The ABS Census Debacle

census

Most people in Australia know that the night of August the 9th was census night. What was new about this one is that this was the first one that could be filled out online.

What most people also now know is that the online census was a complete failure. Tens of thousands of people were unable to complete the census, and the ABS website failed. For hours, people were unable to access the site.

This was no surprise to me, and most likely anyone else who has a decent understanding of how to engineer network services to handle heavy loads.

The loads we are talking about astronomical compared to normal loads experienced by many systems.

A newspaper report suggested that the ABS had load tested the system (as they should) prior to implementation and it could handle 1,000,000 hits an hour. Yeah that’s great. Unless your system gets a million hits a second. This is the most likely scenario that occurred as virtually every family in Australia said after dinner on Tuesday night, “let’s get this out of the way”.

I used to work for Tabcorp and year after year, their systems crashed on Melbourne Cup day (this was a dozen years ago, so it’s most likely much better engineered now). The problem was that the spike in load for that brief time leading up to the cup is far more that the system’s regular load. We’re not talking double here, we’re talking about 50 times your normal traffic. The point is, it’s very hard to engineer for such peak loads.

The ABS chiefs had an excuse. It wasn’t the load; we’d tested for that. It was a denial of service (DOS) attack.Well having worked for the public service before (like many Australians) I could see that one for what it most likely was; a bureaucrat’s excuse. I may be cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had meetings beforehand, planning excuses if the system didn’t work. After all, may as well be prepared.

I call that excuse as most likely bull. Calling on past experience as a computer security professional I find it very hard to believe that the systems implemented by the ABS wouldn’t have DOS protection. Why? Because they have things called firewalls and intrusion prevention systems that detect these and stop them.

But what is a denial of service attack? It’s a fairly basic attack. What the attacker does is send a large amount of requests to a site in an attempt to overwhelm it.

One way to do this is to open thousands and thousands of half open connections. The way a PC connects to a server is by a thing known as a 3 way handshake. The PC requests a connection. The server responds by saying I have a connection and the PC responds back saying I’ll take that connection. If the PC doesn’t responds, the server waits for a time with a connection waiting for the response. Do this thousands of times and the server runs out of connections.

That is the description of a simple attack. To the best of my knowledge, modern systems are completely immune to simple attacks like this, but there are likely to be other types of similar attacks that are more effective.

Anyway, the bottom line is that a DOS attack either isn’t likely or shows that they weren’t very prepared, as this article in the Sydney Morning Herald says.

Update: What we are seeing now is typical public services shenanigans as those responsible for the debacle duck for cover. All very predictable as public service heads blame IBM. This is why they hire external consultants; so that they can ensure that when heads roll, it’s not theirs. IBM will be doing the same thing; seeking a scapegoat. Most likely a senior contractor. Definitely not management Either that or looking at the contract and pointing out that they delivered as per the specifications in the contract.

what has also come out in the press is that other computing experts have come out and said exactly what I have said. That a DOS attack is unlikely and that the load experienced was simply beyond the capacity of the system to cope.

Adwords Campaigns – Are They Worth It?

For those of you who may not know, before I start writing about Adwords, let’s define what an Adword campaign is.

When you do a Google search, there are two types of listings that come up. First, there are the “organic” search results. What we mean by organic is the natural Google search results in response to the search terms that you have entered.

Alongside these listings, either above, below or to the side of the organic listings are ads. These are the Adwords ads.

We can see this in the image below. Each paid listing has “ad” at the left of it.

Adwords example

Adwords ads work on what is known as a pay per click model. That is that for every time someone clicks on the ad, the business that has placed the ad gets charged. When the person clicks, naturally they are directed to your website.

So that, in a nutshell, is what Adwords are all about. But are they effective? As usual I can’t give an unequivocal answer. The reason is that the prices of the clicks vary, depending on the search terms you use. As a result, Adwords can be either very effective or prohibitively expensive.

The variation that I have seen when investing Adwords for clients is from around 60 cents per click (naturally very attractive) to up to 12 dollars per click (not so attractive).

This variation is caused by the way Adwords works. Google have been very clever with this. Each time a search is made, each purchaser of Adwords is bidding against every other person who has put in an advert for the same or similar search terms. Google have settled on this model because it obviously creates massive amounts of revenue for them.

Unfortunately with this model, if there’s a lot of competition for a particular search term, you pay the price. And sometimes that price is too high to make Adwords viable.

If the price isn’t too high, however, Adwords is attractive. You can set a daily limit of what you’d like to spend and once you have spent that amount (which means people have in fact clicked through to your site) Your ad doesn’t come up any longer.

And of course, since Google doesn’t get paid unless people click on your ad, Google are going to make sure it’s prominent in enough cases to use up your daily budget.

