Friday, 28 February 2014

What are TSOHost like to buy from?

Following on from my Search for wordpress hosting I will now share the experience of signing up with them and moving my blogs over. 

I'm planning a slow migration while I learn Wordpress in more depth, figure out the plugins I want and deal with migration issues. I'll move my smaller blogs first and learn the process before attempting Colchambers because with over 500 posts I need practice beforehand.

Account Details

I went for wordpress hosting on the professional grade. The free domain name I bought was fit2thrive.co.uk

Payment

What impressed me right away was being able to pay through paypal. Services like this usually seem to use bricks and mortar credit and debit cards which are clunky. Paypal is a much nicer approach

mails of invoice and receipt came through instantly along with the new account details.

Domains

When you buy your domain you get a mail confirming your registration. It starts with

Hi Colin,
The domain name fit2thrive.co.uk has been successfully registered. The details of your domain are as follows:
I like that in the mail they make it clear you own your domain and aren't locked in. Their words are:
Advanced Users: If you have hosting elsewhere, you can point this domain elsewhere by logging into My.Tsohost.co.uk and changing the nameservers or DNS settings.
 I like companies that believe in their ability to keep your loyalty without locking you in. It's good business in my eyes.

Support

I did get a strange mail during the regeistration process.
Hi Colin,
Thank you for registering the domain name fit2thrive.co.uk with Tsohost. In order to complete the registration, the co.uk registry require additional information to be provided.
Please visit my.Tsohost to supply these details. We will then re-attempt your domain registration.
Should you have any problems or queries, please do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.
I've never had this type of email before when registering domains and there was no detail about the problem. I logged into my account and checked and found no more information. Not a good start!!!

I quickly emailed TSOHost and got a courteous and clear reply about 5 minutes later. The bad formatting of this response is down to blogger. It's part of the reason I'm leaving.
Hi Colin,
Our apologies for that.
It looks like that e-mail is in error.
I suspect there may have been a momentary delay in the registration process which caused our accounting system to log it as a failure.
The domain is registered, so that should function perfectly well once you've added that to the Hosting Account as a new site.
Please feel free to let me know if you require any further assistance.
Kind Regards,
 I can live with mistakes when I'm supported like this. So my confidence is restored.

Overall

So far I'm happy but of course that was the easy part. Next I've got to configure my account and start a migration. That's where the fun should start :-)

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

How I submitted my Blogger sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools

So I came across my account at Google Webmaster Tools and couldn't help but have a look through. To my surprise I hadn't submitted my blogger sitemaps to Google. I did so years ago for this colchambers blog so I already had a guide but I thought I would just have a quick check to see if things had changed and also because I had forgotten what I did in the first place. 

Atom

I found a good set of instructions in How To Submit Blogger Sitemap To Google Webmaster Tools? and followed them. 

The only problem is that this describes adding only an atom rss feed. For colchambers I have submitted both an Atom and an RSS 2.0 feed. I forget why but in fact it proved useful. The atom feed had two errors yet the RSS 2.0 feed had none. 

RSS 2.0

I see them as backups. If one feed has errors the other will work fine. The sitemap tools have facilities for hundreds of sitemaps implying that there is nothing wrong with adding multiples. So that is what I did. 

To add this additional site map I simply used what I tried adding /feeds/posts/default at first in the way suggested for the atom feed. This worked fine but only returned 25 responses. I expect google works fine with this because it's just returning the most recent items but since the Atom feed could return 500 I wanted 500 in this feed too. 


Result

This resulted in each sitemap submitting the same number of articles. Currently each sitemaps is shown as an atom feeding but they are still pending. I'll see if this changes when they are accepted. I compared with colchambers and the sitemaps there are categorised correctly. 

I hope this helps. Maybe you have a better way. I am not sure if the max results is required because colchambers seems to have been working fine with the standard feeds but then I haven't really researched and analysed this area thoroughly. 

At least I have now submitted my sitemaps to google. I can see if this has an impact in traffic or any other discernable impact. 


Monday, 24 February 2014

Using AWS

I don't really know what AWS is other than it's a cloud based it infrastructure.

You get account details:


Tutorials


Key questions


  • AWS native or supplier like Bitnami?: Do I use AWS as it is or go through a 3rd party supplier and checkout the marketplace
  • Do I just stick with the hosting I have bought for now. Figure out AWS over time? It seems very complicated for now.
  • Do I just need to understand what AWS is instead of forcing PHP on it? Is it ready out of the box. e.g a data store on demand?

Simple DB

  •  Online games: Docs mention it is good for games

Friday, 21 February 2014

Search for Wordpress hosting

Unless I find something better I'll be using Wordpress in future so I'm looking for hosting. Here is the list of hosts I've found so far.

I'm not totally sure what I want yet. Just seeing what's out there. I'm not set on this being my long term host. I've used hosting before but not for a while. So I know you only really know the market and what you need from it when you actually set up your site and use it. In most situations you either love what you have or get by for long enough. So I can't expect perfection in my first choice because I don't have the time to find it. Compromise is expected, I just don't know which aspects I will be compromising on yet.

Review Process

So the layout of this post is:
  • Reviews: A quick search on the current market
  • In the hunt: Hosts that fit my criteria
  • Favourite: My preferred choice
  • Failed the grade: Hosts that don't match my criteria

Related reviews and discussions

My search for "good wordpress hosting uk" returned:
I found others but I quickly found some hosts that impressed me enough and then a clear winner.

In the hunt

These hosts are currently in the hunt as part of my current search.

