Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Reducing Spam On and Off Line

Unfortunately there is no way to completely eliminate unsolicited emails, phone calls, texts and junk mail, but you should be able to significantly reduce it. Companies should not email people who have opted out using the Email Preference Service (EPS), postal mail people who have opted out using the Mail Preference Service (MPS), or call people who have opted out using the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). However, not all companies follow these rules and if you subscribe to a mailing list with the company directly, they are allowed to cotnact you.

There are a number of companies, including Acxiom, Callcredit Marketing Solutions, Dataforce, Eclipse Marketing, Equifax, Experian Integrated Marketing, GB Group, Indicia, Occam, Transactis and Data Locator Group (DLG) that sell their contacts database to other companies for marketing. These other companies should check the opt-out lists held by the services mentioned above and not contact you, if you are on the list. So opting out via EPS, MPS and TPS should reduce the junk and contact you receive. You can also contact the companies that sell your data and ask them to remove you from their databases.

Doing all this can be quite time consuming, but thankfully there are some websites that make it quicker, and easier, for you. will register you with MPS and TPS at the same time. ALLOW will register you with MPS and TPS at the same time, and re-register you every 4 months, so you don't have to keep doing it. ALLOW also emails the companies I mentioned above, on your behalf, and asks them to remove you from their database. However, ALLOW asks you to opt-in to receive marketing from them, although they say they will share any money they make, from your data, with you. I will test that and write a full review another time, but this post is about opting-out. On the ALLOW opt-in page, you choose the topics you are interested in, as well as the ways you are willing to be contacted (direct mail, email, phone etc). Presumably, if you don't tick anything, you can use them to help you opt-out, without actually opting in to anything.

You need to register with the Email Preference Service (EPS) yourself, as and ALLOW can't do it for you.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Adding a Google Custom Search Form Without JavaScript

If you set up a Google Custom Search for your website, on the final step, 'Get Code,' it will give you some JavaScript code to paste into your site's source code.  There are a number of reasons why this may not be possible, including using a CMS that strips JavaScript or having existing JavaScript on your site that conflicts with it, but Google doesn't offer any alternatives on the 'Get Code' page.  It's a bit limited, but the following should work.
After you set up your Google Custom Search, click on 'My search engines' in the left navigation and then click on the name of your search engine. You will be taken to a URL similar to It is the bit after cx= that is unique to your search engine and required for the next step.

Simply paste the following code, where you want the search box to appear, replacing the value in the cx input with the one for your search engine.

<form action="" id="cse-search-box" target="_blank">
<input name="cx" type="hidden" value="018436150521358100921:ih9nk8v0psa" />
<input name="ie" type="hidden" value="UTF-8" />
<input name="q" size="30" />
<input name="sa" type="submit" value="Search" />
This will only work if you want Google to host your results for you. Obviously you can use CSS to style it to fit in with your website's design.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Product Review: Vivitar ViviCam T135 3D Digital Camera

This is a review of the Vivitar Vivicam T135, which I bought last September. The Vivitar website shows better specs, so I assume there is an updated version out now. This review is of the old version, which does not have an optical zoom.

This camera allows you to take the old style 3D photographs, like the one on the right, which you need the red and blue 3D glasses to view, and look very odd without 3D glasses.  There are cameras that let you take the new style 3D photos that look 2D without the grey 3D glasses and 3D with.

The obvious downside of the red-blue 3D photos is how bad they look without the glasses, but the benefit is that with the glasses, you can view them on any screen and even view printed pictures. The other style of 3D photos, known as 'Real 3D' look 2D when printed, in playback on the camera and on most screens, except 3D TVs and 3D digital photo frames.

Now as 'standard' digital cameras go, this one is not great, and not worth the £80rrp, if you are not going to use the 3D.  That said, you can pick it up for £35 plus postage on the price-drop TV channels and it is very light and marginally better than most mobile phone cameras, so if you want a cheap light phone camera alternative, it's probably worth £35, but bear in mind, it is not a decent digital camera, it's just a slightly better phone camera.

The only real reason to buy this camera is for the red and blue 3D, which I've already mentioned has its limitations, but can be quite fun and does have novelty value. 

First the downside; the camera can't take 3D and normal photos at the same time, so if you want one of each, you have to manually switch between modes and take two separate pictures. There's a limit to how good any photos can be, with no optical zoom and 3D photos are no exception. As with all cameras, using the digital zoom can make the photos blurry.

Now onto the 3D... The flash cannot be used in 3D mode, so the photos don't come out well in low light. In good light, when the 3D works, it is good, but sometimes it doesn't quite work.  Sometimes, the photo is mostly in 3D, but one part doesn't quite work, or the whole thing works, but there's still patches of red.  This photo, for example, doesn't quite work, although it was taken at night, and this one has red patches.

For the most part, the 3D does work and if you want 3D photos that you can print, rather than the 'real 3D' photos that you can't, this is a good cheap option, as long as your expectations aren't too high. Below is a normal and 3D shot of Miami, so you can compare the two. Neither is great, because the camera specifications aren't that high, but it should give you an idea of what to expect.