At the end of the day then, once Adwords has directed traffic to your site it’s a simple process of measuring the results you get from the people who end up on there. Are you getting conversions? At what rate?

If you are paying 3 dollars per click, selling a 200 dollar product and one in 10 of the visitors who comes to your site from Adwords make a purchase, it’s a no brainer. You’re going to do it forever. If on the other hand only one in a hundred visitors make a purchase, time to stop.

But what are other people saying? Does Google Adwords work? Or perhaps five reasons you shouldn’t use Adwords. As you can see, with any topic related to publicising your web page, there are many conflicting opinions.

So like everything else in the digital market place, it’s all about measuring the results you’re getting.

 

Google+ – It’s Only Mostly Dead

Google+ – It’s Only Mostly Dead

Google, at the time of writing of this post is the biggest company in the world by market capitalisation. What that means is that for the number of shares available for the company multiplied by the cost of each of these shares make it worth more than any other company in the the world.

This doesn’t mean however that everything they do turns to gold. In this world today, technology companies are falling over themselves to hit the next home run. They have to. The companies that present new innovations and products to the market that are well received flourish. Companies that don’t innovate, get lazy and rest on their laurels shrink and maybe even perish.

We are seeing technologies perish at a remarkable rate thanks to the internet. Even new technologies. The lastest suggestion is that the USB drive is under threat. With Cloud storage and mobile phone storage, who wants something to store important stuff on that is so easily misplaced? The thing is – it was only invented in 1999!!

When it comes to Google, their search engine is completely dominant. As a result of that dominance, their advertising platform is equally dominant. If you aren’t on Google, you’re nowhere. As online services become the norm, Google are becoming a big player in cloud computing as well.

They are also in social media. Yeah, well that isn’t going so well for them. Their offering is struggling. I put it like this. How many times a day do you go onto Facebook? Now, how many times a day do you go onto Google+?

I know those answers will vary from person to person, but for many of us, the answer for Facebook is several times a day. For Google+ it can vary. It can be either, “what’s Google+”, or “I don’t have a Google+ account”, or I do and I never check.

Now to be honest, why would you check it? You go onto Facebook because every day one of your friends is posting something crazy/interesting/infuriating. There are games you can play. You can message your friends and they’re likely to respond.

If I go onto Google+, I don’t get responses, mainly because not many of my friends even have accounts, and those who do aren’t checking it.

Is Google+ good for anything? Well perversely, it apparently has some impact on SEO. I say perversely, because one thing Google says is that you are not to do anything solely for its SEO benefit. Except it appears in the case of Google+. They are prepared to give a leave pass for that, since it appears to be the only reason businesses are using it.

Mashable has this article about the failure of Google+. If you put the search term “is Google+ dead” you are going to get a whole heap of articles, with some saying yes, some saying no. That’s the internet for you. Every single thing you can think of, there is a compelling argument both for and against.

So in this case, your own experience becomes paramount. No matter what the pundits say, what really matters is what people are actually doing. And as I have already said, all you have to do is ask yourself two questions.. firstly, “how often do I use Facebook?”. What’s telling is the question for Google+ is not equivalent. It is instead, for many people who aren’t total IT geeks, “What is Google+?”.

Has Virtual Reality Come Of Age?

Samsung gear VR headset

Virtual Reality. It’s been the next big thing in computing for like.. well ever. But, like speech recognition, it has remained over the horizon for so long.

That’s the thing with this tech explosion. Sometimes there are ideas that are great but their time hasn’t truly come yet. An example of this was the Tech bubble of ’99-2000. Online shopping was going to destroy traditional retailers. Didn’t happen did it? Instead what happened was that many of the companies crashed and burnt spectacularly, often after having chewed through large amounts of venture capital in the process.

There is estimation that it caused the loss of 5 trillion dollars as stock markets crashed (Anyone who knows about the share markets knows that’s not actually true by the way – it means that that 5 trillion dollars was taken from the hands of the last people holding the shares).

Anyway, the thing is that just because an idea isn’t right then doesn’t mean in can’t come of age. Online shopping has now come of age, and along with it, many other services. The list goes on and on now, as we change the way we do things. We used to download music and burn it onto CDs. Now we just stream it from a service such as Spotify or Pandora. We use Netflix or other streaming services to watch movies. Book stores are almost extinct due to the power of Amazon.

Another idea that has apparently come of age is virtual reality. at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona it has apparently stolen the show.

Now the thing is about this is that this is a conference that can only be described as a geek fest. You don’t go to events like this, which is all about the latest developments in mobile phone technology unless you are very much a technical evangelist.

If you are a technical evangelist, you may be more enthusiastic about technical developments than the general population. The general population tends to not care about the technology so much as what it can do for them; there needs to be a compelling reason  to adopt it.

