Sharing documents and the Open Document Format

What’s The Open Document Format about?

If you ever send or receive computerised documents by email, this is important for you.

Have you ever you received a document that you did not have the right program to read (Word, Office, Adobe, docx, pdf etc), or the contents were rearranged? And isn’t it frustrating to have to upgrade software you are used to just because others do?

The Open Document Format helps.

What is a document format?

When a computer saves something you have typed on the screen, it puts it in a thing called a file. The file is what you attach when you email it to someone, and the format is the way that your program writes the file.

Now, various computer programs write their files in different formats. It’s as if one saves your document in language A and one saves it in language B. The person the other end can only read your document as you wrote it if their program also reads that file format or ‘language’. If you have the same program, about the same age, then you will be ok.

Why don’t documents get saved in the same universal format?

There is a technical argument that some formats cannot cope with new, clever things that software companies invent for us to use. So formats need to change every few years.

There is a commercial fact that if you get enough people on the same software, everyone else has to buy it in order to share information. Equally, if you tweak your format every few years then everyone has to buy an upgrade in order to keep in step, so as a software supplier you sell a new program to write letters even when the old one still works fine.

What is the Open Document Standard?

Adopting the Open Document format is the UK government’s attempt to decide which of the file formats is comprehensive enough to cover most needs, and suggest that is used for all communication. My opinion of the reasons for this are:

  1. in order to make their documents available to everyone, the govt would need to issue documents in every format that was around, and that takes time and cost
  2. it costs UK businesses a huge amount of money each year upgrading when many do not need the functions provided by the ‘latest upgrades’
  3. being tied to one software supplier just to read documents is not a competitive market
  4. most importantly, some software suppliers do not publish details about how their format works. So if that software company goes out of business or stops supporting its ‘outdated’ formats, both you and the govt lose the ability to open and read older old documents!

Why should I use the Open Document Format?

  1. To eliminate the familiar problem of someone asking you to resend in a different format, download a new program or upgrade
  2. to give you the choice which word processor you use
  3. to give you the chance to invest in new software when you need to, not when incompatibility forces you to
  4. so that you will still be able to read your own documents in years to come

How can I use the Open Document Format?

Most software packages now allow you to change the ‘default’ format when you save a file. It will be in your user settings and you will also be asked when you install new software. You certainly do not have to spend any money to start using this standard. There may be a few minutes needed in training, but it is very simple. You only need to alter the default once.

Libreoffice and google docs have automatically used this standard for years. Libreoffice is used by millions and can be downloaded for free, so give it a try whatever you already use – it will look very familiar and does most things well in my view (I’ve used it for ten years now).

Further reading

More details from the UK government here.

Guardian comment here.

An article about how some software suppliers worried about how they might lose the ability to keep you tied in with them here.

Adding the Epson Stylus Photo RX620 printer to Debian Stable Wheezy

CUPS Printer Driver

I spent a while trying to get this going on a 64-bit machine.

Step 1 – install cups. Open a console and type sudo aptitude install cups cups-client.

Some forums suggested aptitude install cups cups-client which did not work for me. The first thing to remember is that at the moment there is no gui print settings application, so you access CUPS settings from a browser by entering the address from //:localhost:631. Then select administration and at the login window that pops up, you need to use root and the root password. Find printers or add printer did not discover the printer, which was turned on and connected to the USB port.

Epson Download

Tried the downloads from the Epson site and  got dragged into a loop of searches on their site. Eventually I got to a selection listing a load of separate scanner and printer drivers, 32 and 64-bit in rpm and gz form. opting for gz gave me a file but no instructions that made sense, so I gave up

Gutenprint

This was by far the simplest solution for me. Open a console:

  • make sure you have done stage 1 above – sudo aptitude install cups cups-client
  • type sudo aptitude install printer-driver-gutenprint ijs gutenprint cups-driver-gutenprint foomatic-db-gutenprint
  • plug in and turn on the printer(s)
  • open a browser and type //:localhost:631 in the address bar. Enter the root name and password, then go to admin > find printers.

