Calendars

Have you ever been sitting on your computer and wanted to know what day of the week next June 6th is? I’ve actually gone to my clock on my computer and fiddled with it to see what day a certain date falls on because I don’t have a calendar for next year yet.

Here is a site I found at Time and Date.com

You can put in your own country, and it tells you what holidays occur there, and you can use these calendars to print out for your own use. There is a lot of other information on this site, time zone calculators, countdowns to a particular date. Could be useful.

Email Etiquette

Millions of emails are sent every day, and sometimes it feels like we are getting all of them! If you want to annoy your friends less, here are a few ways to make sending emails to your friends a less stressful event for both them and yourself!

1.File sizes. If you are sending images to people of your dog, cat or your latest artwork, don’t forget that some people are still on dial up and it takes a long time to download each attachment they receive. Photos or other files shouldn’t be any larger than 500kb if you can help it, and if you reduce an image to 72dpi (dots per inch) and 6 x 8” in size, it will often be under 100KB. Most camera programs will allow you to resize your images. If they are only for your friends to look at and not print, then 72dpi is fine to look at on your screen. And if you are in the position that one email seems to be blocking the rest from coming through, you can go to www.mail2web.com and type in your email address and password and see all of your emails that are still on your ISP’s server and look at and delete the offending email. Nothing worse than spending half an hour downloading something only to find out it was a silly movie that you didn’t want anyway! See Photoxels for more details.

2.Sending to groups of people. Do you get emails from your friends that include 300 email addresses that you have to scroll through to get to the point of the message? Isn’t it annoying? It can also be dangerous if you or your friends get a virus, it can spread to all those people as well, not to mention that your email address is now broadcast to all and sundry. It is always best when sending an email to lots of people to put your own email address in the To: section, and all of the other emails in the BCC (Blind carbon copy) section. You can get to the BCC by clicking on the CC in your emails if you use Outlook Express. In a lot of mail programs you can also organize your friends and families into groups so you can click on a group and it sends to all in the group at once. But still send them as a blind carbon copy.

3.Dire warnings! I have to say that the Neiman Marcus store never billed any woman $500 for a cookie recipe, the police won’t come if you put your pin number in backwards (you’ll just get shot for your trouble) and Bill Gates is definitely not going to give any of us money by sending on a message. If you get an email about some virus warning or other, the best thing to do is to google the main idea of it. For example put in pin number + reverse and you will get up pages with the helpful names like urbandegends.com and snopes.com. All pages that debunk all of these emails that seem to last for years! It’s an easy way to see if the email warning is for real and save thousands of emails being sent out as a result of you blindly sending it to all of your friends. Plus, some of those sites are pretty funny reading!

4.Finally, the jokes, and those emails that are the equivalent of the chain letter. You know, the one that if you don’t send it on to six more people you will have bad luck/you won’t get good luck/you may die etc. They are just annoying. If you get one just delete it. I’m pretty sure your friends will thank you for not sending it on to them, I know I will!

Common Website Mistakes

There are a lot of websites out there, some really fancy, some very basic. But there are a lot that have some basic problems that can hurt business and cause people not to be able to find out what your business does!

Poor Navigation
Have you ever visited a website and clicked on a few pages only to have trouble getting back to the page you started with? There are no consistent links and no single navigation bar. This isn’t good site practise. A website is like a house with many doors. Through search engines, a visitor may enter your site through many different pages, depending on what they were looking for. You want them to be able to find your home page or “front door” easily, should they need to.

  • a single menu bar should be on every page of your site, in the same place so it is easy to find
  • links to all your pages should be listed on that menu bar, not inside certain pages, visitors may never find it again!
  • call your link what it is, so it is easily understood

Too many fancy features
Flash, blinking lights, music that blares out at you may make you laugh, but will be annoying to your visitors. Also, you want your visitor to be able to find what they are looking for easily and quickly, and not be confused by a jumble of confusing information.
Don’t forget as well, that these things take time to download onto your visitor’s computer and not everyone has a high speed connection. You don’t want people to skip your site because it is too confusing, too loud or just too much trouble.

Poor Writing
The quality of your website reflects your business, but it will be a poor reflection if there are spelling or grammar mistakes. Make sure your writing reflects what you want to project to your clients.