Mark Zuckerberg was at the conference and his words were “I think about my baby daughter and the way I want to remember her when she takes her first steps.” Now that to me is a compelling reason right there. Three sixty degree cameras are out now. Imagine using them to capture such moments!

You are not just watching the moment on a TV screen as some remote observer, you are there. You turn your head and you can look around the room.

Or imagine this. I’m a huge history buff. Imagine in the not too distant future being able to be transported to a famous battle and see it unfold in front of your eyes. Not like a movie, where they have scenes and then they cut to the next scene, but the entire battle. You are there as if in a balloon, an observer to the entire thing.

Now that for me is compelling. Time will tell whether virtual reality has come of age or if it is still the bridesmaid, no matter what the pundits say.

read what the Sydney Morning Herald has to say about it here

Do You Need To Blog?

Does your business need to have a blog?

It’s a question that many people ask – should you blog? and the answer is, as always when it comes to the web – it depends (despite what some people say). Like all things about web strategy you can find people writing impassioned arguments for both sides of things, from blogging is dead to blogging is the best thing you can do for your business.

So what view is correct? It depends on the totality of what you are doing to engage customers and potential customers, both online and offline. It depends on the amount of time you have to devote to such activities such as blogging. For any business where the core function of the business is not blogging, blogging comes under the category of marketing.

All businesses need to balance marketing activities and doing the actual work that brings in dollars. If you have other marketing strategies are bringing in plenty of business, it may be that blogging, if you are writing the blog yourself is simply too time consuming for you to consider it to be worthwhile. Alternatively, blogging could be something you find is excellent for drviving customer engagement and brand awareness.

The first question to ask about blogging is why? Well from my point of view, there are two major reasons why you might want to blog.

Firstly there is brand awareness. You want to establish yourself who knows a little bit about your particular niche. Blogging about topics that are your particular area of expertise show this to your audience.

Now with this, there is one caveat. Certainly in my area of expertise, there are many opinions. When it comes to SEO and social media engagement, for every opinion you put forward, there are people out there who will say, ‘you’re wrong’. Really? How can an opinion be wrong?

It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, there is someone who will take the opposite position. If you say social media engagement is essential for small business, there will be people say, “No it’s not”, and they can show you all this information as to why you’re wrong.

If you take the opposite opinion, there will be people who come out and say, “How dare you question the current marketing orthodoxy that social media is the way to go?”.

So my caveat is that you have to be bold enough to put your opinions out there and have them howled down. Sometimes it’s not for the faint hearted.

But apart from brand awareness, there is a bigger, much bigger reason in my opinion – Google. Google loves sites with new content. It also loves sites that are visited frequently. If you have visitors to your website that come to read your blog, it improves your search engine rankings.

Neil Patel, who has apparently managed to position himself as a name in SEO, has a few interesting things to say on this subject. Just one snippet from his article is that 70% of consumers learn about a company through its blog versus ads. To me that is enough to continue to blog. You can read his blog post here.

There’s enough value there for me to continue to blog, but like I say every time about anything to do with Internet based marketing – measure the results. If you aren’t getting results, why invest the time and effort?

 

What Businesses Does A Facebook Presence Work For?

Facebook - is it adding value to your business?

What kinds of businesses does Facebook work for?

I recently made a blog post questioning the effectiveness of Facebook for small business. As I have got more and more into SEO, I have noticed what I would call the social media marketing merry go round. This is where marketers tell you that you need to have Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Linkedin, Google+ et c, et c, or you’re missing out.

The aim of marketing is to get noticed.

Are you really getting noticed if everybody else is doing the same thing as you? I say no. You’re just one of the crowd. And as I said in my last post, 620 of a 1000 small businesses surveyed in the UK said they believed that social media engagement made no discernible impact in brand awareness or sales.

I posted my last blog post to a few Facebook groups (as you do) and found that it stirred up some controversy. A few comments were made about how you could very effectively use Facebook ads to drive traffic to your site. I was told I was wrong to question whether Facebook works for small business.

I guess what I came up against was the danger of airing unpopular opinions. Some of the people who commented were committed to the idea that Facebook worked for business. Strangely enough, I didn’t say in the blog post whether Facebook, posting, boosting posts and advertising was worthwhile. I just posed the question.

Anyway, this got me thinking. What does Facebook work for? No sooner had I asked the question than an answer appeared to me. That answer was in a page I had liked – Yoga Journal (yes, I’m a new age type of guy). This page links to their website, obviously.

They have a regular posting schedule on Facebook. There are two important points to this. Firstly their page has 1.8 million likes – even if their organic posts only get two percent of their followers viewing them, 36,000 people are going to see their posts. That is without boosting the post.

Secondly, Their posts are informational. The people who like their page are interested in yoga, naturally, and are very likely to want to learn more. They have a very high likelihood of wanting to click on the post and see what it’s all about.

