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Global Artwork - Web Design and Website Development, based in Sydney, Australia

ASP.NET Security logs access error

Monday, October 11, 2010 @ 05:10 PM
admin

System.Security.SecurityException: The source was not found, but some or all event logs could not be searched. Inaccessible logs: Security.

I was getting this error when migrating a site to a new server. The error is as it says, the user account does not have permission to write to the security error log.

It was driving me nuts as I tried giving read permissions to the network service in Regedit on the event log folder, as specified here:

http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/forums/en-US/windowsgeneraldevelopmentissues/thread/00a043ae-9ea1-4a55-8b7c-d088a4b08f09/

No luck.

I couldn’t understand it until I had a look at the application pool the website was running in. By default in Windows Server 2008 sites do not run under the old ASPNET account but instead runs under Network Service.

However my application pool was running under “ApplicationPoolIdentity” not NetworkService.

To get it to work, just make sure you have:

a) Added the permission for Network Service to write to the event log. run “regedit” and navigate to this folder:

My Computer > HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\EventLog

Right click the EventLog folder, go to permissions and add Network Service.

b) Go to IIS Manager (Run > inetmgr), go to the app pool your application is running in (you can find this in the properties of your website). Ensure the account is running in is the NetworkService account.

Hope it saves you getting stuck like I did!

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At work this week I had a little task assigned for the Toyota website site to display the number of fans of their Facebook page on their main site.

Previously this used to be a little awkward, using the Facebook API to grab data.

I did a bit of a Google search to find out if anyone had done this but couldn’t find an example, so I thought I would write it myself and post it here should anyone else need the info.

Facebook Graphs

Recently Facebook introduced a fantastic new JSON service that makes it extremely easy to grab any public Facebook data called Facebook Graphs.

These are REST interfaces to grab data in JSON format from a number of Facebook sources. The apis available are:

Some of these services require an authentication token to be passed, but the data we want, the number of fans of a page, does not require this.

Using jQuery, I just issued an AJAX request to the page to get the result :

<div id="fbfancount"></div>
<script type="text/javascript">
//add connection to facebook to get user count
var fbConnect = (function () {
    var fbURL = 'https://graph.facebook.com/toyota.aus&callback=?';

    //get the number of users with an ajax call
    $(document).ready(function() {
        $.ajax({
            url: fbURL,
            dataType: 'json',
            success: function(data) {
                $('#fbfancount').text(data.fan_count);
            }
        });
    });
})();
</script>

So why not use the jQuery $.getJSON() method? I did try this but it didn’t work, as I *think* that Facebook doesn’t support JSONP, so will not return the callback function. I didn’t have time to investigate fully, but if anyone knows from past experience why, post it in the comments!

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A / B Alternate Page Views

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 @ 09:01 AM
admin

In the print media world, running an ad is fairly expensive. The ads go through multiple levels of refinement until finally those creating the ad send it off to print. After that point, changes are impossible.

How do you know that ad was the best you could have done? If you’d changed the tag line to red and bold, would it have made a difference? Moved the telephone number up to the top? Used a more positive picture? All of these are impossible in a single ad once its been printed.

To test out if it is any better, next time you run the ad you can make the changes, but the environment might have changed? Is the subject in the news as much that week? Is it a recession, and less people are buying magazines? Is it school holidays, and less people are sat at the bus stop looking at ads?

In the online world, many people still think the same. The marketers debate how things should look, where things should go, but noone measures what DOES work. Because the people making the descisions are the marketers, not the users, really you should be measuring how effective an ad is. To do that, you need multiple ads, all with slightly different permutations.

Online, you can do this. Create several versions of an ad, track the clicks to impressions ratio and see what works best for your users. Next time, retire the worst performers, think of some new ideas and constantly evolve your ads to get the best results. In the web world this is called A/B page views.

Although this works with ads, the most useful way I have used this system is with pages, not ads. Specifically it was with the final buy page on an e-commerce site. A huge number of people get to the final stage of the buying process then abandon their checkout. Our goal is to minimise that number. Marketers often come up with their own tactics. Offer a time limited discount to purchase immediately. Throw something in free. Provide some “social confirmation” that they are making the right choice by adding positive user reviews, reassurance of the security of the site and their data. Or maybe test the form layout? Are you collecting too much information and scaring people off? Are the error messages breaking their flow? Are they just browsing for the final price including postage, so should you let them save their cart or show postage earlier?

