Blog posts written during 2012

Merry Christmas and happy New Year

Sunday Sunday, December 30, 2012 by Ian Pettman

Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

This season's greetings to all our customers, friends and associates past, present and future. We wish you an enjoyable festive period. To those of you fed up with the current TV fair, at the end there is a link at the end that I hope amuses. It concerns birds that have forgotten how to fly and a bird that done this so well, it has forgetten it has forgotten how to fly... Oh before you just randomly click through the link at the end: a bit how I found it.

As some of you know, I've moved home. Still in Henley. The "new" place suffers from somewhat ancient wiring. Still that is a project for the New Year. There are very few new houses in Henley. Also, Henley (in general) has quite poor Freeview reception.

However the Sky (fibre) broadband is super. The quality of installation and support is excellent: I'm happy to recommend it.  I'm quite a positive fan of O2 broadband as well.  

Chalk and cheese to BT. Any company that thinks so highly of customer support that is bases it nearly as close to the other side of the earth or to put it another way: about as far away as it can whist retaining it on planet earth, speaks for its-self.

So a laptop has been doing service in place of the restricted broadcast service.  Not that I watch much live TV anyway. I've been quite impressed by the range of stuff on YouTube. So when YouTube popped up with a suggestion about a Douglas Adams lecture I clicked on. For those of you who do not know, Steven Fry, zoologist Mark Carwardine and Douglas Adams have (or had in Douglas Adams case) a common interest in threatened species. This resulted in a nicely off the wall series called "A last chance to SeeWiki entry is here. The YouTube suggestion is an original presentation by the late Douglas Adams. Curiously this is not referenced by the wiki article or the BBC page, so I bring them together here.

Learn about recent advances in twig technology and progressively less excellent forms of transport...Enjoy:

Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything, UCtelevision

Midnight run life imitates art: a bit off topic but it's almost christmas!

Friday Friday, December 07, 2012 by Ian Pettman

Midnight run life imitates art: and you thought the bounty hunters were portrayed as stupid…

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the film Midnight run it is a very fast and enjoyable chase movie where two smart guys: Jack Walsh (a bounty hunter) played by Robert de Nero and Jonathan Marducas (a mafia accountant) played by Charles Grodin are on the run from the FBI, the Mafia and another bounty hunter whilst the de Niro character is trying to deliver the Grodin one from Chicago to LA to be a witness in a trial against the Mafia.

Each actor consistantly strives to out gruff the other.

In one scene Grodin has been captured by a rival bounty hunter who sends a picture of Grodin holding the Day's newspaper as proof for ransom. The picture also includes the monogrammed hotel towel in the background.

And so it was that John McAfee of anti-virus software fame had his location disclosed by the modern day equivalent when a geo tagged iPhone photo was posted on a blog by a "Vice" magazine reporter.

More on the McAffee story and iPhone geo tagging here:  

If you haven't seen it then you could do worse than watch midnight run over Christmas. It goes well with a good glass of wine, biscuits and some stilton cheese.

About the Midnight run film here: 

A trailer for the film is on our facebook page:

What the difference is between web based and cloud based

Thursday Thursday, November 29, 2012 by Ian Pettman

If someone has been familiar with web technology for years, then they would probably refer to all web things (services and sites) as web based. Its simply something they have done for years, from soon after the inception of the web. (Originally called the World Wide Web, hence WWW as a prefix to web addresses.) I certainly refer to "the web" rather than the "the cloud". I occasionally use "Interweb" in the right circumstances.If you want to learn more then:

this Wiki Article is as good as any.

In the early days, if you accessed a web page or service then that page or service would be hosted on a specific physical server at a specific location.

The last decade has seen the rapid rise of "Web" services. These store their data spread across multiple servers or locations to span the world. These servers have become "virtualised" so from one day to the next a page or service may move from one physical host to another. An example would be Google: they have at least 17 data centres spread around the world, each of which has hundreds of computers. (There is a good case for there being thousand of computers at each centre.)

