it’s all come together in one place — ABrighterWeb.com.

The goal is to be able to help you at any step of your journey, in a variety of ways, from one website:

We hope you like what we’ve created and that you find some benefit from it. As always, if you have suggestions on how we can improve our offerings, please let me know and we’ll be happy to discuss.

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Tinycards vs Anki https://www.mickmel.com/tinycards-vs-anki/ https://www.mickmel.com/tinycards-vs-anki/#respond Wed, 12 Apr 2017 11:57:57 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2222 As I’ve talked about before, I’m a big fan of Anki and the concept of spaced repetition flashcard learning. There are competitors to Anki out there, but I always considered them the best. Now there is a new player on the block, Tinycards, and it gives Anki a good battle.

Tinycards

Tinycards comes from the folks at Duolingo, who make excellent language learning apps. As with most of their stuff, Tinycards is completely free to use. Better still, it can connect your Duolingo account to pull in your language words as flashcards.

Tinycards was actually first released last year, but that was only on iOS. They recently released a web version, making it accessible to all, and an Android version is in the works. While I’m looking forward to the Android version, the web version works great on my phone and is more than adequate to use. After using it for a few days, it does some neat things that Anki can’t do, but it also falls short in some areas.

Where Tinycards wins

Appearance
While this is a fairly low priority for me, Tinycards is a much better looking app than Anki. If you told me that Anki was built with Windows 95 in mind, I wouldn’t disagree. It’s not essential, but looks count for something and Tinycards is much better looking and more intuitive to use.

Better shared decks
Anki has a huge library of shared decks, but they’re not really “shared”. Once you download it, it’s saved in your system but it’s separate from the source. With Tinycards, your shared decks are still tied to the original author, so they can update them at will. A good example is this comment on Reddit, where a user noticed some rapid changes to a “world leaders” deck that they were using (not sure which one they were referring to, but I think it was this deck).

The one downside is that right now when you create a deck it is either public or private — no inbetween. I’ve asked if they can create an “unlisted” option, so I can create and share decks privately, but we’ll see if they ever add it.

Where Anki wins

Deck size
The shared decks in Tinycards are great, but every deck is limited to a paltry 150 cards. That leads to a lot of decks coming in multiple parts (“World Leaders 1” and “World Leaders 2”, for example). In my case in Anki, I have 900 cards in my “people” deck, 260 in my “us cities” deck, and there are over 1000 in the “ultimate geography” deck that I downloaded. Cutting those all up into smaller decks seems painful and unnecessary.

**Wrong answers*
This is probably my biggest issue with Tinycards — they don’t trust you. With Anki, you reveal a card and click whether you got it right or wrong. Tinycards doesn’t work like that at all. They’ll show you a card and then show you the answer. Or they’ll show you a card, and give you a multiple choice answer. Or, perhaps most frustrating, they’ll show you a card and you need to type in the answer. I suppose that will help you learn better, but it’s a pain to have to type in all of those answers if you already know them. You never get to tell it whether you know the answer or not — you need to do the work and show them.

When you create your own deck you can disable the typing answers, but pretty much every shared deck I’ve found has that enabled and a shared recipient can’t turn it off.

Which is better?

Right now, it’s too early to say which one is better, as it largely comes down to your use cases. I may start using some of the new shared decks in Tinycards, but I suspect I’ll largely be living in Anki for now. If Tinycards can add “unlisted” shared decks and allow for ~1000 cards/deck instead of 150, I might be willing to make the switch. Time will tell.

Go check out Tinycards and leave a comment with what you think of it.

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Mechanical keyboards are complex, but awesome https://www.mickmel.com/mechanical-keyboards-are-complex-but-awesome/ https://www.mickmel.com/mechanical-keyboards-are-complex-but-awesome/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:30:50 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2273 Last week I got an itch to dig more into mechanical keyboards. For those that don’t know what a “mechanical keyboard” is, they’re essentially the loud “clicky” keyboards you’ve seen in the past, and they’re amazingly popular. People are often able to type more quickly and accurately on them, which can add up to big savings across our millions of keystrokes every year.

