Responsive Design Best Practice

A wee while ago I wanted to create a new single-page landing site for one of my online properties. Just a logo, company name and contact details. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now, because I’m a really cool guy and I’m down with all the latest jargon and web stuff I decided it would be a responsive website.

Not so much responsive in the sense that I’ll ever respond to inquiries from there any more than I did when there was just a logo on the website and no details you understand!

This is responsive in the sense that all the hip crowd using mobile devices to access the site will get a nice experience and not have to scroll or zoom around to see the three lines of text on the site.

Responsive design is not a new idea and I’m certainly not going to claim to know much more than someone who looks up the term on wikipedia about the dark art of CSS3 @media rules.

In fact, I’d like to encourage everyone else to stop claiming they’re experts as well!

I thought about buying a single-page website template and slapping my info on it but because that would involve parting with money for something I can do myself I decided that roll-your-own was a better plan. And it’s just one page, right?

I figured someone would have a good guide on the rules for responsive design so I put ten cents in the Google roulette machine and crafted a search for responsive design best practice.

If you search for ‘best practice responsive design’ Google says there are about 7,440,000 results which took a grand total of 0.33 seconds to dig out of the dusty corners of the web.

Without reading them I’m guessing that there are probably about 1,488,000 unique and differing opinions to be had in those results about what in fact the best practice is.

And I’m being pretty generous there, allowing for one fifth of all the results to actually be something new and interesting.

Another problem I found was a number of what I thought were reputable sites quoting other similar well respected sites that had bugs in their @media statements and simply didn’t work on the small range of devices I had to test on.

So, the quoted best practice was actually pretty poor practice if you used an iPhone 4S, or Samsung Galaxy 3 which didn’t like the overlapping @media specs defined in some CSS which I think originally came from smashing magazine but so many people quote it that I have no idea where it originated!

So; I suppose seeing as I link baited with the title, you’re wondering what my best practice advice is for responsive design? Here goes:

Get off your adjustable office chair and learn how CSS works, understand what the @media max-width, min-width and pixel-ratio actually do and test it on a good sample of devices!

When the Cloud goes bad

Before you read too much further this is a bit of a self-serving rant, bought on indirectly by the heartbleed bug published a couple of weeks ago.

I’m a fan of cloud hosted virtual Linux servers for hosting and messing about of the geeky kind.

The ability to spin up a box and play with it to your hearts content then just shut it off again for cents an hour has to be one of the greatest enablers of growth in online services since caffeine laden fizzy drinks hit the market.

I evangelised the use of cloud boxes for web hosting a while ago with some of my geeky friends, which of course rubbed off onto some of the not-so-geeky ones as well.

That’s where the cloud goes bad, right there, just at the end of that last sentence.

I even went as far as to help a couple of the not-so-geeky folks set up cloud servers and migrate their websites in a flurry of command line goodness with bash scripting that is in fact a native language for sandal wearers in many countries.

That was 2009 and skipping forward five years I now seem to have become the Linux agony aunt for a few of the converts and even some of the ones I considered to have strong bash-foo had dug a hole so deep that apt-get and yum can’t rescue them.

One whole day, almost to the minute, after CVE-2014-0160 was published and about four hours after I’d finished the initial patching of all *ix boxes for work my inbox was showing signs of the darker side of the cloud.

The questions were varied, to be fair, but all symptoms of the same underlying issue. “Is my server vulnerable?”, “My server wont update, how do I upgrade it?”, “I googled it but apt-get gives me xxxx error”.

Some of these machines had not been updated by their well meaning owners since they were spun up, in some cases over five years ago. The distribution in the case of Debian 5 now unsupported. This is my problem how?

The next morning I was due to start a three day holiday in the form of being parent helper on a school camp so I really didn’t want to be a part of someone else’s IT dilemma. For work I would keep an eye on things while away, but the other folks? Hmmm.

I replied with a pretty generic message to all of them, along the lines of ‘Patch OpenSSL, replace your SSH keys and if you’re using https get the certificate re-issued’.

