Shave me for Pudsey

QUICK LINK TO FUNDRAISING PAGE

Some of you know that I have been getting a bit beardy over the last few months so it’s time to tidy myself up.  But before I do that it’s time to make a mess of my head for charity first.

I thought about doing Movember again but the rules state that you have to shave on the first of the month which seemed a shame to shave it all off just to grow it again.  So, I figure I’ll charge people money to attack my hair in whatever way they want.  I have been attacked with a razor before and I usually end up looking very strange although my hair has never been this long to begin with.

As I don’t work in an office any more I thought I would take over Thames Valley Social Media Cafe at the Alto Lounge on the 18th Nov 2010 and as this is a day before Children In Need it’s only right to support Pudsey, a great cause.  If you can’t make it then I’m sure there will be lots of pictures after the event.

The rules (not set in stone)

  • A donation allows you to attack my beard.
  • The size of the donation is proportional to how long you get with the clippers.
  • If you can’t be there then someone else will do it on your behalf.
  • If over £100 is raised then the hair on my head is on offer!
  • No shaving of eyebrows (sorry).
  • I will keep the final look for the rest of the day.
  • I do have a business meeting on Monday though!
  • Feel free to bring hair colours or clips etc
  • If anyone else has any hair trimmers as I’m not sure mine will cope!

Have I missed anything?  So please sponsor me and lets raise some money for a great cause.

Update: 18 Nov 2010

It’s now done and thanks to all of you I have raised a stonking amount for Children In Need. Currently £222.61 with a couple more donations promised.  Thank you all.  I’ll leave you will a little video and some pictures from today 🙂

FreeAgent (inc. Referral Code)

If you are after the Referral Code that gives 10% off then see the bottom of this post.

I wasn’t sure about doing this blog post as many will just see it as an advert. Yes that’s what made me think of doing the post but I must admit I am completely sold on FreeAgent and should really do more articles about the tools I find in setting up my own company.

First, some history. Since incorporating Dogsbody Technology Ltd. I have been looking for an accounts package that can keep track of all my accounts, pretty simple I thought as there are plenty out there. I wasn’t after anything specific, extra points for being open, cheap and working on more than one operating system but wasn’t going to let that stop me using a package.

Spreadsheets: I started off this way and half way through this process went back to it.  I don’t exactly have a complex set of accounts but the bit that actually caused me the most trouble was duplication and the invoices.  I know it sounds silly but doing invoicing with a spreadsheet was a pain, you had the pretty version that you sent out which was linked to the invoices summary sheet showing which had been pain which was linked to the banking records.  With expenses, credit cards, PayPal etc. it quickly became spreadsheet hell.

GNUcash: This ticked a lot of boxes as it was free, open source and ran on almost any operating system.  Unfortunately it was also too… monolithic! Very powerful but every part of the program looks the same, it’s impossible to tell if you are cutting an invoice or filling out expenses.  I would actually use GNUcash for my home accounts but for me, with a new business and not knowing what I was doing, I needed some hand holding.

Sage: I’ll be honest, I didn’t try this but I did a lot of research into it as it comes very recommended.  Unfortunately nearly all the people recommending it were accountants or knew what they were doing, reading reviews from other small businesses was very different and did not read well.  I tend to tinker with my accounts, create a blank invoice one day, add some data to it the next and finalise it another day.  This isn’t really possible in Sage, well, it is but you end up duplicating and cancelling the old one each time.  With any edit you do being a cancel and resubmit I could see things getting very messy very quickly.  Sage is probably great for big business but not for me!

QuickBooks: Now, I actually paid out for this!  And I admit that cutting invoices was very nice an easy but everything else wasn’t.  I wanted to do a mileage claim for 48 miles at 40p per mile. In QuickBooks this requires me to use a calculator to work out that this is £19.20 and enter it against petrol. No, I can’t just type in “=48*0.4”, this is a step back from spreadsheets! There is also no sorting, if you want to enter a new line on an expenses sheet or invoice it could only be at the bottom which makes the accounts of sporadic updater’s like my myself very messy.  The final straw was the lack of support for Credit Card accounts.  Needless to say, I got a refund!

