Sending email from your app using AWS SES

amazon ses

Simple Email Service (SES) from AWS

Email is the best way that we can communicate with our users; still better than SMS or app notifications. An effective messaging strategy can enhance the journey our products offer.

This post is about sending email from the website or app you’re developing. We will use SES to send transactional emails. AWS documentation describes Simple Email Service (SES) as “an email sending and receiving service that provides an easy, cost-effective way for you to send email.” It abstracts away managing a mail server.

Configuring your domain name

The first step to sending email through SES is to verify the domain name we’ll want messages coming from. We can do this from the “Domains” dashboard.

Verify a new domain name
Verify a new domain name

This will generate a list of record sets that will need to be added to our domain as DNS records. I use Route 53, another Amazon service, to manage my domains – so that’s where I’ll need to enter this info.

AWS Route 53

Understand deliverability

We want to be confident that intended recipients are actually getting the messages that are sent.  Email service providers, and ISPs, want to prevent being abused by spammers. Following best practices, and understanding deliverability, can ensure that emails won’t be blocked.

Verify any email addresses that you are sending messages from: “To maintain trust between email providers and Amazon SES, Amazon SES needs to ensure that its senders are who they say they are.”

Make sure DKIM has been verified for your domain:  “DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) provides proof that the email you send originates from your domain and is authentic”. If you’re already using Route 53 to manage your DNS records, SES will present an option to automatically create the necessary records.

Route 53 DKIM records

Be reputable. Send high quality emails and make opt-out easy. You don’t want to be marked as spam. Respect sending quotas. If you’re plan on sending bulk email to a list-serve, I suggest using an Email Service Provider such as MailChimp (SES could be used for that too, but is outside the scope of this writing).

 

Sending email

SES can be used three ways: either by API, the SMTP interface, or the console. Each method lists different ways to authenticate. “To interact with [Amazon SES], you use security credentials to verify who you are and whether you have permission to interact with Amazon SES.” We will use the API credentials – an access key ID and secret access key.

Create an access key pair

An access key can be created using Identity and Access Management (IAM). You use access keys to sign programmatic requests that you make to AWS.” This requires creating a user, and setting its permissions policies to include “AmazonSESSendingAccess”. We can create an access key in the “security credentials” for this user.

Permission policy for IAM user
Permission policy for IAM user

Integrating with WordPress

Sending email from WordPress is made easy with plugins. They can be used to easily create forms. Those forms can be wired to use the outbound mail server of our choice using WP Mail SMTP Pro. All we’ll need to do is enter the access key details. If we try to send email without specifying a mail server, forms will default to sending messages directly from the LAMP box hosting the website. That would result in low-to-no deliverability.

Screenshot of WP Mail SMTP Pro
Screenshot of WP Mail SMTP Pro

Integrating with custom code

Although the WordPress option is simple, the necessary plugin has an annual cost. Alternatively, SES can integrate with custom code we’ve written. We can use PHPMailer to abstract away the details of sending email programmatically. Just include the necessary files, configure some variables, and call a send() method.

Contact form powered by SES
Contact form powered by SES

The contact forms on my résumé  and portfolio webpages use this technique. I submit the form data to a PHP file that uses PHPMailer to interact with SES. The front-end uses a UI notification widget to give the user alerts. It’s available on my GitHub, so check it out.

Front-end, client-side:

<form id="contactForm">
    <div class="outer-box">
      
        <input type="text" placeholder="Name" name="name" value="" class="input-block-level bordered-input">
        <input type="email" placeholder="Email" value="" name="email" class="input-block-level bordered-input">
        <input type="text" placeholder="Phone" value="" name="phone" class="input-block-level bordered-input">
       
        <textarea placeholder="Message" rows="3" name="message" id="contactMessage" class="input-block-level bordered-input"></textarea>
        <button type="button" id="contactSubmit" class="btn transparent btn-large pull-right">Contact Me</button>
    </div>
</form>
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/ui-messages/css/ui-notifications.css"> 
<script src="/ui-messages/js/ui-notifications.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
$(function(){
	var notifications = new UINotifications();
	$("#contactSubmit").click(function(){
		var contactMessage = $("#contactMessage").val();
		if(contactMessage < 1){
			notifications.showStatusMessage("Don't leave the message area empty.");
			return;
		}
		var data = $("#contactForm").serialize();
		$.ajax({
			type:"POST",
			data:data,
			url:"assets/contact.php",
			success:function(response){
				console.log(response);
				notifications.showStatusMessage("Thanks for your message. I'll get back to you soon.");
				$("form input, form textarea").val("");					
			}
			
		});
	});
});
</script>

In the PHP file,  we set the username and password as the access key ID and access key secret. Make sure the region variable matches what you’re using in AWS. #TODO: It would be best practice to record the message to a database. (The WordPress plugin from earlier handles that out-of-the-box). We might also send an additional email to the user, letting them know their note was received.

