Mobile First: Beyond Design and Development

by: Gerhard - 14 December 2014

In the last couple of weeks Chrome has gone from a decent browser to something out of a start-up alpha release booklet. It constantly crashes and sometimes won’t load pages, sometimes have blank pages after pages are loaded. These pages included Gmail and Google+ so it wasn’t site related. I had 3 extensions running of which one was Google Hangouts. I then tried switching to Chrome Canary so that I can at least get more frequent updates in the hope that they will plug the holes quickly. That turned out to be even worse than normal Chrome. I also tried completely reinstalling Chrome a couple of times, same shit..

At this point I decided to maybe check out Firefox again, and at first sight it was a lot faster and more stable. The only problem was that I couldn’t find proper plugins to see my twitter notifications or easily tweet and Google decided to only make Hangouts available on their sites or in the form on an extension/app for Chrome, meaning I couldn’t run a desktop version of Hangouts on Firefox.

So now i had a stable browser, but not really connected to any of the services I use every day (oh and Google Inbox only works in Chrome). This is when it hit me, my phone already does all these things. It notifies me of new tweets, I can quickly tweet from it, it notifies me of emails,  new SMSs and WhatsApp messages (something your desktop doesn’t normally do).

I decided to try and switch over to mobile first, but that left me with my initial problem: How do I get all my update notifications on my desktop? Desktop notifications are kind of important to me as I’m quite busy and I can’t interrupt my work and look down to my phone every time I want to see a message in twitter, etc.

After some Googling I found an app and Firefox extension that replicates your mobile notifications on your computer through browser notifications on my desktop called “Android Desktop Notifications” (Firefox, Chrome). You install it on your phone and in your “primary” browser (at this point that could be either or). Now I get all the important notifications on my desktop and if I quickly need to reply I can or open the site in question or reply from my phone. If I need to lock down and get some work out I can also disable the plugin.

So my current desktop setup is like this: Standard Chrome without and extensions except for Hangouts (because it will waste too much time to do that on the phone throughout the day) and then Standard Firefox with only this plugin installed. So far everything is running smoothly without any crashes for 2  days, which is a long time on computer.

 

PS. I’m not sure if a similar application exist for IOS/Mac, but I’m sure there should be something similar to streamline

 

 

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OTT: South Africa’s “Net Neutrality”

by: Gerhard - 21 October 2014

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 2, or so, years, you will know about the whole net neutrality thing that is busy happening in America. I tried to sum it up in a quick one sentence breakdown:

Telephone companies in America are trying to get laws passed so that they can charge online content providers (anything from retail sites to online video streaming sites) fees to make providers’ sites faster on their networks to their users.

Currently this is not the case. The telephone companies just provide you with the service of connecting you to the network, which is the Internet. Online is a different system altogether, you pay for quantity of traffic and space, on online servers, as it all comes down to how much space things takes up when they get stored or transferred.

Now remember, the network is still running silently under the surface, like our water and electrical system does. The network must just make sure that they are connected to the rest of the network and that you can connect to them. They can and should be seen as basic services.

At this point you might say: “it’s working fine the way it is, it could be a little faster maybe..” That is exactly the problem that the telephone companies are currently facing. They used to have to only build the telephone network, replace wires when they broke, while raking in the money. Recently, for them, there is a constant demand for network upgrades to enable the increasing network speed demands. And I’m sure it’s costing a lot.

Don’t feel sad for the old telephone companies just yet. You pay for your line rental, then you pay for ADSL to be enabled on that line, and then you pay to remove the blocks of that so that you can get the network at a faster speed, and you also pay for any other services. Now think of every single person that is online around the world is paying a variation of that fee. So to be fair, they’re not exactly going to bed without food because of financial constraints. This is all just cutting into their astronomical profit margins.

The reason I felt the need to try and educate you a little about this is that this thing is busy sticking out it’s ugly head here in South Africa as well.

They were actually very clever about it and didn’t go with the American, well recognized, “net neutrality” and snuck it in under the term OTT which stands for “Over the top” content. The number one culprit at this point in the game is guy named Ahmad Farroukh and he is the boss guy over at MTN. He says that companies like WhatsApp or Skype (so by extension anyone, providing you with a service on your phone or computer) shouldn’t get a “free ride” on telephone networks. Sound familiar?

