BusinessProductivitySecurity & PrivacyTechnologyWeb Development

1 ways cloud computing benefits your business

From The Ground to The Cloud!

Cloud Computing is being adopted by large and small companies for their numerous benefits. As the technology grows, it will soon become the industry standard if it has not already. It’s affordable and stays up-to-date! It should be a part every small business’ success story and this post aims to shine some light on what the cloud is. Don’t let your business fall behind on this trend and reap the benefits of The Cloud today!

can't stop the signal
OK, not QUITE the same. But close enough.

What is Cloud Computing?

You might be asking “what is Cloud Computing” and “why should I care”? 

Cloud Computing is sort of like a car rental: You pay for as much as you use it, have the freedom to use it however you like (as long as it’s legal, of course), and it’s owned and managed by another company, not you. 

You are probably used to the idea of servers running in their own enclosed space, handling all your business’ mission-critical services such as databasing and website hosting.  As the name “Cloud Computing” suggests, all of the system resources that your services rely on are floating in a remote space and can grow or shrink based on the conditions that you set for it.

Cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Digital Ocean, Linodeetc allow you to rent a server with the latest hardware for a very affordable price. 

 

1. Affordable

Let’s begin with the #1 reason why a business owner should consider cloud computing: it’s affordable! Instead of paying thousands of dollars up front for a working server and hiring a team of professionals to set it up and maintain it, you pay a fraction of the price for a server that is already set upYou will still have to manage the software side of things thoughThey can start for as little as $5 monthly and you only pay more as you need stronger hardware. You probably would have paid roughly that much or more on a monthly basis just to cover the power usage, which also gets taken out of the equation if you run your server on the cloud. For the price of an on-premise setup, you might have a fully working cloud infrastructure for years to come.

Now you don’t need to lose entire paycheques before your business even gets a chance to take off!

2. Scales with Latest Hardware

As a small business you might not need a huge, powerful server. Starting out, you might only need a small machine to deliver your services to your customers. Your needs may grow as your company does and you can easily provision more resources when it does. Instead of starting with a powerful server, you can upgrade to one once you need it. On top of only paying for what you need, the hardware available will usually be up to date and you don’t have to worry about spending more money on updated hardware after a few years. 

3. High Availability 

Unlike owning a server on-premises, servers that host your virtual machines reside in data centers in a remote location. They often also have high bandwidth, making it easier for clients who are farther away to connect to your website or service, especially if it experiences high traffic that your local internet provider might not be able to handle. This is also important for being able to connect to your server to for managing problems or updates.  

Since servers are hosted in remote data centres, your service will be available to your major demographic even if they are halfway around the world!

 

What’s the Catch?

Are you interested in cloud computing yet? You can spend less money for a server located almost anywhere in the world. Your office might burn to the ground but your data will remain safe. These are only some of the many strengths of cloud computing and the barrier for entry is low, so you can try it out with very little risk.

There are some things to watch out for though. Contrary to the #1 reason for having a server hosted on the cloud, it is also very easy to accidentally over spend by renting a cloud service or resource that you do not need or use. Although you don’t have to worry about someone breaking into your office and stealing your hard drives, you still need to employ good security practices to minimize the odds of someone hacking into your server and ruining your business. 

If you are interested in cloud computing but are not interested in the setup process, or if you don’t have the technical skills needed to do it yourself you can always consult an IT company such as Panda Rose to take care of your set up process and manage it on an as-needed basis. 

FutureProgrammingTechnologyWeb Development

and now for something completely different

In the our 20-odd years with PHP, there have always been people attempting to work a step or two ahead of where the language was at the time. Working with PHP4 in the early 2000s, when a very elementary Java-derived object model was grafted on the language, people attempted to write proper Java without the guardrails. Objects are the sort of thing that, if your language doesn’t give you, you will probably try to invent, as people before that with PHP3.

PHP5 brought the gradual strengthening of the language’s object model, as well as dynamic “magic methods” which people ran wild with in the late 2000s, stretching things every which way. By the early 2010s the ecosystem had sobered up and begun to build serious structures around it. The language got a proper package manager in Composer, and in playing by a set of community-established conventions, one could draw upon vast resources for free. Many of us did, and over the lifespan of PHP5, the language completed a transformation from its hobbyist origins to something more enterprise-worthy. This was only aided by the widespread shift to cloud-centric computing, which PHP — stateless by nature — was uniquely equipped to handle.

PHP: The Next Generation

PHP7 came at an opportune time in the mid-2010s. Apparent competition from Facebook’s PHP-based hacklang seemed to kick the release schedule for PHP5’s sequel into high gear, amidst worries that a competing, partially-compatible offshoot would fragment the ecosystem. The internals team, which typically ties major version jumps (3 to 4, 4 to 5, 5 to . . . 7) to significant engine improvements, did not disappoint. Version 7 arrived with huge speed improvements (5x, by many counts) and set about, over the lifespan of the 7.x line, finishing the task of strengthening the language’s guardrails. The end result took much of the wind out of hacklang’s sails and, though it continues as a part of facebook’s internal toolset, the feared splintering of the community did not arrive.

Now, as we await the arrival of PHP Next Generation — Version 8 — in the closing months of 2020, let’s look at how we’ve continued to work at the margins in our time with PHP 7, and how we can expect to see our visions realized in future PHP.

make it so

Building a more reflective environment

Beyond the speed boost, PHP greatly strengthened the type system, once considered a critical weakness of the language. Once a weakly typed language, its modern incarnations are more accurately gradually typed — that is to say, while you can still work in a fast and loose way as before, structure and boundary may be introduced as the lines become more defined.

Through external tools, through linters and validation, structure and boundary may be enforced on a project level. The language may be wielded in a way acceptable to the enterprise, without losing the dynamism, flexibility and lightness of weight that characterize a scripting language.

If PHP is the best of both worlds, it’s the hardening of its type system that has brought it there, and it’s around its type system that our work has revolved.

class Before {
protected $database;
public function getUser($id, $password);
}
class After {
protected $database;
public function getUser(int $id, string $age): User;
}

Before is an example of a method signature, PHP5-style. We can infer that $id is probably a number, and $password is probably a string of text. getUser probably returns a user record. These are all reasonable assumptions, but there’s no actual indication of this, and certainly no enforcement. What happens if you pass in a textual ID and a numeric password, or trick it to return something other than a user record? And putting aside everything that could go wrong at runtime, there’s little usable information here for an IDE to provide hinting as you work.

(In the months before PHP7 was announced, our team had a working model that looked an awful lot like After, running entirely on plain-vanilla PHP 5.4. We stopped work on it at that point, and the less we say about how we did it, the better.)

After, using the syntactic enhancements of PHP7, is replete with useful information for automated tools and human readers, and establishes clear boundaries for runtime operation. Try feeding in the wrong values, or coaxing out a bad result. The engine itself will refuse.

So what did people do before 2015? Labour with blind IDEs, unable to analyze their code? No, the PHP community did what it does in the face of adversity and established sensible community standards. Deriving from the Javadoc format, DocBlocks became a standard way of expressing the intent of a program.

class Annotated {
/** @var Connection */
protected $database;
/**
* Retrieve a user from the database.
* @param int $id
* @param string $password
* @throws UserNotFoundException
* @returns User
*/
public function getUser($id, $password);
}

In this way, people were pretending that PHP was well-typed long before it was. Now, these specifications are suggestions, not rules: the language does not register them and will not enforce them at runtime. But they provide a standard way to provide a wealth of metadata beyond what the type system can adequately capture, even now. (Referring back to the After diagram, you’ll notice that this diagram contains more information. PHP 7.0 was incapable of attaching type information to $database, and it doesn’t specify possible error states.)

So on our side we’ve got a consistently improving type system and well-defined documentation format with broad community support. We’ve got powerful Reflection capabilities built in to the language — that is, programs can read their own blueprint, make decisions based on their own structure. All this within a language with a history of dynamism and “magic” undefined conditions.
So let’s look at one way in which we worked past a shortcoming of PHP, and had the opportunity to loop back once the language caught up.