Compare this to a business selling pergolas. Sure you can put up photos of your work, but unless someone is in the market for a pergola, they’re not going to your site. And anyway, you’re not writing articles about stuff.. how many articles can you post about pergolas? It’s just not a very informational topic. People aren’t going to be heading to your site to look up the latest in pergola technology week in week out.

So it’s horses for courses. Like anything, one size doesn’t fit all. That goes for Internet marketing.

Oh and by the way. Organic reach is dying. Facebook wants to make money. The greater the organic reach, the less likely businesses are to pay for Facebook to boost their posts. By shrinking the organic reach, Facebook improves its business, as this graph shows.

Facebook reach compared to share price

Once again, the lesson to take from this is measure results. If you’re posting and posting on Facebook is it eating time that could be put to better use in other areas of your business? The only way you are going to know is if you are measuring your traffic acquisition from various sources including Facebook.

 

Does Facebook Work For Small Business?

Having a Facebook page has become a standard requirement for any business.

Social media is becoming something that small business is told is an absolute necessity to promote their business. But how much does a Facebook page really do for the business? Many of the likes of most small businesses are people they know; they invite their friends and family to like the page and that’s about it. Most of those people already know that you have the business, and aren’t likely to become customers.

When you do post, you find that your reach is pitifully small. Why? Because you can boost a post, that’s why, which of course you have to pay for.

You can  advertise on Facebook as well, but is it even effective?

The thing about Facebook is what is it for? It’s for.. well not much really. Seinfeld was renowned as a show about nothing, and Facebook, which truly is a phenomenon, is a site about nothing. You can be a voyeur and see how amazing your friends’ lives are. You can be an exhibitionist and show everyone else what an amazing life you have. You can also play games and chat with friends. Now, there is also news.

To sum up, people check it out for their down time. A little bit of entertainment.

The thing is, in order to increase sales, you need to connect with buyers. Are people buying on Facebook? Probably not.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK businesses said that 62 per cent of businesses say that Facebook activity has no discernible impact on their brand awareness or sales.

I personally think that this is the shape of things to come. If you are working hard to grow your business, you tend to try stuff and if you see it not working you discard it quickly.

But…are there any advantages Facebook advertising has over other platforms? Yes. The main one is cost. Facebook is the cheapest way to get 1,000 people to see your ad. The cost is 25 cents per 1,000 people reach. This is compared to $8 per 1,000 people for radio and $20 per 1,000 for magazines. For more, check out this article on Moz – why every business should spend a dollar a day on Facebook advertising (By the way, that has changed. The minimum daily spend is now $5 a day).

And of course, opinions on the Internet are like you know what; everyone has one. Some people on the Internet are claiming that the Facebook ROI is stellar. I personally prefer to believe those in the trenches.. i.e. actual small business, than someone who is writing on the Internet with an agenda.

My opinion is that you need to measure carefully the returns you get on any marketing. Facebook is no different from any other way to market your business. The platform allows you to see how many people are engaged by posts, or by adverts, and how many clicks you get to your site as a result. Try it and if your business gets results, well obviously you continue with what’s working. If it’s clear it isn’t, discontinue it.

Do You Hate Email Opt-In Popups?

do you hate email opt-ins?

I really don’t like email opt-in popups they’re really annoying. But if they work, what then?

There’s a lot of advice out there these days about what you do to increase visitors to your website. The pundits are having a field day with it all, each one giving out different advice. Social media, blogging, guest blogging, et c. There is so much to do and perhaps so much of it does nothing in the end to do what you want it to do, which is grow your brand awareness.

One of my rules (for the time being anyway – always subject to change) is that if I find something annoying, it doesn’t go on my website.

One of the things I find really annoying is popup boxes asking you to subscribe to an email list. My thinking is that if I want to subscribe, I will find a subscription box in a sidebar or at the bottom of the page and will subscribe there.

Truth is, I don’t often do that, unless there is a compelling reason why, such as a free pdf document. I feel it is a fair trade off. Get some information I want in return for being added to one more email list that goes to an email address I never look at. My rationale is that I can always unsubscribe later. For the most part it’s like junk mail in the actual physical mailbox.. straight to the bin without even being looked at.

Now apparently my dinosaur thinking needs to change. Email opt-ins are the go. People hate them but they get results. One anecdote I have read told of how a blogger found that an email opt-in at the right of the screen. converted at 0.4% whereas a popup converted at 5.5%. Those kind of numbers are hard to ignore.

It’s kind of obvious really when you think about it. You put something to one side where people may look at it if they get round to it, which they won’t, or put it in their face, where they have to make a decision then and there.

I’m a web strategist, so I can’t ignore such things. I need to know. Do these things work? That’s my excuse for putting something annoying on my website. I need to be able to give advice to others on the effectiveness of such things.