When you go to to Google.com you do not know (and it does not matter) which of their 17+ data centres provides you with your query web page. You just want it fast. Make one query and you will be answered by one machine at that centre. Make another and your query will probably be answered by a completely different machine. Google has so many computers that they are replacing computers and hard drives that store their data many times every hour. A computer has a life of around 5 years or 5*356*24 hours, Google have at least 17 data centres with an estimated 1000 computers in each centre.   These computers exist in what is known or has become referred to as "the cloud".

 

What does it mean to Ava customers?

If you opt for the lowest cost web or cloud version of Ava you will have a reliable database hosting machine, which is backed up on a daily basis. A bit more expensive is the cloud version where the database hosting machine is effectively duplicated so that if (and when) there is a machine failure, the duplicate machine replaces the original automatically within a minute or so. Rackspace.co.uk managed hosting solutions is a reference which explains the (now sometimes bewildering) range of options.

Ava use Rackspace as a provider because of their superb reputation. They easily meet all legal and operational required criteria for storing personal information for UK based companies. So in respect of Ava's implementation: cloud and web are interchangeable expressions with the end customer choosing the level of resilience that they feel is economically justifiable.

These are typical figuers from our web site monitoring software:

Monitoring Location : EU
Test Name Type Tag Uptime(%) Avg Resp Time(ms)
www.google.com_http http Benchmark 100 133.67
ava web site_http http Default 100 147.02

 

Rohith Nair - An employee with distinction

Friday Friday, November 23, 2012 by Ian Pettman

We would like to congratulate Rohith on gaining his Master's Degree at the University of Reading. To top it off he also gained a distinction. His MSc is in Business Information Management. Judging by his work for Ava, he well deserves the plaudit of a Distinction. Well done Rohith.

University of Reading is in the top 1% of achedemic institutions as rated by Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2012 published recently

For information about his post gradute degree then here.

Oh dear, my University is down in 6th...

Update how to combine your current static web site with Ava web

Friday Friday, November 02, 2012 by Ian Pettman

We have updated the article on how Ava active web pages can link to your current static web site. This will improve your Google ranking and at very low cost provide a portal for employees and customers to self check personal details, availability, bookings and requests.

Here...

AWR alters the employement of Agency Workers

Friday Friday, September 21, 2012 by Ian Pettman

The Agency Worker Regulation act has definitely affected the employment of Agency workers.   The Agency Worker Regulation act has had an influence on both the Agencies providing work and Permanent staff for employers who previously used Agency Staff. The question is how much and in what ways?

The CBI with Harvey Nash have published their employment trends survey:

CBI Harvey Nash Employment trends survey 2012

The article its self is here:

Facing the Future CBI/Harvey Nash employment trends survey 2012

Sophos antivirus gives false positives overwhelming IT support organisations

Thursday Thursday, September 20, 2012 by Ian Pettman

If you have Sophos antivirus software installed, it is quite possible that your IT support department is overwhelmed this morning. According to Sophos (there support line is engaged now) there is "a" false positive.  From the small sample of IT support departments we have spoken to this is a massive understatement.  The effort to resolve this must be costing Sophos customers millions. Allegedly the last update also "screwed over"  Sophos itself. Our recommendation is uninstall and rely on Windows defender until Sophos have a reliable update available. There is more here


A Guide to the different types of Blog Sites

Thursday Thursday, September 13, 2012 by Matt Andrews

Blogs can be a great way to become involved with an online community. They are an ideal way to voice your ideas, and opinions, and lets be honest, blogging is just great fun. So, you love the idea of blogging, but you have a couple of questions, where do you blog? Which blog site is best for you? What is the difference between them? If these are questions that go through your head, then stay right here, and read my simple bloggers guide to the world of blogging. In this short post I will tell you about a couple of the better free blog sites out there, and help you differentiate between them, and hopefully help you decide on the best option for you.