Detailed review: As my review progresses I've begun a spreadsheet to make a thorough review easier

tsohost (My Favourite) : We're UK WordPress Hosting Experts, Supporting Over 10,000 Installations.
  • package:
    • Standard Hosting package at £2.99 a month (paying £34.99 for the year).
    • Pro: £4.99/month (£50/year)
  • Hosted software: The list of supported software isn't obvious. I found it in web hosting under the second 1 Click Apps section. Click on the title  "1 Click Apps" to expand the list which includes:
    • Wordpress
    • Drupal
    • Moodle
    • phpBB
    • OpenCart
  • 1 free domain name: What are their terms? Is it easy to migrate the name out?
  • support: email 24hr, phone 9am - midnight
    • I asked a question through the sales query tab on their site. Got a response within a couple of minutes. It was a tough technical question "Is it possible to use git with your professional hosting package?". Not something everyone would know. The way it was handled was very professional.
  • used by: mumturnedmon
  • review rgbartlett
  • 2.5gb disk space
  • network information provides an in depth explanation of the whole technical setup from network to server and database infrastructure.
    • I like their backup statement "Unlike conventional hosting systems, we are able to take backups multiple times per day with absolutely no performance degradation. These backups are instantly browsable via our online control panel and files can be downloaded or restored at will with no need to contact support."
  • Knowledgebase is a giant forum: Checked some recently updated threads on 
    • .Net 4.5 and was impressed by the clarity of response. A lot of useful detail companies don't usually share. A good sign.
    • Domain auto renewal period again very professional. Good clear explanations. This one took 16 days to reply though so not super quick
Good UK hosting. More expensive than TSOhost. Not as much information available as TSOhost and everything EVO offers is matched or bettered by TSO.
  • price: slightly higher at £64.99/year £6.49/month
  • Faster web servers: For better performance, we use LiteSpeed, a premium web server that's up to six times faster than Apache. 
    • Interesting but could that also mean compatibility problems.
  • free domain for life: We'll keep your domain registered for you for free for as long as you host with us! Not included on monthly billing.
    • I have to check they allow you to take it with you if you leave and don't charge extra.
  • SSH Access Available (On request - Further T&Cs Apply) implies I can use git
  • lists the software actually available including Joomla, Mambo, WordPress, Coranto, ocPortal, Drupal, b2evo, WordPress MU & More!
  • Crowley said I have been using them for the last 6 months, as they are in the UK and my customers are too I get a better UK Google ranking on my affiliate blogs than if my sites were in the USA. Their support guys are great -- I can't say anything bad about them, you can install wordpress in 1 click using their Installatron and they give you a free domain.
  • Their not standard hosting options could be a blessing and a curse. Could make things faster and easier but also make it hard to find support on google. 
  • knowledgebase just a simple page with a few links. 

  • Good testimonials and sample sites: Of course these are presented by 34sp themselves. I like to see it but have to take them with a pinch of salt. Though they have got people to put their name and site to the 34sp brand and they have presented it well.
  • Features and version easy to find
  • weekly backups
  • limited one click installers: phpBB and wordpress. No Moodle
  • Data Centres and Network : sounds good but no match for TSOHost. They do everything here and more.
  • Support
    • forum though when I looked through there wasn't much recent activity. Particularly recent support activity!!!. Don't know the hours of forum support and its priority
    • knowledgebase Seems ok. Information seems accurate, useful and easy to follow. Searching seems easy
  • feature list is clear and extensive
    • .ssh access
    • moodle, drupal, phpbb
    • courtesy site backups. How often and not offsite!!
  • detailed hosting plan details including server details if you choose advanced in the feature list then advanced features in the capabilities field. Impressive to actually see the server spec you are buying. 
  • US host


Favourite

TSOHost are my favourite so far. They seem to match everyone else on price and features and then do more. The customer service seems implicit in what they do.

I didn't complete the Detailed review completely because it was hard to find all the information. That in itself helped make the decision. TSOHost has everything filled out because they made the info clear enough. In the end TSOHost beat their competitors on:
  • support, 
  • ease of use of their site: which implies ease of use of their services. What you see often reflects what you get
  • price, 
  • features
  • backups
So the choice is hands down TSO Host. To top it off I heard such good things from mumturnedmon who hosts a busy wordpress site. Independent reviews make all the difference.

Outstanding questions

  • Free Domain Names
    • Q: who owns a domain your register?
    • A: You do. We always register domains in your name not ours.
    • Q: how easy is it to transfer out? any costs and requirements
    • A: It depends on the type of domain. They don't apply restrictions and you can obtain the EPP(auth) code through their web admin panel and initiate a transfer without contacting support. Though some like uk domains require support to update the IPSTAG
    • Q: Do I get to manage the DNS?
    • A: Yes
  • Site transfers
    • Q: Does this include blogger to wordpress transfers?
    • A: Yes
  • Multihost
    • Q: Can I host multiple wordpress sites each with their own domain name?
    • A: Yes. I double checked the web hosting page and it's pretty clear. The number of sites depends on your package. Professional hosting would allow 6 separate sites.
  • Database Storage
    • Q: You can have unlimited mysql databases on a professional account but what storage limit will the DB be taking up? Is it the hosting storage or a separate one and what is the limit?
    • A: Database storage is included in hosting storage. There is no separate storage quota.
I just emailed sales@tsohost.com with these questions. I got an instant reply with a ticket number which I find a good sign. I now have a solid reference I can use any time I contact about this query.

Now I just see how long they take to respond. I'm quite excited to get started but it's a big decision so I need these questions answered.

Response

About a minute later I got the following response. It's pretty general so I feel it's ok to share.

Hi Colin,

We always register domains in your name not ours. We are your registration agent but the domains are yours. That means if you ever want to transfer them out then you can do - we won't stop you.

With Nominet (UK domains) the domain will be registered to you or your company, with us just being the TAG holder. With gtlds you have the ability to change the registrant, technical and admin contact details through the client area.

