News

Custom mugs – “You’re on mute” for Zoom meetings

Design, News, Print on demand

2020 has been a long year for us all, and most of us have spent an awful lot of time on Zoom meetings. That seems especially strange when you think this time last year many of us hadn’t even heard of it! Most of us have had to tell colleagues and friends “You’re on mute” hundreds of times in some cases, while silently eye rolling, and as the months have rolled by I’d been mulling over 2 things:

1. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just have a custom mug with “You’re on MUTE” printed on it, and …

2. is it ok to day drink if it’s in a mug? Kidding! Although there have been days when it’s been tempting!!

Anyway, I had to scratch the itch, and had also been intending to set up some kind of print on demand shop this year. So I’ve quickly created this custom mug which I will be merrily drinking my tea (see!) out of during Zoom meetings in 2021. Click here if you want to buy one too.

Print on demand mugs

I’ve had a few ideas over the years of things I’d like to get printed, both for myself and also to turn into saleable products, so I’ve been wanting to learn about Print on Demand services for a while. Having just dipped my toe in the water I’m intending to write a blog post about the topic in 2021. For this mug I’ve used Printful.com as after a bit of google searching and some quick test on a couple of websites it was the one that seemed to offer the best and quickest set up experience. I’ve ordered one of my Zoom mugs to test the process, so now I’ll wait for it to arrive….

Custom mugs uk

However I’d really like to find a UK custom mugs supplier so I’ll keep researching to see what I can find. Of course if you can recommend one then let me know!

Training pace calculator

Apps, News

Maybe you’ve taken up running during the COVID19 pandemic, so many people have started running training while gyms are shut. With many of us working from home your lunch break, or the time you would have been commuting, can now be used to get out for a run. So now you’ve got the running bug you might be starting to think about trying to run a certain distance, or improving your running training to run a distance faster. Rather than doing a load of maths, try Pace Me our simple training pace calculator. You can use it as a :

  • 5km pace calculator
  • half marathon pace calculator
  • 10km pace calculator
  • marathon pace calculator

At the moment it is a very simple app, that just shows you your 5km, 10km, half marathon, and marathon times if you run at the pace selected. However we are currently working on an upgrade that will make it more useful as a training pace calculator. Download it for iOS here, and keep your eyes open for updates soon.

running pace calculator app

Some people like to work in minutes per mile, some like to keep a track of their running pace in minutes per kilometre – this pace calculator app let’s you see both. By adjusting the slider to your current, or target running pace, you can see your predicted :

  • 5km race time
  • 10 km race time
  • half marathon race time
  • marathon race time

… will be.

Running pace calculator – target heart zones

We are soon to be releasing a new upgraded version which will also show you your target heart rate zones and your running pace times to help you run faster. As you start reading running training guides you’ll read about going on tempo runs and threshold runs. Which is lovely and all, but how do you know what your tempo run pace should be?! The new version of the Pace Me running calculator will work it all out for you after you enter a few key bits of info.

Tracking your running pace

You might also be wondering how you know how fast you’re running, if you are new to all of this. You can just do it the old school way, and time your run with a wrist watch. As long as you know how far you’ve run you can work out how long on average each kilometre took you. But it won’t show you your split times (the time you took to run each kilometre). And you won’t know what your heart rate was during your run, which can really help with your running training.

You can use an app on your smart phone to track your run, Strava being one of the most well known. But there are plenty of others that do similar – Nike+, MapMyRun, Garmin. However, I do love the way Strava shows your time compared to others along certain segments and it also tells you when you’ve just run a half mile PR for example. That’s along with full split time, analysis. If you want to know your heart rate then you’ll need to either get a heart rate monitor which you wear around your chest, or a sports training watch which can also measure your heart rate.

Running heart rate data & maps

A few years back everyone was talking about Garmins and Apple watches but I found a Tom Tom sports watch which I have loved and still use to this day. It not only let’s me track my runs, and heart rate, but also enables you to store music on the watch and listen using bluetooth headphones – no phone needed! When you get back from your run you sync the watch with a Tom Tom app on your phone. Then you can see the full map of where you ran, the distance, heart rate and full analysis. I have the multi sport version so can also swim and cycle, track gym workouts too. It also tells you your resting heart rate, hours of sleep, and of course steps. It genuinely has blown me away what it does for the money, and there’s lots it does that I haven’t described here. I think the model may have been upgraded a bit since I bought it, but here is a link to the product on Amazon, along with an overview of lots of other sports watches.