So, instead of just relying on the trusty iPhone to keep up I ignored the rules for school camps and packed my netbook along with my toothbrush, socks and bug repellent. My plan being to get online tethered to the phone at least a couple of times during the break.

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. About midnight on the Wednesday I get online and there’s about forty emails waiting for my weary eyes.

Half of them unhappy replies to my apparently useless advice and the other half from more people who clearly shouldn’t run public facing servers on the internet without first putting on their overcoats.

Where I had credentials I made a half-hearted effort to get on and update OpenSSL in the wee hours between mountain biking, making hundreds of filled rolls and hut building in the rain but generally I just deffered them as my enthusiasm for cloud computing was being sorely tested. I’m not a very good agony aunt it seems.

And here’s the rant, in a nutshell:

If you don’t know how to keep a server secure and up to date you should not be running your own virtual servers online. Windows or Linux I don’t care. Just don’t do it.

If the concept of migrating applications or websites between releases of Linux Distro is foreign, or you think a public key is something used by kids to sneak into the school pool, get yourself some cheap shared hosting. Virtual servers are not for you.

If you think the scope for a Windows firewall is a tube with mirrors at each end allowing you to peer over the wall…. Well, you get the idea.

I hereby retract all of my former enthusiasm for cloud hosted virtual Linux servers.

</rant>

One for the Petrol Heads

(Originally Posted 28th Feb 2007 to cpix.co.nz)

Covering bike speedway for the paper a couple of weeks ago, and got this cool shot.

0702117201”Close racing action in the first turn at Moore Park on Sunday as Martin Emmerson of England, Andrew Alridge of Halswell and Craig Ramsey from Hastings all jostle for position in the fourth A grade heat of the Robin Mackinnon Memorial speedway meeting at Moore park on Sunday. Andrew Aldridge was the eventual winner of the Robin Mackinnon Memorial Plate.”

These are 500CC single bangers, on tuned pipes. Tuned for power that is, not tuned for making the neighbours happy while they prune their lilies before green tea at 10 with the Smythe-Joneses.

Off the line they reach about 100km/hr before the first turn, which is only 50m on loose dirt. Not fast, but enough to make it difficult to pan the camera without looking like a silly spinning top.

Just watching the bikes get off the line is an event. Waiting as the bikes line up I’m checking settings on the camera, looking for numbers on the front of the bikes, need local riders for the paper. Checking where the safety marshals and other photographer are standing so I don’t take a portrait of their high-viz jackets instead of a bike, and wondering if I let the cat out before I left home. It all leads to rising adrenaline, and that funny tingling feeling you get when you lick a nine volt battery.

The five bikes are all lined up behind the starting gate, and tension is building, the riders scuff their boots through the loose top layer of clay. I assume to get a kick off on the ground to help with the launch, or because they play cricket as well, I’m not sure.

0702117298The arena announcers are talking about how Jim wearing number 12 has come back well this year from an ingrown toenail, and the cousin of number 17 once had a horse that was lame. It really doesn’t matter what they say, it merges in with the barp-barp blap-blap-blap of the miss-timed 5 cylinder idling orchestra like an other-worldly chatter from long lost friends you’ve never met.

The starter drops his hand, or a handkerchief, the speedway equivalent of the yellow lights on a drag tree. The five pot band leaps from oddly timed acid jazz tempo to roaring death metal faster than I can shell fresh peas, which is pretty quick I’ll have you know.

The tingle down my spine is now more of a sizzling as adrenaline and the five cups of coffee I had for breakfast leap to attention and fire off a 21 gun salute in my synapses.

1000th of a second, F/4.0 Don’t change the settings. Centre focus point on my man, Number 1, Andrew Alridge. Half press the shutter button, focus tracking.

The wild animals are left clawing at the fence for no more than a second, the fence lifts, and they burst free. Roaring and snorting towards the waiting corner, like 2 tonnes of prime beef in a Spanish village.

Don’t take any photos till the day-glow of the first safety marshal blurs past the lens. He’s standing closer to the action than me, but at least he has a red flag, the bikes will stop for him. All I could do would be to throw six grand worth of camera gear and hope it takes one of them out.