In terms of transfer outs, you can get the EPP (Auth) code through the client area, as well as unlock the domain name. That means you do not need to contact us to move the domains away. If you have a UK domain and want to change the IPSTAG away from us, just open a support ticket and we can do it right away.

On our systems, space is allocated for everything in one go. So you can use that space for website files, emails, databases, logs etc -- it all comes out of one pot. The only other limit we set space-wize is that a database should not be bigger than 1GB. If it is then it becomes inefficient on shared hosting and we'll suggest you move it to a virtual server instead.

Wordpress migrations are usually pretty straightforward. We can move the files and database, then update the wp-config.php file to get it running through us.

If you are moving from a self-hosted Wordpress (or another blogging platform like Blogger) it's slightly different. There is an import tool we can use to do it for you. However, bear in mind you may need to reupload images and so on, as our migration team usually require full access. We always try our best though!

regards

--------

I'm very impressed. A nice clear answer with plenty of advice and detail and a lightning fast response. Of course when you contact sales in any company you generally get a faster response than contacting support but it's a good sign. I'm convinced any way. 

It's a risk who ever I go with but these guys seem to be really high quality.

Failed the grade

US hosts but the exchange rate suggests I could buy more there.
http://wpbloghost.com/
  • not impressed couldn't find a list of features
  • prices are around £5/month - £8/month
  • You don't know what you get for your money
site5 Failed because they're US based and no better than UK offerings. Couldn't find enough detail

  • seems ok. US based in Texas. Provide server specs, 
  • no monthly plan for cheaper options
  • recommended by t31os who said  i also found http://www.site5.com to be very good, very fast response times to tickets etc... but this was Posted 4 years ago!!!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What is grep and How do you use it?

That's my random thought today. Given the success I had last week with find and xargs I am inspired to understand the most common unix utility I hear about. The mighty grep.

What is grep?

The technical answer is ok but leaves you guessing. Gnu says
grep prints lines that contain a match for a pattern.
in their grep section

A better definition comes from HowTo: Use grep Command In Linux / UNIX – Examples
The grep command is used to search text or searches the given file for lines containing a match to the given strings or words.

How do you use it?

HowTo: Use grep Command In Linux / UNIX – Examples provides some nice straightforward examples. Though I couldn't get the search working in a folder, just on a file.
grep php /mod/quiz 
returned no such file or directory. It will be user error but it's what the tutorials show.

Though I am using GIT bash on windows 7 MINGW32. That could be the problem.

Turns out I need to prefix the command with GIT e.g.
git grep php mod/quiz

this worked fine but returns too much. So I then tried a search with a smaller file base
git grep link question/type/calculated/lang 
This returned a lot less. I also had to remember to type :q to quit the command in git bash. Note that I don't prefix the path with / this returns and error. ./ works but isn't needed. 

Atleast now I know the basics. I'll find a use for it soon I expect :-)



Monday, 17 February 2014

Is running a blog like running a shop?

I see a running a blog as like running a shop. There are those featured items on display and some in the window. These are what everyone sees and draws them in. The big ticket items and big sellers. Then there are the other items that get far less readers individually but as a whole make up a large part of sales. Making the shop more of a whole.

So the principle of running a shop matches that of running a blog. You can have a great shop but if people don't know you exist then you will fail.

This point of view then brings all aspects of business into play which can seem daunting at first but since there is so much help out there for running a business I like to think that makes it easier. It's also why I chose to simply get experience in work first before doing anything like my own business.

Working for others teaches you about success and failure while learning at your own pace and minimising the risks. That's the point of employment as I see it. You don't take all the risk so obviously you don't get all the reward but this means that you can either win or learn and be diligent until you find the idea that fits you.

I've been looking around for the business model behind blogging and found a few. Despite what many claim I don't see any as new, just adaptations for our age. Good writers sell copy through articles or books, graphics people sell images sometimes as books, people with either video or presentation skills sell videos. It's no different to the old world of hardback, comics and video except you get everything sooner.

I've been following conversations like Penelope’s Guide to Blogging which resonates because it's practical. Just blog, get out there and the business model will figure itself out. Deep down that's how I see it. I look back at what I've written in the past and I am proud of much of it. It's the kind of stuff I like reading. It's helped me connect with people I want to connect with. That's the start of a business.

So if my blog is like a shop, I need to understand my market then the right location etc, etc. First I need to understand how I'm helping people. That's what I've been exploring for years. Like everyone else I can see so many things I can do and ways I can help but what am I passionate about that others want and I do well?
I only buy products that fill my own need. That's the point. So it helps to understand my own humanity to see what to do with my blog.

I asked Ian Westermann of Essential tennis about success online. Ian is a successful blogger I have been following for years and I find particularly approachable. His advice was similar to Penelopes. Video has worked well for him. This seems to resonate with his market and skillset. He's a tennis coach. Most tennis instruction is visual because people respond best to it. Though he has tried all sorts of approaches over the years and basically worked very hard.

The point here then is that I prefer to see blogging as like any other business. You need to understand how you help people, who you help, how you help them best. Questions around how you help people with a specific aspect of your life underpin your blog just like how you attract people to your shop and get them to buy.

I also wonder if the better analogy is that a blog is like a shop window. It feels like promotion and marketing to me. I do it to connect and learn. I'm a software developer by trade. I can see all sorts of opportunities to produce products but I buy most things after reading around. So I visit lots of places to find out what I should buy. Often blogs are core to my research. Occasionally I will buy from a blog, sometimes I click an ad but I keep returning to blogs that I found useful.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

What is Microsoft Azure?

I was talking to a tech buddy during a play date this weekend. He's currently updating his Microsoft accreditation and is really impressed with what he's learning. He's telling me how he can write one application and publish it to multiple devices, phone, tablet desktop in a snap.

