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Ruby & rails: Just like peas and carrots

Ruby & rails: Just like peas and carrots

We often get asked what language we use to build our sites, and as first point of contact with the client, I chirpily rattle off the reply: 'Ruby on Rails!' It sounds nice, comes with gems and I'm pretty proud of myself (as a non-tecchie) for even knowing that much!

But what does it mean? Why do we use Ruby over any other more widely used programming language? I realised I wasn't entirely sure, so set myself the task of finding out.

Rails is the framework that grew out of the development of the popular project management tool Basecamp 

Open source, it enables people to use it and deploy 'commits' to it (contribute to its growth) and is increasing in popularity all the time. Some sites you may have used that are built in Ruby on Rails (apart from ours!) are:



So why do we use it? One reason, really: It's so much less complicated than some other programming languages.

Ruby on Rails is designed to use less code than other programming methods, meaning less repetition, quicker development times and less margin for error. 

Its two main principles, Convention over Configuration and Don't Repeat Yourself, mean that it's more intuitive for programmers and enables them to programe more quickly and with A LOT less code. In short, we think it's better than anything else out there.

Drop us a line if you would like to know more!



The next generation iPhone - to be or not to be?

The next generation iPhone - to be or not to be?

OK so it's no secret we're all addicited to our iPhones at Focus Towers, we can't help it, they've changed our lives (literally). As summer inches ever closer that normally means a new iPhone model launch, but with the launch of the iPhone 5 or the 4S as it may be called postponed until September, what new features can we expect, that are worth resisting the really tempting upgrade to the iPhone 4 that I'm being offered?

Well rumor has it that it's going to be more gamer orientated with the same graphical power of the iPad 2. The CPU speed will be twice that of the previous iPhone with the graphics being up to 9 times quicker, which is phenomenal considering how snappy they are currently. There's also talk of a camera upgrade to 8MP which for me is a big draw, the camera quality on the 3GS does sometimes frustrate me - afterall I like my Facebook pictures sharp! What's most exciting is the talk of 4G technology in iPhones but that's being delayed until 2012. 4G technology, also refferred to as LTE technology, being the next generation of faster data technology.

All that sounds great but secretly (or maybe not so secretly) what I really care about is how it's going to look and reports say it's likely to have the same design as the iPhone 4 but a bit slimmer.

So I guess it's not worth risking upgrading before September but I know I'll be scanning the gizmo rumor sites daily until then! Let's just hope Apple have figured out all the bugs before the launch this time .....


Created on Thursday May 19 2011 11:31 AM

Tags: apple iphone launch

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Chromebook and the Cloud

Chromebook and the Cloud

So Google's launching Chromebook, the device that connects you to the web instantly, and lets you do...not much else!

But with cloud computing that's not too much of an issue, right? Who needs all those pesky, cumbersome programmes running when, let's face it, all you really want to do is check a few emails, do a bit of facebook stalking and maybe order a new pair of shoes or three?

And even if you do want to create documents, and maybe update that spreadsheet of your finances, Google Docs lets you do it all in the Cloud with no need to save anything locally. Brilliant!

Or is it?

In the week when Facebook were outed as commissioning a smear campaign against Google regarding their Social Circle feature and the security of data online, is it such a good idea to have EVERYTHING in the cloud? And, more significantly, with Google?

Yes, it's very convenient that all you have to do to use your Chromebook is log in with your Google account, but when Chrome has all your browsing history, Google Docs have got all your data, your GMail account all your communications...well, you get the picture.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Google fan, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's all getting a bit scary!

Created on Friday May 13 2011 12:28 PM

Tags: google social-networking facebook chrome socialmedia chromebook

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Graduate Techies Apply Here!

We're looking for a Graduate Web Developer to join Team Focus and get stuck into working on web sites and web applications for our clients - from local authorities such as Bristol City Council through to big charities like Sustrans and The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland.

