A new website for RBF

Posted by | News, Portfolio, Services, Websites | No Comments
I've been building and maintaining the website for umbrella chamber of commerce Ryde Business Forum since January 2001, and today loaded up and gave the final tweak to the fifth website I've built for the organisation. It had been in the back of my mind to build a WordPress site for the Forum since last winter; the more I work with WordPress the more I like it both as a platform to build on and as an editor when the site is up. Read More

Open Office excels where Excel doesn’t

Posted by | Websites | No Comments
I don't use Excel except as a crude database for names. Macros and the like are a mystery to me; simple formulas are as good as I get. Today I installed the excellent Connections plugin on a new website I'm building for Ryde Business Forum. It's going to be the member directory. As well as using the free plugin I bought an add-on which allows me to upload a .csv file of names, addresses and the like into the database. How hard can it be? Even I can create a .csv from Excel. But that's where it all started to go pear-shaped. I use Excel 2008 for Mac, and while it can create a .csv file it didn't create it with quote marks around each cell content, which is what Connections needs. Nor could I find a way to make the program do it. I looked glumly down the barrel at manually putting quote marks around membership details for 150+ members. Not only would it take hours, I'd have RSI at the end of it. A web search found me a macro that would create a .csv with quote marks, so I stopped swearing for a bit. Only to find that - guess what! - it doesn't work on Excel 2008 for Mac as Microsoft decided this particular version wouldn't support Visual Basic macros. Earlier versions do (but I don't have an earlier version) and later versions do (but I don't want to pay hundreds right now just for the privilege).  I started swearing again. Sometimes I really hate technology. Sometimes I really hate Microsoft. Well, most of the time I really hate Microsoft; with Word in particular it has made what was once a decent WP program into a clunky monster and PowerPoint has got worse rather than better in usability. More searching pointed me in the direction of Oracle's Open Office, which is free and which, with a mere click or two, can produce a .csv file complete with quote marks. I simmered down and had a cuppa while OO downloaded and installed. True to its promise I got my .csv as I needed it in less than twenty seconds. Another minute later and I had a database mapped to Connections. There is still some work to do - loading logos, social media links and company descriptions, which have to be handled manually. Unfortunately the current version of Connections doesn't support the very important fields of Contact First Name and Contact Last Name in the .csv import but I understand this will be rectified in a later one. When I have some time over the next couple of days I'll explore OO more fully to see how it compares with the accepted standard, Microsoft Office. I am already using Mac's Pages as a rival to Word for some small client jobs. It's quicker to use, actually, and much better for adding images and creating DTP jobs for the web and email (but not pro print), even if you have to go through the fiddly step of loading them into iPhoto first. Right now though, it's wine o'clock on a Friday, I still have a headache from my sweary session earlier in the day, and it's quittin' time.

Headlights on, please!

Posted by | Lifestyle | No Comments
We're having a rainy February here in Sydney. Not just rain in some cases but a heavy, pelting deluge. I was driving through one of these yesterday and visibility was shocking. Even more shocking was the number of cars without their headlights on. When you look at the number of cars on the road here it seems almost 50% of them are conservative colours in the monochromatic scale: black, dark grey, grey and silver. Colours that blend in a little too well with the road at times. Those times include rain. I was trying to make a right-hand turn and didn't see the guy in the silver car on my left until he was almost in front of me. Thankfully there was nothing coming on my right and my brakes are good even in the wet. The silver car didn't have headlights on and in the almost tropical downpour was virtually invisible. In 1995 I visited Canada and it was mandatory even then to drive with one's headlights on day or night. In rainy Vancouver it made a lot of sense. On sunny days driving east as far as Calgary on country roads, cars coming in the opposite direction were easy to see; on dull and rainy days the oncoming traffic really stood out. This is a lesson I brought back with me and habitually drive with lights on when I'm on country roads, sunny or cloudy. I also put my headlights on around Sydney on rainy days. This is my request to all drivers: if it's raining, put your lights on. If you're worried about burning a tiny bit more fuel as a result, think of this: it might save your life or someone else's. (Oh, and if you're driving in the kerbside lane in a heavy downpour, have a care for people scurrying along the footpath and try not to send a fountain of water over them. Saw that yesterday too.)