A blur of orange and plumbers butt-crack dances through the now wildly shaking viewfinder. Press the shutter button full down, get some photos. The camera fires off the images, clack clack clack.

Concentrate. Zoom back, keep some space to the left side of the frame, number one, white vest, blue leathers, centre focus point. Clack Clack Clack.

As the bikes slide past I can feel them more than see them. The view I have though the viewfinder is odd, constrained and disturbingly close to the action. The thumping, vibrating sensation in the core of my body is more real, believable. The sound of the five bikes on the first corner while they are bunched up is thunderous, and resonates off the wooden walls around the track. Clack Clack Clack.

The caffeine and hormones are messing with my nerves and and possibly my judgement, I’m sure it’s moments like these people agree to join pyramid schemes to pawn off odd products on unsuspecting friends. I think I got a good one on that pass, I’m sure they were close together this time. Finger off the shutter button.

The left side of my face is blasted by fine clay dust from the passing cacophony. I stopped ducking three races ago, they remove all the stones from the track, don’t they?

0702117222At least one of the bikes is running castor oil, a shot of sickly sweet exhaust fumes, mixing with dust and sweat.

By the time the riders come back my way, seventeen seconds later, they are spread all over the place, I half-heatedly rattle off some more shots in their direction. Three more laps to go.

5 minutes till the next race. Get my next fix.

Good thing I’m not a petrol head, I could get hooked!

Authorship, Small words and little tags that do good

How’s that for a confused, or at least confusing article title?

I posted a blog article last week about some DIY stuff which wasn’t particularly noteworthy and truth be known I just wanted to post something to see if I could test a fix for the authorship tags on the site.

Back when authorship was just a toddler in the Google suite of obscure and not so obscure tags I went with some advice from somewhere to put a link with ‘rel=author’ on every blog post page to my profile page and slap a link on the profile page to my Google+ profile and I’d be done.

That worked for about, well. I’m not entirely sure it did. For exact match entire passages and phrases from my posts I’d sometimes seen my face staring back at me from the search results, but mostly nothing changed.

At work however we have a blog contributor who is consistently showing up as his miniature self smiling beside search results for his posts even though none of the requisite link tags are in place.

We have no links to his Google+ profile anywhere on the site and the only part of the authorship puzzle that’s been met is the contributor entry on his Google plus page.

I’m not going to go into any detail about how to make authorship work, there are a lot of good articles around the web on how that can be done and Google’s own help pages are as good as any now that it’s well established.

After the page was indexed fully I ran a range of different test searches which told me that authorship was working along with confirming a bunch of other odds and sods that should be common knowledge if you’re in the online marketing game.

What I found interesting though is how subtle search phrase changes changed when authorship shows up in the results or when it doesn’t. Equally I discovered some small words that made differences as well when I normally wouldn’t expect it.

So, without further delay, a pile of search results screenshots with comments for each…

130825-01First up we have a mixed up phrase from the blog post, and I’m top result. That’s mission 1 achieved, the page is indexed and we can move onto testing some other ideas out.

As a group of keywords ‘portable risks side note’ is not that stunning but you can see immediately how less than ethical SEO companies might convince a customer that a set of keywords are critical and get a rank for that combo under the guise of long-tail search. Followed quickly by the bill and a rapid exit to the nearest hills.

Long story which I can’t really post about, but I recently helped a friend with exactly that problem who’d paid handsomely for an SEO consultant to get their pages to rank well for a totally useless set of keywords.

This stuff is not rocket science but if you want to be top hit for ‘used car’ that is a whole other can of worms and requires a lot more effort as the content I’m using for these test searches is not really what happens in the real world.

An interesting thing to note about this search result is that the snippet of text is not the meta description for the page.

SEO tidbit #1 from this blog post: No matter how much time you spend crafting the description tag it may not show up in the serps these days if the search terms don’t match the description.

Oh, and the authorship worked. Who’s that attractive looking chap beside the search result?

