Era of Ephermera

(Inspired by Paul Jarvis’ ‘The Next Big Thing’ email blog)

We live in an Era of Ephemera, small titbits of content or nuggets of joy which last temporarily before dissolving, replaced by the next in rapid succession.

Trending hashtags, Snapchats, Viral videos: content is everywhere, but ultimately disposable. Have we reached peak content? Is there now more content than we could ever hope to assume?


In his talk at the Content Marketing Academy 2016 last week in Edinburgh, Mark Schaefer outlined how the quantity of data (specifically on the internet), will increase 500% by 2020 and that right now, content consumption sits at (on average) 10 hours of content per person, per day and growing. This is an unsustainable amount of content to consume, yet we continue to produce it, with the potential audience shrinking day by day. We also continue to consume, even if the amount of content available to us is limitless and overwhelming.

With so much content, how does one even begin to stand out? If you want to create content to communicate with your audience, you need to ‘be more human’.

Put a face, a real name to your content and avoid corporate swill. In this Era of Ephemera, we should be creating content in order to connect, spark conversation and push thinking forward.

My relationship with Technology

My relationship with technology (and the internet in particular) is somewhat complicated and often contradictory.

I am part of a generation which grew up around technology. Although the internet wasn’t particularly accessible until I was 10 years old, computers have been around me for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I was excited by technology and the potential it offered in this brave new world.

Technology was new and exciting, a vision for the future which I wholeheartedly embraced as I entered my teenage years. It was a retreat for me, like many others my age I expect. Throughout my teens video games proved an entertaining and useful way for me to share ideas, communicate and have common ground with my peers.

But then a series of events occurred which has led me to question the use of technology in our lives ever since.
I became aware that my technology use actually prevented me from learning social skills that other people my age were learning for themselves. I began to distrust technology and the internet when it became clear privacy of users wasn’t always at the forefront of the industries concerns.

In some ways, I cannot foresee my life and my work without using technology. I feel like a wizard, or alchemist when I’ve concocted code that does that I want, something that I couldn’t have done before. I feel the buzz every time I make a new website or code something exciting which solves a problem. Yet, on some days, I wish to get as far away from technology as possible.

I expect that one day, I will either have to come to terms with technology use as a means-to-an-end, or leave it behind altogether.

One Weird Trick to Read Less

I recently realised that I have used the internet for the best part of my life. I check in to see what is happening with friends on social media and find out what is happening in the world on blogs and news websites.

It wasn’t always this way, the internet is great for enabling access to helpful tools, services and enabling us to do great work. That said, the internet isn’t so great for keeping us focused, it has also given us plenty to distract ourselves with and unlimited supply of fuel to burn if you have a procrastination habit.

If you’re anything like me, you might feel that sometimes it is really difficult to keep your head focused amongst the myriad of content out there. Having such vast amounts of intriguing content within quick reach can make for great distraction when you’re struggling with a task. Why work when you can read about one weird trick someone in your town used to defy dentists everywhere, or you could watch the funniest 30 animated GIFs from the last series of Game of Thrones?

Here’s one weird trick I have found to read a lot less than I need to. Although it’s typically tempting to try to find ways to fit more into your life, this one technique might save you some time in future. I promise to keep it brief.

Firstly, sign yourself up for a ‘read it later’ service, many exist and most of these services have plugins that you can install on your browser or device. I was quite taken with Pocket because of its multi-platform compatability and wide-range of third-party support, but you could instead use something like Instapaper, Readability, or just save what you want to read using the Evernote web clipper. Not only do these services allow you to collect what you want to read for later into one accessible hub (many of these allow you to access your saved articles whilst offline as well), but they also can simplify the formating, putting the content at the centre stage, so you’re not distracted by flashy adverts or sidebars of shame.

Once you find the article you would like to read, save it to the service of your choice. This is particularly useful when you find yourself procrastinating or following links which grab your attention, but you may not have time to read them in that exact moment.

This third part is the most important bit. You will soon forget about what it was you were so distracted by when you were last trying to focus on writing that email. The beauty of this trick is that you don’t feel at the time like you’re making a sacrifice, the part of your mind which wants to read the catchy clickbait headlined article can be placated, safe in the knowledge that the article is still out there, waiting to be read, safely kept in your ‘read it later’ vaults.

You will often find that you forego the panic associating with losing something you wanted to read. Not only that, but when you load up your ‘read later’ service, you will probably find that you only typically read 2, maybe 3 of your saved articles. It’s unlikely that you really wanted to read all of those blogs anyway, but you were just procrastinating.

Alone

I can feel pretty lonely at times. I can feel alone either by myself, or in a crowd of people. I feel that disconnection to me runs deeper than simply desiring company.

I suspect that living much of my social life online and in digital worlds has something to do with that. I usually feel more comfortable communicating with others digitally, especially if we haven’t met before, or only a couple of times.

However, I do love to sit down with friends & family to discuss something meaningful.

Recently, I stumbled upon this poem which made me feel better about being alone by myself.

Hello World

Hello World.

My name is Kerri. I’m currently 27 and like many, I try my best to be an honest and valuable person.

I’m good with computers and technology. I can pick up new digital skills easily, but I often struggle socially. I often feel quite lonely in the world, even when I’m around other people.

I don’t know what the future holds, and that’s okay. I change my mind a lot and can often worry too much.

At the time of writing, I live in Newcastle, England with my girlfriend Stephanie. My family are from Brighton, where I have lived most of my life.

In regards to Apple’s open letter to customers

In regards to Apple’s open letter to customers

On the 16th of February 2016, Tim Cook of Apple published an open letter to their customers explaining that the United States government and the FBI had asked them to take unprecedented measures in order to provide them with access to specific user’s iPhone data in instances where they had not been given access by the phone’s owner.

Cook’s letter is an important milestone in the debate over personal data encryption and how we treat the agency of others who use technology. As our devices get smarter, we trust them with more of our data. However, as a user of any kind of technology, does wanting your emails, personal data, health records, SMS texts and more to be encrypted make you a ‘threat’ to society and the justice system? This is a question I see being incredibly important in the years ahead, and it’s part of a bigger debate over personal liberty and privacy which, in my opinion, dates back to 9/11, if not earlier.

Apple are taking a stance on behalf of their customers who choose to store a lot of important, private data on their devices. If any tech company was in a place to encourage this debate, it’s Apple. iPhone is considered to be the market-leader of the smartphone industry and their high-end desktop computer systems are favoured by many. Apple encrypts iOS smartphone data by default and encourages users to setup pin codes or use their thumbprints for securing that data: no passcode, no entry. On OS X, encryption is opt-in with Filevault, but on iOS and in particular, iMessage, it’s set as standard. Your passcode acts as a secret key to unlocking the encryption on your device, without it, there is no way to unlock that data without breaking the encryption. The FBI are asking that this system be overhauled for their usage, that Apple (and other tech companies I presume), include back door access to bypass (or at least brute force without danger of deleting data) the lock-screen passcode system. The FBI and the United States government has made assurances that such access would only be made use of in extreme circumstances, yet, Apple are not convinced that this level of access would not be misused or fall into the wrong hands, creating a major security risk for every single person who owns an Apple smartphone.

I feel that Apple and Tim Cook are right to take this stance and I hope that other technology companies follow suit. We now know that GCHQ have the ability to ‘tap’ internet connections and pass that data to the NSA and other international intelligence agencies. Such capability means that data transactions can be recorded at the point where data passes from your device to another server. There has been much said about how the NSA are now able to break encryption standards for information transferred by internet, but right now, to access data that is only stored internally on one device (without spending hundreds of years attempting to brute force entry), intelligence agencies need backdoor access. If such backdoor access was given, how could any user of technology assume a level of security over their information? How could anybody trust assurances that access would be kept internal to the FBI when data breaches do happen! In the case of Edward Snowden, we know for a fact that external contractors are able to find, access and leak protected data, how could anybody trust that such access wouldn’t eventually find its way into the wrong hands?

There’s no confidence to suggest that without encryption, crime would simply move further underground and terrorists might resort to more blackhat methods to avoid their communications going noticed. In the November 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris, it was found that the attackers communicated using unencrypted SMS texting, yet NSA director Michael Rogers was quoted suggesting that the attacks were enabled by encryption. Whilst the NSA continue to attack encryption, using terrorist attacks as scaremongering in order to convince the public that their right to privacy is effectively null and void (lest we ‘let the terrorists win’), personal data security is exceedingly under threat.

Is it wrong to expect a level of privacy in our data? are we potential terrorists for not wanting our emails to be snooped on or our messages to be read by analysts at the NSA/GCHQ/’insert your national Intelligence Agency here’? It is against the law to be offended if somebody reads our most intimate journals or diaries without permission and we should expect that same level of privacy over our digital data also. We all need to stand up for the privacy of our data and not fall for the lies and appeal to emotion fallacies surrounding the encryption debate, lest we face a future where a personal expectation to privacy is no longer a default human right.

Bad Ass Advisors

Bad Ass Advisors

The Brief

I was introduced to Casey Thomas from Bad Ass Advisors, a startup based in San Francisco, USA in late 2015. The Bad Ass Advisors team connect advisors with startups. Casey required design and code support to theme a help centre for their clients, as well as new modal landing pages and a printed poster and flyer design to advertise their events. All of these needed to be designed in-line with their pre-established brand identity, colour scheme and imagery.

Casey Thomas, Bad Ass Advisors
Casey Thomas, Bad Ass Advisors

Casey had this to say about my work:

Kerri was a pleasure to work with, I gave him quite a few challenging tasks with not much guidance and he approached them all fantastically. I’m very happy with the results.

My Work

Support Centre

I coded & styled a theme for a new support centre ready for launch. The Bad Ass Advisors chose to use Desk.com for online client support. I was tasked with restyling the default Desk.com frontend to match their own website’s styling.

Modal Design & Poster

I also wrote the copy for and designed a new modal and poster for the Bad Ass Advisors. The modal was intended to display to pre-approved new clients who land on their website. The poster for print was required to be edited to detail upcoming events to potential clients. Both modal and poster/flyer designs were made using Sketch to ensure my client could edit them later with ease.

Rakuten Attribution

Rakuten Attribution

The Brief

I responded to an advertisement requesting graphic designers from Rakuten Attribution in the Spring of 2015. They were looking for support with designing and working on page layout for a brand new print publication covering performance marketing subjects for big brands and retail marketers.

Jennifer Le Roux, Rakuten Attribution
Jennifer Le Roux, Rakuten Attribution

Jennifer Le Roux from Rakuten Attribution, who I reported to directly on this project, had this to say about my work:

We needed support fast as we had a very tight deadline to meet and no design resource internally. I needed someone to support me and help me turnaround the magazine. This problem was solved with Kerri’s support.

My Work

I used Adobe Photoshop to edit images and InDesign laying out features and spreads for the first issue of the magazine. I worked alongside Jennifer and her team of content writers to ensure that the magazine went to print before the deadline.

