IE classes DDD feedback site as a phishing site…
Wednesday, November 26, 2008 1:00:05 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This one made me laugh today, Chris Anderson alerted me to it but you would have thought the MS guys would have picked up on it...
Incidentally, it's the first time I've seen this message on any site...
What’s Google missing this time?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 2:22:34 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I guess it's something to do with fair competition etc but I found this rather interesting when adding a client to Google's Business Listing the other day.
Can anyone else spot a missing payment option?
How about "Google Checkout"?
Thoughts on my new iPhone 3G
Monday, August 04, 2008 7:40:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've had my iPhone for a couple of weeks now so I thought it's about time I posted my thoughts. I'm one of their targeted enterprise users and have come over from a BlackBerry, which although I was worried about always working, actually resulted in me being able to leave the office without worrying there was an all important email awaiting my return.
So how have I found the switch? In a nutshell as I kinda expected -I miss a few of the features on the BlackBerry but on the whole have found it to be Fairly painless. I like aspects of the iPhone such as the application resources but get a little frustrated at silly things like no copy and paste, having to reformat my entire address book or not being able to insert numbers. I suspect somewhat that there are gestures I'm missing so feel free to point me in the right direction (even if it's "wait for the next update")
I've not had a chance to try out the push aspect of the iPhone yet but I'll get around to that shortly, hopefully that'll save some of the battery life! At the moment I think I'm getting about 5 hours talk time out of it but I tend to have it sitting in charge most of the time.
My likes/dislikes of the iPhone so far
So lets start with the positive:
- The App store
- The GPS
- The easy-to-use silent button
- The community (yes I know it's a repeat of the App store, but this is where the iPhone really comes into it's own)
- The ability to easily integrate with other applications i.e. LiveTimer, Flickr and Twitter
- It's easy to use
- The calling plan
And now the negative:
- No copy/paste
- No forwarding your contacts over email/bluetooth/sms etc
- No way of marking all emails as read -this is a serious oversight
- You have to format your telephone numbers in Outlook from: +44(01234)123123 to +44(1234)123123
- When not on 3G it takes an age to download emails
- The phone often crashes when refreshing your email list (or just hangs)
- There's no search facility for your emails
- The contact list isn't as easy to use as the BlackBerry's (you could do everything from one place, with the iPhone I have a tendancy to call people when I want to text them etc)
- Sometimes, it randomly (and secretly) connects to a WiFi signal -usually The Cloud/OpenZone which is a real irritation because if you don't notice you don't get any emails until you turn Wifi off. Really if the connection times out on WiFi it should fall back to 3G.
- .the fact that if you turn off WiFi because of the above, you've got to remember to turn it on again (and I nearly always forget!)
- How some applications drain the battery when you set the phone to sleep
- There's no auto text
- Crappy call history - missing duration for each call time etc
- No scale based email polling option i.e. "If an email exists on the server, check again in 1min, if not, check in 2mins etc)
- The keyboard sometimes freezes when typing fast(ish)
- The lack of backward compatibility with iPod accessories (i.e. car chargers)
- The fact that you can't set it to backup once a week instead of everytime you plug it in -that's a royal PITA as I plug mine into two computers everyday sometimes forget to click the cross to cancel the backup
And for fairness, the in between:
- The keyboard doesn't allow you to select the most suitable one for the task in hand
- The phone doesn't always rotate i.e. in emails -which I find really irritating
- There's no "Trial" option to software, I know it's not much but I don't really want to waste £5.99 if it's a crappy app.
Although the positive are far outweighed by the other aspects of the phone, I'm sticking with it for the moment because unlike all of the phones I've used in the past, it's easy to update and I think Apple are going to fix a lot of the more obvious oversights such as "Mark all emails as read". Then again Apple may not be the saint that everyone makes them out to be. (I'm disappointed I missed out on NetShare for instance).
Long and short of it is I think the iPhone is a nice move away from the BlackBerry but there are still a few areas that they really need to catch up on.
Market rates –can I have the same hourly rate for all clients?
Thursday, July 03, 2008 8:36:01 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This started out as a response to a comment and then I thought it might be better as a post in it's own right.
In his comment David Conlisk said:
First off Tim very well done on providing some excellent information on the site. I've just spent my first afternoon as my own boss reading your business start-up advice and it's been excellent (it's called research, not slacking off!)
One question I would ask you about this post is what about market rates? I am going from being a contractor on an hourly rate to being a limited company. I never considered working out a base rate like you've done, instead I spoke to as many people as possible in the marketplace to gauge what the rates are and I price accordingly. Of course this works fine for more corporate clients, but I doubt I could charge smaller companies similar rates. Let's hope I can make a good enough impression on my corporate clients to keep that kind of work coming in!
Keep up the good work,
Thanks for your kind words, I'm glad to hear you found it of use.
In regards market rates, it's one of the oldest debates in the book AFAIK and has a rather unhelpful answer of "You should charge what you feel comfortable charging". I'll try to improve on that a little as it's always hard but in essence it's true. Basically from experience I would keep it as simple as possible, have as few rates as possible for all clients, just make sure you feel you're worth the rate in your own mind.
Although you need to keep an eye on the "market rates", you'll find your rate will determine the type of client you work with. Being the cheapest on the market is not necessarily a good thing. One advantage of offering a freelance service to other development companies is that we get to see what happens when your prices are rock bottom -take it from me, more often than not, it's more hassle than it's worth. When you have someone going el-cheapo all the way you often find they're overly picky about every aspect and require a lot more management time (that's not to say those paying higher rates aren't, I guess you just notice it more).
As long as you're reasonable with your rates, clients who are willing to pay your rates, will use you (they may complain a little but it's unlikely) but at the end you'll both be happy with the work produced. As long as you believe in yourself -and your rates, this will be conveyed to your clients so if you know you're value for money you will be able to justify it to any client (corporate or otherwise). It's up to the client to decide whether you're value for money.
Believe it or not the service industry is not the only industry to set it's fees and then get them negotiated on -Stacey used to work in Debenhams a few years ago, for those of you who don't know what Debenhams is, it's a large department store in the UK, they sell items for a set fee, everyone knows this but regardless of this she still had people trying to negotiate on the fee. Be open to negotiation but don't be silly about it otherwise the client may always expect a discount of that level (so stick to no more than a 10% variation).
Don't worry about having clients not use you because of your rate, as long as you're around the market rate there will be a client for you. At the end of the day, you can't realistically expect to service every prospect that comes through your doors -sometimes you just have to say "sorry that's the price".
I'm not saying charge £1,000ph when the market rate is £10ph as that's just silly but I would say your base rate shouldn't be cheaper than the market rate or more than 3 times the market rate (unless your service really is that good and you're bogged down with work [I did have a link for here about an ?SEO company charging $1,000ph and still being too busy but I can't find it atm], in which case go for it!).
Tip: How do you find out market rates? That's simple, find a couple of companies who offer similar services, to a similar client base who are a similar size to you, call them up and just ask them what their daily rates are. Call 10 or so companies and you should have a few prices to compare :)
Another tip: Always ask for an rough idea of their budget -even if it's just a range, this will give you a good idea of they're realistic or not.
And one more: Don't forget your rates don't need to be fixed. If you find you're too busy, increase your rates a little, if you're too quiet (whereas everyone else is really busy) then you may need to look into how you market your business, your presentation skills and finally possibly reducing your rates.
A word of warning: I would avoid dropping your rate "for the nice client" as the majority of times you'll end up regretting it, either because it gets out of control and you get frustrated because "you're doing them a favour" whereas they feel they just negotiated your service rates down (and so should be getting the same level of service. Remember, it's business, you don't need to do anyone a favour, charge what you feel is fair for your time and you'll always enjoy your work :)
On the flip side of this, if you're lucky enough to get a large corporate, make sure your rate is their market rate as we've lost work for being too cheap (and in my eyes we were already overcharging for the workload).
It's easy to be busy and cheap, but being a busy fool is no way to live!
Is Amazon back up to its old tricks?
Tuesday, July 01, 2008 10:32:54 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's gift time again (for me that is!) -yey! But when I was checking out on Amazon.co.uk earlier today I was a little puzzled by this...
On the product details page it said £4.45 shipping (correct me if I'm wrong)
But then when you check out it's suddenly £7.36. I was checked in by this stage so did Amazon think I was prepared to pay for Express Shipping? I tried to change it to default shipping (as they often upsell) but I couldn't.
Google gets the lurve bug
Thursday, February 14, 2008 10:02:19 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
We've started to use Google Docs to manage the workload of our remote workers -which I have to say works pretty well, logging on today I was really impressed to see that Google Docs had gone all out to pimp out their interface.
I think it's really nice so for those of you who don't use Google Docs click the image to see the results :)
It's little things like the heart instead of the star...