Typed Properties in PHP 7

Let’s dwell for a second or two on a fragment of the last two code samples, to see a shortcoming of PHP 7.0 as it initially shipped.

class After {
protected $database;
}
class Annotated {
/** @var Connection */
protected $database;
}

In contrast to methods, class properties such as the $database are as weakly-typed as ever before. Within a class, it’s the honour system. If you were to make $database public rather than protected, you’d be merely trusting the rest of your system not to pass in a bad value, and you’re telling the rest of system nothing (except by way of commentary) of its intended content.

Meanwhile, our team is building a framework around a Dependency Injection container, and this is a crucial bit of missing information for us as we attempt to analyze and fulfill the needs of a class.
But since we have metadata available in another way, we end up with something like this:

class ExampleController {
/**
* @var UserEntity
* @Inject(required=true)
*/
protected $user;
}

No, not the prettiest. We earnestly wished, at the time, that we could express property types like this:

class ExampleController {
protected UserEntity $user;
}

and Annotations like this, such as in Java:

class ExampleController {
@Inject(required=true)
protected $user;
}

but we continue to build our system as if the language had those functionalities, without our own implementations as a stopgap. In each case, we were expecting the language to go that way eventually, though we couldn’t say for certain any timeframe.

Sure enough, as development of PHP 7.x continued and initial shortcomings were resolved one by one, we got one item checked off our wishlist with PHP 7.4. Typed Properties now allowed the above to be slimmed down to:

class ExampleController {
/** @Inject(required=true) */
protected UserEntity $user;
}

Furthermore, the properly typed property doesn’t function just as a suggestion for the dependency system to interpret and fulfill. Another guardrail, formally in place, and we began supporting this method within our framework immediately. But its addition didn’t invalidate the old method. @var annotations remain valid and will remain so indefinitely.
But speaking of annotations…

Annotations in PHP 8

This is a bit of a “stop the presses” moment, as I had already written how this remains a long-running, major item on our wishlist. How I had followed various RFCs over the past decade, hopeful for each of them, resigned to the reality that it might never be accepted.

Our half-way implementation might be all we ever had, and that was okay. Then, with my press date looming, this lands in my inbox:

i just closed the vote. [Attributes v2](https://wiki.php.net/rfc/attributes_v2) was accepted with 51 yay, 1 nay. The selected syntax will be <<Attribute>>.

Thank you everyone for participating in the discussion and vote!

I was more than glad to tear up that draft, and I’ll be glad to see DocBlock annotations become an optional feature as code like this becomes the norm:

class ExampleController {
<<Inject>>
protected UserEntity $user;
}

Yet, even as the language has caught up with our intentions and we’ve adapted our course accordingly, functionality has remained consistent throughout. The language gave us enough rope to mock-up both features to the degree that we didn’t feel impoverished in their absence, and were able to pivot effortlessly when both were introduced.

It remains to be seen what aspect of PHP 9 we end up building, but we look forward to discovery.

There are many reasons to be excited for PHP 8!

Annotations — er, Attributes — are a definite favourite here, but a major PHP release is a big deal and we’ll be here in future weeks to go through them all.

BusinessFuturePandemicProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

I5 to downtown Seattle, puget sound, and Olympic mountains, photograph by Thatcher Kelley https://colorbent.com

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that probably most of you reading this right now have approximately a three-step daily commute these days. I mean, literally, you take three steps and you’re there. And if more than that, it’s probably still shorter than one minute, right? So what better time than now to talk about your commute to work?

OK, maybe I’m being a little ironic. Don’t you think?

And isn't it ironic, don't you think
#sorrynotsorry

No daily commute = no more pants!

But think about it. For those of you able to work from home right now, you may be at any of a number of stages of wondering if you might like to continue working from home once the rules are loosened around this pandemic. After all, you can roll out of bed, maybe change your clothes, and there you are, right at the office! You don’t even need any pants! Just this morning, I led a very public Zoom live broadcast with a nice blouse on top, and my pyjamas on the bottom. At the end of the day, I can just meander downstairs and hang out with the kids, or I can unlock my bedroom door and let them all burst into my bedroom while all yelling things at me at the same time. It’s convenient!

man video internet broadcast no pants
Pretty fancy live broadcast setup for a guy who isn’t even wearing any pants.

But have any of you noticed that maybe this non-commute isn’t totally ideal? And I’m not talking about just the working-at-home factor with kids or a spouse wandering into Zoom meetings and the temptation to eat an entire bag of chips because nobody else is looking. I’m talking strictly about commuting. The lines between work and home are blurred. Sometimes I work until late at night if my kids or husband don’t pull me away (like I’m doing right now, hahaha . . . ha . . . ha *ahem*). Some days I might work all day . . . and then keep working until I’m dragged away for supper (my awesome husband is the cook). I’m no expert, but this can’t be a good thing. Does this mean that I might NEED a commute to separate work from home?

The long commute

I’m sure you all know that a long commute isn’t a great. You know this because you’ve probably experienced it. Depending on various factors, it can be stressful and tiring, both physically and mentally. But did you know that a long commute can affect you negatively in more ways than that?

Researchers found that each extra minute of commuting time reduces both job AND leisure time satisfaction and increases strain and worsens mental health for workers, and multiple studies even suggest that commuting can be more stressful than actually working. 😮 In fact, an 20 additional minutes of commuting per day has the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut. Yikes.

It can be particularly stressful and dangerous during open season on the LA Freeway.

An employee’s long commute isn’t good news for an employer either. An employee who commutes a long distance is more likely to have a higher rate of absenteeism and more sick days, caused the extra stress on joints, or for those who take public transit, more time spent in close proximity to others.

With all of this in mind, one might also wonder, “so why isn’t a zero commute perfect?”

The importance of transition time

Well, as it turns out, a regular daily commute is a great time for preparing for your day before work and decompressing from your day after work. People often use their drive in to work to think about upcoming projects, meetings, events, and various other work-related things, and the people who do this also experience more work satisfaction as well.

I can personally speak to this — normally my commute is approximately 45-50 minutes long. Fortunately, it’s a reverse-commute, so I rarely hit bad traffic, and a lot of it is through the countryside with very little traffic. After living here for five years, I STILL haven’t found a radio station that I like, so I’ve turned to podcasts; educational podcasts as well as podcasts that offer insight into how I can improve myself.

Oprah: bees!!!
Did you know that the world record for most bees in a person’s mouth is 109? Well now you do.

I learn something new almost every day, either a piece of knowledge about how I might be able to improve how I work, or something about psychology and how I might adjust the way I work with other people, or just a fact about the world that is incredibly interesting. (If you’re wondering, some of my favourites include Hidden Brain, Something You Should Know, No Such Thing as a Fish, and 99% Invisible.) I can’t leave out the detail that such a long drive is exhausting. By the time I get home, I’m usually too tired to do anything.

Alternative transportation (this isn’t just about cars!)

“OK,” some of you might be asking, “what about the differences in modes of transportation?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. It turns out that people who walk and cycle are the happiest and most satisfied and even find that their commute is often the best part of their day. As for distance, the happiest are the walkers and cyclists who have a short distance to travel. And not only that, the behaviour improves their physical health and can enhance job performance.

Monty Python ministry of silly walks
I can only imagine how joyous and meaningful one’s life would be if one were to adopt a silly walk for his or her daily commute.

And what about those who ride public transit? They fall somewhere in the middle. Transit riders do experience stress, particularly if their bus is delayed or stuck in traffic (an occurrence that walkers and cyclists rarely need worry about), but when they have stressful days at work, their detachment from the commute actually helps them de-stress so by the time they are home, they have recovered from the stress and are ready for home life.

Why is this long commute such an issue anyway?

I know some of you might be sitting there saying, “well duh, just move closer to work!” which does seem to be an obvious solution, but like most things, life is not really that simple. Did you know that the average distance from home to work has increased over the last several decades? Now, this is information out of the US, but I’m going to bet that Canada isn’t that different. On average, US commute is about 50 minutes. Yeah. FIFTY MINUTES. Which surprises me and doesn’t surprise me at the same time.