I also have it set up to automatically upload each run to Strava, so I get the benefits of what Strava has to offer too. So, using this data you can see how fast you’re running and what your current running pace per km is – then use the Pace Me running training calculator, set the slider to your current pace and then you can see what your predicted race times will be at your current pace. In the next upgrade you will also be able to get your target tempo and threshold running paces to help you with your running training.

Have you got any other ideas of what you’d like me to include in the next release of the app? Please email suggestions to hello@brainstormcreative.co.uk.

Google fonts with a beautiful ampersand – what’s up with Baskerville?

Design, News, Website Design, Wordpress

I spent some time recently working on a couple of website designs that could really use a little design flourish, and I thought styling the ampersand would be just enough. Looking back to an old bit of code I knew you could usee CSS to style your special ameprsands, render them in Baskerville styled in Italic and hey presto….. wait what? This doesn’t look so good anymore, what the heck is up with Baskerville.

After trawling the web for a while I *think* I have found the answer – Baskerville is now called ‘Libre Baskerville’ in the Google font library, so changing your css font-family reference from “Baskerville” to “Libre Baskerville” fixed it up. For a couple of great references on styling beautiful ampersands I’d recommend these resources.

https://johndjameson.com/blog/ampersands-and-google-fonts/

My Top 30 Fonts with the Sexiest Ampersands

Speed Up WordPress With Hosting & Caching Changes

News, Wordpress

I wrote an article last year about how to speed Woocommerce up. It’s turned out to be a pretty popular post, but as with everything online things have moved on and it feels like the right time for an update. WordPress is great but the number one complaint you hear is ‘WordPress is slow!’ – it doesn’t have to be, and here’s our advice on how to speed up WordPress making 2 simple changes – optimise your hosting and cache your content.

Change Your WordPress Hosting

You need to start by figuring out if your hosting is part of the problem. This website is hosted on a server managed by Names.co.uk Siteground. We have used WP Engine in the past for some clients who preferred that as a hosting option, and Dreamhost has also come highly recommended. (Incidentally here is an article from WP Engine – How Site Speed Affects Your Business).

Use Google PageSpeed Insights to check a variety of issues on your website, including server response time. Server response time measures how long it takes to load the necessary HTML to begin rendering the page from your server, subtracting out the network latency between Google and your server.

If it looks like your server response time is slow then this is the single most important thing you can change to speed up your WordPress website.

If you find your hosting is lacking there’s plenty of good hosting companies out there that you can move your website to, and the market has changed a bit in recent years with the emergence of companies like WP Engine and Dreamhost and Siteground. WP Engine provide hosting just for WordPress websites and aims to deliver super fast hosting whilst dealing with a lot of the configuration for you. They provide caching and a CDN and handle updates for you so if you’re a ‘not so techy’ WordPress website owner this could be the best solution for you to speed up your WordPress website. With plans starting from $29 (£18) per month and a 60 day money back guarantee you can’t really go wrong giving it a go! WordPress Hosting with WPEngine.com →


SPEEDUP-250x250-v1
$50 off shared hosting

Caching Your Content – Pre-Making Your Sandwiches!

So what is caching? The simplest way I can think of describing it is this – Imagine walking into a cafe and ordering a sandwich, waiting for someone to slice the bread, and make the sandwich. Compare that to walking in to the same cafe, ordering the same sandwich but being handed it straight away, so you hand your money over and off you go. You’re already half way down the street while the other guy is still waiting for his bread to be buttered. Are you still with me?!

If you’re confused, what I’m saying is you need to pre-make your web pages.

WordPress stores all your page and post content in a database, and every visitor to your website that asks to see one of your pages is making the WordPress elves scurry off to find all the bits of data and assemble them into a page. Imagine 20 visitors ask for the same page this afternoon, if that’s a page you only update once a month then why would you do that? It would be much more sensible to have a pre-assembled version ready to show each of them wouldn’t it? ANd then if you made a change to that content you’d just rebuild that version and so on. Well, that’s caching your pages!

There are several well known caching plugins that have been around for a number of years and while they do a great job they are pretty complicated and awkward to set up and use. And then WP Rocket walked into my life a few months ago and all that changed. It’s not free, but you get what you pay for, remember! You download it, install and configure it in less time than it takes to put the kettle on. Seriously, just by activating the plugin you are caching your pages. It is amazing! Visit the WP Rocket website →

Hacking M.E.D.I.C With The Wellcome Trust & Open Data

News, Website Design

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join a great group of people at a Rewired State hack event for the Wellcome Trust. On a beautiful morning in London we were given access to a tonne of open science data and asked to show the Wellcome Trust what could be done with it.