Below are some quick examples of a/b pages I created based onDrupal’s Ubercart ecommerce software.

This first idea is the standard layout of the checkout page of Ubercart. Its also actually the standard layout of most shopcarts, as your eyes generally travel across to the quantity, down to the subtotal, then carry on down to the checkout button below. Ideally however, customers should know what to do instantateously. It might be a good idea to try and make your MAIN call to action (in this case the checkout button) clearer, so users know where they are expected to go:

One problem with this layout is that if you have a lot of products in the shopcart, the call to action button will be below the page fold, and users will not no straight away what to do. Some sites might like to try out an extra set of update and checkout buttons at the top of the checkout form, so when the page loads, the call to action is obvious:

Finally, your call to action may not actually be the checkout button, but may be to keep users shopping and adding more and more products. Or maybe western customers generally look left to right, so your design might suit the buttons being reversed? Would this be more effective for your site? I do not know, so find out by maybe switching the button sides:

As to the actual technique for switching, there are several methods, but I prefer using a javascript randomiser to switch css classes, then set a cookie so users continue to get the same page (to save confusion with pages switching designs between postbacks!). I also ensure both pages are tracked, as we want the ratio of views of the versions to orders placed.

Because you can’t be certain of which things are most effective without testing and to properly test you need a large enough recordset, spend some time to make sure the results are enough to eliminate statistical variance. When you are satisfied you have enough results, drop the bottom one, take the features of the top ones and repeat, constantly evolving and improving your site.

You can do this with catalogue pages, product pages, information pages. Test new features you think users might like. Most of all, bear in mind that quite often, what the marketers and developers thought was the best wasn’t necessarily what the users thought, so be prepared to change tack.

Please Digg this below or post any comments if you have examples of using  multiple versions of pages.

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Windows Powertoy Image Resizer on Vista

Thursday, January 7, 2010 @ 11:01 AM
admin

Windows Powertoys were some great tools created by microsoft engineers as little add ons for XP.

My particular favourites included:

TweakUI – the (semi) famous TweakUI is useful for changing some default windows look and feel parameters.

RAW Image thumbnailer – Useful if you shoot pics like me in RAW format, so you don’t just get the Photoshop Icon and have to keep guessing which pic you need.

Open Command Window Here – If you ever do much in the shell, this saves you a bit of typing. Useful if you are several layers deep in a directory structure in explorer with similar names, eg logfiles – just right click on the folder, choose the option and you are at the right directory in the command window.

Alt + Tab Replacement – This sort of mimics the alt-tab functionality in Vista, and to a lesser extent Windows 7 by displaying a small representation of the page instead of just the program icon. Note that on some older machines (and maybe some really weak netbooks) I found this slowed down alt+tab considerably, so only use this if your machine is a little newer.

and my absolute favourite

Image Resizer – I love this one. Select a single file or multiple files, just right click and choose resize.

I use image resizer myself frequently, but I quite often recommend clients who are less tech savvy to use this tool for resizing images before uploading to the web. I don’t think its possible to get a simpler solution.

When I switched to Vista, I realised how much I needed that application. Fortunately a version for Vista appeared quite quickly, and is available from http://imageresizer.codeplex.com/, or you can get a copy from my site here. Just for legacy reasons too, you can download the XP version here.

Prish Image Resizer is another simple resizer tool that does the same as Image Resizer, with a little more options. More information is available at http://prishcom.spaces.live.com/. I haven’t actually tried this one, but will give it a go to test it.

Image Resizing in Web Development

I feel this is a step sometimes missed in web development, as most sites now use a CMS, and most CMS’s allow you to upload images. Better CMS’s also automatically resize images on uploading to the correct dimensions.

However even if this occurs, most clients upload normal photos from their cameras, which are in the region of 4-5mb for a 6 megapixel camera. Some CMS’s also do the resizing just in HTML rather than physically resizing, resulting in huge page sizes for just a few images, and visitors to the site will not wait that long to view a page.

Also there is the time taken to upload the pictures and process them. If the client is on a fairly slow connection and has a few pics, it can take them a while to upload.

Finally you have the disk space problem, where if you are storing lots of large files on the server, you are paying for disk space you do not need to use.

A far better solution is to resize the pictures to the maximum size you would need before uploading, and this is where the tool comes in handy.