Ok, back to managing peoples time :P
Britain's gone nuts
Friday, December 21, 2007 11:33:37 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I don't know when Britain decided this but it seems that every time I read the papers at the moment I read yet another absurd idea from up high but this one had me laughing so I thought I'd share:
The Justice Ministry is calling for the removal of the word "prostitute" - which has been around for almost 200 years - from criminal statutes. Ministry officials argue the word carries too much social stigma and are pushing to replace it with the phrase "persons who sell sex persistently." Try saying that with a mouthful.
Amy Winehouse - the Birmingham gig
Thursday, November 15, 2007 10:53:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Ever since Amy Winehouse hit the UK music scene Stacey, her father and I have been wanting to see her live because there's no doubt she'll be entertaining so when the opportunity to go see her just down the road from here came up there was no turning it down!
If you're like me and don't have enough time to follow the latest celebrity gossip headlines you'll not know that her husband has been jailed, I'm not entirely sure why still but I think it's got something to do with her beating someone up and then him trying to pay them off to drop the court case. Anyhow I digress.
I spent the entire week looking forward to the gig as we don't get to see many gigs (the last was a superb gig by Jack Johnson in the NEC) though despite my celebrity news ignorance even I knew the gig would be controversial as the first time I saw her on Jools Holland's show she was wasted out of her mind swaying on the stage and the second time she was just as wasted at Glastonbury but I wasn't expecting what we got.
After turning up 40minutes or so late for her performance she was clearly in pain. She started rushing through her set, from past sets I've seen her perform she tends to introduce her band before starting but that didn't happen and even her songs seemed to be rushed. Within two songs I had a feeling was wrong.
After 4 or 5 songs she stormed off stage without any explanation and we were left wondering whether that was it or not -a few people got up and left but after a while she came back on stage and started again but she was in tears though most of it. I can't say her words were overly legible and at times it sounded like a bag of cats.
It was one of those historic gigs that was awkward to be at but I'm glad I was even if it was just to see what everyone was going to talk about the next day. I really hope she sorts herself out (or as much as possible!) but I really disagree with her management who IMNSHO were out of order getting her up on stage.
If you ever get the chance to go see Amy Winehouse I really would because the band alone is worth seeing and her two dancers come backup singers are great. If you want to see photos of her gig you can check out my photo album of the gig here.
Bartering for everyday items
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 8:42:20 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It was recently that time of year again when my bank balance takes a massive hit as various premiums are taken out for things like car tax, car insurance, house insurance etc so I get a little anal about finding the best deal.
This year, my target was to get my car insurance below £1,000 which seeing as I'm now (boo-hiss) over 25 shouldn't have been an issue but I had a feeling it wouldn't be an easy feat seeing as I drive a sports car, heck I like a challenge so off I set.
As I didn't have an issue with my current insurer I thought I'd see what deal they could offer me so they were my first port of call. I knew what they had sent through the post (over £1,500) which I thought was a little steep so I'd give them a chance to knock it down. Success! They took over £100 off -only another £400 to go!
I then went through Money Supermarket's online insurance comparison site to see what else was on offer. It came back with a few closer to £1,200 so I started calling -once again I called my current insurer who came down to £1,100 so I called the next cheapest on the list (£1,200) and told them if they could match the other quote I'd be interested. They of course did and came in at around £900 which was pretty dandy!
This went on for a while, every time I got a quote I would call around each company and give them the chance to "beat" the other one until I was batting between two companies -one being my previous insurer. After careful negotiation I ended up paying just shy of £600 for my insurance and actually ended up with a higher miles allowance than I did at £1,500 -despite what you're thinking, the insurances were otherwise exactly the same! That's a whooping £900 saving for a little phoning around!!
This got me thinking, are we regularly unknowingly paying more for our goods/services? I tend to barter out of principle if I can, usually just as a challenge but is it the same as banks have gone with financing1 in which case I wonder what other companies are doing it? I know companies often factor in a small % to accommodate the discount requests etc but does that mean we should barter for everything?
1 I've found when looking for funding, if you want £100 and ask for £100 you tend to get £75 as the bank assumes you have over-inflated your request to accommodate their % reduction so the next time you go in, you ask for £130 instead and so it goes on, each pre-guessing what the other person is after in an environment of distrust leaving those people who don't want to play "the game" (or don't know about "the game") out of pocket.
Chip and Pin -is it really more secure?
Sunday, August 19, 2007 10:59:43 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
We've officially been using Chip and Pin in all stores since around February 2007 in the UK which has made life a lot easier in many ways but ever since it's introduction, I for one have had concerns over the claims that it's safer. I agree that it is (or was) harder to find out someone's pin number but has it made shop assistants more complacent?
Stacey and I have a joint Egg Card -I know, what WAS I thinking ;), anyway, these two cards look identical and even had the same pin number and as a result, we recently got them mixed up. I can't say for sure when it was we got them swapped around but one thing for sure is that it was a good couple of months ago. Ever since, we've both been using the wrong card without being questioned, at a guess, I think this has gone on for around 4 months and I only noticed the other day when I looked down and read the name on the card when I was paying online.
This for me is pretty concerning, ok it's because I know the pin, the shop assistant assumes I'm the card holder and doesn't check the name (which the used to when they were forced to check the signature -if they bothered checking that of course ;)).
I think it's also easier to find out the pin too as people aren't overly cautious about entering in their number, I've even seen an old lady in a wheelchair type her pin in on the terminal which was on the desk while she remained lower down in the wheelchair, allowing anyone within about 10m to read what she was typing in. She then promptly put her card back in to her bag and hung it over the back of her wheelchair -where any unscrupulous person could come along and "borrow" the card. It's not just the elderly however, even the young allow other people to read the pin.
I would be interested to know the statistics in crime reduction, I wonder if they're as high as the government were predicting or whether these predictions failed to include the main weak link in the system -us.
On the whole however, it has made life easier and I like Chip and Pin despite these (human) errors, to an extent I think it has made it harder for the criminal to steal (though before he had to learn the signature) but I think people need to be more cautious.
Our beer making weekend
Saturday, July 28, 2007 1:36:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
My mum gave me a slightly odd Christmas present this year -a beer making weekend. I like many 20 something relished the opportunity to spend a weekend trying out a multitude of different beers, learning what goes into making one and more importantly how I can concoct my own sweet ale. Why then did I start this post saying it was somewhat of an odd present? Well mainly due to my training and much to Stacey's delight I'm virtually tea-total which means my beer-drinking experience thus far in life has been vastly limited to the odd drop of Kronenberg Blanc or Corona (my two current favorite beverage choices) and I can in no way call myself a beer connoisseur (or indeed want to call myself a beer connoisseur). Always wanting to try new things however I went to the beer making weekend with a clear and open mind.
We arrived at Nether Stowey Brewery after a fairly straight forward journey (god bless in-car sat nav systems -they really do take the pain out of navigating) a touch later than planned which meant the other attendees of the beer making weekend had already had the chance to get acquainted with our teacher for the weekend "Ian". I don't know too much about Ian other than he enjoys beer, works -as and when he likes (or so it would appear)- as a very successful employment lawyer and that he likes good beer (I know I've already mentioned that but he really did like his beer...).
The weekend started with a short lesson in beer making, some of the different techniques/flavours produced and a little background behind beer, for instance, did you know that beer was drunk as the primary drink until fairly recently as water was not safe to drink? Or that pale ale was produced by running water through the already used mulch? It was then given to the children as a much weaker beer? Or how about: Most beer and wine is not vegetarian as they use "finings" to remove the impurities (cloudyness) which are made from Fish Liver...
Followed was a discussion on both which drinks we tended to drink at home and what sort of beer we were all looking to produce. There were 5 of us in our group, obviously we were all going to have different opinions of what we wanted from "our" beer. Before we made our final decision we had the part that I think everyone was looking forward to the most -the beer tasting.
The idea behind the tasting was not to get drunk or simply down a load of different beers, we were taught how to taste (and so appreciate) each beer's qualities. It's amazing how different beers that you would assume were similar taste. The names of different beers was also intriguing. My favourite was the acclaimed "Titanic". Having won numerous awards I thought it was going to be a delightful drink, but lets just say the drink went down as well as the boat...
Ian and his most hospitable wife Lynne also run a B&B (The Old Cider House) so your accommodation over the weekend is in very pleasant surroundings -and the food to an excellent standard, we quickly relaxed. It turns out that Ian not only runs beer making weekends, he also produces a selection of fine ales for the local pubs -some of which go down a storm, others not...
The Saturday was primarily spent mulching the various ingredients in a giant vat before leaving it to simmer for a few hours -during which we were left to our own devices -Sam, Pat and I resorted to wandering the streets and playing Pooh sticks of all things in the village's stream.