As I dug in to learn more, I discovered that there are a lot of different options out there — and not just in terms of manufacturers. While all mechanical keyboards sound a bit “clicky”, those clicks come from a variety of different switch types. The most popular switches are the “Cherry MX” flavors, which come in black, red, brown, blue, green, and clear. Each color uses a different type of switch, so they each behave and sound a bit different. This Lifehacker article does a nice job of breaking them down.

After digging around for a while, I decided I wanted to try out the Das Keyboard 4 Professional. Das Keyboards are among the highest quality and most popular keyboards, so they seemed like a good place to start. That particular keyboard comes with either brown or blue Cherry MX switches in them. The blues are very clicky and quite popular, but the browns are a bit quieter — a smart move in an office environment.

Before I ordered, I decided to take it a step further and get the Das Keyboard 4 Ultimate instead. The Ultimate is essentially the same as the Professional model, but with one minor difference. Check it out:

Yep, the keycaps are totally blank!

I’ll be honest; I went back and forth a while before I decided to go with the Ultimate instead of the Professional, but so far it’s been great. I knew that letters and numbers would be easy enough, but I was a bit worried about the other characters like ()*$#@. I’ve been surprised by how many of those I can hit by touch; I can’t tell you where they are, but when I need them my fingers go right to them. In fact, I just used this new keyboard to write this entire post.

I wouldn’t recommend the Ultimate to most people, but the Das brand of keyboards are great, and mechanical keyboards, in general, are quite awesome.

I encourage you to check out that Lifehacker article that I mentioned earlier to learn more.

Do you use a mechanical keyboard in your daily life?

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Bring an old computer back to life with CloudReady https://www.mickmel.com/bring-an-old-computer-back-to-life-with-cloudready/ https://www.mickmel.com/bring-an-old-computer-back-to-life-with-cloudready/#comments Mon, 06 Mar 2017 16:51:13 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2214 We have an old Windows “all-in-one” computer in our guest room that really doesn’t do much. It’s old, tired and slow. So a few weekends ago, I gave it a new lease on life with CloudReady. Total cost: $0.

CloudReady is free software that essentially turns any computer into a Chromebook. I told you about the Google Chromebox back in 2014 and the idea is similar; it’s a desktop computer running Chrome OS, but instead of buying a new machine for it you can just use one that you already have around.

Free?

It’s 100% legal and 100% free to use. Neverware, the company behind CloudReady, makes their money by helping schools and other organizations move their fleet of machines over to the software.

Installation

The installation itself is quite simple. You download the software onto a flash drive, and then boot your old computer up from there. It will run directly on the flash drive, so you can make sure your old computer is compatible (most are, but not all of them). If it seems to work well, you can then install it directly onto the computer to make it run even faster. Some computers support dual-boot (choose to go to Windows or CloudReady when you boot up), but most require that you erase the old Windows software. We did that, and it works wonderfully well.

Chrome OS

The “catch” here is that you’ll be running Chrome OS, and not a full operating system like Windows or macOS. It has the same limitations as Chromebooks, primarily that you can’t download and install other software; everything needs to be web-based. In our case, we already have four Chromebooks in the house (along with the Chromebox at the office), so this is just another machine you can hop on to work on your stuff.

Try it out

If you have an 8 or 16GB flash drive laying around, give it a try! It’ll only take about a half-hour to load and test it out, then perhaps another half-hour to get it fully loaded. Here is the download page, which also has a link to their installation guide.

How many Chrome OS-powered computers are in your house?

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Switching to the SEO Framework plugin? https://www.mickmel.com/switching-to-the-seo-framework-plugin/ https://www.mickmel.com/switching-to-the-seo-framework-plugin/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 13:09:35 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2192 I’ve been a big fan of the Yoast SEO plugin for many years. It does a great job of helping with the SEO (“Search Engine Optimization”) on WordPress-powered websites. I first shared it with you back in 2012 and I wrote this long post about how to use it in 2013. Even today we’re still using it on hundreds of websites that we manage. However, we’re starting to use The SEO Framework plugin more and more, and this post will explain why.