Ideally I would recommend Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Imageready for image scaling, but these tools are a little daunting for some people. Even if you do know Photoshop but do not use actions, using this tool is much faster.

How to Use It

It really is unbelievably simple to use. Once its installed simply right click on a file and choose Resize Pictures:

When the dialog box pops up, select the size you need. If you are uploading for the web, 1024px should be fine, and will instantly reduce the file size from 4mb to about 40kb, a 100 fold decrease in size.

Normally you can just click ok then and the image will be resized and a new file will be created with the same file name as the original, but with (small), (medium) or (large) at the end.

If you want a specific size, choose advanced to view more options. Choose custom to set the max width and height you require. Note that the image dimensions are maintained, and the sizes you choose here are not the actual size of the resulting image, just that the image will fit into a box of those dimensions. So if you have an image that is originally 1500 x 750 and you need it to me a max width of 300, put in 300 x 5000. That way the image will be 300 pixels wide and not constrained by the height. In the case below I know the image is wider than high, so 300 x 300 is fine.

Note also I chose “Make the image smaller but not larger”. ALWAYS do this, as otherwise you will get some horrible images if you try to scale an image larger than it was originally. Go ahead and choose “Resize the original pictures” too, if you don’t need to keep the large sizes. Obviously do not do this on your original photos – copy the ones you want to another directory first.

Finally, your image is created at the appropriate dimensions.

There are a couple of disadvantages to using Image Resizer. Firstly I have found it does not handle gifs as well, with occasionally crazy lines as it tries to interpolate the lines when shrinking. Colours also sometimes do not match up well with some funny rough textures created. Finally, you have no options on the quality of the image, but for most people the default is adequate for most blog posts.

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How much fuel do we use in a year?

Monday, January 4, 2010 @ 01:01 AM
admin

******EDIT *******

Spilk over at Reddit pointed out I had a major mistake in my calculations. The figures I originally calculated represent only 41 days of power. The pictures shown below are now the proper calculations. Thanks for pointing out the mistake Spilk!

**************

Sketchup is a fantastic 3D modelling package that Google bought a few years ago. Having done a small amount of work on Swift and Maya, I found this tool immesurably simpler. This is how 3d interfaces should be done! The commands, whilst very different to common 3D packages, are all logical and started to come naturally after only an hour or so of experimentation.

Inspired by PageTutors post on how much a trillion dollars is that used Sketchup for the illustrations, I thought I would have a go myself by calculating and displaying how much of a energy based raw material would be needed to power the entire world for a year.

The world uses about 474 exajoules, which equates to about 15 TW (1.504×10^13 W) of power usage at any one time (2005 estimate) (source).

1.5  x 10^13W * 24hrs * 365.25 days = 13149 * 10 ^ 13 Wh = 13149 x 10^10kwh.

I then looked up the amount of electrical energy that could be produced from 1kg of firewood, coal, oil and uranium. Whilst looking for this information, I also came across Thorium as a power source, which looks very interesting, with none of the obvious drawbacks of conventional nuclear power. I will include it here, but this is not yet a commercial option. Note this is not the energy density, as power plants usually only operate at 40% efficiency, so I tried to find the amount of final electrical energy produced.

1 kg firewood generates 1kw-h of energy
1 kg coal generates 2-3 kW-h *(assumed 3kw-h)
1 kg oil generates 4-6 kW-h *(assumed 6kw-h)
1 kg uranium generates 50 000 kW-h
1kg thorium (or reprocessed uranium) generates 3 500 000 kw-h

Sources :
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_development
http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Development/devnine.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071014210223AA8sTVx
http://web.ead.anl.gov/uranium/guide/facts/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHs2Ugxo7-8
http://www.ltbridge.com/

I then looked at the mass of the raw materials required to power the globe based on 2005 figures.

I used Sketchup to draw a cube of the amount of those materials needed if they were used to power everything for a year. I also put in a scale model of the Sydney Opera House for a comparison of the scales.

Firewood

131 490 000 000 000 / 1 = 131 490 000 000 000 kg firewood
131490000000000 / 600kg/m3 = 219150000000 m3 of firewood
Cubed root of 219 150 000 000 = 6029 x 6029 x 6029 m cube of firewood.

The calculations above resulted in a cube over 6km high, which is about 13 Empire state buildings on top of each other (the building is 443.2m to the top of the spire). In the example above, the Opera House barely registers.

