# Saturday, January 13, 2007

I love sushi so a while ago I signed up for the Yo! Sushi mailing list and now I get all sorts of little discounts coming through, I thought I'd share their latest offering with everyone else. To get 50% off at Yo! Sushi, go to their website and fill out the form:

http://www.yosushi.com/sale.php

I know the sushi purists out there will start going on about how it's not "real" sushi, but it's good enough for me -and tastes that little be sweeter half price ;)

Now go, entertain and impress your clients at Yo! Sushi with your discount -I won't tell!

Saturday, January 13, 2007 5:34:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, January 12, 2007

After a few months of intensive swapping, I've finally completed something -my collection of free deliveries from Icon Buffet. If you need any let me know, I may have some deliveries to spare. Now I just need to find somewhere to use them!

Here are the 57 icon sets I've got:

  • alexandria_arch
  • alexandria_atmos
  • alexandria_cosmo
  • anaheim_alert
  • ashbury_menagerie
  • ashbury_welcome
  • blinksale
  • dresden_atmosphere
  • dresden_tournament
  • durango_research
  • farewell_snow
  • gingerbread-suite
  • groom_lake_invasio
  • helsinki_hi-fi
  • kyoto_auto
  • kyoto_geometry
  • mallow_buzz_1
  • mallow_buzz_2
  • mallow_symbol
  • manhattan_finance
  • manhattan_metroplex
  • manhattan_night_life
  • manhattan_smilies1
  • manhattan_smilies2
  • Manhattan_symbol
  • mnhttn-tech-toys
  • manhattan_veggie
  • marseilles_breakfa
  • marseilles_cafe
  • modena_alfa_cold
  • modena_alfa_cool
  • modena_alfa_molten
  • modena_simbolo
Friday, January 12, 2007 6:39:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

I'm currently thinking about participating in a 90 mile canoe race called the "Cheshire Ring Race" this year (30th June - 1st July 2007). I've always wanted to participate in a longer canoe race (normally I paddle 8 miles) and I've never had the chance to do anything over 20 miles since they stopped the Trans-Pennine Canoe Race the year I was old enough to take part. So when the opportunity to take part in the 90 mile Cheshire Ring Race came about I decided on the spot that's what I would do.

Eventually I would like to take part in the Devizes to Westminster race which assuming this year's training goes to plan, I plan to do in 2008. The Devizes to Westminster canoe race is about 125 miles of canal and river way starting at Devizes (no surprise there then!) and ending at Westminster. The race is usually at the start of April and can either be done non-stop or in stages over 3 days (for girls!).

The first time I do the Devizes to Westminster race I would do the race in a double (with my canoe partner and brother Sam I expect) so I thought the Cheshire Ring Race would be a nice warm up/test event for us (making sure we can keep up the training with work etc). I mentioned the fact I was thinking about it to Paul Rose (my canoe coach and close friend) wondering if he'd be interested in paddling with me in the Cheshire Ring Race and he was also up for taking part.

I then had two possible partners for the race -I was sure Sam would be up for it, so Paul suggested that we take part as a relay team -Paul damaged his back a few years ago while paddling in a Bristol canoe race with me so wasn't sure if he'd manage the full 90 miles. This sounded a very sensible idea. All that was left was to find another person for our relay team which where my other brother Pat steps in to make our team of 4 :)

Every year Paul Rose likes to do an event for charity and as getting sponsored for the race had already been suggested by Sam it was deemed to have enough of a wow factor to be "the event" to sponsor this year. We've agreed to raise money for two (maybe three) charities (which are yet to be confirmed) but are likely to be from:

Each has it's own reasoning and once we've decided which charities we're going to raise for I'll post a little background :) but for now I should get back down the gym!