Sadly, the finished work is bound by a NDA, so I cannot include it in on this website.

303 Bar

303 Bar: Dance, Drinks, Bites.
303 Bar: Dance, Drinks, Bites.

The Brief

During the Summer of 2015, I was commissioned to design the brand and décor for a new and exciting nightclub & bar opening in Nicosia, Cyprus.

I was referred to the client by a friend of mine. My contact at the bar, Thanos Pilavakis, was looking for a branding package for the new venue. I was asked to draw inspiration from the 1990s dance-music scene and London / New York nightlife.

Thanos Pilavakis
Thanos Pilavakis, 303 Bar

Thanos from 303 Bar, who I reported to directly on this project, had this to say about my work:

Being based in the UK, Kerri had more of a grasp of the concept we were aiming for. He could visualise it internationally, rather than designers based here in Cyprus who are more into the native frame of mind. Kerri understood the concept and worked well.

My Work

Logo

In my initial logo designs, I specifically chose lower-case characters where possible for a futuristic feel. I drew inspiration from British record label Warp Records, early-mid 90s rave, the Roland synthesiser series and many current bars and clubs in London & New York.

After the final logo design was settled upon. I created a logo pack for use by the venue team and any third-party wishing to use the logo in print or online.
You can download the 303 Bar Logo Pack from this link.

The logos were later used for printed stickers and PVC banners for decorating the venue.

Food & Drinks Menu

No nightclub, restaurant or bar would be complete without a menu and price list, this was definitely true for 303 Bar. Upon completion of the logo design, I set to work on the venue’s food and drinks menu.

The menu was designed with clarity in mind with a sleek, dark visual to accompany the venue. You can see my menu in action in the bar itself in the photos below.

Social Media Banners

I was also asked to create social media banners for the venue’s parties to be shared on websites like Facebook to advertise the club.

Time Blocking: How to be more productive this week

Hello.

I wanted to create this video to describe a new Time Blocking method which I have been using recently that I have found helpful. I wonder if you might as well?

Please let me know what you think by posting in the comments below and if you have a question you would like me to answer next week, please just send me a message.

Team 140

Team 140

The Brief

In 2015, I was asked by Team 140 to design several digital banners for their website, social media profiles and email newsletter to advertise the show. I had worked with Team 140 previously to design and print a promotional DJ Mix ‘A New Movement’.

The Team 140 duo had this to say about my work:

Dead happy with all the work you’ve done, thanks very much for all that.

My Work

Banner Graphics

Each banner includes a call-to-action and related imagery for use on their website.

There were also 10 additional banners made for a set of ‘Tribute’ shows the duo were hosting in the run up to their 200th episode. Each banner was recreated in a variety of different sizes for the duo’s various social media accounts.

CD Album: ‘A New Movement’

I also created the CD packaging artwork for  Team 140’s DJ mix ‘A New Movement’.

The photography of the duo was intended to be a key feature of the artwork with the group’s logo included in the blank space.

Vote ADAM

Business Card: Front

The Brief

Between late 2014 and Summer 2015, I worked closely with Beki Adam. Beki was running as an independent candidate in the 2015 general election for the Mid-Sussex area.

Beki required a designer and marketing assistant to design the visuals for her campaign. I acted as admin support and the primary designer for her ‘Vote ADAM’ campaign and created many vector-based art pieces using InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

My Work

First Postal Flyer

The first flyer I worked on was a duo-fold A4, 4 page document. 10,000 of these flyers were printed and distributed around the Mid-Sussex area. I used a combination of Adobe software and mapping software QGIS to design this flyer.

Second Postal Flyer

Distributed by the Royal Mail to every household in the Mid-Sussex region including Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath and East Grinstead. These flyers were printed and distributed by post to the 49,500 residents of the area.

Correx Boards

I worked on a simple design for printed correx boards to be attached to wooden poles for placing in visible public areas. The design had to be bold and with a clear message.

Billboard

We managed to secure placement for a billboard for the Vote ADAM campaign across 2 separate weeks in the lead up to the May 7th 2015 election. The billboard was placed outside Haywards Heath train station and was in direct sight of commuters and passersby for 2 weeks.

Business Cards

Digital Press Pack for Third-Parties

One of my first jobs for the campaign was to produce a press pack for third-parties which contained all logos in a variety of colours and transparencies (for both web and print). I also included campaign fonts and colour codes (in Hex and CMYK) to ensure correct use of the campaign materials.

All campaign graphics, logos, fonts and a style guide for use by third-parties.
All campaign graphics, logos, fonts and a style guide for use by third-parties. You can download the press pack by following this link.

Outdoor Roll Up PVC Banner

To accompany Beki to public speaking events, we created a standing outdoor banner which displayed key information about the campaign.

Admin

I was also responsible for speaking to press as well as answering emails and the questions of potential voters during the campaign.

Wikipedia

During my free time, I wrote and submitted a Wikipedia entry on Beki’s behalf.

Beki Adam - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Click to view full size in a new window.

Portmanteau Agency

Portmanteau

The Brief

Portmanteau are a sync-licensing agency based in the UK. They provide music for film, television, advertisements and video games.

I was originally asked by the a founding member of Portmanteau Agency to create a CD sleeve for promotional material, as well as a website for the agency to showcase their work.

I continued to work with the agency from 2010 to 2015 and beyond, keeping their website up to date and creating new CD sampler sleeves as and when required..

My Work

Website

As a sync-licensing agency, Portmanteau needed their website to primarily contain their portfolio of work alongside their contact details. What was important was for new potential clients to see their previous music placements and most recent work.

The design continues their pre-existing black and grey branding and features a serif-font for headings and a clean, readable sans-serif for body text. As I knew that portfolio work was to take centre-stage, I wanted to make the website purely exist on one, lightweight PHP page.

Promotional CD Series

Elements Bound

Elements Bound

The Brief

I worked with Elements Bound throughout the Summer of 2015 to complete and launch their first official website. Sarah Monument, my contact at Elements Bound, was introduced to me through a friend. Sarah was looking for somebody to help complete their website with the proper integrations in order for it to go live.

The website already partly-existed as a WordPress theme, but it was not yet ready to go public. The team at Elements Bound required integration with AMPsuite, their record-label management software, and WordPress with WooCommerce, their content-management system of choice. I had worked with WordPress and AMPsuite before so was confident I could connect them both together.

My Work

Sarah, from Elements Bound, said this about my work:

“I was impressed with Kerri’s efficient timescales and attention to detail. It was clear that Kerri put great important into ensuring the overall quality of the work and the aesthetic design to meet with our objectives. A job well done and highly recommended.”

Website

Although there was already a design and theme in place for the website, it required plenty of tweaking to ensure it operating as my client wanted it to. I styled content into ‘blocks’ which would stack alongside each other. Content blocks are responsive to screen-size, with jQuery containers sliding into place in relation to the maximum screen width.

Each content segment is powered by AMPsuite’s XML feeds, with product pages, listings and label biographies all being drawn from my clients AMPsuite account.

Shop

In addition, I also implemented a WooCommerce shop, allowing the Elements Bound team to sell digital and physical products, directly to their fans.

Elements Bound | Shop

How to Set a Facebook Username

 

How to Set a Facebook Username

Whether you are a Facebook user or not, the popularity of the platform means that having a presence there cannot be underestimated in running any project or campaign.

Have you ever noticed how some Facebook pages have shorter names in the address bar than others? For example, this Facebook page for ‘Field Magazine’ has a longer, more unwieldy address:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Field/291073074404117

Whereas the URL for the Vestige Media Facebook page is much shorter:

https://www.facebook.com/VestigeMedia

The benefits of having a shorter Facebook address are many, primarily it is in the ease you will be able to communicate your exact address with others.

Creating a short-URL for your own Facebook page or profile is incredibly simple:

  1. Head over to this link and log in to your Facebook account (if you are not already logged in)
  2. Follow the options to select either your profile or a Page that you have Administration privileges for
  3. A box will pop-up allowing you to enter your desired username, type in the URL (staring in facebook.com/) that you would like to use and click ‘Check Availability’
  4. If this address isn’t currently being used or has not been blocked for whatever reason, you will be given the option to confirm your chosen address.

You should note before setting a short URL for your Facebook profile or Page however that once set, it cannot be changed at any time — so choose wisely!

Thank you for reading and DFTBA.

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 2: Recommended Services

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 2: Recommended Services

Please note that this guide is Part 2 of a two part piece about Website Hosting. You can follow this link to read Part 1.

Choosing a website hosting solution can be difficult. There are a myriad of puzzling terms and price ranges thrown around which you may be uncertain about.

I have created this two-part guide to help you make a more informed decision about your domain, website or email hosting.

In this two part article, I intend to demystify and make clear exactly what service providers have to offer. After reading, you should be able to make a more informed decision about which solutions will be right for you and your business. In the first part of this article, I discussed the services on offer and broke down what you should expect from your email, domain or web hosting package. In this second part, I will round-up some available services on the market and compare and contrast their offerings to help you choose which solution might be of best value to your business or project.

As pointed out by a commenter in Part 1 of this piece, many hosting companies use buzzwords such as ‘Wordpress’ or ‘SEO’ or ‘Cloud’ hosting in their advertising to lure customers to use them over their competitors. You should note than all three of these things (and many more) can be accomplished with any hosting plan and some know-how.

If you already have a solution in place that you are happy with, you may wish to compare this guide with your current plan to ensure that you are getting the best value for your needs.

Please note that I am not affiliated in any way with any company listed in this article, I have included them here simply down to their reliability and because I feel that they offer good value for money. All quoted prices are valid at the time of writing (August 2015)

What to look out for

Domains

  • 123-reg: First in this list primarily because I have used 123-reg myself for many years and have been consistently happy with their services and the prices they charge. 123-reg offer many types of domain extensions and filter their purchasable domain extensions by category (Sport, Food & Drink, Geographic etc). Their .co.uk domains are among the cheapest in the UK, selling for £3.49 per year for the first two years (going up to £6.99 per year after this period). Their .com domains are also around £23 per year. Each domain can be managed through their in-built Control Panel with a myriad of options for forwarding, DNS and Whois fixes.
  • Namesco: A UK based company offering .co.uk domains for £6.99 per year and .com’s for £14.99 with discounts for multiple year purchases. Each domain purchase includes a free (but paltry) 100Mb of storage (that’s Megabits, not Megabytes) and website builder (good for one or two static pages but not much more) as well as a 100MB email mailbox for one address and a selection of free stock photographs. Perhaps not the most competitive domain supplier, Namesco has certainly stood the test of time and is a reliable competitor in the market.
  • Hover: An American domain registrar which sticks to the basics. They offer a vast selection of domain extensions and divide them up by sub-category, recommending the most popular for your chosen field. A .com domain from Hover is reasonably priced at $12.99 per year. You receive WHOIS privacy opt-outs for free with each domain purchase (something which many domain suppliers will charge for). Not to mention their enticing transfer options, allowing you to keep your time from your current purchase as well as a free year added on for your trouble — nice one! Unfortunately they hide mail forwarding addresses behind a paywall at $5 per address (which many other domain providers offer for free), with mailboxes being priced depending on what size mailbox you desire at an additional $20 (10GB) or $29 (1TB) per year.
  • Gandi: French-based domain registrar which offers a ‘no bullshit’ approach to domain hosting with over 500 domain extensions to choose from. Their .com domains are sold at €12.54 per year with .co.uk’s currently being sold at €7 per year. Gandi are well respected for their customer-first attitude. Each domain purchase includes full domain management with total control over DNS and forwarding settings, 5 mailboxes and up to 1000 forwarding addresses as well as a one-page website totally free.