twitter

There are many sites which are great for simple blogging, and many varying ways of blogging. You have mobile blogging sites and apps, such as twitter and Instagram, which are very simplified versions of blogging. Twitter limits you to short, sentence length posts, with only 140 characters at your disposal, meaning you have to really think about what you wish to feature in your posts. Twitter is a perfect way to blog for people who have little time to spend writing long posts, and is ideal for those who are always around their internet enabled mobile phones, as twitter is focused more to frequent but short posts or 'tweets'. While this may seem rather limited, in fact twitter has become a huge name in the blogging world, and has thrust forward the idea of the micro-blog. Another selling point for twitter, is that it is widely available for most mobile phones with internet capabilities, and also can be accessed and used via any computer.

instagram

Another simple and effective way to blog is on a mobile application called Instagram. Much like Twitter, Instagram is focused on small but frequent posts. However there is a massive difference between the two when it comes to content. Whilst twitter has the option to post a picture, but it is not necessary. Instagram requires a photo post each and every time. While this may seem slightly tedious, Instagram has become a hugely successful app, and is without doubt a very addictive way to micro-blog. Another feature which I really like about Instagram, is its ability to post to other social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, enabling you to accentuate your online footprint, and expand your chances for potential viewers. The only possible flaw of Instagram, is that currently it is only available for Apple iPhones, and Android Phones.

blogger

The next blogs I will explain are free internet blog sites. These sites have been around for much longer than the relatively new micro-blog apps and sites, but are still hugely successful. First is Blogger.com which is probably the simplest blog site to use, with simple icons and tips to guide you through everything from creating an account, to posting, and even how to maximise viewers. It has been designed to be accessible for anyone, and is still capable of many interesting features, you can change your themes, backgrounds, text, order of photos and much more, there are also options to buy or download other themes to make your blog stand out. Blogger is both simple and efficient, but is more focused on writing your own articles, so if you are far more into the written side of blogging, or are less comfortable with posting, then blogger could definitely accommodate your needs.

tumblr

Next we have Tumblr, which is a very simplistic way to blog, with a focus more on uploading and sharing images and meme's (a video or image that is passed electronically from one internet user to another). It has less of a focus on writing your own posts, and more about searching and sharing sites and images you enjoy or find humorous. While there is an option to add text, I don't find it is as usable as Blogger.com for writing text. However if you have less time to write a multitude of blog articles, but still wish to create a large online presence, then Tumblr could be the perfect blog site for you, as you can blog and reblog many posts in a matter of minutes.

wordpress

Thirdly you have Wordpress, which is distinctly different from most other blog sites. As soon as you enter the site, you feel privileged to have access, it seems very up market, which almost feels odd when talking about a blog site, which is usually focused on comical posts and thoughts of general human beings. This is by no means a bad thing, in fact the appearance of the site, is one of the best parts of this blog site. Much like the home page, the blogs you create, instantly appear crisp and clear, very refined and mature. It all seems very grown up and civilised. I personally love this about Wordpress. If you wish to produce a high end blog, which is very professional and in taste, and do not mind working with a slightly more difficult user interface, then Wordpress is perfect for you.

These sites are created to be very simple, and user friendly, with follow through instructions on how to publish your blogs, many of these sites also have handy features, such as 'Web Stats', which allows you to check your page views, and where your audience are being directed from. Some can even break down your site views into the different articles, which is very useful, as it lets you monitor your most successful articles, but also the least successful. Allowing you to focus in the future on what is best received, and staying clear of the poorly received article subjects.

umbraco

At AVA we use Umbraco which is a content management system(CMS) that enables us to monitor and run our website. This is also where we write and publish our blog articles. Umbraco is able to do many things which simple blog sites, cannot. But with this multitude of extra features, comes a more complicated interface, and therefore a slightly harder way of blogging. So essentially it depends on your level of computer know-how, and your desired level of publishing, which should inform your overall decision on choice of blogging site.

So there we are, a simple guide to starting up a blog of your very own. The important points to remember are, make sure you are appealing to your audience, make your blog concise and to the point, no one wishes to scroll through several pages of useless information. Be consistent, make sure all your blog articles follow a similar pattern, both in writing and visual style. However the most important point of all is to have fun writing your blog, write about subjects that matter to you. This ensures your passion will always come out in the writing, and a genuinely interesting and enjoyable blog, will always be well received.

