Ikea ÄPPLARÖ 3 Seater Garden Sofa Hack

My girlfriend and I spent some time recently looking for some garden furniture. After what felt like months of searching, we eventually found what we wanted in Ikea. Note that they sell this on the website with beige or dark coloured cushions, but we found the nice mid-grey cushion below by going in-store. 

ÄPPLARÖ / HÅLLÖ 3-seat sofa
ÄPPLARÖ / HÅLLÖ 3-seat sofa

It’s a modular system that lets you configure the number of seats, add corner sections etc. We chose to just get two corner pieces and a middle piece to create a sofa. With the cushions on it looks great, but there was a thought niggling me when I started putting it together. They only actually make one corner section, which you can spin round and use for both ends. the problem with this can be seen below.

ÄPPLARÖ built the normal way
ÄPPLARÖ built the normal way

If you don’t see it right away I’m very jealous of you. But the way there are two seats with slats facing east / west and then one facing north / south just really hurts my eyes. Sure you can’t see it with the cushions on, but I’m going to be seeing this a lot with just the bare wood showing. [insert joke about the British weather]

Luckily I noticed this problem before I built the last section and realised that by removing 12 screws, I could swap the two sections underneath, and keep the whole thing looking nice & uniform.

ÄPPLARÖ built the hacked way
ÄPPLARÖ built the hacked way

I was honestly a little surprised that there was no mention of this anywhere, and maybe most people would just live with it the way it came. But if you’re like me and need things to be just right luckily there is a simple answer in this case.

Just swap over the two pieces of wood circled below. Make sure you get them facing out the correct way to allow the arm / backrest to screw in correctly.

ÄPPLARÖ parts to swap
ÄPPLARÖ parts to swap

Suppose I’d better add that you do all this stuff at your own risk etc, and this probably will void any warranty you might have. Basically it’s not my fault if you balls it up!

A New Header For My Data Recovery Website

As usual, when I was writing some new content for my work website, I thought I’d also add a bit of colour with a new header. It gives me a break from writing, and also helps quickly show the relevance of a page. Some of my favourite headers are actually quite obscure, so I’ve been replacing them with something a bit clearer.

For example, I wrote a blog post about migrating data to a Mac from a backup, and made a header with migrating geese. It’s a bit obscure, but migrating geese are something local to us here in Portsmouth, and also they add some interest to an otherwise text-heavy site.

Mac Migration
Mac Migration

So when I updated the Portsmouth Data Recovery page, I wanted to make sure it also had a header that would do it justice, without being too obscure. I went for a night skyline, with a few local landmarks, and a prominent star & crescent design.

Portsmouth Data Recovery
Portsmouth Data Recovery

I’m really happy with the way it turned out, and it’s given me the motivation to make a few more for other pages.

The other notable thing about these header images is they are SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) files. They look great on modern high-resolution screens like the 5K iMac, iPhones, iPads, and any other decent screen. They also work at any size without looking rough or blurry, so I don’t need to serve different images to mobile & desktop browsers.

I’ll leave you with another of my favourites…

Coffee Spill
Coffee Spill

The Problem is Not Ad-Block it’s Ads

I’ve seen a fair bit of discussion again recently against ad blockers. Even some new services to help advertisers avoid the blocks.

Scale: Intrusiveness of Ads
Scale: Intrusiveness of Ads

It may surprise tech nerds that people outside our field have no idea that ads help fund the free content we consume online. The vast majority of Facebook and YouTube users never stop to consider who pays the hosting fees for those heaps of family photos and cat videos. To these users, ads are just another unpredictable barrier to their stuff. This is especially true when ads are the pop-up, pop-under or pop-between-paragraph type of affair. They disrupt your session and demand your attention. I understand the need for ads to get seen but it’s a bad experience. It doesn’t take a huge leap from there to understand why ad-blockers are so appealing. They easily remove these annoyances at source. Pages load fast, text stops jumping up and down the page, the web works like it did in the good ole’ days. That advert for a new car you were researching stops following you around the web. It’s a massive win for users.

But here’s the thing. Small indie publishers are way down on the annoying ads scale. It’s predominantly large news sites, or blog networks that have the worst of these ads. Squeezing every last penny from their page-views, they poison the web for everyone.

Compare this ad on Marco.org:

Marco Ad

With the ads on engadget:

Engadget Ads

The discreet and relevant advertising on Marco’s site doesn’t alienate users & offends nobody. The Deck has taken this approach, and nobody would ever bother to block deck ads. Why would they? They are relevant to the sites they appear on, and don’t interrupt the experience for anyone. I assume they have a lower CTR than other ad-networks, but they respect the readers and don’t dance all over the page for attention. I expect the quality of leads from these ads is far better than AdSense for example.