This will kill online innovation, which will kill the Internet in the long run, if we’re now careful. And if they manage to charge WhatsApp or Facebook to allow you to see it at proper speeds, why can’t they start charging your aunt who sells candles online?

At this point it’s mostly media fluff, but I think we need to be very aware of them trying to pass laws in the future. We also need to support the networks who doesn’t want to charge for things that doesn’t really concern them.

In my opinion telephone networks must just leave it the way it is. The Internet will get to a tipping point soon where there won’t be much need to go faster from a delivery point of view. Which means they won’t have to upgrade so rapidly anymore. If everyone on your network can have a solid 5gb connection, your job is pretty much done. Then it’s just back to maintenance.

What are your thoughts on this?

 

Some articles on this:
http://www.techcentral.co.za/mtn-boss-derides-ott-free-riders/51167/
http://www.techcentral.co.za/no-place-in-sa-for-dumb-pipes-vodacom/51883/

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Sorting out your hosting on a shoestring budget

by: Gerhard - 24 October 2013

Like some of you might know, when we started our company we “bootstrapped” the entire thing ourselves, basically meaning that we did not have any outside capital to start up. As a result every cent gets turned around 3 times before it gets spent, which is a good, but also sometimes a frustrating exercise.

In our line of business, hosting is a very important thing.  This is including, but not limited to hosting our own site and products, hosting our version control system, hosting “staged” or “proof” versions of client sites and also hosting outward facing client sites for end-user consumption. And if you don’t need to turn around every cent 3 times you might end up spending a ton on hosting. The aim of this write-up is to show you how we’re doing it and hoping that maybe you can learn something from our experience for the last 2+ years.

When it comes to hosting I believe that you shouldn’t keep all your eggs in one basket, especially if your business is as reliant on it as we are. You simply don’t want to be stranded in no man’s land because your only hosting provider went down.. and this is something that unfortunately happens from time to time.  So we use the following providers, each doing a small part to fulfil a certain need in our day to day running of the business:

 

Media Temple:

This is the first provider we signed up with. The plan we sign up to was  the Grid, share hosting package. The reason for that package was that it includes 100GB of online storage, 1TB of monthly transfer bandwidth and a limit of 100 domains you can host on it.

Another reason we decided on this was that the plan also included SVN hosting. this means we can have our work version controlled, accessible from anywhere and the most important part, in my opinion,  was that our work would be stored off-site, because you never know when your work space might get hit by a bus.. We eventually moved our SVN away from Media Temple, but I will explain the reasoning behind that in more detail under the Dreamhost heading.

One more thing to note here is that these guys are really on top of it when it comes to service, you can mail them, tweet at them and also do a live chat thing on their site.

Price: The cost is roughly R195 per month ($20)

http://mediatemple.net/

 

Dreamhost:

The reason we started looking around for more options was that the SVN service on Media Temple was more of an added feature on their side, so as a result it was not quite as polished as it could have been. For instance we had to enter a password every time we wanted to commit or update anything, which quickly becomes a pain in the out-hole when you are working as a team on a large project. Secondly they had no toolbars or control panels for adding and removing users and/or repositories, everything had to be done through a command prompt, which really isn’t fun, unless that’s your thing..

The plan we decided on is the generic shared web hosting package which offers unlimited bandwidth, unlimited online storage and also unlimited domains. The control panel doesnt look awesome, but it’s actually pretty powerful and managing SVN from it was a breeze.

Something I have to make note of here, while it works fine for our SVN needs it’s quite slow for site hosting compared to other providers.

Regarding service, I can’t really give an opinion as I haven’t had to deal with their support, everything seems to always be up and running from my experience.

Price: The cost is roughly R87 per month ($8.95)

http://www.dreamhost.com

 

Web Africa:

The decision to get a local (South African) hosting provider was something that came a bit later. The reason for this is that if you have a local business, that caters to local people, you might find that your site’s loading speed is actually important and international hosts simply aren’t as “snappy” as local ones are for local end-users.

Web Africa is one  of the two most trusted providers in South Africa (the other being Hetzner), the reason we went with them was that their re-seller account was simply more affordable and they also use WHM, that we know well as apposed to Hetzner’s custom Konsole panel.

The road hasn’t been rosy, we had a situation with them a couple of months ago where a site was down for more than two days and the feeling was that the support staff’s hands were just cut off and all they could do was apologise.. but ja.. as I said before, these things happen. Since then we didn’t really have any other issues with them.