Backend cloud processing for Unity

Yep, we've heard it all before, it's called html 5 these days, but this guy isn't a newbie, for example he's already using phone gap and loves it. We're talking here about solutions for serious backend cloud processing that are maintainable and scalable. Essentially something to rival Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Web Toolkit (GWT).

I was interested because Unity has introduced me to the power of .NET. I already know other Microsoft products like Visual Studio from when I used it years ago and I've been supporting and developing on Microsoft software for so long I'm pretty familiar with their quality. It's not perfect but I was wondering if this could be a useful solution, particularly something to work with Unity.

I've been searching for Unity backend services including Photon and Smartfox Server and both have the strengths and weaknesses. I was wondering if Azure would be a good fit given it's microsoft and so I assume .Net pedigree.

Quick Comparison

Talking to another colleague I learned that AWS and Azure are pretty similar services but key differences were

  • Pricing: 
    • AWS billed per hour. Fire up your machine and you are charged for an hour even if you just use 10 minutes
    • Azure billed on time machine is running: You only pay for when your machine is actually running
  • Builds and publishing
    • With AWS being unix based it's easy to build your server locally and publish to AWS. A very quick process. Same as building your applications
    • Azure: Longer more difficult process for building your server and then publishing code and software builds
This is an on going explorative article. Helping me decide if Windows Azure is fit for my purpose. So if you have anything to add please do. Particularly if details are wrong. The comparison of services is more hear say at the moment. Something I need to clarify. 

Concerns

My concern with Microsoft is always lock in. They are in my view a walled garden because I learnt to support and work on Microsoft first and from then on I've been struggling to get out. Over time I have learnt that this comes directly from their business model and hence their way of doing business. 

Their systems and products are always sufficiently different to anything else they ensure you must buy their next product. Here's a quick list of MS products I've used along with competitors that I found I prefer:
  • I ran IIS servers for years and then I found apache. 
  • I ran windows for years, recently I found Apples OS X. So far it's hands down better.
  • MS Office v Google Docs, I don't need the power of Office. I need the presence and accessibility of Gdocs
  • Exchange and Outlook v GMail, With GMail I often search for details 7 years old and find them in seconds. 
  • Visual Studio v Dreamweaver or eclipse. Dreamweaver does better HTML, eclipse does more than just MS code for free
The big lesson of course has been Internet Explorer v Firefox and Chrome as a web developer with passion for the front end I have always designed for firefox and chrome first and then made things work in IE. This is probably the simplest way of describing Microsofts solutions in my experience. 
Develop for the solid quality products first. Then make it work on Microsoft

So why consider a Microsoft development pipeline at all? 

I like to keep my ears and eyes open. Not be prejudiced. Mainly it's because Unity uses .Net. I assume this is because of Xbox. So I don't want to dismiss MS out of hand because there could be some part of the process that's useful or other benefits I don't yet realise. 

Related Articles




Saturday, 15 February 2014

Friday, 14 February 2014

Penelope’s Guide to Blogging

So I've started reading Penelope Trunks blog and I have to admit I'm quite fixated. The way she writes just draws me in and I want to share everything. You know how it is when something resonates with you. Of course I don't want to just share everything I read because that's not what blogging is about.

Today I'm sharing Penelope’s Guide to Blogging because it is typically straight to the point. I've been exploring various approaches the past few months and learning a lot and found much of it resonates with Penelopes advice.

I notice that she has created a bunch of posts on a topic and then made each post the title of each paragraph. That's the vision I have. Her focus on getting on with it speaks right to me. I believe you get good at what you do regularly and that's what I'm finding. When I look at older posts compared to now I see a marked difference.

Success will take time

I like her comment about lack of readers and that you won't make money directly because I feel it's true. Like anything there are the high flyers and the rest of us. The few make most of the money. Those are often the people who get the most readers. That takes time and effort. Just like any venture you rarely succeed early on. It's just nice to be reminded early on to give you better perspective on your results.

I also add things to my blog that I want to read. That's the main criteria I set. If I feel I really want a record of an article later on then I post about it.

I like having Multiple blogs

That is also why I break one of Penelopes guidelines. I have 3 blogs and I'm planning more. The reason is because my core passion covers so many topics from 3d virtual reality and programming to biology and sport. As one it just seems like a mish mash of ideas. Separately each blog has a focus I can build on. As I go I link them up but for now I feel it helps to have separate blogs for a clearer focus for each.

I big advantage is that I can try lots of different things out. I believe in achieving success through learning which means trying ideas out. I'll be moving to wordpress soon which is a big change. Having multiple blogs allows me to spread the risk. I'll move the least popular or challenging blog first. Make all the newbie mistakes and do a better job with each successive blog.

It's obviously a lot more work but then I got 5 A levels with this approach where most get 3. So I could aim for 50 points when everyone else could only get 30. They had a lower maximum point limit. I had to work harder but once I realised how each A level could help the other it all got quite easy.

So I've taken Penelopes basic list of points to give you a checklist, check out her article for the full detail, I found it a useful quick primer on a fun and practical way to approach blogging.

Advanced Topics:

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Who are PrimeSense? Microsoft Kinect and Apple

Primesense are a fascinating firm because they developed the sensors that made Microsoft Kinect possible. The Israeli company are the market leaders in providing computers with the ability to read natural gestures from humans like moving their arms and body. This enables us all to interactive with our digital devices without a mouse, game controller or other device. We just use our selves as the input device.

This evolution is opening up tremendous opportunities for interactivity and experience in the virtual landscape of computers, tv and any digital device.

While Microsoft brought the technology to the mainstream through their Kinect platform it is rumoured that Apple were the originally intended patron. Turning down a deal at the time preferring Siri, the voice recognition technology, instead.

Apple just bought Primesense signalling an about turn in strategy and triggering inevitable speculation on the reasons why. Forbes speculated why without coming to a conclusion. cnet say it's to enhance their maps offering.