As an aside, I’m a native of Seattle, and I knew many people who had commutes like that, and even longer. I asked my dad what his worst commute ever was, and he said it was from our home in Des Moines (south of Seattle) to Redmond (that’s where Microsoft lives). On a good day, that’s about a 40 minute drive. During rush hour it’s twice as long. And out there, rush hour starts at 6 AM and ends around 9:30 or 10:00 AM. So there’s no avoiding it.

kingdome implosion
Eventually, you start to feel a bit like the Kingdome by the end of the day.

Anyway, back to what I was saying, why don’t people just live closer to work? Well, the population has just about doubled, while homebuilding has decreased, leading to an increase in housing prices, especially in metropolitan neighbourhoods. Any jobs close to where people work are next to impossible to afford, and even if they are, they aren’t ideal for families. So affordable housing is pushed further and further away from centres of where people work. Enter: the long commute.

If 50 minutes is too long, and 0 minutes is too short, then what IS the ideal daily commute?

Good question, and I could be annoying and say that everybody’s ideal commute is going to be different from person to person, but I won’t do that to you. I mean, yes, the preceding statement is true, but you know that already. But interestingly, when a study in San Francisco asked people about their ideal commute times, they found the ideal daily commute was approximately 16 minutes.

luke skywalker in his hovercraft
I’m not sure I’m settled on my ideal length of commute, but this is definitely my ideal mode of transportation.

About one-third of the respondents said their ideal commute time would be 20 minutes or more, less than 2% said theirs would be ideally under 4 minutes, and only 1.2% desired a zero commute. However, nearly 52% preferred a commute at least 5 minutes longer than their (on average) 10-minute commute. Meanwhile, 42% of participants whose actual AND ideal trips were the same, their average commute time was 15 minutes.

So there you have it: your average commute time is probably somewhere around 15 or 16 minutes.

So what do I do now?

I mean, you can do whatever you want, really. But I recommend you take this information, and start planning for the future. Someday we’ll be able to leave our homes for work, but for now I’ll leave you with these tips:

  • If you remain at home with zero commute, consider a 15 minutes before and after work virtual commute, whether it’s a walk around the block, or sitting quietly with your eyes closed thinking about the upcoming day, or the day you have just finished.
  • If your commute feels too short, go ahead, leave a bit earlier in the morning and take the scenic route. I add five minutes to my drive just so I can avoid traffic and so I can drive the scenic way, and it’s well worth those five minutes.
  • If your commute is ideal and you are a happy person, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’re a rockstar!
  • If your commute is too long, then you’ve got a few things to think about:
  • Is it possible to move closer to work? Is your current job worth the drive? Would you consider getting a job closer to home? If the answer is yes, then try one of those, if the answer is no, then find ways to make your commute more enjoyable:
    • Find someone who lives near you and works near you to carpool with.
    • Turn off the radio and start listening to something that will really engage your brain and get it in gear for the day. Yup, that’s right. No music. (See my podcast suggestions above.)
    • Consider requesting to telecommute once or twice a week, just to give your body a break from the long drive.
  • If you ride public transit, keep your brain engaged. Prepare for the work day, listen to podcasts, or read a book.
  • Talk with the strangers around you. I know it seems like you might be annoying, but it turns out that most people are pretty happy when someone reaches out to talk with them. Don’t know how? Start with a classic, like commenting on the weather.
  • If you walk or bicycle to work, you’re probably already happy, and you probably shouldn’t distract yourself whilst doing so anyway, so you just keep being your happy self.
dog walking on hind legs down grocery aisle making decisions
There are so many things you can do to improve your life! So many choices! What will you do?!

You’re not alone

We all have our own commuter stories, so I asked some friends, family, and coworkers about theirs:

DeborahWorst: My worst commute might have been when I had to go to a chiropractor twice a week in Bothell. Because I didn’t want to deal with traffic, I scheduled my appointments extremely early. However, if I left just five minutes too late, my drive time was doubled. And then I had the commute from there to work (which was only a 15 minute drive from my home).
Best: When I worked at the same company as my dad for three years. I lived only a mile from my parents, so my dad and I carpooled, it was a reverse commute, and only 15 minutes. I loved having that good quality time with my dad.
-Deborah (me)

TimBest: I used to live a 5 minute drive away from the Safeway I used to work at. I’d start at 6:30am so there were no cars going there. And almost guaranteed no traffic on my way home.
Worst: Worst would’ve been going to and from Spruce Grove during the winter.
-Tim, systems administrator

StefenWorst: Worst was bussing from Edmonton to Spruce Grove about 5 years ago. Bus service has improved significantly since then — at the time, I’d get up at 4:30am to catch a connecting bus at 5, which would drop me off at the bus garage. There I’d wait half an hour for the one departing bus to leave for Spruce Grove, and if I missed it for some reason, there wasn’t another.
Best: Best was the 15 minute walk from my house to the office. Winter, summer, not too bad. Just enough time to collect my thoughts and plan the day.
-Stefen, developer

LeahBest: Best was a 10 minute drive during my summer job; I worked at the golf course, no traffic (or just small town traffic)
Worst: Worst commute is driving in the winter into Spruce Grove, the first like 25 minutes of my drive the roads NEVER get cleared if its snowed until the afternoon, so if it has snowed it’s always risky.
-Leah, social media specialist

KellyWorst: I had to take the streetcar or subway from [in Toronto] Dundas and Roncesvalles to Dundas and University… However, if I caught the streetcar or subway between the hours of 730-930 on the way in, I’d be standing the entire way and stopping constantly, turning what would be a 30 min commute to usually an hour and a half. If I caught the subway at those times, it’d be shoulder to shoulder the whole way in and super uncomfortable. On the way back was worse though. There was a shortturn about 10 blocks before my stop, and the streetcars never were marked for when they were shortturn or not. So regularly I’d catch the streetcar, be standing and uncomfortable the whole way, and then be dropped off in -20C weather 10 blocks short of my apartment, and have to wait for the streetcar that isn’t shortturning. If I tried to take the subway instead, it was worse than the morning. So I basically had to not leave until 630/7 at the earliest.
Best: Best commute was living downtown Toronto, literally a block from Panda Rose at our Dundas and McCaul location. Simply being able to walk and avoid public transit changed my quality of life immensely.
-Kelly, CEO

MaxineWorst: Worst commute was roughly 60 mins, first heading west to drop kids at dayhome and then back north to the office.
Best: Best commute was 15-20 mins to Spruce Grove Panda Rose office but won’t compare to the 30 second walk to my kitchen table as of late.
-Maxine, operations manager

GerardWorst: I used to commute up and down to university daily. It would take an hour drive to get to the city and then I would need to catch a bus from the park and ride area which would take another 20/30 mins. And if you got caught during traffic time between 8-10 in the morning or 4-6 in the evening you might as well add another hour on to the journey.
Best: Does the current situation count? Haha
-Gerard, developer

JoshWorst: Working at Metro East Base in Bellevue was the worst (only for 3 weeks). Having to be there at 5:30 or 6 AM. Traffic on I405.
Best: My favourite commutes were on my way in to work at NWCN in South Lake Union. The drive on the viaduct at sunset was epic.
And traffic was light.
-Josh, Deborah’s twin brother, public bus driver

Thatcher KelleyWorst: Culver City CA commuting from Whittier, CA. 1.5 hours each way 5 days a week.
Best: We were shooting at the airport and I lived in Seatac. But that was only a couple days.
-Thatcher, Deborah’s other brother, Digital Imaging Technician

PatWorst/Best: I don’t think I have had any worst commute. I guess when I worked at World Vision it was the furthest but reverse commute so not bad at all. I guess my best commute was when I worked from home. I drove from Des Moines to Burien, Des Moines to Des Moines, Des Moines to Federal Way (nice drive down along Redondo), Redwood City to Palo Alto. Really most were within 15-20 minutes and traffic not bad. I mean from Normandy Park to World Vision was always nice because it was reverse commute and I just listened to the radio the whole way. 20 minutes tops.
-Pat, Deborah’s mum, retired

Well look at that — the Boomer had perfect commutes her whole life. 😉 But seriously, her experience backs up the research!