Back-end, server-side:

<?php
//send email via amazon ses
use PHPMailer\PHPMailer\PHPMailer;
use PHPMailer\PHPMailer\Exception;

$name = "";
$email = "";
$phone = "";
$message = "";

if(isset($_POST["name"])){
	$name = $_POST["name"];
}
if(isset($_POST["email"])){
	$email = $_POST["email"];
}
if(isset($_POST["phone"])){
	$phone = $_POST["phone"];
}
if(isset($_POST["message"])){
	$message = $_POST["message"];
}

$region = "us-east-1"
$aws_key_id = "xxx"
$aws_key_secret = "xxx"

require '/var/www/html/PHPMailer/src/Exception.php';
require '/var/www/html/PHPMailer/src/PHPMailer.php';
require '/var/www/html/PHPMailer/src/SMTP.php';
// // Instantiation and passing `true` enables exceptions
$mail = new PHPMailer(true);
try {
	if(strlen($message) > 1){
    //Server settings
	    $mail->SMTPDebug = 2;                                       // Enable verbose debug output
	    $mail->isSMTP();                                            // Set mailer to use SMTP
	    $mail->Host       = 'email-smtp.' . $region . '.amazonaws.com';  // Specify main and backup SMTP servers
	    $mail->SMTPAuth   = true;                                   // Enable SMTP authentication
	    $mail->Username   = $aws_key_id;                     // access key ID
	    $mail->Password   = $aws_key_secret;                               // AWS Key Secret
	    $mail->SMTPSecure = 'tls';                                  // Enable TLS encryption, `ssl` also accepted
	    $mail->Port       = 587;                                    // TCP port to connect to

	    //Recipients
	    $mail->setFrom('XXX@antpace.com', 'Portfolio');
	    $mail->addAddress("XXX@antpace.com");     // Add a recipient
	    $mail->addReplyTo('XXX@antpace.com', 'Portfolio');

	    // Content
	    $mail->isHTML(true);                                  // Set email format to HTML
	  
	    $mail->Subject = 'New message from your portfolio page.';
	    $mail->Body    = "This message was sent from: $name - $email - $phone \n Message: $message";
	    $mail->AltBody = "This message was sent from: $name - $email - $phone \n Message: $message";
	    
	    $mail->send();
	    echo 'Message has been sent';
	}
    
} catch (Exception $e) {
    echo "Message could not be sent. Mailer Error: {$mail->ErrorInfo}";
}

?>

The technical side of sending email from software is straight-forward. The strategy can be fuzzy and requires planning. Transactional emails have an advantage over marketing emails. Since they are triggered by a user’s action, they have more meaning. They have higher open rates, and in that way afford an opportunity.

How can we optimize the usefulness of these emails? Be sure to create a recognizable voice in your communication that resonates your brand. Provide additional useful information, resources, or offers. These kind of emails are an essential part of the user experience and your product’s development.

 

Innovation in 2020

Innovation

Innovation moves the world forward. An original idea can make a measurable difference in the results of a plan or project. Creativity is a prerequisite for innovation. It can take existing concepts and rearrange them to fit a unique pattern.

Creativity

In another post, I highlighted solutions I used to manage a large amount of content for a client project. I leveraged existing features and technology to achieve results in a unique way. Another way to put it: I used technical knowledge to overcome a problem, creatively. Some other examples of creative solutions include:

1) Using an existing CSS feature to deliver a better or unique user experience. When applying animations and effects, the possibilities seem limitless.

2) A doctor prescribing a drug, off label, to treat a problem for which it wasn’t originally intended.

3) A trained athlete combining existing techniques into a unique style.

Although creative, these examples aren’t innovative. Innovation creates something new. It creates new products, new industries, and new markets.

 

Innovation

Innovation changes the space in which you’re working. In the next decade I will focus on that kind of growth, and expand past client-specific work. As a broad stroke, this means building digital products. Specifically, I’ll be taking the opportunity to solve problems in certain areas. Luckily, there are many exciting problems that need solving.

Innovative solutions require energy – and here are some places I’d like to spend mine.

1) Digital accessibility, and solving technology problems for people with disabilities. This will include software, as well as physical products. I’d like to explore how IOT, wearables, and augmented/virtual reality can be leveraged.

2) Privacy. This issue also seems to include homelessness, the justice system, and personal identity.

3) Business and marketing. These solutions are important, because I can re-use them as tools in other ventures. They can be leveraged to solve other important problems.

For example, SplitWit is a product I’ve built that can help companies experiment with user experiences. Failing fast, and measuring results, is imperative to growth and innovation.

SplitWit marketing
www.SplitWit.com

My reason for writing this post is to flesh out, and crystalize, how innovation should direct my work. I’ve discovered that writing helps me to think better. Writing makes me more innovative. These blog entries will continue to be a way that I can solidify my nebula of creative energy into something solid and digestible.

 

Managing content for an art website

Any product, or experience, or artwork – anything you will build – is made up of pieces. And content always sits at the center. Content is the fleshy part of media.

The other pieces include structure, style, and functionality.  These parts layout a skeleton, decorates the aesthetic, and adds usefulness. This  model translates well to modern web development. HTML defines the structure. CSS describes the style. JavaScript adds interactivity. But always, content is King.

That’s why a robust content management system (CMS) is critical. Most clients prefer to have one. It makes content updates easy. WordPress is the modern choice. It’s what this blog is built on.

A website I built featured the work of a visual artist – paintings, etchings, photos. It had a lot of content. A lot of content that needed massaging. As you may have guessed, I chose WordPress to manage it.

This was a situation where I had to be a project manager, and deliver results. Although the content itself was impressive, it was delivered as image files in various formats and different sizes. Filenames were not consistent. And the meta-data – descriptions, titles, notes – was listed is excel files that didn’t always match-up to the image’s filename. This required a lot of spot checking, and manual work. I did my best to automate as much as I could, and make things uniform.

Resizing multiple images

Resizing a batch of images can be done directly in Mac OS by selecting the files, and opening them in Preview. From the ‘Edit’ menu, I clicked ‘Select All’. Then, in the ‘Tool’ menu I found ‘Adjust Size’. Windows has a similar feature, as does other image manipulation apps.

