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14 Oranges is the proud mobile app developer and sponsor of the Entrepreneurial Development Conference and Expo, being held in Halifax on April 28-29, 2017.

The event is going to bring together some of the sharpest minds in business to share learnings to help business grow in Atlantic Canada. As such, I’m humbled to be speaking on the panel about Marketing Your Business at 7:45am on April 29th, and sharing insights on how mobile has driven audience engagement for governments, associations and businesses.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Does Website Speed Matter?

I am hearing more, and more about website page speed lately, so I decided to do a little digging. I have lots of experience optimizing websites for speed on a variety of hosting environments, but in the past the requests for speeding up the site always came from customer requests or moreover complaints that their site was slow. Increasingly, I am seeing recommendations from the gurus of the interweb, a.k.a. Google and to a lesser extent Yahoo, that you should really spend some time speeding up your site. The devil’s advocate inside me says, “Oh yeah, why?”

So being pragmatic, I am going to ask the most important question of all:

If I speed up my website will I get more business?

So like anyone these days, if I have a question, and I need an answer, “Google it,” right?

So I cut and pasted that question into Google’s search box, and apparently it is a very popular topic. The results page was chock full of ‘6 ways to improve your site speed’ and ‘top 7 ways to make your wordpress site faster’. These are marketing pieces aimed at high keyword density, generally speaking, and not a lot of help. I already know these SEO tips, and how to increase site visibility in Google rankings. I also already know HOW to make sites load faster, I am trying to determine if it’s really worth it in the end.

Step 2 do a little more research.

I started pouring over analytics and research studies and found the following:

  • Mobile pages that are 1 second faster experience up to 27% increase in conversion rate
  • Sites taking longer than 3 seconds to load see a massive increase in bounce rate.

So put simply if my site takes more than 3 seconds to load people are going somewhere else and if I can speed up my site by 1 full second I will likely increase my sales (conversions) by nearly a third.

WOW

Note that here we are also talking about mobile.

This is where it starts to get interesting. Smartphone adoption is one of the biggest factors in the increase in importance for page speed. Smart phones and tablets account for more than half of the web traffic worldwide with more than 2.6 billion smartphone users. Mobile devices encourage speediness twofold; users are frequently accessing apps that have near instant response times so they expect instant web responses and mobile device data connections are often slower than traditional WiFi networks.

Ok so now things are starting to get a bit more clear. If the majority of traffic to your site is mobile, and mobile pages that load quickly increase conversions, it seems pretty clear I should make my site sprint like Usain Bolt for those all important mobile users.

So now what?

Ok, so I know pagespeed is important in conversion, so I want to make sure our site loads lighting quick. So at this point I need to find out if our site is already fast or sluggish. How do I test this you ask!?

I turn to our good friends over at GT.net for the win! (#FTW)

GT Metrix

There are a whole bunch of tools out there to measure page speed and they all tell you pretty much the same thing with slight variations. Most of the tools are pretty techy and require some skills to get them running. But GT Metrix is a bit different. You just type your website’s domain name and in click ‘Analyze’. GT Metrix does a whole bunch of magic stuff and comes back with a report card. Don’t be shocked with the first result, think of the report card like the first calculus test you took in first year university;you hadn’t realized you probably should do the homework on this one so the first test stings a bit.

This card gives you a nice snapshot of how well you are doing including your rank on Google’s pagespeed tools, Yahoo!’s YSlow tools as well as the general size of your site and how long it took to download.

Once you see these numbers you will instantly know if this is something you should be evaluating. If you are ranking less than 60% on either page speed or yslow and or your page load time is greater than 3 seconds (see above about bounce rate), you NEED to start talking to your web developers and the company that hosts your website.

Many of the issues you will find are present in the code, and are not a server problem.

Let me give you an example of a common mistake.

A request goes out for www.myslowsite.com/.

The web server says, “hey! you want the homepage? Here you go!” and sends back an html page to the browser. The browser grabs it, and starts breaking it down.

It finds some stylesheets in the head of the browser, so it fires of requests to the server to get those files. Then it starts putting together the page (note the end user still hasn’t seen anything). While it’s putting together the page, next it runs into a javascript file, and it is what we call render blocking. Let me explain how that works.

The browser, upon reaching the javascript file, now says, “STOP!”. It can’t keep building the page until this Javascript file is run. So another request fires off for the javascript file and everything stands still waiting. (another note, end user STILL HASN’T SEEN ANYTHING). Hmmm …. that doesn’t sound very user friendly, does it? The browser has almost everything it needs to paint the page now, but can’t do anything until the javascript file gets back to the browser and runs.

But wait maybe that javascript file is super important right?!

