26 November 2006

*puff* *pant* *wheeze*

Arrrgh... I've just been for my first ever jog. I've learnt some things:

  • Fencing doesn't keep me as fit as I thought.
  • I run like an idiot.
  • It's not actually as cold as I thought and a fleece might not have been a good idea.
  • I'm a wimp.
That's right - 0.75 miles nearly killed me. So when I got back I made an Excel spreadsheet to keep me motivated and to tick off how far I do every time I jog. I'm planning to do it every other day, in the morning. Oh yes - that's the other part of this hare-brained scheme. I'm going to get up in the mornings a bit earlier. As it is, I'm at my desk and at work by nine - half past at the latest - and I'm not going to change that. But I am going to have been up and for a run or walk to the shops before that.

They (and by they I mean the BBC, who were the first hit for "jogging" on Google) say that you should have something to aim for. I'm not sure "not having a heart attack on the fencing piste" is clear enough. So I suppose the Grunty Fen half marathon, next September, is a decent enough aim.

Of course, what I really mean is not dying of a heart attack on the Grunty Fen half marathon next September...

22 November 2006

The global web - a challenge for the web professional

As long as I've been writing professionally - for over six years now - I've been aware of the need to write for people who don't necessarily have English as a first language. Whether it's writing for an international intranet for a pharmaceutical company or for a regional website recently in the news for initiatives on migrant workers, there's always been some reason to bear that in mind with what I do. It's not just about internationalisation - the average UK reading age is apparently 9 years old. Factor in dyslexia and learning difficulties and the non-written aspects of web deisgn and build suddenly become incredibly important.

What's been an interesting challenge recently is working on a website which isn't in my native language, but in Italian, which I don't really know a word of. It really drives home some of the things you need to think about with the language you use and the way people use visual cues on a site. In the research stages of the project I'm working on I've found myself muddling through several sites simply with what little GCSE Latin I can remember and the images the sites use.

It's taught me a lot - especially about the assumptions we make regarding design:

  • Photos are at first sight a lot less ambiguous than most stick-figure diagrams might be - but there's so much detail in them you never know what's the important bit. There's a photo of a man wearing a pilot's uniform. Does the section it links to relate to men? Men of a certain age? Professionals? Pilots alone? Strip all the distractions and present a representation of an action, a profession, a type of person and things become clearer. Subconsciously we know that if a detail is present in a simple diagram, it's probably there for a reason.
  • You can often muddle by with words which are similar in several languages. Useful for European languages with similar roots, but of no use with other languages.
  • Big chunks of text suddenly become even more daunting. They're bad enough at the best of times but in a different language you switch off immediately and start looking for pictures, numbers, anything you can relate to. Use this - make contact numbers, email addresses, maps, names, prices, anything internationally recognisable - stand out by using bold formatting and bullet points.
Working with bilingual sites is actually quite easy, if you have the money - there are plenty of content management systems out there with multi-lingual support, and if you can afford someone to do the translation for you it's not a problem. It's when money is tight but you still want to open your market internationally - or even multi-culturally across one small area - that you need to address the way you write, design and build your site.

20 November 2006

Blogger beta

You may have noticed (if you're a regular reader) that the blog's had a major re-design. And that my spelling's getting a lot better. Two innovations I'm quite pleased with are responsible for these things:

Blogger Beta is the new version of the Blogger software - and it's really quite good. It's almost as flexible as WordPress (which I use for Cambridge.IsHome, about which more later). The template I'm now using is almost completely as-is from Blogger, and it fits my branding almost perfectly, which is why I've kept it. The new templates available are really very good, and I am pleased with the way this new one looks.

It's also going to allow me to do more clever things with my feeds and the way I parse them on my sites. I can tag posts on here with a particular keyword (much like WordPress allows) and then - when I eventually found out how - I have a feed for each keyword. That means the Maltpress.co.uk site and the JuicyFly site can have different feeds on them and I can choose which site my blog posts go to.

FireFox 2.0 is responsible for the better spelling you can now see, thanks to a lovely inline dictionary function for web forms. You simply download the dictionary you want to use - UK English or US English (or any number of others) and all your sperling misteaks are suddenly underlined in red for you. Lovely.

Joel left a comment below saying some nice things and asking about Cambridge.IsHome. Well, as he guessed, I've been somewhat busy lately. Things are about to change though - I'm about to re-start it, and that begins with a bit of re-design work. I've never yet managed to get a design I've been happy with, so I'm going to spend some time tonight on the mac with the Gimp (and perhaps with some felt-tips first) to get it looking nicer. Then I have some articles planned which I'm actually going to go out and research (well, do) and write.

I would have reviewed The Bluetones at the Junction the other night had I not been late leaving a business event, meaning I only got to see three songs.

19 November 2006

Corporate life spoils you

I'm finding this out more and more lately. It's the little things which you never think about until, like me, you suddenly have lots and lots of time.

The big things - like regular pay, sick leave, having people around you, IT support - I never took those for granted. I was always grateful for them and knew I'd miss them when I was gone. But the following things, I have discovered, are the ones office-bods never think about until they have to start paying for them from their own pockets.

