Glow in the dark trees

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in Everything Else | No Comments

This caught my eye (and reminded me of the pavements that generated electricity), glowing plants that could be used to create sustainable natural lighting. Clever.

Glow-In-Dark-Trees-flash-631

The people behind it were looking for $65,000 on Kickstarter to help fund their project. They raised $484,013. Those that backed them on Kickstarter are going to be getting seeds to plant their own glowing plants. How cool is that? Back them up to $90 and you’d have received a book on how to grow your own glowing plant!

Good stuff – and if, one day, street lamps are replaced by glowing plants and trees I think that would be great. A little creepy. But great.

(They’ve a website here)

In which I talk about the book I’m writing …

Posted by on Jul 9, 2013 in Everything Else, Training | No Comments

It’s not a very closely kept secret – I’ve had a little notice at the top of the page for a couple of weeks, but the time has finally arrived to take the wrappers off of the book I’m writing.

I’m writing a manual for website owners which will guide those who have recently launched a website, are planning to launch a website, or who already have a website but feel like they’re not getting enough out of it, through the sticky business of managing, marketing and developing their online presence. (Phew … I may need to work on condensing that).

Writing a Book

Photo by Horia Varlan – http://flic.kr/p/7uJEFv

Before I go into more details – I’m going to ask you 2 favours:

1. I’d ask anyone who thinks this might be interesting to sign up to the books newsletter. You’ll get a free guide: 7 Tips to Effective Email Marketing, and you’ll receive weekly updates from the For Website Owners blog.

2. I’ll also ask you to visit the Facebook page for the book and like that too.

Thanks – your help and support is appreciated. I’ve told myself that if I can’t get a certain number of people to sign up from this blog post / email, then the project itself probably isn’t a goer.

What’s it all about?

Well, the book will cover all the areas that I’ve helped clients with over the past 10 years. What often happens when a client and I launch a website is that the client doesn’t quite know what they should be doing next. And so I will often walk them through the first few months – through the basics of getting their online presence found, getting it promoted, measuring it’s success, and developing it’s ongoing strategy. In many ways, this is more vital time for the client than the development process. 

That’s all good, but I thought that there might be a better way to distribute that knowledge – that help – to a (marginally) wider audience and in a more digestible format than sitting next to me for a few months. So, a book.

What it will be is this: a guide for website owners who want to make the most from their websites, who perhaps don’t have as much time as I do to be keeping up with what’s current, what works and what doesn’t. Website owners who don’t want to hire a consultant for a website that’s already been built – but want to know what they should do themselves. These people are, after all, often self starters who are used to taking things on themselves.

I know that this is something needed by customers – I know it’s something worthwhile. What I need now is your support – so, checkout the book page, sign up for the newsletter – and follow the progress on Facebook. It’ll be a journey alright, and a good one at that.

Around The Web – June 2013

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

The monthly round up of useful things I’ve found in the past … ooh, 30 days or so.

Dealing with broken padlocks on ecommerce sites:

Occasionally, a site I’m working on will throw up problems around it’s security certificate … an ecommerce site would typically require every element on it’s page be referencing a secure location on the site – through https, rather than just plain old http.

When you set up a secure page, that’s all fine … however, as the site matures and more content gets added, it’s inevitable that, at some point content from an insecure location will creep in. What happens in those situations is that the little padlock that sits in the address bar of your browser will display as broken. depending on the browser, the padlock may not be closed tight, may be a different colour, or may have a little warning sign on it.

summer2011_why-authorizations-arent-secure-enough-for-ecommerce

You need to track down the offending piece of content – and that can be tricky. Enter my favourite tool of the month: Why No Padlock. Simply enter the URL you wish to check and it’ll tell you what insecure resources are being referenced. Sweet. All you need to do now is fix them, and check again. (Beware, when you check again, that the insecure result hasn’t been cached. Best to check in a new browser altogether.)

Regular Coffee … 

One just for the U.S. readers I’m afraid … Regular Coffee offers subscription based coffee delivery. Nice, simple site that gets the job done – and a nice example of establishing brand credentials through personality and good writing:

We like coffee. Hell, who doesn’t? And yeah, we can tell the difference between gas station battery acid and a fresh roasted gourmet cuppa. What we don’t like is standing in line behind some be-spectacled coffee shop lurker while he interrogates a nose-in-the-air barista about growing altitudes and roasting temperatures.

We don’t need ten different choices of bean or eight different ways to brew ‘em. We just want a good cup of coffee so we can get on with our day. And go to work. At a job! You ever hear of those, Mr. Lurker?

Check it out … and send me some!

This is a web page

This, from Justin Jackson is a neat reminder – lest we forget – that it is words and content that build web pages, web apps, web whatever. Not fancy design, not responsive layouts, not really cool stuff people are doing over there … just words.