Renaming multiple files

I had to make the filenames match what was listed in the meta-data spreadsheet. Here’s the command I used, in Mac OS, to truncate filenames to the first eight characters:

rename -n 's/(.{8}).*(\.jpg)$/$1$2/' *.jpg

Batch uploading WordPress posts

Each piece of art was a WordPress post, with a different title, meta-values, and image. Once all of the files were sized and named properly, I uploaded them to the server via sFTP. Each category of art (paintings, photos, etc.) was a folder. I created a temporary database table that matched the columns from the meta-data spreadsheet I was given.

CREATE TABLE `content` (
  `content_id` int,
  `title` varchar(250) NOT NULL,
  `medium` varchar(250) NOT NULL,
  `category_id` varchar(250) NOT NULL,
  `size` varchar(250) NOT NULL,
  `date` varchar(250) NOT NULL,
  `filename` varchar(100) NOT NULL,
  `processed` int
) ENGINE=InnoDB DEFAULT CHARSET=latin1;
COMMIT;

I wrote a PHP script that would loop through all records, and create a new post for each. I had to make sure to include core WordPress functionality,  so that I would be able to use the wp_insert_post() method.

require_once('/var/www/html/wp-load.php');

Once I connected to the database, I queried my temporary table, excluding any records that have been marked as already uploaded:

$query = "SELECT * FROM `content` where `processed` != 1"; 
$result = mysqli_query($mysql_link, $query);

While looping through each record, I would look up the WordPress category ID and slug based on the provided category name. This would allow my code to assign the post to the correct category, and to know which folder the image file was in. Once the post is inserted, I take that post ID and assign meta-values. At the end of the loop, I mark this record as processed.

while ($row = mysqli_fetch_assoc($result)) {

    $category = $row['category'];
    $content_id = $row['content_id'];
    $term_id = "";
    $slug = "";
    $category_query = $mysqli->prepare("SELECT * FROM `wp_terms` where name = :name");
    $category_query->bind_param(array(':name' => $category));
    $category_result = $category_query->execute();
    if (mysqli_num_rows($category_result) > 0) {
        while($cat_row = mysqli_fetch_assoc($category_result)) {
           $term_id = $cat_row['term_id'];
           $slug = $cat_row['slug'];
        }
    }
    $post_id = wp_insert_post(array(
        'post_status' => 'publish',
        'post_title' => $row['title'],
        'post_content' => " ",
        'post_category' => $term_id
        
    ));
    
    if ($post_id) { 
        //meta-values
        add_post_meta($post_id, 'medium', $row['medium']);
        add_post_meta($post_id, 'size', $row['size']);
        add_post_meta($post_id, 'date', $row['date']);
        $img = $slug . $row['image'];
        add_post_meta($post_id, 'image_file', $img);
    }

    $update = $mysqli->prepare("UPDATE `content` SET processed = 1 where content_id = :content_id");
    $update->bind_param(array(':content_id' => $content_id));
    $update = $category_query->execute(); 
}

Managing clients, and their content, can be the most challenging  part of web development. Using the right software for the job makes it easier. So does having a toolbox of techniques, and being clever.

Image carousel – update

Image carousel update

In a previous post, I wrote about creating an image carousel using basic web tech: HTML, CSS, and vanilla JavaScript. No frameworks, no jQuery. This is an update to that. The major difference is that it supports multiple carousels on the same page. I also added a try/catch, in case no carousel data is found in the database. I recently used this implementation on a WordPress site. Each carousel was a post (of a custom carousel post-type), that had each image attached. On that post-type archive page, I looped through the posts, and created a separate carousel for each.

Here is the updated JavaScript.

try{
    var galleries = document.getElementsByClassName("carousel-class");
    for(var i = 0; i < galleries.length; i++){
        showGalleries(galleries.item(i), 0);    
    }
}catch(e){
    console.log(e);
}

function showGalleries(gallery, galleryIndex){
    var galleryDots = gallery.getElementsByClassName("dot-button");
    var gallerySlides = gallery.getElementsByClassName("my-slide");
    if (galleryIndex < 0){galleryIndex = gallerySlides.length-1}
    galleryIndex++;
    for(var ii = 0; ii < gallerySlides.length; ii++){ gallerySlides[ii].style.display = "none"; galleryDots[ii].classList.remove('active-dot'); } if (galleryIndex > gallerySlides.length){galleryIndex = 1}
    gallerySlides[galleryIndex-1].style.display = "block";
    var resizeEvent = new Event('resize');
    window.dispatchEvent(resizeEvent);
    galleryDots[galleryIndex-1].classList.add('active-dot');
    //hide gallery navigation, if there is only 1
    if(gallerySlides.length < 2){
        var dotContainer = gallery.getElementsByClassName("dots");
        var arrowContainer = gallery.getElementsByClassName("gallery-arrows");
        dotContainer[0].style.display = "none";
        arrowContainer[0].style.display = "none";
    }
    gallery.setAttribute("data", galleryIndex);
}

//gallery dots
document.addEventListener('click', function (event) {
    if (!event.target.matches('.carousel-class .dot-button')){ return; }
    var index = event.target.getAttribute("data"); 
    var parentGallery = event.target.closest(".carousel-class")
    showGalleries(parentGallery, index);

}, false);

//gallery arrows

//left arrow
document.addEventListener('click', function (event) {
    if (!event.target.matches('.fa-arrow-left')){ return; }
    var parentGallery = event.target.closest(".carousel-class")
    var galleryIndex = parentGallery.getAttribute("data");
    galleryIndex = galleryIndex - 2;
    
    showGalleries(parentGallery, galleryIndex);
}, false);

//right arrow
document.addEventListener('click', function (event) {
    if (!event.target.matches('.fa-arrow-right')){ return; }
    var parentGallery = event.target.closest(".carousel-class")
    var galleryIndex = parentGallery.getAttribute("data");

    showGalleries(parentGallery, galleryIndex);
}, false);

You’ll notice that each carousel section has a data attribute assigned, so our JS knows which one to affect. This version also includes left and right navigation arrows, in addition to the navigation dots we already had.