FreeAgent: And now the hero of our story.  I’m not sure I can do this justice without sounding sycophantic! I had actually looked at FreeAgent a couple of months earlier and dismissed it as I’m not a fan of subscription based software.  It does however do exactly what I want out of the box.  It’s a web (cloud) service so no software to install which means I can literally do my accounts anywhere (there is also an API with with some fantastic integration tools too).  The interface is very clean and when you start out every page has a little video showing you how to use that function correctly.  The two things that sold it for me are the support and the ability to automatically email invoices to customers as a PDFs as well as automatically send them chase up mails.  Support is done via email or GetSatisfaction although every question I have had so far has already been answered which has certainly saved time.

The bank account tracking is lovely too.  Instead of you having to type in every bank statement you receive they have developed an uploader so you can upload electronic statements that most banks provide.  The system then automatically tries to match up money in and out with invoices and expenses making the entire process a few clicks.  Credit Card accounts are supported as well as PayPal and any receipts can be photographed or scanned and uploaded against that bill, instantly keeping everything paperless and together.

Mileage is done properly, not only that but it’s automatically linked to the AMAP rate so you don’t even have to enter the 40p.  The only issue I have have had was entering expenses for things before my company was officially formed and that was a simple fix to change the dates.  While FreeAgent is a subscription piece of software it also has a lovely referral model.  For each person you refer you both get 10% off your bill.  That is, use a code to sign up,refer 9 people and it’s free!

So, if you want to register for a FreeAgent account which will give us both 10% off then use code 3flvybs4.

Freecross with Dave Cornthwaite

On Friday I spent a day with the Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite as he tried out a Freecross.  Dave is attempting Expedition 1000 (25 journeys by different non-motorised means, each 1000+ miles) and was trailing the Freecross as a possible future mode of transport.

The Freecross is pretty much a cross trainer on wheels.  Not that hard to master although it takes a while to coordinate the pushing of the arms and stop it from steering side to side down the road.  Once you have mastered going forwards you learn to steer by leaning and control is quite sharp as you have both front & back breaks as well as 8 gears so it has a good top speed!

Needless to say we had a lot of fun on a rainy day in London.  They aren’t going to replace the bike but definately worth giving them a try.  If you are interested in having a go then Soho Gyms have exclusivity in the UK, you can hire from them or even buy one!

Update: Tobias has now edited all of the footage shot that day into a vid for Dave…

Charity Hack 2010

The weekend of 18-19th September 2010 saw PayPal open their doors to a bunch of developers for Charity Hack 2010.  With the combination of API’s from JustGiving, PayPal and MissionFish the idea was to create something in 24 hours for charity  or a good cause.

After much deliberation the week before over what to build (I really wanted to make a Blue Peter style totaliser using an Arduino but I couldn’t get the equipment there and was worried about setting the fire alarms off with the soldering iron) I decided to play safe and fix a real world problem I had.

As I am sure you are all aware I organise the Goodwood Roller Marathon each year and raise lots of money for charity.  While I have managed to automate a lot of the administration, the collecting and tallying up of sponsorship is a huge admin task, especially after the event when we are all tired.  The annoying part is that we send a lot of our users to Justgiving to create their pages but have no way of knowing which page they registered and so no way of tracking how much money our event has been responsible for raising!

The solution seemed simple.  If we could use the JustGiving API’s to help the user create a sponsorship page then we should get a notification of that page.  If we keep a table of these pages we can check them regularly and keep an up to date total of all the money our event has raised.

After a few shout out’s on the event twitter wall I was introduced to Nathan O’Hanlon & Justen Doherty, two PHP developers that were looking for a project.  We all talked to the lovely David Whitney from JustGiving who hinted that this sort of functionality was already in the pipeline but was never finished so we decided to show them how it should be done :-p

I’m sure I could bore you all silly with the rabbit holes we went down over the 24 hours but things are never as easy as you think, especially when you are coding fast and even more so when you haven’t had much sleep.  Nathan & Justen decided on the symfony framework and set to creating a GIT repo while I went off to register aggreg8.me and create the webspace.

There were many questions about the JustGiving API which David helped with.  Lets just say the API had a few bugs too although a lot of the bugs were fixed in the same 24 hours.  Annoyingly the API allowed for all donation pages to have an Event ID however there was no way of finding out what a valid event ID was let along then searching for them and indexing them!  I really didn’t want to have to replicate the pages that JustGiving already had using the API but it seemed there was no choice.  By the time night came we hadn’t done much coding but had a good idea of the direction.  Nathan & Justen went home for the night and I stayed up designing the front end to the website.