If you feel that now you know what types of Blog sites are out there, you wish to find out how to write a blog, then go to our page on: Writing Blogs the AVA way!

Writing a Blog the AVA Way!

Thursday Thursday, September 13, 2012 by Matt Andrews

So you want to write blogs but don't know how to start? Or maybe you just want to improve your blogging, either way look no further. In this guide we will show you how to grab readers, and create well presented, detailed, but precise blogs, which will intrigue and engross your viewers and leave them eagerly anticipating your next blog post.

First things first! Make sure you have a clear idea of the subject for your blog entry. If not, it is likely that readers will be unsatisfied after reading it and not return. To build up your audience, each blog article needs to give something to the reader. Does it relate to current news? Does it offer instruction? Does it entertain? There are many reasons to write blog articles, however as long as you believe that your article may be well received and read, then that is fine, after all it is your blog.

Sometimes creating a spider diagram (also known as mind map), around your chosen concept allows you to review the points you can discuss and can quickly decide on a structure for your blog.

If you are creating a factual blog article, you should gather your sources to have them ready to work into your blog. Save the references, so that you can link your readers to the source of your information. More on this later.

The first step is the simplest: write what you want to put down, in a word processing document. Do not worry much about spelling, punctuation or how sentences flow. The blog won't be published until you decide. You have plenty of time to change and perfect your blog.

So after quickly jotting the main content of your blog article, you should save your file, and... exit! Yes, the next step is to leave your blog alone. You need to forget what you have written. Overnight is the minimum break. In the mean time you may have stumbled on something else you want to blog about, so write another draft about the new subject.

Now re-read your efforts. There will be typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. It does not matter at this stage. If you're using MS word then you will find a lot of words and sentances underlined in red and green. So read through and start correcting. You may move paragraphs around and perhaps think of pictures to insert which will add to your blog.

As they say an image is worth a thousand words, so take time to select your pictures (remember copyright) or screen grabs. In Blogs, images help to give the reader a break from the text, which will make them more likely to read through your whole article. Also Images make blogs appear shorter, so if your blog is getting a little on the long side, try and disperse some images in it. Make sure your images support rather than hinder your article. Make sure they are aesthetically pleasing; all the same size, and quality etc.

Technical articles often have screen shots. In this case you need to ask yourself, does this screen shot work with what you are stating? Is it obvious to a reader? Perhaps the button you are guiding your reader to press, is hidden in a large side bar? So we need to highlight it. On the AVA site, if we use screen shots, we highlight the appropriate area of the screen, by placing it inside of a green box. You can do similar things in order to bring your readers attention to a certain area. It is very important to keep your blogs consistent, i.e. if you have used a primary green for your boxes on all your previous articles, and then make sure to use the same colour on the next one. Consistency is very important to making articles easy to read.

Here comes the part known as polishing. Polishing is one of the most fundamental parts of successful blogging. There are a number of guides which you should follow. You must remember to keep sentences reasonably short. As a general rule sentences should be around a line in length. A sentence contains a single idea. Sentences should be grouped in paragraphs: sort of mini topics. About a dozen lines are digestible at one go and form a pleasing block on your blog page.

Overall a blog post should generally be between one and two pages in length. If your blog seriously overruns, you are best to cut the blog into two smaller posts, and link one from the other. By doing this you are stopping readers getting overwhelmed at the length and also directing your readers to other pages of your blog. This will in turn, improve your Google rating, and therefore move you up Google's search pages.

It is important to try and keep all of these thoughts in your mind when writing your blog. It is all about finding a happy medium. You will get a feel for when your blog is on the right track, as you prepare and publish further articles.

The importance of having breaks from writing is vital in creating a well written and thoughtful piece of work. This is true in any situation, Taking a break from your writing, allows you to forgot the specifics of the article, and instead picture it as a whole. So once you have polished once, another night's sleep is in order.

