Alun Rowe

ramblings about cars, tech, web development and more. BOTB Winner in 2010

Category: Uncategorized

5 useful tips to protect your business

Scarily, when talking to businesses with my IT hat on I’m finding a large number of them STILL don’t have any kind of protection for their IT from the basic level of surge protection to offline backups and having replacement kit available.

With this in mind here’s a quick run down of the top 5 things you HAVE to put into place in your business…

1. Surge Protection

Ok, Surge protection power strips are available from about £10! There really is NO EXCUSE!!! Go here to get started: Google Shopping

2. UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply)

In the event of power failure you can be sat staring at an empty screen for hours, or maybe going home, getting the old laptop out etc. That’s going to cost you time. More importantly is the file you have been working on all day is likely to now be corrupt. This equals MORE MONEY. For the price of a small UPS at each desk just to give your team time to power down their machines it’s got to be worth it right? “Have a look here for some entry level units and a buying guide”:http://www.criticalpowersupplies.co.uk/choosing-a-ups

3. Centralised File storage

If your computer decides, at a highly inappropriate time as they always do, to suffer from hard disk failure then unless you have some kind of backup you are going to be in trouble. Day to day I’d recommend using a NAS (Network Storage Device) and the only one’s I’d recommend are the NETGEAR ReadyNas series. I’ve been accused of bias on these products as my company sell them but the reasons we sell them are the reasons I’d recommend them to you…

  • 5 Year Warranty
  • Major Manufacturer Support
  • Regular firmware updates
  • Regularly updated Hard Drive Compatibility lists

With most NAS Systems you’ll also get the ability to perform some kind of sync with an online backup service (See below).

Feel free to go and buy the latest and greatest box from China with a nice case but remember to ask yourself where your support will be in 2,3, 4 years time…

PS I’ve heard some good things about Drobo too from some people but not enough yet to sway my recommendations. (And I’ll definitely admit they look very cool!)

4. Online Backup

Freelancer? You SHOULD be using Dropbox by now. If not why not? Having a cached version of your hard drive with revisions is absolutely invaluable!

Company? Use a decent NAS (like the ReadyNas above) and you’ll have access to an online backup service. NETGEAR have ReadyNAS Vault and other NAS Providers have such services.

All the services work on the same initial basis of syncronising files to an internet host usually backed by Amazon S3 or a similar service.

5. “Cloud” based Email

Wether it’s hosted exchange, Mobile Me or Gmail you really have to get your email off your computers and into the cloud. The benefits are too numerous to list in their enitrety but here’s a few:

  • Emails can be easily shared between devices eg Desktop Computer, Laptop, iPhone, Smartphone etc.
  • Emails are backed up by the service provider so if you lose your laptop or suffer a disk failure you don’t lose the emails.
  • Upgrades are done silently for you in the background so you don’t have to worry about them (Ever applied a service pack to a mail server, it’s nerve racking stuff!)
  • Spam Filtering is usually dealt with too

More to think about?

These are macro level things really in the world of protecting your IT. I’ll cover disaster recovery options, monitoring and much more in the future…

So there’s the my 5 things every business needs to deal with what else would you recommend?

Using HTML in custom fields – Textpattern

One of our customers wanted their course titles to be displayed with a <span> around a keyword in order to highlight it.

Our initial thought was ‘simple!’ we’ll just add the title with the required span to the Article as a custom field, in this instance called “widgettitle” and output it like this:

<txp:custom_field name=”widgettitle” />

Unfortunately this just produces ‘REAL <span>PRESENTATIONS</span>’ which wasn’t the desired effect!

Solving it is simple (once you’ve searched a bit!) all you need to do is add escape=”” to the TXP tag like this:

<txp:custom_field name=”widgettitle” escape=”” />

Now your ‘code’ in the custom won’t be parsed into HTML

Yay!

Using Variables in Textpattern

On one of our client sites we need to display different form types for a few sections but otherwise the page is the same.

So in order to achieve this I’ve been using the *<txp:variable />* tag.

First up I set some defaults using a simple variable/value pair:

* <txp:variable name=”sortthis” value=”custom_8″ />
* <txp:variable name=”showtime” value=”past” />
* <txp:variable name=”listform” value=”v3_article_list” />
* <txp:variable name=”listlimit” value=”10″ />
* <txp:variable name=”displayform” value=”article_display” />

Next I display our standard form that we want to see on the main sections of the site:

<txp:article form='<txp:variable name=”displayform” />’ limit='<txp:variable name=”listlimit” />’ listform='<txp:variable name=”listform” />’ pgonly=”0″ searchall=”0″ searchsticky=”0″ sort='<txp:variable name=”sortthis” />’ status=”4″ time='<txp:variable name=”showtime” />’ />

