I first came across Startup Framework from Designmodo a few months ago and was immediately impressed.
Startup is a collection of responsive and customisable components that can be combined to meet most needs. In the full version there are around 100 components such as:
Both the design and code are clean and simple and the results look professional, without having to put in a great deal of effort. Startup has a similar concept to Blocks which is built on the Bootstrap CSS framework.
Startup Framework for WordPress
Last month I was invited to test drive Startup Framework for WordPress which combines the pre-designed components of Startup within a drag-and-drop interface within a WordPress theme.
I’ve only just managed to find the time to take it for a spin but what I’ve seen so far I’ve liked, even if the price seems a little steep: USD $149 per year for one website (inclusive of support and updates).
Startup Framework for WordPress installs as a theme. It seems to adds one new content type (SFW Pages) and the demo doesn’t give me access to the plugins so I can’t see whether the additional functionality is offered through plugins or built-into the theme itself.
What is added, however, is a new menu item: SFW Pages. This is where the majority of pages using this theme will be created. The default Pages option is still there but pages created using this appear to be simple and entirely centre-aligned, which seems odd.
Editing a page
When editing a SFW Page you see very little until you click the “Visual editor” button.
That opens up a new drag-and-drop, WYSIWYG interface:
Along the top is a link back to the SFW Pages screen, the name of the current page, and three buttons on the right than enable you to reorder the blocks, preview the page or save the page.
On the left is a list of components (more about those in a moment).
But the most space is given to the content of your page. Here, almost everything is customisable. When you hover over a component block a settings cog appears at the top right giving you access to edit the HTML and CSS, reset the block to default settings, or delete the block completely.
Clicking on any text drops in a text-insertion point enabling you to edit the text. Double-clicking or highlighting text reveals a context menu offering three options: bold, italic or create a link.
It is all very intuitive so far.
The bread and butter of this theme, however, is the collection of pre-designed components which is available at any time from a list on the left. (While you are editing existing components this shrinks to a ‘hamburger’ icon.)
On the demo that I’ve tried these components are collected into the following categories:
Hovering over each category reveals a number of pre-designed options for that category, for example Headers:
These can then be dragged and dropped (or clicked) to be added to your page design, and then edited as appropriate.
Some components are more editable than others, such as background images, image fading or colour tinting, social media buttons, etc.
Reordering the blocks is a simple case of clicking the “Reorder Blocks” button, then drag and drop in the new view:
I have only a couple of criticisms about
The first is that, personally, I would like to see a few more simple header components. For some pages, you don’t need a massive image or a lot of white space at the top. But I do recognise that this is a design decision.
My second, any main concern, however is the price. At USD $149 (approx GBP £93) per year for a single site that is more than twice what I currently pay for Divi.
That said, I do recognise that a lot of work has gone into this framework and theme, and that it’s aimed primarily at business rather than for personal blogs.
Overall, I’ve been really impressed with Startup Framework for WordPress. If you need to create a beautiful, modern-looking and responsive website very quickly then you would be hard pressed to find anything to get the job quite as quickly as Startup, even if you used Divi from Elegant Themes which is my current favourite.
A few weeks ago I blogged about moving from Microsoft Outlook (and an Exchange account) to eM Client using Google’s productivity tools Gmail, Calendar and Contacts. These are my reflections on using eM Client for the last month or so, having been a faithful Outlook user for the last 14 years.
My reasons for moving were three-fold:
Simplify—I was using at least three email accounts, as well as trying to synchronise Outlook calendar and contacts with Google. This way I could keep everything in one place.
Share—I needed a more robust way of sharing my calendar with (my wife) Jane, and she uses Gmail as her primary account, so it made sense to move.
Cost—Though they do offer a terrific service, buying an Exchange account from Simply Mail Services was costing me about £70 per year. I could put that money to better use.
My hesitations in moving were two-fold:
Email address—I really wanted to keep my [email protected] email address, and for email to send as that. But the more I thought about it the more I realised that was just vanity. So long as all mail sent that address was forwarded to me it didn’t really matter what email address I was sending from; besides some people were emailing me there anyway. (As it is I can configure Gmail to send as my own domain, I just haven’t done it yet.)