What I notice is that PrimeSense are incredibly passionate in the concept of natural interaction with digital devices. To the point that they have developed thier own OpenNI (Open Natural Interface) standard and development kit linked to OpenNi.org. This is the kind of leadership I would hope for from the leaders in Natural Interaction.

As I learn more about Apple, having recently bought my first device, a macbook air, and then an ipad mini I learn that under the hood the standards they set are particularly high. Git and Unix spring to mind. They care about incorporating best of breed technology into their infrastructure and ultimately consumer products. This takes time. So I am wary of listening too much to the gossip I hear about failed mergers. It's never as simple as just plugging a company and its technology in.

We're still waiting to see where this will all lead. The first signs are that the Primesense web site has stripped all news and other info. I remember reading that they had shrunk their technology so much they were now aiming for mobile phones. That implies it will be in iphone and ipad soon. When and if isn't clear. What purpose they would have isn't clear either. The most obvious application is for Apple TV. A real game changer and the most common rumour.

What makes most sense to me is owning the platform not the app the Structure sensor is a fully funded kickstarter project promising amazing potential for Apple products. Now that Apple own the OpenNI standard they can ensure projects like this get the best support possible. Taking the competitive advantage away from their rivals. Structure for example allows your device to scan a room and generate a 3d model. What this means for users isn't Apples concern. That's for app and device manufacturers to explore. Apple has just ensured that they will do it on Apple products.

I'm certainly growing in my faith in the Apple brand and its mission as I learn more about it.

What we do know is that tt's certainly an exciting time to follow tech.

Related news


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Moodle Unity Question Type

Brief

Connect unity with the drag and drop question type so I have a unity front end and moodle question back end. Like pattern match has jme for visuals.

Use it to connect with sports and life science guys at the OU and elsewhere along with games for change people.

Detail

Connect unity to moodle through a question type. Moodle is the backend. Storing data, doing analysis and providing the quiz and course aspects. Unity is the front end. Providing the content and interface.

Can develop and deliver in the open using tools I know. I combine earning and playing while developing a symbiotic infrastructure other educators can use. Making it easier for them to improving the quality of their teaching process.

Provides a stable location on which all platforms can depend and share. One place connecting all users. 

Just figured out that I could easily connect unity with the drag and drop question type so I have a unity front end and moodle question back end. Like pattern match has jme for visuals.

Can do the same with unity. Then have a simple api to build moodle quizzes into my virtual training.

Moodle is my backend and I'm writing a contrib solution as a way to start talking about biology and sports science while building a specialist interface between techies and non techie specialists.

Builds into Moodle + Unity + AWS Infrastructure

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Are comments now part of Google search results and core to SEO?

In Blog Commenting – A Practical Guide for Bloggers an interesting point was raised. I can't say that it's really new. People have been saying how useful commenting is for years but I haven't seen anyone make the point that comments are now search results.

I'll look more closely into this now that this point has been made. The idea is interesting because I'm thinking why wouldn't Google include them. Googles main focus is on truth and fact and their search business is about gving the customer precisely what they want. The rise of social has thus provided a new type of fact, the comment.

When I search for solutions to problems, which I'm doing right now with a unix issue, the answers I want are in the comments, not the main post or discussion start. So the theory makes sense to me. I'll now watch for the practice. 

Thanks to Karen Jain for this insight. I visited his google+ stream after he left a comment to learn more. His comment led me to the article. Kind of proving the point.

I believe the route google has taken is circuitous. For years they've been investigating ways to curate and organise social data and activity. Google+ is core to this but they've been trying long before.

Fascinating to see that comments may now be a key part of their strategy.

Monday, 10 February 2014

what is affiliate marketing: Rise of the new economy

I'm on a discovery process to understand What is Affiliate Marketing?. Good introductions are important.

Michael Rich of Nam  commented on my post and shared a good introduction what is affiliate marketing: Rise of the new economy. So I checked it out and here are my thoughts.

Obviously they promote their own products. That's the name of the game. What they do well is give you examples of markets you can find existing affiliate offers so they help you see how this can be a practical solution that fits you.

It's quite a long post which can be good and bad. Good for those who really don't know anything about this topic. For me I know plenty about business. I'm learning the specifics of Affiliate Marketing and how to apply it.

I can see lots of opportunities but few fit the mission for my sites. Health and Fitness for example mainly sells supplements as pills and creams. That's the opposite of my beliefs. The point is to reduce the need for these things and understand the damage they can do.
My message is: fix your body through understanding it. Spend money and effort on gaining knowledge, not popping pills. I've yet to find something that supports this.
This intro is good. It's part of 10 more articles. I'm interested to see where they lead.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Can you run phpunit tests on entire folders?

I'll warn you up front. This is a post about code and programming. If you've already fallen asleep it won't get any better :-)

My day job is about code and I see the purpose of it all as finding faster ways to do something than before.

Today we have quality control duties. We upgraded to the latest version of Moodle (2.6) and so we're checking all our plugins work. This means running a bunch of boring tests. Some automatic, some manual. Most not as automatic as I would like.

So of course this is a chance to learn something.

Moodle uses PHPunit and you run their unit tests through the command line. The advantage is that you can then use the power of the command line to automate things or at least that's the theory.

In this case we use Git Bash, not the windows command line itself. This gives us unix like functionality and a chance to learn some unix. Useful for a guy like myself who got trapped in the Microsoft castle early on in my career. I've been struggling to get out ever since.

I have the task of checking 12 question types, 3 reports and 2 other features. My first thought? How do I automate thee.