For me, two separate Epson all-in-one printers were found and I just followed the default names and used them. So CUPS was very close, but Gutenprint filed in the gap. I have no idea whether this would now work if I uninstalled any of the bits above.

Webex Webinars on Debian

Webex WebinarsThe webex logo

Webex are one of a number of companies who offer a platform for hosting webinars – for interactive teaching, demonstrations and training. The application runs in a browser and is dependent on java and flash – something which many user will have turned off to avoid security, speed or compatibility problems.

Installing in Debian

Linux users are often a bit more circumspect about installing just anything into their browsers, and here is how I got things to work in debian 7 testing (Jessie) 64-bit xcfe:

  1. tried all sorts with native 64-bit and so much conflicted I gave up
  2. set up a 32-bit virtual machine in virtualbox
  3. opened a console and entered sudo aptitude install icedtea-6-plugin flashplugin-nonfree
  4. went to the Webex test meeting page to check the functionality
  5. on the desktop, went to media > mixer > show controls and enabled the mic and master volume

Sorted.

However, it’s a real drag to fire up a vm just to participate in a demo! Contact me if you have come across a better platform for hosting or attending webinars on linux.

Thanks and good luck.

Remove google+ birthdays from your calendar

Google Calendar

Google calendar can be a very useful part of the gmail suite, especially for anyone who wants to manage mail and calendar on several devices. For more details see Google’s introduction here, but there are some great advantages like sharing other’s calendars and having several calendars for different purposes (home and work for example).

Removing the Birthday Calendar

Recently google has dumped another calender in your view, and it has the birthdays of any of your google or google+ contacts who have recorded their birthdays. I don’t want this and here is the trick to remove them:

  • calendar view
  • Settings > Calendars tab > ‘Browse Interesting Calendars’ > More tab > Birthdays – Unsubscribe
  • return to calendar

With thanks to n21Brown on google help forums for pointing that out to me.

WordPress automatic backup

It is always to backup any computer files that you value, and especially wise with your blog or website.

I recommend wp-db-backup because of its simplicity to set up, but currently have a few problems with a few sites which for a couple of reasons to not follow the default installation of wordpress. I’ll elaborate later, but am getting great support from the plugin authors so am using this as a diagnosis page for them.

How the backup fails

When the plugin is working properly on a site setup the default wordpress way, it will expect to backup your core tables and offer extra tables that have been added by plugins. They would be listed on the left and right of the backup screen respectively.

Screenshot when the underlying structure causes the plugin to fail:before_backup

As you press the ‘Backup now!’ button to do the first unscheduled backup, some warnings and a progress bar will appear at the top of your screen. You know there is something wrong when the progress bar appears but it does not move beyond 0%!
Screenshot as the backup is started:

in_backup

 

What causes the backup failure

WordPress ‘out of the box’

The default installation of wordpress is into a directory called wp. If you have a hosting package rather than run your own server then you often put your files in a directory called public_html.

So, if you run one wordpress site or blog,  your files live in public_html/wp/ and the address of the home page of your blog is www.yourdomain/wp/index.php.

Other directory structures

There are several reasons why you do not want the default setup, and wordpress has allowed for this (see settings > general on your dashboard). For example:

  • you want simple page addresses. My site for example lives in public_html/wp/ but because the whole site is based on wordpress, I want the home page of the site to be www.interweave-now.co.uk/ and not www.interweave-now.co.uk/wp/.

    In this case in my settings > general the wordpress url is set as www.interweave-now.co.uk/wp and the site url reads www.interweave-now.co.uk/. The domain points to the public_html/wp

  • you do not want to make it obvious you use wordpress, or have no need for other pages in the ‘root’ of your domain. Put the wordpress files into public_html/myblogname/ and point the domain to public_html/myblogname/
  • you want something more personal than ‘wp’. For example, I have a site for members of a group and put wordpress in public_html/ourgroup/members/

Summary

So WordPress can adapt to your file structure and to a degree can separate the appearance in the browser address bar from the hierarchy of your directories. At the moment the plugin struggles with this but I expect it will be sorted very quickly.

