Marathon, done. Mara-done.

26.2 miles, 4 hours 45 minutes 1 second. bloody hell, it was so hard, but so amazing.

As is usual Mann family tradition Becca and I got dropped off laughably early and were at the start on Blackheath Common by about 7.45am! The atmosphere even then was pretty immense and even pretty heavy rain didn’t seem to be able to do anything to stop everyone (especially me) getting very, very excited.

The start was a bit hectic, but i suppose that was always going to be the case with however many thousand people squeezing through a relatively small space. I took it pretty easy from the start, I think if I had been too worried about concentrating on a particular time then it could have got a bit frustrating but I spent my time toodling along and had a bit of a chat with a man dressed as a morris dancer (lots of bells!), high-fived lots of enthusiastic kids and had the biggest grin on my face.

On tv the crowds always look big, when you’re there the crowds sound loud but when you’re running – at points it’s almost overwhelming, there are so many people shouting encouragement, loads of bands, people handing out sweets, oranges and drinks. It’s absolutely amazing.

I felt absolutely fine until about 21-22 miles, I’d been plodding along, doing about 10 minute miles (which was slightly slower than planned but I thought I’d just enjoy the day rather than worry about my time too much) and suddenly it all went a bit wrong, I got cramp in my left thigh, my right hip seized up and everything stopped being brilliant and fun for a couple of miles. Luckily the crowd got me going again – having your name on your vest really helps at times like this! Massive thanks to the lovely bunch of people down on the enbankment who fed me jelly babies and high-fived me until I started running again.

When I finished I was absolutely destroyed, I couldn’t walk in a straight line, I didn’t know what was going on. It took me about 45 minutes to walk to where I was meeting Becca, near Charing Cross – which probably less than 1/2 a mile from the finish!

Now, 2 days afterwards, my body is sore – my toes and hips are still very painful.

The ballot for next year opens on 4 May (next week). Will I be entering? Try and stop me!

So, you think you want a website? 4 things to consider

So, you’ve decided that your company should probably invest in a website. You’ve heard that they can be good for business and ‘everything seems to be online these days’ but you’re not really sure exactly how a website could help you and aren’t really sure what you want.

Unfortunately this situation could now go quickly downhill, you could get some bad advice, become completely confused and annoyed by the amount of jargon and ‘technical nonsense’ involved in the whole process and end up paying someone too much money to come up with something that doesn’t do what you want, doesn’t look how you want and is basically a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Or, you could read the rest of this post and hopefully pick up some useful information. This is by no means an exhaustive list but should hopefully start to get you thinking along the right lines when it comes to working with a designer on a new website.

Things to consider with a new website
Before you even contact any web design agencies for quotes I would strongly recommend that you have a think about some, or ideally all, of the following points. It will make the whole process far easier and more productive.

1. What does your business do?
It’s frightening how many people, when asked this question, can’t give a clear answer. If you don’t know what you do, how is a designer supposed to develop a site that accurately reflects what the business does!?
Have a proper analysis of what your business does, what its primary aims are and how you go about achieving those. e.g. we are a fantastic deli who provide delicious, locally-sourced, organic food at our shop in Leeds. We also provide a delivery service and we cater for events such as parties and weddings.
Now this is just a bit of an example but I hope it’s clear that if you can clearly define what your business does then it is far easier for the designer (i.e. me) to come up with a site that properly represents these strengths and communicates them effectively. A confusing web presence is, in my opinion, almost more damaging than having no web presence at all.

2. what do you want your website to achieve?
give some thought to how you will measure if the website is successful. just having a website is no good if it doesn’t have a clear goal (or goals) and purpose. e.g. i want to use the website as part of a co-ordinated campaign to increase telephone sales by 10% or i want to grow the number of contacts on my mailing list by 20%. Again, these are simplistic examples but they link in to the first point i made, being able to identify what your business does and what you want the website to achieve will result in a far clearer, more focussed, more useful website and will result in a better return on your investment.
NOTE!!! – don’t draw up a list of hundreds of goals you want your website to achieve, this is worse than having no clear defined goal at all.