While it is important to put useful links in your blog posts, you need to be careful of how you present these links. Do not place links in the middle of your post, instead, mention them in the article, but add that your readers can find the links at the bottom of your blog post. This ensures that your readers are likely to read through your whole article, rather than simply seeing the blue hyperlink, and hastily clicking it, and therefore leaving your blog, without fully enjoying your hard work.

To sum up, the points we have made in this article are to, make sure your subject is clear, and interesting. Carefully plan your blog posts, create mind maps or spider diagrams, in order to see different points. Gather your links and images beforehand, that way they won't hinder you later. Next you must remember to separate the writing part, from the editing, as these two parts should not be done at the same time, let your creative juices flow when initially writing. You can then be far more ruthless when editing. Make sure to re-read your work, and use programs such as MS Word, to help you with grammar and spelling. Make sure your blog is consistent in both written and visual style, not only in the post, but also consistent to your site. Finally remember to always place links at the end of your post, that way people are more likely to read your whole article.

So you now have an article which is both precise and informative, which has been proof read, and checked for consistency. Now all that is left is to publish your article onto the world wide web.

For help on choosing the right blogging site, to put your hard work for the world to see, take a look at my post: A Guide to Blog Sites.

 

Guide to saving money when using Ebay

Monday Monday, September 10, 2012 by Matt Andrews

So you want to save some money? You've heard of eBay but there is all that bidding stuff and you haven't got the time, experience or certainty that it's going to work well for you. Here's how you can get that eBay auction stuff at the best price even if the auction closes at a ungodly hour when you want to be doing something else.

Of course eBay does bring with it some issues, an important and the reason for creating this article is the danger in overbidding on items. This is a big problem with eBay, the fact it is an auction site, often brings with it the excitement of a competition to win the item you are bidding on, and as many will know, this can often lead to you paying more than you intended for an item.

There is a solution to this issue, and it comes in the form of what are called "Sniping" tools, these sites, which work in a similar way to advance bidding at auction houses, which is the act of placing a maximum bid on an item before the auction has happened, this is often a good way to limit your spending, as it takes you away from the auction room, where even just the atmosphere can make the most careful and money conscious person, transform into some bid crazy beast.

"Sniping" tool sites have been around for a while. These sites have many advantages, as mentioned earlier one is that you don't end up paying more than you intended, secondly by using a sniping tool, your computer doesn't even need to be on when the auction is taking place, as the sniping tool will place the bid for you, and lastly by using these tools, you are often guaranteed a win, as the sites can enter bids as quick as in the last second of the auction. So as you can see there are many reasons why you should use a snipe tool site when looking for items on eBay. Here is a list of just a few of the better known sniping sites:

Auctionstealer.com

Auctionstealer.co.uk

Auctionsniper.com

Goofbay.com

These are but a few of the many eBay snipe sites. But for this demonstration I will use the first site auctionstealer.com which is by far the most widely used, and boasts a 97% success rate with its free registration service, which allows you to bid on three items in a week. This site, is my personal choice. I prefer auction stealer, as I find I do not usually need to snipe more than three items a week, and in my mind it has always been very reliable. Auction stealer, does also offer a priority account, which costs £5.58 or $8.99 per month for a subscription, and this allows you to bid on many items, and decreases the time before the auction closes when it will bid on your item. The free service aims to bid in the last 20-10 seconds of the auction, whereas the subscription aims to bid in the last 7-3 seconds. This can sometimes mean the difference between winning an item, and not. Auction Stealer's Subscription service claims a 99.9% success rate on all items.

For this demonstration I will show you how to set up and use the Auction Stealer free service.

First go to the website Auctionstealer.co.uk You will see something like this:

Ebay auction stealer 1

Click on the 'sign up' button seen on the left of the site see below:

Ebay auction stealer 2

On the Sign up page, you will see four steps, the first step, is your personal information, which the site needs to create your account, step two is creating your password for the site, remember to create a memorable password, as this will be used to log you into the site, along with your email address.