For anyone else interested in joining in (you're welcome to be on our support crew if you'd rather not paddle -would be great to have you there!) here is the brochure:

  • Cheshire Ring Race 2007 brochure front
  • Cheshire Ring Race 2007 brochure back
Friday, January 12, 2007 1:14:22 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Wednesday, January 10, 2007

As part of a forthcoming series of articles I covered the importance of adhering to a routine. This was something that I've always done and always felt is important but quite how important I didn't realize until this month.

This month Stacey is having a few weeks off work while she's waiting for all the CRB checks to come through before starting her new role as Senior Management Accountant at the Birmingham City Council which she really deserves after a few really hard years studying to become a Fully Qualified Chartered Management Accountant with CIMA. Anyhow I digress.

As I've got a fair amount of work on at present, I knew I wasn't going to be able to spend time with her for all the time she had off but I decided having a few late mornings wouldn't hurt. How wrong could I be? The most disruptive thing this month so far has not been Stacey wanting to do things (which I thought it would be) it has been the semi-lack of routine.

For the past 3 years I've got up with Stacey around 6:30am and got into the office after seeing her off (usually around 8am but in recent months due to lack of motivation for her job this dropped to 9am) and then I would work until her return at around 7:30pm. This gave me a good 11 hours office time a day.

What I've found however is with the lie-ins etc over the last week is how your mind gets into a routine. When you disrupt the routine i.e. by getting up at 9am, your brain suddenly finds it harder to get into gear with what you're working on.

This disruption basically means, where it used to take me 10-15 minutes in the morning to gather myself for the day ahead (turn on computer, check emails, think about where I got to the night before etc) it's taking me closer to 30 minutes. I'm also finding I'm getting distracted a lot easier! This week, we've started getting up at 8am, then starting work around 9am and already I've been at least 50x more efficient (though still going to bed around 2am means I'm getting increasingly knackered!).

I'll stress again now, if you're planning on working for yourself in the future: have a routine and stick to it!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007 2:30:28 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, January 05, 2007

My mobile contract expired just before Christmas and because of the issues I was having with Orange earlier this year (Seeing Orange) I decided I’d take my business elsewhere.

Every year we go through the same charade trying to find a new contract, something that has what we want at a reasonable price and every year the sales people completely ignore what you ask them. This year however SERIOUS took the biscuit and we couldn’t help but walk out laughing.

Phones4U LogoIn our local shopping centre The Merry Hill Shopping Centre (aka Merry Hell) we have all the usual names within walking distance (in fact IIRC Phones4U and Carphone Warehouse are next to each other) so we spent an hour or so wandering around them all, having being seduced by the adverts for Phones4U I thought we’d give them a go.

First of all we were accosted by a guy on the door who, once we’d got past all the pleasantries asked what we were after. Having gone through this routine a couple of times already today I reeled off: “We’d like two separate contracts, one 2-300 minutes £20-25pm and the other 5-600 minutes £30-35pm. We’re not too worried about the amount of texts we get as neither of us text much so show us your best (cheapest) deal”.

The guy then asked me what phone I currently had, quite how that was relevant I couldn’t figure out. He then asked to see my current phone so I gave it to him mainly out of curiosity as to why he wanted to see it. He had a look at it and then told us he would take us someone that’d sort us out.

He then walked us over to some kid sitting behind a desk and told him that we were looking “for a contract* that has lots of minutes and texts** and could this guy help us?” I couldn’t help but laugh as they both had cheap matching pin stripes on.

*We were looking for two
**We didn’t want any texts

The representative then started taking details like our names, phone numbers, postcode, names (again) and then he started wanting things like home phone number by which time we were growing impatient, trying to work out the relevance. So Stacey subtly asked what relevance it had to finding us the cheapest deal. He went a little quiet and then proceeded.

Looking a little lost I thought it would help to repeat “We’d like two separate contracts, one 2-300 minutes £20-25pm and the other 5-600 minutes £30-35pm. We’re not too worried about the amount of texts we get as neither of us text much so show us your best (cheapest) deal and we’ll sign”. Sadly though it didn’t help, he just mumbled something about cutting to the chase and then told us he would get his manager to help us find the best deal.