We then spent most of Sunday naming our new creation, I really dislike trying to name things, naming my company "The Site Doctor" was hard enough but something that came over time, we had a matter of hours to name the beer and create the label. We went round in circles trying to think of something witty yet meaningful, comical yet serious. In the end we settled on "That" with the slogan "Making Life Taste Bitter" -I can't say it was my first choice but the majority ruled.
It was a good 6 weeks before Nether Stowey Brewery finally sent us the products of our weekend of hard work. Carefully packaged in a large cardboard box were 12 bottles of fine ale. I for one (as I'm sure is true with the rest of the group) was not sure what to expect from them so decided to store them away for a special occasion. When I did finally crack one open, I was pleasantly surprised, I can't say it's something I would choose to buy in a pub but it was certainly more drinkable than I was expecting! I've still got a few bottles remaining so if you are -or were- the recipient of one of my bottles, you were either very much liked by me -or disliked, depending on your outlook ;) Needless to say the "Gaunt Brewery" will remain little more than a dream for now...
If you're interested in learning how to make beer, why not try out Nether Stowey's beer making weekend for yourself? I would think it'd make a good stag do. Check out www.4ale.co.uk for more information.
First thoughts on the BlackBerry Pearl
Wednesday, March 07, 2007 11:30:48 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I’ve always been adverse to getting a BlackBerry for a few of reasons:
- I don’t get away from work much as it is so I felt having emails on my BlackBerry on the go all the time would be one step too far.
- The size of the BlackBerry –they’re ridiculous, I like my phone to be as small as possible so it interferes with my life as little as possible.
- I’ve heard horror stories about the increase in bandwidths to manage the email push.
Then while we were looking at new contracts over Christmas Stacey picked up the BlackBerry Pearl which was small and sleek and suggested I gave it a go. As she didn’t want to change from her V3 we agreed I’d give it a go for a month and if I didn’t like it I’d have her free upgrade (a Sony Ericsson w810i).
I’ve had the BlackBerry Pearl for well over a month now so I thought I’d share my findings in case anyone else is thinking of getting one.
How does the BlackBerry “work”?
There are plenty of tutorials for the BlackBerry and far more advanced information on how the BlackBerry actually works but I thought it may be worth over viewing how it’s configured and the basic concepts.
BlackBerrys use something called “Push” Technology to retrieve emails, your email client (Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird etc) classically collects email from a server by contacting the server and getting a list of emails and then downloading the emails. BlackBerrys on the other hand have the email sent to it from the server.
When you first get your BlackBerry you have to configure your email accounts with your BlackBerry’s ISP (in my case O2), you supply them with server details for your mail account (POP3 settings). Your ISP will then periodically check your email account and collect the new email messages which are then encrypted and sent (or pushed) to your BlackBerry (in a similar way to an SMS message). The BlackBerry then decrypts the email and allows you to read it. Simple eh :)
My thoughts on the BlackBerry Pearl
Things I like about the BlackBerry Pearl:
- It’s size –it’s no larger than a lot of the other phones out there at the moment, in fact it’s smaller than my old Motorola V3 while it was closed (though it’s about 5mm longer)
- It’s synchronisation with Outlook. I used to have a Palm LifeDrive to manage my calander, address book and tasks etc and a separate address book on my V3 which didn’t sync correctly with Outlook so the three were nearly always different –that and I hated having to carry around the LifeDrive as it was just extra bulk... The BlackBerry Pearl however seamlessly manages it all which has meant that I’ve started managing my to-do list a lot more efficiently as well as my address book.
- The size and clarity of the screen.
- Today Plus theme –an extra download but well worth it as it summarises all the info you need to know at a glance on the home screen.
- Battery life –quoted at around 8½ hours talk time I’m certainly getting at least this. A lot of the time I plug it in via USB while I’m working which charges it but I’ve had a couple of weekends away recently which has meant it’s not got charged and it happily coped with the (for me) heavy use without an issue.
- The complete call log of all incoming and out going calls on a user basis –this is great for me if I need to know how long I spent speaking to a client etc (I tend to use my mobile for most outgoing calls as they’re all free ;)).
- The degree of customisation (though this is also a downside as it is somewhat complicated).
- The fact you can customise what the side buttons do.
- The standby button –why it has a keylock I don’t know as it gets in the way of the standby button.
- The voice dialler –that’s awesome.
- VoiceRecorder+ (a voice memo recorder for the BlackBerry Pearl from ShapeServices – www.shapeservices.com)
- The fact you can add delays into the number dialling to quickly and automatically navigate the IVR options for systems you regularly use.
Things I dislike about the BlackBerry Pearl:
- It’s pretty complicated. Unlike most phones these days each application has it’s own settings and finding where they are is sometimes a real PITA.
- You can’t set ringing profiles to activate at certain times of the day.
- You can’t send SMS messages from it through your computer.
- It doesn’t ring and vibrate at the same time.
- The ringer is a little quiet at times (though people suggest drilling holes in the back of the casing sorts this).
- The key lock which sometimes gets in the way of taking the phone out of standby –I expect there’s a way of turning it off but I’ve not found it yet.
All in all I think the BlackBerry Pearl is a superb phone and I’ll certainly be keeping it. I’ve setup a filter to ensure I don’t get spam coming through on it but I still get between 10 and 50 emails a day on it, the data transfer is still low (it’s still under 100KB) but I don’t surf the web etc.
O2 offer a deal at the moment where you can have unlimited data for £10pm on top of your bill, my thinking is if I start to use more than £10 of data a month I’ll upgrade but atm it’s all good. In regards the additional load on our mail server I’ve not noticed anything significant but I’ll analyse this in a couple of months as the calls should be clear. To avoid spam emails I’ve setup a separate mail account that the O2 server collects from, then from my main email accounts I forward any that are sent directly to me and without my spam filter’s headers added to my GMail account which then filters pretty much everything else missed by my server’s filter before forwarding it onto my BlackBerry account. I realise this is a slightly long winded method of managing it but it has meant that 99.9% of all spam has been ignored. There have been a couple of emails missed (i.e. where I’ve been CC’d) but I can live without having those on the go ;)
I had an issue when I first got the BlackBerry Pearl that all numbers would be dialled with the prefix of +44 and the leading 0. As it happens, the fix is pretty simple:
- Open the call log
- Press the menu key (the BlackBerry icon)
- Choose “General Options”
- Choose “Smart Dialing”
- Change the country code to +44
WowWee FlyTech DragonFly -awesome!
Friday, February 16, 2007 6:49:41 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I was planning on writing about this new gizmo that a friend of mine from the states Doug Setzer has got his hands on but then he asked me to and I didn’t really feel like it after that ;)
Just kidding, Doug’s bought a WowWee FlyTech DragonFly and I have to say it looks great fun. He’s written a review about the WowWee FlyTech DragonFly at www.mydragonfly.info which is worth checking out. As usual he’s pimped the site out with Google AdSense so before you start clicking on his adverts make sure you have a click on mine!!
Now I’ve got to plan a trip over to the states so I can have a play with his WowWee FlyTech DragonFly...
WebDD -I was there, were you?
Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:00:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
What an awesome event, I was originally in two minds about going to the latest conference installment from Phil Winstanley, Dave Sussman (and all the other dedicated people involved with the other DDD events) but boy am I glad I went.
This time I decided to take it to the next level and rather than driving down and back on the day I’d drive down the night before with Stacey and stay over in a local hotel. This worked really well, not only did it mean I was awake for all of the seminars but I could get some work down the next day too ;)
Anyhow, back to the day, for once I had the foresight to choose the seminars I was going to attend before I arrived and decided not to attend all of Scott Guthrie’s talks mainly because of the following I knew he’d have but also because of the great alternatives available so here’s my breakdown of who I went to see and what I thought of their talk:
Microformats - HTML to API (Glenn Jones)
Read Glenn Jones' blog post about the day
GlenN Jones (not Glen Jones as was listed in the schedule ;)) presented a very interesting talk on microformats, it’s not quite what I first thought it was (for some reason I thought it was some form of HTML applets but lets not go there!). Microformats are certainly something I’m going to look into in the future but as Julian Voelcker has pointed out quite how practical they are to use in a CMS situation I’m not sure.
I think from an SEO point of view and also from an information sharing POV they’re very interesting and I’ll certainly be integrating them into various sites for testing purposes sooner rather than later (in fact if you check out my about me page they’ll be there with the new update coming soon … now I just need to re-work my tag output* using IISMods' URLRewrite).
*Glenn pointed out that when using the rel=”tag” attribute the last “word” in the associated URL should be the tag itself -something I didn’t know but will be sorted as atm it’s along the lines of “CategoryView,category,Business,Business%20Start-up%20Advice.aspx” etc which isn’t very useful.