Nasty little Twitterbuggers

Posted by | Social Media | No Comments
I manage several Twitter accounts for clients and during the last week have seen a number of messages from other Twitter users inviting me to click on a link to 'see what nasty things people are saying about you'. In some cases, the wording is 'nasy things people are saying about you'. If you are a Twitter user and receive one of these messages, even from a very trusted source, do not, under any circumstances, click on it. It's a hacker virus, and your account will be compromised if your firewall doesn't stop the link activating. You will need to change your Twitter password immediately. Because of the very viral nature of Twitter this virus spreads like wildfire, and even reporting to Twitter the person who sent it to you will probably be useless, unless you are in direct contact with the original hacker. Or ARE the original hacker. Be vigilant. Don't click on any links that sound a bit dodgy or don't sound like the real voice of regular and trusted contacts. Happy tweeting!
e-commerce for your site

E-commerce: build it into your site or add later

Posted by | Services, Websites | No Comments
e-commerce for your siteRunning e-commerce on your website is now so cost-effective even the smallest organisation can afford to do it. You'll need SSL hosting and a fixed IP address, but that's going to cost you less than $50 to add to your hosting (if you buy through us that is... currently SSL hosting is $32 a year, paid annually). We'll add a fabulous, easy to configure and easy for you to update shopping cart for another $70, which is a one-off fee and pays for the cart software.  (Please note: this only applies to sites we build or have built for you, or sites already running on the WordPress platform.) If you don't have credit card facilities, we can link your new cart to your PayPal account, and if you don't have a PayPal account we can help you set one up. PayPal is widely used and trusted these days across the world wide web; even larger organisations are using it for people to buy products and services. We don't bundle a shopping cart with our existing packages, and there is an extra charge involved to set it up for you, which attracts a fee of $100 if it's going on a site we built or are building, and $140 if we have to retrofit to a site we haven't built.  Depending on how many categories you want your shop to have and how many products you want in there initially, and whether we have to resize and fix images for your products and/or services, $100 may be all you have to pay.  For example, if you only have one category and less than ten products, we could probably set that up for $100. Adding products is easy and quick, but we do like to ensure your new shop blends seamlessly into your existing website template, which the majority of the setup fee covers. From around $200 your shop will be up and running and you'll be selling like a pro. Just because you own a small business doesn't mean you have to think small! Contact us now to find out more!

WordPress 3.3 is available

Posted by | News, Websites | No Comments
We're always telling our clients to update to the latest version of WordPress, and now 3.3 is here. Should you update? It's a fairly major upgrade from WP, with much improved facilities if you're using an iPad and streamlining of the Dashboard area, with your submenus flying out at the side on mouseover, rather than expanding downwards (very useful if you use a laptop with a smaller screen). The media uploader has changed to a more simple drag and drop facility. Behind the scene there is improved javascript, which won't really affect you as a client. Find out all the changes here at the WordPress site. Because it's a major upgrade, there are possibilities of bugs which need to be ironed out. Eager users will be finding those bugs and reporting them, so it may be an idea to wait until the next upgrade is released, which will probably be by the end of the year or early in 2012. If you just can't wait to upgrade, we do recommend you back up your site before, in case there are any issues. If you are unsure about backing up your site, WordPress has answers to your questions and a how-to here.  If this all looks a bit too complicated you may like to try out Vaultpress, a plugin which backs up your site every time you make a change. It is not a free plugin - and there is a privacy issue in that your data is being backed up on Vaultpress' server - but worth the minimum $15/month. Of course you can always ask us to perform the upgrade for you; we do that for our clients as a matter of course for smaller updates and will be waiting until 3.3.1 is released before we backup and upgrade your site for you, host server permitting.

