Category: General

3 Years of Calendar Syncing Bliss

Spanning Sync v3.0

So. Spanning Sync turned 3 last week and as I’ve been using their service to sync calendars between my many computers since it was in early beta that means I’ve had 3 years of calendar syncing bliss.

Don’t get me wrong there have been problems; as software moves through early betas there always are… but overall the service has been an incredibly good fit for my needs, infinitely superior to google’s offering.

I eulogised them in an earlier blog post, Contact Sync, but if you’ve not got round to giving their service a go and you need to sort out your calendars then I highly recommend you check them out.

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This is the sound of silence…

Tap, tap, tap… That’s all I can hear. Yes the sound on my year old MBP has disappeared and all I can here is my own forceful tapping on the keyboard.

Unfortunately this is not the first time this has happened. The first time it drove me nuts. I eventually shut down the computer (which I do rarely) and it solved the problem.

The actual fix is quicker and more simple. Just insert your headphones into the socket and remove them and like magic it seems to kick start the system. Phew. Now you know what to do if it happens to you too.

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Facebook Fan Page Profile Picture #Fail

Facebook Logo

So we completed the new logo for Slingsby’s Driving Academy at the end of last week and began adding it to the website, designing letterheads and such. One of the first things that my client suggested to do (actually tried to do herself!) was to change the Facebook Fan Page Profile Picture.

Ideally this should be an easy process, after all she had added a picture in the first place to act as a placeholder whilst we finalised the logo. Unfortunately the Fan Page Profile Pictures do not act as you might expect. Firstly we tried with an image that included not only the logo but the company name.

Unfortunately the picture then centred on the text in the middle of the image and there appeared no way to change the part of the image that was sampled. :-( Facebook’s help pages provided no extra help, despite searching and we finally settled on this image to solve the gravatar problem:

Slingsby Driving Academy Facebook Logo

It’s a nice compromise on our part, but browsing the the Facebook user pages it is clear that Facebook is very unresponsive to users. There are frequently hundreds of messages requesting simple adjustments and changes, and very few responses from Facebook.

I imagine it must be very difficult for Facebook to cope with it’s significant growth, but it seems that rather than being responsive to its users and making small adjustments that improve the users experience. It’s disappointing that Facebook hasn’t embraced a more responsive interface.

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Working with Google Wave

Google Wave

Google WaveI was very excited by the demos of Google Wave last September and waited patiently for an invitation, one finally furnished by my brother. After a few hours of playing with it I set it aside and although I thought it might be useful for a couple of projects I was working on, I couldn’t really find an immediate use for it.

So at the start of the year I when I was approached by my old driving instructor to re-vitalise her website and later her brand I was finally given the opportunity to try out Google Wave in a real life situation. So I sent her an invite and began to discuss the project with her using Google Wave.

I was very surprised how quickly she adapted to using the Wave, I think it was largely the familiarity that using Facebook Chat had given her with IM clients, only this time she was most impressed with the ability to see what I was typing as I typed (even me correcting spelling mistakes).

For the first couple of weeks of the project – the most important weeks – we went back and forth across a couple of waves, one dedicated to each aspect of the project. I was able to show her screenshots of proposed designs and get immediate feedback, and post alterations we discussed.

Both of us were able to come back to the wave and check for updates and more importantly instead of our discussion being fragmented across multiple emails it was all kept in a single organised place. From a working perspective this made the design and approval process much easier.

In a matter of days we had her new website up and running. After this our use of Google Wave tailed off, probably due to the lack of effective notifications to email meaning once the project tailed off its initial pace she simply forgot to login and check and we defaulted back to emails and telephone calls.

There were a few other drawbacks: the uploading of images was not always successful and more than once I had to resort to email; the adding of comments did not always allow one to easily reply to a comment if it is the last in the list, rather than add a new comment.

Overall for very beta software it performed well for the purpose of managing the project. It is clear however that it needs significant improvement before it makes it way into usage by the general population. It could also do with being improved more quickly that it currently seems to be.

If you’d like to check out the product of our collaboration take a look here:

Oh and if you’d like an invite to the wave party I still have some so drop me a note in the comments.

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Flood Recovery


Well, over the weekend one of my clients offices was flooded by a burst pipe from the apartment above. As I took the call on a surprisingly nice Sunday morning (no snow!) I thought that she couldn’t have imagined for a worse start to the new year.

I have spent the last few days assessing the damage over the telephone with her. At the moment we don’t know if the Macs survived the power surge that knocked out the mains electricity, after all surge protection only goes so far. What she hasn’t had to worry about, however, is her data.

About two weeks before Christmas I finally persuaded her to take out a 50gb account with Dropbox. So if the computers are toast, we can setup new ones, link them to her Dropbox and be up and ready to go in no time. She has also been using Google Apps Standard for the past year or so, so her email is safe, as are her calendars and contacts.

Whilst we wait for permission to move the computers from the insurers to a place where we can see if they work I have been able to email her essential documents, as and when she has needed them straight to her Google company email account on her Blackberry.

So all in all what could have been a disaster six weeks earlier, has been an unsurprising inconvenience but in the end not a disaster. Phew.

Thanks go to Dropbox and Google for making this possible!

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Delete Google Analytics Accounts

Argh! I’ve had a really frustrating time with Google Analytics over the past few days. So…

I was adding Google Analytics to one of my client’s brand spanking new Google account (see my earlier comments about a fragmented Google here) and somehow I managed to create two accounts, each with analytics profiles.

After setting up Google Analytics on her new WordPress site and leaving it a while, I could see which of the two accounts and thereby the two profiles was working.

It was easy enough to delete the profile. The “edit | delete buttons” are next to each of the profiles. Deleting the account, however, was a bit more difficult to find as there is only an “edit button” next to each account.

