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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Zigstat free SEO statistical & analytical reports

Screenshot of Zigstat website
Image taken with permission.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is vital to the success of any website. A good webmaster or website owner will know how to ensure their site has good SEO, but to the uninitiated it is often a dark art. Even for the best webmaster, having the stats of your site at your fingertips is useful information.

Zigstat.com can help decode some of the jargon and provide indicators of success by providing free statistical and analytical data on any website. Users provide the name of the website they are checking and in return can see a variety of stats about it. Data provided includes associated organic keywords, similar sites found by the same keywords and most popular sites providing backlinks to the website. There is also a screenshot of the home page, plus a host of SEO stats including the Alexa, Semrush and Moz Domain Authority ranks, popularity by number of visitors and traffic map by country.

The report also shows the page loading speed (vital for user engagement), earnings from advertisements and popularity on numerous social media channels. Thinking somewhat laterally, the analytics draw parallels between the subject site and similar sites on the same IP address, as well as contrasting the site’s success with those showing the same Adsense adverts.

Lastly, the analytics show the WOT Trustworthiness and Google Safety scores for the website as well as reproducing the WHOIS data and information on the domain name and registration details.

But why would anyone want to know this information about a site?

Sometimes, being able to contact the person who registered the site is important, for instance in cases of plagiarism or when serving a cease and desist notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A recent article from the BBC entitled How long will you wait for a shopping website to load? (Matthew Wall, BBC.co.uk Technology of Business Editor, 19 August 2016) suggests that if a site hasn’t loaded within three seconds, many potential customers will look elsewhere. It is also interesting for website owners to know which sites the web considers most similar to theirs, and how other sites perform serving the same ads as theirs.

Services such as Zigstat are not often widely recognized outside the professional website management realm. But anyone who has a website, no matter how large or small, will benefit from having free information on hand, on demand. A single snapshot of a website’s stats is all very well, but for those looking to grow their business, or see why orders have dropped, regular visits to Zigstat before and after making changes to the site can be beneficial and provide real insight into their own and their competitors’ performance.

The Runaway Ruca travel blog coming soon

The Runaway Ruca travel blog.
Image provided and used with permission.
 

Divorce is never easy. It’s mentally and physically draining, because you’re dealing with someone that you don’t like, can’t stand, distrust, and in some cases never want to see again. It’s no wonder that many divorcing couples choose to celebrate their ended union with a party – the sense of relief is often enormous. Then they feel liberated to go off and do what they always wanted to do, but felt they couldn’t with their former spouse.

One such divorcee is Kristina, founder of the Runaway Ruca  support group and travel blog. The blog is under construction and the full website will be live soon. Coming across on the page (or screen) as bubbly, chatty, and intent on living life to the full, she invites readers to share her journey and freedom. Kris is good with words, witty and with a style more stream of consciousness than formal writing. She explains in her blog that ruca is Mexican slang for old woman, but she says she doesn’t feel like one after leaving a 17 year ‘Wife Sentence’ (as she calls it) spent living quietly in suburbia. She has lived in the United States, Belgium and England in her time, and right now is enjoying the freedom to travel within the United States, ‘living in the breeze’.

Kris graduated with a PhD in Clinical Psychology and now specializes in cheery support for divorced women over 50, drawing on her own experiences and feelings. She believes many divorced women find themselves with the urge to travel to put physical as well as mental distance between their present and previous lives. The act of traveling leads to a new focus on what is important and a sense of empowerment. They find they can have a worthwhile life without their former spouses or many of the supposedly essential trappings of their former lives. This Mid Wife crisis also manifests itself in a desire to remove as much clutter from their lives as possible and be free from binding ties, while their former spouses head on down the highway with Wife 2.0 on the back of a Harley or in the passenger seat of a muscle car.

Presently Kris has only just bought a car; post-divorce, she didn’t even own a set of keys, she says proudly. As someone who is working to declutter my own marital home and my mother-in-law’s house at the same time, I can attest to the liberating feeling of packing something up and sending it off to a new owner, then carefully dusting the space where it once stood or stashing the empty hanger in a bag at the bottom of the cupboard.