Individual tests

I started running each individual test with commands like

vendor/bin/phpunit qtype_ddimageortext_walkthrough_test question/type/ddimageortext/tests/walkthrough_test.php

learn more at phpunit: the command line test runner
Then I realised I needed to do this for each test file of each feature. That's a lot of files

Individual Folders

I asked around and came up with
find question/type/ddimageortext/tests/*_test.php -type f -print | xargs -n1 vendor/bin/phpunit

This taught me some Unix. I didn't realise that in Unix you can query the file system much like you query a database through sql. Fascinating.

What this sentence does is first find files for a given query then use xargs to execute the phpunit tests with the required parameters

Find

The find command is everything before the |

find question/type/ddimageortext/tests/*_test.php -type f -print

You break it down as follows

  • find : Find items given relevant parameters
  • question/type/ddimageortext/tests/*_test.php:  all files in the given path matching the *_test.php expression
  • -type f : match files. For folders use d
  • -print : Print results to the command line. Otherwise you don't see anything.

xargs


The xargs command is everything after the |

xargs -n1 vendor/bin/phpunit

You break it down as follows

  • xargs : create a series of command line statement items given a utility and argument
  • argument -n1 take the first item passed from find as an argument to follow the phpunit statement
  • utility vendor/bin/phpunit phpunit is a utility xargs can call
That broke my head a little at first but now I have described it I finally feel I actually understand it :-)

Which test has been run

This was working really well. I could see all the tests in one folder had passed though I realised I didn't know which test file was being called each time. There was nothing to tell me the file name or relevant classes. Not critical but I could see the potential to search all question types and thus multiple folders. At that scale I need to easily identify which files have problems.

enter phpunit --debug
The --debug switch is the only option I could find to print out anything related to the test file being processed. It prints too much info, each individual test that is run but it's better than nothing. So I went with it.

That built the command up to
find question/type/ddmarker/tests/*_test.php -type f -print | xargs -n1 vendor/bin/phpunit --debug

All folders in question/type

Then of course I saw the potential of just running all the tests in the question/type folder because I'm going to test most of them anyway and it's quicker than checking each individual folder.

So I try:

find question/type/*tests/*_test.php -type f -print | xargs -n1 vendor/bin/phpunit --debug

and find two problems.

  1. There is too much information flashing by. I need this stored to a file
  2. The run aborts when it reaches the stack folder. Ignoring the tests after the stack folder

Save to file

This one is straightforward just add

> unit_tests.txt

to send the results to a file in the location your shell is currently at.

Exclude a folder

I tried various options to get round the stack errors including:
  • phpunit::filter patterns to avoid tests that errored and stopped the run.
  • find only specific folders
The first didn't work. The second just seemed more complicated than my final solution.

So I ended up telling the find command to ignore the stack folder. It took a little doing but once I got my head around how find works it became straightforward. 

I just needed to tell find to exclude anything with a path of stack. I did this using -not -path "*stack*"

Ending up with:
find question/type/*/tests/*_test.php -type f -not -path "*stack*" -print | xargs -n1 vendor/bin/phpunit --debug > unit_tests.txt

I just ran the command and it worked perfectly. I now have a file listing the results of all the unit tests in the question/types folder. I found two warnings of incomplete tests but nothing else. Result!!!

These are some of the references I used from the search find all directories except


Of course now it seems simple. The point is that I learnt a lot about unix. I now understand two unix utilities and that the point of unix is that it is
a bunch of utilities that you can link together in various ways like lego to achieve any end you want. 
This is quite literally a small step for my coding but a huge leap for my understanding of operating systems and why unix is the father of all we have today. I now understand why everyone else reveres it so much.

Templates

This would all seem like a lot of work for something you do rarely. That's what everyone tells me when I share this. You see I log all this and keep it for later. Last time I built a nice template for testing which I just brought out again this time and copied as a basis to begin with. I have the same work to do plus a few more features to test.

Now I have added much more to the template so I can get the job done to the same standard next time but faster. I've always found this iterative approach a great way to learn and also improve so I'm sticking with it. The only difference is that I'm now sharing it more openly. 

Friday, 7 February 2014

The top five unexpected costs which could catch you out this year

Reading through bloglovin I found The top five unexpected costs which could catch you out this year. It's useful because it makes some simple but crucial points that aren't obvious to everyone.
  • Car Repair
  • Tech Breakdown
  • Vet Bill
  • Washing machine repair
  • Opticians bill

A lack of savings 

This is the biggest reason people make rash decisions like getting sudden loans. It's also a large reason many companies fail. Some unexpected cost occurs and you don't have the cash around in an account or somewhere to pay for the repairs or a replacement.

Preparing for the unexpected

I hadn't realised but saving £3 a day adds up to £1,095 a year. That's a lot of money to get you out of a jam. It is also £21 a week or £84 every four weeks. So it's not so trivial but it is also the cost of
  • a beer, coffee or other drinks
  • a magazine
  • snacks

Budget

A few years ago my wife and I started a budget along these similar lines. Stuff is going to go wrong during the year that needs addressing and that means cash. Borrowing money makes it more expensive because you pay the loan + interest and while you're paying the loan you have less money for your life. In effect you're paying more than you should. Wasting any savings you might have got by shopping around to fix the initial problem. 

The great thing is that while many of the problems listed have occurred to us in recent years our budget planning has saved us.

Car bills have been the most common challenge and they can add up quickly. When you only have one car you cannot go long at all without it. Tech is also crucial to us, like many it's key to running our lives. Phones and the like have had their problems and quick fixes and replacements are critical.

Assuming investment will be required at some point or points during the year and planning for this has saved our bacon a bunch of times. 

So I share this because these concepts have really helped us. They're not new but I do like how simple this article makes the process. Just £3 a day or one beer. That is doable. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Affiliate Marketing: Finding what products and brands fit?