The problem was not necessarily difficult to find a solution for, although the first entry for the google search “delete google analytics account” actually produces a help result for deleting a profile not an account.

When I saw it wasn’t what I wanted I went straight back to the results page and at position eight I found this post which came with handy photos, although I think this is clearer:

Delete Google Analytics Account

It did however highlight what I think is a significant flaw in the Google Help Pages – no images (answer here).

It also builds on my earlier post about fragmentation, why isn’t the visual design between the two different delete methods the same? What is the benefit of a different visual interface, a warning can still be provided after all.

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Changing Facebook Groups into Fan Pages

Facebook Logo

It’s surprising how often the skills a business owner develops in their private lives can be re-purposed to help them in their businesses. Although many of my clients are adverse if not allergic to the Internet, there are occasional exceptions and more often I’m finding Facebook is that exception.

Whilst re-designing Slingsby’s Driving Academy’s website earlier this week I had a really long discussion with my client about how best to promote her site and low and behold she told me she had already setup a group on Facebook to help promote her business.

Most people in the UK take their driving test around the age of 17 or 18, few people wait to 28 as I was when I started lessons with my client. So I suppose I really shouldn’t of been surprised that other past younger pupils had coaxed her onto Facebook and helped her setup a group.

So, after some discussion we decided that it might be better for her to have a Facebook Page, a more business orientated type of group. I’ve been reading articles on Mashable and the like for the past year on such services, but this was the first client I had found who was open to the idea of using Facebook as a method to promote her business.

So within a couple of minutes we had setup her Facebook Page and set both her, myself and her business partner as managing administrators. We used the Facebook Fan Badge Generator (see here) and added it to the sidebar of her new website. This process was all relatively simple, it was what followed that was not.

What I wanted to do was move all of the members of the group across to the Fan Page. Sounds simple right. Surely Facebook must have a method for you to do this automatically? Ah… Once Upon A Time…

So it seems from this post at College Web Editor (here) that Facebook originally did this for you, a simple email over to Facebook and they would handle the transfer. Seems a bit complicated really to me – why they couldn’t just create an automated system to handle it I don’t know.

This, however, didn’t last long. The College Web Editor article was written in May 08, by mid 09 this had changed and Facebook was no longer offering this service (see here, here and here). What has surprised me so much how quickly I could find information from sources other than Facebook and them abandoning this service.

So what can you do?

Well it seems that the only solution that Facebook recommends is for you to message all of your Facebook group members and ask them to become fans.

What did we do?

Well we just posted to the group’s wall and after ten minutes, we had four fans, after an hour we had eight and so on, by the close of business that day we had over thirty. At the time of writing we have sixty fans. So success.

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WordPress as a Business Website

Wordpress Logo

So it’s the new year and I’m revitalising another website… This time it’s for my old driving instructor, who’s website hasn’t been altered in a couple of years and was originally created in Microsoft Frontpage, which as we all know creates really nice code.

After some discussion we decided to pop for the ever popular Hemingway Theme, which shared the black theme of her original site. Unfortunately it wasn’t a good fit, so after some consideration we settled upon the Cleanr Theme, which I’d adapt from a white to a black background.

Changing the colour of the theme took only a matter of hours, after which replicating the pages from her site itself was a quick efficient process, meaning that after some tweaking and some back and forth discussion we had a new website up and running for her driving school in a couple of days.

The only real problem that I ran into was learning how to configure wordpress to display a static page first, rather than a list of posts. This tutorial from wordpress gave me an excellent tutorial to follow and I had it redirected in a few minutes.

All in all I think that the process has been quite a success and like many dated sites, this simple quick replacement (sans logo initially) was a distinct improvement over the one it replaced.

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Google Apps for Business

So if you haven’t yet made the google apps plunge for your business, the new year is the time to do so.

Despite Google having made the standard edition of google apps more difficult to find (by the way it’s here) I really don’t think that most businesses require more space than is provided for by the free edition; seriously 7gb and growing.

Re-directing your domain couldn’t be easier Google has a simple set of instructions for you to follow. It does involve changing CNAME entries and the like but it really isn’t very difficult and google has some great advice: available here with popular instructions for most domain hosts.

I’d also really advise if you want your employees to be able to easily access your services to set easy to find addresses such as:,, and Google has some easy to follow instructions here.

Uploading your archived email is also pretty easy. For windows users Google has it’s own special uploading program found here. For Mac users once you have setup your email (IMAP is essential) then you can just drag and drop your emails from the old files to the new and wait for the upload process (it can take some time) and you’re done.

For calendars, just export from outlook or ical in the vcal format and you can import your calendar directly to your new google apps calendar. Then share as you like amongst other employees. This is particularly good for office wide holiday calendars and the like, keeping everyone up to date with whats going on.

And really that’s the basic setup. Questions in the comments. Oh and if you need some help please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

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MS finally concedes OpenOffice is a Threat!


It seems that Microsoft is finally waking up to the threat posed by OpenOffice. I’ve been slowly moving my clients over to OpenOffice for the past year, after all it’s free (which is attractive for SME), its interface is more like the traditional interface offered by MS Office in the good old days, and it’s Open Source so it’s continually improving (as a bonus at no extra cost!).

The largest obstacle I’ve found to the adoption of OpenOffice is resistance from staff, who in some instances seem wholly opposed to anything that is not labeled “Microsoft”. Then second is concern that they won’t be able to open .doc files, crazy I know, but people still seem confused. I’ve even got some people to use OpenOffice files as their standard format (usually if they don’t need to send files out).

Anyway there are many consultants like me who think that Microsoft’s days are numbered in the Office workplace, and that’s without talking about Google Docs. Anyway, others are finally cluing up to this. To read more see this article from that prompted my little comment.

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