Photo Club La Meteorite

My own photography club but nevertheless demanding highest standards and innovation. We need a platform to display photos, run monthly competition and enable access to archives of previous competitions and field trips. There is a voting system in play on the competition page allowing anybody to rate a photo (one to five stars). This is available to me to announce a winner at the end of each month’s competition. Old galleries are archived to flickr and can be viewed directly from the website. photoclubmeteorite.org

It was surprisingly difficult to find a voting system plugin that suited, there were plenty of facebook style like/dislike but we needed to be able to rate rather than just goog or not. Anyway what we have works (once we sorted out the problem with one vote of 5 stars giving a higher average than 5 votes of two stars – we now work on total stars awarded. One funny thing about the voting system is that I left working on the previous competitions and found people still voting. I hadn’t pushed it on google but neither had I hidden it. There were people from all over, the USA, India, China. It wasn’t spam or bots either, I have spam filters on all my sites and the votes were reasonable, not pushing with 5 stars or anything. This year I hope to reach out to these strangers and include them in our little group, tell them about the winners and perhaps include their submissions. We will still have our own club galleries after all. On that note, our sister club in La Souterraine has decided to focus more on field trips and photographer case studies and will not be submitting to our competitions as much, but with our membership doubling in the past few months that won’t be a problem.

I need a new computer

I have been asked to recommend a replacement computer three times in the first fortnight of this year. So I thought I’d summarise what I think are the salient points to consider.

 

Yes I know it looks sexy but its a Mac!

 

The portability of a laptop means you can work anywhere but you can save as much as a third (specification for specification) by buying a desktop PC instead. Mac or Windows PC? It doesn’t matter too much these days in terms of functionality but again spec. for spec. a Mac is much more expensive albeit possibly more reliable. However, as a computer professional I have always found the proprietary nature of everything Apple makes for a lack of flexibility and a drastically increased cost with anything related. OK I’ll hold my hand up, “I don’t like Apple” I can’t frig about with their devices as much as I can non-Apple stuff.

 

 

Laptop with camera, glasses and plant

Less sexy, but it more than does the job. Plus there’s a pot plant.

Actually, as an update to this post, since I wrote this I have had two separate clients with Mac issues. For many the main problem is usability, they were used to a PC and the Mac is very different. However, as I told them, in a couple of months, probably much less, they will be wondering how they ever even used Windows. Macs are more reliable both software and hardware, which is porobably why I have less experience of them. The software isn’t perfect, most of the problems, though, seem related to conversing with the outside (my recent support related to Mac eMail not reading IMAP folders – which was solved by Mozilla’s Thunderbird). The thing about all Apple products is design and especially if you are of a creative bent, I guess their devices are more appealing. When they do go wrong (and they do) most replacement/fixing stuff is proprietary and more expensive than the bulk PC stuff.(ed)

So you’ve made an unbiased” decision to buy a non-Mac portable, now what?

  1. What will I use it for?
    1. eMail and browsing the internet with a bit of printing?
      • Chromebook only 10″ screen and usually 32gb solid state drives so you might want extra USB storage
    2. as 1 plus word processing and a bit of spreadsheeting
      • 15″ laptop plus Office 2016 perpetual (or Open Office) min 4gb RAM onboard and 500gb hard disk
    3. as 1 and 2 plus photo storage
      • 17″ laptop Office as above plus possibly photo manipulation software (Photoshop elements or my fave of Lightroom). min 8gb RAM onboard and 1Tb hard disk

By the way, Microsoft and Adobe are pushing their online versions of their software rented monthly, I believe this is a bad thing and a ripoff so I’d always recommend what they call “perpetual” versions that work even if you are waiting for Orange to re-establish you broadband.

Gone are the days of the 286, 386, 486 and Pentium making processor comparison easy. To be honest, as far as processors are concerned, I gave up comparing years ago, each processor has different parameters that relate specifically to the machine making it impossible for direct comparison (not like comparing the 386, 486 or pentium). AMD or Pentium are equally good. Quad core is faster than twin core. Some have much lower power usage (eg Atom) hence longer battery life. Others are better for graphics. So I go for the price range first, then, since I process photos, a good graphics card, then RAM (for photos at least 8gb otherwise 4gb is good for most purposes. USB3, SD card slot, HDMI port to plug-in the tv. And screen size 15″ or so is standard, but for photos and web design I go for 17″.

If you are living in France be careful, the French keyboard is difficult to get used to. The Q is swapped with the A, M with the apostrophe, the full stop need the shift key and don’t get me started on the numbers. Admittedly é and à are much easier to find. Buy from the UK for a UK keyboard. Amazon.co.uk or Laptops direct. The availability is restricted since many suppliers don’t deliver to France… Many do though so persist with your search.

As for transferring from your old machine. Windows is usually sold on the machine and is not transferable so don’t be misled into saving money because you already have windows unless you have a full system cd. The pre-installed Windows systems are OEM versions and only work on the machine on which it is installed. Even replacing the hard disk on the same machine and restoring can give you Windows licensing errors. New machine, new installations. You need a spring clean anyway and a reinstall of up-to-date version of software, downloaded from the manufacturer’s sites is usually best for your new machine.

If you want to transfer your personal files across, a usb stick if your old computer still works. If not bring it to me and I’ll see if I can get the hard disk out and connect up to your shiny new laptop.

 

 

Auberge des Tilleuls

This had been the first place we ate at when searching the area for a house. We loved it then and we still do; its our goto place for any occasion, special or not, with guests or just the two of us. So when I was asked to redo their website it was a great opportunity for me.  They wanted to keep most of the content they already had but I added some of my own photos and made it attractive. Add in the SEO and a few tweaks and it’s good to go. Have a look.