130825-02

I did a bit of messing about with combinations of keywords and found that this one still gave second place result but dropped my authorship. Again the search phrase itself is pretty meaningless but it highlights something about Authorship.

If Google doesn’t think who wrote the article is that important to the search results you wont get the extra credibility in the search results page. That means if you’re struggling with testing the markup pay a bit more attention to what you see in Google’s structured data testing tool and what you’re content is about rather than just trying to get your photo up on what you think the page should rank for.

Note that the snippet is different again. Still nothing from the description tag. Instead this time we have a mash-up from two paragraphs highlighting where the algorithm says the keywords were found within the body of the content.

130825-03

A simple change here. Removed ‘on’ and there’s 70,000 or so more results found in the index but it doesn’t change the top few results. The fact is that small words sometimes don’t matter, despite how much your english teacher might have insisted otherwise.

Clearly if you were prepared to click a few more pages into the results you’d see a difference though, so let’s try something different.

130825-04

Same words with the ‘on’ back in the mix with a different order and we’ve dropped a couple of hundred thousand potential results even though the top three results have not changed.

So, the order of small words does matter. It would seem that the combinations of ‘on side’, ‘on note’ and ‘note on side’ are probably more common in content than ‘on portable’.

I’m obviously mincing my words, almost literally, to make a point here.

When in the English language you write, order important it is. Unless you’re Yoda that is.

Google have long said that well crafted content is important and phrasing that is common to your target audience is going to rank better than the best writers missive or random words on a page that used to be common in the AltaVista days.

As a total aside, if you’re interested in SEO and don’t know what I mean by AltaVista days, you missed out on a golden age for SEO consultants that allowed people to do all sorts of things that would get them kicked from the index of even the slackest engine now. Ahhhh, those were the days.

130825-05

Another shuffle of keywords and the third result has vanished down to about position six although cbsnews and I are still batting pretty well for some obscure text.

‘Notes on’ in this case is what starts the page title tag and the first H1 on the page for the result that’s popped up to number three on the hit list.

That right there is old-school SEO advice. Have relevant title tags and heading structures with text people will search for. If your page is about tomatoes having the page title ‘Shoe leather replacements for tomatoes’ and the first H1 tag the same will probably get you more search traffic for shoe leather than it will tomatoes.

130825-06

One more shuffle of keywords and this time a more correctly constructed phrase from an English point of view and it’s got four of the five words in the same order as my post so the dashing fella on the left of the search makes a sudden re-appearance.

So even though this is not an exact match to the text the algorithm calculates that the order makes better sense and is more likely to be well structured content deserves that little bit of extra attention the authorship gives.

cbsnews.com is still there but lets face it… If my site had as much link juice as a major news site I’d have Google adsense on here and be counting my sports cars parked in the garage of my French Riviera holiday home not writing this for entertainment.

The osha.gov site appearing there is interesting, but again .gov sites have credibility oozing from their TLD so nothing surprises me when I see them showing up in search results.

130825-08

Now for a little image searching using ‘testing FT-857’ seems like a pretty good image search term if you’re into amateur radio and want to find out about the FT-857.

The image is result four which is a good slot and your SEO handbook will tell you the image names are all important for such things and the alt tags. Don’t forget the alt tags.

In this case the alt tag is indeed ‘Testing on the FT-857’ and searching for exactly that will bring the image up to the top hit, not the lowly number four slot.

What about that image name? It’s actually ‘130818-171341-0001.jpg’.

Correct and contextual naming of images is a good idea but don’t forget the auxiliary tags around images. The only place FT-857 appeared before this post on my entire website is in the alt and title tags for that image.

130825-09

Better than that, this search gets me top hit for a a combination of keywords from the page and FT-857 which only appears in the alt tag for the image and the title tag for the link to the popup copy of the image.

If I’d bothered to name the image in a useful fashion I could probably rank for some useful phrases as well as that one. This is basic stuff but day in day out I see SEO advice about all sorts of other things. Getting the basics right on this is going to get me traffic for people testing FT-857 Radios with power pole connectors.