Good chance, it’s not. It could be your analytics script or a script used to validate a form on the page. But because it was included in the head of your document and not loaded asynchronously the browser has to sit still and show your potential customer a blank screen while all of this happens. And the worst part is, many websites have this render blocking javascript scenario present 10’s of times on each page. It is pretty normal for that file request to take a few hundred milliseconds. Do the math, and your 3 second max load time target (see stats above) is quickly disappearing.

A very quick evaluation can determine if these problems exist on your site. If they do you need to spend some time and talk to your developers.

If you are greeted by a blank stare when you have this conversation with your web devs, feel free to give us a call at 604-304-0020 or email sales@14oranges.com for an evaluation. Now this is not throwing your current provider under the bus or anything. Many web designers are great at making a website look great, but making it look great and load fast are two very different things.

Our approach is not just to provide your organization with a website, but we understand how to best host and resource it to meet your business goals. Now bear in mind your hosting provider may have blazing fast servers, and your site make look so pretty your wife wants to wear it to a fundraising gala, but if it is not configured correctly and built correctly it will score poorly.

Today, I was attempting to figure out in real world terms if speeding up my website would generate more sales. After sifting through the data it is clear that website goal conversions will increase the faster the site loads. So the takeaway for you is that with a little effort and a small budget allocation towards evaluating and improving page speed, the ROI is right there in front of you.

Contact 14 Oranges today for your free website speed assessment!

One month with an electric car and I am loving it

Knowing that the George Massey Tunnel, the bottleneck on my commute, is being replaced by a super bridge, which will no doubt cause some serious lineups over the next few years, I went in search of an electric car that would lend me a hand. For those of you who don’t know, if you have a qualifying electric vehicle you can take the HOV lanes in British Columbia. More info on this program can be found here.

We opted for a 2017 Kia Soul EV, it is purely electric, not a hybrid. I have had my eyes on the Kia Soul for a while now. It seems it is a bit of a polarizing looking vehicle, you either love or hate it. I love it, and so does my wife, so it was an easy choice. The range is up to 150km on a full charge and it is really consistent and a pleasure to drive. The regenerative braking takes a minute or two to get used to, basically when you let your foot off the gas instead of coasting the vehicle begins to slow down immediately and uses the vehicle’s momentum to recharge the battery.

I commute from Tsawwassen in to Richmond, right by the airport, and do a bunch of running around at night and I have not yet come home below half a charge in a day. My commute to our office is generally 25km plus a few kilometers on either end depending on which route I take. The range is displayed with your charge indicator and seems to be very accurate. I did take it out to the Langley Events centre (approx 52km each way) and back with a bunch of running around and ran it down below a quarter, but it has not been difficult to manage.

The car comes with a standard 120V charger cable that you can plug-in beside your toaster and charges the car in 24 hours. As a bonus, Kia also gives you a rapid charger port, which charges the car in 4 hours, and we had a qualified electrician install it in our garage. This allows me to charge the car for an hour or two after work while I’m having dinner, and I’m finding that the vehicle is almost fully charged if I have to go back out again in the evening.

Charging cable in the storage compartment in the trunk.
24 hours to charge empty to full.

If and when you do run out of juice, there are charging stations all over the place and most are free. I had a good friend with an electric vehicle that gave me some of the info which was helpful. Basically you want to find the various charging companies and sign up for memberships. You have to put a credit card on file but I haven’t found a single one yet that charges you for the electricity or any fees at all, you just have to have the RFID card or app installed and it unlocks the charging station.

Fast Charger – Empty to full in 4 hours

The car is loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles including preset warm/cooling times. So when I get in the car to go to work at 6:30 it was all nice and warm, heated seat and steering wheel etc.

The price has come down on these vehicles, and most provinces and states offer rebates now. The BC Gov, is still offering $5000 back for buying one which Kia was kind enough to do on my behalf. More on this program can be found here.

Cost of ownership

We financed the Soul and my payments are smaller than my previous monthly gas bills were. So basically the car is free!

Ok so yes we do still pay for electricity so to be fair I did some digging. It seems that the stats indicate cost to charge our vehicle from empty to full would be about $3. I did the math on it myself and it looks to be the Souls battery holds 27 kWh and the bc hydro cost is 8.29 cents per kWh. So cost to charge $2.24 empty to full. This works out to $1.49 per 100km. So if I compare that to a super fuel efficient Smart Car which uses 4.9 liters of fuel per $100km or a cost of $5.88 that is a cost savings of $4.39 per 100km or $878.00 in savings over 20,000km of driving.

Oh and I wasn’t driving a SMART car before this, I was driving a 2014 Ford F-150 Ecoboost which was getting about 15 l/100km so the actual cost savings to me is triple that. My cost to commute in the truck versus the EV is 10 times!