My conclusion is that the Vivitar Vivicam T135 is a cheap (if you can get it for £35) fun novelty gadget and it's worth buying, if that's all you want, but don't expect it to take great photos.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

London Web/Tech Meet Ups

If you're a London based web developer, or work in any internet related job, in London, there are plenty of regular meet ups, where you can meet people in similar jobs and even get free food and/or drink. is a good place to find them, but here is a list of some of the top ones I've been to:

Minibar - 4th Friday of every month.
This is a good place to get a free beer, or wine, while finding out about new web startups and meeting fellow internet professionals. The format is informal networking, followed by 3 or 4 presentations, one from the sponsor and the rest from new starts-ups wanting to showcase their business, then more informal networking. The sponsor puts money behind the bar, but it runs out pretty quickly, so you need to arrive early to get a free drink.

Flag and Bell Pub Crawl - 1st Tuesday of every month.
Originally set up by the founders of, this used to be sponsored and take the format of a quick talk from the sponsor, followed by informal networking. two pubs would be visited and everyone would get at least one free drink in each pub. Now, some of the regulars take it in turns to organise it each months, and it isn't often sponsored, so there's usually no free drinks or talk, but it is a good social night.

Facebook Developer Garage - monthly
As the name suggests, this is a meet up for Facebook Developers, whether you actually develop apps, or just set up pages and adverts etc, for your company.  Tickets are £5-£14, but include beer and pizza. It takes the format beer, pizza and informal networking, followed my talks and presentations, the optional further informal networking in the pub afterwards. There's an interval during the talks, where you can get more beer and pizza.

London Bloggers Meetup - 1st Tuesday of every month.
A sponsored meetup for bloggers, that usually has free drinks. It takes the format on informal networking, followed by presentations from the sponsor and/or bloggers giving tips, followed by more informal networking. Anyone who blogs on any topic is welcome.

There are loads more. Some of them, I've attended in the past, but not recently, so the format may have changed and some I haven't attended yet. As I attend more and become familiar with the format, I will add them. In the meantime, feel free to add your own, in the comments.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Website Review: TopCashBack

Well this is going to be a short review because TopCashBack is a great website. Like all cashback websites, it gives you cashback for your online purchases at various websites. However, the difference between TopCashBack and the others is that TopCashBack gives 100% (and sometimes more) of its commision to you, without taking an admin fee, so the cashback rates tend to be higher.  Quidco also passes on all commision, but it charges an annual admin fee.

Another benefit of TopCashBack is being able to get cashback from other people's transactions, if they don't want to join.  You can give out links to websites that go via TopCashBack,  so the person can either join or let you have their cashback.  For example, TopCashBack are offering £12 for taking up a free trial of Netflix.  Instead of linking directly, like I just did, I could link to If someone clicks Continue on that page, without joining or logging into TopCashBack, I would get the £12 cashback. If they joined TopCashBack, I would get a referral fee, which varies.  You don't need a website to do this, you can just email the URL to friends.

There is a full guide to cashback websites on, so I won't review them all, but I've tried a few and, in my experience, TopCashBack is the best.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Website Review:

Over Christmas, I saw TV adverts for and decided to give it a go, out of curiosity. It is another penny auction site. The basic concept of these types of website is that the price starts at 1p and every time someone bids, the price goes up by 1p. So if only one person bids, items can sell for as low as 1p. However, you have to pay a non-refundable fee (60p plus VAT, in the case of every time you bid.

The TV adverts offered 5 free bids, if you entered a code, and the QuiBids website offered 3 free bids, if you signed up for the newsletter. I figured I'd register, see if I could win anything with my free bids and give up, if not. However, that plan was twarted by the fact that you have to buy a 60 bid pack before you can claim any free bids.  The 60 bid pack cost £36 (plus VAT), so I ended up spending £43.20 just to get started.

I went straight to the iPad auction that was closing in 30 seconds and was at only about £3.  If I'd managed to win, it would have been £43.20 well spent, but I soon realised I'd probably spend all my bids and not win.

In the last 15 seconds, every time someone bids, the clock is reset, until no-one else bids. If you are lucky enough to be the last bidder, when everyone else gives up, you win the item for a ridiculously cheap price, but it's just that: luck. Bidding is effectively the same as buying 60p raffle tickets.

I did jump straight into the iPad auction without reading the beginner's guide, so I read through that and it recommended trying smaller auctions, until you are used to using the site and said that £10 gift cards are the easiest auctions to win, so I tried my luck on a £10 Amazon gift card. I won in 3 bids and the final price was 5p.  Baragin, I thought.  Well, not quite...

I didn't read the small print, on the auction page, which said there was a £3.99 delivery charge.  That was my fault, but when I completed my purchase, I found they also charged 80p tax. I don't know how the tax on 5p can be 80p.  So, my 5p win has gone up to £4.84 in total. If you add on the cost of the 3 bids (£1.80 plus VAT = £2.16), the 5p gift card actually cost me £7, which is less than the £10 it's worth, but not the huge saving it appears to be, when advertised on the QuiBids website as 'recently sold for 5p.'

Looking through the upcoming auctions, I found a £25 Amazon gift card, that also had a £3.99 delivery charge, but was advertising recently sold prices, similar to the £10 cards, so I thought that would be a better bargain, if I could get it.  I won it for 51p, but it took 30 bids (£21.60) to do so.  It also had the 80p tax, so the total purchase price was £5.20, but when you add on the £21.60, my £25 voucher has actually cost me £26.80.

So my conclusion is that and probably all other penny auction sites (I haven't tried any others), just aren't worth it. You won't make the huge savings advertised and you're likely to end up losing money.