Pretty quickly our team joined together with the idea to build a monitoring system for Intensive Care. Currently the existing monitoring equipment is plugged into a network and the data is saved (not everywhere, but increasingly so). We asked ourselves the question “what could we do if we centralised all that data?”. Our team included a couple of data analysts and they started discussing the possibility of finding ‘usefulness’ within the data. “Would we find any patterns in terms of vital statistic changes and mortality rates?”.mockup

Having access to this data is AMAZING not only because we can learn so much from it, but because we can DO so much with it.

So we set to it, the devs building the frontend and the framework, and the ‘data guys’ crunched numbers. It was so exciting when they started to realise that they had found some potential clues in the data – certain numbers changing in a certain direction seemed to point towards higher probability that the patient would die.

By combining the two ideas we came up with MEDIC – Monitoring & Early Detection in Intensive Care. We would pipe all of that live data into a central database and show a live representation of that patient on a screen so all their vital stats are instantly visible and instead of a zillion alarms going off if something does start to go wrong there would be one centralised alarm. This would reduce the possibility of alarm saturation, the phenomenon where so many alarms go off in the intensive care unit that they start to lose their significance.

By tying that together with the results of the data analysis, an algorithm, we could change the status of any of those patients to ‘warning’ should their stats be showing signs that from the historical data suggest their condition is likely to worsen soon.

A summary of the project can be found here – we were very proud to be awarded the Open Research prize.

I have to say we were really excited by the possibilities of this, having access to this data is AMAZING not only because we can learn so much from it, but because we can DO so much with it. Thank you fellow team members (Allen Lin, Ben Webb, Emily Christy, Florian Rathgeber, John Sandall, Matt Shawkat, Tom Pollard), thank you Rewired State and thank you Wellcome Trust. What a great weekend.

Showing The Active Page With The WordPress Menu Walker

News, Wordpress

Just the same as many other WordPress developers when it came to building and modifying themes I really needed to be able to customise the menu. I found a few tutorials on extending the WordPress Walker to add a button description, most notably this one by Kriesi but I couldn’t find too much about showing the active page.

To start with what is the Walker class? I’ll let the WordPress Codex explain:

The Walker class encapsulates the basic functionality necessary to output HTML representing WordPress objects with a tree structure. For instance, pages and categories are the two types of objects that the WordPress 2.2 code uses the Walker class to enumerate.

There are two parts to getting this to work. Firstly including the code in the custom menu walker class to ensure the correct WordPress classes are assigned to your button. WordPress already adds a unique class to the active item, we just need to make sure it is also added in our class.


$classes = empty( $item->classes ) ? array() : (array) $item->classes;
$class_names .= in_array("current_page_item",$item->classes) ? ' active' : '';
$class_names = ' class="'. esc_attr( $class_names ) . '"';
$output .= $indent . '<li id="menu-item-'. $item->ID . '"' . $value . $class_names .'>';

The second part is simply to add the appropriate style to our css file:


#menu-main li.active{
 border-bottom: 4px solid #00CCFF;
}

And that is it 🙂

If you’d like a copy of the full navigation class shoot me an email and I’ll send you the file.

A Weekend Working With Hondas Cultural Engineers

News

I spent last weekend working with 22 other developers and creatives from around the country and most of Hondas Cultural Engineers. It was a privilege to be involved in this fantastic event – ‘Power Of Minds’ run by Rewired State and Honda’s Dream Factory.

My team (Matthew Applegate, Sym Roe, Kevin Fong, Emily Christy) came up with BikeAlert which was one of 4 projects to be selected to go forward for public voting. We won the design category and will shortly be available for the public to vote for it to receive some funding from Honda to take the idea further. In a nutshell this was our design concept.

  • Each year over 40% of the many cycling accidents (many fatal) can be attributed to a single problem – a large vehicle turning left and being unaware of a cyclist in their blind spot.
  • BikeAlert aims to solve this problem.

Each bike would be fitted with a tiny transmitter uniquely encoded to only interact with the BikeAlert receivers. The receiver (in the vehicle) can see the signal and knows a bike is is very close and potentially in a dangerous position.

Sensors take over for further positional data along with integration with on board speakers for further positional information which crucially is not distracting for the driver. The receiver would also tie in with road accident data to provide simple but vital warnings to the driver.

Update

We won a prize from Honda to try and develop the idea further! When there is more news we will update this blog.