This will now work quite happily. In order to show the different formats for the ‘other’ sections we now add this between the default variables and the <txp:article /> tag overriding any variables required:

* <txp:if_section name=”news-and-articles”>
* <txp:variable name=”sortthis” value=”Posted desc” />
* <txp:variable name=”showtime” value=”past” />
* </txp:if_section>
* <txp:if_section name=” events”>
* <txp:variable name=”sortthis” value=”Posted” />
* <txp:variable name=”showtime” value=”future” />
* </txp:if_section>
* <txp:if_section name=” our-clients”>
* <txp:variable name=”listform” value=”v3_client_list” />
* <txp:variable name=”listlimit” value=”100″ />
* </txp:if_section>

The real magic here is the use of single quotes and double quotes. Basically the stuff inside the single quotes gets evaluated first meaning you can fire variables into other TXP tags.

It’s especially useful for creating custom article lists based upon current section or current category:

* <txp:article_custom section='<txp:section />’ />

Enjoy!

Alun gets a gobsmackingly brilliant phone call

I’m pretty sure I don’t use the term ‘Gobsmacked’ in day to day conversation. In fact I can’t remember a time in my life previous to last Thursday when I had ever used it. Strangely though it was somehow the perfect word to describe how I felt a few moments after my phone rang.

Initially I though that this Rupert bloke on the other end of the phone was doing some market research or something and perhaps if I played along for a few minutes I might get a nice discount code for their website. In fact a discount code would be nice as even though I’d been playing on their site since sometime in 2002/2003 (at a guess, I’m a fair-weather player 😉 ) I’d only won a few money off vouchers for my next game.

As the phone call progressed my thoughts began to change though. He wasn’t asking the kinds of questions that would lead me to give him my credit card details or to promise I’d log onto the site as soon as I’d put the phone down. In fact at this point my mind began to race, maybe I had won the iPhone 3GS competition i’d entered a few months earlier on the death of my old iPhone 3G?

It turns out I didn’t win the iPhone…

…I definitely hadn’t won some more vouchers…

…It turns out I’d won a car. And not just any car. I’d won a Porsche Cayman!
As I mentioned earlier, I was, quite simply ‘gobsmacked’…

Once I’d finished reeling from the shock (“and you can hear the phone call here”:http://www.botb.com/PastWinners/SupercarWinners/2010.aspx ) Rupert and I had a great chat about Cars, my motivations for playing and plenty of other things and of course finally what the process was for choosing and collecting my car.

h2. Roll on a week

So, a week later and I’m sat at Porsche West London waiting to have a chat with a salesman about Porsche Caymans and the various option packs.

First of all I spent about half an hour with Ben and Will from Best of the Best having a chat and doing some pictures and a video interview. I have to say given that I was ‘costing’ them lots of cash they are truly lovely people. They seemed genuinely pleased a driving enthusiast had won the prize and I think throughout the conversation ‘congratulations’ must have been said about 100 times they really are lovely blokes!

Anyway, car ‘buying’ time (I put that in quotes as we’re still looking at a few possibilities on the car front so I’ve not ‘bought’ the car yet). Being an impatient bugger I’d discussed the possibility of taking an Ex Demo Cayman from the Porsche London group stock which Will from Best of the best had agreed would be a fine idea which meant it was test drive time!

I’ll be keeping my site upto date with the process and in the next few weeks I’ll be taking delivery of a Porsche Cayman!!!

So I’ll leave you with a pic of the car I test drove and I’ll go back to browsing the “Porsche website”:http://www.porsche.com/uk/ so I can think about any spec changes I want to make but it’ll be this car or one very similar. Like I said before, I’m gobsmacked and I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

PS Head over to BOTB here and use the code PHSUPERWIN to get a 20% discount on your entry!
Porsche Cayman

Textpattern/txp “Nice try.” error message

The simple steps you need to take to fix the ‘Nice Try.’ error message on your Textpattern/TXP installation are:

* Login to your control panel
* Go to Admin
* Go to Preferences
* Go to Advanced
* Change the Maximum URL length (in characters) to a higher value til it works!

I think it was put in there to stop people trying to hack URL’s but as the modern world of Mail campaigns seems to add a whole host of GET variables it’s pretty easy to overrun this limit.

Good Luck!

GMap: map.setZoom

Just a quick note…

If you have a map with multiple markers you may be using “map.setZoom((map.getBoundsZoomLevel(bounds)));” to rezoom the map then “map.setCenter(bounds.getCenter());” to center it.

Sometimes this means that although the ‘point’ is in view the marker gets pushed off the top of the screen.

So, a quick fix: “map.setZoom((map.getBoundsZoomLevel(bounds))*-1*);” this simply sets the zoom level one level lower for you so all your points (and their context) are in view.

Lotus Youtube Virals perhaps?

