Spanish in Sussex

Co-ordinating a group of students and potential students was proving difficult for Jordan. She approached me to setup a new website to provide both information for potential new and enquiring students and also a platform for organising residential events. She also wanted to allow paypal payments to pay for courses, personal one to one tuition as well as the residential events. spanishinsussex.co.uk

Since launch she has gone from strength to strength. Now in its second year, having successfully run language and tourist trips to Spain and continued educating ‘Espagnophiles’ (is that even a word? ed) of Sussex. The website continues to be a useful focus for her facebook visitors and her students (actual and potential).

The colour choice and design was chosen to reflect the Spanish flag and nicely frames the selection of images from Spanish speaking countries around the world. Fully responsive this site looks strikingly attractive on PCs, tablets and mobiles.

Virus Checkers – Which

Windows defender logoAVG LogoA short google for “best free virus checkers” will usually come up with AVG. Most years this is one of the best, but more recently the popups to upgrade to the paid version are more insistent and appear obligatory (but are not). Windows Defender is the Microsoft virus checker which you already have but it has a middling score in virus detection rates.

 

In my early years oNorton by Symantec logof computing Norton Utilities was a must-have set of tools and worth paying for, but many of its functions (such as undelete) are a native part of windows now and few remember the days without the recycle bin. Norton Anti-virus seemed equally attractive but it gradually got larger and more cumbersome and interfered with other programs until I gave up with it. Sophos was my favourite for a while, then Kaspersky (because it was good and, firstly, free with the OU then with Barclays)  but now I use Webroot because it had a good deal for 3 devices and it had the top score for a while. It also has a password manager system which I am wary of using because I don’t want to get stuck with a virus checker that I can’t change because I’ll lose all my passwords.

I had a client who had a ransomware issue – he had a screen demanding money to decrypt all his personal files. Fortunately it was not very good ransomware, in that all it had done was to add “.crypt” to the end of his filenames. Fixable by renaming (F2 in explorer) and editing to remove the suffixed “.crypt”.  Malwarebytes didn’t find anything, because the malware had done its “business” and deleted itself. The point is though that they had an up-to-date Norton Anti-virus, but as far as I was told, it hadn’t flagged a problem. Of course it is possible that my client had elected to ignore the warnings; however when I tried to contact Norton to perhaps provide them with some samples for analysis, I couldn’t find a way to do so, with Sophos, they had made it easy to send them a sample, so they could improve their checking. Norton, it costs but the support is great I am told but it isn’t my experience.

My goto virus checker for consulting on clients’ computers though is Malwarebytes. They have a very high rate of detection for virus’ as well as other malware such as sneaky search bars that load into your browser and change your search engine and home page and many other things too. On the rare occasion that I myself have actually got infected, Malwarebytes has saved me. I don’t know why I don’t actualkly commit to it… for one thing having two approaches to virus checking is kind of “belt and braces”. Occasionally I have installed something dodgy that has taken me a while to unravel, restoring my home pages, removing adware and such (which reminds me when installing something, even Java, read each install screen carefully and make sure you uncheck anything that looks like it’s for something else, usually adware, or a sponsored search bar). Anyway, Malwarebytes has saved me a lot of time. When my Webroot subs are due I’ll check it out again though not sure what I’d use for my second string checker then.

So in short, for the common user, the free offerings are usually fine. The important thing is to make sure they are automatically updating so you always have current virus “fingerprints”.

 

 

 

 

Stefan Ganther – Heritage Buildings Consultant

For me, a foray into a new sector, but the principles remained the same. I interviewed Stefan over the phone and via email to establish his hopes for the site and get some ideas of other sites that have inspired him. The initial process of designing his website produced some ideas based upon those inspirational sites but ultimately yielded a unique beautiful site with some innovative animation of text and images. The example website that had inspired him led me to merge different images with the same text so that a slideshow would show seamlessly. stefanganther.co.uk

Virus checkers – Why

 

Firstly, a bit of background. Virus is an emotive term that conjures up images of plague and pestilence when in fact, as far as computers go, its just software. Sometimes little more than a practical joke or a demonstration by a mischief maker that says “look what I can do”. Other terms can confuse but essentially they are all software, programs designed to do something unbeknownst to the person whose computer has been “infected”. Some terms are listed below:

  • Trojan: the virus is in another program that might wait before running or infect you whan you install the other program.
  • Malware: just bad software in general, possibly hijacking your browser with a different search tool that forces more advertising or even takes you to web sites that may actually load a virus onto your computer.
  • Adware is another term referring to software that pops up adverts or takes you sites you haven’t actually chosen. Not necessarily harmful but always annoying.
  • Worm is a standalone piece of software that spreads itself and may at some future point carry out some harmful action
  • RAT – remote access trojan that allows the creator (or someone else) access to your computer.
  • phishing – a virus or web site that deceives you into entering your password etc

All still software- a real virus can be airborne or transmitted on contact, in food etc, a computer virus can come  from a web site (usually by clicking on a dummy warning such as “Your Registry needs cleaning, you need XYZ…”, an email link (emails themselves don’t do any harm it is clicking on a link within them that does that (hold the mouse over the link or right click and (on the bottom left of your screen if not immediately at the point of clicking) you’ll often see that it is actually a totally different link, or whilst it might include a “kosher” word, it may not be right e.g. me.paypal.eu is NOT paypal.co.uk). Even if you do click on a link in an email, it is usually for “phishing” (see list above). NEVER enter security information except where you have explicitly gone to the web site directly via your browser. Also, be very careful when downloading software from the internet, if you have a good virus checker, it will warn you when you download. Sometime a false positve e.g. you are downloading a program to enable remote access by a consultant, e.g. TeamViewer. Because if CAN allow remote access it can be flagged as potentially harmful. Just be aware, especially from dodgy sites – I have heard frequent cases of infection from downloading the means to watch football over the internet (or of course porn!).

Many people I know are afraid that Facebook will “infect” them. Other than clicking on a link within a post, Facebook is probably one of the safest sites. The main danger of Facebook is the amount of time you can waste; YouTube is the same, safe as houses but it depends on what you click, check on the bottom left of your screen that the link is what it says it is. Even then, my wife downloaded a spreadsheet from a trusted facebook group. When she opened it her virus checker warned her about a macro about to run (a small program actually embedded in excel, often an intentional part of an uninfected spreadsheet). The virus checker prevented any problem. Facebook wasn’t the problem it was the link she clicked.

So, a virus is “just” software? And as such it is written in computer code.  You may hear talk of a virus “fingerprint”. All this means is that, because it is written in computer code, it has certain unique charateristics, like a book… if you enter a sentence long enough from any book, chances are there is only one book with that sentence. Same for a virus (ok it might be otherwise unintelligible machine code but identifiable nevertheless).

If you have a virus checker program it must periodically download a new list of virus fingerprints. The better ones do this frequently and the best will be identifying new ones very quickly. See the next post for more on virus checkers. The danger zone is the gap between a new virus being released and it being identified and included in the lists. Sometimes called “zero day” vulnerabilities because there is no time for a fix to have been created.  Once a new virus has been identified, virus checker publishers will usually make small programs that can be run once to undo any damage done. This is not always possible though and the best remedy is to make sure you backup all the things on your computer that you cannot bear to lose. Then the worst that can happen is a few hours spent reinstalling any affected applications (often this is where I am called in, unfortunately often with no backups available, though that is not always a problem, I have many means of file recovery). So get a good virus checker,make sure it updates frequently and  BACKUP!

 

 

 

Homepage with hero slideshow and three columns of info

PM Carpets and Flooring

Another client wanting to update an aging and poorly functioning website. I had quite a bit of content to start with from the old site and some ideas of website style. Paul had seen “Normandy Carpets” giving me a good basis to develop an even more attractive and functional website for him. Interiors are a readily available category for stock footage so the home page could be equipped luxuriantly with a range of modern interiors showcasing different flooring styles. The “Hero” slide show is a nice place to pause an absorb the information about Paul Marshall’s business displayed in three columns below.

Paul’s personable open manner meant that his about page could include his heartfelt motto ”

“I’m passionate about the work I do and a happy customer at the end of a job is extremely satisfying.”

Plus a shot of his friendly smiling face along with a link to his video and the rest of his Facebook page.

