I met a Skype representative recently and was asked the question, “do you use Skype”. My answer was “no, but I don’t know why”. And I suspect my answer echoes a lot of other people. Skype offers free video calling world-wide. Even if it’s just to your mum in the next town, it’s still a useful service.
You can also have a landline number allocated to your phone so other people not on Skype can contact you. And if you need to call them, Skype rates are extremely good. Of course most people probably have free calls with their phone package. Using Skype instead of a landline would sound good, but most people are ties to a BT landline because of their broadband. You could, of course, go for cable broadband but the matching phone services with them are so competitive you’re more than likely going to end up on those. All of this changes, however, if you call abroad as Skype then becomes competitive again.
Skype is available on PC, Mac and Linux and pretty much every phone OS worth knowing – Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Symbian. The Windows Phone version is new (probably related to the fact that Skype was recently bought by Microsoft), as is a version for the PlayStation Vita games console. You certainly can’t accuse of Skype of not being available!
So, it offers free video calls to other Skype users and cheap calls to landlines and mobiles around the world, on pretty much any platform you can think of. It offers excellent video and sound quality. Yet, I very rarely use it.
The main reason is that I have few Skype contacts. Skype doesn’t make it easy to find people. A recent “teaming up” with Facebook, however, has integrated Skype into Facebook’s chat service and also given Skype access to your Facebook contacts. This is a start, but I’d really like to see more ways to find people you may know.
But aside from that… why don’t I use Skype? And the fact that I can’t think of an overwhelming reason would suggest that it really is time that I gave it another try.
Those people who pre-ordered their PlayStation Vita from certain retailers would have recieved a special Pre-order Pack as well, as a “thank you” from Sony. They can also be found selling separately on eBay, for instance, so you can still get hold of them if you wish. Because I ordered by Vita from Amazon I got an 8GB memory card instead, which would normally retail at £30. I got hold of the Pre-order Pack via eBay and paid around £15.
The pack is a small box, in which there is… another box (good to know Sony are showing their green credentials here ). The top of this box opens to reveal, neatly presented and on display, a pair of “Vita blue” headphones. These are the in-ear variety and comes with 3 different sizes of tips.
Taking the headphones out there doesn’t appear to be much room for anything else. Indeed, all the other goodies that are promised are unlocked via a code printed on a slip of paper. These provide you with…
£5 discount in the PlayStation Store on any of 4 games – Little Deviants (okay), Hustle Kings (good), Escape Plan (very good) and Super Stardust Delta (excellent)
A free copy of the PS Vita game Frobisher Says. Essentially, it’s the Vita equivalent of WarioWare, where you’re presented with a series of mini-games that you have to perform as quickly as possible. This is a good demonstrator, I have to say, of the Vita’s various control methods and is quite an addictive game.
Some PS Vita items for PlayStation Home on the PS3. I’ve not really used PlayStation Home myself, it hasn’t really appealed but I believe these are simply virtual items that your avatar can use.
A PS Vita avatar – download it and use it as your account avatar!
Of course, the main item are the headphones and these aren’t too bad. The wires from the 2 ear pieces meet up a little too soon for my liking and the only way to extend this is to tear the cable apart – I much prefer the moveable toggle approach that other headphones use. They fit well, not as snuggly as others and the sound, again, is okay. And I guess that’s the overall conclusion of them – they’re okay and nothing special. Of course, if you needed a set to keep with your Vita then a matching set is always nice!
Summary of PlayStation Vita Pre-order Pack
As a freebie, you can’t complain, and the headphones are an okay, if not spectacular, matching accessory. If you’re going to pay for it, though, don’t spend too much. One last thing – you can only redeem the items until the end of August 2012. If it’s after then, you’ve only got a pair of headphones!
If you have a need to add your site’s current PageRank to a page or post (for example, you may have a page for the media/PR on which you may wish to highlight it), the following piece of code, added to your theme’s functions.php file, will achieve just that.
All you have to add in a post or page is add [pagerank] wherever you wish the PageRank to appear.
To achieve this, the code uses the site Prapi.net to retrieve the information. The result is cached for 24 hours so as not to inflict on site performance.
You can change the caching time by modifying the number 86400 (which represents the number of seconds to cache for). If you wish to change the name of the shortcode, then simply change that on the final line.
On Saturday I attended BlogCampUK, a free workshop for bloggers. Organised by Tots100 it was, understandably, full of “mummy bloggers”. Indeed, of the 120 bloggers there, I suspect about 4 were men (when assembled in a single room it was like playing “Where’s Wally” when looking for the male contingent). All of this meant that there was a lot of cake. However, none of that (why would it?) detracted from what a great day it was.
There were a number of workshops throughout the day – often 3 at the same time, so you’d have to carefully pick which you wished to attend. I can only really speak for those I attended, so here’s a quick breakdown of what I attended, what I thought of each and the odd assortment of embedded presentations and some photos from the day…
Session 1 – Get Inspired
Okay, for the first session there was only one choice and it was how to get inspired, a brilliant talk with Muireann from Bangs and a Bun. There were some excellent suggestions on how to create a better blog and the talk, although 45 minutes long, never dragged. Certainly a good start to the day.
Session 2 – How to Be a Snark
Possibly the reason I went in the 1st place and it really hadn’t mattered what other workshops were being run at the same time – this was the one I was always going to attend. This was presented by Stuart Heritage, a writer from the Guardian. I’ve followed him for some time on Twitter and are a big fan. Indeed, I only knew about BlogCampUK after Stuart mentioned it on Twitter last year.
And, I have to say, he got a rough ride. “Mummy bloggers” they may be, but they took no prisoners, and it was all the more funny for it. My favourite was the person who wasn’t sure what a “snark” was and, after it was explained to her, stated “well, why would you want to be like that? It’s not nice.”