130825-10

One last screenshot to round out the observations for the evening. An image search for ‘gel FT-857’ showing a top hit for my photo. The word ‘gel’ is not in the alt tag for the image, but it is in the title attribute for the link to the popup.

If you hang plain english title tags on links to images and content you can improve their positioning for key words and phrases in the linked content or in this case can give you a ranking for a term that does not exist anywhere in the content apart from the tag.

By way of a disclaimer and for the sake of completeness: I did these searches from a New Zealand IP on www.google.co.nz, using google chrome in incognito mode to avoid search history slanting the results. Your results may vary if you’re in a different country of have substantial search history for similar terms or sites. Some of them were on my Ubuntu Desktop and the balance on a Windows 7 laptop, because I happen to be sitting in front of the telly pretending to watch something, so the fonts look slightly different in some of the screenshots.

(I did do a bit of testing from a US IP using google.com in incognito mode and got very similar results, although the serps were slightly different the observations would be the same. If you’re reading this more than a week after I wrote it the search results will probably have changed, the web is a dynamic place.)

Portable Power Pole solution with a fuse

A bit of random DIY for a sunday and it involves hot glue, so it must be good.

Being a fan of Anderson Power Pole connectors along with a chunk of the amateur radio fraternity I’ve chopped the fuses and other gubbins from the power leads on most of the equipment I own that uses 13.8V and simply terminated them with a pair of standard power poles.

The trick once fuse-less is to use one of the dandy fused power distribution boards. RigRunners being the most common commercial option, although I’ve made my own because, well, ummm. Not sure why.

Although my DIY power pole distribution units are smaller than the commercial option they are still quite bulky to lug around when operating portable.

While looking around the web for ideas on more compact options I found a couple of commercial ones that were small with no fuse but that’s not really what I was aiming for given that I’ve viciously hacked the fuses off all my rig power leads.

A side note on working portable and the risks therein; you can get quite a bit more fault current from a sealed lead acid battery or Lithium based pack than most regulated power supplies you’ll use in the shack.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect 100 amps for not very long from a modern LiPo pack for example, and that’d do quite a bit of damage to the wiring at least, and possibly whatever it was that shorted the pack out. Best off you have a ten cent fuse in the line somewhere, which will undoubtedly stay perfectly intact as your $1,000.00 HF rig catches fire.

With a pretty clear plan in mind I went off out to the shed and cleared a space about the right size for a small project on the bench which is no small feat in itself due to the piles of assorted junk lying around from a number of other unfinished diversions.

I had a quick rummage through the bits boxes and came up for breath with three pairs of power poles, some suitable wire and a standard in line automotive fuse holder. Enough bits of a handy-dandy two-output, single fuse adaptor doofer.

I trimmed the ends of the fuse holder a little, soldered some of the decent sized stranded copper into the power poles, mixed over a low head and came up with what’s in the photos below…

Once all wired up I was planning an elaborate machined affair from billet aluminium with hidden fasteners right up until the hot glue gun caught my eye and the utility of running plastic goop entirely replaced the intent.

The end result works well, and will take up half the space of my equally home-brew four port unit I’ve been using portable up till now.

ANZAC Day, 2013 Edition

25th of April is ANZAC day in New Zealand. I wandered down to Leeston for the local parade as I normally do and as well as taking our Daughter down so she could march with the Girl Guides I dragged the camera along for the ride.

There’s nothing spectacular about that at all, I’ve taken the camera along to a number of ANZAC parades, Dawn services, wreath laying ceremony’s and to be honest probably a few letter openings as well when I used to work for the local rag.

Even the really good photo opportunities are the same year in, year out, unless someone does something exceptional. The photos on this page could be from any year in the last ten and you’d probably even have the same people in most of them.

What caught my attention was how many people came to the local parade this year. Every twelve months the gathering seems to get bigger here in rural Canterbury and the crowd is more varied every time as well.

Even some folks with peculiar political leanings who I’d have thought would avoid anything with a whiff of military involvement came this year to lend their support, and to remember.