I have 3 blogs I would like to use affiliate marketing with:
  • colchambers.co.uk exploring human performance and sharing what I learn including 3d worlds, software development
  • competitiveurge.co.uk competing: business, sports (particularly tennis), education
  • cellyoursole.com gaining health through activity and understanding your body better

The challenge is in finding the right affiliates and products to promote so I'm wondering what guidance you can give. I've had a quick browse and quickly felt I could do with a little support picking the right things

Competitive Urge

For the competitive urge I found fantasy sports this is from twist, I forget whether I found this through MoreNiche or elsewhere but right now I'm just trying to pick the relevant genres. Then I can find specific brands and products. I played fantasy sports before and enjoyed them so I can see the fit with CompetitiveUrge though I'm still looking for more ideas

Cell your sole and colchambers are trickier

Cell Your Sole

Cell your sole is in the health and lifestyle area but most money is made through pills and nutrients. The complete opposite of what my site is about. Apps that help you get healthy fit as do review sites or maybe health programmes. I wonder if you have any ideas. The key is about helping people get more active and help them see the benefits. Pedometers, personal trainers, fitting movement into your day. Stuff like that

Colchambers: Human Performance

Colchambers is my general stuff following my lifelong passion to understand my body and get the best out of it. Something I want to share with my family. A combination of cell your sole and competitive urge and also my day job as a programmer. I'm an entrepreneur and inventor. I'm currently exploring unity3d for designing 3d virtual worlds and just bought a macbook air to make development easier and as part of an entertainment solution. These might give you some ideas.

Taking my time

So, you may see why I will take a while to get the most out of affiliate advertising. If you can help please get in touch. I'm already using amazon affiliates and adsense so I have put some effort in but I like exploring options. I'd like to support products that fit my existing interests. If you can help me then I'll get there sooner.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

What is Affiliate Marketing?

I've been hearing a lot about this recently so I am on the journey to understand what it is, whether it fits me and if it does,how to make it work for me.

The main idea is that you shouldn't get all your revenue from the one place. Ads are fine but other options are available. I keep hearing that Affiliate marketing is a useful option so I want to see if it stacks up and what it could mean for me or you.

A quick search found

Definition

A definition of Affiliate Marketing:
In affiliate marketing a 'publisher' (essentially an individual or organisation with a website) acts as an outsourced digital sales team for your business, promoting your products in return for a commission. 
They do this by carrying promotional adverts on behalf of an advertiser and if visitors to the website click on this advert, the link takes them to a site belonging to the advertiser. Dan Cohen

Tips and intro

"You have to regard it as a business and, in a year, once you've put in the time marketing your website, mastering search engine rankings and adapting your content, you can give up the day job." Robert Parker, 25, from Leeds
Nam offers provides a  good introduction in what is affiliate marketing: Rise of the new economy. Giving practical examples of markets you can find existing affiliate offers so they help you see how this can be a practical solution that fits you.

Some tips on how to do it well:
  • 7 Big Mistakes New Affiliate Marketers Make A useful intro list to help you keep on track. It reminds you that a business like approach is still key. Understand what you add and build on that. 
  • A beginner's guide to affiliate marketing an excellent introduction to the industry. Well explained providing a nice guide to starting. Key insights include:
    • There are publications and communities devoted specifically to affiliate marketing (see for example,www.affiliates4u.com) and it is also moving up the news agenda for more general marketing magazines.
    • Do the simple things first. For a really straightforward start you could just apply to an established affiliate program, choose your preferred advertisers and opt for something called automated ad codes.
  • Affiliate marketing: hard but lucrative: The guardians view. Provides and excellent overview and lists some of the key affiliate marketing firms
    • Affiliate Window, offers high street brands ranging from fashion to electronics, and members can choose niche specialisms within each category.
    • The Internet Advertising Bureau's (IAB) affiliate marketing council chair, says "Affiliate marketing is an excellent way to generate an income from online advertising, regardless of the size of your business,"
    • MoreNiche, an affiliated marketing company that allows third parties to sign up for free, and whose member retailers pay commissions of up to 40% a sale
  • Affiliate marketing for beginners: A guide written by Andrew Slack MD of MoreNiche.com featured on smarta
    • Find a mentor - When first starting out there's a steep learning curve.
    • Join a community - In addition to a mentor you should also consider joining a community of likeminded individuals. Here you can ask questions and get lots of unique feedback. Some leading affiliate forums include, Affiliates4U, ABestWeb andWickedFire.
    • Don't spend money - The aim of affiliate marketing is to make money, but it's also very easy to spend money
    • This is not a get rich quick scheme
    • Enjoy it - Affiliate marketing should be enjoyable and you have the flexibility to work when you want, where you want, and on whatever niche you want.

Amazon Affiliate

On my to do list I've been intending to review some of the stuff I have recently bought from Amazon. I already have an affiliate account. This quick search has convinced me I have to put this task to the top of my list and do it. 

What I have done is add the deals widget from the amazon affiliates admin page. The current adsense banners aren't doing much so I feel like trying something new. Exploring what's out there. At least I'll learn something.

I don't expect it to make much difference but then it won't hurt. I understand that you need to explain why a particular product is adding value.

I've already tried the affiliate links in book reviews:

MoreNiche

I've heard enough about MoreNiche so I visited their site. While there I signed up. I generally sign up to most things. Straight away I'm impressed. You get your own manager assigned with a phone number to call and email address to get in content. Assuming these details actually work that is the first time I've been given a real person to work with.

I don't have time today to take things further. My approach is always to see what I can get done in 10 minutes. Signing up and having an account is always a start. I expect to get some emails to remind me to take things further and I've got this post to push me too.

Your personal dashboard is quite well put together. You have the 5 first tasks todo:
  • Pick your first product to promote
  • Send 10 Visitors Via Your Affiliate Link
  • Speak to your personal mentor
  • Make Your First Sale ( Sales : 0/1)
  • Make 10 Sales ( Sales : 0/10)

And a bunch of useful links in the nav bar.

