Facebook App Contest – Westshore Mall

Just launched – Facebook App Contest for Westshore Town Centre! Designed by Creating Excellence and programmed by Blender.  This contest exists in the context of Facebook and runs in concert with Westshore’s in mall contest.

Noteworthy features include: mobile friendly, Like gate, Facebook login, Facebook sharing, Tweeting, Pinning.

This project brings together several technologies:

  • Facebook SDKs to integrate into it’s social media network
  • Pinterest + Twitter sharing
  • Javascript + jQuery for interactivity
  • PHP for server side coding
  • MySQL for storing contest entries

Facebook applications are great ways to engage people with your brand or business.  Visitors interact with you and can easily share out to their friends.

Facebook App Contest for Westshore Town Centre


local SEO: first steps to better Vancouver results

local seo search results vancouver

Local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to search optimization with a regional focus, for instance targeting a city such as Vancouver.  An example of local search engine optimization would be my website, Blender Design, targeting searches originating in the Vancouver metropolitan area. For a local business this means focusing SEO efforts to compete for the searches that matter most – potential local clients.

I’m sure you’ve already noticed that search results are tailored to the searcher.  If a search engine, and by search engine I really mean Google, believes local search results would better answer a query, then local results will be prioritized. For instance, if you do a Google search for “best restaurant” you will likely see a couple of websites followed by a list of local restaurants.  For many obvious local searches Google takes this a step further and includes an area map of results. (more…)

internet security: Yahoo email accounts hacked

security breached Yahoo emails hacked

In the past week I have received emails from 2 friend’s Yahoo email accounts – sent by hackers!  The emails contained a link which, had I clicked it, would have done who knows what.

The hacking attack which was used to take control of my friends email accounts used a security vulnerability at Yahoo to copy an access cookie that had been issued from Yahoo.  This access cookie gave the hackers full access to the email account until the cookie expired. This attack did require my friends to click on a link, either in a website or in an email. (more…)

programming WordPress plugins

Sample Link image for Related Links Blender WordPress plugin

I was having trouble finding the right WordPress plugin for a clients website … so I programmed it!  You can see the results of the Related Links Blender plugin at the bottom of this post.  The plugin is a simple but effective way to keep visitors browsing your blog.  Similar plugins existed, but none did exactly what I wanted.  Programming the plugin was an interesting exercise – always be learning!

Plugin features:

  • Choose which posts to link
  • Just add the post ID of the target you wish to link
  • Links include thumb, title, and brief introductory text – automatically!
  • Links can be structured and styled to suite your website


security alert: Twitter hacked

Twitter announced on Friday February 1st they had been hacked in a sophisticated attack.  Twitter said 250k accounts may be affected and have emailed those users.  The stolen data included accounts, emails, addresses, and passwords. Whether or not Twitter contacted you it is probably a good idea to change your password, both for your Twitter account and for any other login that uses the same password. It is not a difficult matter to find more logins associated with the same email address, especially for popular services like Google, Facebook, etc.

Wired – Twitter Hacked

design – web page realestate

infographic on the relative values of web page realestate

Web design firm Graphitas has created this fun and understandable graphic to show the relative value of different areas of a web page.  Helps illustrate some of the design decisions and compromises made in website design.  (To see the graphic nice and big click on the image to the right, then hit the zoom button to enlarge)

Design with Impact Infographic by Graphitas

Amazon Glacier cost calculator

Recently I suggested using the Amazon Glacier data storage service for creating an online backup of your important data.  I said the service was inexpensive costing me under $10 after 50 days.  Wong Liang Zan created a calculator through which you can figure out various costs you might incur if you use Amazon Glacier.

To use:

  • open the calculator
  • choose a data center (Oregon)
  • add a backup size in Gigabytes (200GB – this is pretty huge, or look how much of your hard drive is used)
  • enter a duration in days (365?)

You can also test some scenarios like a retrieval to see how much that would cost.  Using my sample numbers the cost for the year was $24, and the retrieval would be $30 for a 24hr transfer.

Glacier Cost Calculator

If you haven’t read them already you can learn more about Amazon Glacier in my blog posts off site backup with Amazon Glacier and 50 days with Amazon Glacier backup.

50 days with Amazon Glacier backup

Amazon Glacier and Arq 3 combined allow for off-site computer backup solution. In November I posted about my first impressions backing up with Amazon Glacier client Arq 3 .  Nearly 2 months in it seems like a good time for an update of my continuing thoughts on this off-site data backup solution.  You can read more about the service and my initial setup of the software in my previous post off-site backup with Amazon Glacier .

Glacier is just like it sounds: S-L-O-W.  The process of uploading my initial complete backup is still in process and has been for 50 days, almost continuously.  There are of course lots of factors including my household internet upload speed.  And it is a lot of data, 165GB to date according to Arq.  Although I could have simply pointed Arq at my hard drive to back it all up, I chose to pick and choose what I thought was most critical and incrementally add to my backup.  Based on the time it has taken I strongly recommend this approach – get the important data backed up first!