The Runaway Ruca group is open to women aged 40 and over who are looking for somewhere to vent, share experiences, find support, or just read a good blog. The idea is to offer inspiration and assistance to those women looking to make more of themselves and their lives. Kris peppers her words with her own versions of well known phrases poking fun at the oh-so-serious vocabulary used by counselors, business gurus and inspirational speakers worldwide. Hence, phrases like Karma-geddon; Mid-Wife crisis; Wife sentence; fib-liography; thighs, lies and alibis. You get the picture. Kris is a force of nature, let loose on the world to bring smiles and lifted hearts wherever she goes. She has a new found zest for life and a firm belief that whatever will be, will be. In the meantime, she’ll live in the moment and take everything as it comes. She talks about ESP (emotional self preservation) and dethroning the liar power. Now quite happily orbiting Pluto, proud owner of not much more than a set of car keys and whatever else she can carry, she is set to bring a breath of fresh air to the blogosphere and blow away a few cobwebs while she’s at it.

Sounds like it will be quite the rollercoaster ride. The Runaway Ruca blog, coming soon.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Heather Prescott Liebensohn - That Photographer Girl

Heather Prescott Liebensohn - That Photographer Girl
Image provided and used with permission, thanks Heather.

Heather Prescott Liebensohn is better known as That Photographer Girl for a good reason. She has been working for years with wedding parties, bands, performers, commercial enterprises and individuals looking for a fine art portrait or head shot. Given that depth of experience, it’s hardly surprising that her photography has been featured in National Geographic, a publication famed worldwide for quality photography.

For weddings, Heather can make the happy couple feel like celebrities. It’s about the only time most people will be a star in a photoshoot, after all. Working mainly in NY and CT, her portfolio includes having photographed Sir Elton John and Arcade Fire in concert, as well as many other performers and musicians, so she is used to unobtrusively making the most of her subjects. In her recent video, Heather describes her style as ‘lifestyle photography’. This means that the photographs are not stiffly posed but have some action in them. They may even be what some people call ‘in the moment’ pictures, where, as an observer of a scene, Heather will catch a relaxed look without the subjects even being aware that they are being photographed.

Lifestyle photography leads to memorable photographs, taken with the minimum of fuss and maximum of care and attention to detail. For those couples planning a destination wedding, Heather will make the most of that. Whether the wedding party is flying in to New York to celebrate amid the landmarks and skyscrapers, or flying out to enjoy a Caribbean break, Heather is willing to attend the ceremony and capture memories in the making. Described as ‘fearless’, she believes in ‘the small things’ as she quotes from Rob Thomas in the video, and this meticulous approach is what sets her apart from other photographers. This attention is what produces the natural photographs Heather takes.

All good photographers quickly learn the art of putting their subjects at ease, and a wedding photographer has to be particularly good at this, unobtrusively going about their work without disturbing the guests or disrupting the ceremony. While the guests are toasting the couple, the wedding photographer can often be seen pacing around taking atmospheric shots – close ups of the rings, the cake before it is cut, the first bottle of champagne as it sits chilling in the ice bucket. They also have to be able to deal with taking official photographs in the party’s chosen location, so may well have had to undertake some research before the big day. They may even arrive early so that they can scope out the possibilities. With Heather, all of this attention to detail comes with the territory and the result is wonderfully atmospheric shots, looking almost accidental in their construction.

Heather is a relaxed photographer; yes, the party will notice her taking photos, but she won’t intrude until it is time to bring everyone together for the traditional group photograph. She is proud of the fact that she takes natural-looking pictures, pictures of people in motion even if they are not. She uses sophisticated editing techniques to make the results look even better, turning ordinary people into rock stars for the day. The best photographers are easy going, and Heather will join in the party quite happily. Using her natural people-facing skills, she will offer tips and guidance to the guests as she photographs them, in order to take the best photograph of her subject.

Those brides and grooms who know about Heather’s reputation beforehand have been known to inform their partner that ‘Heather will be our photographer’, brooking no discussion on the matter. Other guests who have been asked to contribute towards the costs of the wedding have booked her as the photographer because they know of the quality of work she produces, every time. One look at Heather's website will tell prospective customers that. The website also has extensive details of her other work, prices and contact details.

For those couples planning a wedding in New York or Connecticut, or couples based in those states planning to marry abroad, Heather should be on the list of possible photographers. Even for those booking a wedding package from abroad, the option is often there to specify a photographer rather than use the standard service offered as part of the package. With this in mind, everyone has the opportunity to feel like a rock star on their big day.




Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Dillon Covers: Reproduction Fantasy Fiction Cover Art Posters

What do you get if you cross the work of a historical and fantasy author with world-famous cover artists?