Speed

The big one is speed. The Yoast plugin isn’t particularly slow, but it’s become more bloated over the years. The SEO Framework doesn’t do quite as much as Yoast, but it’s roughly 1/10 the size of it. Keeping your plugins light is a big key to a successful website, and this plugin takes a big chunk out of that overhead on your site.

Simplicity

Yoast SEO has some very powerful features, but it can get overwhelming at times. The SEO Framework keeps things simple; it has all of the features I need, without all of the extra cruft.

Transitioning

While they have plans to add it “soon”, the SEO Framework currently cannot import your existing Yoast SEO settings. If you’ve spent years crafting your settings in Yoast, it’s likely not worth switching. At this point we’re only using The SEO Framework on brand new sites (or sites that haven’t had an SEO plugin before) so that we don’t need to worry about importing. This will likely change once that feature is added.

You can download The SEO Framework on the WordPress respository here or learn more on their website.

What is currently your favorite WordPress plugin for SEO?

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The SSL checklist https://www.mickmel.com/the-ssl-checklist/ https://www.mickmel.com/the-ssl-checklist/#respond Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:06:31 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2184 Having an SSL certificate on your website (making the address start with “https” and include that little green padlock) has always been important for eCommerce sites, but never very much for any other site. However, Google is now pushing that as an increasingly important ranking signal, so if you want your website to show up well in Google, you need to have an SSL.

How do I get an SSL?

It used to be that getting an SSL for your site could cost a few hundred dollars or more. While there are still some reasons you might want to get a better certificate, the basic certificate is now free for everyone on most major web hosts thanks to Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt is intended to be free and automated, to help benefit everyone and keep us all more secure. If your host doesn’t support Let’s Encrypt, ask them about it or perhaps just move to a new host.

It’s installed. Now what?

Once the certificate is installed and functional, you still have some work to do. You want to make sure all users are seeing it, and that Google understands the change on your site. Here’s the checklist that we go through after installing an SSL certificate on a WordPress-powered website.

  1. Change your WordPress Settings URL. Under “Settings” –> “General”, change your website address to include the https.
  2. Install the Really Simple SSL plugin as it will do a lot of work for you.
  3. Assuming you have Google Analytics on your site (which I first told you about a decade ago and you can learn more about here, you’ll want to update your URL on there to include the https.
  4. If you have your site set up in Google Search Console (formerly known as “Google Webmaster Tools”, which you can learn more about here, you’ll need to add your site in there again with the https.
  5. If you have any hard-coded URLs in your theme functions.php or style.css files, you’ll want to update those.
  6. If you use Genesis Simple Hooks (or any similar plugin), you’ll want to check for updates in there.
  7. You should run the Velvet Blues Update URLs plugin to update the URLs you’ve used on various pages and posts over the years.
  8. To the extent possible, update your local citations on sites like Facebook, Yelp, Superpages, Foursquare, etc.
  9. We use ManageWP to manage most of our sites, so you’ll need to update your address in there.
  10. Lastly, if you use certainly other embedded scripts, such as Wufoo, you’ll need to enable SSL on those scripts.

That should take care of it. If you see a step that I’ve missed, leave a comment below and we’ll update this post as needed.

Is your site using SSL yet?

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WordPress Wednesday: What is WordPress Multisite? https://www.mickmel.com/wordpress-wednesday-what-is-wordpress-multisite/ https://www.mickmel.com/wordpress-wednesday-what-is-wordpress-multisite/#respond Wed, 15 Feb 2017 11:10:21 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2207 I’ve been posting some short WordPress tutorial videos to my YouTube account lately, and I plan on sharing one of them on here each Wednesday. Today is a simple explanation for something that you may have heard about but don’t understand: WordPress Multisite.

It’s relatively easy to install a new WordPress site every time you need one, but sometimes it’s best to just WordPress Multisite, which allows you to have a bunch of WordPress sites from a single installation of WordPress.

There are some great advantages to Multisite, along with some reasons that you might want to avoid it, depending on your situation. This video will quickly explain both sides to help you understand when you might want to give it a try.

