Internet Blackout – SOPA and Protect IP

It’s an incredibly busy start to the year for us here at frag.co.uk; but we’ve just got time to make you aware of an important event on today, 18th January.

There will be an INTERNET BLACKOUT on many websites. Wikipedia, Reddit and many other sites may be unavailable.

These sites (along with ourselves) are campaigning against the US laws (Protect IP and SOPA) which can shut down international sites without a trial. Not only does this hurt free-speech for US citizens, it fundamentally breaks how the internet works, and could easily lead to sites that the US government disagree with being targeted.

We already have seen similar ‘firewalls’ in China, but this has already started to happen in other countries too. A Dutch ISP has been forced to block a popular search engine – however, due to some workarounds, the site still works. Due to the law that was passed down, it’s instead blocked a popular rights-defending site who work to defend free speech, the EFFI.

A similar court case has happened in the UK already, and BT Internet have been forced to block a site at their ‘own’ cost. i.e. Their customers will be paying not to be able to access specific sites.

Mostly these are being blocked by companies which have the power and money to control Governments. It sounds like exaggeration, but currently EMI are suing the Irish government for not implementing these same “piracy blocking provisions” fast enough.

The UK government have constantly tried to pass similar laws. While we don’t have a voice over the laws in the US, we cannot allow these laws to proceed, or they will soon be here too.

In related news, the head of the MPAA (the company which is pressuring the US Government to pass these laws), who is also a Former Senator, Chris Dodd has said:

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.”

He believes that Wikipedia and others are wrong to shut down their sites by their own option. Instead, he believes it to be fair that his company should be able to do remotely without any recompense or discussion.


The UK government have constantly tried to pass similar laws, under the same guise. Previously these were headed by the Conservative Lord, Peter Mandelson (completely co-incidentally after meeting with DreamWorks founder on his Yacht in Corfu) and it was tried to push these laws through before the previous change in Government in the hope it wouldn’t be noticed. Incidently, the US tried to push these similar laws last year near the very busy time of Christmas. People noticed. It’s clear that these companies know they do not have public support and are keen to push these laws ahead in private.

Not only could UK companies websites’ be blocked under these laws, as well as damaging the underlying infrastructure of how the internet functions, it’s clear that the UK will be likely to follow suit if these laws are passed in the US. While we don’t have a voice over the laws in the US, we must stop this happening; and Wikipedia, Google, Reddit – even the Whitehouse – and many other companies and people all agree.

Whatever your opinions on how to deal with piracy, it’s hard to admit there isn’t a problem. If you’re any kind of artist or publisher, your works will almost certainly still be pirated at some stage. However, these laws don’t mean that you can do anything about it – only those with money and power will be able to.

Perhaps these Governments only believe that piracy is only wrong if it’s stealing from the wealthy?

Legal Bank Robbery

Our sincere apologies for a lack of content these last few weeks; but as usual, with the run-up to Christmas we’re quite busy with client requests and preparing for the new year.

However, in the meantime; we’ve found a recent post of BoingBoing that may be of interest to our readers:

Eminent neuroscientist Moran Cerf got his start as an Israeli military hacker and then as a private security/penetration tester, robbing banks at their own behest over the net. In this hilarious anaecdote, he describes what happened when he and his pals decided to rob a bank in person.

Sadly it’s a bit quiet – so turn your volume up. Video can be found here.

Ten More Algorithm Changes from Google

Google make around 500 changes to its search system each year; some are minor changes, but some have huge impacts on your sites’ search position.

Possibly one of the most important changes is a focus on fresh content; something that has been featured in the Official Google Blog;

As we announced just over a week ago, we’ve made a significant improvement to how we rank fresh content. This change impacts roughly 35 percent of total searches (around 6-10% of search results to a noticeable degree) and better determines the appropriate level of freshness for a given query.

There’s also changes to how duplicated boilerplate text is dealt with – something that should generally always be avoided.

While these changes are useful to note; there is no reason to make drastic changes to your site; these announcements should be taken as an indicator to improve and optimise especially where it can be a easy task and a quick win; and especially where it helps your visitors too.

The entire list can be found on Google’s Inside Search Blog

The Evolution of the frag.co.uk Snow Screensaver

In November, approximately 16 years ago, I gave myself the challenge to write a screensaver in time for Christmas. It gave the effect of falling snow over the desktop, at varying speeds and including wind and various speed settings. Each snow particle was to be stored individually, and contain it’s speed, colour and trajectory.

It was put together over a number of days, way in advance, and had so many features that could be added, and so much programming and mathematics, I’d found an excellent way to practice a variety of programming techniques, including memory management.

Originally written in GFA Basic (for the Atari ST), in the mid-1990s, it’s been rewritten in various languages, including QuickBasic in DOS soon after. Back then, many machines would struggle with many ‘particles’ of snow, and it was a skill to write something effective.

