My Resolutions for 2015

It seems particularly typical of my current state of being that I am only writing my resolutions for the coming year on the 6th April.

Particularly so as 2015 is an auspicious year. I turned 49 on New Year’s Eve last year, so this year marks the start of a new 7 year plan, and the lead into my 50s – the decade when I hope to see a fundamental shift from work to life. I will write more about my aims with regard to this later.

In the meantime:

  1. Give up smoking
    As I write this I last smoked on September 24th last year, so I’m almost 6 months into this resolution. This time I hope it will last.
  2. Achieve and maintain my target weight of 185 lbs.
    Starting point is a shocking 213lbs, so I have exactly two stone to lose. Target date is October 24th, when I run Snowdonia marathon.

    As for the rest I’ll simply repeat the ones I made in 2013
  3. I will not shout at my children. No exceptions.
  4. I will have more fun.
  5. I will set and achieve one business objective each day.
  6. I will somehow work 35 hours a week, 42 weeks of the year. On average.
  7. I will go to church at least once a month.
    I have been very lapse with this – but I went yesterday and will stick to this one. Religiously.
  8. I will run every week.
  9. I will spend 15 minutes each day learning Spanish.
  10. I will do the Royal Canadian 5BX programme, every day. Starting today.
    Started today.
  11. I will start one side-project and work on it for two hours a week. I hope to earn more than £1 per hour.

 

Improving Page Load Time for WordPress

I have recently been spending some time looking at ways of improving page load time for WordPress websites. This has the twin benefits of improving user experience whilst at the same time improving Google ranking.

In this article I will look at some practical ways in which I am seeking to improve the page load time on this website.

Benchmarking is critical when seeking to bring about measurable, quantifiable improvements in page speed. One possible test model would involve measuring page load speed on a clean default installation of WordPress and then again after adding individual plugins, or replacing templates. However, some results would be more relevant when performed on a site containing a representative sample of content.

This blog, started in 2008 and subject to repeated and prolonged periods of neglect since then, is as good a place to start as any. Continue reading Improving Page Load Time for WordPress

Improving site speed with W3 Total Cache on a Shared Server

I am currently developing a WordPress website for a Equine Breakdown company. The site features an eCommerce shop powered by WooCommerce.  This enables customers to purchase breakdown cover online, and pay using payPal or by Direct Debit.

When launched the site will run on a Virtual Private Server, but in the meantime I am developing it in a test server environment on a Shared Server.

Continue reading Improving site speed with W3 Total Cache on a Shared Server

Day 1316 – The Rebirth of Mummy Cool

Back in September 2009 I conceived an idea for a side project and Mummywear Maternity was born.

We were having dinner with friends and discussing possible ideas for a web project. Perhaps because they had 5 children, and at the time we had 2, the conversation shifted to child-centric websites and I mooted the idea of a comparison site for new parents. The concept was simple – to offer a showcase of the best maternity products available on the internet, allowing parents and parents-to-be the opportunity to compare a variety of maternity clothes and nursery products in one place, side by side. Monetisation was to be through affiliate links to the sites retailing the featured products. At the time, the idea was a novel one.

When we got home I further researched the idea. There seemed to be no sites that provided a similar offering and in my excitement I purchased a number of relevant domain names suitable for the project.

I also began to blog about the project. For all of 5 days. Read about days 1 to 5 here. (Spoiler – nothing much happens.)

Fast forward 4 years and I’ve done precisely nothing with the idea. My two children have been joined by a third, India, born in 2010. School fees and the demands of running a business while looking after a 3-year old mean that my finances desperately require a cash injection.  So here goes.

Follow my progress as I launch a new business in troubled times in an effort to achieve financial freedom, fire my clients and achieve that all-important work-life balance. Day 1316 is ground zero, second time around.

I intend to devote just one hour each day to the project, with the aim of building a business that generates £6k per year. By blogging about the steps I am taking, the strategies I intend to implement, and my success (or failure) I realise I am leaving myself completely open to someone else hijacking my concept. If you do succeed where I fail please get in touch and I’ll offer you my congratulations, while kicking myself soundly for being so stupid. Then I’ll take comfort in the fact that you’ve proved the concept and start over using one of the other 3 ideas I’ve sidelined to pursue this one.