I was disappointed not to be building anything with Arduino but had bought it along with the old BiscuitTrain rig.  As it was night time and I wasn’t going to use it now I donated it to a fellow charity hacker who made Wreck it or not! (picture) People donating money would choose to make the train go faster or slower until it crashed.  I’m glad it got used 🙂

Morning comes after a quick nap and Nathan returns for the day.  Justen has been up all night coding at home so is now going to bed.  We quickly add my front end to the project but now comes the integration which takes ages and all the way up to the 13:30 deadline.

After another food break (many have said it, we really were fed well) we all did our 3 min presentation.  I kinda rushed it but I think I got our point across.  The great news is that the program manager for JustGiving came to us at the end to say that he would like to talk about the project in the future.  I really hope they do contact me and listen to my calls for help, I really do think it will make their platform stronger and better… plus I have VirginMoneyGiving already contacting me and asking what I would like :-p

IMAG0230(Loads of people took pictures of the event including pics of me but it seems very few made it online)

In all the event was a brilliant first hack day for me and a got a lot out of it.  Our project http://www.aggreg8.me/ is now live and while it’s not using the live API’s yet (as JustGiving haven’t officially launched them yet) Nathan has been doing lots of work in the days after the event to make sure it’s a strong and stable product that fully works.  It’ll be interesting to see what JustGiving do next, I will be sure to update you all.

A huge thank you again to Nathan & Justen for all their help and to everyone else for a fantastic 24 hours 🙂

Can you really delete a tweet?

The lovely James Firth has just announced that he will “delete all my old tweets, and only keep the last month or so”.  I think he is being foolish as I don’t believe it’s possible to delete things off the interwebs.  As such I decided to find out which of us was right!

The Test

  1. Post a tweet (Done 20th Sept 2010).
  2. Wait for it to be picked up by search engines and search tools.
  3. Delete the tweet (Done 25th Oct 2010).
  4. Wait to see how long it takes for the tweet to be deleted from these sites.

The Tweet

This is the tweet I will be deleting…

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/dogsbodyorg/status/25050638391″]

I’m embedding it with the Blackbird Pie WordPress plugin, It will be interesting to see if it goes from here too!

The Results

Will be posted here when I have done the test.  Add me to Twitter or subscribe to my RSS to find out! 😉

  • GoogleDeleted but took over 2 months.
  • Google RealtimeDeleted in less than 24 hours.
  • Bing – The tweet never appeared in their search.  Can’t test.
  • Yahoo!Deleted but took over 2 months.
  • TweetMeme – The tweet never appeared in their search.  Can’t test.
  • TwitpicNot much you can do if someone takes a picture of the tweet.
  • RetweetThere is nothing you can do if someone has already retweeted you
  • Embedded with Blackbird PieNot Deleted from this site.
  • topsy.comStill appearing in the Topsy index as of 28 Feb 2011.
  • flavors.meStill appearing in embedded sites as of 28 Feb 2011.

If you have written something news worthy that someone else has blogged about or discussed then no, that content can obviously be copied and quoted without issue.  And while tweets about your breakfast may be deleted by large sites such as Google and Yahoo there are plenty more that do not honour Twitters deletion protocols.

In short, I wouldn’t bother deleting things of the Internet.  All you are doing is making work for yourself.

Any other sites? Suggest them in the comments.

The Firehose

This is not a new test.  Until recently deleted tweets weren’t removed from Twitter’s official search resulting in services such as Tweleted.  With more and more sites drinking from the Twitter firehose (Twitters name for having a live feed of public status updates) it will be come harder and harder to stop tweets from being archived which is why I think it’s important to test this every once in a while.

Interestingly Twitter have blurred the line of firehose access with the launch of their new streaming service as a lot of companies that want to drink from the firehose only actually want a subset of the data.  e.g. TweetMeme only needs to index tweets with a URL in them. The Streaming API help has this to say about deleted tweets…

Streams may also contain status deletion notices. Clients are urged to honor deletion requests and discard deleted statuses immediately. At times, status deletion messages may arrive before the status. Even in this case, the late arriving status should be deleted from your backing store.

… urge != must.  It’s not in their T&Cs either that I can see.

I believe there are at least tens of full firehose users and hundreds of streaming users if not hundreds and thousands respectively.  Either way, the number is only going up!

Oh and we aren’t just talking websites and services here. The US Library of Congress has access to every public tweet ever written 😉

P.S.

