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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Argyll and the Islands Leader

Out of our work on the Argyll Communities website for AVA, came the Argyll and the Islands Leader website. Ideally suited for WordPress, this project utilises post thumbnails, gallery slideshows, custom fields, some php applets within the theme itself, as well as some fairly thorough-going optimisation techniques for search engines and speed (a lot of which we have learned on The main challenge however was to create a sufficiently capable template to cater for the hundreds of projects Leader has funded while making them search engine friendly, both to Google et al. and using the internal WP search. The result we think is an excellent and accessible WordPress implementation which with ‘Thelonius’s’ fab auto-upgrade will stand the test of time.

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Where’d Arbu go? A Tale of Corrupt Directories

At around midnight last night the server went down. No, let’s be accurate here, the providers 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:


The top entries are most revealing and show how the South Americans have used the directory to attack anyone with a 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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An UK Open Source Political Party Anyone?

Thoroughly sick of MPs like Hazel Blears attempting to control the message and spin their way out of trouble, intrigued by John Naughton’s article extrapolating C. P. Snow’s theory on our divided society into the networked world and reminded of cyberpunk icon R. U. Sirius‘s Open Source Political Party (ars technica) for the American duopoly, it seems to me that there may be space in the political landscape of the UK for a new kind of open source party, one whose manifesto is a wiki, whose policy discussions are a forum, whose membership is a social network and whose progress is monitored on a blog. In other words a networked construct which is the antithesis of the present political system, based upon lack of control, lack of political ambition, lack of personal prejudice on the part of that party’s representatives who could only reflect the opinions and policies of their networked contributors and lack of any need or impulse to spin, or control the message because everything, even the warts and all policy discussion is already published.

Although all political parties pay lip service to the idea of transparency, there seems to be very little actual connection with the voting public in any meaningful policy-forming way. And this is a mark of the distance that the present political classes maintain or allow to be maintained by the media and their party political machines. Here in Scotland there is a slightly different modus operandi being attempted, most particularly by ministers like Jim Mather who has held a series of consultative seminars on a variety of subjects across the country. While the result is to be collated by Mr Mather’s department, these seminars are as open as the present political system allows, in that anyone in that industry or interest group can attend. But it is so time-consuming, especially for a topographically challenged area like the West Coast, isn’t it far better to render distance immaterial and do the whole thing via the network?

…. and do the whole thing via the network. For internerds like myself, bells ring here: reminding me of that halycon ideal where we all sit down at 8pm precisely and vote on the policy of the day as a nation – a proper, inclusive democracy, enabled by existing technologies (the TV, the remote and the red button) and which precisely because we’re lazy, indifferent or have better things to do, wouldn’t work. No, retreat from that slightly, offer an open membership site with all of the elements mentioned above, make sure there is some way of aggregating views, perhaps using some form of rolling polling system and ask people to contribute ideas for issues which need to be addressed and their thoughts on those ideas. See how it goes.

Maybe an organisation like should be attempting an OS political party rather than engaging with the present system – afterall there’ll need to be a moderator with excellent open source credentials.

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How do you measure how successful your site is?

… or Arbu designs the most visited websites in Argyll!

So you’re about to commission a website, you’ve got a competitive tender going and you need some sort of objective criteria to measure the expertise of the companies and individuals quoting. Difficult for SMEs who are focussed on business and products, near impossible for associations and organisations without in-house web expertise. There is an answer though. ranks websites worldwide on how much traffic they get and how long they retain visitors for. The stats look like gobbledegook at first, but once you see the rankings it becomes much easier. I now have the Alexa Firefox plugin which allows me to see the rank of sites as I visit them. The ongoing battle for number one spot is fascinating, but what’s more useful is seeing how successful Arbu’s site designs are in terms of the traffic they pull in.

As you’ll have gathered from this blog, we work on, the region’s premier news service, and top website, and it is this site which has really made us pay attention to Alexa’s very useful stats. Here’s how things looked the week beginning March 2009 with a random selection of other websites from across Cowal and Argyll (Arbu’s websites are marked in bold):

  1.‘s rank this week is 346,703
  2. has a traffic rank of: 357,874
  3. has a traffic rank of:  546,984
  4.‘s rank this week is 596,532
  5.‘s rank this week is 1,101,285
  6.‘s rank this week is 2,204,430
  7. has a traffic rank of:  3,545,293
  8.‘s rank is 4,469,314
  9. has a traffic rank of:  5,008,692
  10. has a traffic rank of: 5,571,596
  11. has a traffic rank of:  5,694,181
  12. has a traffic rank of: 6,149,160
  13. has a traffic rank of:  7,737,864
  14. has a traffic rank of:  10,479,940
  15. has a traffic rank of:  17,706,517
  16. has a traffic rank of:  18,078,371
  17. has a traffic rank of:  22,858,198
  18. does not register

This is NOT a definitive list of websites across Argyll, but it does show how the hierarchy of business turnover or local visibility is completely undermined by the traffic visiting these webpages. For example, there is no way in a sensible world that the ColGlen website should be over three million ranks higher than the main site for the Dunoon and Cowal Marketing Group, but it is. Similarly, and probably more incredibly, a small (but luxurious) B&B run by Michael and Sandra Webster is 15 million places higher than their local friendly-neighbourhood Caravan park.

How do these things happen? Well, aside from saying that Arbu knows what it is doing in terms of attracting traffic, it is probably sufficient to say that a lovely design isn’t as important as knowing how the web works.

So, if you are thinking of commissioning a website in the near future and you want a directly comparable way of measuring how your tenderers’ previous commissions stack up, or if you would like to check these ranking out for yourself, click here

A final thought: if you have a web designer, and you’re wanting a quick thumbnail of how they’re doing in terms of traffic, put their website into – you may be surprised!

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Blogging from The Big Chair

We’re working with leading Scottish hypnotherapist Kate McEwen at the moment on her new hypnotherapy blog, Kate’s Big Chair. It is an interesting project as the idea is to get Kate blogging, which she is on a daily basis, and then as she explores the paradigm, to add layers of complexity to the project.

We’ve set up the site with the default theme, no SEO extras, no stats package, just a name and version 2.6.5 of WP. What the project is doing at the moment is highlighting the necessity of good quality writing which Kate really can do. There’s a great post on drinking water and habits, as well as the beauty of exercise.

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,, 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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Polphail Photos

Philippa Elliott has recently taken a series of very striking and very haunting photographs of Polphail, the modern abandoned village on the southern tip of the Cowal Peninsula. Commissioned to house workers for a new North Sea Oil Platform manufactury, the whole project was scrapped in the 70s oil crisis. Half-finished the village was left. This desolate and incomplete urban landscape sits uncomfortably in the beautiful wilds of Argyll where it creates a stark juxtaposition with all the cleared and uninhabited settlements from centuries before.

We’ve just uploaded the entire collection to and taken the opportunity to tweak the lay-out on this unusual WordPress install. Here’s our favourite from Polphail, Number 5:

Polphail 5 - the abandoned village on the Cowal Peninsula

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