Note that I took a density of the wood as 600kg/m3.  There are obviously lots of different types of wood, varying from balsa at 130kg/m3 to Ebony and Lignum Vitae up around 1300kg/m3. I would not imagine people cooking using ebony though, so took a mean density of some dense softwoods or softer hardwoods. Obviously if you take something as light as balsa, this cube would have been much larger.

Coal

131 490 000 000 000 / 3 = 43 830 000 000 000 kg coal
43 830 000 000 000 / 1426 = 30 736 325 385 m3 of coal *note – took mean density of bituminous and anthracite coal
Cubed root of 30 736 325 385 = 3132 x 3132 x 3132 m cube of coal.

Coal is significantly more energy dense than simple firewood, but this is still a 3.1km high cube, or nearly three and a half Empire State buildings on top of each other.

Oil

131 490 000 000 000 / 6 = 21 915 000 000 000kg oil
21 915 000 000 000 / 881 = 24 875 141 884 m3 of oil
Cubed root of 24 875 141 884 = 2919 x 2919 x 2919 m cube of oil.

There isn’t a huge difference between coal and oil in terms of volume, because although oil is much more energy rich than coal, it is also less dense (it floats on water).

Uranium

131490000000000 / 50000 = 2 629 800 000 kg uranium
2 629 800 000 / 19050 = 138 047 m3 of uranium
Cubed root of 138 047 = 51.68 x 51.68 x 51.68 m cube of uranium.

When I first worked these figures out, I wasn’t sure I had got them right. I have kept the similar scale as the oil to demonstrate the huge energy difference involved in extracting energy via nuclear means rather than chemically through burning.

Lets have a look a little zoomed in.

Its clear creating energy via uranium is efficient in terms of raw materials, but I would certainly not advocate an all out push for current nuclear practices. Normally only a small percentage of the raw material is used, leaving most of this quantity shown above as highly radioactive waste.

However while researching this post, there are a number of promising technologies, loosely grouped into Gen IV nuclear, that attempt to address these problems. Some continue to use uranium but limit the waste issues, some are just much more efficient. None are perfect, but all are better than current systems. I thought the most promising one was the LFTR reactor, using Thorium.

Thorium

131 490 000 000 000 / 3 500 000 = 37 568 571 kg thorium
37 568 571 / 11 700 = 3211m3 of thorium
Cubed root of 3211 = 14.75 x 14.75 x 14.75 m cube of thorium.

Density sources :
http://www.simetric.co.uk/si_wood.htm
http://www.simetric.co.uk/si_materials.htm
http://www.about-the-element.com/92-the-element-uranium.html

I must admit I am trying to be as impartial as possible and let the facts talk, but I was so surprised at these figures I had to go over them again to double check. If anyone wants to triple check, please give it a go and discuss it in the comments.

Also note I also do not take into account embodied energy, that is the energy required to create the fuel, including digging it up and processing. I would assume that extraction of coal and oil, while using a significant amount of energy, would be a lot less than enriching uranium, but I cannot find any accurate information on the energy required to assess this. I guess its not the sort of information you want to put up on the web with states looking to pursue nuclear weapons ambitions! From sources I have found, it seems it is highly dependent on the quality of the ore, but I would be most appreciative if someone could suggest where to find a reliable source this information.

From my personal investigations here, it seems using nuclear energy, particularly thorium if technological progression allows, is better for the environment out of the list above due to the small amount of raw materials needed to produce huge quantities of electricity with little CO2, provided we can solve the proliferation and waste storage issues. Cheap energy could also provide clean drinking water for boosting agricultural output in marginal quality lands and significant power for people in the third world.

Some other advantages of the LFTR Thorium reactor include the huge reserves of Thorium (several thousand years), inherent safety (it is a sub critical reaction, so cannot melt down), the majority of the waste is fine to handle after only 10 years, you can throw in old nuclear weapons and they will convert them to safe materials, and it is much harder to create nuclear weapons from this type of reaction.

So why aren’t we using this energy source. From what I have read, this is not a physics problem. The science works, and has been tested in the 50s. The problem is an engineering one. The reactor burns at 4000k, and passing extremely hot corrosive salt through pipes without corrosion or failure needs some new solutions.