Contact me if you need to discuss having a website or blog for your needs.

Barclays Bank Computer theft

This is one post what I am going to revise as the story unfolds, so keep an eye on it. The interesting part to me is how do you track people on your sites and places of work? BBC article here

Monitoring People on Site

It is so common to visit a workplace (other than as a customer) and follow someone through a pass-protected door, or sign in yet leave by another entrance and drive away with a visitors pass still in your pocket. So although security is a specialism in its own right I though I would jot down a few questions we all need to consider, then act on if we suspect that our answers are weak.

Visitor Security self-assessment

  • in an emergency am I sure that anyone could know who was left in the building?
  • what help can neighbouring businesses be to each other?
  • how important do people really think visitor books and passes are?
  • can all your colleagues challenge a visitor about their identity confidently and politely? How well would they be supported if their challenge was not well-received?
  • what impression does a visitor get from all the areas they might visit?
  • how well do visitors have to be known before scrutiny is relaxed?
  • if my insurance company tested the system with a visit, how would they rate us as a risk?
  • do you use technology effectively and unobtrusively?

Next Actions

I made this post to gather my thoughts and perhaps help a few people with some searching questions. To me, the points above tell me about your approach to business or project planning, safety, theft, sabotage, intellectual property, branding, leadership and employee relations.

If you want someone who can pose those questions in confidence then help you improve your answers, call me.

writing web pages for better search results

Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

However good your copywriting, a web page is only useful if people find it. This simple introduction explains the basics of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Remember, this is a basic introduction and not a replacement for getting a professional to work for you. It’s intended for those who add news and information pages to their websites or blogs and want them to attract more web traffic.

Finding Web Pages and Getting Higher up Search Results

  • People find web pages in 2 ways:
    • from a link in a site, because of a good menu structure
    • from typing something in a search box
  • most searches are done on google (so focus on that first)
  • google’s aim is to have one perfect answer to every search, not millions
  • a page should relate to one subject – if you want to cover a lot in a summary, then each term referred to justifies its own page rather than a paragraph later in the same page
  • in the above case, the ‘detail’ page has a link to the main one. A search finds the detail (which is google’s job), your links provide the context (the author’s job)
  • google makes an index of a page based on the following, in order:
    • page title (any reasonable content system allows you to specify this separately from the page name)
    • page description – this does not appear on the page when displayed, it is the 160-character description you see in the results of a search
    • page keywords – the most important words the author thinks people will type in a search box, in order to find your content
    • headings
    • content or web copy
  • the first thing you need to do is decide what people will type in the search box, in order to find what you have written (see paragraph below)
  • then write a page description and title, using these key words
  • then write the headings – use the key words and not more creative headlines
  • finally, write the copy

Searches and keywords

When someone types a word or phrase into a search box, this is called a keyword or key phrase. The author’s job is to anticipate what people will search for – remembering that by definition they are looking for information, therefore they may not use jargon or know technical terms.

Google has a tool to help you here https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=3524867104&__u=8379521344&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS (if the link fails, find it by searching for “adwords keywords”).

How it works

  • you type in what you think people will search for in the ‘word or phrase’ box (i.e. your draft keywords) and click on ‘search’
  • the screen will show the phrases google will look for in its index, in order of relevance, in a few columns
  • the competition column indicates how many other sites are trying to get found – high competition means a load of search results
  • the ‘local monthly searches’ column indicates how many searches with this phrase take place each month, in your country

The list will indicate what google interprets from your keyword, and how people would typically search. This is the most important part of writing a web page because it helps you decide on the most common, not the most precise searches. You can only educate people by starting where they do, so the fact that people may search in an imprecise way is your job to cope with!

A Worked Example

I entered ‘asbestos guidance’ in the search box.

  • it has low competition and about 390 searches in the uk each month
  • the most relevant phrase was ‘asbestos awareness’, getting 9,900 searches
  • clicking on the top of the ‘local monthly searches’ column sorts it in order – the most searched for, relevant phrases are about health and safety – the first ones about asbestos then follow

From the 2 minutes spent on this keyword, I would be using the keywords ‘about asbestos, what is asbestos, asbestos removal, health and safety and asbestos survey’, all of which attract many more searches than the title I had in mind, asbestos guidance.