Exciting so far. Lets see how far I get with this. given the initial questions of what I would like to promote I saw a bunch of gotchas. The categories were:

  • Weight Loss
  • Health and Beauty
  • Anti Aging and Pain Relief
  • Teeth Whitening
Nothing wrong with the categories but I am going to have to think and learn a lot how to talk about things the way I would like. Given time I should figure it out I'm just so used to the hype surrounding health and wellness. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

What is the best cloud application production infrastructure for me?

This is another exploratory post considering the way forward this year. Blogging is now core but still just one strand of a wider goal I've been pursuing for years.

I see blogging as conversation but also specification and wider thought. In the process of delivering a product or service I've found early discussion and collaboration to be essential. Blogging is the simplest way to do that.

I can easily try ideas out. Present them, get feedback and see what people actually use or engage in. It also allows me to pursue many different paths of though. See where they lead and develop the core concepts of an idea better.

The long term vision though is to produce media and programs ultimately leading to games and experiences. So the question today is what is the best infrastructure to support this. Now the web has become a utility and most products and services support it you can basically take your development and production process where ever you go and get the job done. At least you can if you pick the right tools and learn how to make them work in your workflow.

First I'll brainstorm my current thoughts to see what I already have in place or could put in place. See if this covers enough bases and look for holes in the idea. This should also give you more of an idea of what I am rambling on about.

Essentially I'm asking what is a good enough, or brilliant, development and production setup that works at work, home and out and about. Is there one or must I compromise and where?

What I want to do and how I currently do it

  • Blogging: Blogger and Wordpress. Will move to self hosted wordpress early this year
  • Unity 3d: code stored in github, Store output files in dropbox public folder
  • HTML 5: code stored in github, developed and published through cloud9ide
  • Content store: Dropbox public folder. Works on all devices, reliable and built for scale
  • Distributed Versioned file store: for managing codebases. Use github free version.
  • Learning tools: planning a self hosted moodle install
  • Web server: PHP is the language I use the most and supports the most popular web software I'm likely to use
    • Drupal, 
    • Wordpress
    • Moodle
The questions I have are many and varied and I'll answer them over time. Here are a few to give you can idea of where I am going:
  1. Is there one host that would do all this? I don't think so and I don't think I would want it. Too much lock in. The hassle of so many different solution is balanced by the freedom to connect and switch them as needed. AWS or bitnami for example
  2. Do web hosts support github these days or is ftp still the norm? github is so much more straightforward. Cloud9ide does it so well.
  3. Is it possible to provide data and server side programming on a web host and use this as required in html 5 and unity applications? Seems a relative no brainer. Just haven't got round to it.
  4. Is dropbox a good enough content delivery network (CDN)? Isn't designed for professional use but for now is it good enough. What metrics should I gather?
Creating this article has been useful already. It's helping me formulate what it is I'm actually trying to do and see that I do have most of it already in place or I know it can be done and how to do it. 

Essentially I feel we're entering a world where many parts of the infrastructure that support an application or experience are distributed. The networks and data rates are so good and reliable and the tools understand how to make it work easily enough. 

For example I think the way Tennis results are expressed isn't very good. I find it really hard to follow the tours as a result. All I need is a reliable source of results in a format I can reinterpret as requoired. Then I need tools to visualise this data in ways that help me follow the tour and understand the results better. 

That's just one example out of hundreds. The infrastructure you would need is 

Data provider

The web server provides and stores most of the data. Handling the following jobs:
  • something to pull in the data, 
  • turn it into a standard format 
  • and store it. 
  • Then supply it when needed. 

Visualise the data

 The tools to visualise the data include:
  • HTML 5 developed and published within the cloud9ide editor or dropbox public folder
  • Unity developed within the unity editor published in dropbox public folder

Both have excellent cross platform ways of sharing and visualising data. 

Content delivery network (CDN)

Dropbox hosts the media files for me including the unity files. It hosts images too. Not a good place for videos.
Youtube hosts many of the videos I share and some I have uploaded. 
Should this be my web server instead or is it best to keep these things separate?

Distributed Code Management

Git manages the code throughout the infrastructure and gets it where it needs to be. Currently using the free public version.

I'm asking questions like:
Which hosts support a git workflow?
Should my wordpress sites be under a git workflow?
My gut tells me not yet. Just get good WP hosting first so I learn what that's like. Get a separate git hosting elsewhere and when I'm ready combine the two some how.

For now I'm just surveying the scene.

My search returned plenty of results with people doing just this so it's possible.




Graphics and image Editor

I'm using the pixlr editor app in chrome. So it is the same across all my desktops and does the basics I need for now. Mainly editing photos. Resizing them for web. Accepts photo urls as well as local files. Means I don't need to install a separate image editor on each desktop and maintain it. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Spongelab: Build a body

Just recording the sponge lab game Build a body that I just found. Click on the launch interactive button to play the game.

It's like the google virtual body but also part of a much wider assortment of learning tools on spongelab. Very interesting to find.

Spongelab calls itself
The best in digital learning.
and claims to be
A global science community 
So of course I want to explore this site over time. I'm starting  with their Build a body game.

I could pick apart the interface and interactivity but I think that's unfair. I find it quite simple and straight forward. I didn't need any instruction. It just worked. You place parts of the body where they're supposed to go and learn about them as you go.

What more could you ask?

In truth simplicity is great for learning. This tool doesn't try to be more that it needs to be to demonstrate the concepts. So I like it. Of course I would suggest it be made in either HTML 5 or unity for cross platform support but that's just a future feature. The concept it what is important and it's done well in my eyes.

So I'm looking forward to looking at the other resources sponge lab offer.