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LED this way and that on the road to recovery – Spring Fair NEC 2014

February 4, 2014

This last weekend I went on what is an annual pilgrimage for many business owners – that glorious ‘assault on the senses’ known as the Spring Fair at the NEC.

ipad_businessIf you haven’t been there, or to the smaller Autumn equivalent, then it is basically where the nation’s shopkeepers – both online and bricks and mortar – gather to see what latest and greatest ideas they can stock their warehouses and shelves with to entice the punters to part with their cash.

It was interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t since my last visit in 2011

The first thing that was noticeably different is that the ‘buzz is back’. You could see that even on the opening Sunday, when the general public like to take a peek, there was business being done. The last time I witnessed anywhere near a ‘buzz’ at a Spring or Autumn Fair was way back at the start of 2008 before the impact of the financial meltdown hit home in the UK.

The other big general change from a couple of years ago is that tablet PCs have become not just a flashy accessory but an essential exhibition tool – from snapping visitor badges, to demonstrating product variations to collecting order information, the exhibition stands were awash with tablet toting staff tapping and swiping away.

Here are a few more observations and highlights from this year’s visit … Read more…

Makes me proud to be British

December 23, 2013

Continuing the unprecedented run of warm and fuzzy feelgood posts on my blog over the last six months or so I’m finishing my 2013 commentary with three experiences in the last week that have made me particularly proud (and lucky) to be British …

TimBL takes a stand on web freedom hypocrisy

ingsoc-prop1As a regular nominee and occasional winner on the various ‘Greatest Briton’ lists, inventor of the World Wide Web and all round good local bloke – when Tim Berners-Lee speaks, I listen and when he worries, I worry too.

This week he was the figurehead of a collaboration of free speech advocates and leading activists who have written an open letter highlighting the hypocrisy of member nations of the Open Government Partnership.

I am less proud of the fact the UK is one of those hypocritical member nations but in 100% agreement with the simple point that the western world doesn’t have a leg to stand on in protesting about lack of web freedoms elsewhere in the world when its leading members are complicit in running one of the largest surveillance networks the world has ever seen.

Commenting on the exposure of what organisations like the US National Security Agency have been up to in secret it says …

“These practices erode the checks and balances on which accountability depends, and have a deeply chilling effect on freedom of expression, information and association, without which the ideals of open government have no meaning.”

Read more…

2013 – A vintage year in summary

December 8, 2013

Grape_crop2012-13Towards the end of 2012 I was bemoaning how bad my grape crop was and fearing for the future of the UK’s wine producers as vineyards on the south coast announced they had abandoned the year’s harvest.

What a difference a year can make!

Following a succession of average and bad summers, the 2013 UK summer is the best I can remember. I have vague recollections of the summer of 1976 being a long, hot one and also being stuck in an airless office for much of the hot spell in 2003 – but this year has been absolutely glorious.

A recent article on the BBC website asked “Is the British weather unique in the world?” and concluded that up to six air masses battle it out for dominance above our island nation making for rapidly changeable and unpredictable conditions that are rarely experienced to such a degree elsewhere.

Added to this is the coriolis effect, a meandering  jet stream and the increasing intensity of weather events driven by global climate change.

The net result is that we can experience some of the hottest and driest weather on record to the wettest and coldest within the space of few weeks.

In recent years, my grape crop has been a very visible and tangible barometer of these volatile weather changes. You can literally ‘taste’ how good or bad the weather has been – and 2013 has undoubtedly been a vintage year. My vine produced around 10lbs of ripe grapes that I turned into 4 litres of delicious grape juice. The next time I get a bumper crop I will try turning it into wine.

Here are some of my other personal highlights from 2013, arguably – ‘the best year of my life’ …

Read more…

Out on the highway – Street Gliding the Everglades Headwaters

November 13, 2013

After 10 days of ferrying the family around theme parks and shopping malls ‘Dad’ was given his day in the Florida sun to use as he wished :)

Now that my eldest is increasingly making her own way in the world, I doubt that we will head state-side on a family holiday for quite a while now so I thought I’d go for a full-on American experience and decided to hire a Harley Davidson for a day, head down south for some alligator spotting in the swamps and then have a go at firing some weapons at a gun range.

Street-Glide-2014I’ve never ridden a Harley before and as I’m fast approaching 50 and the age at which my family seem happier for me to own another bike then it was a good opportunity to experience what this style of ‘laid back’ classic motorcycling has to offer.