Not enough information
Why have a website if you are going to give little away? You need to tell people exactly what your business is about in clear descriptive words. Not only does this help people find out what you can do for them, it also helps your website come up in search engines as well. Search engines use the first few sentences in your site to determine where your site will rank, so you need to be specific.

Legible
It makes sense that it should be very easy to read the text on your site. However, there are many sites out there in wild colours that are difficult to read. Text that is too small, too fancy, too faint or with too little contract from the background will be hard to read.

Out of Date Information
I create websites for clients and offer the service of updates. I am not trying to make a lot of money for myself when I say that updating your site on a regular basis is important. Your viewers and search engines will stop visiting/listing your sites after a few months with no changes. This is especially true of information that is obviously out of date by years! It should be a constantly evolving “brochure” of what you offer and should be changed and checked regularly to make sure what it says is still relevant.

Different colours and styles on different pages
If you have a site where you have tried out a new “theme” for each page, you will confuse people and they will wonder if they are still at the same site. A site should have similar styles on each page (and the navigation we mentioned early will help tie it in together) to help create a professional look.

Search Engine Optimization
There are a lot of myths about search engines and how they work. Now adays, search engines are more interested in the content of a site, than it’s meta tags (keywords) because they soon learned that people put in meta tags that had little to do with their business, but were words that they thought would draw the search engines and customers to their site. They also put in the same word over and over again.

It is important through your text to have words that reflect your business, page names that reflect what is on that page (and don’t say “page1”) and descriptive tags (or Alt tags) on every image. It is also important to have links to related businesses and any associations that you belong to listed within your site. This helps with optimization as well as giving potential clients a feeling that your business is more legitimate.

More Free Stuff

Here are a couple of fun add-ons you can use for your website, but remember less is always more! The days of dogs dancing across your page on a business website is definitely over. It isn’t professional, and no one does it any more unless it is to show how NOT to create a website.

My Slider is a random photo slider you can use to show images, banners, logos. Check out myslider.com.

The same sort of program, again for free, is on slide.com. Not necessarily classy, but it depends what you do with these programs.

Making your website more visible

What most web clients want is to make sure people see their sites. Now the designer’s job is to create a site first of all that will be seen easily by the spiders (programs that search through the internet) and to submit the site to search engines, but there are things that the client can do to help themselves.

1. Put your website address on every piece of paper that leaves your office. On your business cards, flyers, emails as well as any advertising that you may do in other places.
2. Consider putting your business (if it is a service) or items you sell onto sites like eBay or free sites like Kijiji or Craig’s List. One client sells purebred dogs and every time she has puppies available, she posts an ad on kijiji in her city and cities close by and her website traffic shoots up by 200%. And she sells half of her puppies to people who saw her ad on this site.
3. Make sure you on on all affiliated companies sites, as well as putting their sites on your pages. For example, put all association such as local chamber, or professional memberships on your website. If they have a website, link to them. Ask them if they will link to you. This all creates popularity, which in turn helps your site move up the search engine ladder.
4. Use google maps to show where your company is. You can list your business for free with Google and it helps to boost your ranking.
5. Consider a youtube video. If you have a tourism resort, you could make a video about your resort, or you could be more creative like the fellow from Blendex. They’ve posted these movies on youtube that are very popular called “Will it blend?” In this one, he blends a iphone. Very humourous, but did you know his sales have gone through the roof?
6. Create a blog. If you don’t do the updating to your website yourself, and I don’t suggest you do as it would put me out of a job, you may want to use a blog to update day to day sales you may have, or if you had a farm or garden centre, talk about what is fresh or upcoming. It is cheaper to update this every day or once a week and do major changes to your website every couple of months to keep it fresh.

The idea is to keep your site fresh, have people coming back to see what else you are selling, have to tell them about your products. And you want prospective clients to find you easily if they do a search. All of the above things will help your business be found when people do a search.

More thoughts on computer management

I often go to people’s homes to help them either learn a program or to repair a problem with their computer. I can’t tell you how often I ask them where some software that they need for their printer or operating system is and they have no idea. I’m reminded of this because of my recent switch over to a new computer.

