Friday, December 20, 2013

Take care, lets all have a happy Christmas

Have a Happy Christmas and take care over the summer ....  on the roads, at the beach and out boating.

Spiral are a business supporter of the Wellington Free Ambulance.  We want to say thank you for all they do and we are grateful they are there.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Are browser changes affecting your site?

Unfortunately when we build web software we can't always foresee the future. Web browsers such as Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer are periodically changed and updated by their manufacturers causing some sites built to work with older standards to have problems. This is simply a part of the ongoing evolution of the internet. Recently we were alerted to an issue that had arisen as a result of some of these changes.

The problem showed up when some of our clients were attempting to upload images. An error would appear in a pop up box as they went to the image upload page. It was a strange sort of an error as it was intermittent. Some quick research online revealed that was a known issue that had cropped up recently and was present across multiple browsers. It appeared to affecting anyone using our latest image upload component across both Firefox and Chrome (although it's very possible that other browsers are suffering from the same issue).

We have been aware in a general way of this issue since September 2013 although it's only recently that specific issues have come to our attention. While there hasn't yet been a fix released by the browser manufacturers we have managed to macgyver a workaround. Basically we defined a width for the uploader component that previously didn't need defining.

Its a bit crazy and quite possibly to a lot of people it doesn't mean any more than if we said that we summoned the elves of the internet to dance three times clockwise around a mushroom. But the internet is a weird and wonderful place. It's a land of constantly changing rules that are defined not by one overarching authority but by the interactions of thousands of interlocking contributors. Little tweaks upstream by various providers will have an effect on those of us working further down. We can do our best to keep up with every new wave but sometimes it is simply a case of making changes on the go as each new tweak catches up with us.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Change is in the wind

There's been some changes at Spiral that you might be interested in. Three months ago I set a new course for Spiral.  Reflecting on progress so far I can say this has been one of the best course changes ever. At times it's been hard, challenging and downright sad, yet I have always felt the wind was on my back and we were doing the right thing.

If you compare this course change to that which you might undertake if you decide you want a toned bod' and you may need to shed some weight, have regular workouts, and eat properly. Then with Spiral I saw we needed to do the same we:
  • shed some weight and left our Petone office 
  • stopped eating "junk food" or websites. Website's were a short-term cash-flow satisfiers and often left us with the feeling that we could have done better but there wasn't the time  
  • "beefed up" on our software development and are now at the top of the .NET game (well Cain is!)
There are 4 of us in the team and we are all working from home. Audrey Shearer and Alan Watson in Wellington, Cain Harland in Napier, Maureen Hines in England and the services of 3 outside contractors in Wellington when we need them.   A newly implemented virtual telephony system means that you can continue to call the same number to contact us 04 5862686. You'll find the new system lets you choose who to talk to … or call me (Audrey) on my mobile.

We've been very busy working on delivering projects including a major project to an Australian client. Another project from the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, for another ICU clinical trial, is in full swing.  Medical trial software has become an important growth area for us and a significant portion of our revenue. 

Graphical website design is no longer part of our core business and we will work with graphic designers on larger projects. Our functional design skills have been extended and this feeds back into the software we are developing for businesses and organisations needing database-web integration.

We continue to look after our existing clients and will continue to provide agency type services through partnerships with other businesses and local contractors.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Reminders are here

After requests to include reminders for follow-ups in the Spinnaker we are pleased to announce they have been implemented in the Supp PN Nutrition Trial.
Reminders will now form part of the core Spinnaker software, which means everyone gets them when they use our software. We had to make some changes to the user profile settings so that people could opt in or opt out of receiving the reminders.

Heres how they work:
You can opt in to receive weekly reminders on your user profile page,
Once you opt in you will receive an email every Monday with patients listed who are
  1. due for follow-ups this week
  2. missing follow-up data in the software. You may have followed up but not entered into the software yet
  3. due for follow-up in 2 weeks
We hope you find this a useful addition.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

HEAT patient transfer successful

The first patient transfer within the HEAT trial was successful this week. 
All the clinical trials using our Spinnaker Software have the potential to transfer patients between locations. The software maintains the double blind nature of their treatment and allows the new location to continue with record keeping seamlessly.   