The bike I chose was the 2014 Street Glide model which is the latest output from Harley Davidson’s ‘Project Rushmore’ – an initiative from the iconic company to incorporate over 100 renovations into their 2014 product range that are based on close collaboration with customers.

The guys at Harley Davidson in South Orlando were very helpful to this HOG world newbie, giving me the full run down on this new machine and some of its ‘awesome’ features, such as the on-board infotainment system that includes bluetooth connectivity.

A few circuits of an adjacent car park to familiarise myself with the basic controls and handling and I was ready to get out on the highway.

Read more…

Postcard from North America – The worst and best of US

November 3, 2013

I’m writing this half way through a family break in the United States.

After good and bad experiences heading to Florida via Washington and heading home via Montreal on our last visit – well documented here – we opted to keep the flight costs down by travelling via Toronto this time.

fatUScop1The hop across the Atlantic with Air Canada was, we all agreed, the best long haul flight any of us had experienced with attentive cabin crew who kept us well fed and watered and excellent in-flight entertainment that made the seven plus hours literally fly by. Being able to link my new hearing aids directly to the audio output meant I could hear the three recently released movies I chose to watch very well – in fact probably the best I have ever heard such things as I was able to cut the cabin noise out virtually completely.

I had no problem hearing John McClane and his son swearing at the Russian mafia as they blasted their way across Moscow, leaving many vehicles written off in their wake, or Will Smith guiding his real life and fictional son across the hostile environment of an unfamiliar planet they had crash landed on – which is Earth 1000 years after we’ve irreparably damaged it and moved on, or indeed hearing Brad Pitt saving his wife and daughters and the rest of the human race from being over-run by the fastest moving zombies I have ever seen.

So having spent the best part of six hours watching heroic parenting and gaining expert guidance on how to save your offspring from all manner of nastiness this world might have to throw at them now and in the far future it was somewhat ironic when less than an hour after stepping off the flight I had to stand powerless with teeth gritted as a man much younger than myself treated my kids with rudeness and contempt.

Read more…

Walking the walk with Drupal Commerce

October 18, 2013

When a fair chunk of your household income is dependent on an eCommerce solution, any decision to make changes should not be taken lightly.

bump_delivery_final1The online gifts business my wife established in 2008 has grown steadily through the recession of the last 4 years and the eCommerce website I built for it originally has been surprisingly and thankfully very robust. It was built using Joomla with the Virtuemart shopping cart module on a $3/month hosting package from Siteground.  There has only been one small outage on the hosting service during this time and only occasional minor issues with the website itself.  We have very much taken a ‘if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it’ approach.

However, as the business has grown, ambitions have expanded and the online world evolved in new directions such as mobile and social media, the limitations of the Virtuemart solution, in particular, have become more and more apparent

Also, as eCommerce development is central to what I offer in my fledgling consultancy business – Webwiser, I feel it would be hypocritical for me to recommend a solution to fellow business owners and entrepreneurs that I wouldn’t be prepared to stake my own livelihood on

I first started experimenting with Drupal Commerce in late 2011 and since then there have been some significant developments …

Read more…

Lean, green and keen at Grand Designs Live

October 5, 2013

GDL_kevin3If you watched Gogglebox this week – the programme that watches people watching TV that currently follows the latest series of Grand Designs in the schedules – then the most memorable comments came from the posh couple who watch their telly in their 17 bedroom mansion through an alcoholic haze. In a hilarious moment Dominic observed that the long black gloves worn against a black dress by one of the characters in Downton Abbey made her look like she was missing most of her arms. In a not so hilarious moment Stephanie described Kevin McCloud as an ‘arse’.

Kevin McCloud is a personal hero of mine since watching the first series of Grand Designs back in 1999 and so I was suitably offended on his behalf. Two days later I came face to face with the man himself on the opening day of Grand Designs Live at Birmingham’s NEC.

The first encounter was while waiting at the entrance to the event with a vast crowd eager for the show to open. A giant image of Kevin stares down at you as you enter a calming blue tunnel to the atrium of the event from where you can choose to explore the wonders of Build, Interiors, Bathrooms, Kitchens, Gardens and Technology each of which was guaranteed to bombard the senses with grand and beautiful designs and some very clever ideas.

Read more…

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