So over comes his manager to help us, but instead of acknowledging we were there she decided to talk to the sales guy (loud enough so we could hear), he pointed out the notes he’d made on the form emphasising that we’d not given him many personal details or told him about our current contracts though why that’s relevant seeing as I told him what we needed.

The manager then spent a couple of times ticking and crossing the form and told him that we didn’t have one of the phones. Rather than telling us they then started muttering to each other again before she nodded to him and told him to suggest it. Rather than telling this herself somewhat like a parrot he repeated exactly what she’d just said, then they decided to confer a little more and again he repeated that they weren’t sure they could help us as we know what we wanted. Throughout the 5mins the manager was there, she never once made eye contact or spoke to us directly without using her puppeteer of a sales person. She then mentioned something about going away and she’d be back (hardly audible) and left us wondering what was going on.

I think the best of it all was when the sales guy felt it would be a good idea to make some small talk while waiting for his manager to return so he asked whether we were at Merry Hill shopping. Instead of then listening to Stacey’s response his eyes wandered around the shop –clearly not paying any attention to us so I said a couple of times “Stacey, he’s not listening to you” –the fact that he didn’t notice while we were talking to him demonstrated that. It was the most bizarre situation I’ve ever been in, to top it all, he waved to a friend and then a few moments later actually got up and walked away WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING!! I still can’t believe how un-believably rude that was and I’m just glad that we got up and walked out.

Funnily enough, I have to agree with what Stacey has repeatedly said since about Phones4U –the weird people from the adverts are really the sales people…

I’m still wondering why sales people don’t take on board what you’re telling them instead of trying to sell you something that’s clearly unsuitable for your needs or just irritating you so much that you just walk out. If one of the three sales people we spoke to at Phones4U had actually listened to what we were saying or even interacted with us normally they may have got their £70 commission.

Anyways, I ended up getting the phone I wanted at the price I wanted but obviously not from Phones4U! Perhaps this is a more realistic logo?

An alternative Phones4U Logo

Friday, January 05, 2007 10:49:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

I’m not sure how many people this applies to but a while ago I found I was loosing VS2005 IntelliSense when I was working in my web.config. More specifically I lost IntelliSense after editing any of the site’s settings using the Web Site Administration Tool in ASP.Net 2.0.

I quickly realised that the issue was being caused because the Web Site Administration Tool updates the root element (<configuration>) of your Web.Config file to include an attribute of “xmlns”. If you’re loosing IntelliSense, just delete the attribute and you’ll have it back in a tick :)

<configuration xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/.NetConfiguration/v2.0">

Should be:

<configuration>

p.s. Yes Doug, I can already hear you crying out “Not for me –I don’t use VS*yawn*

Friday, January 05, 2007 2:57:57 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Wednesday, January 03, 2007

While updating the layout of the DasBlog I needed to alter some of the source code to output lists rather than tables etc and after uploading the latest version of the blog the login form suddenly failed to work. When logging into DasBlog it would accept the parameters and either kick me out to the error page or redirect me to the logged in page.

DasBlog includes some fairly indepth error logging (not using Phil Winstanley’s Error Reporting code mind you), one of the events it logs is logging in. I noticed that I would get one of two errors when logging in, when I was shown the error page it would say: “Password Challenge was null in ViewState! <br>   at newtelligence.DasBlog.Web.LoginBox.doSignIn_Click(Object sender, EventArgs e)” etc and when it took me to the front page it would log: “Audit: SecuritySuccess” and the standard who logged in from which IP etc.

As I’d edited the DasBlog source my immediate thought was that I’d changed something in the login process so I copied the original DLLs back onto the site and tried again without any success. After a fair amount of searching into the issue on Google and the DasBlog forums I was at a loss as to the issue so I asked on the DasBlog forum (http://www.dasblog.us/viewtopic.php?t=417).