Here's what you do
The patient needs be transferred by the incoming ICU.

  1. The outgoing ICU informs the incoming ICU of the patients study ID and date of birth
  2. The RC at the new ICU will to log-in to the trial website
  3. select the "Overview" or "Dashboard" page
  4. click ‘Transfer a patient’
  5. enter the patient’s Study ID and date of birth
  6. select ‘Transfer Patient’, then ‘OK’.
The new location can ‘Resupply’ study drug for the patient from the website so there is no need to send study drug with the patient.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Add a video to your website

There are essentially 2 ways to add a video to your Spiral website
  1. Upload your video to a video service website like YouTube or Vimeo.
  2. Hosting on your website. Send us the video file and we will add it to your site. 

Using YouTube

With your video recorded and edited it's a simple process to upload it to YouTube, there is help on the YouTube website to explain how to do this. Once it's uploaded YouTube will provide you with a code snippet that you can include in your website and the video will look like it is part of your site. The beauty of this method is that YouTube takes care of the conversion to a suitable web format and enables it to be viewed on PC's and Mac's. Your website visitors can watch your video with no extra software and bandwidth is free for you.

Hosting on your website

To include a video on your website and have it hosted on our server you will need to send us the video as the file will be too big to upload through the asset manager. 

Until now there has not been a standard for showing video or movies on a web page. Most videos were shown through a plug-in (like Flash) but different browsers may have had different plug-ins. To watch the video you needed to have the plug-in or to download it to your computer. Using HTML5 we are now able to embed a video in a webpage. Currently there are 3 supported video formats for the HTML5 video element. They are MP4, WebM and Ogg. Older browsers dont support HTML5. This table shows current browser support for the 3 video formats.
The real issue is the HTML5 video element is not supported by Internet Explorer 8 or earlier. 

Remember in New Zealand all our hosting providers charge for overseas traffic. If your video is popular overseas and watched by many then you will rack-up overseas traffic and may be charged extra for it.


For us in New Zealand YouTube provides a quick, simple, professional and low-cost way to include video on our websites. This is our recommended method.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Moving out, moving on

Today we moved the "big" stuff from our office to the lockup down the road. With plenty of boxes to fill we will be kept busy for another week with packing and actual work before we move completely on Friday.

Its been 5 crazy weeks that started with looking about for a smaller office in Petone (one of our favourite places). With only 2 or 3 of us in the office most days our 123 sq metres was silly. I told our lovely landlord we wouldn't be renewing our lease later in the year and on the same day, entirely unconnected, our neighbour came over looking for more office space. One thing led to another, they really wanted more space in July, we agreed they could move in on the 20th of July.

Yes, I looked around for office space once we had decided to move, but not too hard I admit because over the past few months I've been working at home a couple of days a week and loving it. Our team already has 2 Kiwi's working remotely, one in the Hawkes Bay and another in the UK. The switch from running a partial-cloud office to a full-cloud office didn't seem such a big step, after-all  the cloud is our natural environment.

We are using Dropbox, Highrise, Basecamp, Skype and will add a Voip phone system this week, hopefully customers will get the same or better service from us. We may find a little office to suit or we may continue to work from home. Over the next few months we'll let you know how we get on.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How to run a Facebook Ad campaign

Creating a Facebook ad campaign can be a great way to get your name out there, particularly if you combine it with something people want like a competition. It can be easier than you think to create a campaign and with the tools Facebook provides your ads can targeted to specific groups of people.

The first step on any campaign is to create your advertisement. On the top right of your Facebook page you'll find a "Create Advert" option under the settings button as is shown below.