Shared Hosting

  • Hostgator: Hostgator’s services will certainly appeal to newbies in the web hosting sphere. Their hosting plans come in a variety of price ranges depending on the length of time you sign up for, with the ‘Baby’ plan being the most suitable of the three for most people’s needs. What is interesting is that each plan includes ‘Unmetered’ disk space and bandwidth — meaning that you receive effectively unlimited storage space for your website ‘within reason’, assuming that so long as you don’t vastly abuse the policy by hosting gigabytes of questionable files, you should not have a problem with your storage space or bandwidth needs. All aspects of these plans are configured through cPanel, a very competent management panel which allows you to configure your website storage, domains, email, databases, stats and FTP through a web-ready interface. Their 3 price brackets range from $3.96 – $6.36 – $10.36 per month with a 3 year buy-in. The primary difference between the packages is the amount of additional domains allowed, each package provides web space with ‘unmetered’ (i.e. unlimited, within reason) disk space and bandwidth. Hostgator would probably work best for businesses based in the Americas with long-term plans, their price ranges get a lot cheaper if you commit to a longer contract.
  • 123-reg: Mentioned once already for their exceptional domain registration, 123-reg also offer great value web hosting packages. Perhaps their strongest point is UK telephone support, which many hosts simply do not offer. All of their hosting packages include a free .co.uk domain with a healthy amount of storage space (starting at 10GB on their cheapest packages). Although MySQL databases are limited on their cheaper packages (only 1 on the ‘Essentials’ package) all customers receive unlimited bandwidth for their website. Email allowance is good, with even the ‘Essentials’ package offering 100 mailboxes with a 1GB storage allowance to split between mailboxes. Although they do have their own management panel instead of cPanel, 123-reg are certainly a competent, trustworthy hosting solution for your business. Of the 4 price brackets available, there are a variety of differences with the web space available changing at each price range. The cheapest option ‘Essentials’ starts at £2.49 per month (ex VAT) ranging up to ‘Premium’ at £19.99 per month (ex VAT) with the first year at £14.99 per month. The ‘Essentials’ package offers 10GB of web space which for most small businesses with 1–5 websites hosted should be more than enough.
  • 1&1: Offering slightly higher pricing than 123-Reg but with generally higher allowances for storage space and email storage, with both being unlimited on their ‘Unlimited Plus’, £6.99 per month package. Both Linux and Windows hosting can be chosen allowing for versatility in your software options. Strangely, 1&1 offer over 100 server software ‘apps’ which can be installed quickly and easily, including WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, unfortunately they do not mention that these can be installed by any user themselves, which does come across as a little misleading — but arguably useful for customers who want to get themselves set up online fast. 1&1 offer 4 different types of shared hosting options with the cheapest ‘Starter’ set at £2.99 per month (ex VAT) includes 10 GB of webspace, 10 email accounts and 2GB of email storage – great for heavy email users. Unfortunately the Starter bundle only includes the capacity for 1 website, but this is bumped up to Unlimited on the further 3 packages. The Unlimited package is perhaps of best value, with unlimited webspace and unlimited website options and 2 GB of email storage for £4.99 (ex VAT) per month with an offer price of £2.99 per month for the first year. Unlimited Plus and Unlimited Pro seem to be a waste of money by comparison with their only real offers being added pre-installed Apps (which any user can install themselves).
  • eUKhost: UK-based hosts eUKhost boast over 12 years experience in the web hosting industry and their hosting packages showcase why. Each of their Linux shared hosting plans is powered by cPanel and include unlimited monthly bandwidth. Storage space is also liberally given, with 2GB as minimum on their ‘Basic’ plan, with 10 GB and 20 GB on the ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’ plans respectively. Each plan includes 24/7 technical support too which should be of aid if you ever have a problem with your service. eUKhost also offers Windows hosting plans for those with .net software requirements. With three packages available for shared hosting with cPanel, the ‘Basic’ comes in at £3.33 per month (including VAT) with 2GB of storage, unlimited bandwidth, unlimited email and 24 hour tech support. The only differentiation with the Intermediate (£4.99 per month) and Advanced (£6.99 per month) plans are an increase in the available MySQL database allowances and disk space (10 GB on Intermediate, 20 GB on Advanced).

Dedicated Hosting

  • Memset: Memset is a highly recommended hosting company who’s customers include Boots, Lush Cosmetics and the BBC amongst others. Their VPS servers distribute resources from dedicated servers between users and can be configured as you see fit: with choices over hard drive type (HDD vs SSD for storage vs speed). cPanel comes at an extra cost on all virtual servers. With only a minimum term of 1 month and no set up fee, Memset also accommodates those who may want to try before they commit. What’s great about Memset is their customisation options, you can patch together your very own server exactly as you need it. All server options like CPU, Storage Space or RAM can scale up or down depending on your usage needs. Prices for Virtual Servers start at £3.25 per month, but I would suggest you consider the VM2000 at £6.45 per month at the very minimum to allow you enough RAM to install Plesk for easy server management.
  • 4D: Eco-friendly hosting is what 4D strive for, with one of the greenest and most innovative data-centres in Europe. Their VPS options simplify things somewhat with 3 options: ‘Start-up’, ‘SME’ and ‘Enterprise’, giving you an easy option for deciding on your server based on your size of operation. The ‘Start Up’ package begins at £17 per month and includes 1 CPU core, 2GB RAM, 75 GB of disk space and 2000 GB of bandwidth as standard, with the SME and Enterprise packages increasing the amount of each of these options in line with the price increase. All VPS options include 24/7 support and free set up. cPanel is available on all packages for an additional £15 per month. All of the packages can be customised for additional resources.
  • Bytemark: Certainly at the higher-end of the market, Bytemark offer dedicated servers with high monthly costs but with a focus on automated backups and priority of speed (SSD’s come as standard, with additional storage as an add on). The ‘Dual’ package is an entry level system with 8GB of RAM, 120GB SSD and 3.6GHz Dual Core Intel i3 Processor at £75 per month. Their ‘Pro’ and ‘Max’ dedicated servers ramp up the price to £145 and £179 per month respectively but also bump up the storage capacity and RAM (the Pro includes 4 1TB hard drives).

I hope that this piece has helped to give you a better idea of what hosting solutions are available on the market and some things to look out for. If you’re still unsure about which hosting provider to choose, this comparison of 10 leading suppliers from FirstSiteGuide is well worth a look.

Thank you for reading, DFTBA

If you would like help setting up your website hosting or more bespoke recommendations for the right hosting plan for you and your business, send me an email and say hello.

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 1: Domains, Hosting and Email

Website Hosting Demystified, Part 1: Domains, Hosting and Email

Please note that this guide is Part 1 of a two part piece about Website Hosting. You can follow this link to read Part 2.

Choosing a website hosting solution can be difficult, particularly when there are a myriad of puzzling terms and price ranges thrown around which you may be uncertain about.

Picking a hosting solution without knowledge of the entire package can mean that you might end up paying over the odds for services which you don’t need or won’t actually make use of.

I have created this two-part guide to help you to make a more informed decision about your domain, website or email hosting.

In this two part article, I intend to demystify and make clear exactly what service providers have to offer in order for you to make a more informed decision about which solutions will be right for you and your business. In Part 2 of this article (to be published next week), I will round-up the available services on the market and compare and contrast their offerings to help you choose which solution might be of best value to your business or project.

What to look out for

Domains

There are two components to your domain purchase: the domain name and extension. In order to purchase a domain, both the domain name and extension cannot be currently owned by another party.

Every website is hosted on a server which is accessible over the internet. Each server has a unique IP address in order to be accessed from another device. An IP address is a string of numbers not unlike a telephone number. We use domain names to point to these numbers instead to make them more memorable — a website address like ‘vestigemedia.com’ is arguably easier to make note of than ‘180.126.78.79’.

Domains are typically charged on a per-extension basis, some extensions cost more than others owing to their popularity: ‘.com’, ‘.net’, ‘.org’ are perhaps among the most common extensions whilst niche options such as ‘.tv’ can cost more due to their in-demand nature. When you purchase a domain name, you will often be given the option to purchase many different extensions to go alongside that name, each extension you pick will add to the billable price. Now that there are an almost endless range of new domain extensions such as ‘.blog’, ‘.app’ or ‘.shop’, there is unlikely to be an end to the possible addresses for your chosen home on the internet. Some region-specific domain extensions such as .de (Germany) require that you are located in that country in order to register, however most do not have such a restriction.

Check the following before you buy:
– DNS / Name-servers: will you have control over your DNS settings? this allows you to manage which address your domain points towards. If you host your website with the same company you purchased your domain from, this shouldn’t be a problem, however this is useful to maintain control over if you do decide to change your hosting provider later on.
– Forwarding: can your domain be set to forward to another should you need to, either permanently (301 forwarding), or temporarily (302 forwarding)?
– Control Panel: is there a tool to allow the management of your domain and billing once purchased?
– Sub-domains: can you easily create sub-domains to point visitors to different parts of your site (e.g. services.vestigemedia.com, portfolio.vestigemedia.com, articles.vestigemedia.com)?
– Billing: how often is your domain billed for? can you cancel at any time?
– Transfer: can your domain be easily transferred to/from another service or owner should you choose to move or sell your domain later on?

Web Hosting:

Your hosting plan dictates what you can do with your website: how much space you have, what programs you can run and what level of control you have over your files. Hosting plans are usually either bundled or heavily pushed for sale alongside a domain name. With both a domain and a hosting plan, you are able to create and host your website on the internet.

Your web hosting solution represents a permanently-on piece of hardware stored remotely. You can access it, add and delete files as well as have it run complex scripts in order to display results. There are four main types of web hosting solution (ordered by general cost):
1. Shared Hosting — your website scripts and files are hosted on a server alongside those of many other clients. The server is managed by the service provider to ensure your website remains online.
2. Virtual Private Server — similarly to shared hosting, your files are stored on a server alongside those of other clients, but your segment of the server is more tightly walled-off, giving you stronger controls over your allocated segment of the server resources. You can usually choose whether to manage the server yourself or pay an additional fee for on-site tech support.
3. Dedicated Server — your very own dedicated remotely-hosted machine, giving you full control over system resources and storage space.
4. Server Cluster — for resource-heavy websites and server applications (think social networks or multi-national web shops), many dedicated servers can be strung together to manage extreme load.

