Replacing images with pure CSS buttons!

I’ve been doing some work on corporate ukphonebook.com to bring it up to date – making the design a couple of hundred pixels wider, converting the old XHTML to HTML5 and replacing the old menu button images with new, pure CSS3 ones. We’re going to talk about the new menu buttons as there are a couple of really good reasons for doing this:

If we wanted to add a new menu button in the past, I had to open up Adobe Fireworks and create two new images (the menu buttons had images for both their off and on states). Sometimes I had problems here as I couldn’t find the original multi-layer PNG file and had to try my best to replicate an existing, flattened one – this led to inconsistencies with the gradients, text drop shadows, and sometimes even forgotting that the menu buttons were supposed to have slightly rounded corners… Oops!

Not only was this time consuming, but at present, we have 219KB worth of menu images. The CSS code (plus fallback background images for older browsers) weighs in at a tiny 814 bytes, and if we need to change the text or add a new button, we just have to make a simple edit to the HTML. Much better!

Here’s the HTML code:

<a href="#" class="menu-button">Electoral Roll</a>

Here’s the CSS:

.menu-button {
	border: 1px #CDCDCD solid;
	display: block;
	width: 135px;
	height: 38px;
	line-height: 38px;
	border-radius: 3px;
	text-decoration: none;
	color: #313131;
	font-family: 'Georgia',serif;
	font-size: 14px;
	padding-left: 11px;
	text-shadow: 7px 4px 4px #ccc;
	background: url(images/menu-bg.png); /* fallback image */
	background: -moz-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #efefef);
	background: -webkit-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #efefef);
	background: -ms-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #efefef);
	background: -o-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #efefef);
	background: -webkit-gradient(linear, 0% 0%, 0% 100%, from(#fff), to(#efefef));
	margin-bottom: 3px;
}

.menu-button:hover {
	color: #313131;
}

.menu-button.on {
	border-color: #A1CAF8;
	color: #063261;
	background: url(images/menu-bg-on.png); /* fallback image */
	background: -moz-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #DBEBFB);
	background: -webkit-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #DBEBFB);
	background: -ms-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #DBEBFB);
	background: -o-linear-gradient(top, #fff, #DBEBFB);
	background: -webkit-gradient(linear, 0% 0%, 0% 100%, from(#fff), to(#DBEBFB));
}

And finally – the old image (left) compared with the shiny new CSS replacement (right).

Although CSS3 isn’t supported by older browsers, actually, the worst thing that happens is the buttons lose their rounded corners, and are missing the slight drop shadow on the text. These browsers will all fall back to a 1px wide repeated backround image – you can’t even tell the difference!

Behind The Scenes: Simunix Staff Pick Their Top 10 Greatest Albums of All Time

For a bit of fun, we’re starting a series of “Behind the Scenes at Simunix” blog posts. To kick off the series, we asked some of our Simunix staff members to list their top 10 albums of all time…

John Lewis – Managing Director

  1. Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
  2. The Beatles - Revolver (except Yellow Submarine)
  3. The Beatles - Rubber Soul
  4. Kate Bush - The Dreaming
  5. The Band - The Band
  6. Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
  7. Van Morrison - St Dominic’s Preview
  8. Weezer - The Green Album
  9. Brad Paisley - 5th Gear
  10. Joni Mitchell - Blue

Ian Martin – IT Director

  1. Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti
  2. Janis Ian - Between The Lines
  3. Genesis - A Trick of The Tail
  4. Joni Mitchell - Clouds
  5. The Cardigans - Life
  6. Amy Winehouse - Frank
  7. Swing Out Sister - Kaleidoscope World
  8. Bear Macreary - Battlestar Galactica Season Three Soundtrack
  9. English Sinfonia – Sir Charles Groves Conducts Elgar, Ravel, Fauré, Satie etc
  10. RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke

Laura Cunningham – Marketing Executive

  1. Jay-Z - The Black Album
  2. Nirvana - Nevermind
  3. Jurassic 5 - J5
  4. Joni Mitchell - Blue
  5. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
  6. Green Day - Dookie
  7. Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
  8. Radiohead - The Bends
  9. Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  10. London Grammar – If You Wait

Jamie Bradley – Developer

  1. Radiohead - In Rainbows
  2. Built To Spill - Keep It Like A Secret
  3. Bombay Bicycle Club - Flaws
  4. Pixies - Doolittle
  5. Daughter - If You Leave
  6. Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts Of The Great Highway
  7. Deftones - Around The Fur
  8. The War On Drugs - Slave Ambient
  9. Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
  10. Björk - Debut

Patrick Wahl – Developer

  1. Pearl Jam - Vitalogy
  2. Pearl Jam - Yield
  3. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – One Hot Minute
  4. Underworld – Beaucoup Fish
  5. Springbok Nude Girls – Goddank Vir Klanke/The Fat Lady Sings
  6. T.R.O. – Play Times Over
  7. Pixies – Surfer Rosa
  8. Depeche Mode – Songs Of Faith And Devotion
  9. Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
  10. Various Artists – Dad, I Blew up America

Burying the cost of dialling 118

4 April 2014, York

The cost of calling directory enquiries is continuing to rise and can now cost more than £3.50 for a one minute call from a landline.

According to research performed by York-based directory services provider Simunix, the amounts charged for a one minute landline call to the two biggest directory services are currently £3.58 for 118 118 and £2.98 for a call to BT’s 118 500. Costs can spiral even more if you ask to be put through to your requested number.

When the directory enquiries market was deregulated in 2003, it was thought that opening the market up to new firms would increase competition, therefore reducing costs to consumers. However, the opposite became true when the cost of calling directory enquiries began to rise and has continued to do so ever since.

But just how transparent are these directory enquiries providers about the cost of their services? Many of them display the cost on their home page, albeit in very small print at the very bottom of the page. There are those providers, however, that will go so far as to bury the cost of their service in the About Us page, making it difficult to keep up with the regularly changing costs.

In answer to this Simunix has created a daily updated infographic to chart the cost of a one minute call to different 118 numbers. It shows The Number’s and Maureen’s directory enquiries services both coming out as the most expensive at £3.58 for a one minute call with BT coming second at £2.98 for the same call. The lowest cost option listed on the infographic is 118 365 at 50.9p for a one minute call.

Consumers also need to be aware that dialling these numbers from a mobile phone can incur even greater costs. O2 customers can expect to pay £5 per minute for dialling a 118 number, the EE network charges £4.50 minimum for dialling 118 118 and a one minute call to 118 500 on the Vodafone network will set you back £3.75.

Simunix hopes to raise awareness of the true cost of dialling 118 numbers and asks that consumers not be blinded by the adverts they see on television. There are many lower cost options out there and even some online services that offer free directory enquiries.

-ends-

Why Do I Suddenly Need The Visual C++ Runtime Library?

Quote

Angry Lady

This is a transcript of a recent conversation in this office. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the confused.

Jeb: Seb

Seb: Yeah?

Jeb: I’m installing an application on my computer.

Seb: Yes?

Jeb: It says I need to install the latest Visual C++ Runtime Libraries.

Seb: So?

Jeb: What is Visual C++?

Seb: It’s a program used to develop applications, in C++. C++ is a programming language.

Jeb: But I don’t want to install that. I just want my new application to work. Why is life complicated?

Seb: It means that your new application was developed using Visual C++. You just need to install the runtime software in order to make it run on your computer.

Jeb: How much will that cost me?

Seb: Nothing, it’s free. You can get it from here.

Jeb: Why doesn’t it just install with the application?

Seb. Normally it does, but you can do it yourself in a minute or less.

Jeb: I never used to have to do this? What’s changed?

Seb: Do you want the long technical version or the short one?

Jeb: I don’t do long technical.