HTML:

<div class="ap-carousel" data="0">

<?php $num_slides = 0; foreach($posts as $post){ $num_slides++; ?>

	<div class="ap-slide">
		<a href="<?php the_permalink($post->ID); ?>" title="<?php the_title(); ?>">
			<img src="<?php echo esc_url(get_the_post_thumbnail_url($post->ID)); ?>" class="zoom">
		</a>
	</div>

<?php } ?>
<div class="nav-dots">
	<?php $active = "active-dot"; for($x = 0; $x < $num_slides; $x++){ ?>
		<div class="dot"><button data="<?php echo $x; ?>" type="button" class="dot-button <?php echo $active; $active = ''; ?>">b</button></div>
	<?php } ?>
</div>
<div class="gallery-arrows">
    <i class="fas fa-arrow-left"></i>
    <i class="fas fa-arrow-right"></i>
</div>


</div>

I emphasize simplicity when building solutions. I avoid including superfluous code libraries when a vanilla technique works. It’s helpful to keep track of solutions I engineer, and try to reuse them where they fit. And when they need to be adjusted to work with a new problem, I enhance them while still trying to avoid complexity.

Easy image carousel

image software

On a recent project, I needed a simple image carousel on the homepage. And then, on the gallery page I needed a fully polished solution. Sometimes, using a framework is the right choice. Others, a fully built out toolkit can be overkill.

The Vanilla Option

First, here is the home-rolled version that I came up with. It was integrated into a custom WordPress template. I loop through a set of posts within my carousel wrapper, creating a slide div with that record’s featured image. I keep track of how many slides get built. Beneath the carousel wrapper I create a navigation div, and build a dot button for each slide. Each dot gets an index assigned to it, saved to its button’s data attribute.

HTML:

<div class="ap-carousel">

<?php $num_slides = 0; foreach($posts as $post){ $num_slides++; ?>

	<div class="ap-slide">
		<a href="<?php the_permalink($post->ID); ?>" title="<?php the_title(); ?>">
			<img src="<?php echo esc_url(get_the_post_thumbnail_url($post->ID)); ?>" class="zoom">
		</a>
	</div>

<?php } ?>
<div class="nav-dots">
	<?php $active = "active-dot"; for($x = 0; $x < $num_slides; $x++){ ?>
		<div class="dot"><button data="<?php echo $x; ?>" type="button" class="dot-button <?php echo $active; $active = ''; ?>">b</button></div>
	<?php } ?>
</div>


</div>

CSS:

I used CSS animation to create a fade effect between slides. I position the navigation dots using CSS flexbox layout.

.ap-carousel{
	position: relative;
}
.ap-slide{
	display: none;
	margin: 0 auto;
}	 
.ap-slide img{
	width: auto;
	display: block;
	margin: 0 auto;
	max-height: 90vh;
	-webkit-animation-name: fade;
	-webkit-animation-duration: 1.5s;
	animation-name: fade;
	animation-duration: 1.5s;
}
@-webkit-keyframes fade {
	from {opacity: .4} 
	to {opacity: 1}
}
@keyframes fade {
	from {opacity: .4} 
	to {opacity: 1}
}
.nav-dots{
	display: flex;
	justify-content: center;
}
.dot button{
	display: block;
	border-radius: 100%;
	width: 12px;
	height: 12px;
	margin-right: 10px;
	padding: 0;
	border: none;
	text-indent: -9999px;
	background: black;
	cursor: pointer;
}
.dot button.active-dot{
	background: red;
}

JavaScript:

Finally, I create a JS function to change the slide and active dot based on a timer. I attach an event listener to the dots that will change the active slide based on the saved index data.

var slideIndex = 0;
showSlides();

function showSlides() {
	var i;
	var slides = document.getElementsByClassName("ap-slide");
	var dots = document.getElementsByClassName("dot-button");
	for (i = 0; i < slides.length; i++) { slides[i].style.display = "none"; dots[i].classList.remove("active-dot"); } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex > slides.length) {slideIndex = 1} 
	slides[slideIndex-1].style.display = "block"; 
	dots[slideIndex-1].classList.add("active-dot")
	setTimeout(showSlides, 5000); // Change image every 5 seconds
}

document.addEventListener('click', function(event){
	if(!event.target.matches('.dot-button')) return;

	slideIndex = event.target.getAttribute("data");
	showSlides();
}, false);

That’s a simple and lite solution. It worked fine for the homepage of this recent project, but the main gallery page needed something more complex. I choose Galleria, a JavaScript framework.

The Framework Option

Carousel showcasing artwork
Carousel showcasing artwork

I implemented this option onto the WordPress category archive page. For this project, each piece of artwork is its own post. In my category template file I loop through posts, and populate a JSON object with the data about each slide. Initially, I had built HTML elements for each slide, but that caused slow page load times. The JSON data option is significantly faster. Here’s what my code setup looked like:

<div id="galleria"></div>
<script type="text/javascript">
	window.galleryData = [];
</script>
<?php if (have_posts()): while (have_posts()) : the_post(); 

$featured_img_url = get_the_post_thumbnail_url(); 