Still, until I did some reading I was a nuclear skeptic, and still am using much current technology. However this has given me some hope that technology can solve much of the worlds problems.

However there are huge dangers with conventional nuclear power with nuclear proliferation issues that are somewhat solved by thorium and I believe this technology really should be investigated more. Any way to take the benefits of nuclear power, including massive quantities of cheap abundant energy, combined with removing the drawbacks such as nuclear proliferation, radioactive waste disposal and safety concerns is quite promising. I hadn’t really heard about it before this post, so I am in no way an expert, but if anyone knows more or can provide some impartial research, post info in the comments!

If anyone wants to find out more and get up to the fairly basic level I got to, I would encourage you to watch the Google Tech Talk by Jon Bonometti for more information.

I am interested to see how this compares to conventional renewables such as wind, solar, wave and tidal power, as well as some “out there” suggestions like orbiting solar reflectors, so will do another post comparing these in the near future.

Please, feel free to investigate my figures, critically analyse them and provide constructive feedback and discussion.

Oh, and if you liked this post can you click on the Digg, Reddit or other  aggregators below? Thanks!

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Friday, December 25, 2009 @ 01:12 PM
admin

Ankor Wat, Cambodia*

Just a quick post to wish everyone a good 2010. Im really feeling excited about next year and am sure there will be lots of exciting things happening. We live in such interesting times!

I’ll be spending new year watching the sunrise at Ankor Wat temple in Cambodia – a 12th century ruined city, and UNESCO world heritage site. Can’t wait!

Best wishes

Simon

* Stunning pic from Wikipedia Creative Commons by Brohard
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Drupal setup for enterprise level sites

Monday, December 21, 2009 @ 03:12 PM
admin

drupalDrupal is a fantastic framework for enterprise based websites due to its speed in adding new functionality, its multisite capabilities and out of the box user management. These, combined with useful modules such as workflow and domain access allow companies with typically one or two main sites and multiple microsites, to share content and functionality whilst allowing groups such as marketing and legal departments to approve content before publishing.

However, enterprise level sites normally require greater considerations when setting up due to the fact there may be multiple developers working on the codebase. Also security is paramount, as well as speed, reliability and resistance to DDOS attacks.

There is a fair amount of content on the web about basic Drupal setup, but I will share with you my thoughts on setting up an enterprise level solution here. This is in no way meant to be an official guide, but more to give you some things to consider when setting up. I would love to hear any other thoughts or ideas on optimising sites for large scale Drupal instances, or any criticisms of my solutions so put your ideas in the comments!

Initial server setup

As a mimimum, most enterprise level sites require at least two or three load balanced web servers, a database server and possibly another file server. The two web servers obviously provide failover protection should one go down, but I normally try to stick with one single database instance and instead ensure agressive caching of content on the web servers.

This is not ideal for projects that require constant fresh content from the database (eg custom pages for each user), but in my experience caching has been far more reliable than the risk of data corruption from problems with database mirroring across multiple databases.

The reason I also recommend a separate file server, maybe using the load balancer to redirect all file requests to that server, is that if you do not do this, you either have to store the files across the web servers, or store them on the database server. Again, you either have to put pressure on the database server or mirror content with all the associated complexity with ensuring content is replicated constantly. I much prefer moving large content to a scalable provider, such as a cloud storage solution.

Cloud storage

If you are expecting hundreds of thousands of hits or provide large files such as videos, I would also look at using some form of cloud storage of files, such as Amazon  Simple storage service (S3), to take some of the weight off your own systems.

If you find two or three web servers cannot handle the traffic, I would start tho thing about taking this further by setting up an entire cloud based environment using Amazon EC2, allowing you to cope with huge spikes in traffic. I will not go into setup here, but if you want more information, Arope provides a fantastic tutorial in setting up a LAMP stack on EC2.

File system setup

Drupal can be divided up into two areas – the core drupal files, which do not change across all sites, and custom components of a site, including themes, modules, setup and configuration information.

Our primary concern in enterprise level sites is security due to the high site visibility, and hence we need to be up to date as soon as any patches or updates come in. Updating should be as quick and easy as possible, and because of this, we have begun setting up the codebase in the following way.