So I may break my rule of not including something I find annoying on my own web site.

However, one thing I am never going to do is have one of those pop-ups that come up as you are about to leave, saying “Before you go..” That is just desperation.

And I am never in my life sharing one of David “Avocado” Wolfe’s facebook posts

 

Could A Phone Be Your Only Computer?

phone-as-pc

I recently read an article that suggested that within a year, a phone might be your only computer.

At first I scoffed. Come off it. Nothing is replacing my laptop. Then I read the article. It started to make sense.

For me the first issue is the keyboard. I really don’t like the keyboards of touch screens for anything more than short text entry.

In the tablet space we have seen this as a common problem and seen the solution emerge. The Microsoft surface tablet comes with detachable keyboard. Problem solved.

The same thing can obviously be done for a phone too. A quick scout of Google reveals 5 folding keyboards for your smartphone.  

Next one is the monitor. Yes. This too is already happening.

So now, we have a situation where effectively we have a computer situation with just a keyboard and a monitor. You also will need a mouse as well by the way, but that is also doable of course. All you need for all of this is simply a usb hub to connect everything,

So basically you are using the phone as the brain of this setup – the processor. But what about processing power? Well this article explains how the processing power of mobile phones is about to grow to the level where they will be able to handle 3D gaming by the end of next year.

Finally there is storage. What? I can’t do without my hard drive. Why? Everything is online these days. What are you storing on your laptop now that is so important? Documents? Store them in the cloud. Movies? Now they take a lot of space don’t they? Well this is the funny thing. What has slowed down piracy is not the threat of legal action from big companies, but the emergence of low cost streaming providers. Why keep a bunch of movies and TV series on hard drive when you can have them on demand any time you want for $10 to 15 dollars a month? And if you’re not comfortable with a commitment like that, there is so much content on Youtube for free that you could never get through it.

Music? Same thing. I’m not downloading MP3s any more. It’s Spotify or Pandora.

Photos? Well photos are usually very important to people because they contain memories. Photos are kept on phones. But of course there’s also Instagram and Flickr for photos which serves as an important backup. I have written in the past about the cloud and how it’s transforming how we do things. This is the shape of things to come.

I know right now it all seems a little fiddly, and only a geek would contemplate it, but that’s what happens with technology. At first only the techies do it. Then after a while it’s commonplace. So while I say now that I won’t be replacing my laptop any time soon, there may come a day when it just is the natural thing to do.

 

Why WordPress Is Taking Over The Web Design World

WordPress_blue_logo.svg

WordPress is great and its critics are nitpicking Geeks. There, I’ve said it.

OK, so that’s a fairly inflammatory statement isn’t it? Well allow me to explain.

The critics of WordPress are indeed in the eyes of the world “geeks”. These are the same type of people who can’t understand why Windows is used by so many more people that Linux. They tell everyone how technically Linux is so much better.  I’m not opposed to Linux by the way, and I can quite happily use it. I think that other, less technical people could use it but the unfamiliarity of it makes it daunting. And since a PC or laptop you buy comes bundled with Windows, unless you’re a geek why would you bother?

When it comes to WordPress, the main criticism is usually, “It’s a blogging platform, that’s all”. They complain that it’s not designed as a content management system (something that makes it easy for the average user to just log on and add content to the site, without having to call their web designer). They point to other products that do a better job of being a content management system.

Their arguments are always coming from a technical purist attitude. Back in the real world people don’t care about technical matters like they do. That’s why it is now 20% of the world’s top web sites are now using WordPress.

But what is it that makes WordPress so good?

Firstly it’s free. I love a freebie.

However, not only that, but there are things called plugins. These extend the basic functionality of WordPress. For example, I recently have had a client require the ability for visitors to search for the location of their nearest dealer. This is not a simple search, since you can’t search a database for town, suburb or postcode, because if the dealer is not in your town, it doesn’t get a match. Fortunately, rather than having to write the program myself, I was able to find a plugin that had already done what I needed.

There are thousands of plugins for all sorts of requirements. Many of the are free, but there are also premium plugins that may have a cost associated with them.

Next there are themes. These are the things that give your website its unique look and feel. Once again, there are a mix of free and premium themes. You can see plugins and themes on the WordPress site www.wordpress.org

Then there is the ability to customise the product in any way you want. Obviously this is why you hire a web designer, because they are the ones familiar with making the customisations.

Finally, support. Some people criticise WordPress for a lack of support. Nothing could be further from the truth. The support on the WordPress website is extensive, there are tens of thousands of sites that answer many support questions and there are also companies that offer paid support. In addition to this there are many thousands of web designers who are very skilled in the product.

All in all there are compelling reasons to use WordPress and its growth is no accident. And grow it does. It was on 14.7% of all websites in 2011. Now it’s on 24.8%.  WordPress is downloaded 89 times every second.  It’s not all things to all people, but it’s pretty close.