Conclusion to Copywriting for the Web

How ever well-written, a web page is useless until people find it. By considering what people will search for in general, you will be able to help google offer your page high up in a search. You then write your page taking the key words people understand, and educating them to the overall level of understanding that you want to deliver.

Expecting people to search for your jargon from the start is a guaranteed way of communicating with nobody.

Making the copy both engaging and attractive to a search engine is another skill, not part of this article.

Enjoy your writing.

Andover Personnel Group

Meeting and LinkedIn presentation

28 November 2012

Background

There is a lot of guidance on the internet and in publications, on how to do things step-by-step on social media and particularly LinkedIn. However, it is not so easy to find out how to evaluate and create a relevant plan for best results for your organisations. Members of the Andover Personnel Group wanted to explore how to form a plan, rather than just diving in and assuming they need to know every feature, so we held a discussion during a meeting.

Highlights

The discussion was wide-ranging and started with some facts and figures about social media usage, before moving on to ‘what’s in it for us?’ Some of the points that were particularly noteworthy were:

  • the levels of use and demographics of visitors
  • the amount of time people spent (or did not spend) on the various sites
  • how simple it is to input information with almost no validation
  • the impact of employees’ individual profiles to an organisation
  • separating the substance from the background noise

Summary

There was no doubt that asking ‘why?’ before ‘how?’ is better than simply diving in because everyone else is. As a result, everyone went home with a series of actions they would take to ensure that their organisations reviewed their social media plans in a considered way.

Although we talked around the slides a great deal, the presentation slides (pdf format) are here for those who want them for review.

Contact me to arrange facilitation for specific projects for ideas in your organisation.

Regulations for Online Sales

Internet Sales

As we lead up to the festive season a lot of people will be buying and selling online.

If your business relies on internet sales, or (selling online) then you need to know about website compliance – distance selling regulations that will apply to you. There are loads of guides to do with website marketing and how to sell online, but it is well worth reading a good guide on how to comply with the rules and regulations that protect people who buy online.

Online Selling Rules

Items bought via your online shop will be subject to the Distance Selling Regulations, and there is a lot of information in the Distance Selling Hub run by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK. The five key principles below are taken from the OFT website and if you want to find out if you are doing the right thing, click our links and go straight to the web compliance tips on their website.

We will add more posts when they issue more guidance on internet sales or internet rules and laws.


Excerpt from the OFT site:

 

Five of the simplest ways to make your website more compliant with distance selling regulations are by doing the following:

Providing a full geographic address
Providing a proper email contact address
Flagging up hidden or unexpected charges early in the buying process
Being clear and open about cancellation rights
Providing a full refund plus refund of delivery charges when things go wrong

Click here for more information on how to make sure your website is clear and accurate

 

As you can see – straightforward, practical and useful reminders. Do please google+ or rccommend this page using the links below to share it with your contacts.

Hello to Barcamp Berkshire

Hi Everyone, thanks for using the QR code.
Like you, I am keen on having fun with IT, making sure that the good ideas get shouted about and the poor ones get improved or dropped.
I’d like to keep in touch to discuss things like simple setups for smaller businesses (preferably open source); making the most of wordpress (especially freelance theme design) and making the most of learning platforms like Moodle.

If you’re a contractor or run a small business, my day job is helping you make everything work for you – from finance to marketing and keeping a quality of life. Feel free to drop me a line with absolutely no obligation.

If you work with larger organisations, I’d love referrals or introductions to anyone who would benefit from developing their ideas better and improving communication between users and project teams (so that the implementation gives the benefits it is meant to and impossible requests are not resorted to). Because I understand business and some of the technical terms, I can help break down any barriers without appearing to take sides.

Here’s the presentation on the Disney Creativity Strategy as described by Robert Dilts. Thanks to those of you who came along and added so much context and enthusiasm to apply it in your situations.

Thanks for reading and for your companionship. I hope you enjoyed Barcamp as well.
Ed