  • A decent mouse. I'm getting fed up with cleaning desk-scuzz out of the rollers of my cheap mouse; but an optical mouse costs money I don't really have at the moment.
  • All the red-tape and paperwork and suspicion. I have to fill in a form to prove I'm an actual business to the VAT man. Not that I mind, really; it's good that they check and, I suppose, if they didn't you could get away with all sorts. But I don't have a dedicated business landline, and that's a matter of suspicion, apparently.
  • Having cups of tea made for you. I still drink a silly amount of tea, but rarely have it made for me any more. It surprised me how grateful I was on Friday when my brother did it for me.
It's been one of those weeks when I've wondered a little bit what I'm actually doing this for. It's been hard work. But then I look at the other option; wasting my life in a job where I have no prospects or control over what I do; taking the easy route; not feeling satisfied. And I think of the Friday morning I had, in the company of possibly one of the nicest men I've ever met, who made me lovely Italian coffee and put my mind at rest that I'm not alone in this at all. For a couple of hours that day, it all made perfect sense.

16 November 2006

Monty makes a choice

Well, well, well. What an interesting day.

Got the MG back. Long story. Deeply unhappy about it, but you live and learn. Top tip from today: don't sell a car on eBay, and never sell to someone who's not viewed it first.

15 November 2006

Hello and goodbye

It's been a difficult couple of days, to be honest. Some hellos and some goodbyes:

Hello - to the new version of Blogger. I'll be sorting the template out tomorrow, and taking advantage of the new-found ability to tag posts with keywords - and to generate feeds for each keyword, which is going to make it very easy for me to choose whether or not to put posts on my websites.

Goodbye - to the car I loved, my MG Midget, once called Monty. It was bought today and it was a real wrench to see it go - there was a tear in my eye as it drove away for a new life. Still, it's paid the wages for this month, which is good - any paid work for November is a bonus.

Hello - to some new contacts, who I met at the excellent EEDA event last night - the Ideas Exchange. Yes, I used to work at EEDA - I ran their website for three years. It was good to see the staff there again, because they're good friends, and I also got to meet some very friendly new people and found out that I'm not alone with the fears and worries I have starting this business.

Goodbye - to the routine of Cambridgeshire Enterprise Agency training courses on a Wednesday. I've done all the ones I can afford now. They were very, very good, and a great way to meet new people.

Hello - to a new phone, which doesn't work. Damn. Back to the shop tomorrow.

Things are going to pick up soon, I'm sure. But for the last couple of days it's been incredibly, incredibly hard work and quite lonely.

10 November 2006


Yesterday I didn't have masses to do, which was a little dull. I did a lot of ironing, and while I did it I listened to a bit of Bowie. Which got me thinking about the film Velvet Goldmine, which I saw one snowy day in the first year at university, at the Taliesin cinema at Swansea University.

It got me thinking about Swansea and how much I miss it there. I think it was - as much as anything - the fact I could walk through the park every day to get to things. The fact that I was a "regular" in the university coffee shop and my cup of tea was on the counter by the time I got to it. The lovely big house I had. And the lovely heavy rain.

The point of working for myself, from home, was to recapture that a little - to get the independence back and to do my own thing a bit more. To be completely in control. And I'm loving it. Still not a regular anywhere, but once I have a little more cash available I'm going to start working on that. But it's great to have some control.

Today is paperwork day. I'm - surprisingly - quite enjoying it. There's something very satisfying about it.

07 November 2006

Some very general updates

Things seem to be picking up a little - I have some work to do, which makes a very nice change and will be keeping me out of trouble (and should start to pay the bills as well, which is the most important thing). I'm certainly starting to settle in to the somewhat different pace of life working from home - it's been odd to work a normal day and then not have to do anything until the next one, rather than finishing one job and then coming home to another.

There are still odd setting up admin things to do here and there - today I started my VAT registration process, the results of which I'm now going to have to wait for in the post. That should just about be it in terms of set-up - at least until I'm ready to make the change from sole trader to limited company, something which I'm trying to avoid thinking about but which has an inevitability about it.

I've also got my first fairly big networking event coming up - the Ideas Exchange, hosted by my old employers, EEDA. It should be a good afternoon - catching up with a few ex-colleagues, plus there are some interesting speakers lined up. It'll also be the first real test of my networking and selling abilities and it would be nice to leave with a few more contacts and some possible future work.

Then, at the end of the month, I have the CIPR PRide awards - a campaign I advised on (in much the same way as I now intend to work - web and e-marketing consultancy) is nominated in two categories, although it's really only the integrated PR campaign I can take any credit for helping on. It's a great selling point for me and certainly something I think I should be shouting about more - tomorrow evening I intend to add a link to it from maltpress.co.uk. At some point I need to hire a DJ so I can look my best for the winner's photos... here's hoping, anyway. If nothing else I'll be throwing business cards around like confetti.

And finally, I now have Skype, but not a number for it yet - I'm waiting for some income before I actually spend any money on it...

Anyway, how are you all? It's been ages since I actually heard anything from anyone on here... I know you're out there, I'm rapidly approaching 2000 hits, many of which are mine, but surely there's someone out there...

02 November 2006

Corporate social responsibility... kind of.

I've discovered the good thing about working from home is the ability to walk down to the shops rather than having to wait until the evening to drive to the supermarket. It only takes five minutes, it's free, it's non-polluting and - best of all - it gets me out of the house.

Plus I'm supporting local shops and eating healthily...

Maybe - hopefully - things will change when I get a bit more work to do and I'll have less time. But until then I'm making the most of it.

In other news, the JuicyFly site is completely refusing to work in Safari 2.0.4, which is thoroughly annoying - I think it's something to do with the variables I'm trying to set, and using display:hidden, but I'm not sure. It's a puzzler. If anyone wants to have a look at http://www.juicyfly.com and see if there's anything stupid - and obvious - I've missed, that would be great.

I'm going to crack on and build the rest of the site and fix that page later. In the words of Brian Wilson (I'm watching the Pet Sounds live in London DVD) "I know there's an answer"... I'll find it when I stop thinking about it, I'd imagine.