Time for a spring clean

It’s been far too long since I last looked at this blog but I decided it’s about time for a quick facelift and a bit of TLC. If you’re reading this via a feed reader then head over to the blog and take a look at the new theme.

The theme is PixelPower and makes nice use of both HTML5 and CSS3 to produce a responsive design that works well on mobile devices (so I’ve been able to do away with WPTouch) and still have an accessible site on mobile devices.

Giving the blog a facelift was the easy part. Now I need to actually get some time to write some posts!

Stunnel & Apache (Invalid method in request x80gx01x03)

Here’s a really quick post about an issue I’ve encountered recently when using stunnel to connect through to Apache via HTTPS.  I set up the connections and then tried to view the end-point using ‘links’ (https://localhost) and received an SSL error. The apache logs listed:

Invalid method in request x80gx01x03

The stunnel config that I was using looked something like this

[web]
accept=443
connect=someserver.com:1234 # Apache SSL listing on a non-standard port
cert=/path/to/my/cert.pem

It turned out to be a really simple fix. Because I was connecting to stunnel using SSL it was being encrypted by my browser then encrypted by stunnel. At the other end it was being decrypted by stunnel and then left with my original browser encrypted data which Apache couldn’t do anything with and couldn’t understand the request.

The fix was to simply change the config to:

[web]
accept=80
connect=someserver.com:1234 # Apache SSL listing on a non-standard port
cert=/path/to/my/cert.pem

Then test the connection via ‘links http://localhost’ and let stunnel handle the encryption and certificate negotiation on its own.

A veg update

The first batches of veg have been in for four to six weeks now so I thought it would be time for a quick update. As it’s our first season of growing our own veg I wasn’t too sure how it would turn out as we don’t really know much about growing produce and we’ve just moved into the house so we don’t know much about the state of the soil in the garden either.

Thankfully the previous owners grew some of their own vegtebles so we were a confident that the soil would be ok, and they also left us three raised beds that we could use almost immedieltly. I’ve been quite surprised how things are getting on in our patio bed. Initially we planted Sugar Snap Peas, Spinach and Rocket. The Spinach was desimated within the first few weeks. Only a few seedlings survived, so I’ve planed out some more established seedlings that were grown indoors, so we’ll see how they progress.

The rocket has been growing really well. I went a little bit overboard when planting the seeds and have already thinned them out twice but it’s grown amazingly well and tastes superb!

rocket

We also have sugar snap peas. Initially we planed out four seedlings which we started indoors. Once they got going we planted a few more seeds about 4 weeks later which are just getting to the size where they need some support.

peas

After hearing about others having issues, we thought we’d try out luck with carrots in one of the raised beds. So far they seem to be doing ok! We’ve planed salad onions on one side, and normal onions (from sets) on the other. So hopefully that will keep the carrot fly away. We’ve noticed some mice around our compost bin, and have heard stories of mice helping themselves to carrots, so we’ll have to wait until we take them up to see how well they’ve grown

carrots

We have one smaller bed at the end of the garden that we’re using to grow veg that doesn’t need such deep soil (as we’re not sure what’s underneath the bed). So we’re growing lettuce which is coming on pretty well.

lettuce

And finally we dug out a small area of dead space between the shed and the compost bin, and planed our seed potatoes. We’ve gone for four types (first earlies, second earlies, main crop and salad potatoes). They’re coming on really well

potatoes

We have a few more things that have been started indoors and are ready to be planted out soon, so let’s hope we’re not too late for what’s left!

An end to the importance of domain names?

Don’t worry about the title, I’m not proclaiming and end to domain names altogether, but I’m noticing a new trend in the way websites are advertised in the mainstream media. 

There have been a number of adverts on TV that publicise a search term rather than the URL of a site.  The most recent advert that I’ve seen is for the Madeleine Peyroux album Bare Bones, which asks viewers to search “who is she” for more details. There’s also the advert for the More 4 pub quiz where they say “search online for more4 pub quiz” at the end of the advert (the video is below).

There’s been a few other adverts too, including government adverts for services, and health care. 

I think this is an interesting trend, and shows that companies are starting to realise that having the perfect domain isn’t the most important factor in having a strong web presence. After all just because you have a great domain for your product or service doesn’t mean people are going to know about it. People use search engines every day to find things online, and that’s certainly nothing new, so companies are starting to realise how important search engine optimisation really is. 

The trend towards advertising a search term rather than a domain adds a new twist. In traditional SEO you would identify what search terms people use, and then adjust the content of your website accordingly, in effect you take your website to your potential visitor. But larger companies are now advertising the search term, and creating the popularity and driving traffic towards an already optimised site, for what would otherwise be a mediocre search term.

There’s also the factor of the human memory. Take for example the Madeleine Peyroux website, if I had seen the advert and they advertised, say, madeleinepeyroux.com then I wouldn’t have a clue how to spell it, and would probably  struggle to locate the site. But advertising with the term “who is she” is nice and simple and easy to remember, so chances are I’ll actually find the site I’m looking for.

This isn’t the first time where people have taken an ‘unpopular’ search term and created hype around it to drive traffic. A few years ago somone did just that with the term “miserable failure“, which gained a lot of popularity. That was mainly for a joke, but we’re starting to see commercial companies taking the same approach.

