consultancy

SGE Travel Coach Tours reaches out to the Midlands from the Highlands

SGE Travel based in Dunoon has recently launched tours to the wild highlands of Scotland from the Midlands via Executive Coach Tours and offering a fantastic deal on their chain of wonderful hotels. We have developed, as part of an ongoing update for the group on their hotel websites, the new tour operator’s website. Available here, the new website also displays the new logos for SGE Hotels’ chain of hotels. Including a hefty element of picture research, illustrator and photoshop work alongside social network integration and a live help system, this site (and her soon to be launched sisters) are state-of-the-art.

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An e-commerce website for an architecturally-inspired book publisher

We have worked with Watermark Publications Ltd before, and this time we have created a site which comes closest to the publisher’s print design. Elegant, concise, visually appealing and above all readable. Using WP 3.0 we have made extensive use of a non-flash slideshow, the built-in thumbnail functionality, and a really nicely implemented e-commerce package. The latter is presently using Paypal as its merchant solution – with 220,000,000 users it has a pervasive presence in all the necessary markets.

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Our other development blog at Argyll Communities

During the last 6 months, ARBU has been engaged in one of the most complex installations of WPMU we have ever had the pleasure of working on. With a standing 40 websites already in place on the original Argyll Communities website and requirements for newsletters, community toolkits, external search engines, a portal-wide announcements engine and sundry other items, we had our work cut out for us. But throughout it has been an utter pleasure — not only because the AVA team are feedback positive and precise about what they require, but because the work has involved working with many of the individual communities which run sites through the Argyll Communities site. To gather more insight on the process, and how we have developed the project since November last year, visit the Development blog, here.

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Of Genealogy and WordPress

When we wanted to create a site for a family tree we naturally turned to WP. Why? Well, the one-click install on BlueHost, a need to record research as it happened, and a flexible content management system were part of it, and the other was, that well, WP is our weapon of choice.

So, Dixon-Spain.com was launched and development done on an ad hoc basis. For 12 months that was fine. The site tickled along, and as more information became available on the net, references and summaries were added to the site. All well and good.

And then the genealogy research got a little more in depth, and the demands on the WP install became a little more onerous: particularly the need to display more than one line. How to accommodate this in one blog? Well, there was the TNG plugin, which is not really a proper integration, levering an external MySQL / PHP app. into the WP framework. That wasn’t a route which fitted well with our core aim: to do it all with WP. Then we looked at what we had available to install on our Bluehost server, and joy of joys, Buddypress presented itself. Actually we were more excited by the presence of the underlying WPMU architecture.

So we designed a theme off the back of the delightful twitterish Tworrder, installed 7 or 8 relevant plugins and constructed a useable environment for Genealogists with WP expertise. At the moment it is not in any way perfect, but given the use of pages for people, and the blog for research updates, it fulfills the brief in a ‘janky’ kinda way.

Moreover, as we develop it and develop our research we’re going to refine the family tree fit, and hopefully the site will become used by more families than ours. And the name? Our Illustrious Family! because all families are illustrious … of course.

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Perfectly Presented

Hilary Robertson has the beginnings of an excellent blog at PerfectPresenting.com, more so now that Arbu have had a chance to work their magic on the site’s backend. Hilary had made a good fist of implementing the Emerald Stretch theme, but was struggling to find the best e-commerce solution for her purposes. As veteran WordPress users we knew there was a choice between Jason Briggs’ YAK plugin and Instinct.co.nz‘s WP-ecommerce. The latter won in this contest because they have an easily implemented membership module which is superbly easy to use. We’ve used both — Jason’s highly customisable (and easily translatable) plugin on Weeride.fr and PureTherapy.biz, and Instinct’s more corporate offering on BumbleCowalBagpipes.com and Scottishlaird.com.

We then looked at forums: to ensure Hilary’s offering on this website was entirely integrated we decided that a bbpress integration wasn’t going to cut it, and took the option of a forum-by-plugin, the best of which is Simple:Press Forum. Though the backend menu is a bit clunky, this is an actively developed plugin, and one which plays well with admins of all abilities.

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Where’d Arbu go? A Tale of Corrupt Directories

At around midnight last night the Arbu.biz server went down. No, let’s be accurate here, the providers Bluehost.com took the Arbu server down. Why? Well, someone or somegroup has hacked into our ftp accounts and uploaded a little bitty .exe file along with some supporting images and such. And what was it’s function this ickle bitty file? Hmm? To insert trojans onto unsuspecting PC users’ computers.

The next question is “How did they do that?” A neat piece of software which exploits the fact that (a) cpanel webservers (like Arbu’s) have anonymous ftp accounts set up (b) that sysadmins use three letter abbreviations for their subdomains and (c) that cpanel has reached such a level of ubiquity that firing a specific request at servers to upload to ‘images’ folders works often enough for the effort to be worth it.

So the effect? Well aside from costing several of my sites and my clients’ sites 12 hours of downtime, impugning my reputation with Bluehost and stressing me to the eyeballs? It has shown me how easy it is for the black hats to take advantage of everyone else, especially those who don’t protect their pcs and don’t update their browsers. Here’s a shocking grab of the referrers to the hacked directory:

referrers-grab-for-arbu

The top entries are most revealing and show how the South Americans have used the directory to attack anyone with a live.com email. Evidently, a spam email referring to the .exe file. And how did we rid ourselves of this lurgi? We deleted it, and every other exe file on our server, all the images associated with it, and finally we discontinued our anonymous ftp service (sorry to those that use it) its too much trouble.

If you have had a similar experience let us know, or if we should be doing something more to protect ourselves and our server, let us know.

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Branding for Argyll & Bute Museums & Heritage Forum

We’re drafting up the branding for the Argyll and Bute Museums and Heritage Forum at the moment, and have created the following which, bar a few tweaks and the creation of a version for high contrast small scale applications, have been approved. We love them!

To Conquer or Die!

Such is the translation of the McDougall motto, which the new Homecoming Production, the Hidden Jewel is using as its strap-line! We have just completed phase 1 of this project (and thoroughly enjoyable it is proving to be too), and we’re now working on the reverse side of this ticket, including maps and terms and conditions, as well as an A4 poster and DL format flyers (all of which more later). In the meantime, here’s the ticket artwork — some of the text isn’t finalised, but the graphical side is ready for go.

To Conquer or Die

Dunollie & the Hidden Jewel

As part of Scotland’s Year of Homecoming 2009 Dunollie Castle are hosting a spectacular theatrical event, The Hidden Jewel. Arbu are branding the print material for this weeklong extravaganza and we have just had approval of the logo design. Next on the roster is the ticket for the event, and after that posters and flyers. The event which runs between the 17th -23rd July 2009 is set to tell some amazing stories about Clan McDougall and their family seat.

A theatrical spectacular at Dunollie Castle

A theatrical spectacular at Dunollie Castle

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Watermill Goes Mobile

The latest strategy to market accommodation is to go mobile. The rest of the world has, but perhaps not the less technology-driven sectors of the tourist industry, particularly B&Bs. The Watermill’s owners Michael and Sandra Webster gave Arbu the brief to promote their business as widely as possible, and one of the strategies we have come up with is to make their website, watermill-glendaruel.com, mobile browser-ready. How did we do this? A combination of WordPress, javascript and a little template trickery. The result below, is a ‘thin’ version of the site which carries some all important information on the front page: the phone number and the postcode. The former for the mobile phone to make the booking and the latter for the satnav so no instructions are needed. We’ll be putting the GPS up as soon as possible too.

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