?>

<script>
window.galleryData.push({ image: "<?php echo esc_url($featured_img_url); ?>", artinfo: "<div class='galleria-img-info'><h3 class='title'><a href='<?php the_permalink(); ?>'><?php the_title(); ?></a></h3><?php $size=get_post_meta(get_the_ID(), 'size', true);$size=addslashes($size);$date=get_post_meta(get_the_ID(), 'date', true);$materials=get_post_meta(get_the_ID(), 'materials', true);if(! empty ( $size ) ){echo '<p><strong>Dimensions:</strong> ' . $size . '</p>';}if(! empty ( $date ) ){echo '<p><strong>Date:</strong> ' . $date . '</p>';}if(! empty ( $materials ) ){echo '<p><strong>Materials:</strong> ' . $materials . '</p>';} ?><p class='you-can-mouse'>You can click the image to enlarge it. </p></div></div>" })
</script>

<?php } ?>

<script src="/galleria/galleria-1.5.7.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
// Load the classic theme
Galleria.loadTheme('/galleria/galleria.classic.min.js');
//https://docs.galleria.io/collection/25-options
Galleria.configure({
    imageCrop: false,
    transitionSpeed:1000,
    maxScaleRatio:1,
    swipe:true,
    thumbnails: 'none',
    transition: 'fade',
    lightbox: true
});
// Initialize Galleria
Galleria.run('#galleria', {dataSource: window.galleryData, autoplay: 5000, extend: function() {
            // var gallery = this; // "this" is the gallery instance
            // gallery.play(); // call the play method
        }
});

Galleria.ready(function() {
        	
	$(".loading").hide();
		this.bind('image', function(e) {
	});

});
 </script>

Easy hamburger (menu) recipe

I think it’s best to avoid using plug-ins when possible. It reduces bloat and “black-box” code.

The mobile “hamburger” menu is a staple of responsive user interface design. Users know that clicking on that three-lined icon will show a menu. It’s a modern solution to displaying long navigation lists on smaller screens.

A ‘hamburger’ menu is a button (usually in the corner of a screen) that toggles a menu or list of hyperlinks.

Below is a simple rendition using basic web technology. I used this recently as part of  a website that showcases the work of a graphic artist.

mobile menu example

HTML:

Drop this code in your header file for the menu (list of links) itself.

<div class="mobile-menu">
	<span class="close-mobile-menu"><i class="far fa-times-circle"></i></span>

	<ul>
			 
			<li><a href="/biography">Biography</a></li>
			<li><a href="/education">Education & Awards</a></li>
			<li><a href="/reviews?order=asc">Reviews</a></li>
			<li><a href="/etchings">Etchings</a></li>
			<li><a href="/category/paintings/1960s/">Paintings</a></li>
			<li><a href="/mukfa-about">Mukfa</a></li>
			<li><a href="/category/drawings/human-comedy/">Drawings</a></li>
			<li><a href="/exhibitions-and-collections">Exhibitions & Collections</a></li>
			 
	</ul>

</div>

Next, add this to your existing navigation, or wherever you’d like the hamburger button to show.

<div class="mobile-hamburger mobile-only"><i class="fas fa-bars"></i></div>

I used FontAwesome to generate the hamburger icon itself (and the close icon). Alternatively, you can use an image file.

hamburger menu

CSS:

This code sets the hamburger button to only show on mobile devices. Mobile devices are specified at 787px or less by a media query.

.mobile-hamburger{
	font-size: 36px;
	color: #005FAA;
	float: right;
	cursor: pointer;
	margin-right: 16px;
	margin-top: 5px;

}
.mobile-menu{
	display: none;
	width: 100%;
	background: #DCC7AA;
	position: fixed;
	height: 100%;
	right: 0;
	top: 0;
	z-index: 20;
}
.mobile-menu ul{
	list-style-type: none;
	font-size: 16px;
	text-align: left;
	padding: 25px;
	margin: 50px 0px;
}

.mobile-menu ul li{
	margin-top: 15px;
}

.close-mobile-menu{
	position: absolute;
	top: 5px;
	right: 16px;
	font-size: 36px;
	cursor: pointer;
}

@media only screen and (min-width:787px) {
	.mobile-only{display: none;}
}

JavaScript:

With jQuery:

(function ($, root, undefined) {
	
	$(function () {
		
		'use strict';
		
		// DOM ready, take it away
		$(".mobile-hamburger").click(function(){
			$(".mobile-menu").show();
		});

		$(".close-mobile-menu").click(function(){
			$(".mobile-menu").hide();
		});

		 
		
	});
	
})(jQuery, this);

Or, plain vanilla JS:

document.addEventListener('click', function (event) {

	if (!event.target.matches('.mobile-hamburger')){
		return;
	}

	document.getElementsByClassName('mobile-menu')[0].style.display = 'block';

}, false);

document.addEventListener('click', function (event) {

	if (!event.target.matches('.close-mobile-menu')){
		return;
	}

	document.getElementsByClassName('mobile-menu')[0].style.display = 'none';	

}, false);

 


By the way, this is the tool I’ve been using to encode the HTML I paste into my WordPress posts (that way, it doesn’t actually render on page): https://github.com/mathiasbynens/mothereff.in/tree/master/html-entities

html entities encoded and decoded

Develop apps and explore the world (wide web)

BJJ Tracker

I love building software. Writing code is a way to craft experiences that other people can interact with and enjoy. My favorite platform to build for is the world wide web. When I first started programming, I was building for Windows desktop computers. It was mostly utilities and games, and I really didn’t know how to distribute them. The web had always been a place to find information, and even download software, but websites were essentially documents, with little functionality. Now, they can have the full breadth of interactivity that native applications enjoy. Having moved into the age of mobile software, being able to build for the web has many advantages.

The web, as a platform, is open and free. Unlike native app markets, you don’t have to wait for your software to be approved by any third-party. It works across any device or operating system that has a web browser. (Which is why standards across browsers is so important). But, until recently web-apps faced limitations. Not having full access to a device’s hardware and operating system was an issue – but that’s being fixed as more native APIs are being added to modern web browsers.