If you aren’t organised now, make it a priority. Get yourself a shoe box, if you have quite a bit of software, or a box large enough to hold the cd cases that you get your software in. Place every program on cd or dvd that you own in this box. If their are serial numbers involved, make sure that it is written on a piece of paper and kept with that software. Every time you purchase a program online (which is common now a days) keep the .exe file and back it up to a cd and make note of what the website was where you downloaded it from and again a copy of the serial number. You will be so happy you did these things when your computer crashes or you want to upgrade. Put all the pamphlets that you get together in a folder or another small box.

Then when you also back up your computer from time to time to a cd or dvd (what? you haven’t done that for ages?) put each copy of that in the box as well. Most people now a days haven’t got hard copies of any of the hundreds of digital photographs that they take. They reside on their hard drives. Would you like to lose any of it?

Doing this will save you a lot of time and heartache should anything happen to your computer.

Upgrading a new Computer

My husband and I went to Future shop a couple of months ago to pick up a repaired DVD recorder. While we were there he decided to “look” at the computers and what was on offer. Always an expensive exercise. We ended up leaving the shop with a brand spanking new computer for me with Vista installed. My husband was right, my five year old computer has been showing signs of imminent death. First my dvd burner died, then one by one my usb ports wouldn’t work (or work reliably). And as my business is using my computer, he did have a point that a new computer was in the cards.

However, I was adamant that I didn’t want Vista. For a number of reasons. I object to the Big Brother approach of Microsoft. I hate the mentality in any business of bringing out a new model of something in order to have people feel the need to stay up to date. (don’t get me started on the cell phone and adapter issue) But from a practical point of view I knew that certain programs and peripherals I own were not going to work. First, my pda made by Casio is no longer supported by Windows, nor was Casio doing any further updates to it. It is fairly big and clunky compared to the lovely slim-lined pda’s that are out there today, but I use it, it works and if it ain’t broke, why replace it? (okay, I get an error with Outlook every time I close down that program, but I can still put in my contacts and diary dates so that’s no big deal) I’ve had it since 1999 I think, and in computer years that is pretty ancient, but I wasn’t prepared to go out and spend a few more hundred dollars replacing it. Second, I am doing more and more websites with cascading style sheets. These are supported in different browsers to varying degrees and there was no way I could have Internet Explorer 6 on a new computer. And I need it as I’m pretty sure more than 60% of people are still using that version. Heck, most of the clients I see have only in the last year switched over to XP from Windows 98! So I was really concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to see any issues as I worked on new websites.

So for the past two/three months my husband has been loading on programs on this new computer and I’ve been putting off switching over. Gerry has loved Vista’s look and playing some of the neat games that come bundled with it. And I did like the look of the cute clock on the right hand side of the screen, but honestly, it just wasn’t enough for me to get over my issues with it.

Finally we decided that the deed would be done over the holidays when no one would be asking me for updates or other work. And I asked him nicely if he would be terribly upset if we took off Vista and loaded on my paid for XP operating system. With good grace, he backed up Vista so I have it paid for when and if I’m ready for it, and I now have a computer that is running twice as fast as my old one, has twice the memory and still is able to use my pda and all the versions of software that I use.

But I’m not alone in my decision to keep with the old and put off new technology. According to a pair of surveys in ComputerWorld magazine, about 43% of all U.S. businesses in Dec 2006 were planning to upgrade to Vista. Eleven months later (after Vista’s debut) that number had dropped to 10%. Apparently, people complained that Vista took longer to do some tasks than it had with XP and the security features were more trouble than they were worth.

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog


There have been a few articles in the news lately about how careful we should all be about who we deal with or talk to online. These come up from time to time. Older men who lure young girls into a meeting while portraying themselves as someone the same age. But the recent one about the suicide death of a young girl due to a friendship she formed on Facebook, is particularly nasty. A young girl formed a friendship on Facebook with a boy called Josh Evans. He communicated with her for some time (sorry, I can’t remember if it was a couple of weeks or months) but then suddenly turned nasty and told her that the world would be a better place without her. She was devastated and hung herself. Now this is tragic but all the more because Josh Evans was really a 47 old mother who was trying to hurt this girl because she had moved on and left her daughter out of her old life. Unfortunately, no charges can be laid against this woman.