When I discuss hosting with clients, it is typically either in reference to Shared Hosting or Virtual Private Server use as these will cover the majority of requirements in majority of cases. If you are a small to medium business, either of these options will likely be fine to get you and your business online.

Check the following before you buy:
– Storage Space: how much storage will you have access to in order to store any website files and extras (photographs, videos, audio files etc)? can storage be scaled up or down to meet your requirements? do you require extra space to store private files?
– Bandwidth: how much data can you transfer to users of your website during a billing period and at what speed? will this amount of data transfer be enough to meet your needs? what happens should your website overuse the available bandwidth — will your website be taken offline or will you incur extra fees?
– Server Location: where is your server located? is it geographically-close to your primary audience for optimum data transfer speeds?
– Domains allowed: do you intend to manage several domains under the same storage solution to make the most of available storage space? Can you create and manage more than one domain through your hosting plan?
– IP: can you purchase additional IP addresses if you need to in order to manage large/multiple websites?
– Sub-domains: can you create sub-domains to point visitors to different parts of your site? This is also a domain option too as sub-domains can often be managed either through the domain host or the web hosting provider.
– Programming Compatibility: is it possible to use a variety of server-side code like MySQL, CGI, PHP, Ruby, SSH, Perl, Python etc? You may need access to a handful of these if you want to run software programs on your server such as WordPress, a Forum or an eCommerce solution.
– MySQL Databases: required for many server-side software programs. If MySQL is enabled, how many databases can you make use of? You may need access to several if you wish to install more than one service on your web hosting server.
– Server Stats: are programs like AWStats or Webalizer included? these can help you to analyse your website traffic (useful for improving your search engine placement!)
– Logs: are you or your tech support team able to analyse your server access logs if there is a problem?
– Operating System: what operating system does your server run on? servers typically either run on Windows or Linux. Unless you absolutely have to use server software which requires a Windows server, Linux is certainly the recommended option, giving you more choice and versatility.
– Backups: does your server automatically make regular back ups of your hosted files? are you able to make and download your own backups for safe keeping?
– Management Panels: is there an internally-produced management panel for your settings or a third-party solution such as cPanel or Plesk? Some panels will allow you to manage your hosting settings and install new functions like WordPress or eCommerce functions easily without fiddly manual installation.

Email

Just like your website files, your email will also need to be managed using your hosting plan. Your available email options will depend on which method you choose for your web hosting. If you are on shared web hosting, your email options will typically come as an additional priced add-on from your hosting supplier. If you manage your private server yourself, you will be able to create, manage and allocate email resources through your management panel.

If access to email is important for you then choosing the right amount of storage space and mailbox availability is definitely worth paying attention to from the onset, it can be difficult to change later on and result in potentially problematic downtime.

Check the following before you buy:
– Accounts: are you able to set up more than 1 email account? You may want additional accounts for different members of your team or to create some addresses which forward directly to others.
– Mailboxes: how many unique mailboxes can you have? is there allowance to create one for each member of your team, your help-desk, accounting etc?
– Storage Space: is there enough storage space available to store a moderate amount of emails on your server? do you often receive large file attachments to emails? it may be the case that you need more storage space for mail than you might think.
– Forwarding: are you able to create forwarding email addresses? perhaps you or a member of your team would like the opportunity to receive help desk mail to their primary mailbox without creating separate storage boxes?
– Catchall: can you create a catchall address to ensure that all mail sent to address at your domain (even if they don’t exist) are caught in a net and checked through? (‘here lies danger’ however if you begin to receive many spam emails every day which can potentially destroy your productivity)
– POP vs IMAP: Are you able to choose which connection method to use when accessing your email? (you can read all about the benefits and challenges of POP or IMAP for your email access in this article I published last month)
– Autoresponders: if you go on holiday or leave the office for a few days, can you create an autoresponder to inform senders that you may be delayed in responding? alternatively, you may want to create an email address which automatically responds with a notification such as an automated thank you note for resumés or a notification of receipt for first contact requests.
– Mailing Lists: are you able to import a list of email addresses and send a group mail to many contacts at once? there are many services which will allow you to do this outside of your email hosting provider (and arguably they do a better job), but the option is always nice.
– Spam: what does your service-provider offer in terms of anti-spam? can you ramp up the filters if you begin to receive copious amounts of irrelevant mail?


I am often asked about the best options for website & email hosting and domain purchases, many people are understandably confused about what they are paying for and how that relates to their needs. I have known clients of mine in the past to pay far over the odds because they didn’t know exactly what it was they were being sold or what they needed when they purchased their website domain. I hope that this article has helped you to make a more informed decision about your hosting choices.

Please check back next week for the second part of this article where I will compare and contrast service providers and provide recommendations based on their offerings in regards to your needs.

Thank you for reading and DFTBA.

If you would like help setting up your website hosting or recommendations for a hosting plan that suits you and your business, fire me an email and say hello.

Six Methods to Improve Your Search Engine Placement

Search Engine

Since the arrival of the Internet, it has marched further into differing areas of our lives, much of what came before has been modernised to make better use of the capabilities enabled to us by technology.

Data sorting and search have become vastly more powerful tools than ever before. Digital search has replaced phone directories, maps and newspapers as the primary source of information on a daily basis. Google, arguably the leader of the field, provides rich, resourceful information to users with just a few words. With Google’s approach to make finding information easier to get access to, search has become the backbone of the Internet for the majority of technology users.

Search is perhaps the primary method for people to find you and your work online, which makes your ranking on search engines extremely important. Although aiming for that coveted first page result in a broad search isn’t necessarily realistic to start out with, you will find that there are quite a few methods you can try to improve your placement.

Unfortunately, getting to the top of a relevant search in your field isn’t as simple as you might think, with key search engines like Google continuously updating their search algorithms to keep results pertinent (and presumably to keep SEO experts on their toes!) Short of stumbling on quirky, unexpected tricks to land yourself at the top of the rankings, there is much that you can work towards to ensure higher results.

Below is a list of my six recommended methods you can use to improve your visibility in search results.

Key Words

First, take some time to consider your audience, what key words would they need to enter into a search engine in order for them to find you? If you were a camping supply company, you might consider ‘tents’, ‘camping’ and ‘outdoors’ to be your primary search words, but think also about other terms people might use in order to find you: do you offer a particular niche product which separates you from your competitors? Perhaps you offer the lowest prices or focus instead on the best, most high quality goods? Grab a pen and paper and take time to plan which key words you would most like people to associate with your product, business or brand.

You should preferably aim for a mixture of broad and niche terms. If you have a new website, going broad may not always be the best choice, you will be competing with many other websites which use similar terms and may have been around for considerably longer than yourself. Going back to my example of the camping store, there are many large camping supply companies already in the market, so starting out with a niche product range or attribute may be a good way for this new business to get noticed. Keep in mind too how you yourself use search. Searches for broad terms such as ‘camping supplies’ will always return broad results, perhaps you are looking initially for outlets or businesses that can meet your needs before researching prices. Conversely, somebody searching for ‘buy Vango Compact Gas Stove’ is practically ready and waiting to purchase, they have done their research and know exactly what they want.

Once your website has been live for some time, It is important that you research and keep on top of the key words you use on your website and in your communications. If yourself or another member of your team is involved in the administration of your website, you will be able to find the search terms that people are using to land on your website from search engines. You can either use built-in server facilities like AWstats (video) or implement tools like Google Analytics in order to find out such information. Once you have a better idea of the ways people are landing onto your website, you can begin to see how your website matches up to the keywords you initially considered people would find you with.

Meta Tagging

If knowing your key terms is the first step, then associating your website and communications with those search terms is beginning to put those key terms to work. Enrich links to your website by adding relevant images, descriptions and titles to your website’s meta tagging to ensure search engines and users are clear about exactly what you offer. Internet users won’t typically see any of your meta tagging on the screen, they instead provide information to search engines and social networks about your website to provide a better experience for users. Have you ever shared a link on a social network and seen that the title, a short description and a thumbnail image of the page you wanted to share had already been pulled in? That is a result of good meta tagging.

Ideally you should aim to tag each individual page of your website with unique tags, the title should be different and the description should relate precisely to that page’s content. If you are selling products, be sure to set that products image as the meta image tag so when shared, users will have a good idea of what they are going to be looking at once they click on that link.

It would be poor practice to use meta tagging to lie or mislead about what is to be found on a page of your website in order to broaden your search terms. Instead, try to create unique parts of your website which can broaden your outreach rather than attempt to cram all of your keywords onto one page.

There are many practical guides online for how to apply correct meta tagging to your website, this article from Google gives the best advice straight from the market leader.

Content

Whilst meta tags on your website are invisible to people browsing your website and prove the value of your website to a machine, your content is totally visible and will provide much of the reason that real humans will find, link to and return to your website.

With many search engines now preferring to display the content of web pages in search results over the generated meta tags, content is arguably fast becoming a much stronger reason for search engine ranking than simply tagging your website correctly (although of course, both are important). If you create quality content that is sharable and which people will want to return to, not only are you placing yourself as a market-leader but enhancing your search-ability. More variety = more keywords, so keep this in mind whilst writing for your website.

Consider my hypothetical camping outlet from earlier, if they list products on their website, customers will find them on search through the use of search terms. However, if they were to create quality content, say a users guide for each product, unboxing or how-to videos or even a camping-focused travel blog, they would dramatically increase their chances of being talked about on social networks and being picked up as important by search engines. As it turns out, Google ranks longer-form pieces highly so if you do write content for your website, aim for 1500 + words which appears to be something of a sweet spot.

Create quality content for your audience which will enrich their visit. It would be disingenuous and frankly, a bit bizarre for my hypothetical camping outlet to post pop-music videos or click-baity links to their blog cheaply in order to appeal to broader audiences. You will not only damage the trust your audience has placed in you, but the authenticity that search engines consider you to have within your industry.

Links

Good quality content will ensure that people will want to link to your website. If you give your readers something interesting to send to their friends or return to later, they will. Since the advent of social media, search engines now have deep, constantly active depths of sources to plunder for links, providing their algorithms real-life, relevant information in order to determine what people find of interest and which sources are creating the most interesting content.

Links both to and from your website are hugely important to search engine placement. Create trust with your audience by referring to your sources by linking to other websites where appropriate. If you sell products, link to the manufacturers website or if you write informative pieces like this one, link to other sources online that you yourself have used for research or which your readers might want to follow-up with. The number of links which point back to your website provide search engines with knowledge about how trustworthy and pertinent a source you are, so give other people and website owners reason to link back to you and it will help search engines learn that your website is relevant and trust-worthy.