Initially they had also offered Chambre d’hote facilities (b & b to you Brits) but their restaurant business had become so successful that the accommodation side of things was a distraction to them and to clients. So we adjusted the content and SEO accordingly and looked to give them a good static site. Why static? What about menus and all? Well, we discussed this and the problem is that they use the freshest of produce and it is difficult for them to know what will be on the menu that evening, let alone with enough notice to update the website. So we left it with a good example menu.  Most people know that Plat du Jour is on this basis so it isn’t much of a leap to extend to the whole menu. Their offerings always cater to a range of tastes with vegetarian option included.  Also if the menu still doesn’t suit, Didier the chef can be even more flexible and adapt or supplement the existing offerings. So in short, a static website, not selling anything but Didier and Debbie themselves. Myself, I would have liked to personalise further with a photo of Debbie and Didier themselves but, as with all my websites, the client rules, what they want is what they get. aubergetilleuls.com

La Petite Perle

Arriving on the day of the Brexit result was not a particularly auspicious arrival for Jeanette and Jez. But with my help, her existing home cleaning service was paired with the Chambre d’Hote she called La Petite Perle. Their experiences with finding this little gem in the French countryside have enabled her to match the gite services and chambre d’hote with property search. Their website attractively presents these three aspects of her business as well as depicting the surrounding countryside and showcasing some of her work as well as guitar making and playing workshops by Jez. Jez is a consumate blues guitarist, returning often to the UK to satisfy his demanding fans.

Their van is attractively decorated in advertising targeted at their cleaning services. Its decor I had to integrate into the slightly different focus we had decided upon for the overall site. The gold background and the pearl motif was difficult to match with the green/grey and fifties cartoonish feel of the van’s decor but it is there and we both agreed does the trick. The web site itself presents the three aspects of their business equally well on all sizes and orientation of device, responding as it does with adjusting the image sizes and the colums shifting from three to single seamlessly depending upon the device being used to view the web site.

The challenge now for Jeanette and Jez to attract business. The web site is a good place to link to airBnB as well as from conventional printed advertising. Word of mouth in this market place is vital and now the web site is there to provide the reassuring extra detail and background that is so important. Whatever happens with Brexit, people will always want to visit rural France, with its incomparable wine, food, history and traditions. Where else can you see the place Richard the Lionheart was killed within a short drive of some of then highest tech amusements in the world (Futurescope near Poitiers).

Backups

Lack of backup is one of the greatest cause of despair I have to deal with in my clients. So many don’t, backup that is, or if they do, it is often inadequate and not everything they want recovered after a disaster. The most common problem requiring a backup is a hard disk failure but other security issues are more ane more frequent. 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.  So, before that hard disk failure (or stolen computer for that matter) what precautions can you take? 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  important files in My Documents and back just that folder up.

It’s not really worth doing a full backup of all your computer 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 500gb (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) rather than a separate power supply, at least 500gb and with backup software to run it in the background. Search for thise in Amazon (.fr understands English) Look for USB3 if you have it on your computer faster (if you do have it) and  compatible with standard usb2.

I personally use dropbox for all my current photos so they copy to the “cloud” (on some machine or machines somewhere on the internet);  the remainder of My Documents I periodically copy changes to an external USB3 drive. All my work related files (web sites and email) are already in the “cloud” but I also back those up and copy them onto my external drive in case the companies that own the servers on which I store my web sites goes bust, gets nuked or some less unlikely disaster. Every few months I copy the entire changed contents of the external drive to another external drive. Belt and braces! By the way “SyncToy” is a great utility to speed up the backup process, it can handle just the changed files. I might do a review sometime but in the meantime google it and try it out for yourself.

Le Moulin de Chez Brandy – Gîtes in Limousin, France

I had already met Margaret and Stephen at their home (Chez Brandy) when I did some work on their computer network earlier in the year. They already had a web site, built and hosted on Webs. I am fairly safe mentioning a possible competitor since, this being the second Webs site I have replaced, I can safely say they are no competition.  It was ok as far as it went but it looked dated and did not respond well to being viewed on mobile phones and functionally it could only do so much. Some time soon I will write a full blog post about why I use wordpress but not today.

Anyway Chez Brandy needed to renew their domain and a thoroughly refresh their web site. The actual Webs site was attrative enough and I was happy to be inspired by it. We discussed some ideas and Stephen sent me the original photographs and transferred a lot of the content from the existing site. Adding slideshows and galleries as well as more dynamic links between the pages made for a better user experience.

The addition of more solid search engine optimisation and a google map makes for a better search presence. Refining the google calendar too allowed for each of the two gîtes to have their availability clearly displayed. A simple click on the calendar takes Margaret or Stephen to their own google calendar login for easy updating. The design is totally responsive – shoing as attractively on smart phones, tablets and PCs. They now have a logo too designed together an nicely identifying their lovely gîtes to the holidaying public.

As time goes on, there will be more photos which can be easily added just by emailing them to me as attachments to be optimised and uploaded by me that same day.  The same goes for any special offers or tweaks to the existing content.

Together with the site visit reports they get each week, Margaret and Stephen are very happy with their new beautiful web site. They found the whole development experience easy and trouble free, any problems or questions were handled deftly and almost immediately.

Hello World

So this is my launch blog entry for my new site. Admittedly the new site has been on-line for a while since I had had business cards printed showing it, but it was still being finalised.

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]

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]