If you’re Pauline Gedge and the artists are the husband and wife team of Leo and Diane Dillon, you end up with limited edition book cover art for your first four books. The promotional posters were not intended for sale, and were originally only produced as publicity for the novels. Child of the Morning (set in Ancient Egypt) was written in six weeks and published in 1977, The Eagle and the Raven (set in Roman Britain) followed a year later in 1978. After a gap of a few years, Stargate (fantasy) appeared in 1982 and The Twelfth Transforming (another novel set in Ancient Egypt) in 1984 under a different publisher. The New York-based couple were commissioned by the publishers to produce the definitive cover art for all of them, and for good reason. In their fifty year career (ended only by Leo’s death in 2012), the Dillons worked on over 100 books and won 22 awards, including two consecutive Caldecott Medals for their work on children’s books.

Those posters which survived soon became collectors’ items, as the Dillons did not generally license their work for widespread sale, and worked solely for the commissioning author or publisher. But, as Pauline Gedge’s career continued, her fanbase grew, and more people discovered her first four novels and their arresting cover art. Leo and Diane Dillon began their career by producing fantastical book covers and illustrations for author Harlan Ellison, himself known for speculative fiction of the highest order. Moving on to producing covers for paperback science fiction, the couple soon cemented their reputation in this field. Any self-respecting fantasy or science fiction reader will tell you that the cover art will sell as much of the book as the words inside it. Apart from the blurb on the back cover, the art on the front is the first thing any prospective reader sees. From that they may gain an idea of the personality of the hero or heroine or see an illustration of a pivotal point in the book.

It is no surprise then that these highly crafted promotional posters became much sought after items for specialist collectors. Now, it is possible to order full-sized reproductions of these landmark items. Head to Pauline Gedge’s website and click on the Dillon Covers page. For £13 (GBP) each you can order a full sized reproduction copy of each of the four famed cover art pieces from the Dillons. What’s more, the artwork for The Twelfth Transforming was never actually released as a poster, so this is a one-off chance for historical fiction fans worldwide to acquire the full set of these amazing works. Spanning the times from Ancient Egypt through the Roman Empire and into the realms of fantasy, the entire set of four reproductions brings to life the influential first four novels written by Pauline Gedge. There are another nine or so other novels that she has written since, including two trilogies - for those who like sequels or a series - but the first four are the ones which built her initial standing in the world of historical and fantasy fiction.

Yes, you read that right. For just over £50 (GBP) you can own replicas of the full set of cover art prints for Pauline Gedge’s first four books. As a fantasy and historical fiction fan myself, I am rather tempted by this offer. To top it off, the first three books, with covers based on the original artworks, are being reissued by Chicago Review Press.

With her first novel Child of the Morning, Pauline Gedge won the Alberta Search-for-a-New Novelist Competition. Her second, The Eagle and the Raven, won the Jean Boujassy award from the Société des Gens de Lettres in France and her fourth, The Twelfth Transforming, was awarded the Writers Guild of Alberta Best Novel of the Year Award. Her third, Stargate, was nominated for the Canadian SF and Fantasy Association’s 1983 Prix Aurora Award. It is only fitting that work of such renown should be accompanied by literary artwork of the same caliber.

With this offer, fans of the work of both Pauline Gedge and Leo and Diane Dillon have the chance to own a small piece of history. If these reproductions end up becoming as sought after as the original posters, buyers could be on to a winner here.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

PositiveSingles specialist dating app

PositiveSingles logo.Image provided and used with permission.

These days, there is an app for everything. Niche is king, and no matter what smartphone users want, there’s likely an app for it out there somewhere. When it comes to dating, it’s easy to find a specialist site and/or app that matches any requirement. I met my husband on one of those early specialist dating sites, and we’re not alone in meeting online these days as more and more sites and apps spring up.
 

PositiveSingles is a specialist dating site and app for those with STDs including herpes, HPV and HIV/AIDS. The company, registered in Canada, has been in operation since 2002, offering the chance of friendship, dating, relationships and romance to STD-positive singles worldwide. Like many other dating sites, most of the services offered are available to paid members only, with only a limited range of services that can be accessed for free. The trick is to get the subscription levels correct, a puzzle which not every app or site manages successfully.

Subscription-driven or not, there are 900,000 members on PositiveSingles in total, and the app has been downloaded somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 times, so they must be doing something right. It offers the chance for members to interact with STD-positive singles from many different locations, religions and races. The free initial access provides pattern locking security and allows users to browse and match anonymously but sending messages is not included. Those using the app for free can send winks to those they like the look of, and reply to other members’ messages. Subscriptions start at a cent under $34 a month, 3 months will cost $70 and 6 months $110. For UK readers, that’s membership starting from around £26 a month.