His gallery backs up his claims with some photos taken personally of his previous jobs. When combined with his testimonials page this site is a great place for potential customers to find more about Paul, his work and his background. See pmcarpetsandflooring.com

Security and backup, backup, backup

You may feel pressured to update your version of Windows because, you are told how support for older versions will cease… That doesn’t mean your computer will stop working, far from it. Although my Win 98 computer is dead now, I still have two XP computers that whir along just fine. Why? Because I have applications that only run on XP, the development has long since stopped yet I still need those programs. The main potential problem with MS ceasing support is that some of their upgrades plug security holes. Usually (but not always) these are bugs in new features that need fixing. Sometimes, however, they are long hidden issues that might only recently have come to light. The only example I can remember like this is the ‘heartbleed’ bug, very serious for Facebook, google and anyone with large databases of public information. Not an issue for the individual, and mostly that is the case for you. I say, mostly,  but you should always be prepared and back up since other things like disk failure etc can still happen.

What can actually happen if you have a security issue and how can it be avoided? For most computers; an up-to-date virus checker and maintained firewall will prevent security problems. These are unlikely to cause you problems, what you need to be concerned about is what precautions are needed if your computer fails. For personal documents and photos held on your machine? Back them up in at least two different USB thumb drives or SD cards weekly and monthly. Don’t backup your whole system, just keep all your new and important files in My Documents and back just that folder up.

It’s not really worth doing a full backup since applications will need to be reinstalled anyway. If you make sure that important stuff is in ‘My Documents’ (this might include your mail files if, say, you use Outlook on your computer rather than over the web) then if your hard disk fails or gets corrupted, you can restore to a new computer, replacement hard disk or overwrite the damaged files. This can be time-consuming but restoring is usually quicker and more likely to be successful than repairing. I recently spent 20 hours rebuilding a client’s massive archive of outlook emails. This required a specialist repair tool as well – but had they taken backups, all could have been resolved in minutes.

What should I backup onto? USB sticks come in affordable sizes up to 250gb (or more but not really affordable yet) but better value is a USB hard disk. Amazon have plenty but I’d recommend one that is powered from the usb slot (its less clutter), at least 500gb and with backup software. Google or search on Amazon (other providers exist 🙂 ) for USB hard disk (if you have a new computer it will have USB3 which is faster than USB2).  Dozens will come up, personbally I’d choose on that doesn’t need a separate power supply and has good reviews. When you have got it, use it… backup weekly or monthly whenever you have doen a lot of work, loaded new pictures etc.

I also have a separate dropbox (“cloud” or internet online storage, onedrive or google drive all serve the same purpose, I’ll blog later about this I expect). I don’t format my camera card until I have my photos in at least three places – my PC, USB drive and Dropbox.

Love Your Maison

A busy husband and wife team managing some of the many gites and holiday homes in the area. They needed a simple showcase and highlight the services they offer. These range from garden maintenance and lawncare to keeping a home spick and span so that upon arrival the owners can enjoy their stay without the worry of garden and housework. loveyourmaison.com

Using an attractive stock background that sufficiently resembles the local French countryside so as not to raise objections 🙂 I implemented a theme with a side menu to give a nice square content area. I guess I was working with the “maison” theme, solid and regular etc but ultimately I just wanted something attractive that would showcase some of the services theat Martin and Karen offer. The slide show effect of the photos they provided along with some stock photos enlivens the site and gives a good sense of the business.

How I work

Build it and they will come? Unfortunately not. A web site is not so much a product, more of an organic process, it must be built, for sure, but to be seen by search engines it needs to be active.  My workflow means that I build the site that you want and, for a small monthly charge I not only host it but keep it active with small changes that you request and regular security checks and updates to keep it safe and alive. I also establish a relationship with you. I send you regular reports summarising the activity on your site,  number of views, how many are new etc (and if you ask I can let you have a further breakdown on each site page and where access has come from).

I develop using WordPress, some 25% of the web is built using this content management system or CMS.  Actually, the web was always and is still HTML (now HTML5) it is just extra functions that make it do fancier stuff like galleries, store and organise your content (stuff), that WordPress does for you (via php and javascript mostly). WordPress is Open Source which means that, it is not a commercial enterprise pleasing shareholder and prone to takeovers and even going out of business.  Being open source means that, rather than being coded by a bunch of random geeks, it has a well disciplined team of hundreds of wizard programmers who take WordPress places it needs to go, handle any security issues promptly and provide willing help in the friendly and supportive WordPress community. I’ll talk more about WordPress in another blog sometime.