Email client—I’ve enjoyed using Outlook because I like having everything in the same place: email, calendar, contacts and tasks. I’ve adapted my workflow around this set up. and it works for me. I knew that Outlook wasn’t suitable but didn’t know of an alternative. eM Client proved to be a near perfect replacement.
Setting up eM Client was so simple. Upon installing the application I was asked to enter my account details. I typed in my Gmail email address and password, and eM Client did the rest.
The free version of eM Client allows you to connect a maximum of two accounts, the pro version (£29.95 GBP) allows unlimited accounts. I’m currently on the free version but I intend to upgrade to pro at some point, simply to support the company.
During the setup eM Client alerted me to the fact that I hadn’t enabled my Gmail account to use IMAP. This was easy to do within Gmail settings.
IMAP enables two-way communication between eM Client and Gmail, so any changes made in one client are immediately made in the others. This makes it really useful when trying to access your email from multiple devices, e.g. Windows and Android.
Once connected to my Gmail account eM Client took only a few minutes to download my email messages, calendar and contacts data.
I also connected my Facebook account which allows me to use eM Client as a chat client, and to update contact details and avatars from Facebook.
Review of eM Client
The following is a summary of my experience of using eM Client over the last few weeks.
Bear in mind that I am using eM Client only for Email, Calendar and Contacts. eM Client also supports Tasks and what it calls Widgets, which are plugins like an RSS reader.
I discovered, quite by accident, that if you right-click the left-hand panel you can decide which modules to display.
This also affects the shortcut keys to quickly navigate to these modules. With Tasks and Widgets removed these are now, for me:
Ctrl + F1 Mail
Ctrl + F2 Calendar
Ctrl + F3 Contacts
The full list of shortcut keys can be viewed at Tools > Settings > General > Shortcuts.
Using Gmail with eM Client
The email client looked very similar to Outlook, albeit with a simpler, cleaner look. The screen shows four columns (from the left):
Folders (Gmail labels)
Message (full text of the currently selected message)
Sidebar (showing contact details, agenda or chat)
eM Client comes with a number of built-in themes. I’m using a light blue theme called Arctic which is very clean looking. It clearly distinguishes the different areas of the screen: menu bar, mail folders, message, sidebar allowing me to get on and work undistracted.
Folders and labels
One feature I used a lot in Outlook mail was folders. Gmail doesn’t use folders. Instead it uses labels.
For many years I have used the following primary folders:
I tend to create sub-folders for Projects and Waiting for to make it easier to find emails. Then when the project is finished, or the item I’m waiting for (e.g. Amazon – CD order) has arrived I destroy the folder and either delete the emails or move them into the Archive folder.
In Gmail email can be categorised with more than one label. I have decided to use only one label per email. This matches the way that I used folders in Outlook. I find it simpler this way.
Something else I had to learn about Gmail is that “Inbox” is a label too. If an email doesn’t have the “Inbox” label then it is regarded as archived and appears under the “All Mail” label.
In eM Client Gmail labels appear as folders. So if I drag and drop an email into a folder in eM Client, it applies that label in the Gmail web client.
Once I understood these subtle differences between Outlook and Gmail I was happy to explore setting up rules to automatically filter my email.
Something that I relied on a lot within Outlook were rules. I created a lot of rules to filter all my regular newsletter and mailing list emails into a sub-folder called ‘Mailing lists’ (who would have thought?).
I’ve found this prevents my inbox from clogging up with ‘noise’, enabling me to see the more important emails from friends and family.
Gmail calls these rules filters. But unlike in Outlook, you cannot set up these filters within the eM Client. They must be done using the Gmail web interface.
Initially I thought that I might find this a bother, but in reality I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is. And besides, for each newsletter I only need to do it once.
It has also allowed me to review.all the mail I’m getting and decide whether I should cancel the subscription or not.
I tend to use the same rules for each message:
Skip the Inbox (Archive it).
Apply the label: Gareth/Mailing lists.
Never send it to Spam.
Also apply filter to X matching conversations.
As well as labels/folders, eM Client supports categories.
There are four contexts in which categories can be used: contacts, emails, calendar events or tasks. Categories can be unique to a context or shared across any of the four contexts.
You may set the context when editing the category.
I have still to finalise the categories, but I tend to use these only for grouping items within my “Action” folder/label. These are emails that I have identified that I need to do something with: reply to, read, or follow a link to download something, for example.