Another article I read was very bizarre. A 48 year old man was posing as an 18 year old marine in a chat group. He struck up a friendship with an 18 year old student. But she wasn’t 18 either, but a 50 year old woman! The woman was also friends with a 22 year old (who was really 22). Eighteen months into the relationship, the 48 year old’s wife read the emails from the 18 year old girl (really 50 year old) and emailed her and told her he was a married man with two teenaged girls. The 50 year old dropped him because of this and turned all her attentions to the 22 year old. So the dumped man hunted down the 22 year old (the only one telling the truth here) and killed him.

Which all goes to show you that unless you know who you are dealing with, then be very careful. The delightful cartoon left by Peter Steiner says it all.

Paypal & self help

A few weeks ago a client asked me if I would help him sell a new product on-line. I said I knew about Paypal, but didn’t know any other shopping cart programs. It took us a week or so of chatting about his current credit card service, shipping and taxes. And it was amazingly complicated. His own bank had a service, but it would add over $100 a month to his banking bill and frankly, he has no idea how quickly his product will take off and I felt it was just too expensive. He agreed. I was given the name of another service which was supposed to be very easy to use. It had a separate website to deal with all the information on how to set it up! It was not overly easy. Our biggest issue was with shipping. He uses UPS. And wants to ship throughout all of Canada (not the US). But the costs for this were so vastly different. They ranged from $18 within Ontario to $30 to Northern Ontario with the East and West Coasts being slightly lower. So we couldn’t use a sliding scale as he would be over charging some people and under charging others. Paypal had what I thought was an integrated system with UPS but after two phone calls at an hour long (one long distance), I concluded that this wasn’t what they offered at all. If you had a UPS account, it would deduct the shipping from your account, but there wasn’t any way to calculate it as you went on where the items were going. And shipping isn’t as straightforward for shipping companies as it would have been for Canada Post (who couldn’t do the boxes our size). If you sent one carton at $30, to send two didn’t mean it was double that. they have their own sliding scale. So I couldn’t add the shipping to the buttons in case the customer bought two and was horrified to see the shipping costs!
I also contacted UPS to see if they had a payment system that integrated with their service and they recommended that I talk to my own tech. Oops, that is me. Sometimes it is hard to get a foot in.
In the end the client decided to do what he had thought at the beginning. We used Paypal and he stated quite clearly on the site that he would charge shipping COD and we gave a chart of the approximate costs to all of the provinces below the list of items for sale.
My final problem was with Paypal’s tech support. I finally, after being promised three times, was put through to an expert at coding rather than the general help desk. I was beginning to believe that this elusive team didn’t exist. This tech was very helpful with a few things that weren’t working. But Paypal has changed their button coding since I used this service before. It was opening a new window when you clicked on a “add to shopping cart” button. I was sure that it never did that before, plus I didn’t want customers to be confused. I found a great site called The Online Merchant Network that had the answer to the code I needed to fix the problem. It is so nice when people are happy to share what they have learned. Rather than saying something vague (which the Paypal support was saying), a lovely fellow at the forum above actually copied the code and highlighted the changes you needed to make it open in the current window. Top Class.
If you ever have a problem with something in your computer, I often find things for my clients by typing the problem in Google. I very seldom fail to find that someone else has had that problem and found a solution that we can all use.

need to creat a pdf? – but not in a hurry

I just found a neat site that will create a pdf document for you. The site is at www.koolwire.com but you don’t even need to go there. Send a message to pdf@koolwire.com with the document you want converted and send it off. They send you an email back with the pdf document attached. They say that it will take 60 – 90 seconds to get your return email. But make sure that you have their address allowed in your inbox.

Now I tested it on a Sunday. It says that they work 24/7 as I imagine that it is an automated service rather than a bunch of people having to churn out these conversions. Rather than the 60-90 seconds, both of my tests came back at 4 in the morning, 6 – 9 hours after I sent my email off. So it does work, but just don’t sit patiently at your computer waiting, as it may take a bit longer than you expected. Also, don’t send them any emails from addresses like info@ or admin@. They won’t reply to those for some reason.

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