Not everyone is happy, with the most recent reviews being more or less evenly split between praise and complaints. The most recent updates to the app seem to have caused some people to complain, as they are unhappy with the restriction on formerly free services. However, that is in the nature of things – developers can please some people some of the time but will certainly not please everyone and definitely not all of the time. That’s why there are so many dating apps, because everyone is different, with varying ideas of what is important to them.

For those singles facing the future living with an STD, PositiveSingles gives the chance of a relationship without having to explain their situation every time they meet someone new. Dating is difficult enough as it is, let’s be honest. PositiveSingles also helps those who simply need support from similar people in their neighborhood, by bringing them together as friends. A shared experience helps users of the app pool knowledge, offer support and build new networks of friends on- and offline. The buddy system may well have started in the military and spread to gym members, but in truth, finding someone similar reassures anyone that they are not alone, and allows discussion of situations previously faced without help. For that fact alone, PositiveSingles is an important app.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games, free on Android


Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Image provided and used with permission.
 

From Universal Games comes the latest Android app: Bus Simulator Racing. And the home of the ‘tricky tapper game’ does not disappoint.

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Basic instructions with female manga-style driver.
Image provided and used with permission.
Bus Simulator Racing was produced because the developer, like many people, loves the traditional and iconic London red double decker buses. I bet the drivers of the New London Routemaster buses never have to drive like this though! This is definitely a game, not a real life driving simulator. Players can see the whole bus viewed from above and behind the vehicle, rather than playing from the driver's viewpoint sitting at the wheel. As with all great games, the idea is simple – keep the bus on the road and chase the stars that are scattered in front of the vehicle. In practice, it is a test of dexterity and skill, and certainly not easy to play sitting upstairs on the local double deckers while jolting over the uneven town centre streets and twisty country lanes found in this area.



Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Level played in night mode.
Image provided and used with permission.
On the right hand side of the game screen are three handset buttons, on the left, the driving wheel. This is definitely a two handed game. The three buttons (right to left) are race, brake and handbrake. With sound turned on, there is a realistic engine noise as the bus sits on the road, engine revving, ready to depart. My tip for novice players is to turn the wheel in the direction of travel before hitting the race button. This will ensure that the bus is pointing in the right direction when it starts moving. And it moves fast! Players have to twirl the wheel with a finger or thumb while jabbing on the brake button with the other hand. This brings the rear brake lights on and results in the sound of tyres and air breaks squealing. I have had more than one Italian Job moment with the bus hanging off the edge of the road when I hit the brake too late, that’s for sure. As it is supposed to be a bus transporting school children from the depot to their school, this is not an ideal scenario. Just to add to the challenge the levels will show different weather conditions at random. This means players are having to drive in snow, rain or sunshine, as well as both day and night settings.


Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games
Typical gameplay screen..
Image provided and used with permission.
This is a game best played with the sound on, as the in-game music is suitably upbeat, while the sound effects are rich and frequent. On one side of the road lies rocky terrain. When the bus crashes here, players will hear a depressing crunching noise. On the other side is water, and going over that side will freeze the level with the sound of an almighty splash and an image of a plume of water rising upwards as the bus hits it.

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Racing the bus over the bridge.
Image provided and used with permission.
The help menu is presented by a uniformed manga-style female driver who explains the basic rules quickly and simply. Through the settings menu, the graphics display sharpness can be adjusted from low to high, although the medium default setting looks sharp enough on a mobile phone screen. The app is tablet optimized, and my guess is that if players have a suitable device to hook their tablets into a 50” widescreen TV or similar, they will be able to play the game on a big screen with cinema-level surround sound. There are also options to adjust the maximum steering lock and a choice of whether the accelerometer feature is on or off. For newcomers to the game, off is the default, and if players are not used to racing games, this is the recommended setting.

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
End of Level screen.
Image provided and used with permission.
The app is ad-supported, so at the end of each attempt there is at least one advertisement that players must dismiss or opt into if they want to continue the game. As with all of Universal Games’ recent offerings, this app is fully Google-integrated, allowing players to see the international best player rankings and enjoy multi-player games. Facebook login is an option too, so those players who are active there will be able to enjoy sharing their scores with their friends and perhaps challenging them to a round or two.