I think in principle microformats are a good idea for something like a blog or a semi-static site where the developer (or someone with knowledge of microformats) has control over the content but how you could role them out in a client managed site is a little more complicated and something that will need some more thought -do you offer buttons to insert the code markup for them? Can you offer nested content easily etc.
The other thing about them I’m not too sure about is (miss)use of the abbr tag -again that was only something I picked up in the talk so may have missed the point, I’ll need to look into it further.
Either way it was an interesting insight into a new concept that I’m going to support if I can :). Check out the main microformats site at: www.microformats.org
Glenn Jones is also the developer behind the back network site that was used to link all the delegates together, it’s an interesting concept that once again promotes a social network on the internet which is all the rage at the moment but also allows you to interact with other delegates before the event -this is something I’d have done had I had more time before the event!
Download the slides to the Microformats - HTML to API talk by Glenn Jones
Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? (Bruce Lawson)
Read Bruce Lawson's blog post about the day
Making web sites accessible is something I’ve been interested in pretty much since I got involved with ASP.Net 1.1 and I get endlessly tired of hearing fellow ASP.Net developers complain that you can’t make web sites accessible using the ASP.Net platform -balls can’t you, ok it’s not something that comes out of the box and at times is a little awkward but a lot of it is just common sense and consideration.
Bruce Lawson’s talk was a breath of fresh air, it was great to see someone having the courage that I’m yet to muster (well, more the time but hey) to convince my fellow developers to make their sites accessible.
Why the hell shouldn’t your site be accessible to all? It’s not all about money, in my mind it’s just about being fair to others -following (as ever) Google’s moto of don’t be evil. I liked Bruce’s method of presentation as it was far more personal than the usual “you should care because it’s the law” or “you should care because you’re missing out on a ton of money”, when asking the question “who cares?” -using his words not mine- he said “rather than quoting facts and figures at you trying to convince you, -my mate Theresa does”. I think this in itself was a different method of engaging the audience and I certainly felt it worked.
The talk wasn’t particularly in depth (which baring in mind the audience I expected) but I felt it was enough to plant the seed of interest with those that weren’t otherwise that aware or interested about accessibility. I hope that they’ll now actively encourage fellow developers to take action -not necessarily by redeveloping their past sites as many clients can’t afford this, but by giving some consideration to accessibility in future designs -i.e. DON’T use buttons for menu systems!
I can’t hand on heart say all our sites are overly accessible but I’m learning and I feel each new site we’re involved in is that little bit more accessible. Bruce did share a very useful site called “Blind Webbers” where you can get in contact with screen reader users -I’ll certainly be checking that out with the new design for The Site Doctor, for others interested Bruce sent me the link: http://www.webaim.org/discussion/mail_message.php?id=9019. I’m thinking I’ll see what they think of Miss Mays adult store -could be a good introduction!!
The point that made me laugh the most was his demonstration of using “Click Here” as link text, his demo was simple but effective -you can check it out on his site: http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2007/webdd-conference-slides-and-questions
One thing I do need to think about is the order of elements on the page, i.e. at present this blog layout has the menu appearing before the content -mainly because that was the quickest way I could get the layout sorted, but I think I need to re-order it so the menu comes last -that said I do have a “Skip to content” link at the top -how effective it is I’ll let you know. Another thing I also want to pass by Bruce is image replacement techniques as I’ve tried a few now and I’d be interested to see how they perform on screen readers and the like.
Download the slides for the Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? talk by Bruce Lawson
Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility (Zhivko Dimitrov)
Read Zhivko Dimitrov's blog post about the day
Again, interested in making my sites as user friendly as possible I thought that this would be an interesting talk but it wasn’t quite as it was portrayed -instead he went into how they perform remote usability tests with a budget. None the less it was a fairly interesting talk.
Zhivko is from Telerik and clearly has a fair amount of experience in usability testing, I was hoping he’d have some good ideas on how to offer usability testing on no budget but sadly he didn’t. There were a couple of interesting points raised however that I don’t think I would have thought of -firstly the re-use of testers, if you use a tester more than twice within a year they’ll start to know what you want them to say rather than what’s there. The other point raised was if you’re using remote testing, you loose the non-vocal indicators of frustration such as a furrowed brow or someone scratching their head.
Zhivko’s opening demo however was a recording of a guy trying to find a grid component on their competitors site, despite the fact they spent a fair amount of time laughing at the guy in the background I thought this was a great example of a poorly designed site and how important it is to highlight your site’s calls-to-action which is something that I’ll have to remember while optimizing our newest SEO client for online poker The Rivercard -one of the issues we have already highlighted is that many of their download links are below the fold of the screen which reduces the chance the user will click the link.
Download the slides from the Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility talk by Zhivko Dimitrov
Connecting Design to Real Business Value (Brandon Schauer)
Visit Brandon Schauer's blog
As with Zhivko’s talk, this was another talk that wasn’t quite as it was portrayed by the title, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Brandon Schauer’s talk was more about business modeling and how analyzing the current business method can be improved with a little thinking (and design) -ok that’s obvious ;) but his methods were nice.
I found the talk incredibly interesting -especially following my mini-series on business start-up advice, I thought this was a really well timed and interesting talk. Some of the ideas he offered were simple and to the point so you can apply them to any business, the issue I have with it though is whether I can apply it to any of my clients -I’d love to take the time to go through Miss Mays adult store and help them improve some of their business processes but they don’t have the money to invest and sadly neither do I.
I do however think that I can apply some of the concepts he was talking about to an example business which in turn could then be a starting point to discuss business improvement with clients. This however will take a little time and I think Stacey will need to be involved as this is what she’s primarily trained in. Although I love developing and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it (certainly not in the foreseeable future anyways) I am getting more and more interested in business analysis, it’s not something that I’ve really got any experience in yet (having only been in business for a few years) but perhaps one day it’s an alternative career path I can choose…
Either way, Brandon’s talk was well worth seeing and if he’s ever at a future conference I attend I’ll certainly make the effort to see him talk.
Download the slids from the Connecting Design to Real Business Value talk by Brandon Schauer
Visit Scott Guthrie's blog
For the final talk I decided to watch Scott Guthrie’s talk about WPF/E and boy what a talk it was! I almost didn’t get in as we were hearded in like cows (which was most amusing I have to be honest), the woman stopped me right on the entrance -I think much to Julian Voelcker’s delight as he’d managed to get a seat. Luckily though the women on the doors (yes women -not burly bouncers!) took pity on us poor, desperate geeks in admiration of some Yank they didn’t know and let us line the sides of the auditorium -which meant I ended up getting a front row (floor) seat.
The talk was one of those “look at what’s coming” type talks but with a twist, it was something that I can see being of real use -and more than that gave you the urge to try it out. WPF/E looks like a really exciting new technology -even if Julian does think it’s just the same as Flash. As I don’t particularly like flash I think this will be a nice introduction to our development arsenal. That and the possibilities are far greater than those offered by Flash -especially where data interaction is involved.
Scott Guthrie did show an impressive demo of WPF/E which can be seen at www.vista.si -it’s one of those “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing” moments, the site is basically a replica (working replica) of Windows Vista -but on the web. It even works with Firefox!
The interesting point that I picked up on is their method of rolling out the WPF/E platform to users, rather than offering the usual Windows Update installer, it sounds as though it’s all going to be done in the same way the flash play is -a small (1.1MB IIRC) file will be downloaded the first time you visit a site that requires WPF/E and that’s it!
I do have concerns over the accessibility of WPF/E but Scott Guthrie did assure us that later versions of WPF/E will be made more accessible. At the end of the day however, I guess it’s just the same situation as entirely flash sites -those that want to offer them, have to offer an accessible alternative (and as Bruce Lawson pointed out -NO, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE UGLY!).
It was also nice to see Scott Guthrie talk as there are so many blog posts around the net talking about how they saw him, now I can say that I’ve seen him talk -somewhat sad but hey!
The slides aren’t yet online but I’m sure Scott Guthrie will upload them to the Scott Guthrie's presentations page soon enough!
I always take a conference as a whole -there’s always going to be at least one talk which isn’t quite what you expected, if you can come away with at least one nugget of information that you didn’t have before -or- with a little of that zest for doing what you do back again it was well worth attending. In this case I got a real buzz out of most of the talks and have plenty of things to try out -now I just need to find the time!
And if all that wasn’t enough to get your juices going and wanting to do some more development, I (I think for the first time ever) won something in the raffle -I was in the queue hoping for the book on accessibility by Bruce Lawson but actually won a years subscription to ComponentArt’s Web.UI component set -I’m well chuffed at that, now I just need to find somewhere to use them!! Oh, I shouldn't forget the free copy of Microsoft Expression Web we were given, and the T-Shirts and, and... :D
I did get to meet up with a few people off the MsWebDev list but sadly not all -Mickey, I’ll have to say hi next time. The one thing that did amaze me was how long the lunch was, I don’t recall any of the DDD events being that long.