Here’s the problem. Ad-block doesn’t just get rid of the awful flash ads that clutter news sites but also blocks unobtrusive ads like the deck. See the example below of the Marco & engadget pages below when using adblock. The engadget page is much improved showing the articles you came for right at the top! On the other hand, Marco’s site is hardly changed at all.

Engadget No Ads

Marco No Ad

Users will happily run ad-block and get their internets back, but the small sites lose out. They never hosted up video ads for cars or holidays, but they lose their small revenue stream thanks to the ham-fisted & heavy handed big networks. You can’t put the blame on users here. They have a tough enough time navigating the evils of the web. Blocking ads just reduces their hassle a little bit.

Update 22-6-2015

On Friday after I posted this article I later saw that John Gruber had basically said the same thing as me in one succinct paragraph. Smart guy.

Better Business Cards

When I ran out of business cards recently, I didn’t just want to get more cold white cards printed. I wanted something that I’d actually want to give out to people. Something a bit fun, but still useful.

Better Business Cards
Better Business Cards

After hearing about moo.com through photographer friends, I decided to give them a try. After using a bunch of other printers in the past I immediately liked how simple their online system was. But it was a killer feature that made me choose them for this project. They call it printfinity, and it allows you to choose as many different designs for the reverse of your card as you like. This is great for artists to show off their designs, like a small pocket portfolio, but how could it be useful for me? I work in data recovery so a bunch of photos of hard drives would hardly be appealing.

After trying a few ideas, I came up with the idea of making a range of battle cards. On one side is contact details like a normal business card, but on the other side is one of ten different battle cards. Each card has a simple hard drive graphic and then a series of stats that can be used to battle with. The hard drives are chosen to be vague representations of infamous hard drives, so true geeks may be able to identify some of them.

So now, when we send out a package we slip in a battle card. If it hangs around on a faraway desk for a while instead of getting chucked straight in a drawer, then maybe it’s a good idea. At least, that’s the plan.

Old Vintage Eddie Merckx Racer Bottom Bracket Replacement

Eddie Merckx Racer
Eddie Merckx Racer

There’s not much info about these old bikes, so I thought this was worth a quick post.

The bike in question is an Eddie Merckx “Tour De France. ” Not sure how old, but it has friction shifters, 10 gears and is made of solid old steel.

After suffering with a wobbly bottom bracket (ooh er…), my mate John decided to replace the BB and solve the problem for good. We had heard that you can swap out the old bearings and races with a modern sealed unit and enjoy years of maintenance free cycling.

After a bit of searching, we found a Shimano BB with 68mm diameter, 127mm spindle length that we thought could do the job. It worked a treat, but there were a few things worth noting.

  • One side is reverse threaded so you turn it clockwise to undo it.
  • Be really careful with the threads as they could easily be trashed if you don’t line things up and screw carefully.
  • You will probably need a Shimano tool to tighten the new BB into place. It looks like a normal socket, but with deep ridges on the outside.
  • You may also need a “hub puller” tool to get the pedals off the spindles.

I will follow up soon with some photos of the hub puller and Shimano tool. Also maybe some links and model numbers. 🙂

Twenty Fourteen Single Post Page Secondary Menu Disappears

After ironing out some issues with my Twenty Fourteen Child Theme, I found another one. This one is not really a bug, as it is quite deliberate, but it was still a problem for my needs. When viewing a single post page, the secondary menu in the left sidebar is not visible. The menu is visible on other pages, and on the overall blog page. Again, I’m not sure why this was chosen behaviour, but there is a float left and negative margin that pushes the menu off the edge of the screen.

On line 3596 I changed the following:

#secondary {
 background-color: transparent;
 border: 0;
 clear: none;
 float: left;
 margin: 0 0 0 -100%;
 min-height: 100vh;
 width: 122px;
 }

To:

#secondary {
 background-color: transparent;
 border: 0;
 clear: none;
 position:absolute;
 min-height: 100vh;
 width: 122px;
 }

So far, this seems to have reinstated the menu, but I’ve yet to test this much yet. There is a chance it may cause trouble under certain conditions. I will see if it causes issues on a full-width page, and check the other media queries for knock-on issues.

Twentyfourteen Sidebar Bug

After updating to WordPress 3.8 I was keen to give the new Twenty Fourteen theme a try. I’ve been using a modified twenty eleven theme forever so thought a change would do me good! Within an hour I had changed the default green accent colour to match our company blue, made sure our contact-form plugins still worked, and got everything looking perfect on my testing site. My pointer hovered over the Publish button, but I decided to give it a quick check on the iPad. Just in case.