Seb: OK. Windows applications used to ship without the need to do that. They included all the software bits of Windows that they needed to do everything.

Jeb: Sounds simpler.

Seb: It was but not good. Most applications today instead just hook up to the Visual C++ runtime component that you install (normally it’s just installed when you install your new application). They don’t need to carry a load of Windows code with them.

Jeb: Why do they do that?

Seb: Well, if a security flaw or a bug shows up in Windows, Microsoft just update that runtime component, when you run Windows Update.

Jeb: My PC does that every morning at 3AM.

Seb: Most do. When the C++ runtime is updated, it also fixes the flaw or bug in your application, with no need to update the application. As if by magic.

Jeb: I see. So if it didn’t use the runtime I’d be stuck with a bugged version of my application until the people who created it could update it.

Seb: Assuming they did.

Jeb: The runtime is installed. Time to play.

Seb: My decade is complete.

 

 

Farewell Windows XP

It’s 1st April but this is not a joke article.

Windows XP arrived just a few weeks after the world was shocked by the events of 11th September 2001. Since then it has been upgraded through various servce packs, the final being Service Pack 3 (SP3). Windows XP was finally replaced (in theory) by Windows Vista in 2007, and subsequently by the more popular Windows 7 in 2009. The controversial Windows 8 arrived in 2012.

Users of Windows XP have been able to receive security and bug fixes through the Windows Update procedure, but all that will cease finally on 8th April 2014.

So how does this affect Windows XP users?

Well, on 8th April your XP computer will continue to function. You’ll be able to use Google,Twitter, Facebook, send and receive emails, create documents, play games and do anything that you were doing on 7th.

If, however, in the weeks and months after 8th April, a security flaw is found in a component of Windows XP, you will no longer receive a ‘patch’ from Microsoft.

Should you then upgrade your operating system, replacing the 13 year old XP with Windows 8.1 and/or a new computer?

Microsoft of course advise this course of action and whilst I would agree that an upgrade should be implemented (unless you intend to cease all online operations), XP users may find that an upgrade to Windows 7 is a move into more familiar territory. Look on your favourite online auction and other retailers for a Windows 7 upgrade.

Any website which serves a multitude of customers in the commercial and government sectors will be aware that the proportion of clients that are still using Windows XP is higher than might be initially expected. Of course we recogise that the actual users have no control over their operating system and in some cases web browser, and are reliant on their IT department to implement upgrades from XP. If users of XP can choose to use a different web browser (and if this is permitted), they should do so.

Try Google Chrome (you don’t need to log in to Google) or Firefox. Any alternate browser should also be upraded regularly – most browsers check themselves for an upgrade.

Our developers at ukphonebook.com retain a couple of PCs running Windows XP for software testing purposes, including testing our websites on Internet Exporer 7 and 8. Whilst we cannot assist if there are future security issues with XP, we will continue to ensure that the websites function on older versions of Internet Explorer.

We’re not abandoning our support for XP.

Rogue Companies Face Nuisance Calls Planned Crackdown

At last it appears that there is some good news for people plagued by unwanted (unsolicited) marketing calls, as reported by the BBC and other agencies on Sunday 30th March 2014.

I have a lot of sympathy; I receive about 3-4 unwanted calls on my mobile phone each day, even though my number is TPS registered. I always immediately, politely but firmly inform the caller of that fact, and it invariably causes an immediate disconnection.

Of course, it should not be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. If every company wishing to make unsolicited marketing calls to UK telephone numbers were to screen their data using a bulk TPS screening service, there would be no cause for complaint.

Our own TPS bulk checking service is:-

  • Fast, checks several thousand records per second
  • Flexible, it looks in your data for UK telephone numbers, however they may be formatted
  • Immediate – upload your data, check it, and download the results immediately.
  • Current – our TPS data is updated every evening
  • Comprehensive – we check your data against the domestic and commercial TPS registers

If you need to become TPS compliant, or are looking for a new place to perform your TPS bulk screening, why not sign up for a no-commitment corporate share account to receive the maximum discount on TPS and any other services you may wish to utilise – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how useful and sensibly priced the services are.