Remembrance was the theme of the local mayor’s speech this year, and it’s that which seems to resonate so well with many in attendance, including myself, who have not lived through any of the hardship of our forbears.

It’s just an observation and I don’t aim to over analyse, glorify or make much of it. I thought I’d just share the unspoken observation with the ones I made via the lens today.

It’s been a while.

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, it’s just that I keep on convincing myself I was too busy to say it. Or something like that.

Since I last posted lots has happened that’s noteworthy in my world, so I feel a little guilty for not saying at least something.

In the Online marketing / SEO world two cute black & white animals wreaked havoc on my working days. Penguin and Panda had a very real affect on the bottom line at work and for reasons that I’m struggling to understand our reaction to these changes has not been as swift as previous algorithm changes.

We use to roll with the punches but now we’ve managed to institutionalise slow somehow.

I think we’re finally getting some progress but the last eight or so months have been a bit weird. I’m sure describing the inner workings of my workplace here is not appropriate so suffice to say that after a great deal has been said and done there has been a great deal more said than done.

On the home and hobby front I got my amateur radio license about thirty years after first studying for it. I’ve been enjoying being a ham and probably should have done it long ago.

I’m a geek at heart and ham radio is one of the oldest forms of ‘geek’ around. That and it fits in better with my spare time and although you can easily burn large piles of cash on radio gear it doesn’t cost you anything to own once it’s on the desk.

That’s in contrast to the motorbike which was costing me $1,000 a year even if I didn’t ride the thing in insurance and registration costs.

So in 2012 I said goodbye to my trusty Yamaha FJ1100. It actually felt like cutting a body part off to be honest but I was never much of a solo rider and the group of folks I used to ride with have dispersed and moved on to different things. It had got to the point where I’d only put a few hundred k’s on the clock between Warrants on the bike.

Kate and I spent a lot of time on that bike and in the 15 years I owned the beast spent over 150,000 k’s trundling around Aotearoa. Fond memories but I’m not sure if I’ll buy another bike.

My last fling was to the March Hair in 2012. I really enjoyed the ride and traveling back through the Mackenzie was immensely cathartic having spent too much time working and not enough living it was a relief just do live for the journey.

The down side was that the rally itself was strangely depressing and catching up with friends who have become distant physically and emotionally in a contrived social setting in less than perfect conditions was awkward. Smalltalk was difficult and although I had a good time while I was there I can’t recall much about it without looking at the photos. Maybe I’m turning into an old fart?

Don’t get me wrong though, some of the great people we’ve met over the years from the seat of the bike are still our best friends it’s just that the friendships have sustained far better than my love of the bike it would seem.

I suppose a 2-year catch-up can’t be complete without mention of the earthquakes here in Canterbury as well. There is nothing that I can write that has not already been written though.

We had little real damage out our way and where I work was only 6k’s from the epicentre of the fatal February 2011 aftershock which changed so much in Canterbury.

Unfortunately having little damage doesn’t get you away from the weird that is dealing with insurance companies and EQC. I hope to be clear of that this year. Maybe.

My place of work despite having a loathing of cute animals spawned from Google HQ has survived the earthquakes and managed a modicum of growth since then so I count myself lucky compared to many who lost so much in the aftermath of the wobbly ground.

Well. I’m sure there is something else that’s happened since March 2011, but at least now I can tell folks who ask why I’ve not posted to my blog for a while that I have indeed put digits to keyboard. I might even get back in the habit, but don’t hold your breath.

Do you want me as a customer or not?

I just had to assume the rant position on this one. I just had the worst web site usability experience ever. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. The worst website usability experience in over a week. A month at the outside.

I signed up for a free trial of an online software solution, as you do, and wanted to ask the customer service department if they supported PayPal as a payment method as that’s my preferred mode of operation for online stuff. Seems to fit well: online service, online payment.

Contact form

The unbelievable, stupid contact form

Off to the contact form I go. The US 1800 was unattended as it’s out-of-hours right now but there was what I thought would be a helpful link to ‘Contact Sales’. Man, was I wrong.