A couple of people responded including Tom but sadly none of the suggestions applied to my situation. In the end I found that the issue was being caused because I was running the site under ASP.Net 2.0. When running DasBlog under ASP.Net 2.0 you need to make additional changes to the web.config file as outlined in the install documentation. When setting up the staging site I copied the directory from my main blog so I had the same content to test with, although I remembered to alter all the relevant areas in the site.config etc files, I had neglected to alter the cookie path setting in the web.config. So if you’re getting the same issues, check the web.config cookie path values.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007 11:26:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
# Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I’ve never really been happy with the look and feel of this blog and felt that it needed jazzing up a little –especially now I’m getting more and more hits on it but life got in the way and as ugly as it was it did however do the job.

Over Christmas though I decided it was time to bite the bullet and cut to the chase etc and update it. The blog was running on DasBlog v1.8 so while re-working the theme I would also update it to the latest version v1.9.

This is the final result, it’s still a work in progress as I would like to improve the XHTML compliance but as usual time got the better of me so that’s something that will have to be fixed later. It’s certainly an improvement over the old blog though don’t you think?

Over the next few weeks/months I’ll finish editing the source to improve it’s compliance and also update my photo album so it’s more in-line with this site. Don’t forget www.thesitedoctor.co.uk is having a revamp in 2007 too.

So, worth the effort? Here's the old layout:

The Old Blog Layout

Tuesday, January 02, 2007 10:13:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I had an interesting chat with Chris from Jump'in Jacks'bouncy castle hire about marketing his new business Mad Hatters party shop (website coming soon I hope!!) in the newspaper. Basically he’s taken out an advert with a local paper but I don’t personally feel he’s gone about it the right way. Seeing as he’s not the first client I’ve spoken to about this in the past month (Miss Mays adult store to name another) I feel I should explain why I feel he’s made a mistake.

The scenario*

You want to promote your new fancy dress shop to the local market. You decide the local (free) paper is the best method so you take out an advert in your local paper that is along the lines of:
An example of a bad newspaper advert

*This is similar but not exactly the same as Chris’ scenario ;)

What’s the problem?

I’m not a marketing person but common sense tells me there are a few issues with this scenario but primarily you have no way of evaluating its success. How will you know whether it’s worth spending that £x again?

What should you do?

When planning on promoting your business in i.e. the local newspaper, a little research wouldn’t go amiss. Firstly work out who you want to target with your advert, then work out what the best medium to contact them over is and then research that medium itself.

Taking the scenario of a fancy dress shop that would like to capture more local trade, the local paper is a good place to advertise. The first problem I foresee is; locally we’ve got at least 3 different newspaper publishers and each has its own main catchments area, more than this, I know at least one has a dedicated paper for each area. With a little research you can work out which paper is most suitable for your establishment. Remember that you should identify the local paper for your establishment not the local paper for your residence as unless you live above your shop, you’ll most likely find out that they’re two different papers…

Depending on your budget I would recommend running a single campaign in each local publication. How you go about this is up to you, if you’ve got time, select a different paper each time until you’ve had at least one advert in each (you could run two different areas at the same time but having two adverts within one area may mean you’re advertising to the same person twice which would be an unfair test), you’ll then be able to judge which paper had the best return. Make sure you use the same advert for each paper to make it a fair test! It’s also worth noting that it’s commonly recognised that people need to see an advert three times before it registers with them.

Once you have your chosen publisher it’s time to design your advert, you’ll obviously be restricted by budget but get the biggest area you can afford (within reason), for a voucher promotion something A5 size should be more than enough. If you can afford a designer give them the brief and have them mock something up. They should be able to do something pretty decent that can be reused for around £100.

When you’re designing the advert, don’t just throw on your contact details and think that’s enough. You need a clearly defined call to action, this could be anything from a discount to a competition. The idea is to get someone into your shop so give them a reason to go there!

It may also be suitable to gather some data about your customer, many people don’t mind giving you a little information about themselves if they’re getting something cheaper (or free!) so take advantage of that* -you’ll be able to use it for direct marketing or customer analysis later.