  • I started creating a list of Twitter Firehose users as I don’t believe any such list exists.  Feel free to update and add to it, it’s public 🙂
  • I have been told to “play nice”, this is not a personal attack on James at all who is a top bloke, this is just an open debate and test.

Conference Bike

On Monday 23rd August 2010 I joined a conference bike for the Guildford to Southampton leg of it’s journey from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise money for Cancer Research UK (Details at http://www.cobiuk.com/).

I wasn’t sure about joining them as I’m not a cyclist but checking their website a few days before the event it seemed they still needed people for the Guildford to Southampton leg which was the closest to me.  While I don’t cycle, I do have good legs from skating so I was hoping this would do me well and I didn’t like the idea of them having to do that leg with only two people so I signed up.

Details were exchanged and I found myself at Guildford station at 8am on a Monday morning.  I didn’t need to worry about having enough people as it seemed we had 10 cyclists there with one more joining us on the way down.  To spread things out more one of the pedals had broken which meant we were down to 6 riders on the half a tonne machine!

The first stretch out of Guildford was great fun.  I met up with my parents on the Hogs Back and the lovely James Firth came and took some pictures as we came into Farnham where we stopped for a while to do media interviews and headed off again.  As expected the pedalling was hard work, not because of the energy required but because of the cadence that you had to pedal, your legs had to fly around and I definitely wasn’t used to sitting while exerting myself which was very strange.

As we had so many people (and my bum was already sore) we swapped over people and I put on my skates.  I did check first and everyone seemed fine with it (although I think I scared them a little by racing the bike down a hill on a dual carriageway).  It was great fun skating along beside the bike, until the rain came, and did it rain!  If I couldn’t ride the bike all the way I kinda liked the idea of at least going the entire way under my own power but on a very long hill somewhere along the A31 I had to give up and get in the van.  The road was horribly slippery and I didn’t want to over do it and not be able to ride the bike later.

There is no need to give you a blow by blow account of the journey down, it was much as you expect, lots of pedalling but the conversation was good.  We did a bucket shake in Winchester and got held up by a closed road only to be let through by a lovely old man who told the road workers we were coming to tea 🙂

In Southampton we had a lovely tour around the Cancer Research UK centre who had all stayed late and bought us pizza.  I learned a lot from the tour and realised there was a lot more to Cancer than just a horrible word beginning with C.

In all it was a brilliant day and I learned a lot, not just about Cancer but about what is involved on doing such a huge journey.  A HUGE thank you to everyone for a great day and an even bigger Well Done to the CoBiUK crew who have now completed their mammoth John O’Groats to Lands End trip.

Some pics and video I took on the day

Dave Cornthwaite and his Aquaskipper

This week the adventurer Dave Cornthwaite made the following request…

[blackbirdpie id=”22015528727″]

Always interested in what he was up to next (Dave was the first person to Longboard from John O’Groats to Lands End) I set the TiVo and whacked it up on YouTube a few days later for him and others to see…

BTW, does anyone know the piece of music used in the middle of this video?  Pirates of the Caribbean?

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂

The Gadget Show project onto Marble Arch

After many tweets from Jason Bradbury that something was going to be happening this evening at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park we decided to check it out. OK, we were up there for the LondonSkate anyway so it would have been rude not to!

“#gadgetvader” turned out to be a projection onto the side of Marble Arch to promote the new series. They were selling it as 3D, it really wasn’t but still impressive…

I filmed the entire thing on my phone (HTC Desire) which Jason then borrowed for a photograph with the Sun!  It was fun to see my marshals vest and arm holding my phone in the entire official Gadget Show footage too.

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂

Bath to Bristol to Bath Skate

This week myself an fellow Camberley Skater Hannah went to check out the Bath to Bristol Railway Path.  As you can probably imagine it’s a path along the the now obsolete railway line between Bath and Bristol.

There isn’t really much to say other than it’s a really good skate.  99% of the surface is excellent to skate on and there are plenty of coffee shops along the way to get drinks and snacks.  The full route is 13miles end to end but we skated all the way into Bristol for a proper lunch and ended up doing a nice round 30 miles that day.  Very tiring but well worth it and I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to stretch their legs.

Some pictures from the day…

… and a silly video I made along the way…

N.B. This is a backdated post as I take some of the things I have been doing elsewhere on the interwebs and add them to this site 🙂