BusinessMarketingPandemicSEOShoppingTechnologyWeb Development

man in pigeon costume attacking man

The dilemma

So government has forced you to close up shop.

And the landlord is still expecting you to pay rent.

And you’ve got bills to pay.

You’ve got products that are going to go out of fashion.

You’ve got people who rely on you for employment.

You’ve got your own family to support!

So what’s a business owner to do in a situation like this?

For obvious reasons, you can’t just open up your shop and run business as usual. A fine from the government is the last thing you need right now! But surely there must be an alternative?

If you're the kind of guy who can help me pay my bills, I can help you in other ways
Yes. We can help you in other ways. You can help us in other ways. We can help each other in all sorts of ways.

 

Well, yes, in fact there is (I’m sure you saw this answer coming a mile away).

eCommerce!

But wait, there are some things you need to consider first . . .

The elephant in the room

And of course, I have to mention the elephant in the room.
Oh, it’s way bigger than an elephant.

 

Yes, that one. Amazon. Let’s face it, as soon as you enter the online marketplace, you are competing with Amazon. That’s not an easy feat. You’ve also got Etsy, Ebay, and countless other well-established sites out there to compete with. You need to ask yourself these questions:

What makes you stand out from the rest? What makes you different? How are you unique? What do you have to offer that they don’t?

Do you sell something unique to the region? Do you sell something that everybody wants, but can’t get from the mainstream big box stores? Do you offer delivery services in your region? How about next-day pick-up so a customer can save money on shipping? These days it takes several weeks for even Amazon Prime members to receive items in the mail. For an online shopper, being able to get their hands on an item quickly is like gold!

But . . . how?

There are lots of ways to open your own online shop. The first thing you need is a website. If you don’t have a website, you need to get one 10 years ago! You can’t possibly tell me that you’re too good for a website and don’t need one. No lie: any time I’m looking for a new place to shop where I haven’t been, I try looking up their website to see if they’re worth my time. And honestly, if the look kinda ghetto, I’m less likely to go. So get yourself a good-lookin’ website.

But why else do you need a website? I mean, everybody knows about you and people find you through word of mouth, right? Well, what about when your friend Janice’s aunt Sally’s best friend Betty’s sister Noreen hears about the shop from aunt Sally, but aunt Sally can only partially remember the name, and Noreen has an even worse memory than aunt Sally, so she only remembers that your shop’s name had something to do with pigeons or birds or something and the name of the town it’s in.

Man feeding pigeons, man-sized pigeon attacks man
Birds aren’t even real.

But if you have a website, Noreen can type those words in, and if your website has good SEO, that will be enough for search engines to help Noreen find your website, and find your shop!

I mean, but how about that online shop idea?

Oh, yes, that. So let’s assume the website thing isn’t an issue. Now you need to figure out how to sell your items online. There are a number of ways to do that, either through third-party websites where your products will be lumped in with a bunch of other products for sale from other businesses, or on your own website.

Amazon

Xena, Warrior Princess
Ummm, not that Amazon.

Yes, you can actually sell your own products on Amazon. But do you really want to compete with Amazon on their own website? Probably not. If you’re selling a product that Amazon already sells, you must list it on the same page, you can’t duplicate a product, but you can’t incentivize your product with two-day shipping. That’s something you have to earn. And speaking of shipping, Amazon decides how much your shipping rates are going to cost. If you’re interested in trying that outlet, article on Amazon.ca has some basic info on what you need to know to sell on Amazon.

Ebay

Ebay is an interesting place, but you have to do your research if you want to sell there. Taking a look at top-selling items can be helpful in telling you what people are looking for on ebay. If your product doesn’t really fall into those categories, then it might not be the right place for you. If you sell antiques and collectibles, it’s almost definitely the place for you. If you want to learn more about ebay, here is where you can check out their selling basics page.

While you’re on their site, it’s kind of fun to look at their prohibited items page. Among may other things, if you’re trying to sell any of these things, I suggest you avoid ebay:

  • Stolen property
  • Products that pose a health or safety hazard (that seems really open-ended to me)
  • Escort services
  • Personal advice
  • Pacemakers, heart valves, vascular grafts, ventricular bypass devices, and implantable infusion pumps
  • Expired coupons
  • Social security numbers
  • Human remains (except human scalp hair)
  • Used urns
  • Expired food
  • Narcotics
  • Used underwear
  • Speleothems, stalactites, and stalagmites obtained from caves on government land
Urn with text
You can’t sell this on ebay.

So, if your store sells any of these things, I’d steer clear of Ebay.

Etsy

Is most of your product handmade/original product? You could choose to open your own Etsy store. If you sell something particularly unique, this is not a bad option, or if you sell craft supplies or vintage items. You will find yourself competing with a lot of suppliers from China, though, which is always a challenge. Warning: like ebay, you also cannot sell human remains on Etsy. Also off the table: metaphysical services, violence, and illegal items. If you want to read more about Etsy’s store policy, you can view it on the Etsy website.

Portlandia
If you sell locally made artistic stuff, Etsy just might be the place for you. Put a bird on it!

Now, as much as I like shopping on these sites, if you’re a mature business with a storefront trying to move into the online world, a better option would be to create your own store rather than putting all your products into someone else’s store, and this is where Panda Rose would really like to help you out.

Shopify

A very popular hosted E-Commerce platform for selling products is Shopify. You pay a monthly subscription fee and can add any number of upgrades for additional features. They’ve got a nice clean-looking catalog and it’s relatively user-friendly. And yes, you can get your own web address, so if you want your site to be www.myawesomepigeonstore.ca, it can be that. Shopify can adjusted to have the look and feel that you like to match your company’s branding, and it can integrate well with Canada Post, manage your inventory, connect with your accounting system, and anything else you could possibly want.

If that’s not enough, there are some big names out there who trust Shopify — Adele, Lady Gaga, World Wildlife Foundation, Hasbro, The Economist, Heinz, and BBC. As you might imagine, while it’s primarily a shop, it’s somewhat versatile in how you can use it.

men dressed as ketchup
If it’s good enough for Heinz, it’s good enough for you. (Wait, is this a depiction of ketchup cannibalism? Yikes.)

As a drawback, it tends to be more on the “cookie cutter” side of things, which I’m never a big fan of.

WooCommerce

Speaking of versatility, if that’s what you’re after, Woocommerce is what you’re really going to want. I might be a little biased because I enjoy working with WordPress so much, but I’ve always liked how easy it is to manipulate everything in WordPress, which also includes Woocommerce. They’ve got a plugin for everything, but you don’t always need that plugin, you can often figure out your own code to make things work the way you like.

One project that was particularly interesting last year was making WooCommerce work with a non-Wordpress  site for doing fundraisers. The site was built from our own code, but pulled all the WooCommerce info for products and whatnot, and people completed their purchase on the site. Our client only really had to deal with the WordPress/WooCommerce side of things as well where their main site is, which kept things easier for them.

Paris Hilton & Nicole Ritchie
At Panda Rose, we can do pretty much anything. Just like Paris and Nicole.

All this to say that: if there’s something you want us to build, we can make it happen. Our answer is rarely “no”, and when it is, it’s usually because it’s in your own best interest, and if you still insist anyway, then so be it! We generally believe that nothing is impossible. I think that WooCommerce aggress with us with their “sell anything” and “no limits” points on their WooCommerce Features page.

Are there other eCommerce platforms?

I mean, yeah.

Are you going to tell me all about them?

No.

 

Platform shoes
Some platforms are awesome, like these shoes.

 

guys wearing crocs shoes
Some platforms are Wix and Squarespace.

While there are other platforms that offer eCommerce like Squarespace and Wix we generally recommend against using those types of platforms. They are not good for SEO and their limitations are significant. Because of their business model, they also tend to nickel and dime you for every little upgrade you want. eCommerce or website, just avoid these platforms. They’re not nice to work with and they don’t look good to search engines.

So what now?