Vehicle Cost per 100km
Mercedes-Benz Smart Car $5.88
Ford F-150 Ecoboost $18.00
KIA Soul EV $1.49

So in summary, I have been driving an electric car for more than a month as a daily commuter and I am totally satisfied. I haven’t had any issues with range, it’s saving me both time and money owning it, and it’s good for the environment. I’m sold! Electric cars are not a thing of the future. They are here to stay and they are not just for the super wealthy anymore. (Teslas are awesome but out of my price range.)

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, I would suggest you check out the all-electric options. You may end up as sold on the benefits as I was.

How to build the 55” IKEA Frankenstein Sit and Stand Desk It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

IKEA Bekant Frankenstein

A while back we did a review of the IKEA Bekant Sit and Stand Desk. As you probably know, the IKEA Bekant desk in its standard configuration comes in a 63” width which in our case was too wide for our working cubicles. Too wide by 3” to be exact. When we purchased one we noticed the way it was was built, and figured out that it wouldn’t be too hard to reduce its size, albeit with a few hacks. In this post, we will discuss how we were able to hack the 63” Bekant desk using the IKEA catalog and build a 55” variation of the IKEA Sit and Stand desk which we have dubbed the Frankenstein. Scary sounding, but honestly, it was worth the effort!

1) Purchasing the parts at IKEA

Maybe the most difficult part of this whole process is actually purchasing the parts. It used to be that the parts for the Sit and Stand desk were all in the self-serve area of IKEA so getting them was easy-peasy, but it seems that IKEA keeps changing where they store those items. We figure they don’t like customers buying up inventory generally meant for one purpose and used for another, or maybe they are onto us! I always figured I was being tracked via my iTunes purchases of ABBA’s Greatest Hits …

The first time we did this (yes, we’ve done this a few times), the 55” table top was in self serve and the underframe was available at the pickup area (where you pay for the item first, and then someone brings them to you). That was easy. The second time, both items were in the pickup area so we had to visit a few different clerks and get two order sheets for the pickup area. Looking at their website today, it appears the underframe is now available in self serve but the tabletop is under pickup.

In any case, you need to be a bit clever in order to get what you need. The key is that you have to go twice to see a clerk and request just the item that you need, because (as mentioned previously) they might get wise to the inventory hack you are performing. I suggest you come up with a story that you bought a Bekant before and it got damaged and you just need that part. I mean, come on … didn’t we just beat the Swedes in the Olympics Hockey finals?! I think they owe us this one without getting suspicious.

Once you have the parts, the rest is straightforward as long as you own or can borrow a bench saw,a drill and the right bits for cutting metal (more on that to come).

2) Purchasing the parts at hardware store

Unfortunately because the 55” Bekant tabletop does not have the same hole patterns that are used on the 63” tabletop, we need to buy some screws and a few washers. You will need 12 size 10 – half inch screws.

img_20160401_190235

Just to be clear. They are size 10 (the size of the screw head) and are half inch long. You will also need 12 half inch washers. Note I am not 100% sure of the size. They were in a bulk pile when I picked mine up. Look at the picture for an idea of the size. If you’ve read this far, I’m sure you can figure this out.

img_20160401_190303

You can also use a few tie wraps. 5 to 10 will do. You can substitute other types of restraining straps like twist ties or rubber bands instead if you prefer.

3) Making the cuts

The way the underframe is built, it relies on two long bars that hold the two motors that allow the tabletop to move up and down. By simply shortening those bars, you are effectively reducing the size of the underframe. Everything else (more or less) works per normal.

bars

To make the cuts, you don’t even need to measure anything (well note we are using 55” tabletop. Other sizes might require measurements). You just need to line up the two bars side by side and then slide one of them so that the outside hole lines up with the inside hole (see figure). You then draw a line on the piece you need to cut and you repeat the same exercise for the other end of the second bar.

the-cuts

Make sure you don’t cut the same bar twice because you would then be SOL with one long bar and one short bar. To make the cut, make sure you use a blade that’s designed to cut metal. And safety goggles! Google Glass doesn’t qualify here. Once you have done your cuts, you can use a file to remove any shards.