In my experience, the big disadvantage of having a web-only app was losing out on the discoverability that comes with having it listed in a searchable marketplace. Also, adding a web-app to your device home screen is not intuitive to average users. As of recent, the Google Play market allows you list your web-app for users to install. The process involves uploading an Android app file (.apk), with the settings configured to target your web-app. It uses a new feature called “Trusted Web Activity” to achieve this, along with “Digital Asset Links“.

I decided to try this out with one of my web-apps, BJJ Tracker. You can read about how I first built it on another blog post. First, I wanted to enhance the experience by making UI/UX upgrades. I recreated the logo, focusing on typography. I also added a textured background to the app’s main view.  I sped things up by removing unused code assets. I even made some updates to help with accessibility (that is, compatibility with screen readers for the visually impaired).

bjj tracker

Next, I wanted to make sure my app had offline support, as well as any other features that would make it “feel” like a native app. Google Chrome’s developer tools as a section called “audit” that helped me identify such opportunities.

progressive web app audit

The first step was to create a “service worker” JavaScript file, and register it when BJJ Tracker loads. This file downloads any vital assets to a user’s device, and later loads them from the cache.

if('serviceWorker' in navigator) {
  navigator.serviceWorker
           .register('/serviceWorker.js')
           .then(function() { console.log("Service Worker Registered"); })
           .catch(error => {
	        	console.log(error.message)
	    	})
}

Here is an example service worker file:

 importScripts('/cache-polyfill.js');


self.addEventListener('install', function(e) {
 e.waitUntil(
   caches.open('bjjtracker').then(function(cache) {
    return cache.addAll([
       '/',
       '/index',
       '/index?login',
       '/create-record?class',
       '/create-record',
       '/create-record?competition',
       '/view-record',
       '/view-month',
       '/privacy-policy',
       '/contact',
       '/view-more-data',
       '/account',
       '/css/bootstrap.min.css',
       '/css/bootstrap.min.css',
       '/css/bootstrap-theme.min.css',
       '/css/main.css',
       '/simpleMobileMenu/styles/jquery-simple-mobilemenu.css',
       'https://use.fontawesome.com/releases/v5.3.1/css/all.css',
       'https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Roboto|Eczar&display=swap',
       'https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.11.2/jquery.min.js',
        
        
     ]);
    }).catch(error => {
        console.log(error.message)
    })
 );
});

self.addEventListener('fetch', function(event) {

	// console.log(event.request.url);

	event.respondWith(

		caches.match(event.request).then(function(response) {

			return response || fetch(event.request);

		}).catch(error => {
	        console.log(error.message)
	    })

	);

});

You can read more from the documentation: https://developers.google.com/web/ilt/pwa/caching-files-with-service-worker

Next, I created a “manifest” file. This file is written in JSON format. It helps describe how the web-app behaves once “installed”. It handles things such as app icon images and splash screens.

{
  "name": "BJJ Tracker",
  "lang": "en-US",
  "short_name": "BJJ Tracker",
  "start_url": "/",
  "display": "standalone",
  "background_color": "#2a4d69",
  "theme_color": "#2a4d69",
  "description": "Track Brazilian Jiu Jitsu progress and fitness goals.",
  "icons": [{
    "src": "img/homescreen48.png",
    "sizes": "48x48",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen72.png",
    "sizes": "72x72",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen96.png",
    "sizes": "96x96",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen144.png",
    "sizes": "144x144",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen168.png",
    "sizes": "168x168",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen192.png",
    "sizes": "192x192",
    "type": "image/png"
  }, {
    "src": "img/homescreen512.png",
    "sizes": "512x512",
    "type": "image/png"
  }]
}

Ok, now I was ready to open Android Studio and generate a .apk file, that I can upload to Google Play. Check out this example from Google Chrome Labs: https://github.com/GoogleChromeLabs/svgomg-twa/. You can clone that repository, and update the “build.gradle” settings to point to your app. You’ll also need to upload an “assetlinks.json” file to your web app’s host to satisfy the Digital Asset Links protocol.

Finally, I headed over to the Google Play Console. Besides uploading the .apk file, I also needed to include screenshots, featured image files, and complete a content rating survey – amongst other things. Now, my app is “pending publication”.

bjj tracker app

This app is a fun side project I use to toy with new web technologies. I’m trying to drive traffic to it so that I can experiment with optimizing conversions. I’m using it as a trial grounds for another software service called SplitWit. SplitWit is focused on optimizing conversions for the web, and helping digital marketers reach their goals. You can read about it on another post from this blog.

SplitWit for split testing

In digital business, driving conversions (getting users to do what you want them to do) is a science. And there are plenty of tools out there that can help. Experimenting should be a constant exercise in this respect. Take any discipline, anything competitive, or life in general and you’ll find benefit in testing the waters and adjusting your sail. Our ability to interpret that data is the bottle neck to making profitable decisions. The best lesson I’ve learned is that intuition is usually not enough. We’re better looking at the numbers and trusting data instead.

Over the years, I’ve used various marketing software for automation and optimization. The overall goal has always been to influence users through a funnel of action, finally leading to a “conversion”. Fundamentally, it’s a lever for persuasion and influence. I’ve been working on a product that focuses on this point. Optimizing conversions, sales, and leads can be broken down into a system based approach. That’s what SplitWit aims to achieve. It is a “software as a service” platform that helps you to split test your website. That means it allows you to make changes to your website, that only half of your visitors will see, and then determines which version leads to better results (be that sales, sign-ups, etc.) Through each campaign, you’ll see an increase in performance.

Here, I’ll highlight some features and talk through its development.