The plan we’re on is the locally hosted Linux Starter package, which provides only 2GB of disc space, unlimited traffic and unlimited domains, but like I said earlier, the speed is a lot better for local client sites.

Price: The cost is R199 per month (roughly $20)

https://www.webafrica.co.za/

 

Linode:

This is by far my favorite of our servers (if there is such a thing), but also the most work to get going and maintain.  How this works is that you rent a virtual server in a certain location (of your choosing) and when you get access to it it doesn’t even have an operating system on it. So you need to install Linux on it, Apache, MySQL and all the other goodies that make a server work.

I guess you can install a control panel of some sort on there, but we decided to install as little crap on it to ensure speed and reliability.

We liked it so much that we recently bought a second one for client production sites which has higher specifications and backups to ensure more speed and reliability.

Another thing to note is that if you are not technically inclined at all this will definitely not be the option for you. Where other hosting companies have control panels to add domains, allocate space, create databases and even create FTP users, we have to do everything through a Linux command prompt.

We do most of staging and hosting on these two servers. Specifications wise, the staging server allows for 48GB of storage and 2TB of traffic bandwidth and unlimited domains. For the production server we have 96GB of storage and 4TB of traffic bandwidth and unlimited domains.

Price: The cost for the staging server is roughly R195 per month ($20) and for the production server it is roughly R390 ($40).

 http://www.linode.com

 

In conclusion:

To get the ball rolling with your new online business you probably won’t need more than the 1st two, unless you are really proficient with the command prompt, in which case you can probably get away with just Media Temple.  The rest of the hosting above is to provide our clients with better service and of course to help us spend our time better. In the end of the day, as you might know, time is the biggest enemy in business.

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The most important thing I learnt while on holiday in Thailand

by: Gerhard - 22 April 2013

So as some of you might know, I recently got to make the long flight to Thailand. I spent 2 weeks there in total of which 1 week was in Bangkok, 3 days on the super boring Phi Phi islands and then the remaining time in Karon, Phuket.

The very first thing that caught my attention, while there, was the super scary power line system they have going there, but that’s not what this post is about, the thing I actually want to write about is the second thing I noticed. The complete lawlessness (or so it seemed) in general.

We all know that the DP DA is busy bombarding us with old people laws and on top of that the ANC’s campaigning to make the working few pay for more and more with stupid red tape, laws and regulations. So I think it’s fair to say that we know how to live with a ton of laws that’s supposed to keep things in check.

I could be wrong, but because I traveled alone I didn’t do a lot of the tourist crap. I spent a lot of time walking around exploring and blending in (as good as a 1.89m tall white dude can), but the situation in Thailand is as follows:

In the entire 2 weeks I didn’t see a single toll gate or speed camera, actually I only saw a traffic officer once. He was stopping people at a traffic intersection who weren’t wearing helmets. Most of the people had one under the scooter’s seat, in which case they could go, but the one guy didn’t and you know what the traffic officer did? handed him a hefty ticket? nope! He simply told him that he couldn’t ride on, he had push the scooter to the pavement and call a friend to bring him a helmet. That was it, he got inconvenienced.

As mentioned in the last point, helmets are considered very optional by the average man on the street, in Bangkok I have to estimate that about 60% of all people on scooters and bikes did not wear a helmet, and in Phuket that was probably closer to 90%.

Driving is insane, there is tons of traffic, but nobody seems to get extremely upset, bikes and scooters take any gaps they can get between cars and trucks. while the tuk tuk taxis basically occupy the yellow line on the side of the road (I can’t remember if it was actually yellow, but you know what I mean), so the fastest way through traffic, going anywhere, is to jump on the back of a bike taxi (without a helmet) and they will speed you there. This would be considered very dangerous in Cape Town, but all I thought the entire time was how much fun it was.

In Phuket you can walk into any one of the many bike rental shops and just rent a bike, they don’t even check for a license, just identification to ensure they get their property back.

And while we are on the subject, they seem to completely lack basic safety regulations. None of the construction crew on the building site of the giant Buddha wore hard hats, they just had cloths wrapped around their heads to keep the sun and dust out. The long boats in the canals just outside of Bangkok and around Phi Phi island had open drive belts and other spinning parts and the guy driving the boat sits almost against the engine.