Give us a call, comment on this blog, send us an email, contact us through our social media, send us smoke signals, or whatever way you prefer to communicate and set up a meeting with us. We can walk through the wide world of eCommerce and help you make the best decision for the type of business you run. We can help you build or refresh your website, and we can help integrate eCommerce into it. If your funds are more limited, we can help set things up and send you down the right path with a bit of training.

At the end of the day, we truly want to see the small businesses in our community be successful. As long as we have the tools to help business owners do that, we’d like to be a part of that.

Ben Stiller
You can be successful without eating it for breakfast or drinking skim milk. Personally, I like whole milk. And it’s OK if you like to skip breakfast.
EducationFuturePandemicProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

Men with toilet paper headdresses: Post-Coronavirus males, displaying their hunter gatherer prowess in order to attract mates.

The title seems so simple, “how to survive a pandemic in 5 easy steps,” right? I’m sure the extroverts out there think I’m nuts. It’s true, as an introvert, this is my time to shine. I’ve never felt better. Working at home in front of my computer with my kids locked out of my bedroom has been like a dream! Sometimes I can work overtime and nobody gets annoyed at me for getting home late because . . . I’m already home! It’s a little like being back at university, but without six female housemates arguing over who should have done the dishes.

I’m only sorta surviving

To be fair, instead I get the eight-year-old picking my lock (I can hear him doing this as I type right now) and coming into my room and asking if I can purchase “violent games with lots of killing” for his iPad, and once he leaves, he leaves the door wide open, so that . . .

My four-year-old can come dancing in and announces, “I wish I still had hands!”. After a short, but strange conversation involving Elsa and unicorns, I tell her to go back downstairs to dad, but she forgets to lock the door, so that . . .

The two-year old can boisterously BURST into my room and joyously yell, “HI MOM!”, then say a few things that half make sense, try to get into several things she shouldn’t get into, climb on the bed, jump on it, come over to me and look up with her big blue eyes and ask me a question that also doesn’t make sense that ends with “mom??” and when I message dad to fetch her, she hides in my closet.

But they’re a lot cuter than my housemates were. So it’s OK. Anyway . . .

Please please please do more than just sit on your couch.

Knowing how to be by yourself in your home is, in and of itself, a great trait to have. Being able to entertain yourself is something we strongly encourage our own children to do — without TV, iPad, or phones. So why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standard?

Hobbies

I’ve got to be honest with you right now: watching Netflix is not a hobby. Sure, it can be an entertain way to pass an evening or a Sunday afternoon, but it’s going to turn your brain into mush. If you’re one of the many people who isn’t able to work from home, now is a great time to work on a hobby.

Pick up an old hobby

Is there an old hobby that you used to do that you miss doing? Just recently, I decided I’d try learning how to use a serger that I’ve had for two years, but was too intimidated to try. Unfortunately, the serger conquered me and I went back to using my sewing machine, and I ended up sewing some sweet clothes for my children for Easter.

I used to really enjoy doing seed bead work by hand, but because I’d spend about 2 hours a day commuting to and from work, I was too exhausted to do anything once I finally got the kids to bed. Now that I’m home all the time, I have a lot more energy!

I used to do beadwork before I had kids, and starting up this creative work again has been wonderful.

Is there a hobby you used to do? Something you did as a child, a young adult? Try picking that up again. You may rediscover your love for it. I know that every time I start sewing again, I’m reminded how much I truly enjoy it.

Learn a new hobby

Is there that hobby that you always wish you could do, but haven’t gotten up the nerve to try it yet? Now is the perfect time! And in this day and age, it’s incredibly easy to learn new things. There are countless youtube videos, blogs, and other resources for learning how to try out new hobbies. If you have a friend who does it already, you can video chat with them.

I enjoy knitting, but once got caught up on a particular stitch that I kept messing up, so I had a video chat with my husband’s aunt and she helped me figure it out. This weekend when I was trying to figure out my serger, I had a video chat with Pauline at Laberge Engraving (check them out!) while she tried to help me figure out what was going on with my machine. And of course there is the great Facebook network of brains!

Teach a hobby

My son has expressed an interest in sewing, so I’m helping him learn that as a new hobby, which I think is great — not only is it a fun hobby, but it’s a great skill to learn. It’s helpful that Walmart is still open — the tools and bits you might need for hobbies that you might want to pick up are available at Walmart.

Skills

I’ll admit that this is an impressive skill.

The topic of hobbies really leads me into the next topic: skills. Right now is also a good time to develop an old skill or learn a new one. If you’re not able to work from home, maybe now is a good time to try building on a skill that might be profitable now or in the near future. Do you know if you will still have a job when the world starts opening back up? What will business be like? The way we do business is already significantly different now. Having more and better skills will certainly improve your odds!

Practise a skill you already have

You might already have some great skills under your belt, but there’s always room for improvement. Do you know several programming languages? Learn a few more! Are you good at writing? Work on improving different writing styles. Are you generally good at repairing things? Break some of your household electrics and try to repair them (OK, maybe not this one.) If you’re already good at something, work hard at getting better at it. Don’t be complacent.

I don’t even have any good skills. You know like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills!
-Napoleon Dynamite

Improve upon and learn new skills

My husband has always been interested in hunting, but he has really developed this new skill during the quarantine. The nice thing about hunting is that he CAN leave the house, but he remains isolated. What’s even better? He’s developing his hunter-gatherer skills! He now brings home bunnies weekly.

Food for thought: take one of your hobbies and develop it into a useful skill that can be practically applied to your life! Me? I’ve taken my sewing skills and developed them into learning how to alter clothing — that was how I made my children’s easter outfits. I converted an old dress and blouse of mine into dresses for the girls and a bow tie for my son!

Cute little gremlins.

Education

As they say, knowledge is power, and I don’t know about you, but I like power. And I’m sure you think that sitting around watching documentaries on Netflix is educational, but I’m sorry, folks, but not every documentary is good, and Tiger King is not really educational.

However, there are scores of websites out there offering some pretty amazing free and significantly discounted educational courses right now. You can learn very serious things and very silly things. You can get a good education in something that will support that skill you are learning or developing!

I can hear it now though, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” Ah, but you can. I once had a dog who was old and I taught her “go away”. Was that new? Yes. Was it a trick? I think so. It was certainly useful when she was annoying me begging for food at the dinner table.

Studies have shown that constantly learning through life is one of the best things you can do for your brain, so even when you’re not in pandemic mode, pursue learning!

Resources

Here are just a few sites you can check out:

Prepare for a new world

What world do we even live in now?

We will need some serious hunter-gatherer prowess when the world opens back up? I don’t know. We may need better Walmart prowess. But you know, unlike my hunter-gatherer husband, Walmart doesn’t sell bunny.

Tasty tasty Peter Rabbit

A new Renaissance?

In all seriousness, what do you think things will look like? We may still need to remain more isolated than we were before. People will have to be far more careful than they were before. What are new industries that can come out of this? How can YOU be a phoenix rising from the ashes?

Some say that the Renaissance occurred because of the Black Plague. Is it possible that we could have a new Renaissance come out of this global event? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with optimism, because this is quite a serious war we are fighting here, but having hope for the future is important too.

Going social

You know what else you’re going to have to prepare for? Being social again. It might be a shock to the system. Make sure you have a plan so you don’t overdo it. Plan to see family, plan to see close friends, plan to reengage with society slowly but surely. You may be surprised to discover that there is something to this whole introvert thing.

Prepare for death

You might die. In fact, you will definitely die.

Not to be a downer, but it’s also possible that despite doing all these great things, you might die. It’s OK though, because everybody dies eventually, and the sooner you accept that and deal with the reality, the better. Once you have prepared yourself for death, you can better live a full and complete life.

Speaking for myself, I don’t particularly want to die, but I’ve come to terms with it. We talk about it with our children, so our children aren’t afraid to talk about it with us. We don’t need to hide from death, and we don’t hide it from our children.