I hope that I start from a position of relative strength:

As a web developer of 10 years standing I bring to the table experience in developing eCommerce websites and a strong knowledge of  design, internet marketing and SEO. Lets start by looking at the assets I have in place to date.

1. Domains

I already own a number of keyword rich relevant (ish) established domains.

These are www.mummycool.co.uk, www.mummycool.com, www.mummywear.co.uk, www.mummywearmaternity.co.uk and www.mummywearmaternity.com

2. Hosting

I have a reseller account with Heart Internet which means I can host the site/sites at no marginal cost.

3. Social Media

I have a Twitter account dating back to September 2009 – http://twitter.com/mummywear – with 114 followers. Oh, and a Pinterest account that I have just rediscovered at http://pinterest.com/coolmummies/ with 0 boards, 0 pins and that all-important metric – 0 followers.

4. Development Experience

I have a number of years experience developing Joomla!/Virtuemart and WordPress/WooCommerce websites. Specifically, I have developed a concept-proving affiliate site in partnership with a client which generates tiny, but consistent affiliate income.

It is my intention to be completely transparent in what I do – partly to document my progress and partly because I hope that this website will become an authority site for others attempting to do the same thing. With this in mind I undertake to share quite openly the steps I take in setting up and running the project. I will also publish full and open details of any profits and expenses incurred, starting on June 1st, 2013.

The time has come to test whether I can utilise these assets and apply these principles to enriching myself rather than my clients.

 

My resolutions for 2013

My resolutions for 2013 are:

  1. Smoking. Best to tackle this one first. I resolve only to smoke Camel cigarettes. Where I live in rural Shropshire this is tantamount to giving up anyway, while leaving the door open to smoke in more exotic climes.
  2. I will not shout at my children. No exceptions.
  3. I will have more fun.
  4. I will set and achieve one business objective each day.
  5. I will somehow work 35 hours a week, 42 weeks of the year. On average.
  6. I will go to church at least once a month.
  7. I will run every week.
  8. I will spend 15 minutes each day learning Spanish.
  9. I will do the Royal Canadian 5BX programme, every day. Starting today.
  10. I will start one side-project and work on it for two hours a week. I hope to earn more than £1 per hour.

 

Work on what you want week!

It is all too easy to spend all of one’s life working to meet deadlines and catch up with outstanding work.

I’ve just read about a neat idea to allow time to develop those personal projects which are easily often neglected in the day-to-day grind of paying the mortgage and school fees:

“At Trigger.io, work on what you want week (wowyww) happens once a quarter: the idea is we give all our developers free rein to hack on anything they want, so long as it’s somewhat related to one of our products.”

I’m hereby iplementing this idea at Generation X Computers. The first “Work on what you want week!” will take place from the 31st December 2012 until 6th January 2013. As New Year’s Eve is my birthday I can consider it a little birthday present to myself.

Subsequent Work on what you want weeks are scheduled for:

1st – 7th April 2013

1st – 7th July 2013

30th September – 6th October 2013.

Now, back to the day-to-day grind!

WordPress themes that I like

I’m increasingly attracted to the idea of using WordPress as a platform for developing websites which need content management capabilities, but without the degree of complexity that calls for a Joomla imlementation.

I love Joomla, and have been using it since Joomla 1.0, but a number of factors have lately forced me to reconsider it as my de facto content management system. Probably the two biggest factors to contribute to this decision are my disappointment with Virtuemart 2 as an e-Commerce platform and  the complexity of setting up Joomla sites and training users.

The following collection of links, which I intend to add to and use as a reference, are to some of the WordPress themes that I particularly like. Initially they will be mainly design related, as I’m currently in the process of putting together a WordPress site to promote WordPress web design for Shropshire companies.

For me certain themes leap of the screen and feel just right, in terms of design and layout. It seeems I am not alone in this,  so not surprisingly there is a degree of repetition among the themes on the following sites.

Dessign.net offer a selection of very clean and stylish WordPress themes – Modern and Minimal in their words – specifically designed with  illustrators, photographers and graphic designers in mind. Many of their designs are responsive (see my article on Responsive web design) and, I have to admit, really quite lovely.