Originally bought to my attention on SELOC (The Lotus enthusiasts club) were a few pictures of a Lotus Evora painted and stickered in homage to the Lotus Esprit from For Your Eyes Only’

A link to “Jalopnik”:http://jalopnik.com/5485123/lotus-evoras-spied-filming-new-bond-flick revealed the following video:

And from that a whole host of additional videos appear to be associated.

This one doesn’t seem to have much Lotus content despite the title..

Are we finally seeing Lotus understanding the medium of the web and getting viral marketing (however obviously fake) right?

Migrating Unlocked iPhone from O2 to Vodafone

Just a quick one… I unlocked my O2 restricted iPhone “here”:http://shop.o2.co.uk/update/unlockmyiphone.html a few weeks ago. Today I received my new sim from Vodafone (on their £20 per month 600 minutes, unlimited texts and 500Mb data plan – Link ).

Mistakenly I expected this to be a painless procedure where I just stuck the new sim in the phone. In reality it was a bit more complex so here’s what you need to do!

# Put your new sim in your iPhone
# Connect the phone your computer
# Wait for iTunes to do it’s thing
# Your phone should now be unlocked!

If it doesn’t unlock at this point you’ll need to do a full rebuild and restore. I made the mistake of thinking that previous syncs would have caught this but it turns out the phone only checks if you put a new sim in it.

Good Luck!!!

Links: Vodafone Ltd

Setting up Google Analytics Accounts and Profiles

h2. What will this post tell you?

When I first started using Google Analytics I merrily added site after site to my account, unfortunately a few months later, when a customer wanted more access to their account than just reports (users cannot set goals etc, only and admin can do this) I found myself stuck as I could not give them access to just the one site. A sensible person would think you could simply export the site to a different account but unfortunately this isn’t possible under Google Analytics so I spent some time looking at how the relationships between accounts and sites were handled. From this I created the following tutorial for my team to use in the future.

h2. Create an account per group of sites.

Some of our customers run 2 or 3 different sites which need to be analysed separately for example you may want to group all UK sites separately from their US counterparts. Once you have decided this (and remember it is _set in stone!_) you need to create a new account per group of sites. So: From the “Google Analytics homepage”:https://www.google.com/analytics/settings/home and at the top of the table of accounts you will see and option to ‘+ Add New Account’.

Firstly enter one of the URL’s you wish to monitor. eg: alunr.com

Next up give the site a sensible name eg [COMPANYNAME] – [REGION].

Next set your time zone and region and choose ‘Continue’.

Then enter a name and territory. (I’ve never found these to be used anywhere so don’t fret too much about which name to use.)

Finally read the terms and conditions and, as long as you are happy with them, Tick the box and choose ‘Create New Account’

Next up is a page with the title ‘What are you tracking?’ – Here you can add all the domains that point at that site (eg alunr.com, alunr.co.uk etc). Do not add any other microsites etc here as we’ll deal with those in a bit…

h2. Create a profile per site inside the customer account

Once you have a new account created go back to GA’s Home page, look to the top right hand corner of the page and you will see a drop down select box.

Choose the account you just created and the page will refresh. Next up you need to add each site in the group to this page. You will be provided with a different tracking code per site to use. After this you can assign users to the account as you did before but if you make them an admin they will only have admin rights over the Account they are in as opposed to ALL your sites! Hope that helps you out! If I’ve made any glaring mistakes please feel free to point them out, I think my usage of Google Analytics and my knowledge of it’s nuances is fairly basic, but it gets the job done :)

Lotus Driver Training

Back in November I had the unfortunate pleasure of becoming 33 years old (or half a Junks as we like to call it on SELOC). In order to balance this someone bought me a day at Lotus on their Driver Training Program. I booked immediately and waited eagerly for April…

As usual (in my life a least!) the best laid plans go awry and my plan to leave Thame at lunchtime, pop in to see a few friends for lunch then blat over to Norfolk soon were in tatters as I watched the clock tick past 5pm whilst sat in a customers office. Eventually I got to leave Thame at around 6:30pm which meant my ETA would be something like 9:30pm :( After a long drive across the country to Norfolk (and only spotting a single Lotus en-route about 5 minutes from the factory) I finally arrived in Wymondham. Having forgotten to book my hotel in advance it was a case of beggars and choosers and I ended up in the slightly expensive Best Western. If I’d waited til I got back from work on Friday I’d have seen that the SELOC massive had recommended I stay at the Old Thorn Barn but hey ho these things happen.

Since I’d been held up late at work I didn’t get to Wymondham until 9:15pm which left my evening kind of limited, a good job too once I’d realized just how long the day was on Saturday!