The children issue

If you have children, give them some credit. They are capable of having these kinds of discussions. They can talk about death, disease, pandemics, and all these issues that we like to shelter them from. We can be honest with children and still shelter them at the same time. Don’t be afraid to tell them your concerns, but remind them how you will always do everything within your power to protect them.

There’s a lot of death in my family. (Don’t feel sorry for me.) Fun fact: this is exactly where I will be buried!

Be practical

It also doesn’t hurt to prepare for death in more practical terms. What will happen if you die? Will your family be burdened with the cost of dealing with your body, burial, and all that stuff? I’m speaking to myself on this one too! We’ve purchased our plots — we did so when we lost a baby 8 years ago, but beyond that, haha, good luck kiddos, you’re going to have to deal with everything else!

If there’s one thing that was particularly memory about my grandfather’s death (aside from him, you know, dying . . . with his jaw hanging open), was as soon as it happened we called Neptune Society and they took care of everything. We didn’t have to worry about anything. Well, I pushed his mouth back up and sorta tried to hold it there to see if it would stay closed. But aside from that.

Conclusion

So there you have it, there are your five simple steps of how to survive a pandemic. I think it can mostly be summed up as: don’t sit on your bum watching Netflix all day. DO SOMETHING.

Technology

I’ve been thinking about self-driving cars a lot lately.  It’s a fun topic to look into and there’ve been several interesting articles recently.  There’s been a lot of talk out there because the self driving car reports from California have come out for this year.  I agree with this article, however, which points out that these reports don’t really tell us anything except for which companies test on Californian roads.

But I’ve noticed something interesting.  In a lot of these articles, both the ones on the reports and articles on other aspects of the industry, there’s inevitably some prediction for the future and this prediction is usually contradictory to most of the other predictions out there.

Racecar on track
What do you mean “live action Cars” already exists?

Often it seems like we’re going to usher in a golden age of self-driving cars that don’t need humans and our dream of watching a live action Cars movie can come true.  (that’s everyone’s dream right?  Not just mine?)  Other times it seems like we’re about to utterly destroy civilization entirely and be left holding a single broken key fob.  With this in mind and after scouring the web for predictions on when we’ll have self driving cars I’m pleased to introduce a brand new initiative here at Panda Rose.  The Panda Rose Choose Your Own Prediction Adventure!  By following this simple quiz, you can easily come up with predictions to give to all your friends at your next cocktail party and even better, it doubles as a really cheap personality test.  Are you ready?  Alright, let’s begin!

Looking at the latest technology I am absolutely certain that we will have self-driving cars ______!

  1. before 2022
  2. after 2022
  3. the distant future
  4. never

When we get self driving cars they will ____

  1. usher in a golden age where no one owns their own cars anymore.
  2. usher in a dark age of traffic where everyone and their dog are driving everywhere
  3. not really change anything
  4. lead to the destruction of modern society and massive civil unrest.

The solution to all the problems stopping us from using self-driving cars is ___

  1. not needed.  Almost all our problems are solved already.  I’m already getting ready for my preorder.
  2. to put all cars onto rails and maybe change their name to ‘trains’.
  3. making it illegal to go near a road on foot.
  4. nothing.  There’s no solution.  We can only accept that it will never work.

Self-driving cars will eventually be as safe as ____

  1. whatever the safest thing in the world is.  I dunno. The Svalsgaard Doomsday Seed Vault maybe?
  2. a car driven by a really good human driver.
  3. a car driven by a contestant on Canada’s Worst Driver
  4. standing on the surface of the sun.

Self-driving cars are ___

  1. guaranteed to work correctly so I’ve sold my current car and invested all my money in all the companies.
  2. a good idea if they work.
  3. alright, I guess.
  4. the fifth horseman of the apocalypse which will lead to our destruction at the hands of our car overlords.

Results

Now it’s time to calculate your results.  Add up the numbers of every answer you chose.

If you scored 5 points, you’re an idealist.  Your view of the future involves you driving into the sunset in a beautiful sports car.  And when I say that you’re driving, of course I mean that the car is driving while you take a well deserved nap.

If you scored 6-19 points, you’re probably a realist.  Especially if you didn’t answer question #3 because you didn’t agree with any of the choices.  You think there’s a good chance that we’ll get self-driving cars at some point but life won’t really change all that much for us when that happens.  You’re willing to wait and see though.

If you scored 20 points, you’re a pessimist (or a Luddite perhaps).  You don’t think we’ll ever have self-driving cars but if we do it’ll be the end of us all.

If you scored 0 points because you skipped over all the questions, you probably think that you don’t have enough information to make a prediction and so you’ll keep quiet for now.  Well a noble intention, I’d urge you to reconsider.  Not having any information certainly hasn’t stopped the rest of us so why should you miss out on all the fun?

Mobile AppsProductivityTechnology

IPhone with apps

Mobile apps can make your life easier in a lot of ways.  Here are ten great apps I personally use to simplify and improve my life.

1. Feedly

feedly logo

Feedly is a news aggregator.  That means it allows you to see all the articles related to different topics or from different sources all in one place.  We’ve got ours set up to show us all the things related to Blogging, SEO, Social Media Marketing, etc.  Ultimately, which news aggregator you use is up to personal preference, but I find that Feedly is sleek and easy to use.  The fact that it’s also available on the web helps since I can always switch over to the desktop too.  The only downside is that since their logo is a rounded square with one corner missing, it drives me crazy.

2. Teams

Teams logo

Microsoft Teams is an alternative to texting, like Telegram, What’s App, and all of those, but in addition to chatting with contacts or groups of contacts, you can also set up teams where people can post and reply to updates and attach files.

3. Everhour

Everhour logo

Time tracking is obviously important.  Everhour makes the process simple and straightforward.  They have a free plan that allows up to 5 users though if you need more users or integrations you’ll have to go with one of their premium plans.  It works in your browser, as a browser extension, and as a mobile app, which means that you can track your time while you’re in or out of the office with a few clicks or taps.

4. 1Password

1Password logo

Did you forget your password again.  Well, it’s not too hard to remember it.  It’s one of the 1,000,000 passwords you use so that should be easy to remember.  Or you could just use 1Password.  If your phone has fingerprint detection capabilities you can fill in all your passwords just with your fingerprint.  And since you don’t have to worry about remembering your passwords (except for your 1password password.  Don’t lose that one.) you can go with those passwords that were written by 10000 monkeys on typewriters.

5. Kitchen Stories

Kitchen Stories logo

Kitchen stories is a cooking app with a major advantage.  In addition to the free recipes  in the app and added to it by users, it also includes free instructional videos on various cooking techniques making it easy to follow along while you cook.  I used it to learn how to make the perfect poached egg and now my eggs benedict is to die for.

6. Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive

Google Drive logoDropbox logoOneDrive logo

It’s hard to pick a favourite between the big three in cloud storage and file sharing.  Dropbox has the least free storage but it still has its benefits.  It would be a lot longer of a blog post if I went into which one you should go with and why.  I just think you should go with at least one of them.  That way you can easily access important files on any of your devices.

7. Overcast

Overcast logo

Apple’s built in podcast app is alright, I guess.  But Overcast is where it’s at.  It’s ridiculously easy to sort podcasts from newest to oldest, oldest to newest, or even sort the unplayed episodes one way and the other episodes another.  More importantly, since Apple removed their playlist feature, it’s easy to create playlists and smart playlists for yourself.  It’s only for IOS, but there are free apps out there that do similar things for Android if you can’t stand android’s built in podcast player.

8. Duolingo

Duolingo logo

I’m probably not telling you anything new for this one, but Duolingo is definitely one of the most fun ways to learn a language.  I’ve been doing their Russian course and I’ll probably try out their new Latin course too.  If you haven’t heard about Duolingo before, they are

9. Scannable

Scannable logo

A few years ago, the scanner attached to my printer stopped working.  While trying to repair it I discovered Scannable.  To this day, my printer’s scanner still doesn’t work.  Scannable is an app that allows you to scan documents using your phone’s camera.  You’d expect a low-quality scan, but I’ve been able to get better quality scans using Scannable than I get from the office printer.