Payments in Space?

Worried about how you’re going to shop online from space? Don’t worry, PayPal is on it. (Although, amusingly, their site appears to have a faulty SSL certificate and could be in need of Why No Padlock). PayPal founder, Elon Musk is a leader in the private space race and his company seem (only half-jokingly) intent on solving a galactic payments problem. A problem which, it has to be said, doesn’t really exist yet. (via)

PayPal in Space

… and finally:

For Website Owners

This is bigger news than merits the final spot in a monthly round up, but consider this a pre-announcement for those of you who don’t already know. I’m writing a book. Yikes. The book will support new website owners as they learn how to promote, manage and develop their website to help their business.

It has a supporting website: For Website Owners, which is a blog covering similar issues. And to learn more about the book itself, you can check out the book page

For Website Owners

Two things to ask you: please sign up to the newsletter so you can hear more about the book as it develops.  You’ll receive a free copy of my 7 Tips for Effective Email Marketing‘ eBook.

And also, please head on over to the new Facebook page for the book and click ‘like’.

Thanks!

Passwords as tattoo’s / swallowable passwords

Posted by on Jun 14, 2013 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

I’ve written before about the need for password strength, and also about my love of 1Password – an app for remembering and creating strong passwords … but this, well this is something new altogether …

Regina Dugan is the former head of DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – and now works over at (Google owned) Motorola. Saying that she ‘got to do a lot of epic shit when I was at DARPA’ sounds like a great way to start a conference talk … and when she goes on to outline Motorola’s work on better ‘passwords’, it’s hard to disagree.

Two things in particular:

  • An electronic tattoo that can be used to authenticate a user instead of some flimsy password. It’s made by a company called MC10 that Motorola is partnering with, and Dugan is wearing it on her own arm.
  • Vitamin authentication. Dugan shows a pill that can be ingested and then battery-powered with stomach acid to produce an 18-bit internal signal. After that, the swallower’s whole body becomes a password.

Wow – scary stuff. But sure, why not? Of course, electronic tattoo’s could theoretically be forcibly removed by anyone who really really wanted it … but I like the idea of vitamin authentication – I wonder how long it stays in the system? (via)

Around the web – May 2013

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

Oops … I’m a bit late with the monthly round up this month. It’s been a month of travelling, prosthetic limbs (not mine!), and family funerals (again, not mine). So bear with me … but some good stuff found around and about:

Single purpose, digital Camera for kids

A couple of years ago, we bought both our kids (currently 9 & 6) digital cameras. They were £50, leading brand (for kids cameras), and simple enough to use. The problem was: they had games on them. So they were no longer cameras – they were (really bad) games consoles … and because the product wasn’t focused on the one task that it should do well, they sit in a corner unused. Boo. So, when I saw this little camera, I immediately thought … ‘Birthday presents ahoy!’:

PickOpen2_1024x1024

This great looking little cameraplugs directly into a USB port for easy photo viewing, downloading, and battery charging (no cables, no batteries). Awesome.

Standing Desks

I’ve recently moved out of my ‘home’ office into my ‘garage’ office (increasing my daily commute by perhaps 10 seconds) – and have decided to move to a standing desk. I have occasional back problems and pretty poor posture. I’m also a keen runner, but find that if I run over 15 miles in a hit, my back gives up. So, poor posture, and poor core strength. Enter, the standing desk. (And no, I didn’t buy a geek desk, or anything like that – I’m currently propping my computer on 2 large storage boxes … although our friendly kitchen man has been tasked with building something a little more aesthetically pleasing).

Two great articles (by the same person – an initial primer, followed by a 12 month follow up) helped me make up my mind: One year at my standing desk and How and why I switched to a standing desk.

ku-xlarge

Initially skeptical, I’m turning into a convert. I’ve only done 2 weeks at it so far, and I do still work in a chair for a couple of hours in the morning … but (and sore feet notwithstanding) I’m already finding some huge initial benefits:

  • productivity has increased (much easier to focus standing up, and much less prone to drift into Facebook / other internet attention suckers. I don’t know why this is – I don’t understand the psychology of it – but it’s certainly, anecdotally, true. For me.)
  • my back feels much stronger. I haven’t tested it out with any long runs so far, but I certainly don’t have that ‘loose / wobbly’ feeling in my back that is the typical precursor to impending back problems.
  • sitting is essential. You still need to sit. Donald Rumsfeld (the heaving eejit) may have been able to stand for eight hours, but I can’t. A variety of working areas are vital.