If you went and you’ve not already done so, you should go and leave feedback on the event -it’s the only way they can improve it ;) so go leave your feedback on WebDD (http://webdd.co.uk/Feedback.aspx). Apparently you can also review it on the back network site (http://webdd.backnetwork.com/reviews/editreview.aspx
If you missed out on WebDD 1, hopefully there’ll be a WebDD 2, I’ll post any news I have as soon as I have it -for my one blog reader that is :)
Tuesday, January 16, 2007 6:01:33 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Before Christmas we pitched to develop a web site for a friends new idea, we didn't get the project sadly. However last night I got a mailer stating that it was launched so in an effort to help the site get into the rankings a little more and to show no hard feelings (GRRR) I thought I'd post a link here :)
Good luck Filip and Kon! I hope it works out for you.
The mailer he sent out is too wide to fit on here sadly but here's the spiel (typos and all :P)!
We are proud to announce the launch of Allmightys.com and would like to welcome you to our homepage
We at Allmightys.com want YOUR ideas and designs!
We want to print them on high quality, comfortable and sweat-shop free T-shirts and we want
YOU to take credit for them and make some money too!
Did you ever want that special T-shirt but could never find anything similar to buy?
Do you ever look at other T-shirts and think that you could do so much better?
Do you want to see other people wearing your design as they walk past you?
Enter our Launch Competition 2007
Please sign up, send us your design and we will get the public to decide how great it truly is!
Deadline for submissions is 15th February 2007 (11pm GMT)
Thats only a month away, so get on it!
Once we have collected all the designs we will launch our online voting process
where you and your friends can vote for your favourites. The top three designs win and get sold...
You will recieve € 2 (gold), € 1 (silver) or € 0.50 (bronze) for every t-shirt we sell with your design on it!
Once we have collected all the designs we will launch our online voting process
where you and your friends can vote for your favourites. The top three designs win and get sold...
You will recieve € 2 (gold), € 1 (silver) or € 0.50 (bronze) for every t-shirt we sell with your design on it!
So dont waste any time and visit Allmightys.com NOW!
If you want to see how it works, click here...
If you want to know more about us, click here...
If you want to comment, click here..
Allmightys.com is brought to you by:
Filip Visnjic is a qualified architect currently working on some physical internet installations for a bar and art gallery in Hackney Central, London. He is also involved in a number of other web based projects. He is a director at WAG and also teaches architecture at the University of Westminster on degree, diploma and MA courses as well as on the BA Art and Design course at Central St. Martins School of Art and Design.
He is married, lives in North London and loves everything electronic that goes beep.
Konstantin von Berg is a qualified architect and works for a number of different practices. He is currently involved in the design of a small hotel in Berlin. He also freelances as a graphic designer, working all aspects of corporate identity development, layout and print stuff. He travels frequently between Berlin and London thanks to low cost airlines.
He lives in Berlin and loves contemporary art and comic books.
Dimitri Raab is the one who takes care of the finances. He also works as an accountant for an art gallery and a designer furniture store in Berlin besides being a fan of Hertha BSC, the local heroes.
He is married, lives in Berlin and loves Ska and punk rock.
The designs are printed in Berlin on T-Shirts made by American Apparel.
All rights reserved Allmightys.com 2007
50% off at Yo! Sushi
Saturday, January 13, 2007 5:34:54 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
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:
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!
40% discount voucher for the Threshers Group
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 10:40:21 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
For those of you who like to dabble in a little festive cheer, I thought I’d share this 40% discount voucher for the Threshers Group. The main catch is you’re only allowed to spend £500 at a time –best get that printer started…
Download the 40% discount voucher for the Threshers Group.
The voucher is valid until 10th December 2006
Update: If you're looking for some naughty fun this Christmas, check out the Miss Mays Adult Store discount voucher
Time Breakdown of Modern Web Design
Saturday, November 04, 2006 12:12:12 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
After the fun and games we had with IE and sorting out an old CSS design for www.technikfloor.co.uk on Friday when I saw this pie chart I thought it was an excellent summary of a modern web designer’s life.
Personally I feel my Teal coloured slice is smaller but hey!
Originally posted at: http://www.dangerouslyawesome.com/2006/07/02/throwing-a-wobbly/
Thursday, October 12, 2006 5:09:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
As some of you know, we’re selling our lovely house 68 Campbell St (www.68campbellst.co.uk). The house has served us well in the past as there’s an office at the rear of the property that we can run the business from and plenty of room for all my CD’s and Stacey’s shoes.
We’ve also found our next place and all was progressing fine until the other day (now a couple of weeks ago) we were called and told that the buyers had pulled out just before the point of exchange. Obviously they’re perfectly at right to do so but man it’s got my back up. We’ve done all the surveys on the next house, sorted all the legal mumbojumbo and were ready to complete within a week, that left us nearly at square one.
A couple of weeks have now passed and luckily we’re in a position to keep this place to rent it out and still buy the next house which is great news, but if you’re out there reading this, you’re really lost out on a lovely house and I just don’t believe the excuse “It’s an old property” –well der!
I feel sorry for anyone else out there who has been gazumped, I hope it all worked out for you in the end.
Giant Bug Invades Germany
Friday, September 29, 2006 9:08:57 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I was sent this link by Craig this morning, it's most ammusing and yet another reason not to goto Germany... :)
It got me wondering how they take these photos, I always assumed it was digital sent down to NASA (or similar) but having an in-focus insect on the shot is most intreging, even if it was crawling across during post-processing it would be black and not in focus.
Perhaps there really is a 50m bug in Germany, or perhaps it's just another rouse like the guy that wrote f**k in the field.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006 12:32:15 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ok, I've just had the chance to go through the photos we sent off to the printers and organise them for the photo album. For now I've left the photos on my old photo album
but it works so... :)
Enjoy these Thailand Photoshttp://www.thesitedoctor.co.uk/photoalbum/default.aspx?fld=photos/Thailand~Photos~2006_07_07_22
Don't forget to read the articles about our trip, I've still got to complete the ones about Bangkok but the rest are online now :)
Oh and I also post-dated another article I wrote before leaving but didn't have the chance to post: The
scourge of Google and public facing blogs
Over the next few weeks I'm going to get the rest of the articles I've written online so don't forget to check the archives.
Friday, July 21, 2006 8:59:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Taking the type of hotels we’ve been staying in into account, you would have thought the staff would be the money grabbing, impolite and thoughtless type you so commonly meet in the UK, but something’s changed since the last time I stayed in a hotel. No-one seems willing to accept a tip which has really amazed me. I don’t tip all the time but I like to tip where I think it’s due i.e. good service/food at a restaurant or a helpful bell boy. But every time I’ve tried it’s been refused.
The first time was in the Renaissance (Marriott) just outside Heathrow Airport, the bell boy came quickly, was helpful carrying the bags to/from the room and was gentle when transferring the bags so, being in the holiday mood I offered a tip but he just gestured no, shook his head and walked away, leaving me with my jaw to the ground. Then, again at the Hilton in Hua Hin the same thing happened.
I’m not sure why they’re not accepting tips but I expect it’s got something to do with some T&C’s in their contract. Interestingly though I was left feeling rather bad –not for refusing the cocky git who’s waiting for a tip “filling out some paperwork” but because I offered. Still it beats not tipping
Then when we went out for our first dinner I noticed something interesting, at the bottom of the menu in small print there were two lines: “All prices are subject to a 10% service charge” and “All prices are excluding government tax at 7%”. Automatically including a “service charge” is one of my pet hates, to me it’s like saying “we know we’re not good enough to earn a tip on our service so we’ll just take it anyways”. Normally it’s optional but how many people ask to have it back…?
Over the two weeks we were in Thailand I noticed it was a standard thing, some places included this additional 17% in their prices, others just added it on at the end. It’s certainly an interesting concept –and one I hope doesn’t start here too. It’s a shame imho that they feel they have to force a tip on you like that when we’d generally leave one if the service wasn’t appalling. Then again I can hardly moan, most meals were under £5 with drinks for two people including the tip…
Then we went to the Marriott in Bangkok. As soon as we pulled up it felt different. The atmosphere was far colder (not heat wise), very clinical and business like. It’s clearly a hotel that the business men visit on their trips. Having spent the last 11days having our tips refused it was a shock when we were back to the usual bell boy standing in the doorway filling out some “paper work”. This time however I ignored him and he got the hint –clearly the difference in clientele. The service charge still applies in Bangkok though, so it must be a nationwide agreement…
Final Thoughts on the Hilton
Wednesday, July 19, 2006 8:55:17 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've not yet had the chance to stay in a large number of up market hotels but the Hilton at Hua Hin has to be my favourite to date. Location aside, the atmosphere, generosity (in not only the room size but also service) and the facilities are second to none. I seem to recall being told that the UK and Worldwide Hilton groups were separate but from what I’ve seen of the UK ones they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
I liked pretty much everything at the Hilton, the service was always there when you needed it but it was unobtrusive, the food was excellent (we ate there a few times) and surprisingly inexpensive and the cleanliness was top notch.