This workshop, if you can’t guess, it how to sarcy and snide but not be nasty. As another attendee has said, it wasn’t the most beneficial workshop as far as content was concerned, but it certainly amusing and gave some pause for thought.
One of the other session 2 workshops was hosted by Phil Szomszor, advising bloggers on self-hosting. I spoke with him beforehand, suggesting that if anybody has any WordPress technical questions that they direct them to me. He was more than happy to and, indeed, I was questioned later by one of the attendees.
After this session we had lunch, during which I chatted to Stuart, who appreciated some male company!
Session 3 – Making the most of your camera
An excellent workshop by John Arnold on how to take better photos. Although I have a DSLR, I always use it on the “auto” setting. I want to do more but find manuals a little dry – John cut through this to better explain what a lot of the technical terms actually mean (not in words, but in a practical sense) so I can now more confidentially switch off that auto selection and try things a little more advanced.
An alternative workshop was taking place during this on “Beginning SEO” with Lee Smallwood, an online marketing consultant.
This was a workshop about recent Google changes and use of the “nofollow” flag, presented by Ruth Arnold from geekmummy and Lee Smallwood. I didn’t know much about it and wasn’t expecting a huge amount but this was the one that had me thinking the most.
In a nutshell, Google are clamping down on sites (including blog sites) that contain sponsored links that don’t use the “nofollow” tag. This tag tells the search engines that the link isn’t worth pursuing and it doesn’t affect your PageRank as a result. If Google catch you they will often strip you of your essential PageRank.
If you’re a WordPress user, then adding a “nofollow” is relatively easy. When editing a post, click on the “HTML” tab and find the link in question. It will probably be something like this…
<a href="example.com">click here</a>
Simple add rel="nofollow after the link, as follows…
Now Google (and others) will be instructed not to follow the link. Alternatively, there are many plugins available from WordPress.org that will make the above easier or even “blanket” your external links with “nofollow” by default. Personally, I’m avoiding the latter as the majority of my external links are genuine and are of genuine interest.
However, I’m very guilty of adding sponsored links and not having used this tag. I’ve therefore got quite a bit of work to do, including going back over agreements to see what I can and can’t do (I suspect some sponsors have insisted that I don’t use “nofollow”, in which case I have a difficult decision to make). I’m in the middle of defining rules for advertising on my site and this will give me the opportunity to set this for future – i.e. clearly defined sponsorship disclosers and “nofollow” on sponsored links. I’m also going to have to review guest posts as well.
Although there was no set agenda it was initially taken over by queries coming from Session 4 – in particular the naughty agencies that have insisted on bloggers not using “nofollow” (since attending BlogCamp I’ve started adding “nofollow” to my advertising links and have already had an issue with one company insist that I don’t do it). It soon settled back to some rather excellent suggestions on getting in touch with the agencies, best approaches, etc. Again, I will be working on this in the coming weeks and, more importantly, now have some good PR contacts as well as ways of contacting others too.
The day wrapped up and I trudged (definitely the word) in the pouring rain to my hotel for the night. I spent that night and the morning kicking off changes based on what I’d learnt that day. Unfortunately, I was also wrestling with a WordPress plugin issue too and that ended up consuming most of my time. However, the view out of the large, wide windows from my 10th floor room made it a lot more worthwhile.
I hope I get the opportunity to attend next year – it really was excellent, the day whizzed by and I learnt a lot. In fact, I’ve already mentioned to the organiser, Sally, that I’d be happy to run a workshop next year.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a LOT of work to do!
ReTrak, popular in the US, are now selling their range of products in the UK at retailers such as PC World, Dixons and Amazon.
You may have come across retractable cables before – often found on portable mice for laptops, they wind excess cable into real which is suspended half way along the cable length. What ReTrak have done is improved upon this, added other new technologies and then created a huge range of products. Basically, what you get are a range of electrical accessories that take up as little space as possible.
Their range includes computer, visual and audio cables along with power supplies, headphones, iPhone and eBook products, mice and even a retractable mouse mat with built-in USB hub!
One of the items that most travellers with laptops will need is a mouse and ReTrak have a portable solution for that. Their Laser Travel Mouse is a small (but still comfortable in the hand) mouse, in a fetching combination of both matte and shiny grey, that has a built in retracting mechanism for hiding away the cable when not in use. It works equally well if you’re left or right handed and has the now-traditional 3 buttons (the scroll wheel being clickable).
For my own laptop I use a Bluetooth mouse but often find the connection erratic – you really can’t beat a wired mouse for rock solid use. ReTrak have provided a very thin cable with this mouse which means it, unlike traditionally wired mice, doesn’t get in the way. However, I did find that it tends to curl up as a consequence of this.
Underneath the mouse is a small compartment. You open this, retract the USB cable and then the compartment closes again – a thin slit in it allows the cable through. It couldn’t be any easier and the retracting mechanism, as always with ReTrak products, is smooth. The whole thing is 2.5ft in length when fully retracted.
In use the mouse is nice under the hand and moves well. It has a 1600 dpi precision and scans at 6700 fps, which is excellent. As with many ReTrak products it comes with an excellent 3 year warranty.
Reviews of the product on the PC World site shows the only downsides reported are the length of the lead (which is fine if using this with a laptop, but not with a desktop – but why would you? It’s designed for portability!) and, bizarrely, that the lead is thin.
Summary of ReTrak USB Laser Travel Mouse
Another cracking product from ReTrak. The mouse is excellent in use and the retractable cable gives you the convenience of a cordless mouse but without the connection issues. Normally this would cost £19.99 but can currently be bought from PC World for less than £5 – an absolute bargain!