Ebay auction stealer 3

 Step three and four, are a bit different, and concern your eBay account. If you do not own an eBay account, then click the eBay image in step three, and this will redirect you to eBay registration which will open in a new tab:

Ebay auction stealer 4

So after registering an eBay account, you should now be ready to link the eBay account to your auction stealer one. If you already had an eBay account, than you can skip step 3 completely. Now we move on to step 4 which is the physical link to your eBay account, simple enter your eBay account details in each box, and click 'sign up', after clicking, you will come to the page shown below:

Ebay auction stealer 5

 Some users may be concerned about the security of giving an Internet site, important log in information, however the important thing about this, is that this site uses HTTPS which is a spy proof way of accessing web sites and as long as your Pay pal password is different from your eBay password, then there is no way for actual money to be transferred, as the snipe site attempts to win the item, but it is up to you to physically go through the payment process.

The site will ask for your 'conformation code', which will be sent to the email address, which you used to register for the Auction Stealer site, so open that email and select and copy (ctrl+c) the code, or write down that code, and enter it on the auction stealer site, and again click on the 'activate' button.

This will then take you to your current auctions page:

Ebay auction stealer 6

from here you can see the total points you are able to use in a week, and the total you have already used. You have a button 'view past auctions'. An 'add new item' button, and below these buttons, you have the 'add new item' box. This box is where you will enter the information from eBay concerning your item.

There is an option from the drop down box, to change the auction site, to switch to other eBay sites from other countries. You don't normally need to touch this. Below that is a box to enter the auction number, now this number is a little hard to find, but if you look at the screen shot below:

Ebay auction stealer 7

 The item number is the same as the auction number, and is found directly below the description and postage and payments tabs seen in the picture, and once you find that simply copy and paste that into the auction number box, and press 'verify item'.

This will take you to the item information page: 

Ebay auction stealer 8

 As you can see, Auction stealer, has found all the information about the product you wish to bid on, make sure all the information is correct. You will see a space for your maximum bid, in this box, you can enter your maximum bid on the item, which is the most you are willing to spend, this doesn't mean always this is the price you pay, it can be less, as an example seen below this book, starts bidding at 99p, if no one else bids on this item, then I would win the item for the lowest bid, which would be 99p, however if someone else bid on the item once, then the next bid would increase, and so forth, until it reaches your maximum bid, and if the item passes that bid, you will not win the item.

One key feature of this site, which I find very useful, is its warning system, say for example if you put your maximum bid at £5, and before the item ends, the price has already increased beyond the £5 mark, you will receive an email from Auction Stealer, under the name of asnsystem@auctionstealer.com, and they will tell you that, you have been pre-out bid, and they will ask you if you wish to extend your max bid, which you can do on their website. I find this a very useful tool, as it means you are always aware of the activity on your auction items, and can adjust the bidding easily, or merely let it continue, and you will not win the item.

On the item info page, there is also a box for quantity to purchase, this only applies to auctions, which are selling multiples, and gives you the option to buy more than one, but for now we will leave that at 1.

So you click Save item, and it will take you back to your member page, but a new box will appear in the centre, which shows the items you have waiting to be sniped, from here you can monitor their bidding activity, the time left, extend your maximum bids, or cancel the items, by selecting the tick box, and pressing cancel selected (highlighted on image); if you cancel an item, your weekly points will return to the number before you placed the snipe. Below is a screen shot of this page, with a book which we have placed a snipe on:

Ebay auction stealer 9

In summary Auction Stealer is a useful site, which allows you to easily and confidently place a maximum price on an eBay auction. It gives you 3 free eBay auctions per week for free

A key feature is Auction Stealer's clever use of email linking, which both warns you if you have been outbid before the site has had the chance to snipe the item. They will also email you directly after the auction has ended on your item, telling you the outcome, either you have won the item, or you were not successful. This tool is a good way to still use eBay, but limit yourself to the amount you wish to spend, and also allows you to be away from the auction as it takes place.

I hope this guide to the art of Sniping, and the Auction Stealer website has helped firstly explain the concept, and secondly helped you get on your way to cheaper and more successful eBay purchasing.  

Contact Information

To find out more about Ava solutions you can contact us in a number of ways:
Follow Us...