/<site folder>/
   /cores
      /drupal-6.14
         /all core files in 6.14
      /drupal-6.15
         /all core files in 6.15
      /drupal-6.1x
         /any new cores added in this pattern

   /custom
      /sites
         /all normal stuff under sites, including modules, themes etc

   (optional if you do not follow the above plan and have files on the same instance)
   /files
      /<sitename>
         /all files for each site

A symlink is then set up to put the sites directory and the files directory into the most recent core, like so:

/<site folder>/
   /cores
      /drupal-6.15
         /all core files in 6.15
         /sites <- SYMLINK FROM ../../custom/sites/
         /files <- SYMLINK FROM ../../files/

When a new version of core is released, the new core files are dropped into the core folder. All that is required then to upgrade is to :

  1. if you are using url aliases, copy the .htaccess file from the root of your older drupal core to the new one    (or you will find aliases stop working)
  2. back up your database and all files
  3. add a new symlink in the new core for the sites directory
  4. add a symlink for files if you have the files on the same
  5. change apache to point the site to the new drupal core
  6. restart apache

Obviously NEVER do this on your live server first – complete this on your staging server to test everything first. Also we do this with a script to ensure nothing is forgotten and no mistakes are made in upgrading.

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Making Decisions

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 @ 11:12 AM
admin

Who makes decisions regarding your website? Is it the CEO? The Head of Marketing? The IT guys? Who should it be?

Id argue the best people to make that descision are the users themselves. Why bother guessing what they are looking for when you can get the answers you need from them.

Using a tactic called Crowdsourcing, quite often the best results can be obtained.

Lets take horse racing. The odds on horses (at least in Australia) are descided by the number and amount of bets put on. Therefore, with enough people choosing, the favourite emerges at the top, and the one least likely to win falls to the bottom. Usually, with enough votes, the probablilty of a horse winning is roughly equivalent to its odds.

The same is true in many areas of life. Shares, TV ratings, the Pop charts, all are descided by users making collective descisions on what is best.

I’m not saying there are no other choices, but these give the best idea of what people need or are looking for.

Take this same tactic with your website. Thinking of adding a new feature? Ask users which one they prefer by having a poll. Look at the searches people are performing. This is a gold mine of information. Capture whatever the users are searching for and create new content to push those top ten queries to give the users exactly what they need. Think of tactics where you can ask the masses to make group decisions, because quite often they work excellently.

Google Moderator in Education - Google ModeratorI was inspired to write this post after playing with Google Moderator, an app that uses collective intelligence. Lets say a lecturer is speaking to 300 people at a university. Users can have the moderator page open for the speech, and if they have a question, instead of putting their hands up and asking it, they post the question on the page. Other students in the lecture can see this, and if they also want to know the answer, they can vote it up or ask a new question.

By the end of the lecture, the questions that the majority of the students want to ask are shown at the top. If the lecturer answers say the top 10 queries, he satisfies the majority of the students for the minimum amount of time spent, avoiding answering queries that just one student had that everyone else knew, stalling the entire lecture.

Obviously this could be turned around another way afterwards, because the lecturer can look at the questions that come up and can see that his lecture is falling down in explaining certain concepts. He can then tweak his lecture to focus more on these points, improving his students knowledge.

Could this tool be used in your business? Why not, in your next newsletter, use the app to see ways you can improve in the eyes of your clients. Post 10 sample questions up there, but let users add their own, and see where you can improve your client interaction.

Id love to hear of more examples of this being used, so comment below if you think this could be of use, or has been of use.

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Thanks for the sponsorship!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 @ 07:12 PM
admin

Just a quick thanks to all who sponsored me for growing a ridiculous mo’ for Movember.

Quick recap for those that do not know – we all grew a base tash, then let anyone who donated money to a charity I visited in Cambodia for street kids gets to choose our beards.

Results are up at our Beards Page.

Voting is now closed, but any donations anyone still wants to send go to a great cause. More information here.

Thanks once again!

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Top 10 unusual things to do in Sydney off the tourist trail

Sunday, November 15, 2009 @ 07:11 PM
admin

Originally being a tourist in Sydney when I first arrived, I went and did the usual collection of things on the main tourist trail. Popular attractions, like the Art Gallery of NSW, the Australia Museum and the Opera House and activities like the BridgeClimb or the Bondi to Coogee walk are great fun, but can get busy during the main tourist months of December to March. Its a good idea if you are in Sydney at this time to head to more of the unusual and out of the way places that are a bit more off the main tourist locations. Here are some of my favourite things to do. If you have any more recommendations, post them in the comments below.