Our writing team is growing

Posted by | Services, Writing and Editing | No Comments
We are delighted that marketing and business writer Genevieve Hinds has joined the Arion Productions team. Genevieve has recently returned from ten years working in the USA, where she held high-level marketing positions, ran a successful and award-winning marketing agency and authored a book on guerrilla marketing for small business owners. Genevieve has worked with major corporations such as 3M and Merrill Lynch as well as coaching small businesses on achieving growth and ROI. Genevieve is blessed with a natural ability to write, and write well. She loves writing marketing copy. Sales flyers are her delight. She can turn tech speak into marketing speak, engineering into English. She's a killer with the red pencil when she's in editor mode. In short, she's what your business needs to revise existing material or write new material. Whether it's a corporate brochure, a sales flyer, or copy for your new website, you need to talk to Genevieve. Contact us now to discuss your projects and how Genevieve can help you.

Keeping your site secure with updates

Posted by | Services, Websites | No Comments
SecurityWhen we hand over a site to a client, it comes with instructions and the reassurance that we will always help if our client forgets any key or not so key issues regarding maintenance and adding posts, pages and media. One of those instructions is to always perform available updates on core WordPress software and also plugins which have new versions available. Why is this so important? Security. The interweb is scattered with hackers, and system updates make your site more secure. The updates typically address security issues as well as added functionality. No software is immune to security problems, but updates reduce the vulnerability of your site, as do other measures we take when setting up your site for you. Updating your WordPress core software isn't hard to do, but we know many of you forget to look at your Updates settings, so from time to time we check your sites for you and update core software and appropriate plugins on your behalf. If you're nervous about the words "we recommend you back up your website first" just ask us to do it all for you; it doesn't take long at all and we have yet to encounter any problems doing a core upgrade. We do notice a difference between web hosts though - there are some hosts out there running outdated versions of PHP on their server which means we can't update the core software (we do contact them and pester them to give us access to PHP5.X.X). It does pay to get a web hosting company which uses up-to-date tools - in our case we can offer you hosting for $54 a year, hint hint! Shameless plug aside, if we can't - or you can't - update your core software and/or plugins because of your web host, it may be time to shift hosts. WordPress is one of the most popular web building platforms in the world right now, and any reputable web hosting company should be able to support it and its updates. If you have any questions about upgrading your software or plugins, contact us and we'll talk you through it, show you how to do it, or do it for you.

Fighting your forms spam

Posted by | Services, Websites | No Comments
CAPTCHAHaving forms on your site instead of email as a means of contact is a great way of minimising junk email - we know spammers love to get their hands on email addresses. Forms are susceptible to spambots, however; you will have noticed most sites now use a form of "CAPTCHA", where you, the user, have to type in words or numbers displayed before you submit the form. CAPTCHA stops spambots. CAPTCHA relies on you, the human, seeing an image with the letters and numbers embedded in it, often distorted to make it harder for spambots to analyse. If you leave the CAPTCHA field blank, your form cannot be submitted. Spambots can't 'read' CAPTCHA images. Many of the forms on our client WordPress sites use the excellent Contact Form 7 plugin to easily build the form, together with Really Simple CAPTCHA, from the same developer, to add that anti-spam layer of security. Really Simple Captcha IS really simple - four letters or numbers that your readers have to type into the box; however, it works effectively. We have been using it on our site and a number of client sites for ages. While there are other form builder plugins out there Contact Form 7 is easy to use for people who don't have programming experience. If you're a small business owner running a non-IT business, you don't have the time or need to learn to program fiddly forms. We've chosen an easy and effective method for you to create new forms and edit existing ones. If you are one of our clients and still getting spam from your forms, contact us and we'll look into the issue and fix it for you.