I can offer my services so economically because whilst I could code what I needed, I seldom need to spend days over what can be obtained in minutes. Built on the foundation of WordPress is a whole ecosystem of add-ons – themes that give a background style (albeit infinitely changeable), plugins that give whatever functionality you can imagine (and with over 40,000 plugins available there’s more than I can imagine). Some of the good add-ons are premium, ie are licensed annually, so some special functionality, such as specialized eCommerce, can incur an extra annual cost.  Some of these premium add-ons allow me to develop beautiful sites designed exactly how I imagine, quickly and reliably.  Before I discovered some of these add-ins, laying out a page (such as jordanlancaster.co.uk) took days to get exactly right. Now its not just quicker it requires so much less compromise, if I want a certain layout, I can achieve it in minutes, giving me more time fo consider the design and branding.

My background has been working with many individuals and small companies, developing software and training their staff. This experience leads me to identify with a particular type of user, one who just want “it” done and the decisions about things they don’t fully understand made for them. This is why my service is fully managed. For me the advantage is that I can keep all the sites secure (using Wordfence) as well as all the software up-to-date. The recent “Panama Papers” leaks were possible because of out-of-date software leaving a security hole that keeping the site updated would have plugged.

Apparently 80% of websites are being accessed by a mobile device. So it is important to be able to respond to the differences in device size. “Responsive” web sites adjust to the device that is being used to view it. You can shrink the browser window to get an idea of how this web site responds. Of course many new features such as video headers, wide “hero” images across the page, slide show and so on, become very popular and if the site requires it, or the client insists, I will include such features. However there needs to be a compromise between speed of the website and design. I try to go for a balance since it is worth remembering that Google and other search engines rank according to site speed.  Responsive design is also a Google factor as is proper keyword usage. Google will downrank a site that has excessive duplicate keywords so “keyword stuffing” no longer works.

I use All in one SEO as an add-on that guides me through the necessary processes of optimising my sites for search engines. From keywords and metadata to submitting the sitemap. I also setup the Google Search console.

Delia Wallace Virtual PA

Ok I’ll come clean, she is my wife. That being said she was no walkover in creating her new site. She had high expectations and lots of feedback from her clients and work colleagues. We worked on a fairly minimal theme but pretty. It is a simple static web site that enable those interested in her services to find just a little more background and hopefully get an idea of Delia’s personality. In summary showcasing some of her art as well as the personal assistance she can offer online. deliavirtualPA.com

We decided that the need was for a minimal yet functional look. Branding was a tough one, Delia’s love of art made the idea of something of her own as a logo seem a good idea. Her Nautilus shell was right-sized and pastel coloured and so I think works well on a minimal white background. The use of a script font was a choice to de-formalise somewhat. Too much looks gimmicky in my opinion but we feel we’ve struck the right balance here. A picture of Delia herself looking her usual happy self, rotated slightly, again to deformalise, adds a balance to the otherwise spare home page. Keeping the home page uncluttered is helped by the ‘click here…’ linking to the About page which, although it is on the menu the link in the text gives a flow to the background information being presented on the page.

The other pages are more typical of such subject matter though the motifs of font and the narrow orange bar on the header and footer are intended to tie each page together. The About and How Can I help… pages also have more of Delia smiling out of the pages and lastly on the contact page is a recent favourite piece of her artwork.

Passwords

I’ll admit there are sites I don’t bother using a good password, where I’ve been forced to “join” when all I want is some information. But if you need to give them ANY confidential information, especially payment info (even if they’ll always be sending to YOU), if its personal use a good password. Surprisingly, writing it on a post-it and sticking it yo your screen (at home that is) is probably as safe as anything, I mean is a burglar is at that point he could probably get all the personal details he wanted without even turning your computer on. Still, if everything else is secure, you should be a bit more circumspect about your on-line security too.