Something I used quite a lot in Outlook was “Quick Parts” where you could store standard replies to certain questions. I used these a lot for replying about Psion repairs or certain mahjong questions.
eM Client doesn’t support this feature. However, you can create a number of custom signatures and using the “Insert signature on caret position” option to can use this to insert these standard replies into your text. And unlike Outlook 2010 you may add more than one signature to an email.
If your reply is longer then you could opt to use templates. As far as I can see, however, you cannot insert template text into a reply. You may only use it to create a new email. So if you don’t mind a bit of copying and pasting then you may choose to do this. Otherwise, stick with the signature workaround.
When I used Outlook with a standard (POP3) account I needed an add-in to filter out spam emails; I used Cloudmark DesktopOne, which I found excellent.
After I moved to Microsoft Exchange I paid extra for a Postini server-side spam filter to be activated on my account, which I found gobbled up more than a few genuine mailing list emails.
Having moved to Gmail, only a few rogue messages have got through to my inbox, and I’ve had maybe only four or five false positives.
Right-clicking the Junk E-mail folder in eM Client allows me to empty my Gmail junk mail.
On the whole I have been able to use eM Client in exactly the same way that I used Outlook. In other words, my familiar workflow hasn’t really been upset.
The only real difference is needing to go to Gmail itself to set up mail filters.
I am actually surprised at how easily and seamlessly I’ve made the transition from Outlook to eM Client, after 14 years of using the former, but I suspect that reflects the quality and flexibility of the software.
Using Google Calendar with Em Client
As sharing calendars was one of the drivers for moving from Outlook I reckoned that this had better work seamlessly. And I’m delighted to report that it is.
I have five Google calendars that I display:
My default calendar (green)
Scottish Episcopal Church saints days (rose)
Regardless of the device (web, eM Client, or Android) Jane and I have synchronised the colours of the calendars. So my calendar is always green, Jane’s is always violet, children is always orange, etc. That way we don’t need to think twice about what we’re looking at.
eM Client draws its colours from Google Calendar itself. On our Android devices (Nexus 4, Nexus 7, and Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini) you have to set the colours on the device itself.
I used to use a lot of colours and categories when using the Outlook calendar to denote different activities, e.g. coding, writing documentation, meeting in the office, meeting in St Andrews, meeting/conference outwith St Andrews, etc.
I expected to miss that when I moved to a mono-colour calendar but again I’ve surprised myself. The clarity offered by colour equals person has been really valuable.
I don’t use any categories now for events. eM Client comes with four built-in (vacation, must attend, needs preparation, birthday) but I don’t use any of them; you cannot delete these four.
Another decision we made was to give each other full read and write access to each other’s diaries. That way we can add appointments directly to each other’s calendar without having to go through the rigmarole of inviting each other to events.
Calendar for home events
Another innovation was to add a generic, shared calendar for home events such as which recycling bins go out and when, gas boiler service dates, car tax, etc.
I chose grey for that calendar which makes it neutral but helps it stand out enough to notice it.
Google Calendar’s recurring event feature was ideal for this calendar.
Like eM Client’s handling of Gmail, the lag between adding an event within eM Client and it appearing either on the Google Calendar web interface or on our Android device is minimal. It is almost instant.
While eM Client displays an Agenda view in the sidebar, I have not found myself using it and tend to leave the sidebar set to viewing Facebook chat contacts.
Tasks and calendar
One feature of Outlook that I used a lot was to drag and drop tasks from the sidebar onto the calendar.As it’s not possible to do this in eM Client I am now using Todoist to manage my tasks.
I now either manage the dates within Todoist itself or simply copy and paste tasks into my calendar. It’s a little overhead but really not that much.
As this was one of the primary functions that we needed to get right (sharing multiple calendars) I have been quite delighted not only with what Google Calendar itself offers but also how eM Client handles the management of these calendars.
Unlike Gmail there is very little that I have needed to do using the Google Calendar web interface, once we got the calendars created, shared and set to the right colours.
Using Google Contacts with eM Client
Google Contacts is yet another area where eM Client excels.
When I used Outlook (either standalone or connected to Exchange) I would every now and then import my Outlook contacts into Google in the vain hope of keeping them backed-up and synchronised. It was an overhead that I didn’t need and it’s been quite a relief, actually, to have them all in one place for a change.