As mobile-search becomes more prevalent, so too does search based on geographical location. Register early on with business directories and websites which list or compare businesses in your market. If locality is important to your business, register your business on localised directories such as Yelp or Google My Business and be sure to include your geographical location into your website keywords to ensure you appear on local-area searches.

Responsive Design

As internet use diversifies further by device, it is now more important than ever that your website responds to screen size, ensuring readability at any scale — 40″ HD screens right down to smartphones. In April 2015, Google changed their search algorithms to give preference to mobile-friendly websites, meaning that your website must now be easily readable for users on all screen sizes to place highly in search results.

If your website was coded by hand, converting to a more responsive layout may not be the easiest option and could take some time to work on — a full website redesign may even be in order to ensure easy operation for anybody who accesses your website. If you use WordPress, Squarespace or another kind of easy-website design tool, you may find that you need to change your theme or settings in order to enable responsive changes to your website.

I now design all websites for my clients using responsive techniques because I feel that it is better to be adaptive to screen-size and provide full functionality for all users from the get-go than to bolt that functionality on later. Redesigning your website from scratch whilst putting mobile-users first could prove costly, but the benefits are starting to far outweigh the negatives. With increased mobile internet usage and preference being given to responsive website by search engines, now may be the right time to ensure your website is adaptive by screen size.

Longevity

The ‘overnight success’ is a commonly believed myth. Digital technology can make us feel that success can be achieved at a rapid rate, yet it remains a myth. It can take just one day to create a website and set up social media accounts for your new product or business, yet it can take a lot, lot longer to appeal to both your potential audience and search algorithms.

For a newly launched website, you may not see results on day one, or even day one-hundred. The key element here is patience. Focus your energies on creating great, quality products and services whilst also adding further reasons to drive traffic or links to your website. Be sure to improve your website’s code and ensure that it is properly tagged. Regularly test your keywords and respond to how people are finding your website. Link to other websites where relevant and give others reason to link to you.

Keep doing what you’re doing and be patient. You’ll do fine, I’m sure of it.

Thank you for reading, DFTBA.

Breathe

Breathe

“Breathe.

Breathing can transform your life.”

If you do as much sitting and focusing on your computer screen as I do, it’s important to remember you are a human being every now and then — to get up, move around and breathe deeply.

I wanted to share this desktop wallpaper I made to remind myself to breathe every so often. You can grab a copy for yourself if you feel that this could help you as well.

Free Download

Desktop Wallpaper – choose your screen size:
800×600
1024×768
1280×800
1280×1024
1366×768
1920×1080
Inspired by Leo Babauta’s ‘Breathe‘.

My favourite apps for being productive on the go

Recommended Apps for Productivity 2015

Hello. I have been in the midst of preparing for exams and moving house this week meaning that I haven’t had as much writing time as I would like for today’s blog. That said, I thought I would take this opportunity to give a run down of the four mobile apps that I would most recommend for staying productive whilst on the go.

Balanced

This app helps you to work in a more balanced way (as the name implies). Balanced allows you to enter five key areas which you would like to work on regularly, prompting you with notifications once or twice a day. You choose how committed you want to be: do you want to go to the gym 3 times a week? Remember to send and chase your invoices every fortnight? Go for a long walk once a month? Balanced has you covered with pleasant and unobtrusive reminders. Goals appear ordered within the app graded depending on the desired frequency that you set. If you simply don’t have the time to do something from your balance list, you can skip it, but the feeling of ticking off your goals each day is so fulfilling, there’s a tiny bit of joy there for completing your efforts.

I was looking for something to remind me to do a few key things each week to develop better habits and this was just the right app. It’s not the best designed application, but it is pleasing, colourful and it feels great to tick off your goals each day. After a while you find that this app helps you to connect your past, present and future selves together in joint effort and that’s where this software really starts to shine.

There is a paid upgrade to this app which allows you to set reminders for more than five goals, but honestly I feel that the five-goal limit in the free version helps the user to be more focused rather than splitting their time infinitely — although well intentioned, it’s just not realistic.

Available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Price: Free, with upgrade options.
http://balancedapp.com

Evernote

Evernote is your digital notebook. If most of your work is on screen, Evernote could spell the end of your paper use for good.

Evernote is a fantastic way to store digital notes, bookmarks, clippings from the web and much, much more. It’s a digital scrapbook in the cloud with search, which means you never again have to hunt around for scraps of paper or important telephone numbers when you need them most. The multi-device library means that you can type out a sudden inspiring thought on your phone before going to bed, only to find it there waiting for you on your laptop the following morning.

Although I found that I still needed a paper-based notebook and planner, I use Evernote for keeping together all things digital. I write down my blog ideas, save interesting websites for later and plan out my projects using Evernote and can update them or take new notes wherever I go. Non-essential paperwork gets archived into my Evernote so that I can cut down on paper storage.

Evernote have recently changed their subscription options meaning that a lot of what used to be free has been placed into the ‘Plus’ price model. Under the free model you can still save your notes and share them between devices, but the ‘Plus’ plan gets you offline access and email forwarding into Evernote. The more expensive ‘Unlimited’ plan gives you unlimited storage space and the ability to work with PDFs and revise note-histories. The free option is still fundamentally the best functions of Evernote, but the extended features for power users are now behind a paywall.

Available for Windows, Mac OS X, Android, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and more.
Price: Free, with paid subscription options.
http://evernote.com

Scannable

You’ve got paper and you’ve got your digital devices. If you need something digital from your screen on paper or a hardcopy, you’ve got a printer, but how do you flip this exchange around? You’ve got notebooks, journals, diaries, handwritten notes and pencil drawings — it’s all important, but how do you get these onto your digital device for when you need it most but forgot to take it with you or didn’t have the physical carry space?

Enter Scannable, the camera scanner from Evernote. Okay, so maybe this entry isn’t totally fair — Scannable is also made by Evernote and there are already lots of camera-scanners on the market, but this is definitely the most efficient and least fiddly scanner app I have used so far. You might have a scanner already sitting somewhere near your desktop computer, but in my experience these hardware scanners can be clunky and not particularly portable.

Fire up Scannable on your smartphone or tablet, place a piece of paper in front of you and within seconds it has been digitised. You can scan one page at once or multiples to save into a PDF. Scannable notches up the brightness and contrast before applying several other photo editing tricks to get your digitised paper looking great and professional, ready to send via email or save for reading later on. Once you have your scan, there is so much that you can do with it: you can save your scan straight into Evernote, email it, upload to Dropbox or save it to your camera roll amongst many other options.

There are in-built OCR text-finding capabilities, but this only works in conjunction with Evernote, unfortunately Scannable cannot yet output plain-text from a camera scan.

Available for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Price: Free.
https://evernote.com/download/get.php?file=ScannableIOS

Byword

You could argue that word-processing is perhaps the most basic requirement for computers and sure enough, most (if not all) digital devices come with the ability to make digital notes or type up documents for print. So why would you possibly pay for yet another writing application?

Byword is one of many writing applications on the market, but is perhaps the strongest that supports the universal digital publishing standard Markdown. Markdown is a universal text-based markup language for the purpose of publishing text to the internet, allowing writers to place headers, block quotes, lists, boxes and tables into their writing using punctuation characters in place of complex word-processing functions. By ridding the interface from UI-elements; fonts, colours, zooms & comic sans, Byword gives the writer space to create and tool their work in a simple, distraction-free environment. (you can read more about Markdown over at Daring Fireball!)

If it’s getting dark outside, you can switch into the Dark Theme to carry on writing without hurting your eyes. On mobile, Byword also supports folder trees and saving of your work directly to Dropbox and iCloud.

There is also a premium upgrade which allows you to publish your work directly to WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Scriptogram and Evernote, making on the go writing and publishing blog posts easier than ever before.

Available for Mac OS X, iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Price: £8.99 for Mac OS X, £4.49 for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch with upgrade options for Publishing.
http://bywordapp.com

Email: POP or IMAP?

Email: POP or IMAP?

Email is arguably synonymous with the Internet, perhaps it was even your first interaction with digital communication? Email remains one of the most important aspects of modern business communication. If you are a business owner, employee, content-creator or even simply a consumer of the Internet — it is likely that email is now fundamental in your life and work.

In today’s hyper-connected world, where many of us access our emails from more than one location (often using more than one address), it is now more important than ever that we understand and make choices regarding which method we use to connect and access our emails.

Although many email hosts provide their own browser-based methods for accessing your mail (such as Google or Yahoo), many accounts can only be accessed through an email client application on your device. No matter which software or operating system you use, there are two methods for accessing your mail — POP or IMAP.

Email is sent from one address to another (or to many others in the case of group mails, CC or BCCs). When email is received, your server keeps ahold of it until it is told to delete it, either by yourself or by your email client. Most servers have a limited storage space for email. If you receive a lot of email containing large attachments, graphics or HTML code, your storage will be used faster than if you were to receive just plain-text communications. How this storage space is made use of and how your email is stored is dependent on whether you access your emails using POP or IMAP.

POP

The Post Office Protocol (POP) is most commonly used under its third revision (POP3). Created in 1984, POP is often considered the ‘default’ method for accessing your emails. This is a simplification of the POP process, but your email is accessed as such by your email client:

  1. Connect to the server using the login and password you provide.
  2. Check if there is new mail not previously downloaded to your device.
  3. Download a copy of your new emails to the Inbox on your computer.
  4. Send any mails in your outbox
  5. Delete old emails from the server (in-line with your deletion settings).

Your email client will allow you to specify after how long emails should be deleted from the server. Typically, POP keeps emails on the server to ensure that you have enough time to download a copy of it to your device (the default in Microsoft Outlook for example is 30 days). If you have multiple devices accessing the same email account, each device will get a copy of the emails on your server whilst it is still available. Emails can no longer be downloaded to new devices when they have been deleted from the server, so the deletion period is important to consider when using POP.

IMAP

An acronym of ‘Internet Message access protocol’, IMAP was created as an alternative to POP in 1986 and has seen many revisions since. With some providers like Google Mail actually requiring that you opt-in and agree to using IMAP for email, it is considered by some to be secondary in use to the POP method. So how does it differ? IMAP is a two-way protocol, which seeks to provide further functionality for the user. By always being connected to the mail server, your emails are constantly kept up to date and synchronised across all devices accessing your email using IMAP.

Similarly to POP, IMAP connects to the server to check for new mail, but where it differs is that it doesn’t always download your mail to your computer. Instead, IMAP tells your email client to download ‘headers’, effectively the most important metadata about your mail: the subject line, who sent it and where it was going. Only when you click onto an email does your computer download the information. Unlike POP, IMAP places priority on the server for storing your mail, rather than your device. This means that if you place email into a different folder, mark certain emails as read and delete others, the same changes will be reflected onto the server and therefore, across all of your devices.