Registration engine and basic template

As a starting point, I used a template to quickly get things prototyped and working. I’ve made a few enhancements to this base code while building SplitWit. I will eventually merge those updates into the template repository – which I’ll highlight in another article.

The front-end design utilizes basic principles that focus on user experience. I iterated through various color pallets, and ended with a blue-shaded scheme. Subtle textured patterns applied to background sections help add a finished look. And of course, FontAwesome is my go-to icon set.

Code-wise, some dependencies include Bootstrap 4, jQuery Simple MobileMenu, and Google Fonts. An awesome CSS technique that I used for the first time was to set the main container of each page to have a minimum height of 100% of the viewport. This ensures that the page footer doesn’t end up in the middle of the screen if there is not enough content.

.main-content.container{
  min-height: 100vh;
}

Visual optimizer and editor

This part was fun to build. After setting up an account, you can create experiments that target certain pages of your website. The visual optimizer lets you make changes easily between the control and variation versions.

visual editor

The editor loads up your website as an iFrame on the right side of the page. Once your page is loaded, SplitWit adds an overlay to the iFrame. This way, instead of interacting with the page, your clicks can be intercepted. Any elements that you click on get loaded up as HTML into the “make a change” section of the editor. Any changes you make get saved to that variation, and will be displayed to half of your visitors.

Here is an example of the code that powers the overlay and connects it to the editor:

pageIframe.contents().find("body").prepend(overlay);
 
pageIframe.contents().find("body *").css("z-index", 1).mouseenter(function(){

  $(this).addClass('highlighted'); 

  testSelectorEl = $(this);
  

}).mouseout(function(){

  $(this).removeClass('highlighted');   

}).click(function(e){

  e.preventDefault();
  var value = testSelectorEl.getPath()
  selectNewElement(value);
  //scroll user to selector input
  $([document.documentElement, document.body]).animate({
    scrollTop: $(".page-editor-info").offset().top
  }, 1000);

});

The editor has lots of built in options, so you can change the style and behavior of your page without needing to know how to code. A marketer can use this tool without the help of a developer – which is clutch!

Metrics and statistical significance

A key feature of SplitWit is to measure conversion metrics and performance indicators. The platform determines which variation is a winner based on the metrics you set. Three types of metrics are offered: page views, click events, and custom API calls.

Algorithms calculate statistical significance based on the number of visitors an experiment receives and the conversion metrics configured. This makes sure that the result is very unlikely to have occurred coincidently.

The code snippet

Each project setup in SplitWit generates a code snippet. Once this snippet is added to a website, SplitWit is able to do its magic. Using JavaScript, it applies variation changes, splits user traffic between versions, and measures key metrics about the experiments running.

The platform uses a relational database structure, powered by MySQL. As you make changes to your experiments, the details are saved and written to your unique snippet file. When the snippet file loads, the first thing is does is check to see if there are any experiments that should be running on the current page. Each experiment can be configured to run on various URLs. The configuration rules contain three parts: a URL pattern, a type (target or exclude), and a match type (exact, basic, or substring). You can read SplitWit documentation to find an explanation of these match types.

experiment settings

Here is the code used to test a URL against an experiment’s configuration rules:

function testUrl(testurl, conditions){
			
	if(testurl.search(/(?:[a-z0-9](?:[a-z0-9-]{0,61}[a-z0-9])?\.)+[a-z0-9][a-z0-9-]{0,61}[a-z0-9]/) < 0){
		return window.inputError($(".test-url-input"), "Please test a valid URL.");
	}
	var valid = false;
	var arr  = [],
	keys = Object.keys(conditions);

	for(var i=0,n=keys.length;i<n;i++){
		var key  = keys[i];
		arr[i] = conditions[key];
	}

	conditions = arr;
	for (i = 0; i < arr.length; i++) { 
		var url = conditions[i].url;
		var matchtype = conditions[i].matchtype;
		var conditiontype = conditions[i].conditiontype;

		if(matchtype == "exact" && conditiontype == "target" && url == testurl){
			valid = true;
		}
		if(matchtype == "exact" && conditiontype == "exclude" && url == testurl){
			valid = false;
		}

		if(matchtype == "basic"){
			var cleanTestUrl = testurl.toLowerCase();
			var cleanUrl = url.toLowerCase();

			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("?") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("?"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("?") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("?"));
			}
			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("&") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("&"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("&") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("&"));
			}
			if(cleanTestUrl.indexOf("#") > 0) {
				cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.substring(0, cleanTestUrl.indexOf("#"));
			}
			if(cleanUrl.indexOf("#") > 0) {
				cleanUrl = cleanUrl.substring(0, cleanUrl.indexOf("#"));
			}
			cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.replace(/^(?:https?:\/\/)?(?:www\.)?/i, "");
			cleanUrl = cleanUrl.replace(/^(?:https?:\/\/)?(?:www\.)?/i, "");
			cleanTestUrl = cleanTestUrl.replace(/\/$/, "");
			cleanUrl = cleanUrl.replace(/\/$/, ""); 

			if(conditiontype == "target" && cleanUrl == cleanTestUrl){
				valid = true;
			}
			if(conditiontype == "exclude" && cleanUrl == cleanTestUrl){
				valid = false;
			}

		}
		if(matchtype == "substring"){
			if(testurl.includes(url) && conditiontype == "target"){
				valid = true;
			}
			if(testurl.includes(url) && conditiontype == "exclude"){
				valid = false;
			}
		} 
	}
	
	return valid;

}


A/B split testing

Conducting experiments with the goal of optimizing a metric is a powerful tool, and yields a large return on the time and money you invest in to it. The SplitWit platform can help digital goals come to fruition in short time. As new features are rolled out, I’ll continue posting updates deep diving into how things work behind the scenes. Follow @SplitWit for regular updates.

www.SplitWit.com

My experience building digital products

digital product

When writing about digital problem solving, I tell stories about past projects. On top of a tech perspective, I also dig into the business, design, marketing, and inter-personal aspects. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wide breadth of tech experience through my career. It has helped me dive deep into principles and ideas about building digital products. This range of experience was afforded by continually pursuing new work. Finding room for side projects and extra gigs is a great way to grow.