So saturday morning and a wake up call and an alarm later I had a nice hearty breakfast of Scrambled eggs, bacon and toast then loaded the Exige up and headed in search of the Lotus factory. Unfortunately the young lady on reception hadn’t understood my request for directions to the Lotus factory so instead gave me directions to the ‘middle of nowhere’ so my early start was all in vain and I screeched to a halt outside the factory gates at 8:15am, 15 minutes late…

On arrival at the Lotus factory I had to surrender all photography equipment so this report will sadly be lacking in any photos although once you are through the gates and can see all the different mules (test cars) about you can understand why… Having arrived late and feeling guilty for holding everyone else up I was happy to learn that there was still one more to arrive which gave me time to get a glass of water and say hi to my fellow students for the day. Once our last colleague had arrived we embarked upon the standard briefings were introduced to Dan (my instructor for the day), Shawn and Dave (Minter!) and then watched a short video telling us about the format of the day. After that is was downstairs to grab a helmet (unless you are sad like me and bought your own…) and then into a Vauxhall Zephyr to head off for our first exercise.

Exercise 1 was an understeer/oversteer lesson. Using a car fitted with smaller rear tyres on a roundabout which was soaking wet we simply had to circle the track increasing speed til we felt understeer then correct it by lessening the lock and slightly reducing the power (not lifting off!). Once that was in hand we then moved on to oversteer. Oversteer is where the back wheels of the car attempt to overtake the front wheels and can look mighty impressive in the right hands but usually ends up as a tank slapper and a visit to the hedge, in this case we were concentrating on lift off oversteer which is exactly what it sounds like. You circle the wet roundabout and then when instructed to lift off the power and wait… a few moments later the car will start to oversteer and you correct with a bit of steering but not going back on the power (a little makes you slide and look like a track god, a little more and you end up racing to the middle of the roundabout…). For me this was a great chance to use skills I’d been taught elsewhere but never had the chance to try and Dan was full of tips to get me smoother and more in control.

Exercise 2 was the unequal slalom. Here you get to race down the main runway diving between gates and then ending up at a sharp u turn ready to head back through the gates again. Here I learnt a different technique from previous slaloms I’d done and was taught to aim at the widest cone rather than the space as I’d been taught before. Suddenly slaloms made sense to me and I really enjoyed giving Lotus’ 111R a good thrashing down the slalom to the point where I could feel my back muscles tensing to save my previously damaged spine!

Exercise 3 was a braking and steering exercise. With the ABS turned off you drove at 60 mph and attempted to stop in line with a cone. This seemed to always end up with me 4 foot early or 4 foot late and surrounded by tyre smoke… After that you then drove back down the straight at a set of cones arranged as an avoidance obstacle where you simply brake in a straight line until the line of cones then release the brake slightly turn hard right then left to finish you braking again. This produced amusing results from our group with the only person overshooting being Dan our instructor, although I think he was braking a tiny bit later than us 😉

After the morning’s activities we were all feeling peckish and headed back to the club house for lunch which was a fine array of sandwiches, crisps, sausage rolls etc and was ideal given that a heavy meal might make a return during the afternoons track sessions…

Being alphabetically first all the time has always caused me trouble in the past and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go out first in our group on the track but my concerns over the circuit having little run off were in vain. Dan took me on a lap to show me where to go then we went off for my first attempt at quite a technical circuit.

Hethel, you see, isn’t a race track. It doesn’t have smooth tarmac all round and has the occasional pothole in places. The road surface changes all over the shop and to add to the fun Lotus have added some tight chicanes to control the boy racer in us all. Add to this the random wildlife that occasionally runs across the track (I saw 3 pheasant/duck type things during my afternoon) and you get a circuit that is closer to a b-road than it is to say Brands Hatch. But what a brilliant circuit! Virtually all of it is 3rd and 4th gear with a quick foray into 5th on the back straight and lots of sequences of corners that relied upon getting the first one right to carry the speed which add up to make it a brilliantly fun circuit despite a few braking areas where the tyre wall just seems a little too close sometimes 😉

During the afternoon we got to do 2 fifteen minute sessions round the circuit which although it sounds short was actually a good amount of time, although I’d have loved to have got just one more session…

At the end of the day we all got a couple of flying laps with our instructors and then it was back to the club house to pick up our certificates and get the traditional debrief.

After the debrief 5 prizes were handed out, 1 for each of the disciplines and then a final one for ‘Best of the Day’ which I’m proud to say is now sitting on the mantle piece behind my desk!

It was a brilliant day and I’m so glad I went. Beforehand I thought £450 was too much for a days training but considering the fact you get to use their cars (and wear out their tyres 😉 ) and that the tuition is constant throughout the day I’d say it’s pretty good value especially compared to the £150 to do 10 laps of Silverstone that many people get.

I also need to say extra thanks to Dan for being a great instructor and Annette at Lotus who always looks after everyone so well! Oh and an extra thanks to the benefactor of this great gift!

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