Testing your backup is critical.  I initiated a file restoration of a backed up 6MB file, which Arq reported I could expect the file to be delivered in 4 hrs.  The file arrived as promised within minutes of the 4 hours.

Glacier being slow cannot be fairly considered a criticism as it is advertised as exactly that: Glacier.  What Amazon is offering is low cost data storage.  To date I have spent less than $10 in fees, the majority being upload transfer charges. For instance for the month of December while populating my backup:

81.266 GB $0.81 ($0.010 per GB / month)
76,613 Requests $3.83 ($0.050 per 1,000 requests)

All-in-all I am very happy with the Arq 3 and Amazon Glacier redundant catastrophic backup solution.  I’ll continue to run Time Machine as a quick access local backup.

If you missed it I encourage you to read my first post, off-site backup with Amazon Glacier , where you will find my initial impressions during setup and the first few days with Arq 3 . (more…)

keeping websites up-to-date

Website Updated - its like night and day

When longtime Vancouver client Lori Miles of Sweet Pea Photography called Blender to ask for some updates to her website, to bring it up-to-date and give her website a little facelift, it was probably overdue.  Lori takes amazing photos and gets some high profile clients and media exposure, which needed to be showcased. From a potential clients standpoint it is important to show them what you are up to and where your work is going.  From an SEO standpoint you want your website to be viewed as current and deserving of good results placement.

As for  the facelift Lori asked to change the website from it’s existing elegant black to a crisp white.  Not as simple as it sounds, but what a difference!

Sweet Pea Photography is due from some other needed updates like transitioning away from Flash, but that doesn’t feel as urgent with it’s fresh new look.

visit Vancouver Photographer Lori Miles, Sweet Pea Photography

update for The Emerald Coast

Emerald Coast Vancouver - Masonry and Landscaping

It’s important to keep a website up to date, both the content and the construction.  After adding some more photos and a few new pages it was time to bring Vancouver’s The Emerald Coast up to date with regards to web standards.

Emerald’s website was originally based on a website template that featured a Flash banner at the time.  Common practice at the time to incorporate some animation and give websites a little punch, Flash now was a useability and SEO hindrance. IPads/IPhones don’t display flash items, and the content is often ignored or poorly interpreted by search engines.

Emerald liked the look so Blender extracted the good and reworked using modern HTML design.  Next some jQuery animations to get back that punch and we’ll leave alone for another few years…

The Emerald Coast

off-site backup with Amazon Glacier

Photo via Flickr by kaet44

An off site backup of your computer data is VERY important.  In the case of a fire or theft there is a good possibility you will lose your computer and any backup hard drive you keep with your computer.  Off site means a backup your store in a different location from your computer…or ideally a different region – hint hint Vancouver clients, we are overdue for a major earthquake.

To maintain this backup yourself you must either create one on an external hard drive and take it somewhere, or use a system to maintain a backup stored off-site updated through the internet.  The internet solution is the easiest once it is set up, but until recently has been prohibitively expensive for a large amount of data.

Amazon recently introduced a cloud storage system they have branded Glacier.  The price is very reasonable, a monthly fee of 1 cent per gigabyte, about $10/terabyte. You pay based on how much you store, transactions, and for retrieval.  An average person could store all their data for under $10/month, a heavy user such as a photographer maybe $20 or $30.  After 2 weeks I have 10G stored at a cost of 79 cents – 9 cents for storage and 70 cents to put it there.

One quirk – like the name implies Glacier is SLOW.  To create and retrieve items from your back will take hours or days. When retrieving data your fees are based on your selected retrieval speed.  This service is suitable for emergency backup only, not for routine storage.

To use Glacier you will need a client or service to upload your data.  Amazon does not provide this.

For Mac I have been testing Arq 3 by Haystack Software, $29.  There is a free 30 day trial so you can test it out.  Installation and setup was pretty straightforward, but technical.  The software helped set up a Glacier account. Once running all I had to do was tell it which folders to keep backed up.  It should monitor those and update as needed even maintain multiple versions of files.

Some details and thoughts:

  • you pay for storage, access, and retrieval calculated based on the size and number of files.  Prices are reasonable, and you will be happy to pay the retrieval fee if ever you have to use it
  • you may have to pay your internet provider for more bandwidth depending on how much is included in your internet package – that first upload could be big
  • you will want to check and test your backup to make sure you have protected what is needed and can retrieve it

More info on Amazon Glacier

Download Arq 3

UPDATE: to read how my experience with Amazon Glacier ans Arq 3 have been going continue on to my post 50 days with Amazon Glacier backup.

(image via Flickr by kaet44)