Could you go without Windows for a day?

xubuntu-desktop-980x657

Microsoft. For years I’ve used their products. I’ve usually been quite happy with them to be honest. That satisfaction only lasts as long as you don’t have a problem that needs their assistance. Then frustration builds.

You speak to some guy in Mumbai. He speaks English, but doesn’t really understand you. Anyway, as it is he is limited by the parameters of his job; he has no authority to help you with anything outside of the norm.  He can’t help you so you are passed to another department.

You are put on hold. After 20 minutes of being on hold you speak to someone else, explain your problem and he tells you that you have been transferred to the wrong department. He transfers you again and you are put on hold again. Now you have a choice. Do you continue to waste hours of your life or do you give up in frustration?

There is no complaints department that you can contact to voice your complaint about their service and see if you can get your issue resolved. All of the people you speak to are low level  (no one high level works on a technical support phone line). These phone support systems are set up to give you the appearance of being able to get support without actually giving you support.

You can see reviews of Microsoft customer support here – customer service scoreboard. Largely negative, yes, but in the interest of fairness I have to say people are more likely to complain than they are to say job well done.

I would also like to say that I don’t think Microsoft are alone here. Most corporations, especially in the IT space, use such a system. I do believe part of their business model is to set things up like this so that people just go away and try to sort out their problems themselves without bothering them. Either that or pay for premium support.

But what is the alternative? If you work on a laptop you usually either have a Windows PC or you buy a Mac. Macs account for 10% of the market (roughly) and Windows accounts for most of the rest. When you buy your laptop it comes with Windows pre-installed, so why bother with anything else anyway?

In my case I wanted to do it to see how relevant Windows was to my day. To see if I would miss it if I didn’t have it. Also, Windows is a commercial product; it costs money. Linux, which is the alternative I chose, is what is known as open source software is free.

My laptop has Windows installed and I didn’t want to wipe it just like that. I may do it at some stage, but I’m not that brave.

Fortunately you don’t need to wipe Windows from your hard drive these days to try an operating system. All you need is a usb drive. With most modern laptops, you can set it up to boot from the usb drive.

Onto the usb drive you put an operating system. What I chose was Xubuntu, which is a type of Linux. If you are no technical, you may have heard of Linux but don’t really know what it is; it’s not familiar to you.

You may not know it but it’s actually all around you. Android is Linux based. Macs actually run on a Unix like base (Linux is a type of Unix). Chances are that the web server you go to is powered by Linux.

The image at the top of this post is Xubuntu by the way. As you can see, it doesn’t look very foreign to a Windows user.

Anyway, without going into the technical detail, I put Xubuntu on my usb drive, booted from the drive and there I was, running Xubuntu.

It recognised all my Windows files, so I could grab any documents I needed. It came with the Firefox browser pre installed, so I could get onto the web straight away. Network setup was as simple as putting in my wifi password and sound took no configuration.

I have written in the past about the shift from desktop centric computing to cloud centric computing. The main driver for this is internet apps that run via the browser.

What I found is that 90% of my computer time is working within a web browser. I develop websites in WordPress. It doesn’t matter what platform I run. I research using Google, which of course is browser based.

But what about if I want to edit a Word document, or an Excel spreadsheet? You have options. Two are online and one is not. You have Onedrive, which is actually Microsoft (but they don’t charge you for it so that’s ok).  You have Google Docs (from Google obviously), which offer a word processor and a spreadsheet. If you want software there’s Open Office, which apparently has over 100,000,000 downloads (bit of social proof there) and runs on Linux.

But what if I want to run Powerpoint? Are you for real? In that case, seek help. Never heard of Death by powerpoint?

Anyway, I went without Windows for a day and I didn’t even notice. If you want to try it as well, go to pen drive Linux where you can download a utility that will allow you to make a bootable Linux drive with no hassle whatsoever. You will also need Linux. All you need to do for that is search Google for “Linux distros”.

I know the experiment is not for everyone, but if you try it, you will be amazed at how little you use Windows.

Why Google Webmaster Tools Are Essential For Your Website

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1As with everyone with a website that represents my business, I am constantly searching for the edge when it comes to search engine optimisation.

One of the things that Google considers very important is page speed. To check this they even have a tool – page speed insights. This tool allows you to check your page load speed and will give you instructions on how to fix the things that are causing your site to be not as fast as it needs to be.

If you are running your site on WordPress, it’s relatively easy to improve your speed. You install plugins that allow you to make the changes you need to improve your speed.

Only problem with WordPress plugins is that they are a bit like a house of cards. The more you add the more likely you are to have a problem with them. It’s a delicate balancing act you find yourself in.