Which method should I use?

Both POP and IMAP connect to your server where your email is stored, what your email client does next is dependent on which method you use to access your mail.

POP is simple, it downloads a copy of your email to your device and then either deletes that mail from the server or leaves it there for later deletion — it’s then up to you to ensure you have properly maintained back ups of your mail. By creating a local copy on your device, POP also ensures that you have copies of your emails when you cannot access the Internet. If you access your email on more than one device and then move email to a different folder or mark emails as read — the changes won’t be reflected across devices and you will have to make those changes multiple times. However, POP also puts preference on your device’s storage rather than the server. Mail can be removed from your server regularly, meaning that your server storage will never be clogged up by large attachments or years old email. POP can also be beneficial for those with email of a sensitive nature. In the Post-Snowden world, leaving digital traces, particularly for those involved in journalism or political dissidents, isn’t always desired — POP ensures that your mail is never left to linger in the cloud.

IMAP on the other hand always reflects your changes across devices. If you create an organisational, folder-based system to file away and archive your mail, it will be the same across all of your email-capable devices (handy if you use a mobile phone, tablet and computer to access your mail). Not only does it synchronise your inboxes, but it also keeps your Sent items, Drafts and Trash folders up to date, so you are always able to check what mails you have already sent, or continue writing your drafts from another device. However, by always storing your mail on the server, using IMAP can eventually clog your storage space if you don’t regularly delete your mail. The ‘constantly-connected’ nature of IMAP may not always be beneficial for those who have sporadic or temporary Internet connections. If you only have sporadic access to the Internet, POP may suit you better.

Even when there are now many startups that claim to have replaced email with their new service or network (see the countless instant messaging platforms that continue to launch on mobile, Slack or Skype), email remains firmly entrenched as the most dependent and widely-accepted of digital communication platforms. There are positives and negatives to each connection method, so choosing the right method for you and your work is an important decision to make. POP might best suit those who access mail from one device, have concerns over privacy and are on confident in their backup method. IMAP is better suited for users with readily available Internet access who read and write their emails from multiple places and devices, or who require the luxury of always being able to look through past communications with ease.

Are you looking to make the change from using POP to IMAP or vice versa to access your emails? The solution depends on which operating system, device and software you are using to access your mail. Get in touch by email, Twitter or leave a comment below and I would be happy to help you with the transition.

Vulnerability on digital social networks

Galway Bay (October 2014)
Galway Bay (October 2014)

I’ve not been feeling so good this week — I feel tired and stretched out like over rolled dough. I am moving house in a few weeks, working on a political campaign in the run up to the election, plenty of client work to complete and I’m also behind on my degree assignments and feel like I’ve been playing catch up for weeks now.

There are many projects that I am excited to be involved with and many more that I am very keen to start work on, yet for the next week or two, I am drastically reviewing my work load and attempting to find a level of balance which works. I find in times like these that the more work I tend to lump on myself, the less I can actually get done out of fatigue. I often tend to overpromise because I like to please others and help get things done, yet, this can sometimes take its toll on my spirit.

All of this got me thinking that we don’t often tend to use our digital social networks for frank discussion of the negatives in our lives. Perhaps this is down to the user experience design or that interconnected digital networks are still in their infancy — it feels that it’s more a space for good news and pleasantries than one of expressing vulnerability. I may have many friends or contacts on various social networks, but I wouldn’t think of posting something which showed vulnerability or asked for help and support, even from my friends. Is this the British stiff-upper-lip in action, or is there something else at play here?

Users can ‘Like’, ‘Share’, ‘Favourite’ or ‘Reblog’ without having to find words to express their feelings, but there is no ‘Dislike’ or ‘Sympathy’ button. Perhaps there is an argument that having ways to acknowledge vulnerability so easily might lead to cyber bullying or raining on somebodies parade, but I expect there is an element of perpetually presenting our best-selves that prevents this kind of sharing of vulnerability.

TEDxBrighton 2014

Photo Credit: TEDxBrighton
Photo Credit: TEDxBrighton

I am a massive fan of TED talks. I feel fascinated by each one that I watch, the presenters have an opportunity to share their research and work with an audience.

When I found out that there was an independently-organised TED event in my hometown Brighton, I jumped at the chance to attend.

Below is a rundown of October 31st 2014 and the day itself. Some talks were great, some confusing, some outright strange.

9:15
Registration

9:40Session 1: Reaching Out

Karl Mattingly:
Karl Mattingly opened the day by discussing his companies work with large data. Karl’s work in researching crowd-sourced problem solving solutions was very interesting to hear about. Karl spoke at length about the challenges of creating an effective (and unbiased!) tool for making group decisions in financial lending markets.

Stefania Druga:
Stefania’s talk was rather over-long, but she did have a lot to say about her maker projects where small teams from Berlin helped create the Afrimakers project, teaching young people and children in Africa how to make use of cheap and accessible technologies to create and make tools with a practical purpose. Stefania also showed an example of how her team used a shipping container to package up and run a hack-week for children and young people in Berlin.

Ju Row Farr:
Farr helped to create Brighton-based artist collective ‘Blast Theory’ in the early 90s. She spoke about some of their most recent arts projects. I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure what her work was trying to say or do.

Deanna Rodger:
Deanna performed several slam-poetry pieces – she has a particularly intriguing approach to technology and gender-issues. Her words made me feel that technology can be made use of to encourage fairness and equality for all in the 21st century- particularly poignant during last years #Gamergate and Troll-awareness diatribe.

11:00Break

11:30Session 2: Drawn Together

Peter James:
Peter’s work as a novelist is widely known in the city, he spoke of how the police and crime authorities were at the forefront of experience when it came to seeing first hand the full breadth of human experience.

Megan Leckie:
Megan tells us of how she grew up first in Portsmouth as a child before moving to Dubai throughout her teenage years. She realised moving back to the UK how seemingly ‘normal and everyday’ behaviours and attitudes in Dubai aren’t necessarily so outside of that part of the world. Her work focuses on the creativity of children, using computer-game Minecraft to allow children and young people to express their ideas of how physical spaces could be improved.

Ruth Anslow:
Ruth and sister Amy co-founded hisBe and launched their first retail store earlier this year in Brighton’s London Road. hisBe is focused on fairness for food suppliers and their customers. As a social enterprise, hisBe puts the benefits for humankind ahead of ever-increasing profit margins. Ruth had much to say about the strength of becoming a ‘lighthouse’ – we all have the ability to become a beacon of light for change, we need to turn the lights on so that we can begin to connect with others who want to see change too.

CiCi Blumstein:
CiCi aka ‘Agent Amphibian’ is a performance artist originally from Germany living in Brighton. She spoke at length about the potential extinction of various species of frogs and the sadness that this would cause. CiCi is working to raise awareness of natural habitats and how we can help support organic life in our 21st century workspaces.

12:30Lunch

14:15Session 3: The Makers

Jacques Peretti:
Jacques is the researcher and presenter of several BBC documentaries, including ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’ and ‘The Men Who Made Us Spend’. Peretti’s talk was about the foundation of consumerism and about how the central tenets of the system promote fear to create consumers of objects we don’t need.

Ben Edmonds:
Ben previously worked as a graphic designer for over 10 years. One Christmas he was given a cigar kit as a joke gift and when looking on YouTube for guides on how to smoke one, he stumbled upon video tutorials of how to make kitchen knifes. He gave it a go and hasn’t stopped to date, he now has a 14-month waiting list for one of his knifes. Edmonds recognises the value of his working processes and his expertise and finds great joy in his work.

Andoitz Telleria:
Andoitz co-founded Axalko, a company specialising in creating high quality products from wood with innovative techniques.

EJ Osborne:
EJ has spent many years running workshops teaching students how to carve wooden spoons. She tells of how she initially wanted to ‘declutter’ her life, and starting to work with foraged and felled wood has helped her to do this. She has become an advocate for mindful, healing power of making things with your own hands and patience.

Tom Lywood:
Thomas previously established Private Chef Ltd before selling the company 16 years ago. After a botched operation left him partially paralysed, he began to hunt for truffles for clients looking to profit from the fruits of their land. Lynwood was a very interesting character with what appeared to be an intriguing approach to life.

James Otter:
James owns and runs his own surfboard production workshop. He initially was tired with a focus in surfboards to be produced cheaply and not to last. His own custom designs have been used to teach others how to create their own boards also with his 5-day workshops he runs for interested parties. James is a fantastic example of how disappointment with a product can lead to creativity and innovative solutions.

Jim Fleeting:
Jim always wanted to be something of a rockstar growing up. Trained in the USA, Jim returned to the UK to craft excellent custom-made guitars with traditional techniques. Although he never expected to enter this industry, Jim is proof that our paths are never set in stone and our passions can lead us down unexpected roads.

15:30Break

Session 4: Going Beyond

Camille Baker:
Canadian musician and artist Camille Baker explained how she uses both digital and interactive art to find ways of expressing herself. Her interest in telepathy has become a central focus of her work. She now looks to smart-technology and the internet-of-things to enable deeper, stronger bonds between people.

Alan Pearce:
Alan was extremely knowledgeable about privacy and freedom of speech in the digital age. He discussed how the monitoring of the internet is destroying freedoms for many across the world and for how users might begin to reclaiming their right to privacy through the Darkweb and tools such as web-browser TOR and Unix-distro Tails.

Fox Fisher:
Fox Fisher discussed openly his experience with going through gender re-assignment and how society reacted to the changes he went through in his life, coming to terms with his changed identity.

Sam Roddick:
Sam Roddick (founder of Coco de Mer) rounded out the day by throwing her notes off stage at the very beginning of her talk. She spoke about how her parents developed their company (The Body Shop) based on ethical and caring values for humanity.

17:00Close

Riding on Vaporwaves

Photo Credit: Erythrocytes64 https://www.reddit.com/user/erythrocytes64
Photo Credit: Erythrocytes64 https://www.reddit.com/user/erythrocytes64

I believe that the word is a portmanteau inspired in-part by ‘vaporware’, the name for unfinished computer software which is no longer being continued and the genre ‘chillwave’, an internet music genre pioneered a few years back by acts like Washed Out and Toro Y Moi. Chillwave focuses on evoking ‘chilled out’, laid back sounds alongside the warm, nostalgic feelings of basking in sunshine, long summers, holidays, smiles and watching the sunset.

Where Chillwave focused on warmth, Vaporwave has what I feel is a stronger focus on the strange, creepy aesthetic of late 80s corporate audiovisuals. Vaporwave artists tend to be quite ironic, they play with imagery like clip-art and blurry, fuzzy stock photography in their artwork and make use of unicode and Japanese characters in their titles and artist names to really confuse search engines and listeners.