Then there is alcohol. You can buy beer and other alcohol everywhere and at any time. You can walk into your local Seven Eleven and buy anything from a Chang Beer to a bottle of Johnny Walker. They never close the shelves or decide how responsible you should be for you. And when you buy your beer you are also allowed to open it, right there, and enjoy it while you walk to your next stop.

These are only some of the highlights, but it’s a general wild west mentality that exists and if you ever get the chance I would seriously recommend visiting Bangkok.

“So what is this big lesson you learned G?” I hear you say? Well let me tell you:

All of the above things would be considered illegal and bad for you in South Africa. We are also made to believe that we need all of these rules, laws and regulations otherwise we will just collapse as a society. What I’ve learned, while in Thailand, was that this is not true. It’s the land of the lawless over there and things are running smoothly.

They have an amazing public transport system, in my 2 weeks I saw one beggar (an old blind lady), and zero car guards. I saw people running small businesses everywhere and trying their best to do something to look after themselves and their families. I saw giant corporate entities investing in the country, large office buildings, large malls and well maintained roads.

I walked everywhere within a 5 block radius and for the rest I took meter taxis, tuk tuks, bike taxis and the sky-train. I didn’t feel threatened once. I was able to walk to my hotel alone at 11 or 12 at night from a bar or club without even spotting any loiterers or potential threats. When last did you try that in South Africa?

Does Thailand have its problems? Yes, I’m sure they do, but from a general point of view I don’t think they’re worse off than we are, and they seem to be a happier group of people in general.

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Things people tell you about running your own business and the truth behind those statements…

by: Gerhard - 22 March 2013

We all heard some of these things before, and it’s normally passed on from one generation of people working for bosses to another, like the ring in that long-distance walking movie Lord of The Rings.

Below I will name a couple of these and then give you the truth as I see it in my day to day life.

I understand that different businesses might have different views on the points below, but I can only write it the way I see it in the constraints of my own business. :)

If you can think of more statements like these, please write them in the comments below and I will try and cover them in a future post.

“You can work whenever you want!”

This is true, but it turns out that “whenever you want” means “all the time”. The reason for this is simple. You want your business to succeed, and there is a LOT of work to be done to lay a good, solid foundation for the future. When it comes to core parts of your business and planning you don’t want to hand the responsibility off to someone who works for you, so you will end up doing it.

Add that to production time, dealing with new and existing clients and tons of paperwork (the silent killer), and you will find yourself in front of your computer at 2AM before you know it.

“You will make tons of money!”

Let’s just say you shouldn’t run to go buy that Ferrari just yet. I’m not saying you should do worse than you did in your last position of employment in regards to money, but making sure you get out roughly the same each month might not be the worse place to start. In my opinion it’s more important to build something sustainable, by being honest and treating your clients with respect than trying to rip clients off for a quick buck.

I’m sure that the money is there, but it’s in no way a get-rich-quick scheme.

The only exception to this rule, at least in my line of work, is if you get to build one of those R40 million rand sites for some government institution and you don’t think it’s ripping anyone off for a quick buck. In which case, enjoy that Ferrari! :P

“You don’t have to deal with the dumb decisions your boss is making anymore!”

This is true, but you need to realize that you are now that boss making decisions and the decision you make today might be viewed as that “dumb decision” by a future employee. When your boss makes a decision like that and you don’t agree, you can be upset, but eventually you will need to fall in and just work with it without any responsibility of repercussions that might affect the client or office in the long run.

If you are the one making the decision, all the responsibility lies with you. If you think that you never make mistakes and you are OK with that, then this statement is 100% true for you.

“You won’t have to deal with that asshole boss of yours!”

This one is also correct, but you will need to start dealing with “asshole” clients, which is way WAY worse. I put that in inverted commas because they’re not always real assholes, they just have a different expectation than they might have been able to communicate, and once you lock down the correct requirements it’s all smooth sailing. (The only exception to this rule are the ones that don’t pay, they really are assholes. :P )

The big problem with bad vibes like that is that it doesn’t just die. If you have someone working for you, you might end up passing it on to him or her, making you “that asshole boss”.

The way my business partner and I try to get around this is by rather giving each other shit and then sorting it out in an almost brother-like fashion. This way the employees doesn’t have to get the tail-end of something they really don’t need to hear about. So far I think it’s working really well.

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