I have just recently had a problem with a plugin that caused a catastrophic Google ranking problem for me. One day I was rising right up the rankings and the next day I was off the map. What had happened?

This is where Google Webmaster Tools comes into the story. With Webmaster Tools I was able to see that I had a sudden rise in 403 errors. This is what Webmaster Tools are designed for. They are a suite of tools that Google has provided to allow you to check your site health from their point of view.

For those of you who are non technical, web page errors have various numbers, and the client errors, such as a page not found, are in the 400 range.

A 403 error basically means that for whatever reason, Google is unable to crawl your site. But why? What had happened to cause this? It was ok a couple of days ago.

A quick Google search and dusting off some old computer troubleshooting skills and the culprit was found. The cache plugin I was using to improve my page speed was causing the errors. A quick uninstall, reinstall and reconfiguration solved the problem. I still don’t know why something that was working fine one day was not the next, but sometimes these things just happen.

Back on Google Webmaster Tools I started to check the ability to fetch the pages. Yes it could. Yay! back on track.

And that is why Webmaster Tools is something I consider essential to the monitoring and maintenance of your site and something you should check daily. It will tell you so much about your ranking in searches and things that may affecting your rankings. For example, if Google can’t search your page, that will kind of affect your rankings (just a little bit).  So if your Google ranking is important to you then you need to use Webmaster Tools.

Of course if you aren’t computer literate enough to check these things, there’s always the option of hiring a web professional (nudge, nudge, wink wink).

The Importance Of A Strong Password

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In another life I was a computer security consultant. It’s a funny world, computer security. It revolves around manipulating people’s  (people here being non technical managerial types) fear, uncertainty and doubt, also known as FUD.

What FUD campaigns do in the case of computer security is make managers question whether the security measures they have taken are enough. You have a firewall? Oh that’s great, but it won’t protect you from intrusions. You need an intrusion detection system. You have an intrusion detection system? Yeah but does it save you from zero day attacks? And so on it goes. Always with one intent. To sell more product.

Meanwhile the basics are ignored. How do most viruses get on PCs? From free downloads usually. These days computing operating systems are quite secure. Most people have some kind of personal security on their home PC and their internet router usually also has protection.  So the the easiest way for those strange people who get off on creating and distributing viruses to get one on your system is for you to invite them onto your system.

The other big basic that is ignored on a regular basis is passwords. You may have encountered it when you try to create a password for some sites where they have password policies in place. You try to put in your basic password (like your cat’s name) and it tells you you need to add uppercase and lowercase characters, special characters and numbers.

Recently the adultery site Ashley Madison was hacked. The most common passwords have been revealed. They are ridiculously simple. The top ones are “123456”,”password” and “qwerty”.  These are ridiculously easy for a hacker to crack.

It seems rather strange to me. If you’re one an adultery website, surely you’re going to want to keep your account a secret. I guess it’s a case of “it will never happen to me”. Clearly when it comes to high profile websites these days, that is not a good way to be thinking.

I don’t know the motivation for the hacking attack. Was it a moral crusade by some hackers or was it ego driven? Proving that they could. It doesn’t really matter. The lesson to be taken from the incident is that you need a secure password.

Ideally a passphrase is a better idea that a password. The reason being that most password cracking tools work on brute force dictionary attacks. This is where the program runs through word list to try to guess your password. Clearly “password” is not going to last long.

A passphrase is something like “ILoveToEatNoodles”. You can add complexity to that by substituting numbers for letters – “1L0veT03atN00dl3s”. If you need to further complexity can be added by using special characters as well – “[email protected]()()dl3s”.

Whatever you do, take away a principle from this. If your data is important to you; if it will be disastrous for your account to be hacked, protect it. As the Ashley Madison hack showed, the “it won’t happen to me” strategy is not a winning strategy.

Top 100 Ashley Madison Passwords Revealed

Australia’s NBN – Obsolete Before It’s Finished

Politicians hey? Gotta hate them – either persuasion. Most sensible people mark them as idiots and ignore them. Unfortunately that comes at some cost.

One of the things that politicians do is tell us constantly what a bad job the other side is doing and how their ideas are so much better than the other side.

On the most part it’s best to to take these claims with a grain of salt and, like I said before, ignore them. Unfortunately though, these people make decisions and when they make bad decisions based on ideology, the desire to attack the other side and the desire to appeal to their voter core, it’s time to get annoyed.

This is the case presently with the NBN. Labor announced it years ago and once Tony Abbott became opposition leader it was a case of, “let’s say everything Labor does is baaaad!”. As a strategy in opposition, this was great. It won him an election after all.

However, sometimes once you get into government, it’s time to stop the pantomime. Unfortunately they couldn’t do this in the case of the NBN, because their key demographic – the over 55s, saw the NBN as expensive and unnecessary. The web? It’s just a sideshow. An amusement. Not important at all.