Never use anything too obvious (“password” is one of the most common passwords!), avoid personal info that can be found elsewhere such as your birthday, maiden name etc.  For websites where I won’t be entering personal data I’ll uses a non-obvious but memorable password, perhaps the same one. I have lost nothing if such a site gets hacked. Once they starts to need personal data (and if this they ask for details they don’t actually need in the name of greater security or perhaps just for their marketing, don’t use the real data, give a false birthday etc). I often take the web site and apply my own recipe to it that make it hard to guess. How to remember them all? Since most problems with stolen details happen on-line you can write a list and stick it on your desk, sounds unsafe I know but if a burglar is much less likely than a hacker. In fact if websites ask you for personal info, don’t be too truthful since if they are hacked then the hacker will know your birthday, mother’s maiden name, pet or whatever so lie.  See below for on-line storage of these details since if you have “lied” you will need to remember.

All places requiring a password will have an “I forgot my password” link. This will usually send to your email. So it is REALLY important that your email password is secure!

If you are offered a second level of security such as secret questions, don’t use real or obvious questions (if you get to choose these) and answers. Favourite pet Mother’s maiden name could all be found with a bit of research so be canny.

Use the second level of security that sends a code to your mobile if the site is important for instance your bank.

Personally I use a password manager, lastpass is good and free. You’ll need a really safe long master password that you’d enter once when you turn your computer on and thereafter it will ask if you want to save new sites and remember existing ones. Use its “generate password” option and it will generate something like ([email protected]#{[ which you will never remember but lastpass will. Away from your computer? Just go to the lastpass website and login.

Other passwords managers are available, some with your browser, not a lot of good if you are out and about (though Chrome does have a facility to store online). Anything online is hackable but on-line password managers have very good encryption. And changing your password periodically is a good idea and if you use a manager, much more “manageable”. Changin your password manager password periodically is also advisable. I often use a long sentence, some nonsense and write it down somewhere. Other password managers are available but  I like <a href=”http://lastpass.com”>lastpass</a>.

If you must use your own non-automated passwords, you could do worse that your own memorable “encryption”. For instance I might have created a password for amazon that was the first letters of “I spend too many pounds on amazon!” = ISTM£OA!

Until there is a convenient iris identifier, dna mapper or fingerprint reader that cannot be bypassed by chopping your hand off or plucking your eye out (someone else doint it to you I mean!), passwords will be necessary, and you will be forced by sites who want to protect themselves (an indirectly, you) to create ever more complicated passwords. For me an online manager is ideal, but at very least store yours in a password protected zipped spreadsheet.

Rather than leave the introductory blog as a sticky post at the top, getting in the way, I thought I'd move it to the 'back' in this about tab and add a bit more background.

This is a business blog intended for my main target market of individuals and small businesses. My career has spanned working for larger companies as an employee so I would be happy to work with larger companies though my main experience is with the sole traders and small companies. Such clients, I have found, are happier to hand over all aspects of dealing with a website. Likewise the clients whose computer problems solve, don't want the details, they just want it fixed. My web site service therefore is a one-stop, I design, create, host and manage. 

I will be blogging about my projects new and old as well as tips, tricks and opinions about computer stuff that might interest my clients. I will also be recycling the blog entries from patbell.co.uk. It is my clients who are the main focus though my friends (some of whom might also be clients) might also be interested. The main purpose however is search engine optimisation (SEO) or "google juice". It is difficult if not impossible to spoof google searches now; no more stacking the same keywords in everywhere nook and cranny. Now, time to first load, no untrusive popups, social links and links back are the focus. Though as I read recently the main thing is "to write good $hit", yes, for the most part content is king. One problem with business sites like mine is that most of the detail is static, and google doesn't like static sites, it likes "fresh and regular". No thats not an advert for dietary fibre it just means that I will be posting weekly on Wednesday at 2.30 GMT.

I will be telling the story of my projects, talking about Security, backups, passwords, SEO, my workflow, my work choices, some Windows how to's, some cautionary tales and even perhaps some aspects of life in rural France (though my personal blog is probably a better place if you want some of that). This blog will be information and opinion in equal measure. A mix of helpful tips and opinions as well as topical subjects.  To save space I won't explain every technical term, google will usually help.  But if you want me to answer a question or cover a particular topic do not hesitate to comment or email [email protected]