Our sites are written in Ruby on Rails, one of the most exciting web languages around at the moment - but training will be provided, so previous experience of Ruby is not required. You may have graduated from a relevant computing course, have some solid hand-coded XHTML/CSS experience, and will be able to point to some websites you've created. Javascript knowledge would also be beneficial; we use jQuery. As stated, we don't require candidates to have experience of Ruby on Rails, but any relevant knowledge you can bring to the table - such as object oriented programming, database experience, or any exposure to MVC (Model/View/Controller) architecture will be an advantage.

However having said all that, just as important as experience is an enthusiasm for all things web - we want you to be excited about creating web sites and applications and using the very best and latest technologies to do so. You should have a desire to learn how and why things work, possess a good eye for detail and have really good communication and organisational skills.

This is a great opportunity for the right candidate to get into the web industry and gain exposure to a range of latest technologies. If you think this is you, then please send your CV and a letter stating why you're going to be the next big thing in web development :-)

You can send stuff by email to:

which is also the address to use if you've got any questions or would like further details.

Good luck!

Very strictly no agencies, thanks.

Neil Smith

Created on Tuesday May 10 2011 10:47 AM


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New EU e-privacy laws likely to create browser cookie monsters!

New EU e-privacy laws likely to create browser cookie monsters!

For those less techie-savvy amongst us browser cookies are not the chocolate chip variety but a small piece of text stored on your computer by your web browser. You probably know them best as those helpful little things that remember your address and phone number when you’re filling in a form. Cookies are hugely helpful for web based businesses it is a well known fact that at each stage of a signup process you lose customers. On average each domain has around 30 cookies.

The new EU privacy laws which come into effect on May 25th mean that web sites will have to obtain explicit consent from users to store this information. This means slapping large warnings about cookies on your site, which could scare away your customer making them think you’re a privacy nightmare. Some critics say that this will harm EU start ups pushing customers towards more US based sites that don’t have these privacy warnings.

The best advice for your business is to work out the best way to get consent to use cookies so you can continue to use them; some browsers are already working on ‘opt-in’ settings to meet the EU requirements. If you need advice on the best course of action we are happy to chat it through with you, just give us a buzz!

Created on Wednesday April 13 2011 09:36 AM

Tags: opt-out internet-explorer cookies eu privacy 25may consent

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1 Big Database gets 1 big bit bigger

As most of us know, local authorities throughout the UK face making decisions that will affect the way they provide services and interact with stakeholders and citizens. Whilst budgets may be changing, legislation and statutory requirements remain.

One of the areas we at Focus have been working closely with local authorities since 2004 is making information available online - from promoting positive activities and events for young people through to information about service providers for families. In fact 1 Big Database, which has been developed on behalf of Bristol City, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire Councils, is now the leading online resource for parents, carers and families throughout the West of England.

1 Big Database is a successful example of three local authorities joining forces to provide a relevant, up to date - and crucially local - directory of family information, supplemented by an events diary that lists hundreds of one off or regular activites taking place in the region. The partnership project has helped the council's save money and resource (such as administration) whilst maintaining control of the directory and keeping data within it in their hands.

March saw us launch a new version of the framework behind 1 Big Database - which included a number of new features and enhancements to existing functionality. The main development is a new dedicated section for managing and publishing Childcare data - and we've already hooked it up for automatic integration with Capita's ECD management software.

And because we understand the pressures that local authorities face with capital expenditure, we're making the directory and it's family of additional modules available under a 'software as a service' model - that is it's paid for on an ongoing basis as it's used. There's no up front development costs, just a regular affordable monthly amount that is paid for as long as the software is used - with no limits on numbers of records in the database or users administering it.

The team at Focus are happy to talk you through it if you've got any questions.

Simon Newing

Created on Monday April 11 2011 03:24 PM

Tags: public-access focus website technology youth

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Royal wedding or digital death?

Royal wedding or digital death?

I know, I know, I know. Not a very original theme for a blog article. Here at Focus Towers it feels like everyone's going unreasonably nuts for the forthcoming nuptials.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to bits about the extra bank holiday, but that's about as far as it goes.

2 billion people across the globe will tune in in some way to watch the ceremony, it's reckoned, making it possibly the biggest media event in history. 