You'll be taken to a page where you choose who you want to create the advert for; usually you'll be selecting a page for which you are an admin. If you are an admin on multiple pages then select the page you want to create the campaign for.

Facebook has some great tools for pointing you in the right direction when creating ads (they want your money after all so if anything they've made it easier to create ads than to use their sometimes knotty free features). Once you've arrived on the ad creation page there are helpful links all over the place to guide you through the process but I've included a few screenshots here to show some of the features.

Below is the section where you enter the content of your ad. You want a short, snappy headline; Some concise, informative text; and an eye catching picture. Make sure the picture is bi enough to fill up the space available or your ad will look undersized. You also have a choice of where your ad will direct people to. A common one is just to direct people to your page's Timeline but equally useful is to have the ad directing to a competition app that you've set up or had set up for you.

After the basics of what the ad will look like you can choose to target your campaign. The first and most useful tool is to target people by location, age and gender as is shown below. If you are a local business you can make sure you are only targeting locally and in your target demographic.

From there you can also target by specific interests or platforms that your potential customers might be using. This one is a great idea in theory, and it certainly explains to me why Facebook is always so keen to get me to fill out the "Interests" section of my page, but not everyone with those interests will have filled out that section. If you make your target particularly narrow you may miss some potential customers. Having said that there are a lot of people who have filled out the interests sections so if you target those areas you can be sure you'll be going after enthusiasts. This could be a great strategy if you're on a smaller budget and have a clearly defined target demographic.

The final part of setting up an ad is the pricing. It is incredibly simple to do. You just need to set a budget (either per day or for the whole campaign) and set how long you'd like to run the campaign for. It can be a little annoying as it didn't seem to let me select any non-USA time zones for my scheduling but it isn't all that difficult to subtract 19 hours to get California time. Once you've chosen your budget you enter your payment details and go from there. Any time you want to come back and make changes you can and you'll be provided with some great reports on your ongoing campaign.

The ad you've created will appear on the side of your target's Facebook feeds and should look similar to the ones below. A little something that appears on the right hand side of Facebook feeds. Facebook also gives you a "Sponsored Story" when you create an ad. This is just an item that pops up in the news feeds of people who fit your target criteria and are friends of people who have already 'liked' your page. This can be a particularly powerful tool as it acts as a sort of referral system directing new people to your Facebook page.

So that's Facebook ads. Fantastic little tools for promoting your message on what is an almost ubiquitous platform these days. Have a look and try them out for yourself. You won't be charged unless you enter payment details so you can have a play around for free quite easily. You might be surprised what you can do.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dog fooding our web site

The term "Dog fooding" or "Eating your own dog food" means to consume your own product and therefore experience it as the user does. Whether it comes from a disgusting true story involving dog food manufacturers or if some one just coined the phrase and it stuck I don't know. However this concept is particularly useful in the world of software development. So at Spiral its time to eat our own dog food and use WebShell, our content management system, for our own web site.

Why it took so long

Because we are geeks we like to get into code and tinker with things and a nuts and bolts level. We all had windows machines with fancy software to edit web sites, every one could read and write at least some HTML and Asp.Net code and felt that being able to code rather than use WebShell gave us more freedom what we wanted with each page.

Why it is now a necessity

Editing on different platforms. With some of our team now running Apple computers and our site built with Asp.Net (a Microsoft technology) we had the problem that all the software to edit Asp.Net sites is built for the windows platform. To add to this people now work from different locations on different devices. We want to be able to make content changes from a home computer or tablet or smart phone, not just the office computer that has our software on it. Webshell fixes all of these problems as it runs in a web browser and can therefore be used on almost any computer, tablet or other device with an internet connection.

With our team members becoming more specialized at their particular roles, the desire to tinker and have total control over code is being replaced with the the need to make changes easily and efficiently. WebShell help us with this by providing a simple and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface to the web site. No more need to set up ftp connections or run complicated software just to change content, the coding can be left to the programmer.

Experiencing our software as the users do will enable us to provide better support and keep improving WebShell.