I really don’t think I can fault it. Having spoken to a couple of other visitors who were on the excursions I think we had the best hotel location-wise too, it was right on the beach (not that you wanted to go onto the beach too much as it wasn’t that great and it was crawling with salesmen), had plenty of space allowing you to get away from the hustle and bustle when you needed to and the fact that nearly every Hua Hin attraction was within a 10min walk or 5min tuk tuk ride just tops it all.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Hua Hin’s local brewery was onsite and served up some cracking food and the beer was, well, very tasty!
If you’re ever considering visiting Hua Hin I would defiantly recommend the Hilton, some places may be cheaper but they’re miles away and some even charge you to be transported to and from Hua Hin –around 400Baht (just over £5 atm) so save your money and live it up!
Monday, July 17, 2006 8:59:11 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
When we first arrived, Todtoo –our tour rep had mentioned there was a “Monkey Mountain” in Hua Hin and after the disappointment of the waterfall, Stacey and I decided to plan our own excursion –after all, we could see it from our window, how hard could it be to get there?
We decided that rather than walking it (in hindsight it really was quite a trek so I’m glad we didn’t) we caught a Tuk Tuk. It took about 20mins to get there but what a place. Winding up the hill in what can only be described as a tin can spluttering black smoke we caught our first glimpse of the monkeys, a few were sitting next to a womans house looking a little bored.
When we were dropped off, we couldn’t see any monkeys, but instead there was a large flight of steps up to a temple1. Figuring the monkeys must be found up there we started our assent.
The temple was somewhat plain compared to some of the temples we’ve been visiting on our trip, but the views2 were breath taking, you could see for miles. I’m glad that I took the binoculars too as it meant we could see right out to sea and, more importantly, spot the monkeys which were at the bottom of the temple! The monkeys were playing all over the roof tops3 and creating a terrible racket but it was fun to watch.
Feeling a little toyed with we wandered back down, only to be greeted by a monkey sitting on a tin roof4 and quickly realised that the monkeys gathered outside the local monkey feeding house. They’re curious creatures, and the likeness to humans is very obvious when you feed them. First we bought some bananas and the monkeys would take them gently5 and peel them –just like we do. If they wanted more than they had been given they would pull at your trouser leg until you offered another banana6.
After the bananas ran out, we got a packet of peanuts to see what they did with those. Again they de-shelled the nuts and ate the nice insides. It’s amazing to watch and something I doubt I’ll ever forget –beats the monkey sanctuary hands down!
The woman in the food stall also had a baby monkey7 which we think had its mother killed. It was tiny and she let it climb over me, he was a cheeky little fellow too, at one point he climbed into the little bucket of peanuts I had and proceeded to de-shell his feast –much to the annoyance of his peers8!
The World’s largest waterfall
Sunday, July 16, 2006 8:58:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ok so perhaps that is a slight overstatement. As with the lady boy show and elephant trekking, I’ve always felt that swimming in the plunge pool below a huge cascading waterfall is something that you’ve just got to do so when the offer of a trip to the Paulo Waterfalls came around both Stacey and I jumped at the opportunity. After visiting a pineapple plantation1 (btw did you know they grew on knee high bushes?) we finally arrived.
We’d already been told about the 30min trek through the jungle to the waterfalls which was something I was really looking forward to –not being able to go off for 6months backpacking this was the closest I was going to get to it. After wandering along a dirt track for about 3mins we stopped as another crowd of visitors threw fish food into the water. The fish were going mad for it2, some looked like they would even beach themselves for the food!
After taking a bunch of photos and videos of the water/fish we were ready to move on but the guide didn’t look as though she was going anywhere so, while wandering along the shoreline I jokingly told Stacey that this was it… little to my knowledge and to my disappointment, I was actually right.
It turned out that the night before there had been massive rainstorms which meant that the bridge3 had been washed away (when I say bridge I mean a single plank that was in two pieces on the shore). We were gutted. Had I thought about it at the time I would have swam across the river (it wasn’t going that fast) and continued on. Instead, we returned back to the hotel.
Saturday, July 15, 2006 8:54:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I like Birthdays; I think they’re important –even if you don’t want to admit you’re another year older I still feel it’s important to celebrate the event even if it’s just by taking the day off. This is a mentality that I hope to spread through my company as it expands, having the Birthdays as the equivalent of a bank holiday –a little unusual I realise but why should you have to sacrifice a day of annual leave? Anyway, I digress.
Last year (2005) I had a superb celebration at home with friends and family, the year before (2004) I was whisked away for my first trip to Alton Towers courtesy of Stacey, the year before (2003) that (my 21st) I had a party in Cornwall, playing paintball at The Wargame Company etc. Each year there’s been something to remember (hopefully not just for me but everyone else involved). This year it was Thailand which was enough for me. The Hilton and Stacey however had other ideas.
On returning to our room after a very enjoyable morning of sunbathing (there is indeed a hint of sarcasm there as, for those of you who know me well know I don’t do sunbathing, but I felt it was something I had to do because the plethora of excursions we’ve been doing meant that Stacey hadn’t had a chance to fry herself yet… -that’s dedication for you lads!), there was a cake waiting for us on our room’s table! This was completely unexpected, at first I thought it was something Stacey had arranged but she denied it, then we thought it was mum, but on calling reception we found out it was something that they had arranged! I thought that really was going above and beyond the call of duty, no other hotel we’ve stayed in has ever done that –very impressed.
In the evening, we went to the restaurant on the 17th floor for a Chinese dinner, what a view! At night, the surrounding area is lit up like a Christmas tree. All the local fishing boats sit on the horizon with their lamps on making a small chain along the horizon, it really is breath-taking.
In-case the cake wasn’t enough, on returning from the restaurant, the maid had prepared the beds as she did every other night but this time she also left about 20 chocolates and a birthday note on the bed as well as a little present –an elephant keyring! I know it’s a tad corny but I think it’s a really nice touch.
Hua Hin Night Market
Friday, July 14, 2006 8:58:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Suitable intoxicated after the Thai Show we wandered through the local night market. Basically a night market is just a bunch of stores in a main road (which is closed off to cars). It’s a great experience, people are so friendly and you can really get into bartering for your goods –if you don’t get 50% off you’re a looser!
We didn’t spend too long looking around the night market on the first visit because it was already late when we got out of the show but we went back several nights running later. You can get pretty much any item you like from a night market, I was trying to talk Stacey into letting me buy a set of throwing knives, a set of death stars or one of those extending truncheons the police use over here but she was having none of it!
We did however get some really cool stuff, present buying is a doddle when you’re in a night market. I think we spent most of our money in the night markets over the holiday.
The Hua Hin Thai Show
Friday, July 14, 2006 8:58:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This was to be our first encounter with the notorious Thai lady boys, it was an odd occasion to say the least! We caught our first Tuk Tuk of the holiday to the show –and made it! For 450Baht each you can have dinner and a show (that’s about £6 FYI).
We weren’t quite sure what to expect but there was a stage set back from the eating area where it would all be revealed. After a while the music changed from what sounded like recordings of a Japanese karaoke night to the some Thai classic and out they came. I’m not sure I really agree with the statement that they’re stunning because many of them actually looked like men but the odd one or two had had enough surgery to look lady-esque.
The show was similar to the one we saw at the Rose Gardens featuring a variety of traditional dances –more often than not preformed to a UK backing track from someone like Celine Dion. At one point they came out onto the grassy area just in front of our seats and even into the audience, sitting on the lap of one or two spectators which was amusing. One of them had the most concerning makeup on it was hilarious, I’m really not sure what he/she was thinking!
After the show the “girls” come and mingle with the spectators, allowing you to get a load of embarrassing photos of your mate. I think we both left thinking what a bizarre turn tourism had made the locals take.
However you look at it though, they’re still wrong on so many levels. I spent the whole show thinking how disturbing it was to think what they’d gone through. Still, you’ve got to see it if you’re in Thailand!
Hua Hin Silk Farm and Tailored Suits
Friday, July 14, 2006 8:57:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
One thing that I wanted to do when visiting Thailand was have a suit made. I’d heard a lot about how you could have a suit made for £75 which sounded like a bargain to me! There’s a plethora of tailors along the various streets but we’d been recommended the local silk farm/tailor shop which not only tailors your suits but also shows you how the silk is harvested.