The Harbour Bridge Museum

View from the Pylon Lookout

View from the Pylon Lookout

The Bridge Climb is hugely popular during the summer, but fairly expensive, and quite often if you don’t book early enough you can’t get on one of the climbs. Far less people know that you can get a very similar view for only $10 or so ($4.00 for under 13s, under 8s free). The Harbour Bridge museum is located in the bridge pylon nearest the Opera House, and the top level extends to almost the same height as the top of the bridge and is open from 10am to 5pm.

The pylon contains facinating pictures of the original building of the bridge and its construction techniques together with historical pictures from throughout the bridges history. The best bit though is the top floor, which has great views all round of the city, Opera House and the main bridge. Time it for sunset and you have great views at a bargain price. More information is available at http://www.pylonlookout.com.au.

Summit/Orbit bar

In the Summit Bar, looking west

In the Summit Bar, looking west

This bar and restaurant, on the 42nd floor of Australia Square, has some of the best views in Sydney. Get there early-ish, maybe 4 or 5pm, to get a decent seat by the window for sunset. The entire floor rotates about once every 45 minutes. There are some great drinks choices and the staff serve them impeccably. It is a liitle more expensive than a normal bar, but think of it as getting a chair and a couple of drinks for the same kind of view as the centrepoint tower. More information here.

Kayaking up the Spit

The spit bridge is on the way to Manly, and if you don’t have transport you can hop on a bus and ask to be dropped off at the spit bridge. On the right side of the bridge, city side if you are heading towards Manly you will see a kayaking shop called Sydney Harbour kayaks. From here you can hire kayaks to head up the river. There are a number of different waterways you can go up, but if you choose to go at around high tide, there are some fantastic mangrove forests you can head up., This is one of those places where you can think you are in the middle of the outback whereas you are actually in the middle of the city.

A one hour hire will get you a little look around Clontarf, but to get right up the river you will need two or three hours.

Bear in mind that if the wind gets too much, they stop the kayaking, so its best to choose a day with lighter winds, or head out early. More information at sydneyharbourkayaks.com.au.

Segway tour of Olympic Park

Olympic park is the location of the Olympic stadium and other stadia from the 2000 games. When there are no events on, its a bit of a desert with not many people and vast windblown open plazas. Still, there are some nice parks, but its all just a little, well, far apart.

If you can get hold of a bicycle then that is an ideal way to see the site, but by far the most fun is to complete the tour by Segway. Tours are available for two hours for $99 at segwaytours.com.au. Say hello to Menno from me if you go!

Sydney Observatory at Night

View from outside the Observatory

View from outside the Observatory

For one of the best views of the bridge and North Sydney, head up to the Sydney Observatory. There are tours available during the day, but by far the best time to go is to head up for sunset to watch the lights come  on on the city and bridge. Follow that with the evening tour of the observatory.

This tour, costing about $15, gives you the opportunity to have a look through both the observatories two telescopes, one a modern 40 inch reflecting telescope and the other the largest refracting telescope in the southern hemisphere. With the former, you can occasionally see nebula and with the latter, staff may point it at a local clock tower or the moon. It also includes a tour of the observatory, a talk on its history, some viewing of stars outside and a 3d theatre with movies on the planets, solar system and other stuff nerds love.

Obviously its better to go for a good weather, new moon evening, but if the weather is bad, there is a small planetarium. More information on their site at sydneyobservatory.com.au

Quay Restaurant

In my opinion, absolutely the best restaurant in Sydney, although not the best value. The dishes are works of art with perfectly balanced flavours and flawless presentation involving the freshest ingredients and even tiny edible flowers. The location is spectacular in the evening (except when a cruise ship is in port – it blocks the view!) and the staff are strangely both attentive and unobtrusive.

The menu is however one of the most expensive in Sydney, so not one to do regularly, but for something special to celebrate with the missus, its a winner.

More info available at quay.com.au

Travelpass ferry tour

MV Queenscliff docking at Manly Wharf

MV Queenscliff docking at Manly Wharf

Sydney has some great tourist boats that ply the harbour, but its far better value to purchase a one day daytripper pass for $17 or a weekly travel pass including ferries and spend a day cruising around the river on the commuter vessels for only about $15. Avoid the touristy tickets, you can get pretty much the same for far cheaper with one of these passes. Start off with a trip up to Vaucluse and Watsons bay for a walk around South Head and lunch of Fish and Chips at the wharf. Make sure you make the last ferry back from here though as they stop fairly early. If you miss it, there is always the bus, included in your  pass.