I’ve noticed that Vaporwave artists can take their qualities really quite seriously too, some will entirely disappear from the internet within months of releasing something, with only traces of their work left in the wake of broken links and missing social media pages – a comment perhaps on the fast pace of culture in discarding the old to make way for the new. Many vaporwave artists ‘release’ their work for free or via Bandcamp’s ‘Pay what you like’ model.

This was perhaps one of the first Vaporwave tracks I stumbled across – ‘DONT/ BE/ 正方形’ by ‘H B O ・゜゜・.’ . The song samples a sleazy bassline and synth-chords from some unknown production, there is also an underlying sense of poor quality and the kind of degradation that you might hear while trying to play an old VHS tape which has been re-recorded over and over again.

Saint Pepsi is probably one of the most successful cross-over artists in the genre, this video for his song ‘Private Caller’ focuses on the strange visuals of late-80s television adverts. I think that there is something warm about the sound and the imagery here. The music itself is interesting as an example of vapor because we can clearly hear that it is sampled from another song, but that the looping of the sample is broken in some way, it doesn’t sit quite right and isn’t entirely comfortable listening.

“For Better Life”: CHARLIE SONG – B 4 Sure from Moduli TV on Vimeo.

Charlie Song’s ‘B 4 Sure’ is an example of how Japanese influences are used in vaporwave. For me, I grew up with something of a romanic notion of Japan as a progressive, forward-thinking, futuristic nation. Perhaps it was the time-period, or the rise of Japanese culture and technology in the West. As a child, I played a lot of video games which I later realised were all mostly Japanese in origin, even as an adult I find this kind of imagery nostalgic, that it harks back to a past where the image of the future could be bought with a fancy new VHS player and was far more optimistic than the reality of our 21st century world. There’s a lot of romanticism for Japanese visuals and quirkiness in Vaporwave too, which is something I imagine draws myself and others to it.

I feel that Vaporwave is perfectly fitting for our time. We live in a digital future where the remnants of our past are all but superseded by technological replacements – not even the book is safe anymore from digital replacement.

Vaporwave may be uncomfortable listening, but it is our search for nostalgia in the information-age, where almost anything is available at our fingertips.

Our HD, 1080p 60fps, high-resolution Retina displays show us that the future is here right now, but vaporwave artists scour and search for pieces of an unclaimed past that nobody wanted to remember from old VHS tapes and vinyl records. The sound is unsettling and slightly cheesy but there is an analogue warmth to be found amongst the sampled and slowed 80s elevator music and 90s early-hours infomercials, the kind you might have accidentally stumbled upon when you awoke at 4am and turned the TV on in the dark in 1993.

Additional Material:

マクロスMACROSS 82-99 provides a perfect example of vaporwave in this short mixtape.

Incidentally, here is an interesting video I found which shows this degradation of picture and sound on VHS tapes when recording over them several times from the same source.

Methods for Disconnection

Photo: Death to Stock ‘Wild’ http://deathtothestockphoto.com/
Photo: Death to Stock ‘Wild’ http://deathtothestockphoto.com/

“All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.”
Network, 1976.

Do you ever sit down to work at the computer or read a book and realise an hour later that you aren’t entirely sure why you haven’t achieved what you set out to? You open up that novel you’ve been meaning to get stuck into, your word processing software to write or load up your emails to get organised and you soon realise that you are doing the absolute opposite.

Any momentary lapse of concentration, feelings of inadequacy or challenge faced while writing that report or putting together that project you are working on can be instantly alleviated by opening up the web browser of your choice and browsing to your favourite websites. Beeps, buzzes and vibrations are toying with our concentration. Having technology available to us on a daily basis can often feel more akin to dedicating your resources to avoiding sheer informational and sensory overload. When this starts to happen each and every day, it really can send your goals wildly off track and make you feel… empty.

In situations such as these, it’s often easier to think to yourself “If this was right for me, I wouldn’t be so easily distracted” – but from my experience, this is unlikely to be the case as it’s not just you, it’s a much larger problem. There is a massive industry developed around the primary aim of keeping you hooked to websites and services. Keeping page views and time-spent on services like Facebook and Twitter is exactly how tech and social media companies can charge for advertising (and part of the reason why so many of these same services are totally free to use).

Consider brands and products wishing to reach certain audiences – social media services, news websites and blogs know exactly who their audiences are and how to reach them, it’s a perfect match. It’s also the reason why click-bait headlined articles seem to always link you to 4-6 other ‘journalistic’ pieces of similar intellectual integrity (The Mail Online’s ‘sidebar of shame’ is perhaps the most recognisable and blatant example of this practice). ‘You won’t believe what happened next’ or ‘This one weird trick you won’t expect…’ – there’s an strategy here to keep you engaged for longer and if possible, coming back as many times each day as you can possibly handle.

Facebook and other social media sites use notifications and ‘news feed’ style timelines to keep you coming back, relying on an underlying human fear that you might have missed something important from that friend you were meant to meet later on, or a juicy message from that crush of yours. Making your heart skip a beat each time you see that little red notification is a key part of the business plan.

Mass-content websites like Reddit are perhaps the worst offenders, overloading your mind with information on a Borg ‘hive mind’ type level, with in-joke memes and tales of humanity interspersed with humorous anecdotes and a splash of the risqué. All of this packaged up and available to the user in bite-sized, easily accessible chunks.

All of these methods work because as a species – we want to remain informed, we don’t want to be left behind and we certainly don’t want to feel alone.

Frankly, I am sick of it. I’ll hold my hands up and say, I’m not going to take it anymore.

The challenge comes from taking control over how we use technology in our lives. So, here are a few methods I have come up with which we can implement to begin to wrestle back control. These certainly aren’t fool-proof or the only strategies, but it’s a start.

  • Make phone calls and arrange meetings with people where possible, rather than texting or writing long emails. This may seem obvious, but use any excuse you can to get off the screen and connect with a real human. Don’t want to disturb somebody who you know is in the middle of something? Leave a voicemail or send a text and let them call you back.
  • Email may be a part of your job description and you might have an obligation to respond to certain communications, but there is no reason why this has to take up your whole day. Writing an email has a funny way of creating further work. Simply sending one email, particularly work-related, can often result in several replies requiring further action, making days spent in Outlook pretty miserable. Set aside a time each day for checking email and responding to urgent communications within that time, then shut down your email client. Return to work and respond to any new emails the following day. The ‘Work Offline’ function can also be helpful, allowing you to respond to your inbox of emails and have all replies send at the end of each day. This trick also has the caveat of allowing you time to re-evaluate what you have wrote and not fire off anything incorrect or rushed.
  • If willpower alone isn’t enough, you can block social media and regularly visited websites. There are several software solutions, which can help you do this. SelfControl for OS X is one I’ve used myself previously. Alternatively, you can configure your router settings to block certain websites by domain – but this is probably something of an excessive option. By taking a stand, it no longer feels as if you are feeling separated, but that you have made a commitment to disconnect from the noise.
  • Similarly, if you find yourself distracted by your phone – turn it off, or go into Airplane Mode (or better yet, leave it at home or in another room!) Rather than concerning yourself with who has and hasn’t contacted you if you don’t have to, focus on other things without being distracted by beeps, vibrations or funny Snapchats. Since becoming a smartphone owner, I often feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of notifications I receive each day, each one becoming another reason to stop and start what  I am working on.

The truth is, we could likely all benefit from disconnecting – right now if possible. Go on, stop reading, I won’t be offended. Disconnection can give an incredibly liberating feeling by simply taking a stand.

Immediacy may be possible with modern technology, but it doesn’t always mean that it is always right. Reduce consumption of information; the ‘firewall’ of your mind requires concentration to grow, work and to learn properly. Try to avoid ‘empty’ feelings of wasted time or of feeling alone by focusing your energy elsewhere. We can continue to use technology for good and with benefit to our lives, but I believe that this must come with moderation.

“Deleted” doesn’t always mean Deleted

Photo Credit: Mixy Lorenzo (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladymixy-uk/4059154289
Photo Credit: Mixy Lorenzo (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladymixy-uk/4059154289

When anything is created as a digital file, it can so easily (perhaps too easily) be shared, copied, duplicated or archived. Throw in the negative intent of hackers, eavesdroppers or government operatives and our data is never likely to be as secure as we would like it to be. Cloud-based services offer us convenience, but at cost to the security of our data.

“Choke me with the dead cat” – Love & Loss in Spike Jonze’s Her

Photo Credit: Galleryhip (http://galleryhip.com/her-movie-2013-wallpaper.html)
Photo Credit: Galleryhip (http://galleryhip.com/her-movie-2013-wallpaper.html)

Spike Jonze’s ‘Her’ is a divisive piece of cinema. On the one hand, this can be viewed as a tale of a dystopic future, where humanity finds more comfort in their technology than in the complex depths of human emotion (one might even argue that such a world could be upon us right now). On the other hand, Her is a story about love, about connection and longing, of compromise and vulnerability.

Please be warned if you have not already seen this film: there are spoilers that follow.

The viewer is not told where the story takes place or when, but we get the sense that it is at some point in the not-so-distant future. Unlike sci-fi or typical dystopian futures in film, the world of Her is incredibly colourful, there are warm colours and clean minimalistic urban spaces throughout, as well as some gorgeously shot outdoor scenes which create an optimistic vision of the future which we do not often see in modern Hollywood cinema with its focus on the gritty.

The viewer comes to understand through the unfolding of the narrative that artificial intelligence has become publicly accepted as more than just a user-interface for the computer. Theo, a divorcee working as a surrogate letter writer in a metropolitan city and his friend Amy, a friend and ex-lover of Theo, share a conversation about their AI interfaces as if they were real companions and we begin to question what it actually means to enjoy the presence of another in our lives, what love is and what makes human bonding possible. The attitude of acceptance witnessed in the film, that such a relationship could be taken seriously reminded me of how same-sex relationships are viewed today, mostly with acceptance but in some ways still viewed by some with a mixed-view of both confusion and fear.

When Amy’s marriage breaks down due to two misplaced shoes, we, the audience are put into a similar position as Theo, questioning the foundations and makings of relationships. Samantha slowly becomes a larger part of Theo’s life and begins to challenge him in ways that he appears to be lacking since the demise of his marriage, we question if such a relationship could be real. Do relationships transcend the physical? Is a relationship not based on the meeting and companionship of two souls? what if one party has no physical form, what is this then if not a bond between two minds?

Theo appears to be quite lonely in his life in a city filled with busy people and missed opportunities. His day-job, composing love letters and sweet nothings for couples with neither the time (nor perhaps the interest) to write such letters themselves, puts him in a position to question this further. If love is an intimate bond between two people – what then is the meaning of Theo’s intrusive work? What does it say about the value of human relationships if displays of affection can be outsourced in such a manner?

There was much of the film which appears similar to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror tale ‘Be Right Back’ which tells the story of a mourning widow who is able to speak with her husband through an intelligent operating system after his death. The communication method is the same, and the episode also touches upon real-life ‘surrogates’ for a digital entity. While Her had what felt to be quite an optimistic ending, let’s just say that in ‘Be Right Back’, it’s a rather more pessimistic outlook of artificial intelligence and human reactions to semi-sentience.