*Also look up the rules and regulations around Data Protection.

Ready to go? Not yet. You still don’t have any way of telling which campaign was most effective. Most email campaigns now include something called a beacon image which tells the campaign manager that you’ve opened the email, sadly you can’t get this information from the newspaper but you can track the conversions by adding some form of identifier to the voucher. In my example below I’ve added a tracking code “EP19120310P” it’s perhaps a little overkill but it basically stands for: “Example Paper 19th December 2006 10 Percent Off”. This is important as when you come to analyse the conversions you’ll quickly be able to identify not only which paper it came from, which date but also the offer. Using something along these lines will enable you to track different offers in different papers (or even the different offers in the same paper), by varying the offers you’ll be able to identify the best conversion.

Now you’re ready to go, get the advert placed and on the day of publication get hold of a copy and check out your location, see how you stand out in the paper, if you feel your advert doesn’t stand out as much as the others on the page, work out why, is it the use of specific colours? Or perhaps theirs is in a better font –make a note of it for the next advert!

Finding the ideal combination of paper and offer will be trial and error but as long as you have a method of tracking, analysing the results and quantifying the conversions it shouldn’t take you too long to establish which campaigns pay off and which are just costly.

This is just a quick mock-up using the same area as above as an example, I’m neither a marketer or designer so I’m sure there’s plenty of flaws with this (hint: post a comment on them)!
Original:
An example of a bad newspaper advert
New:
An example of a better newspaper advert

In summary

  • Research your target audience
  • Identify the best publisher to use
  • Plan your advert and clearly outline your call to action
  • Add some method of tracking to the advert
  • Analyse your results and adjust your future advert(s) accordingly
Tuesday, December 19, 2006 8:10:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, December 15, 2006

I recently updated one of our sites to use a shared authentication database to save on the maintenance, but in doing so I messed something up and couldn’t work out why I was getting dual records of the user. To summarise what I’d done, I had updated the applicationName value from “/” to “SomeName” and then updated the values in the database to reflect these changes.

In addition to having duplicate records for the users, the LastActivityDate was only being altered on login and subsequent page requests were not being noted which was a problem as this system requires this data. I did look into alternative methods around this until I realised that one of dates for the user was actually being updated –just not the roles/membership one!

There are a number of posts discussing doing this pre-userbase which were about as useful as a chocolate fireman. I finally realised that I’d not added the provider node for the profiles which meant it was not only reverting to the old connection string named “LocalSqlServer” but it was also assigning “/” as the application name. After updating this node all’s fine and dandy again.

For future reference, you need to override 3 web.config settings to ensure your application is referencing the correct database and within each one add the <clear /> node otherwise your application is likely to inherit from the machine.config (I’d got that one!!):

Web.Config Settings

<membership defaultProvider="YourMembershipProvider">
    <providers>
        <clear />
        <add name="YourMembershipProvider" 
         applicationName="YourApplicationName" 
         connectionStringName="YourASPNetSqlServerConn"
         type="System.Web.Security.SqlMembershipProvider, System.Web, Version=2.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b03f5f7f11d50a3a" /> 
    </providers>
</membership>

<roleManager>
    <providers>
        <clear/>
        <add name="YourRoleProvider" 
         connectionStringName="YourASPNetSqlServerConn" 
         applicationName="YourApplicationName" 
         type="System.Web.Security.SqlRoleProvider" />
    </providers>
</roleManager>

<profile enabled="true" defaultProvider="YourProfileProvider">
  <providers>
    <clear />
    <add name="YourProfileProvider"
         connectionStringName="YourASPNetSqlServerConn"
         applicationName="YourApplicationName"
         type="System.Web.Profile.SqlProfileProvider, System.Web, Version=2.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=b03f5f7f11d50a3a" />
  </providers>
</profile>
Friday, December 15, 2006 2:38:10 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  |