My previous attempt, in 2006, was written in Visual Basic 6 and used GDI for graphics. This uses the operating system to draw graphics, and did not make use of the latest hardware. This made it less than optimal and used a higher amount of CPU.

I’ve been using VB.net for some time, and since December is nearly upon us, it was time to rewrite with DirectX and newer tools. After some major headaches with Managed DirectX (it appears to be something else Microsoft have forgotten about); the results were astounding.

Using DirectX, it can have millions of particles (more than the screen itself can show) and uses little CPU; even on low-end computers. I’ve been able to add in a number of features, and had to limit some others. I hope to add in more features in future versions. Certainly, for next years’ version, I’m hoping for the ability to pile over the desktop windows and images.

frag.co.uk Snow 2011 screenshot

frag.co.uk Snow 2011 screenshot

It is still currently in beta; but it’s only real issue is that it requires a Direct 3D capable card.

The latest version, Snow 2011 is still in beta but available to download from our software page; and we’d love to hear any feedback – good or bad!

Download frag.co.uk Snow 2011 Screensaver

ZenCart, Magento and poor SEO – solving the issues

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

Pixel Ovenmitts from JustMustard.com

We’ve been working with JustMustard.com on a very special project involving ZenCart eCommerce software. JustMustard is an online retailer and wholesaler of a variety of very strange and very awesome gifts and presents. We really enjoy working with them. Plus we really want some Pixel Oven-gloves.

However, ZenCart is viewed with both praise and disdain from programmers. It is an excellent off-the-shelf system for an online shopping experience, very secure, and very customisable. However, like most off-the-shelf systems, it does require a lot of work to give the results wanted.

As an aside, if you are looking for a new shopping system, we do recommend looking into both off-the-shelf systems such as osCommerce and Magento against having a custom solution being built. A custom solution can mean better SEO and should be more in needs with your business, and although the costs may appear high and a require a good long-term development team, on the other hand, a generic site needing custom changes later can be expensive or impossible, and is more likely to be attacked and spammed. In JustMustard’s case, we’re finding that ZenCart (after some work) is working very well; but in other sites using a generic site could be a costly mistake..

ZenCart, along with many other eCommerce sites are not set out for great SEO opportunities. ZenCart’s biggest mistake is having duplicate content, since a product can be accessed by many URLs (via the cPath); and often different URLs for the same product is used across the site. ZenCart also doesn’t make any use of the URL for keywords, often making the common mistake of using the querystring for page navigation.

We’ve been able to work with the ZenCart system and rewrite all the necessary URLs, and also automatically use the product title (and optional description) as part of the keywords in the URL. This is simply done using some fairly logical PHP techniques alongside some custom htaccess rules and regular expression matching.

It means a URL which previously looked like this:

/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=1_4&products_id=39

Is now redirected, alongside any similar-looking URL, to the much neater and unambiguous;

/product-39/cactooph-toothpick/

The same technique has been applied to product categories, and has been to static product pages too.

If the URL visited isn’t exactly the right one, the script tries to find the product, category or static page, and redirects the customer to the correct URL. The URL includes the latest keywords via the product title; ensuring customers have an informative URL, and search engines have valuable keywords and non-duplicate content.

Scripts like this can really clean up a working website, and really help to achieve both better keyword position and make it easier for your customers to navigate your site; without requiring a complete re-write. Our version will work just as easily for any future product; and doesn’t require any additional effort from product administration.

list of shortcodes on derp.co.uk that come from rewriterules

derp.co.uk: we love rewrite rules!

We’ve done this on every site we’ve set up, and found it helps bundles. Often this is just a few pages, but we’ve integrated this same system on far more advanced websites too – including a complex laptop, battery and power browser system on the laptopshop.co.uk website – a total of over 300,000 pages. We’ve also used rewrite rules to a ridiculous degree on the image site, derp.co.uk

Certainly ensuring non-duplicate content and keywords are important to SEO. Changing all the URLs on your site can be a lot of work to achieve, and it should never be taken lightly, it can sometimes be better to improve slowly and carefully. At the very least, it is essential to ensure all old URLs redirect to the new address and include a sitemap. For a number of reasons, this was a good time for JustMustard.com, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it and tuning accordingly..

Despite our technique being relatively simple, it requires quite some work before it will automatically with all ZenCart installs, and static pages have had to be arranged using some of our other tools. JustMustard.com was a perfect candidate for this work, but every site we’ve seen has different needs and requirements.

For this reason, we’re not able to provide source code, though we may provide some of our techniques if there’s demand; and we’re always happy to help if you contact us. We hope this is useful and motivating to get those site issues fixed!

Instead, we are happy to discuss similar installations and assistance with SEO and eCommerce.

eMail: web@frag.co.uk
Phone: 07739 315821

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