Skeleton is a simple, responsive, mobile-friendly WordPress theme from from Simple Themes, based on the Skeleton boilerplate1.

In a post from June 2012, WPLift highlight 25 free WordPress themes that are particularly suitable for Photographic Portfolio websites. These tend to fall into two catgories – full screen or grid layout. I personally feel that the appeal of both extends far beyong photographic sites, and am considering using one of them in a product showcase site, perhaps using wp-commerce.

The Pinboard free WordPress theme features a responsive layout and an advanced and flexible grid powered by jQuery Masonry that automatically and smoothly adapts to changes to the viewport of your browser.It combines clean and elegant in a very pretty package.

1 For those not familiar with the concept a boilerplate is a standard set of files used to kick-start the development process. The Skeleton boilerplate, for example,  is a small collection of CSS files that can help rapid development of responsive websites. Other boilerplates include the HTML5 boilerplate, a starting project template for HTML5 development that is designed to be adapted to your needs. Similarly, Twitter Bootstrap is a collection of web creation and development tools including HTML and CSS-based design templates for typography, forms, buttons, charts, navigation and other interface components, as well as optional JavaScript extensions. Newly released at the time of writing, Joomla 3.0 utilises the Twitter Bootstrap. I hope to blog more on this subject soon.

 

When bespoke isn’t best

Wherever possible I have always chosen to develop bespoke designs for my websites, be they static marketing sites or developed using content management systems.

When discussing the design for a new project with a client I tend to suggest looking at a representative sample of sites (usually, but not necessarily) within their industry in order to identify features and design aspects that they like. I then seek to bring together these features, in combination with the client’s existing corporate branding, to develop a best of breed site intended to be greater than the sum of it’s parts.

I do, however,  find template sites to be great sources of inspiration. This is due in part to the fact that they are often instrumental in highlighting emerging technologies and techniques within the design sector.

When it comes to choosing a content management system, however, there are a number of very compelling reasons why bespoke is not best. Content Management Systems broadly fall into one of three major groups.

  1. Open Source Content Management Systems include Joomla!, WordPress and Drupal, each of which can provide different strengths and benefits depending on the nature of the project.
  2. Proprietary Content Management Systems
  3. Bespoke Content Management Systems are created on an ad-hoc basis by in-house development teams, often to meet the specific requirements of a particular company or project.

I would not advocate the use of bespoke systems for a number of reasons.

  1. They are High Risk.
  2. They become quickly dated or obsolete.
  3. Lack of extensibility.

[article still in draft stages]

 

 

 

 

Responsive web design: What goes around…

“Responsive Web Design essentially indicates that a web site is crafted to adapt the layout to the environment that it is being viewed in.”1

At Generation X it has always been a first principle to consider the wide variety of user platforms when designing websites. Cross browser compatibility and varied browser resolutions have always been tested as an inherant part of the design process since I first began designing websites in 2003, so the concept of responsive web design is not new to me.

The term responsive web design, however, first came to my attention last month when I read an article by James Pearce entitled Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one2, orginally written in October 2010 in response to Ethan Marcotte’s seminal article3 on A List Apart.

Proponents of responsive web design seem to fall into two camps – the purists and the adaptives. The distinction lies in whether exactly the same information is presented across all platforms – the purist arguemnt – or whether the design should respond to different platforms by delivering “different content and services altogether – or, at least, a differently prioritized version of the default desktop experience”.2 As is so often the case, both sides of the argument have much to recommend them.

Allied to the concept of responsive web design is that of Mobile First,4 whereby web applications and websites are designed for mobile devices first, rather than the mobile version being adapted from the desktop version. The case for Mobile First is argued in the book of the same title, by Luke Wroblewski.

I should point out that responsive web design principles have (not yet) been applied to this WordPress blog.

1 Responsive Web Design, Wikipedia
2 Not a mobile web, merely a 320px-wide one, by James Pearce
3 Responsive Web Design, by Ethan Marcotte
4 Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski

Generation X: New Media Strategies for Digital Revolutionaries