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

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.

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%;


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.

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.

Dispatches: Watching The Detectives – Solution

Like anyone else watching Dispatches on Channel 4 tonight, I was absolutely shocked at the ease in which anyone can get hold of my personal and private information. Information such as National Insurance Number, bank account details, itemised phone bills, medical history; details which I would struggle to get access to myself.

I won’t rehash what was covered in the show, as it makes quite shocking viewing, and I wouldn’t do it justice. You should watch it for yourself. What I will offer is a solution.

The Fix

It’s simple really, and should only cost a few pennies to implement:

Send me an e-mail alert whenever my personal data is accessed on a private database. Simple.

An example: I’m on the phone to the bank. As they pull up my info, my phone will ping to let me know my data’s been accessed. If however I’m sat in Starbucks sipping coffee and my phone goes off, I can instantly see who has requested which info, and make my own mind up if I need to look into it.

Here’s some pseudo code for it:

if data requested -> send e-mail alert with date & time of access, recipient of data & details of the data requested

This wouldn’t need to change any current workflow or database access rights, and would simply ping away in the background whenever personal details are requested. I’m sure there would be loads of new job vacancies created, when those getting backhanders for handing out our private data are kicked out or jailed for misconduct.

We could even go one step further, where requests for information would be held back until you give it the all clear, but I can see how that could be more troublesome to legitimate users.

As long as there are databases full of our personal information, there will be people trying to access that information for profit. If we bring that out into the open, then nobody can lose. The data is still accessible when required, but nobody can access it without being tracked and accountable. 

How To Get Ahead? Content Is Not King

Cat Zipped

I work in a niche industry, which has 312 million results in google. We are a small company, and don’t feature prominently amongst those 312 million pages. When researching some of our competition, I have noticed something strange in the results.

Forums & Review Sites

It seems that one tactic these sites are using to generate links is to simply create them for themselves. Some start up industry review sites, with their own sites featuring prominently (read exclusively) in the results, links and adverts. Others create and administer forums which moderate and edit the information, again making sure all roads lead to their own door.

Trading As…

Another strange thing is to have loads of different company names, each with their own websites. These websites are so different that potential customers are likely to be comparing the services of what are essentially loads of the same company. For example, three of the top ten results are the same company using different names, but you wouldn’t necessarily realise that.

Is It Wrong?

I don’t actually know. I’m not sure they are actually doing much wrong here. I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with it myself, but I’m an honest sort of guy. What they are definitely not doing is creating good content. Whenever I write something on our website or blog, I make sure that it is first accurate, and second useful. If there is an opportunity to suggest one of our services, I will do so, but the content needs to stand up alone. I’m sure this means I’m missing out on some hard sell stuff here, but overall I think it keeps us trustworthy, and helps us stand out from the crowd of shouty fear mongers.

By not playing these games we often lurk around near the back of the search results, feeding from long-tail searches, where most people will never find us. Don’t worry, It’s not a problem, just an observation. I already mentioned that we are small so the long tail stuff is plenty. We already have a great service & reputation, so I don’t want to sacrifice it by chasing rankings.