Dealing with critics

I came across a couple of quotes regarding critics and the process of criticism this month that ring true as I start to read more around the subject of making products / writing books …

I’ve been all over the world and I’ve never seen a statue of a critic – Leonard Bernstein

And this conversation with Ricky Gervais where he talks about his show Derek:

GQ: But when someone says “vile, cynical, and dishonest”? Or an “appalling piece of comedy hackwork”? Ricky Gervais: [chuckling] Both of those made me laugh when you said them. “Vile, cynical…” [laughing more] That’s something you’d say about Charles Manson, not a bloke who made a twenty-three-minute sitcom! “Vile, cynical, and dishonest”! “What’d he do?” “Did a sitcom…” [falls on his side to the sofa, he is laughing so hard] Cunts!
GQ: But can you just brush it off? Ricky Gervais: Yeah. Who said it?

GQ: I can’t remember specifically right now. Ricky Gervais: Right. But who wrote and directed Derek?

GQ: [puzzled] You did. Ricky Gervais: You remember that, don’t you?

Yahoo! Again …

Earlier in the month I wrote a bit about Marissa Meyer kicking ass at Yahoo! … I mentioned a couple of stories of how some of the Yahoo takeovers didn’t pan out quite so well for the taken-over firms. I’d forgotten about this piece from 37signals.com – perhaps the definitive piece on ‘What happens after Yahoo! acquires you’

Professional Project Management

I’ve toyed with a few project management tools over the years – from Basecamp (which I loved, but didn’t use), to Pivotal Tracker (which I didn’t love, but had to use), and Podio, which looked great but, well, by then I just couldn’t be arsed.  But, typically, my objections to this kind of software is that you’re paying month by month, you invest time and resources into it and then it’s hard to get your data out in a meaningful format for you to work with outside of that service – should you ever need to. The longer you use them, the more you’re committed to the relationship. So I stay away from them.

However, this app (I was going to call it a ‘new’ app, but it might have been around for years for all I know), Duet, may well have been developed specifically for me.

main-screenshot

It’s something you can host on your own server and you pay a one off licence fee – which is very reasonable at just $45. It’s written using technologies I understand (PHP & MySQL) which gives me the confidence that I can transport the data if I need to – and it seems very usable. If I fork out the $45 I’ll let you know how I get on.

VSRE – Very Short Reply Expected

Those of you who have worked with me directly on a project will know that I’m a fan of lengthy emails … or rather, I find it hard to write anything else. (And, often, with good reason … I can’t meet face to face with many of my clients, so well written, quite lengthy emails are often necessary I promise!)

VSRE is a call to action for email users to write replies that are as short as possible. It can be quite demanding writing out a reply to an email making sure it is clear enough as well as being contextually polite. By specifying VSRE in the subject line, you’re setting the expectation that just writing ‘yes’, ‘no’, or some other one word response, is just fine. I like it.  Rather than trying to become a standard way of operating, it could become an email convention like RSVP or FYI.

… and that’s about all we have time for this week!

Thought for the day

Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Everything Else | No Comments

The ever quotable Tom Waits:

“We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. We are monkeys with money and guns.”

See also: ‘Our minds need to go on a diet‘ … 

Around the web – April 2013

In which there’s a couple of good free resources: guide to google analytics, and a beginners guide to sales, I switch email client (again), and apologise for anything I’ve ever said when I was hungry.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a round up of useful or interesting things I’ve found online; still, there’s no time like the present:

Guide to Google Analytics for eCommerce:

Free (as in £0.00) guide to using Google Analytics on your eCommerce website. Covers basic set up, the most important reports to run and how to get the most out of your dashboard. It’s entry level, for sure – but it’s comprehensive and contains some really useful tips, including setting up conversions, goals and ‘funnel visualisation’.

Guide to Google Analytics

Beginners guide to sales

In a similar ‘here’s a simple guide to something we all need’ vein. The people who make Stride App (a CRM aimed at micro / small businesses) and Ecquire (which does something similar-ish, I think, but I couldn’t easily discern what from their website and so gave up in frustration) have put together this beginners guide to sales. Again, nothing revolutionary, but a really good grounding in what sales is, how to go about it, and how it’s really the core of everything we do (especially as a micro-business like myself). Good stuff – and had me looking out an article I wrote last year: I am not a web designer.

I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry

I’ll totally be needing some of these:

Sorry for when I was hungry

The 1-3-5 Rule: making sense of your to-do list

I’m getting to grips with my to-do’s a bit better these days, and this approach has helped. Acknowledging that I can do 1 big thing, 3 medium things, and 5 small things each day. Simple but effective.

On which subject … I’ve taken a new approach to managing my email. Previously, I switched to Sparrow App, (writing about how pleased with myself I was) but development ceased when they sold up to Google a while back. (Good for them, I say … but it left thousands of fee paying devotees somewhat in the lurch). Recently, after a brief flirtation with Postbox, I switched back to good ol’ Mac Mail – thanks in no small part to this article.