There are five ways to view your contacts, as well as a couple of ways to filter them. The five views are:
Custom View (which by default shows you every contact card field in a spreadsheet-like table)
The default view is Business cards, and this is generally the view that I prefer. Each tile shows you the person’s name, email address, telephone numbers and/or company:
The coloured blocks on the left-hand side represent categories.
In Outlook I used to categorize almost all my contacts, but I used the Company field for that. I used this field to record where I met the person, e.g. National Youth Choir of Great Britain, School, Family, etc. I can use the “By Company” view to display contacts in this way; although it displays them by default as First name, Surname.
I have also created a number of key categories, e.g. colleagues, family, home-related contacts (plumber, joiner, etc.) so that I can filter my contacts by these categories.
These categories also come in handy when viewing contacts on my Android phone.
One thing that I discovered was that for contacts to appear in Google Contacts they seem to need to be categorized as “My Contacts”,
The other way to filter, of course, is by search. I would have found it handy if the search updated the list as you were typing but you have to hit Enter before the search begins.
Using a combination of categories, search and the scroll bar you can quickly locate the contact you are looking for.
Something I really miss from Outlook 2010, however, is the A-Z list down the right-hand side of the contacts cards view. This allowed you to very quickly navigate within your contact cards. I do hope eM Client adds this to a future version.
One neat feature, once you’ve connected your Facebook account to eM Client is the ability to have your contacts’ profile photographs imported into Google Contacts.
That obviously requires your contacts to be using Facebook, and for them to have used the email address that you have for them to be registered in their Facebook account.
Duplicates and conflicts
Occasionally things can go wrong. When I used a Psion to sync with Outlook on two PCs (home and work) I was forever needing to remove duplicate entries. This isn’t as big a problem with eM Client as it is in Outlook.
eM Client comes with its own built-in duplicate remover (Tools > Deduplicator…).
I found it pretty effective, to be honest. It found a number of duplicates and where possible it combined information very effectively and deleted the rest.
A couple of times while updating contact cards I found that I made too many changes in a short space of time. In these cases eM Client asked me which data I wanted to keep and which I wanted to overwrite: local or remote.
Another win. To be honest, I can’t see myself needing to use the Google Contacts web interface terribly much. More or less everything is handled very nicely within eM Client.
All in all, I am pretty delighted with eM Client. It does exactly what I needL which is to manage Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Contacts in one place. I really couldn’t ask for much more.
Sure there are a few niggles, like the lack of A-Z navigation in Contacts, and needing to set Filters in the Gmail web interface, but really these are minor issues.
If you are looking for an Outlook replacement (and eM Client does support Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, as well as other standard POP3 and IMAP email accounts etc.) then I can thoroughly and warmly recommend eM Client.
If I was to score it for its integration with Google services then I would need to give it a full 5/5.
In June 2012 I replied to a post on a local Freecycle mailing list offering “hundreds of metal CDs”. When I got them home I’d been very kindly given around 195 (give or take a few). I’ve been more or less reviewing one CD a week ever since on my 195 metal CDs blog.
Some weeks are easier than others for finding the time to write a review. For albums that I particularly like I sometimes cheekily listen to it for a further week before scribbling down my thoughts.
I’ve been blogging now for well over ten years, so why has it only just occurred to me to get at least one week ahead of myself and review an album at least a week or two in advance?!
That would clearly take the pressure off. I could write the review whenever I wanted and schedule it for the appropriate Monday. As you can see from this image I plan my reviews well in advance using Trello:
So that’s what I’ve done this afternoon. I had a run of albums by Italian black/gothic metal band Opera IX scheduled for the next few weeks so I’ve just grouped them and reviewed them in chronological order this afternoon.
It will be interesting to see what difference this makes in terms of finding the time to review the albums and how much I enjoy them given that the pressure has been relieved a little.
This evening I’ve been laughing so much at this review of the Playmobil security checkpoint on Amazon.
I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.
The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillance society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighbourhood Surveillance System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu Ghraib Interrogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I think about this toy.
As I write the Playmobil City Life Airport Security Check In, “with conveyor belt to screen luggage and metal detector”, is currently available on Amazon UK for only £437.71.