It looked great. The responsive layout was beautifully readable, and everything looked fresh and new. There was a slight, but game-stopping problem though.

The Content Sidebar Became Unclickable!

Some of the media queries that control the responsive layout had clashed and caused widgets within the content-sidebar to become unclickable at certain viewport sizes. In my case this was the contact form we have on every page, so losing the ability to fill the form is pretty bad news! I checked on the desktop version of Safari and found the same problem if I reduced the window to approximate iPad size. I couldn’t replicate the problem in Firefox at all.

For reference I was able to find the culprit. Two lines of CSS.

On line 3186 I changed width:100%; to width:66.66666666%;

On line 3192 I changed margin-right: 33.33333333%; to width:100%;

This fixed the unclickable problem, but caused a bit of overlap elsewhere with another media query so:

On line 3578 I changed:

margin-left: -29.04761904%;
width: 29.04761904%;

to:

margin-left: -25%;
width: 25%;

Remember that changing the live-version of the theme is a bad idea, as the changes can get overwritten by theme updates. I changed it in my child-theme instead.

I’m pretty sure this breaks a bunch of conventions that were used in the development of the theme (I hated changing the specific -29.04761904% to a generic -25%) , but it works for now, and that’s what matters. I couldn’t find the correct place to post theme-related bugs to WordPress, so have posted it here for posterity. I will probably have a look at fixing this more cleanly soon, as I suspect there is a quicker fix that I’m not seeing. Especially as this doesn’t seem a problem on Firefox. z-index maybe?

Dropbox Time Machine

It just occurred to me that working from a dropbox sync’d folder has a couple of hidden benefits that I’d not really considered before. When I’m working on something between work and home, I often stick it on my dropbox and work from there. This means I have the newest files waiting for me when I get home. What I hadn’t considered is how this whole thing gets backed up. (Don’t trust the cloud to keep backups for you!)

Enter Time Machine

At work I have a Time Capsule which is always backing up my laptop. By default this means it is making backups of my dropbox folder. I can do all the fancy document revision stuff exactly like I can with any other folder on my Mac, and this is where the fun begins. At home, I run another Time Machine drive to backup my iMac. By default this is also making backups of my dropbox folder. Do you see where this is going?

Multiple offsite backups.  That’s where! All the files in my dropbox end up in five places: Dropbox, MacBook Pro at work, iMac at home, Time Machine at home, and Time Capsule at work. Now that’s a cool way to backup. (See the graphic)

Dropbox Time Machine
Dropbox Time Machine

There is something important that needs to be noted here. I’m not storing anything crucial like customer data on dropbox, just design files and draft blog posts etc. If I was, I would secure and encrypt my home iMac and backups too. (I do anyway. Paranoid much!) This is fine, but it’s important to make sure you know of any potential holes that could leak company data.

It’s probably worth mentioning that I work for a small company. You’re unlikely to be allowed to dropbox your corporate company data around the globe for obvious reasons.

Although I’m using a Mac here, this could be tweaked a bit to work in Windows too. You just need a scheduled backup service at each end.

Platonic Male Handholding: It’s Your Right

Platonic Male Handholding
Platonic Male Handholding

In other parts of the world, it is not unusual to see two friends taking a stroll, hand in hand. In Vietnam for example, two young guys could be walking around a lake, holding hands, and talking about Manchester United. Nobody bats an eye. Nobody cares. And why should they.

When I was at primary school, it would be perfectly normal to walk down the long corridor to the library holding the hand of my best mate. It was nice. It didn’t hurt anyone.

But now if I decided to walk through town holding hands with my best mate, I don’t think I could get very far before jeers and jibes started flying my way. I’m not talking about snogging a guy in public. Just holding hands.

It’s got out of hand (pun intended). That’s why I’m starting a campaign to bring back platonic male handholding. Share the poster around, and spread the word.

Jack of All Trades

Jack Of All TradesThere is an old saying, “Jack of all trades. Master of none.” It is often said in a derogatory way, but I actually see it as a necessary and positive part of working in a small team. Everyone has to get stuck in and pull their weight. This can mean branching out into unfamiliar territory, but you retain control, and get to learn something new along the way. Variation keeps things interesting and as a result you feel less like a cog in a machine and can directly see the fruits of your labour.

One of the best parts of my job is when I can speak to a client at an initial phone call, and then see the job right through to the end from start to finish, instead of passing it from department to department. This would be impossible in a large organisation so we should celebrate being the multi skilled workers we are. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to service.

It does mean there’s little chance to sit back and relax, because there is always some office admin to do, or a PC to fix, but it really makes the day go faster.