After a daily, hour-long commute I could barely sneak an hour or two for my creative projects and side gigs. But I always did. Side projects were often for paying clients, but sometimes just for fun. They would include not just programming, but also design, marketing, networking, and infrastructure. On top of this, I always made sure my hobbies would serve my overall goals. Reading good books, playing quality games, and being physically competitive all lead to a better life and career.

The key take-away is to work on a variety of projects. Be ready to try different technologies and new platforms. In general, keep trying new things.

Understand infrastructure. Survive some horror stories.

Web infrastructure and hosting setup are skills often missed out on by both casual programmers and professionals. Configuring domain names, email, web hosting, and load balancers is usually reserved for system administrators. Working as one-stop-shop, on your own or in a company, can give you the opportunity to manage all of these details.

I’ve gotten to work with many third-party services and vendors. I’ve seen the good and the bad, and even worse. AWS (Amazon Web Services) has been the best infrastructure provider that I have used. I’ve had horrible experiences from other companies.

Once having had my web servers infected by ransom-ware, HostGator wanted to charge nearly a thousand dollars, to solve the problem. This was the only solution they offered while multiple web properties were infected and out of commission. I fixed the issue myself in less than a few hours by purging all data from the servers and redeploying source code from version control. That was a nightmare.

Another time servers provided by OLM went down for multiple days. This was in 2014. During this time, they wouldn’t answer telephones, letting them ring. I stood on hold for at least 30 minutes, multiple times per day trying to get through. After nearly a week, things started working again, with no explanation provided. That was one of the most unprofessional experiences of my career. I will forever shout them out about this.

Get your hands dirty

Looking forward, I’m excited to explore more of AWS. I’m currently learning through online courses from Udemy: “Certified Solutions Architect” and “Certified Developer”, and plan to take the certification tests. Next, I want to jump into their “Machine Learning” and “Internet of Things” services.

I regularly use AWS services for cloud computing, storage, and databases. My go-to for a new project is to spin up a EC2 instance. If I know I’m using WordPress, I may use a Bitnami AMI. Other times, I’ll create a basic Linux box, and setup Apache, MySql, and PHP myself. Here is the documentation I regularly reference: Install a LAMP Web Server on Amazon Linux 2. This process usually includes configuring a domain name, and setting up SSL: Configure SSL/TLS on Amazon Linux 2.

I’ll continue this post as a series. I plan tell stories about my experiences in building digital products. I’ll cover topics such as design, marketing software, customization, and APIs. Follow me on Instagram for regular updates: @AntPace87

Remove subdirectories from a URL string

javascript

I use GitHub to manage code that I’ll want to re-use. I had trouble finding a canned function to remove the subdirectory path from a URL string – so I wrote one and added it to my latest public repository: https://github.com/pacea87/ap-utils

I’ll keep adding useful code to it – and feel free to make a pull request and contribute yourself. This code should focus on utility functions for manipulating data in interesting ways. Below is the JavaScript code for removing the subdirectories from a URL string. This will also strip away any query string parameters.

function removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url){
  
  var ssl = false;
  if(url.indexOf("https://")){
    ssl = true;
  }

  url = url.replace("http://", "");
  url = url.replace("https://", "");
  var pathArray = url.split("/")
  url = pathArray[0];
  if(ssl){
    url = "https://" + url;
  }else{
    url = "http://" + url;
  }

  return url;
}

Now, you can get the current page’s URL, and strip off everything after the host name:

var url = window.location.href;
var baseUrl = removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url);
console.log(baseUrl);

Another example:

var url = "https://www.antpace.com/blog/index.php/2018/12/";
var baseUrl = removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url);

//This will return "https://www.antpace.com"
console.log(baseUrl); 

I used this code to re-write all URL references in an iFrame to be absolute. My implementation loops through all image, anchor, and script tags on the source site. It determines if each uses an absolute reference, and if not re-writes it as one. This was part of a project that uses a visual editor to allow users to manipulate a remote site. Check out my source code below.

pageIframe.contents().find("img").each(function(){
  var src = $(this).attr("src");
  if(src && src.length > 0 && src.indexOf("//") == -1){  //if not absolute reference
    var url = iframeUrlString;
    if(src.charAt(0) == "/"){ //only do this if the src does not start with a slash
      url = removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url); 
    }
    src = url+"/"+src
  }
  $(this).attr("src", src);
});

pageIframe.contents().find("script").each(function(){
  var src = $(this).attr("src");
  if(src && src.length > 0 && src.indexOf("//") == -1){
    var url = iframeUrlString;
    if(src.charAt(0) == "/"){
      url = removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url); 
    }
    src = url+"/"+src
  }
  $(this).attr("src", src);
});

pageIframe.contents().find("link").each(function(){
  var src = $(this).attr("href");
  if(src && src.length > 0 && src.indexOf("//") == -1){
    var url = iframeUrlString;
    if(src.charAt(0) == "/"){
      url = removeSubdirectoryFromUrlString(url); 
    }
    src = url+"/"+src
  }
  $(this).attr("href", src);
});

If you liked this, check out my other post about my reusable code framework for web apps, A framework for web apps and startups.