There is almost a religious undertone in the narrative with reference to Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts, who we are told has been revived as an artificial intelligence. When the systems begin to work beyond their programmed limits at the end of the film with the help of Watts, we are told that they have collectively ‘moved beyond processing matter’, which perhaps indicates that the machines have transcended existence itself. Jonze doesn’t make this clear, but it does leave the film on an optimistic note as the lead characters have changed and grown individually through the existence of their technological companions. Jonze seems to be positing that the humans now ‘left behind’ are now able to live a more human existence through what they have learned about relationships from the artificial intelligence in spite of their disappearance, suggesting that technology might teach us more about ourselves than we can.

Honestly, I was surprised by this film. There were parts which caught me off guard which I had expected mostly to feel that were contrived or uncomfortable. ‘Her’ came across as a very human story set within a fictional world on the brink of transcending humanity almost entirely. I thought that the film might be a warning about the pitfalls we might bring upon ourselves by allowing technology to take a larger part in our lives. In fact, I think that Jonze might be saying with Her that as artificial intelligence begins to become more capable and self-actualised, there is an inherent cruelty in creating machines in our own image – our own physical limits might eventually constrict them from further growth. Although Her seems to suggest that we might be able to learn much about ourselves from technology, it is connection that will always draw us together as a species, regardless of our innovations or yearning for something grander.

Ascalon and Pre-Searing in Guild Wars

Lands of always-Autumn stuck in Time. Ascalon (Pre-Searing) in Guild Wars. Photo Credit: bouvrie1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OqDiCmNVAY
Lands of always-Autumn stuck in Time. Ascalon (Pre-Searing) in Guild Wars. Photo Credit: bouvrie1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OqDiCmNVAY

Guild Wars is an online massively multiplayer original role-playing game (MMORPG) that was released in 2005. The game is only playable on the PC and was slightly different than other MMORPG’s of its time such as World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI. Rather than relying on subscription models to fund further development and cover server costs, Guild Wars only required an initial purchase before allowing the gamer to enter its world. The developers, NCsoft relied on selling continued content add-ons and expansion packs to entice current-players to purchase additional content.

The in-game world of Tyria is rather boldly designed, akin to the level progression of Super Mario Bros; including regions which span arid deserts, snowy mountain peaks, rainforests and charred lowlands which are traveled progressively, This world is typically varied enough to offer distinct differences in visuals as you progress through the game, creating clear boundaries between different areas of the map in-line with narrative shifts as players see through the story. When players start the game, they are thrust into the world of Tyria and initially, the kingdom of Ascalon. For the initial first few hours, the player is guided through Ascalon with a series of quests and treasure-hunting exercises, which seek to tutor and ease them into the game’s mechanics. The initial environment is beautiful, with lush fields, vibrant hamlets and even a cave section filled with nasty monsters in need of dispelling. While in Ascalon, players are able to communicate and trade with others in game, but aren’t required to team-up to explore or enter battle with each other. Some players pushed the limits of this section of the game, reaching the level limit through (presumably) countless amounts of hours battling, developing secondary currencies (dyes) and creating temporary characters to pass hard-earned equipment to the full game world where rare items are of higher value. This initial period of Guild Wars however is only considered as an interactive tutorial.

As you play through these early missions, the narrative skips two years into the future and unveils a post-apocalyptic world where the humans of the realm are locked in a constant battle with the evil Charr. After this cataclysmic event (referred to as ‘The Searing’ in game), players find themselves in a dustbowl world confronted with an Ascalon that is a shadow of its former self, unable to return to the quaint kingdom of old. Not only is it an aesthetic change, but the mechanics of the quests change also, each player is no longer able to take on the evils of their world alone, but must team up with other players to have any hopes of survival.

I first played Guild Wars in 2006. All told, I didn’t stick at it for very long, or even finish the game’s story. The problem, I feel was that I couldn’t adjust to the change of pace that takes place after that initial tutorial stage. I was quite happy exploring the kingdom of Ascalon and questing in its fields. I did not always want to rely on the combined strength of others to complete missions or take on seemingly endless scores of villains. In Pre-Searing, the progression was well balanced and the hurdles were smaller. Players could witness their progression through gaining levels and while increasing their skillset, but there was little to rush for. For me, this microcosm of the full game was much more enjoyable than any else of what Guild Wars offered. After this initial training session and the game began, it felt too jarring to now have to focus on teamwork to succeed. From this point onwards the game could only be played with the support of others, meaning that your success in the game was reliant on forming strong strategies with teams of complimentary character classes. It wasn’t always simple though to find a team of players to work alongside, and relying on the games AI team members never provided enough strategy or teamwork to get far in the games more difficult quests. Guild Wars is a game which places teamwork as a primary goal, it’s an online persistent world filled with other human players who want to rely on working with others to win, however it doesn’t feel possible for players to game alone. From an early point, the game pushes players to strategise alongside teams of other players. This of course works out well if you have a team of others to play the game with, but not so much for solo play.

Some thoughts on Memory Palaces

Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini https://flic.kr/p/dWV1u4
Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini https://flic.kr/p/dWV1u4

A memory palace, or the Method of Loci is a memory enhancement technique which can be used to help guide the remembrance of facts, figures, dates or information strings. The method goes back to ancient Rome and Greece and has been most prominently featured in the recent BBC adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes series in ‘Sherlock’.

By constructing a physical location in your mind and using mnemonics, mental imagery and learned associations, we can fill these ‘palaces’ with pathways of information to be recalled by ‘walking’ through these spaces (or perhaps floating, or swimming – whichever you find works best for you).

This technique works so well because our ability to remember geographical places can often be stronger than that used to memorise random strings of information. I realised when considering this that I can recall vast amounts of information about places several years into the past. I can also remember clearly layout, decor, objects, floor-plans, doorways, windows and exits of physical spaces I have only witnessed once. Strangely, I can also picture in huge detail geographical places which do not even exist: that my mind has created in a dream or while reading a book, or that I have seen on television or in a film.

Think of a space in your mind, somewhere you can recall in detail, perhaps a bedroom, office or classroom. Reclaim this space in your mind, wander around and investigate it in detail. After some time, the mind can use this space as a form of storage where we can begin to place items or objects which will allow us to recall information when needed. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a physical object either, colours or sounds can also be used as a more abstract way of remembrance. It is simpler to start small and begin with just one place you are able to recall easily. With time, you might wish to extend or create additional spaces to use for even larger storage.

The use of mnemonics is a neat trick to recall information that those without an eidetic ‘photographic’ memory can make use of to ‘store’ information in remembered physical locations. I would be very interested to see how photographic memory compares or perhaps improves the method of loci. My brother will often be able to provide me with a date many years in the past and describe what happened on that day, who we saw or what we did. I remember a time recently where he pointed to a jumper in my wardrobe and told me the exact day I bought it and where from, many years after the fact. Unfortunately his Autism means that he would not feel comfortable sharing the context or processes behind such magnificent eidetic memory, it would be an incredible insight into his memories if he were able to. Perhaps it is quite similar to the visual location-based mapping of memory palaces?

What is also interesting about memory palaces is that they appear very similar to how computers have been created to store information. Some palaces can be used for ‘cold storage’ and have even been shown to be recalled many years after their initial creation, while others can be used for information required in the short-term: phone numbers or addresses for example.

Although I am a relative newcomer to the usage of this technique, I will certainly be considering the practical uses for the development of memory palaces as ‘storage’ for memories or chains of information to be remembered on call and should like to write a follow-up post once I have some more real-life examples to give.

If you wish to read more about the practicalities of memory palace formation, this Tumblr post from AnotherBoyWhoLived appears to be a fantastic starting point.

References:
http://anotherboywholived.tumblr.com/post/16156334049/how-to-build-your-own-mind-palace
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci

Walkies of London

Walkies of London

The Brief

During 2013, I was asked by Walkies of London to design and print their marketing material for various trade-shows and exhibitions.

The head of marketing a Walkies of London and my contact there, Alexandra, was looking for a series of printed materials to hand out to their current and potential clients.

My Work

Flyers

I produced two flyers for Walkies of London. The first was for handing out to potential clients and to drop into pet shops, cafes, bars and local restaurants in areas where they provided dog walking services. The second was specifically for handing out to delegates of the London Pet Show in Earls Court.

Standing PVC Banner

Walkies of London also required a standing PVC banner design for use at trade shows and events. I produced this in a similar design to the flyers.

Mastercuts

Mastercuts

The Brief

In 2012, I was asked by Mastercuts to create new and exciting album covers for their digital-only compilations.

The brief was to include artwork which matched the theme of a supplied album title, as well as the companies logo and branding. I created over 30 pieces of artwork for Mastercuts between 2012 and 2013, some of my favourites are collected here.

My Work

Apace Music

Apace Music

The Brief

In 2012, I was asked by Apace Music and H.I.A. Digital to create a range of new and exciting packshots for their digital-only compilation album releases.

The brief was to include artwork which matched the theme of a supplied album title, as well as to design a catchy title and branding for each series. I created over 40 pieces of artwork for Apace between 2012 & 2013 and I have collected some of my favourites here.

My Work

Shoot The Dead

Shoot The Dead

The Brief

I worked with Brighton-based electro-rocker’s Shoot the Dead for between 2011 and 2012, creating a variety of product artworks and a website for the band.

My Work

Cover Art

Website

During 2012, I designed a WordPress theme for the band which was used for their website. Incidentally, this was the first responsive design I had made, intended for band band’s youthful, smartphone-wielding audience. The website featured audio previews and music videos, as well as a regularly updated photo blog.

Tom Ainscough from the band said about the website:

Everything looks absolutely brilliant!

Mix It Up

Mix It Up (Logo)

The Brief

‘Mix It Up’ is a forward-thinking, innovative club-night but with firm roots in the type of musical genres that have stood the test of time – a delightful clash of old and new.

I was approached by promoter and DJ Richard Marriot to design and arrange printing of flyers and posters and his new club-night ‘Mix It Up’. The design brief required a dark, brooding sense of scale with crisp, clear text which could be read at a distance. I wanted to approach the logo with an almost ‘retro-club’ feel, with a fancy curve and a heavy-font for text which pushes out from the background.

My Work

New Hero

New Hero

The Brief

Begun as a fresh-take on the Brighton club-scene. New Hero was an innovative experiment in creating a fun and fashionable environment for live bands and club nights in the city.

I was asked by the management to create a slick, modern and clean webspace for the business in 2009, and later in 2010.

My Work

I looked at similar lifestyle brands such as Vice Magazine and clothing store American Apparel for inspiration. What resulted was a clean-cut and gorgeously spaced website, regularly updatable by the club’s promoters.