10. Every Dollar

Every Dollar logo

My wife got me hooked on budgeting.  Our life is so much easier to manage now that we’ve budgeted it.  The app we used to help us manage that budget is Every Dollar.  If you’ve heard of Dave Ramsey, you’ve probably heard of Every Dollar since it’s his app.  It’s great.  It’s easier to use and gives a clearer picture of your budget in my opinion than Intuit’s Mint which is the most popular budgeting app.

 

By the way, the answer to the riddle in my last post Game-ing the System is: The man had the hiccups.  So the bartender pulled out the gun to scare his hiccups away.

ProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” – Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

There is a lack of beauty in modern life.  “Form ever follows function,”  We’re told that Beauty is merely an unnecessary ornament.  Even though that ignores the full meaning of the quote.  In reality, according to the originator of the phrase, Louis Sullivan, “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law.”  So, while the appearance of a thing should never be disconnected from its purpose, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful.  That would imply that beauty itself was without purpose and, as we shall see, it is not.

Food, water, warmth, and sleep are just some of the basic necessities of life.  It’s pretty obvious that we can’t survive without them.  I’d argue the same can be said for beauty.  In some ways it’s even more necessary.  As Dostoevsky said, “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”

Sadly, for many of us a lot of that beauty has perished from the world.  We wake up.  We drive out into the gridlock.  We sit in our cubicle next to our coworkers in their cubicles, above and below other workers in their cubicles on other floors.  All of us typing away on identical screens until we eventually go back through the gridlock and get home.  Maybe then we’ll finally have time to go to a park or play a game, or maybe we’ll just sit on the couch and watch the same show that are neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours’ neighbours are watching.  Just another cog in an ever-expanding machine.  Where is the beautiful in our lives?  It’s been replaced by a drab monotony.

City skyline
A forest of man-made trees is a sight to behold

Now, what modern architecture does right, it does really right.  There is truly something awe-inspiring in a row of towering skyscrapers in the skyline.  The view from an airplane window as it comes in to land is breath-taking.  Cities from far away look amazing.  However, up close and personal, the drab monotony comes back.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Here‘s an article from the NYT written in 1964.  We’ve been living and working next to these ugly buildings as they slowly but surely tear down the beautiful architecture of the past replacing it with more of the same.

Suburban Housing
I live in the house with two top floor windows in the front. …No, the blue one. No, the other blue one.

Suburbia doesn’t fare much better.  Let’s be honest.  Is there anything awe-inspiring of a row of houses of near-identical design?  Not really.  The only thing that makes you and your neighbour different is that you couldn’t pick his shade of green for your house so you had to pick that yellow that you don’t really like.  The endless variations on the same theme are enough to drive me insane.  (a short trip, according to my wife.)  and good luck navigating without an address.  In some parts of Canada addresses are meaningless.  The terrain and even the houses themselves are so unique that you can navigate by landmarks.  But try doing that in the city and you’ll find the opposite is true.  Addresses are the only way to navigate in a world where every street looks just like the last.

 

High Rise
I don’t think the elevator is working. It says we’re on the 23rd floor but it looks just like the 2nd floor!

It’s even more true of a high rise with identical apartments piled one on top of each other to fit as many people as possible inside.  The only difference between the 23rd floor and the 22nd floor is that the people down below are slightly smaller on the 23rd. Don’t get me wrong, with the high populations in urban centers high rises and apartment complexes are definitely necessary.  Without cheap mass housing, there would be a lot of people without places to live.  I just think we need to remember the costs as well as the gains.  We need to remember to provide beauty for their residents.  It’s easy for the well to do to live in an ugly city.  when they need to see something beautiful they can buy a painting.  Or go hiking in the mountains.

 

At one point, this lack of beauty wasn’t an issue.  The average member of society always did one thing every week regardless of their economic status.  They always went to church on Sunday.  Regardless of who they were or how much they owned, they could see beautiful statues and domed ceilings every week.  But gradually as society has become less religious and as religious buildings have begun to match their urban surroundings more and more, this source of beauty has faded as well.

Notre Dame, Montreal interior
They don’t build ’em like they used to, do they?

This has caused detrimental effects on our mental health as studies have shown.  This is one of the reasons why urban environments are a greater mental health risk than rural ones.  Without the beauty of nature we’re left with whatever the cities can or can’t provide.  Of course, the drab monotony of the city has an effect on our workplace productivity too.

Fortunately, life finds a way.  Though many of the traditional ways we’ve expressed beauty throughout society have faded, several of them are making a resurgence and new methods are appearing too.  With smartphones we have access to all of the classic books of literature in our pockets.  With gigapixel cameras and websites like 360 cities we can tour architectural and natural marvels without the costs of travel.  As museums digitize their contents, we can see the relics of our past from across the world.  As VR technology develops and becomes more mainstream this will only expand.  As we realize the importance of our surroundings on our productivity and well-being, traditional office layouts are being redesigned into more open concepts with a focus on aesthetics again.  That’s why so many modern office buildings are doing away with the drab row of cubicles lit by fluorescent lights and replacing them with natural lighting and greenery alongside more character and personalization for employee workstations.  Beautiful web design is replacing the clunky boxes of the past as we realize that beauty helps our companies stand out of the crowd.  We’re realizing that not only does beauty have a purpose in the professional world, but that it helps make every aspect of both our professional lives and our life at home that little bit better.

So all in all, I’m pretty hopeful for beauty.  We’ve realized that it’s necessary in the modern world, we’ve seen that without it mental health issues rise, and in response we’ve begun rebuilding society to include the beautiful once more, whether that’s through new techniques and technologies or by reinviting nature back into our cities.  We’ve realized the age-old truth that beauty should not be a privilege of the rich but a gift for the world.  For as Dostoevsky says, “Beauty will save the world.”

Social MediaTechnologyUncategorized

geometric panda head

The office has two 3D printers, not just any 3D printers, these were built by our CEO himself. We decided we wanted to print everything we could think of. We wanted to see how the printers would hold up, how successful the outcome was and what kind of things we could make!

A Phone Stand

Phone standphone stand with phone

The phone stand took a total of 6 hours to print. This is super functional if you are a frequent Facetimer and constantly find yourself propping your phone on a pillow. You can use it to watch movies on your phone, or keep your phone in a super functional position while at your computer.

Geometric Wall Hanging

geometric panda head

The sky’s the limit when it comes to 3D printing. Next we printed a cool decoration to add some life to the office. This also took a total of 6 hours to print. If you’re looking to add decorations to your house 3D printers are an amazing tool, you can print out exactly what you like, the color and size, depending how big the printer is. Which brings me right into our next print job.

Dog Figurine

dog figurine Dog figurine

This one quickly became a favorite. Anyone would love having a super cute dog to look at while you work! If you’re not a dog person, a cat can be printed up just as easily and as cute. Even though it may not look like it, the dog is actually quite small for size, standing only a little taller than the phone stand, it fits nicely into anyone’s hand, even small children.

A Cookie Cutter

cookie cutter

The cookie cutter has been printed many times by us before and for good reasons! It takes about the same time as the others to print, and is a great gift to give to others. If you’re wondering if we’ve tried it out, we have in fact and it worked just as expected, perfect. The last, but definitely not least print job is by far the most ridiculously fun.

Finger Soccer

finger soccer

Yes, you can in fact 3D print games! Who would have thought? While a tournament has yet to be played we pulled the finger soccer fresh off the printer today just to get amazing pictures of it. It’s super fun and comical.

3D printers have so many uses, from pure entertainment, to super handy, to adding life to your office. Next to be printed is Barbie furniture, more pandas, of course and definitely more games. We are proud to say the printers haven’t had trouble, yet (the Barbie furniture itself will test new limits on the printers) and the outcome of each job was better than expected. Follow us along on Facebook and Instagram  to see new projects and how our journey continues.

BloggingEducationProductivitySelf-ImprovementSEOSocial MediaTechnology

job application tips

So you’re looking for a new job.  Maybe you’re just entering the work force and ready to put your fresh knowledge into action. Or maybe you just need a new start or a change in careers. It can be difficult for anyone to stand out from the crowd when you send in your application. But with these 4 tips you’ll be able to spark interest with your potential employer and possibly score an interview.