In principle it works, you take an unpopular search term, and create the popularity, but it has it’s down sides. For a start you have to be a fairly large company to have access to the kind of media coverage that’s required to create the popularity in the first place, although it won’t be long before we start to see some kind of guerrilla marketing campaign that achieves the same result. There’s also the issue of SEO itself, you always run the risk that someone else with have a better search engine rank than you. Which undoes all of your hard work in generating the popularity in the first place and could quite easily direct traffic to a competitors website (if it’s better optimised than yours), meaning you’ve spent hard earned money and someone else is reaping the rewards.

This could be the achelies heel in this kind of marketing, but it will be interesting to see if advertising in the mainstream press starts to move away from domain names in favour of search terms.

Veg plan update…

I spent a few hours in the garden today and managed to get the raised beds finished and the first few things planted out. I realised that we’d been a little bit over-optimistic with our plan for one of the beds so I thought I would post the revisions to our original plan.

veg-plan-revised

We’ve had to scrap plans to plant broccoli, turnip, swede, radishes, and butternut squash in the bed at the end of the garden so we’ll have to dig over another patch of garden for those. I managed to plant out the mange tout, peas, spinach, rocket, potatoes (all of them), lettuce, gem lettuce, spring onions and carrots. I’ve started off some cauliflower and parsley in the propagator so we’ll have to see how they turn out over the next few weeks.

Twitter

twitter_logo_headerI’ve decided that it’s time to get back on to Twitter. I used to use it about a year ago, and had the username ‘jb’ but decided to give it up as I wasn’t using my account. I’ve just added my twitter posts to the sidebar of the site, but if you use twitter then feel free to follow me, and drop me a message every now and again…

The new garden

After my last post about our new house, I thought I’d follow it up with a post about our garden. Going from a two bedroom flat, to a house, having a garden of our own is a novelty. We’ve been saying for years that we want to grow our own vegetables and actually spend time in the garden so we spent last weekend digging out some of the raised beds and a patch at the back of the garden for potatoes.

We’ve been inspired by Vegmonkey and the Mrs and their planting plan so we’ve decided to come up with our own planting plan and post it online. We’re currently using three raised beds, and one patch of dug garden (for potoates). Here’s how we’ve split things

garden_plan
We’ ve decided to plant the following (all from seed)

  1. French Beans*
  2. Oregon Sugar Pod
  3. Pea Early Onward
  4. Spinach*
  5. Rocket*
  6. Broccoli Autumn Spear
  7. Cauliflower All The Year Round
  8. Courgette*
  9. Turnip Atlantic Speedy
  10. Swede Ruby
  11. Lettuce Lobjoits Green
  12. Lettuce Little Gem
  13. Radish Mixed
  14. Squash F1 Butternut Barbara
  15. Cabbage (Savoy) F1 Traviata
  16. Parsnips*
  17. Onion (Salad) North Holland Blood Red
    Onion (Salad) Shimonita
  18. Carrot F1 Purple Haze
    Carrot F1 Maestro
  19. Onions*

The items marked with a * are being donated from my colleague Sean Johnson

We’re also planning on growing some pumpkin (Pumpkin F1 Becky) in an old patch of ground at the bottom of the garden next to our potato bed. No doubt I’ll add some images when everything arrives and we get the first seedlings potted up

Snow snow snow…

View from the bathroomI’m writing this post for two exciting reasons… One it’s snowing outside! Something that hardly ever happens in the UK (especially where I live) and secondly I’m writing this post from our new house, looking out at the snow-covered garden!

Here’s a pic of the view into our new garden.

We moved in a few weeks ago and we’re finally getting sorted out. We’ve moved from a two bed ground-floor flat into a two bed house, so it’s nice to actually have enough space! No doubt I’ll post more pictures and details as we get settled in and start to decorate and make the place our own.

If you want our new address then you know how to contact me to ask…

The Red Ring of Death

The single phrase that strikes fear into the heart of any Xbox 360 owner, “The Red Ring of Death”, and it struck on Friday evening! There I was, sat playing Call of Duty 4 when without warning the screen turned to solid green. I’ve not had any problems with my Xbox or games crashing in the past so I quickly rebooted it using the front power switch (the console was completly unresponsive). When I switched it back on I was greeted with the following image

dsc00123

Thankfully Microsoft have an extended warranty policy for these problems (generally refered to as a “general hardware failure”), so I’m able to send it off for repair, however the repairs are completed in Germany so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get the console back in time for Christmas so that I can play Left 4 Dead (even if it is a present from me to me)…

WordPress 2.7 Beta

I’ve been playing around with WordPress 2.7 over the past few weeks, and I have to say it’s excellent! I seem to be in the minority of people who weren’t too keen on the previous version, and the changes they made to the interface, but the new admin panel is superb! Everything, from the fonts used, through to the structure of the menus, works brilliantly and there’s some excellent new features. Most notibly the upgrade feature that saves having to have FTP access to be able to upadte your install.

If you’re brave enough I would definately reccommend installing the 2.7 Beta 3 and giving it a try…

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