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Splashdown!
Image provided and used with permission.
Bus Simulator Racing is a game for the modern era. With tricky gameplay, high level graphics, slick coding and interactive multiplayer mode, it has been downloaded between 1,000 and 5,000 times since release in late June. The vast majority of reviews are positive, showing that Universal Games is gaining a reputation for producing quality, fun games with a twist.

Bus Simulator Racing from Universal Games.
Image provided and used with permission.
 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Amazing Wedding provides overseas wedding services to Hong Kong residents

Wedding guests at garden party
Image provided by Amazing Wedding and used with permission.
 

Overseas weddings are a growing market. Couples who marry later in life, or those with a taste for travel, are increasingly choosing to marry abroad, maybe with a party or small ceremony at home too. For some couples, an overseas wedding is a status symbol, a sign that they have enough cash to splash to afford a luxurious celebration. For others, it may be a way of dealing with dysfunctional families, or simply a chance to visit a dream location. It is estimated that around eighty per cent of Hong Kong couples now choose to marry abroad in a church rather than hosting a banquet at home.


Weddings can be complicated enough to organize, let alone at a distance. A package deal, such as that available from Hong Kong-based Amazing Wedding, and sister company Amazes Travel, includes all the necessities for an overseas wedding in a choice of tropical or historic European locations.

There is a bilingual Chinese and English language blog to inspire both Chinese speakers and the many expats working in Hong Kong. The destination list, meanwhile, gives a choice of amazing locations which would be worth a holiday trip in themselves, never mind as a wedding destination. These are some of the most sought-after destinations in the world and any one of them would make a great location for an overseas wedding ceremony. A selection of recent venues includes:

Guam

An overseas wedding in Guam mixes many different cultures in a huge melting pot and serves them up under a tropical sky. For shopaholics, there are several malls, while the tropical backdrop makes for stunning wedding photographs.

Prague
The historic European city of Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quite apart from the architecture, an overseas wedding ceremony held here benefits from a large number of museums, galleries and theatres to keep the wedding party entertained when they’re not involved in pre-wedding arrangements.

Bali
The Indonesian island of Bali is another tropical paradise providing beautiful backdrops for wedding photographs. There is also a wide range of watersport options available to fill guests’ hours and enable visitors to make the most of their stay here.

Okinawa
Okinawa island is part of the southernmost prefecture of Japan, and has many distinct customs and habits unique to the area. For martial arts fans, Okinawa is a centre of karate, while the typhoon-proof buildings provide a safe haven for the wedding celebration even if the weather does turn bad.

Greece
Couples whose interest in history goes back to ancient times might choose to hold their wedding in Greece. Imagine the ruins of a temple in the background of the ceremony, or alternatively, the sparkling sea glittering in the sun. The whitewashed stone walls of the volcanic caldera of Santorini set the whole scene into an undeniably mythical location against the azure blue sea and form a magical spot for any wedding.

Organizing a wedding through Amazing Wedding couldn’t be simpler. So long as couples book at least six months in advance, the team will take care of every aspect, including all the prewedding details such as dress and tux fitting, finding and booking the ideal venue with all the trimmings and flights to the destination. Once in the resort, as the big day approaches, Amazing Wedding organizes a rehearsal, then makeup and hair styling services and transport to the venue. After the ceremony and the obligatory photographs, there is the option of having a dinner banquet and after party so everyone can relax.

The website is constantly changing and currently features photos from overseas wedding ceremonies in Bali, Okinawa, Hokkaido, the Maldives, Guam, Phuket, Samui, Prague, Australia, Greece and Hawaii. Click on any photograph to see detailed options on the venues in that location. Chapel weddings, garden settings, water backdrops, private villas and beach ceremonies are all offered, depending on the choice of venue. The indoor and outdoor locations vary in size from 10 to 100 guest capacity, and feature sunset views, privacy and with some venues, the option to be the only wedding hosted on that day. Some locations are a drive away from the main town or city, while some of the European venues offer a wedding blessing service only, with the actual civil wedding ceremony taking place elsewhere close by. Some locations will also request that couples need to arrive a day before and depart a day after the ceremony. This is standard practice; in some countries, couples wishing to marry have to be resident in the country for a set number of days before the ceremony, if only to give enough time for the pre-wedding administration. Applying for the certificate to marry, meeting the celebrant, rehearsing the wedding and checking last minute details all take time – and being as it’s a wedding the happy couple’s relations will not want to be left out.

For Hong Kong couples looking for a touch of something different about their wedding, an overseas ceremony organized by Amazing Wedding could be the perfect choice.