Googling anything to do with weddings that day? Good luck! You're not likely to get anything useful. Top search terms are reckoned to be 'royal wedding stream online' and variations around that theme.

What's really striking though is that this is the first truly digital event of its kind. Charles and Di in '83 may have attracted some attention, but this time, it'll be more a case of trying to escape it! 

Of the 2 billion (!) people estimated to be watching across the globe, an estimated 400 MILLION will stream the content online. 400 million. That's about six times the population of the UK, kids.

The royal family may have managed to turn down B Sky B's request to film the event in 3D (I kid you not), but they can't stop the hoards all trying to get their little bit of the magic digitally. Will the internet fall over? Who knows? Good luck servers across the globe!

I won't be watching online. I won't be watching on TV. I'll be on a beach on the south coast somewhere hopefully. But the thing is, I'll have my iPhone with me for sure. And Twitter. And Facebook. And the Royal Wedding digitally, in the palm of my hand. Looks like I might be getting involved, after all...

Digital marketing strategy launched for SSE

Digital marketing strategy launched for SSE

We've recently embarked on a series of new digital marketing campaigns for utilities giant Scottish and Southern Energy.

Currently, consumers that switch to SSE products receive most of their follow-up literature and promotional material through the post - leading to high costs for personalisation, printing and postage. We're helping SSE  move their communications into web and email - so that customers who sign up for online tariffs are emailed information and updates at key stages throughout the transfer process - rather than being sent postcards and letters.

Long term this will save SSE hundreds of thousands of pounds in fulfilment costs and manpower, and it's more environmentally friendly.

And very soon we're going to be talking to SSE about how our technology can help them distribute welcome packs and contracts more efficiently and securely.

Simon Newing

Created on Thursday March 31 2011 11:26 AM

Tags: emailmarketing campaigns

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How to get a bullseye when targeting your email broadcasts!

How to get a bullseye when targeting your email broadcasts!

We've been conducting some in depth research here at Focus HQ. Having studied the success of some of our email broadcast campaigns we have the following top tips to get the most out of your email campaigns:

1) HTML emails as opposed to text only emails are 10 times more likely to have their links clicked. So get creative with some graphic design!

2) Generally emails with subject titles that contain 'Top 10 offers' or 'Top 20 offers' score low views - it just sounds like a lot of information, people can't face reading a long email. Keep it short and sweet!

3) Emails with 'exclusive offers' or discounts in the subject titles tend to be more successful. Everyone likes to think they're getting a bargain!

Now we've armed you with these top tips you're ready to aim and fire your email campaigns! Of course if you want some help with an email campaign, we're always available for a chat!

IE9 Launch - is it time for you to break up with your browser?

IE9 Launch - is it time for you to break up with your browser?

A browser can be like that comfy pair of old slippers, it’s your friend, to take your walks around the internet in. It can be hard to break the habit of those old comfy slippers though, and try a new pair of slippers, even if they may allow you to walk a bit faster and trip you up less. You might not know your way round in them so well at first, they might not be the right fit for what you need or they could be a great improvement; maybe those old slippers are holding you back? With the launch of Internet Explorer 9 last week it’s time for us all to consider if our current browser really is the best fit.

For those less technical savvy amongst you, you may be shocked to know that there is more than one way to view the internet. You may still be using Internet Explorer thinking that that is as good as the internet can get, but let me introduce you to my friends, Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari. These different browsers offer different functionality some are better for macs (Safari) some are faster (Chrome) and some are safer (Firefox). 

Internet Explorer has dominated the browser market for many years; in 2002 95% of web users were browsing through it, now that’s more like 45-50%. This is because the browser market has revolutionised in the last couple of years with the invention of browsers like Chrome and Firefox which offer faster web browsing, better functionality and a more intuitive web browsing experience. Internet Explorer 9 is Microsoft’s latest offering that is trying to win back its market share. It offers integration with Windows 7 to make browsing your favourite sites easier, and gives larger screen space to site contents by reducing the tool bars. 

It’s free to download any of these browsers, so why not find out which is the right fit for you?