Yeah right. There’s always going to be this kind of thinking. There were people who used to say that the car was a novelty that would never replace the horse.

The thing is that the internet is not a novelty, and that’s the problem. We all want prosperity. It’s a responsible governments’ job to lay the foundations of that prosperity.

The NBN is the infrastructure of the 21st century. It changes the way people do business. Distance shrinks. For example, the old way of face to face meetings was fly people from one capital city to another via the red eye flight. These days that kind of stuff is not necessary; you teleconference. Saves time and money; it’s a productivity improvement for business.

Now the thing about infrastructure is that you have to look forward. It’s no good to say, this is adequate for now. I’m thinking 2 lane highways here. Ten years after they are built they are congested. Yeah but they were fine when they went in.

The internet is the business battlefield of the 21st century. Every day new fortunes are created on the internet. New ideas hit us every day. It affects every aspect of our lives.

It is plain that a modern economy should invest in the very best quality of internet that it can; that a key feature of a country’s competitiveness in the 21st century will be the quality of its’ internet. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between GDP growth and internet speed.

In 2009, Australia was ranked 39th in the world for internet download speeds. It is now 59th. It may fall to 100th by 2020. If it does, I’m guessing that there are going to be some countries that we consider quite poor that are actually going to have faster broadband than us.

This is plain and simple economic vandalism. There will be countries that have lower standards of living than ours now that will leapfrog us if we are not careful.

For 20 years, Australia coasted along as China rose and had an insatiable appetite for our raw materials. Those days are over. Where is our plan B?

Part of the plan be should have been heavy investment in the technologies of the future. Time for a rethink on the NBN. No point in something that’s obsolete even before it’s finished.

For a more indepth view, read here – The NBN, Slow, Expensive and Obsolete.

How Social Media Destroyed An Australian Politician

Politicians. They’re a funny bunch. I don’t mean funny ha ha either. I mean funny odd. From the weirdos who play student politics at university to running the country. And we, the people, let this sorry state of affairs continue.

One thing about politicians is that their biggest concern is re-election. When opinion polls are bad, they might trot out old cliches like, “the only poll that matters is the one on election day” and the like, but they do take notice.

Recently in Australia we have had the situation where the speaker of the house, Bronwyn Bishop was forced out of the speakers’ position because of an expenses scandal. You would have to have been hiding under a rock if you were in Australia and didn’t know this, but for the benefit of people reading this who are not from Australia (I’m talking to you Indian web developers) here’s a recap.

Rather than go the 70kms from Melbourne to Geelong by car for a party fundraiser, Bronwyn saw fit to bill the Australian taxpayer five and a half thousand dollars for a helicopter flight. It shows, politicians rorting expenses is a common problem, no matter where you live. At least she didn’t get her moat cleaned like one British politician, though I’m sure if she had a moat she would.

Not surprisingly, the Australian public thought this was a bit beyond the pale. And in this day and age of social media, they did what any right thinking, apathetic population would – they took to facebook and twitter. No marching in the streets for this generation. It’s too damn cold; it gets as low as 12 degrees celsius outside in the middle of winter here. Yes I know the English are saying.. 12 degrees.. it’s warming up, but not us. It’s cold here when it’s 12. We even have to wear socks.

Memes started appearing. When you choose to take a helicopter rather than a car it’s just too easy to poke fun.

Memes like these.

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Now with most political scandals, politicians just like to tough it out. Give it a couple of days and the papers get bored , or some famous dies and they are onto new territory. Not this time. It wasn’t helped by more and more revelations of her extravagance, but I contend that without the social media backlash, it would have been easier for it to go away.

The thing is, the memes brought this to the attention of people who normally aren’t interested in politics, and kept it there. I contend there is no worse sin for a politician than this. Once people who normally go, “Don’t talk to me about politics, it’s boring”, say, “what about that idiot, Bronywn Bishop?” it’s all over.

The media outlets kept running with the story for 3 weeks because it wasn’t dying, and the reason it wasn’t dying, I contend was meme after meme.

It’s got to the point now where media outlets are no longer first in telling us what’s happening in the world. The media outlets are turning to social media such as twitter to find out what’s actually happening in the world.

When Bronywn Bishop finally went, writer and comedian Catherine Deveny made this comment on twitter:

choppergate

Pretty much summed it up. We have entered an era where social media can give politicians direct insight into what the people are thinking. It would be nice to use this power to shape the decisions more substantial than whether or not a politician travels by helicopter, but unfortunately I don’t think we have progressed that far yet. There is always hope though.

The scandal has it’s own hashtag #choppergate (please, when are they going to give up on adding a ‘gate’ to the end of every scandal?) and even made the UK papers – the Daily Mail’s coverage.

And recently I wrote about how social media can bite the unwary.