It’s an impressive setup, first they show you have the silk is produced using age-old techniques they boil the silk work cocoons1 which entices the work to put out the tiny thread of silk which is then wound together to make a single thread. If I remember/understood rightly the woman said each thread consists of 100 threads from the worms!
Once you’ve been shown how the silk is produced you’re shown you how to tell the difference between the cheap suits and proper cashmere/silk suits. Basically you have to burn the material, if it goes out and smells of hair it’s real though I don’t see Next letting me do that… there are other things to look out for (all of which are present in my current suit collection) but you get what you pay for! The suits should be ready on Monday (2.5days tailor time…)
Thursday, July 13, 2006 8:56:45 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
One thing Stacey and I both agreed when booking the holiday was the fact that we wanted to go elephant trekking -it’s a must when going to Thailand imho and to my surprise Stacey agreed. We rolled up to the elephant place1 and I was a little dubious about it but as soon as we started trekking that disappeared.
Having ridden horses in the past I thought it would be similar a similar motion but it’s not at all. First of all you have to climb up a little tower to get onto the seats (they wouldn’t let me pull on its ear to get up…). On top there’s a seat large enough for two people and a massive seat belt (not something that you’re used to seeing in cars in Thailand so it was a touch surprising on the elephant ). Once you’re strapped in you’re off.
Sadly because it was high tide we wouldn’t have the opportunity to go into the river on the elephant but we soon realised that was probably for the best. The ride is somewhat uncomfortable and you soon learn not to sit back into the seat as the elephant almost lollops along.
We trundled up some dirt track and past the car park and into a field which was where they grew the food. The elephant’s not a particularly quick animal but it gets there in the end, it was really funny because as he went along the track he was grabbing the vegetation and munching away2.
At one point the mahout (elephant driver) climbed off and offered to take some photos while I took control3. They sit on the back of the elephant’s neck and it’s really soft. They steer by pulling/pushing on the elephant’s ear mostly. Anyone that think’s its cruel has never been on an elephant trek. It was awesome but at the same time worrying thinking that I was in command of the elephant (in reality he wasn’t going to go anywhere as he was far too busy finding interesting stuff to eat!! I tried to get Stacey to have a go but she was having none of it.
After a little while the mahout turned his back which was the opportunity the elephant had been waiting for, she started wandering off to find more luscious greenery to eat. I have to admit I was in fits of laughter at this stage as there wasn’t a lot we could do other than hold on and hope for the best. He didn’t get far though as they’re surprisingly obedient –stopping almost as soon as she was shouted at by the mahout.
Then the real fun started, when the mahout got back on to take us home the elephant decided she wanted to eat some more and started wandering into the crop. This was something the mahout clearly didn’t want but the elephant was ignoring all commands to the contrary. It got to the point where the mahout stuck the pointy stick in the elephant’s ear, this looks worse on TV than in real life, I don’t think it hurts the elephant as such, it’s more an irritation. To elephant’s response was to start bucking his head which just made us laugh even more. When the elephant was full we carried on our merry way with a mouthful of food for the journey.
With the odd stop off along the way to get more supplies we did make it back to the camp after going down an impressively steep slope –the sort you get to and think “nah we’ll not make it down that”. We even turned 90 degrees on the way down to get more food. For their size, they’re very manoeuvrable.
As with our elephant show from yesterday I can’t say it was something I was overly looking forward to, I think it’s a little cruel to make a creature that size perform handstands and the like. None-the-less we were there so there was no point in missing it.
The show consisted of a baby elephant4 doing a variety of tricks, my favourite of which was when it took 20Baht from the spectators and took it to “shop” to buy some bananas. It then brought them back and waited for you to feed them to it. That worked the first time, however when Stacey did it, the elephant decided it was going to eat them before giving them back –much to our amusement.5
For those of you who wonder how they transport the food, I took this photo:
Bridge over the river Kwai
Thursday, July 13, 2006 8:56:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I have to confess that I’ve not knowingly watched the film, I knew a little about the history behind the bridge but beyond the fact that the Yanks tried to blow it up a fair few times I didn’t know a great more.
I’m glad we went on the trip, we had planned to stay in an authentic “old-skool” riverside hotel but there weren’t enough people for the trip so we did the one-day trip instead. Firstly we went to the JEATH war museum which documented the historical side of the war and included numerous photos, article cuttings and memories of the POW camps. It was pretty shocking but also fascinating.
One of the old POW’s had painted several of his memories of his time at the camp including the tortures they were subjected to, meeting the locals and a variety of sicknesses they had. It’s difficult to know what to say/think when you’re looking around a place like that, it was a truly terrible time and one can only hope it never happens again. On a lighter note though, the spelling of some of the captions were just comical I had to try very hard not to laugh. Some had been updated but they still had things like “A lot of men diwed when making the wailway” –they really do write how they speak. Sadly you’re not allowed to photograph inside the museum otherwise I would have got some examples.
After looking around the JEATH museum we were jetted up the river on another long tailed boat, this is our second longtailed boat so we knew it was going to be fun. Arriving very windswept, you disembark the boat just below the bridge itself. The one that’s standing now is a replacement bridge, the original bridge is about 100m below and is now only an opening on either side of the river. Original or not, it didn’t stop Stacey and I wandering across it. When a train comes, you simply have to dive out of the way as it makes its way across the bridge1.
The river is a good 20m below you2 but it feels a lot further away when you’re in the middle. For those of you who haven’t been in the middle of a river before (on or off a bridge) it acts like a funnel and the wind rockets down so 20m above the water with the wind trying to push you off is fun…
After visiting the bridge we went to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery where around 8,000 soldiers are commemorated3, it’s an odd place with a lot of small headstones along the ground, each the same small and plain. We didn’t manage to get around even half of the British section but we saw a large number of names we recognised, whether they’re relations to our friends or not we’re yet to find out. Unbelievably, and bearing in mind it’s a cemetery people still insisted on stepping over the headstones!
After the cemetery we went on the railway which still runs! The train4 winds around the Cliffside on a precarious wooden structure and along the riverside, it’s most impressive to think that it was built so long ago and is still a vital part of the local community –sometimes good things can come from such horror. One thing I loved about the train was the fact you could jump off pretty much wherever you liked, no automated doors etc dangerous yes but so much more thrilling5.
Damnoensaduak Floating Market
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 8:58:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
On the way to the market we stopped off at a demonstration of how coconut sugar is made –I have to admit I never knew there was such a thing! It turns out they use the coconut for all sorts of uses -not only as a tasty drink but paper, soap, fuel, sugar and even eating paraphernalia (bowls). After being shown how they extract the various parts1 they need we were allowed to wander off to look around the Orchid farm2 which was full of various creatures and plant life, most intriguingly baring in mind we were inland –crabs3?!
After a relentless drive and learning all about how coconuts are one of the most diverse and used “fruits” grown in Thailand we got to the long tailed boat that would be transporting us along the river to the Damnoensaduak floating market.
The long tailed boats4 are great fun; basically just an oversized canoe with a huge engine bolted on and a mission to scare the hell out of the tourists. TBH though I loved it, every stretch of canal she could, our driver opened the throttle full whack which left us leaping off the wash of the boats in front and slicing through reed and all sorts –it was just like being in my kayak again*!
After about 30 minutes of weaving past houses on stilts5, men in rice fields and the odd building site6, we finally saw the first glimpses of the floating market. At first sight it didn’t look anything more than a few houses which opened onto the canalside and the odd old woman paddling around with a canoe of pineapples7 but that was just the start.
Just before we moored, we passed the main body of the floating market and it really is as colourful and vibrant as all the photos make out. Full of every colour of the rainbow imaginable it’s an incredible sight to behold8. Our first port of call was a huge warehouse type building full of little stalls selling the locally produced trinkets.
There’s two sides to the floating market at Damnoensaduak, the first is aimed primarily at tourists and is more expensive, the other is for the locals9 and has a lot of fresh produce including coconuts, pineapples, papaya and guava to name but a few. To get to the other side you have to battle your way through a small tunnel which is lined either side with yet more stalls –I’m sure this was done to trap the unsuspecting tourists. You’re grabbed from the left and right and offered all sorts of weird and wonderful items, I had to make Stacey go in front after an old woman with vice like grip got hold of her without me knowing.
The photos we got of the floating market really don’t do it justice, in all I would say there were only about 50 boats on the water but the canal was bursting at the seems. Well worth checking out.
*Ok the speed side of things may not be true but it was still fun!
Rose Garden Thai Village and Culture Show
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 8:56:03 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I for one was (oddly) looking forward to seeing the Rose Garden as some of the plants and flowers we’d encountered so far on our trip were really beautiful. I can’t say I’m one for flowers generally but the colours were just so vibrant.