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A Chromecast on every TV https://www.mickmel.com/a-chromecast-on-every-tv/ https://www.mickmel.com/a-chromecast-on-every-tv/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 11:06:01 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2179 I’m a big fan of Google products for two main reasons:

1 – In general, they’re pretty great products (Gmail, Maps, Docs, etc).
2 – They tend to work on every major platform.

Item #2 is why I encourage people to choose the Google Chromecast over Apple TV (or Amazon’s Fire Stick) when looking for a streaming device. We have one on every TV in our house, and it’s the primary tool we use on the TV in our office.

What is Chromecast?

If you’re not familiar with Chromecast, this video from Marques Brownlee does a good job of showing how it works:

Note that his video is a few years old, and many other services are now compatible with it. As Marques explains, the beauty of Chromecast is that it doesn’t stream from your phone — your phone just tells it what to do and then Chromecast pulls the content directly from the internet. This makes for a very smooth experience and saves battery life on your phone.

Apple TV is kind of the opposite; it doesn’t do much on its own, and requires that your device constantly pushes content to it. This have some advantages, since there is no limit to the content you can push that way, but it has some downsides. Apple TV also only works on Apple devices, while Chromecast works on Apple devices, as well as Android and Windows.

What about the Amazon Fire Stick?

This is the one “catch” with Chromecast. Because Amazon has their own competing product, none of the Prime Video streaming content works with Chromecast. It’s not a shortcoming of the Chromecast, per se, but it’s simply that Amazon would prefer that you buy their device. If you need to have your Prime Video shows, the the Amazon Fire Stick might be a good choice. If you typically use other services such as YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, etc, Chromecast is the way to go.

For only $30, it’s a pretty easy choice to make.

How many Chromecasts do you own?

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Digging into Android Wear 2.0 https://www.mickmel.com/digging-into-android-wear-2-0/ https://www.mickmel.com/digging-into-android-wear-2-0/#respond Mon, 13 Feb 2017 11:11:45 +0000 https://www.mickmel.com/?p=2176 Last week Google announced Android Wear 2.0, the first major upgrade to their watch software. Google wrote an in-depth blog post that covers all of the new features, and this video shows them off a bit:

Similar to the iPhone vs Android battle, Google released their watch first in 2014 (and Apple followed suit the following year), but then Apple made big improvements and Google is catching back up. Along with the new software, Google and their partners released a variety of new watches, some of which can be seen here:

You can make good arguments that the Apple Watch is superior, but it’s hard to say that the Google watches aren’t better looking. Since my watch (the Moto 360 v2, seen in this post) is a getting a bit older, I’m considering one of the new watches. However, I’m not quite sold yet. It’s not that they’re bad watches, but I’m just not sure they hit what I need.

Dumb smartwatches

When I purchased the Moto 360, I did it with the full intention of having a “dumb” smartwatch. I wanted something that would show me notifications and let me ask questions, but I had no need for 4G integration or GPS. I have a running watch (and a phone) to handle those. With that in mind, I got the nice-looking Moto 360, but with a sweat-unfriendly leather band. It looks great and works great, and I have other hardware to use when I work out.

The new watches are now cramming more features into them. The new LG Watch Sport has NFC for payments, GPS, 4G and a heart rate sensor. All good things, but not really things I need. The other main watch they just revealed is the LG Watch Style — a simpler watch without some of those extra sensors and features. I’m more attracted to that one, but it’s not really much different than my current watch.

Keep them separate?

I’ve been on the wrong side of history with the “separate” argument a few times. I remember when Google Maps added turn-by-turn support; I thought it was a pretty neat (which it was), but I preferred to keep my phone and my Garmin GPS separate. Now virtually everyone, including me, uses their phone for turn-by-turn navigation in the car.

Perhaps I’ll eventually want a single watch to do everything, but for now I’m a fan of my “dumb” smartwatch. Android Wear 2.0 should be arriving on it in a few weeks, so I’ll still get the new interface and many of the new bells and whistles. This big push from Google will also see a bunch of additional new watches released later this year, so perhaps one of those will catch my eye.

If you had your choice, what would be the watch you’d most like to wear?

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