Carry on your tour by maybe doing the mosman/zoo loop, allowing you to stop off at Mosman, Fort Denison and Taronga Zoo.

Finally, one not to miss is the normal commuter ferry to Parramatta. This takes an hour but is a tranquil, peaceful trip that starts by heading through the inner west but quickly becomes a narrow channel of mangrove forest. It is impossible to tell that you are in the middle of the city and it feels at some points you could be in a swamp in PNG. Parramatta has a couple of historic sites, but bear in mind the trip goes only once an hour, so it might be better to stay on board and head back straight away. You can sit outside, so don’t forget the suncream on a warm day, or wrap up warm in winter as the constant wind can get cold.

More info at the Sydney Transport Infoline or by calling 131500.

Balmoral and Middle Head Tunnels

Exploring one of the army tunnels

Exploring one of the army tunnels

This beach and area is great for kids of all levels. The middle of the beach has an island with a small bridge over to it and caves around the bottom – fantastic adventure for a child with an imagination. The beach has safe swimming and is a little less crowded than many of the surf beaches during the summer. More information can be found here.

Up on the headland south of the beach is Georges Head, long a military area. This has now been opened up and many hours can be spent exploring the mass of tunnels and gun emplacements in this area. During the Vietnam war, the army apparently used the tunnels to train soldiers to handle being captured and interrogated by locking them in some of the water filled cubicles in some of these tunnels.Its kind of spooky, so bring a torch! More info here.

Visit the Harbour Islands

Fort Dension

Fort Dension

Sydney harbour has a number of islands that are open to the public. Probably the most popular ones are Fort Denison, Shark Island and Cockatoo Island.

Fort Denison is the one just off Mrs Maquaries Point, right in front of the harbour bridge. It used to be a small but beautiful peak, originally a popular Aboriginal fishing spot, but allegedly after a convict was hanged and his body left to rot, they were (understandably!) horrified and never stepped on the island again. It was later flattened and the rocks used for making the fort to protect Sydney during the Napoleonic Wars.

fort denison 2Nowadays it hosts a nice restaurant which is a very pleasant place to sit on a sunny day with a glass of wine to watch the river traffic. Also if you want the best, but also one of the most expensive, views of the fireworks for New Years Eve, this is your place.

The island also has a tour of the fortifications with some interesting mid 1800s war architecture and cannon and a nice photo opportunity from the top of the tower.

Shark Island is an island further up the river that is the perfect place for a picnic on a nice day. Ferries run from Circular Quay, but its handy to book on busy days due to its popularity. More information is available here.

Finally Cockatoo Island is the biggest island in the harbour. It has a number of historic features, but the best thing about this island is that you can camp on it. Get fantastic views and a strange experience camping in the middle of the city. This campground really gets busy, so book a long time in advance, especially for weekends. More info here.

Hire a Picnic Boat in Ku-ring-gai

Beach in Refuge Bay, Ku-ring-gai

Beach in Refuge Bay, Ku-ring-gai

I am reluctant to put this one down as its one of my favourite things to do on a nice sunny afternoon, and I want to keep it my little secret, but oh well, here goes. Get ten mates together for $33 each  and you can have your own boat in the beautiful Ku-ring-gai national park, WITH BUILT IN BBO! Genius idea!

The area really feels untouched, with lovely swimming and secluded beaches in America Bay and surrounds. Moor up, have your barbeque and head back at a leisurely pace exploring all the little side creeks. Chuck in some fishing rods too and you have a perfect summer afternoon! See this site for more information – smaller boats are available for less people, but no BBQ is included. Similar hires are available from Palm Beach, for those that want to explore Pittwater and the Basin.

Well that’s my favourite list, but I’d love to hear if there are any others you think should be in here for visitors to Sydney. Hell, I want to check them out myself if I haven’t done so already! Add your suggestions to the comments below!

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About Us

Global Artwork is a collection of contract web developers, designers, UX consultants and general webby people.

We have all worked together at various stages of our careers at the top of the industry, on some of the best clients. We don't wan't mainstream. You don't want mainstream. The web doesn't do mediocre - neither should you.

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