3. what are your competitors doing?
take a look at the websites/online activity of your competitors. if you don’t know who your competitors are then, as a matter of urgency, carry out a SWOT analysis of your business!
have a look at what they are doing, how the are interacting with their customers and make a note of what you like/don’t like about their website, pay particular attention to how the site is structured, is it easy to find everything you want? etc.

4. what do you like the look of?
now this may be an obvious point but it’s one i feel i need to make anyway, work out what you like. make a note of sites that you like the look of but more importantly try to think about why you like what you like. e.g. i like the large header image, it grabs my attention and is a good way of using their logo in a high-impact way. or i like their navigation, it’s easy to use and it looks cool!
equally i would say don’t necessarily restrict your design opinions to website but do think about how they can translate to the web e.g. i really like the look of old, red BT phoneboxes, i love the color or i love the layout of the windows or whatever it is you like and think about how that can be applied in the context of a website.

i’m going to continue this list later this week…


Right, with the marathon now less than a week away I thought I’d do a little bit of a last-minute assessment.

Nothing too bad to report so far (touch wood). My right hip and left knee will start to ache after 15 miles but I’ve come to realise that is just a fun thing that my body likes to do.
The blisters that flared up on my last long run have calmed down now, I imagine those parts of my feet will be sore after the marathon but hopefully won’t cause me too many problems on the way round.

I think training has gone ok. I could possibly have done more long runs but i did get round for one of 20 miles, a few of 17 miles and a lot of 10-14 miles. I think it’s still realistic to aim for my original target time of 4hrs 15mins.

Thus far have raise just shy of £600 (although this also includes funds raised by the bike ride i did last autumn – which you can read about here which I’m pretty pleased by, if you still fancy sponsoring me (I’m raising money for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal – then it’s very easy to do via my justgiving page –

Final plans:
Anyways, we’re getting the train down on Friday afternoon – hoping to get to the Expo to register on Friday as the DLR is all closed or something on Saturday.
Will probably go for a couple of short (5-8 mile) runs this week just to check the legs are still working. Have also decided I’m going to be catching the bus to work for this week only – and leaving the bike at home.
So, wish me luck!

Content is king

‘Content is king’, how many times have you heard that? Well when it comes to websites, in my experience, it is pretty much a universal truth. The worrying thing is how few businesses seem to realise this, and even if they claim to, how many of them act on it?

This follows on, in some respect, from my earlier post about “design for design’s sake“. There I mused about the appropriateness of design vs what the client/designer ‘thought was best’. The idea of having good, strong, useful and appropriate content follows on from that. Too many businesses seem to think that their web presence starts and ends with simply having a web site or twitter account or facebook page or blog. But this simply isn’t enough, in fact I’d go so far as to argue that having a presence on these platforms (or indeed any presence on the web) and then not using them is worse, and more damaging to your brand, that not having one at all.

People need to realise that having any one of the presences i’ve mentioned above (and all the others I haven’t) requires a commitment in time and thought. Simply registering a facebook fan page for your company, filling it with little or useless information, inviting all your friends to become a fan and then promptly never updating it displays a lack of understanding of the medium and has little or no positive outcome. Content is king, and never updating your content renders it useful to practically no-one.

I’ve encountered this a couple of times recently, with clients enthusiastically asking for bespoke blogging solutions and help with their facebook presence. I am all in favour of this, if done right. Whenever a client asks me about social media I provide them with a bit of a ‘how-to’ guide for each of the main channels/platforms, this outlines the type of content that would be appropriate (and some examples), how much time the particular platform requires (e.g. twitter=at least daily), how these platforms can be managed, examples of the types of interactions that can take place and an idea of the likely outcomes for their business.

All too often you see people painfully trying to shoehorn completely unsuitable content into an equally unsuitable platform. You need to, as mentioned in the post linked to above, consider your audience, consider what they want to find out and why they came to you via whatever platform you’re addressing them on. You must produce useful, regular, engaging content or quite simply – don’t bother.