I still abhor the idea of using my mail as a storage facility or insurance policy – and so I need to process email efficiently as it comes in. Using a few keyboard shortcuts, mail quickly gets flagged as either needing a reply, needing follow up, and ‘today’ – for task based emails that need to be done, y’know, today. It’s simple but effective, and keeps me out of email as much as possible.

(for gmail users, this great little script from Merlin Mann allows you to compose an email without actually opening your inbox. Distraction free writing). I’m rambling now, but I first came across Merlin in this article from 2005 – Kick Procrastination’s Ass.

Okay, I think that’s it for now.

God’s away on business

Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

Every now and again I’m completely blown away by the people I’ve met online.  Supremely talented, incredibly generous, and generally marvellous.  Never more so than this week when the good people of The Kenspeckle Letterpress, put this blog post online.

Tom Waits, God's Away On Business

My love of all things Tom Waits is well documented and just about tolerated in our house (there are videos – which I refrain from posting here for fear of long term psychological damage – of my children singing a passionate version of ‘Get Behind The Mule’).  I digress.

The engraving that Rick has produced here is incredibly detailed and deliciously realised.  Can you imagine the time it takes to carve such a thing out of a block of wood?  Check out the detail in the steam clouds, in Tom’s jacket, his face, in the pipework.  I love it, and am extremely honoured to have played such a small role in it’s creation.

There are two great versions of the song that inspired the engraving available on YouTube – the official video, and a mash up with the Cookie Monster.  (Yes, that Cookie Monster).  Both are posted below.

I Don’t Understand The Facebook IPO

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Business, Everything Else | No Comments

I don’t understand the Facebook IPO.  Or, more to the point: as a potential (extremely small) investor, I don’t understand clearly enough how it would make me money.

If I were a growth fund manager then yes, I’d be in there all guns blazing … it would make good sense to buy as much Facebook stock as I could get my hands on.  If for no other reason than were I not to, and it did well over the next few years, I’d look like a giant arse.  A laughing stock with angry fund holders wondering how on earth I could miss out on something so blindingly obvious.  

Were it to fail, well, all my competitor funds would have bought stock too, so depending on my other investments I might still have out performed my competitors.  It’s a no brainer for a fund manager.

However, as a consumer … it’s not so clear.  

facebook-ipo

Facebook make money from selling advertising.  As do Google.  But Google’s methodology for targeting ads is so much more solid – it is so much more apparent and understandable than Facebook’s model.  If I’m on Google, and I’ve typed in ‘hedge trimmers’ then it’s a pretty small risk for Google to display an ad for hedge trimmers thinking that I may be looking to buy one.  If I’ve typed in ‘buy hedge trimmers online’ then even better.

In other words, the content a user generates in Google is driven by a desire to find something out.  That desire can then be matched to advertisers offering something to satisfy that desire.

However, the content generated by Facebook is not nearly so directed.  It’s a conversation.  Yesterday, on Facebook, I was involved in a conversation about Frappuccino’s, another about popular birth dates and a third about running.  It’s difficult to target adverts to conversations – I certainly didn’t want to buy a Frappuccino.  The conversations people have on Facebook are rarely about products or services in the same, inquisitive way that Google’s user generated content is.

So, if that’s how Facebook are planning to make money, it doesn’t look as solid to me – and there’s some evidence to suggest that major advertisers are finding it equally difficult and pulling their ads.

Secondly, Facebook acknowledge that mobile is the way forward for social platforms.  Yet, they currently do not make any money from their mobile user base. As of December 31st 2011, Facebook had 845 million monthly active users – 425m of them were mobile users.  But they acknowledge that … 

“We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven … ” – Facebook IPO Prospectus (via)

That’s some admission: the future is mobile, and we don’t know how to make money from it.

So, to recap: their advertising model is shaky, and they don’t understand how to make money from over half of their users.  For me, that’s not a solid investment.  I’m not saying the stock won’t do well – I’m sure the IPO will be hugely successful.  

What I am saying is that to invest in a company it helps to understand how that company makes money – and how they intend to make money going forward.  If you don’t, then you’re investing in hype.

 

The most common birth dates – an infographic

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Everything Else, On the interwebs | No Comments

Everyone loves a good infographic.  This one shows which birth dates are most popular … as you might expect, September seems to be the most common month for birthdays … all that winter time cuddling … predictably, Feb 29th and Jan 1st are the 2 least common dates.  

Anyway, a nice heat map illustration of the data:

most-common-birth-dates-birthdays

(This is directly from the Daily Viz website here, taking data from this NYT article)

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