 

 

 

 

 

Bug Fixed and Thank You

ukphonebook TPS checking service

ukphonebook.com engineers always respond to bug reports with the utmost urgency, and we have now fixed a bug kindly reported to us by one of our users.

Before the bug fix, if you uploaded a CSV to our bulk TPS checking facility, if there was an empty but non-blank line within the CSV, the checking process incorrectly regarded this as the end of the file. Sorry about that, but many thanks to our user for taking the time and trouble to report the problem to us.

The fix went “live” at 7.30 GMT today, 28th March 2014.

As part of our post-fix testing we stress-tested the bulk TPS checking service. Once the system had counted how many numbers were present, it was able to check  49, 996 records in just 6 seconds; it’s almost not worth having a progress bar…

Each telephone number is checked against both the domestic and commercial TPS data (TPS and CTPS) and we update our TPS data every evening.

Our fast TPS checking service is available here
 

 

 

118 Calls Are Expensive (but not 118 365)

Some directory enquiry services are well publicised and heavily promoted by their owners, but they are understandably reticent when it comes to disclosing the price of the 118 services.

Take a look at the chart below which shows the cost of a 60 second call to some 118 services, from a BT landline. The prices were correct as of 21st Feb 2014.

Of course those TV adverts for 118 services do show the prices on the screen (because the are obliged to), but they don’t exactly shout them out.

We’d like to shout out about 118 365:-

118 365 is just 51p for a one minute call from a BT landline. The major 118 providers are SEVEN TIMES as expensive! Use 118 365 every day.

 

 

 

Elvis Presley stole my name

18 February 2014, York

There are currently 32 Elvis Presleys living in the UK according to ukphonebook.com – the online UK Directory Enquiries provider. Further investigation reveals a range of celebrity namesakes with Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Marilyn Monroe and even a Wesley Snipes appearing in the telephone directory and electoral register.

It would appear parents have also been taking inspiration from fictional characters when naming their children, with James Bond listed 253 times. There are also 45 Harry Potters and 20 Don Drapers, although this is most likely a coincidence as those born since the creation of these characters are unlikely to have a telephone directory listing and certainly have yet to reach voting age.

Believe it or not there are even some parents out there unkind enough to name their children after famous criminals and villains with names such as Charles Manson, Al Capone and even a Darth Vader appearing in the UK electoral roll.

But what’s it like when your name is famous but you aren’t? Laura Cunningham, Marketing Executive at ukphonebook.com says, “I was recently talking to a Keith Lemon and asked him what it was like sharing his name with the comedian. He said, ’the problem is, everybody who hears my name expects me to be funny. It almost feels like part of my identity has been stolen by the character’”.

Whilst many of us may find this amusing, it can quickly turn into a nuisance for people forced to field comments about their more famous namesakes.

Managing Director of ukphonebook.com, John Lewis, is no stranger to the perils of having a famous name. “I’ve become quite good at pretending people are being original when they make jokes about my name. Almost every time I have to give my name I’m told it’s a shame I’m not the John Lewis.”

-ends-

About our data

We get a lot of enquiries about where our data comes from and how often it’s updated so I thought I’d do a breakdown for anyone who’s interested:

  • Telephone directory data from all UK telephone providers – each night, 6 nights per week
  • Postal Address Finder (PAF) data from Royal Mail – monthly
  • Electoral Roll (ER) data – monthly
  • Companies House data – real time
  • Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Corporate TPS (CTPS) data – daily
  • Deceased data – monthly
  • Classified business data – monthly

At Simunix, we’re very proud of how up to date our data is, especially of how regularly the telephone data is updated with up to 40,000 changes made each night.

So there you go, I hope that answers some questions!