European wi-fi/3G coverage – follow up

Right, after some chats and a bit more research it would seem i have the following options:

Mobile broadband dongle with a UK company then pay anywhere between £1 and £7 per MB up to a usage limit.

Mobile broadband dongle with a local company in each country I go through – haven’t been able to find out exact prices for that yet.

Use wireless hotspots – it seems there is a far better network of these than I had imagined – my bad for being a bit patronising to countries such as Serbia, which apparently have a quite good wi-fi infrastructure.

Use internet cafés – i’ve been in internet cafés in the Himalayas so am sure that I’ll be able to find them to serve me needs at least once a day over the summer – however I’d like to have constant access when required with ICs just being used to supplement this/keep the cost down.

BGAN – would probably be hideously expensive but would provide more consistent coverage.

I image in reality I will end up with a dongle, mapping out reachable hotspots and also seeking out the odd internet café here and there – hopefully this should keep me covered.

I’d appreciate any further words of wisdom anyone might have.

And as for why I need this level of internet access…well…I can’t say just yet.

European wi-fi/3G coverage – please advise!

Righty, this summer I will need access to the net whilst on the move in the following countries: Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Belgium and France. There is the possibility that I will be in hotels for some of the time so this may (or may not – would welcome hearing about people’s experiences) partly solve the issue, however for the main part I will be on the road with just my laptop (macbook).

I’ll be needing to upload relatively large videos, images and text several times a day, every day.

I’d really welcome some wisdom on the subject, if I bought a new phone (iPhone, HTC/Andriod thingy ec) would this help – or is the coverage a bit patchy. Is there something I can get/sort out with my laptop that’ll help – dongle or similar? The last resort is getting a BGAN unit but that is very expensive and not really feasible at this stage.

Would also welcome thoughts on methods of uploading – particularly video as I’ve had a few problems getting large files up onto youtube in the past.

Curséd curved corners

A couple of clients have expressed a penchant for divs with curved corners (a penchant which I understand, share and encourage). Now as you may, or may not, know (or care) – divs with curved corners are supported in Opera, Firefox and Safari (via the css ‘border-radius’) which is all nice and simple and standards-compliant and lightweight and all that good stuff that you want your design elements to be. HOWEVER (and unsurprisingly) Internet Explorer doesn’t support rounded/curved corners. In the past this meant lots of messing around with images and other things which all made things bigger, more complicated and…basically…not as good.

I stumbled across this solution to the IE issue which uses an .htc file (an htc file is relevant to IE 5+ and contains script that defines the appearance of an element). Now I have used this solution a couple of times with some success (although this does result in a faint outline to your corners in IE it’s better than nothing), although I’m currently having a few issues – these are possibly due to my server more than anything. Fingers cross that IE9 actually supports css3.

Airy jQuery fairy

Now I’m fairly new to the world of javascript – I’ve been a slightly bemused onlooker for the last few years and have finally accepted that I need to get involved. Whilst I am by no means writing my own code from scratch I have started using the jQuery library and tweaking some pre-existing plugins. jQuery is (relatively) easy to use and (relatively) lightweight. To date I have mainly found uses for it in slideshows and tooltips – for which it has been superb – but it has far more uses than I’ve been able to get my head around so far!

Definitely worth a play around with

Over the next few months I am going to move onto building my own plugins as there are design elements that I use a lot that I want my ‘own’ versions of. I know there are quite a few other javascript libraries out there but I didn’t get on with any of them as well as jQuery – would be interested to hear other people’s experiences with mootools et al.

26.2 miles is a long way

did the longest run of my training plan yesterday – a shade over 20 miles. bloody hell it was hard, i completely ran out of all energy at about 17 miles (possibly hitting the wall?) and the last 3 miles took me almost 40 minutes to complete – ridiculous when you consider the previous 17 had taken less than 3 hours.

oh well, at least i did it – although my knees and ankles now ache in a new and never-before-experienced way. also need to work on taking on some fuel during the race, consuming nothing apart from water isn’t a winning tactic.