If you’re running a company, what comes first? Getting the customer to engage with you, or nit-picking at them to fill out stupid forms? Hands up all those who say filling out forms is the way to go. Back of the class, all of you…

The helpful contact form in this case had morphed into 12 mandatory fields, with a particularly annoying pop-up on submission when you didn’t fill in a relatively irrelevant bit of information. What’s up with these people?

At least there was some gratification to be had though. Their website has one of those nifty semi-anonymous feedback tools, which as it happens was not written by a usability challenged developer and let me pen an abbreviated version of this rant right there.

This gaff was after I was already annoyed at having to supply credit card info to get access to the free trial in the first place, which is another really odd synthetic hurdle to put in the way of prospective customers.

To slip sideways into sports jargon their website is almost an own goal, and if it weren’t for the excellent quality of the product these two niggles would definitely count as three strikes.

Mandatory fields

You must be kidding. Mandatory fields a plenty!

I got this far down the article thinking I wouldn’t name the website, but what the heck, this might serve as a review of sorts for some people: The service in question is GoToAssist Express.

I’ve been evaluating their remote support tool against a few of their competitors and it is head and shoulders better than many of the ones I tried and at nearly half the price of the elephant in the market it’s very good value.

I’ll be purchasing a subscription for work despite their website, not because of it. Maybe they were growing too fast and felt they could reduce the growing pains by annoying prospective customers?

Rant off.

The evil Super Admin Password

So you’ve survived a disaster, fire or other adverse event, and you need to shift staff home to work because the office is a pile of smoking rubble. Their PC’s from work are by a stroke of luck usable, and they’ve got broadband. Two thumbs up there.

But about that printer driver you need… It requires admin rights. The domain controller, well it’s at the bottom of a crack in the earth, or in the IT guys garage.

No problem, log in as Administrator, give the local user admin rights, and you’re in business. Oh, they’re an hours drive away, and you didn’t have the fore-sight to install and test a remote control tool.

This is about where you discover why having a single administrator password that is re-used for multiple purposes in the business is considered poor practice. Or, in layman’s terms: down-right silly.

To get the accounts clerk printing, and the receptionist able to configure the network card you’ve now got to give away your precious uber-password over the phone. The kitchen staff can now access skype, but they can also access your bank accounts, the encryption keys for your VPN, the payroll system and the cleverly protected documents with the formula for your world beating popcorn recipe.

You know they will write it on a post-it note and stick it to the fridge, but it beats driving 50k’s across town to fix a 5 second problem… Deal with the fall out later.

So, how many places do you re-use the same passwords? And after the last major outage, did your IT staff have to give it up to the cleaner so he could access Ebay and not tell anyone for fear of having to change the uber-password in 300 hundred different places?

This is part of a series of articles that have come about from my experience in shifting the IT operations for a business after the recent destructive earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Random password generator update

Firstly a big thanks for the feedback I’ve received on the random password generator I stuck on the site a wee while ago, it’s had quite a bit of traffic so I’m going to assume it’s been of use to more than just myself!

I’ve fixed a minor bug where occasionally it would produce a password shorter than the length selected, which caused confusion for at least one person. To be honest I noticed it quite early on when I was testing and ignored it.

The second update is slightly more interesting. Grant from over the ditch in Australia pointed out that in the default setting of 9 characters with upper and lower case plus numbers there was often only one number in the password, where he felt there should be three on average.

And he would be correct, but I didn’t take the weighting of numbers vs letters when I wrote the generator. The problem being that there are 26 letters but last time I looked there were only ten numbers. The original code only used one instance of each number in the source string, so you were 2.6 times more likely to get a letter than a number, 5.2 times if you include upper and lower case.

I’ve fixed that up with a subtle update that uses 30 numeric characters in the source string, which gives relative likelihood of upper, lower and numbers of of 31.7%, 31.7% and 36.6%.

Along with that I’ve adjusted the punctuation string component to give more even distribution of punctuation if you select ‘Full Noise’.