When we got there the first thing we were greeted with was an elephant show1. I’ve still got my reservations about these shows, I don’t think elephant riding is bad, or having them work is bad but these just make me feel sorry for the gentle giants. Admittedly I did smile at the elephants as they were made to dance but more because of how ridiculous it looked.
There was also a guy with an enormous Yellow Boa Constrictor which you could be photographed with for about 100Baht –not something Stacey was too interested in oddly!
As it turned out, we weren’t there for the gardens but instead the Thai culture show they put on. As interesting as it was Stacey and I just couldn’t help but laugh at some of the acts that were put on. The first was a man demonstrating one of the nations games called “Rattan”2. Basically it was an old guy (apparently one of Thailand’s greatest players) playing keepy-uppy with a loosely woven ball. It wasn’t until later we found out how this could possibly be a game but there you go. The grand finale featured the guy holding about 8 balls off the ground –Beckham watch out!
After he left you’re then taken through a story which depicts various aspects of Thai life:
- Thai percussion music
- Classic Thai lullaby
- Water dance (the Nagee Saran Dance)
- Harvest Dance
- Glong Sabutchai or drum practice
- Thai (kick) Boxing
- Sword and pole fighting
- Thai wedding
- Various dances including a Bamboo Dance –don’t laugh but that is actually pretty impressive
I have to admit though that we missed out on parts of the show because just after the water dance (and I kid not) the heavens opened to our first Thai rainstorm3. It was great –so much more entertaining than the show that when we had a power cut Stacey and I left to watch it. The rain was so heavy it was like a British summer, within seconds the courtyard was flooded with rain pouring out of every gutter4.
While wandering around in the rain we also saw some Thai fighting fish5 which were a really interesting shade of blue/purple when the light caught them. Each one was in its own jar with a divide between it and the next jar –I’m guessing if that’s removed they try to attack each other…
Phra Pathom Chedi
Wednesday, July 12, 2006 8:55:34 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
On the way to see Phra Pathom Chedi we stopped off in a local craft centre where they carve all sorts of interesting items out of Teak1, some of the items take months to do but look amazing when they’re done. I would have loved to buy one of their outside table and chair sets but I couldn’t afford the £10k2 price tag!
Phra Pathom Chedi is the highest stupa (a type of Buddhist structure that looks like an upside down ice cream cone) in the world with an awe-inspiring height of 127m, it’s found in the town Nakhon Pathom which is about 60km South of Bangkok. According to what Shy (our tour guide) said, the stupa has been re-tiled 3 times but each time it was on top of the previous set of tiles.
The height of the stupa3 isn’t the only thing that’s impressive, around the base of the stupa is a huge collection of Buddha in various positions from lying down to sitting4, each slightly different and with an accompanying caption. Shy (our guide) said it would take 20minutes to walk around the base of the stupa and we would see 1,000 Buddha images. I’m not sure there were quite 1,000 but it did take around 15minutes to stroll around and there were a lot of Buddha images!
We only went around the outer wall of the temple, even though I wanted to go inside we weren’t sure whether it was allowed –though a few Japanese were checking it out. Apparently inside the temple there is a huge reclining Buddha image.
While we were there a monk was chanting away at the feet of the standing Buddha image while people paid their respects by burning incense and lighting candles. According to Shy you don’t need to be a monk for life, you stay at the temple for as long as you need until you find enlightenment following their 217 rules. However, every boy has to stay at the temple for at least 2months and you can only be called a monk when you’re over 20.
It’s an interesting religion and one I could easily follow from the little that I know about it.
Sunday, July 09, 2006 9:00:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Awesome. That’s the first and pretty much the only word that really describes Thailand. Interestingly it’s also a word that I’m using a lot at the moment –the last time was after driving the RX-8.
It’s (obviously) very different from England, we’ve not really seen any of Bangkok yet (other than the airport and a seemingly never ending sea of large buildings, but Hua Hin is great. It’s got such a friendly feel to it; everyone is courteous and polite, bowing to greet you etc -superb.
The driving is somewhat hair-raising, no, that’s not strong enough, it’s terrifying, a real white knuckle ride! I spent as much of the 3hour transfer from Bangkok to Hua Hin either looking out of the window at the side or with my eyes closed. The most commonly chosen form of transport is a small scooter with at least 3 people on it, that or an open back pickup with as many people as possible crammed in. Indicators are used surprisingly but that doesn’t mean they’re going where they’re indicating. Great fun but not for the faint hearted!
Personally I don’t think the photos on the Hilton site really do it justice, it looks nice but it’s much nicer “in the flesh”. The front of the hotel is enormous with big elephant fountain heads and about 10 big glass doors with plenty of bell boys on hand to carry your baggage. On arriving, they greet you with a fruit juice drink (I think it was melon) and cool towels to freshen up and you’re left waiting for the receptionist on massive soft sofas –a far cry from the fight to talk to the receptionist in the UK!
The main area of the hotel has a huge water feature running through it, it’s almost as large as the local canal! That then flows into an inside pond which runs up to a HUGE glass wall and it then continues on the other side, down into another pool and then through a stream into the pool (on closer inspection it actually goes into a drain which runs under the pool). The pools are 3 inter-connected pools with a swim-up bar and funny island feature. The river then starts again and flows towards the beach!
All around the pool is the usual collection of sun loungers -already occupied with the traditional Germans! In addition to the sun loungers there are a number of straw roof huts on stilts for you to shelter from the sun. We’ve not had a chance to visit the restaurant yet but they look pretty nice, there’s even one on the 17th floor which Stacey’s vowed to take me to for my birthday, I imagine the views are pretty amazing.
The room is phenomenal, far more than I was expecting even though we are staying in the Hilton. Normally we’re crammed into some box room, only just large enough to slide around the edge of the bed but this room is HUGE. At a guess I think it’s 31ft long and at least 15ft wide PLUS a balcony!
The view from the balcony is pretty darn good to even though the most of it is over Hua Hin, we can see the sea/beach, Monkey Mountain and a local temple. From what we’ve seen, the Hilton is the only hotel actually close to the centre of Hua Hin, the others are about 15mins drive away.
So in short, so far it’s a massive thumbs up, if you can afford the £18pppn room cost (remember it’s buy 3 nights get 2 free too!!) I’d defiantly recommend it, beats anywhere I’ve ever stayed without a second thought and that includes the Headland Hotel!
Oh, I should have mentioned, another Thai tradition is to give the lady an Orchid -or that may just be Thai airways, still it was nice non-the-less.
Here we go...
Friday, July 07, 2006 8:54:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I expect this will be the last entry before we go, its most exciting to think that in 24hours we'll be half way around the world!
I would have thought I would be more nervous, not about flying for 11hours, going to a fairly undeveloped/deprived area or even of spending 2weeks doing nothing but I'm not. If I'm concerned about anything it's leaving the business for 2weeks but even that doesn't worry me overly as I know that although I’ve left people in charge, I can easily log into the server or emails from one of the multitude of internet cafés that apparently done the streets.
How can I leave it to its own devices? I'm not too sure tbh, I just think it’s a culmination of nearly 3years without a break, recent good news about winning new contracts and my usual flagrant attitude to business! That or it's the lesser of two evils... Either way we're off on a trip of a lifetime!
Crazy Job Advert
Friday, June 23, 2006 5:16:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sometimes you really do have to wonder what recruiters are thinking but something tells me, this guy isn’t going to get too many applicants!
Crazy Job Advert
The Advert can be seen here
Thursday, June 22, 2006 6:29:32 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Welcome to my new blog, it's something that I've been meaning to do for a while but due to "other" commitments haven't had the chance. As and when I get new things to write about I'll be adding them here.
I'm not intending this blog to be targetted at anything in specific but I hope to air ideas and concepts that pass by me.
Thailand here we come!
Friday, May 19, 2006 9:18:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So today we booked our first real holiday in about 3 years. We had planned to pop over to Cuba for a couple of weeks for my birthday as it's somewhere that caught Stacey's eye a while ago. The problem is, in Cuba July is hurricane season so when we told the travel agent that we were thinking of Cuba her face was comical. Straight away -without even letting us explain why she was advising against it and asking to know where else we'd been thinking of. We mentioned Thailand and although it's the rainy season in July she assured us that it would be far better than Cuba for a chill-out holiday.
After what seemed like an age of looking for a suitable deal on hotel, flights and everything else we managed to find a good deal and so we're off to Thailand on July 8th. I'm really looking forward to it even if I am muttering about the RX-8 more. We're flying over to Bangkok on the 8th and driving straight to Hua Hin where we're staying for 10days in the Hilton. Then we're going back to Bangkok for 3 days before returning to the UK on Friday 21st.
Photos of the hotel in Hua Hin can be viewed at: the Hilton Website or Marriott Bangkok Website.