Cover letters aren’t optional

cover letter

Please don’t skim over the area to add a cover letter. Although some job posting say ‘cover letter optional’ this shouldn’t be the case in applicants minds. The chances you will be rejected almost immediately are quite high if you avoid adding a cover letter. Especially if the job posting specifically asks for one. A cover letter should show your personality. It’s your opportunity to talk yourself up without shame. Employers love to see personalized applications, it keeps you fresh in their mind and most importantly stand out from other applicants. Add why you are a good fit for the position, address the employer specifically rather than “to whom it may concern.” Let your personality shine. Tell your strengths, if you are outgoing, love learning new things, have talents that have served you well or could serve you well for the job, this is your chance to include them all.

Grammar

Grammar

If you wouldn’t want grammar mistakes in your reports to clients, college assignments, or Facebook posts then don’t allow them in your cover letter or resume. Attention to detail is included in most job descriptions. Employers want to know you are taking your time and doing your best.. Your resume is a short preview of the kind of worker you are, the effort you put into your work and the value you have for making a good impression when it matters most. Always double check your resume and fix mistakes even if it’s in the final draft stages. It’s noticeable when time and effort are put into an application.

Follow Instructions

Following instructions

Nothing is more frustrating for hiring managers when instructions are added to a job posting and they simply aren’t followed. If it asks for a short description of why you think you are a good fit for the job, add it. Say a cover letter is requested, please include a cover letter. Or maybe instead of clicking ‘apply now’ you need to send it straight to an email. If you really want the job it will make a world of difference to your employer if you can follow their instructions.

Be a Human

Be human

Well of course you’re human. Sometimes we get so caught up in making lists of things we are good at or the experience we have, we forget to be personal. If your resume is boring you, it’s probably 10 times more boring for your employer. Okay maybe not 10 times, but it will be a lot less interesting for the person reading it than it is for you. A well formatted resume is a way of adding personality rather than a blank page with a bunch of lists. It’s okay to use a template, but be sure to customize it to be your own. Don’t worry about making a lengthy resume with every single skill you obtain, but customize for the position you want. A quick tip, add where you can find examples of your work . If you’re a photographer, include your social media accounts, so they can get to know your style and you better.

It can be tough to stand out during the application process but these few things will go a long way with employers. Don’t let to the process discourage you, and definitely don’t take job rejection personally. Apply to each job seeing it as a fresh start and a new opportunity for your career.

BloggingEducationSEOTechnologyUncategorizedWeb Development

Improve Your SEO

Everyone wants to be seen and heard, but when everyone wants to be seen that means almost no one is. In case you got lost at the title, I’ll briefly explain what exactly SEO is.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization which is the process of getting more quantity and quality traffic to your website through the free, organic, or natural search results on search engines.

This of course is something you want for your business, free, organic, natural traffic. We’ll dive into some tips you can practice to achieve good SEO on your website.

1. Create Relevant Content

Blog content

Did you know the amount of time people spend on your website affects your SEO? This means, you want to put out content that people will want to read. Ideally content with more words does better than those with fewer words. But this doesn’t go to say that a post with 2,000 words will do better than one with 500. Pay attention to the quality and relevancy of your posts as this is what makes the biggest difference. The idea behind “the more words the better” is that, you have more space to add keywords, add more outbound links and get people spending more time on your page.

2. Add Quality Photos

good quality photos

Adding photos increases the legitimacy of your website. You can easily find high quality photos for free or take your own pictures for your website. Make sure when adding photos to add keywords to the various components of the image. Such as the file name, alt text, title, description, and caption. Images are processed 60,000 times faster than text and 65% of people are visual learners. Images hold a tremendous amount of value for readers and SEO.

3. Readability

Readability

To make posts inviting to viewers always try to break up text with headers. Just think, if you click a link that is only somewhat interesting to you and are greeted with a huge block of “mono tone” looking text, the chances of you sticking around are pretty slim. The title would have to be extremely compelling for you to read past the first sentence. Don’t give your readers “Mount Everest” type of  content to tackle. What I mean by this is, you can have a heavy or highly informative topic to write about but if you just lay it all on your readers you will overwhelm or even lose them. Break up your text with images, headers, and shorter paragraphs to avoid exhausting or boring readers. To give your SEO a boost try adding keywords into your headers. The easier your content is to read the better you will rank.

4. Mobile Optimization

Mobile Optimization

Back in 2015 Google started penalizing websites that aren’t mobile friendly by pushing them down in search engine rankings. In fact, taking a look at some statistics on just how many website visits were from mobile devices in 2018, 58% were from mobile devices. This number just keeps jumping each year, if your website isn’t mobile friendly good chance you are also seeing a high bounce rate. If you are a B2B marketer mobile optimization is especially important. 77% of executives use their smartphones to research a product or service for their business.

5. Website Speed

Website Speed

Search engines pay attention to your websites loading speed. The chances of users leaving your site increases if they have to wait  longer than 7 seconds for pages to load. Try optimizing the size of your images, larger images can slow down your page. Reduce the number of plugins, the more plugins you have the more resources are needed to run them which slows down your website. The recommended loading speed for your website is under 3 seconds. Since so many websites fall short of the recommended speed, you will have an advantage on your competitors if you increase your website speed.

There are many aspects to SEO but making these few changes will increase your search engine ranking and drive more traffic to your website.

BloggingMarketingSelf-ImprovementSocial MediaTechnologyUncategorized

Social media engagement

Instagram is a visual platform, its important to catch a persons eye and quickly. Having a cohesive feed and a impressive bio is great, but you may need more than just that to make people stick around. So here’s some tips on how to get more engagement on your account.

Post consistently

Schedule

Its difficult for your followers to appreciate your content if they never see it. Make a schedule of when you are going to post, and plan your content. Include captions as well as the time, because posting at the right times is a game changer for your engagement. You can use apps like Buffer to schedule your content, this includes your image, caption, time and location. Posting regularly increases the legitimacy of your account. Many times users will bounce if the last post you shared was December 2017.

Respond to all comments

Comments

Yes, even (especially) the negative ones. Instagram has added a nice feature that you can now like comments, this is the least you can do to show appreciation for a comment. Try to make time to authentically respond to comments it makes your followers feel heard, and valued. Think how you feel when you comment on an account you admire or inspires you and they comment back. It’s a good feeling, you feel like you were important enough for them to read and respond to your comment no matter how busy they may be. Give that love back to your fans! In order to increase your engagement you need to be social too, leave comments on accounts other than your own.

Always use images

Pictures

This applies to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, as Instagram won’t let you post without a photo. Tweets with images get 150% more engagement than those without. Images capture more attention than just text or a link. Don’t just add any picture, post ones that are relevant to increase your engagement.

Ask questions

Questions

Include questions in your captions, it’s a fun way to encourage your followers to leave a comment. Ask fun and simple questions, for example ask about which they prefer, Apple or Android, if they are early risers or like to sleep in. These questions are super easy to ask, people can answer without really having to think about the answer. Where as a question that requires a long thought out detailed response, or that is too complicated to answer in just a short comment may not be the ones you want to start with. If your audience is really good with engaging, you can occasionally ask more detailed questions!

Use Emojis

Emoji

Using emojis on your social media accounts will result in higher engagement, but don’t use just any random emojis. Using certain ones will also increase your engagement. The smiley face can boost interaction by 25% whereas the grimacing emoji can boost it by 138%. Using emojis you will see an increase in your likes, comments and shares. This trick is really simple to experiment with and doesn’t require much extra work.

Get more followers

Followers

The more followers you have the more engagement you will most likely get from them. All things leading up will help you get more followers but an account with 100 followers compared to an account with 10,000 will get more interactions. Social media can be a numbers game but the quality of your content is the most important aspect of your posts.

 

Social media platforms are incredibly useful tools to help increase visibility for your business. It can although be challenging to get yourself noticed, these tips will help you become more legitimate on social media platforms so that your audience will begin to be more social.