Watch the Blog

As we get to grips with the WebShell version of our web site the team will post about their experience as Webshell users and maybe some tips for others. In the long run we can hopefully be more responsive to our customers needs and will be turning out a much improved product.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Webstock 2013

The story begins, as every great story should, with a cup of excellent coffee. After registering months in advance Webstock had finally arrived with its brilliant combination of insightful speakers and endless free coffee/Ice Cream. It is a fantastic event that brings together a diverse array of speakers who look at the vast potential of the Web in an incredibly enthusiastic and excited fashion. It is a group of people who work at the cutting edge of internet innovation and hopefully we at Spiral come away from it with inspiration to improve our products and services for the rest of the year.
Inside the Wellington Town Hall at the Webstock Conference

Over two days I learned about the Web from perspectives ranging from Journalists to Web Entrepreneurs, App builders to Media Inventors. The talks were held inside the Wellington Town Hall with periodic breaks for us all to hit up the coffee bars in the foyer or to grab an ice cream from the freezer. There was such a concentration of Web people that both the free wifi provided for the conference and the local 3G cellphone coverage crashed. Too many people were trying to connect.

Clay Johnson gave me an interesting perspective on modern online media, Aza Raskin showed us all the amazing creations that can come from constraints and Tom Coates explored the possibilities that emerge from increasing connectivity. Robin Sloan gave such an interesting talk I went out and read the novel he wrote (it was great! I read it all one Sunday). At the close of the second day I had a notebook stuffed full of insight and head full of inspiration. There was so much there for me and hopefully I can take some of it away to help our customers. 

It truly is a great experience and the topics of the speakers are so interestingly diverse that even completely non-techy people can enjoy them. Some of the past talks are available online here if you want to have a look.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Armed Forces Safety Pointers

The New Zealand Herald reported this morning that the Defence Force has issued a handbook to personnel with guidelines on how to use social networking. I mention this because there are useful tips even for those of us who dont work in the military. It warns that piecing together information through the internet was easy, and adversaries were very good at pulling together information to create a complete picture. You could substitute "new boss" for "adversaries".
The handbook said staff should avoid speaking negatively about supervisors  or revealing sensitive information. I would add avoid speaking negatively about anyone on facebook was a bad idea.
Armed Forces Safety pointers included:
  • disable the option to be tagged in online games
  • check photos and videos, before posting, for anything of a sensitive nature
  • disable the GPS function (if you dont want people to know where you are)
These are sensible tips we can all apply. The saying goes "loose lips, sink ships" ... dont sink your ship with inappropriate behaviour, unkindly words or ignorance of privacy functions on Facebook. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to post a photo to Twitter

Posting photos to social media is one of the best ways to connect with your followers and customers. It gives people a chance to get a feel for your company and to see a little more of its soul. It gives others the chance to see your company as more than just the services or products you provide. You can showcase your staff or show off some pictures that give your company a little more personality.

Twitter is a great place to put up a few photos. Along with Facebook it is one of the best places to be focusing your social media efforts. Tweeting your photos is neither difficult, nor time consuming so it can be a great way to get them out there. Starting is as simple as clicking on the camera button underneath your tweet box.

You can then enter your tweet as usual in the text box. Twitter takes some of your character limit to add the link for the picture but you still have enough to write a decent little message.

You can see below how the tweet looks. Twitter is not just for text messages. You can see that photos too can easily be tweeted.

If you have a Twitter account linked to your phone it should be even easier to tweet pictures. Mine has a simple "Tweet" option on any photo I take.

So you can see how easy it is to post photos to Twitter. When the opportunity presents itself for a good shot take the few extra moments to get the photo. It doesn't have to be a professional looking shot (the beach shot above was taken on my phone). You're not using this in an expensive print promotion. Anything that will give others a bit of an insight into who they will be working with is ideal. So start taking photos, start posting them to Facebook or Twitter and just see what the response is. You might me pleasantly surprised.