4) Drilling the holes

Once you have made your cut, you need to drill holes for the bolts. For each side, you will need to drill 2 holes. Those holes are meant for the bolts that hold the motor to the bars A small hole through and through both layers a tad bigger than the size of the thread part of the bolt but smaller than the head of the bold. And then a bigger one for only the top layer of the bar.

the-holes-cross-section

The position of the hole is simply done by matching the position of the other bar’s inside hole.

the-holes

5) Attaching the table to the desk underframe

Once you have your adjusted bars, you can bolt them to the motors just like the regular IKEA instructions tell you to do. You can then bolt the end pieces to the each side of the bars/motor assembly. With the tabletop upside down on the ground, put the middle piece and lower the bars/motor assembly on the underside of the tabletop. Use a small drill bit to drill 16 lead holes (4 per each end sides and 4 for the middle piece). Use a washer and screw per hole to affix the underframe to the tabletop.

img_20161121_080426

6) Putting it all together

You can now plug all the necessary wires and affix the up/down control to the table just like you would on the normal setup. Again follow the IKEA instructions. One of the drawbacks of this setup is that you can’t use the mesh netting provided with the desk to hide all the cables and the power adapter. I use a few tie wraps to affix the power adapter to middle of the middle bar. I use a few twist ties to neatly bundle the excess wires.

img_20161121_080030

7) Voila!

You are now ready to use your IKEA Frankenstein Sit and Stand desk and amaze all your friends.

Cautionary Notes

Since the motors are pretty heavy and that the screws used to affix the underframe to the tabletop are pretty short (and can’t be much longer), be gentle when carrying the table as you don’t want the underframe to come off. It hasn’t happened to us yet but best to be safe and use your fingers to hold the end parts of the underframe when carrying the table.

Electronic voting: Strong authentication is the path to mass deployment

Electronic Voting

Are technologies such as e-Voting and touch-screen voting machines ready for prime time in Canadian elections? I spoke with Spencer Paul on the relatively successful deployment of e-Voting technology in Canada, and how the issues of vote authentication have been handled to date, and how they might be handled in the future. Join us in the consideration of if our trust based approach to date when e-Voting technology is deployed is strong enough, and if the risk of a machine being broken or hacked is worth discarding the tried and tested approach of a folded strip of paper pushed into a ballot box.

Will your job be safe in the age of AI, autonomous vehicles and service kiosks?

HAL

It is very likely that inside of the next 10 years, artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles and service kiosks will be changing the face of the job market. I sat down with Camille Iversen on this weeks edition of BCIT’s Plugged-In to talk about this Brave New World and what jobs will be impacted and what some of the dividends might be. Listen in here.

Looking For A Great Restaurant? We Talk About Restaurant Apps!

Urban Spoon

With Canadian Thanksgiving just behind us and American Thanksgiving fast approaching, it’s time to think about food, and what apps we are using to find restaurants today. For this episode of Evolutions 107.9’s Plugged In, I spoke with BCIT’s Zach Hodder and discussed mobile apps and services for finding and rating restaurants! I even share the story about the time Mario Batali told me what to order in his restaurant in NYC! Tune in and listen to our podcast on Soundcloud.

What do Michael Knight, Dick Tracy and Jean-Luc Picard Have in Common? Wearables!

Dick Tracy

Wearables! With the latest release of the Apple Watch Series 2, our lives are becoming more monitored by the devices that surround us. For this episode of Evolutions 107.9’s Plugged In, I spoke with BCIT’s Nick Czapiewski and discussed the latest Apple Watch and the wearables culture and what it will mean to us in the future! Tune in and find out on Soundcloud.

GMIS Roundup: Greater Efficiency Will Allow Smart Cities to Tackle Social Change

The genius of having a wrap-up event at an airshow is that it punctuated how fast things are moving in the world of civic technology. The U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds made for a very entertaining show on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and GMIS International once again brought to the forefront the speed at which change is occurring.

Taking from the word map produced at the Around the Horn Panel Session, it was clear that the technology trends affecting everyone where mobility and security, and it was openly discussed that this was closely tied the rollout of body cameras for police services.

GMIS-WordMap

Technology has always been tied deeply with social change. Currently the ubiquity of mobile phones now allows the public to capture evidence of social injustice and call upon governments to make change happen. This drive for social change is leading to policy and legislative decisions that will see more police officers wearing body cameras.  Those cameras will be collecting, streaming and storing data at a huge rate, taxing civic networks in a way that has not been previously contemplated.

It will take a smart city to be ready for this challenge.  A number of government services may have to be cut to pay for these social and technology demands, making the burden of finding efficiencies in how government operates all the more important. The Uberfication of government has arrived.  Processes and job roles once thought to be the sacred cows of government, such as data entry specialists and filing clerks are going to get replaced by apps and processes that empower government workers to solve public issues quickly, allowing the internals of government to run more efficiently and afford the costs of social change.

Our contribution to these smart cities is in mobile apps for government field workers.  Inspectors, by-law officers and public works managers can all be connected through a single secure app to the correct permitting forms electronically and conduct their business in an offline or online fashion, and then transact their locally verified data without having to return to their office.  By focusing on the processes that are most frequently conducted in the field, and that often require multiple site visits or multiple applications to be used simultaneously, we can make mobile government workers more efficient.

Contact us – we’ll be glad to walk you through how your mobile government workforce can be more efficient.