Tools & Tips, Computer Maintenance, Tutorials

Spring Clean Your System Series: Introduction

Spring is in the air – at last! With the increasing light, we naturally start to clear out all those dusty corners and give our homes and gardens a good tidy up, ready for the year ahead. But what about your technology?

If, like me, you use your computer for work and also have a number of other devices you use, such as a table or iPad, the chances are you have a lot of files to organise. Whether that’s photos, e-mail or documents, just like your regular paper-based filing pile, a lot of clutter can build up over time if you don’t stay on top of it. And that’s just the stuff you see.

Whenever we use technology lots of files are used behind the scenes and these also mount up over time; things like temp (temporary) files, cookies from websites we visit, and a legion of other one-time and short-time-use files. All this invisible clutter stays on your system and over time slows it down, which is why it’s worth removing it. And what better time than Spring, since that’s when we get busy tidying generally.

Now all you need is a few specialist (free) tools and the know-how. What better way to start the week than with decluttered and organised computer! To help you with this I’ve put together a series of posts that will take you through the various ways you can tidying up and also get organised.

What’s Covered

First we’ll look at ways to declutter all those invisible files using some free software designed just for that purpose.

Then we’ll look at decluttering our files and applications.

And finally, once we’ve cleaned up our act, we’ll make sure we’ve got everything backed up, either to The Cloud or to an external disk or drive.

While you’re waiting…

In the meantime, why not get out some screen wipes and give the screen and keyboard a good wipe down. And, if you have a desktop PC or a laptop with a visible vent, it’s a good idea to put the hoover up to the back of the fan vent and suck out the dust especially if you have pets. No, seriously. One of our computers was constantly overheating. When we took the back off to check that all was well with the heat-sink we found, to our surprise, an enormous ball of fluff had collected there. No wonder it wouldn’t work!

Taking that one step further, if you’re confident to open the case on a desktop machine – and can do so without invalidating any warranties – it’s well worth giving your computer’s insides a good freshen up. Just open it up and give all the dusty looking bits a blast of air from an air canister such as this one on Amazon*. No more fluff – and no more whirring fan.

Although the focus of this will be on Windows systems, many of the techniques and tips will also be relevant for Mac users. Where there are differences, I’ll provide separate info in later posts.

Credits: main image copyright

Are you ready to Spring Clean Your System? Don’t want to miss out? Subscribe to the newsletter for latest news, updates, and tech tips.

If you need help with this or any other aspect of your home or business IT, contact me to arrange a free consultation.

PLEASE NOTE, that this post contains an affiliate link. If you buy something through one of those links you won’t pay a penny more but I will get a small commission.

Productivity Tools, Tools & Tips, Websites

SEO Tools: From Yoast to SEO Press

Since I first started working with WordPress I’ve been using the Yoast plugin for my SEO. It’s a great tool. I’ve been happy with it and have been happily recommending it to clients. But lately there’s been chatter in some groups where WordPress pros and others discuss their SEO tools of choice, and I’ve been hearing very good things about SEO Press. After reading many reviews to find out more, I’ve decided to give it a go.

As I type, I’m backing up my personal blog and will shortly be installing SEO Press. Once it’s installed I will then go through the configuration and setup procedure (if there is one) and then work on and publish my first post using it. According to the instructions I’ve read it’s simple to use and has some great features, such as tools to help with titles and metatags, the creation of XML and HTML sitemaps (the latter being somewhat overlooked these days but still very helpful), content analysis with unlimited keywords, and also making it easy to implement Schema – a form of metadata that is increasingly favoured by search engines, giving your content much greater visibility in searches.

There’s a comparison of the tool’s features on the SEO Press website. It sounds impressive, at least for a free plugin. As with anything the proof will be in the pudding. After using it for a while I’ll come back with a review – on usability and also whether it makes any discernible difference to my site’s SEO! Of course, there’s no plugin in the world that can actually boost your site’s SEO. Only good writing and constant review and improvement can do that! But what a good SEO plugin can do is guide you a little and make some of the technical side of SEO, such as adding Schema tags and maintaining your XML sitemaps, easier to manage. Wish me luck!

Do you need help with your website SEO or WordPress tools and plugins? If so, contact me to arrange a free consultation – no obligation.

Read more articles about WordPress

Tools & Tips, Troubleshooting, WordPress

Fun and Games with Mixed Content and SSL Errors

Thanks to Google everyone is now familiar with the secure site padlock in the browser address bar. It’s pretty easy to setup thanks to some great tools like Let’s Encrypt (that generates free SSL certificates) and (for WordPress) plugins Really Simple SSL. But it’s not always plain sailing! Sometimes, despite using these tools you get mixed content and SSL errors> There’s plenty of info online about how to find and fix these (again, using plugins) but this is how I was able to repair a site that had just one page layout that was showing as HTTPS in the address bar but still listed as Not Secure.

Finally! I’ve been trying to figure out why a client site, one with no SSL issues (until now) has been showing just one page of the blog as Not Secure. I Googled, backed up the site then tried changing the URL using Elementor Tools (using the http version of the address and changing it to https). Nothing found.

Then I went into the SQL database and ran query on the http version of the site. Nothing found. Hmmm…

Another check on the incredibly handy Why No Padlock site (which should have been my first port of call) and an old non-HTTPS URL, actually to a development copy that I hosted locally, was flagged up for one of the images used on the page.

Next step: check the source for the offending image file.

Next setback: no file with that name is listed in the source.

So back in the SQL database I ran a search on the path of the file and found that there were 107 instances of it in wp_postmeta and another 27 in wp_posts. It’s definitely there!

A quick URL find and replace later using this query and it’s all back to being padlocked and secured.

UPDATE wp_postmeta SET meta_value = replace(meta_value, 'OLD URL', 'NEW URL');

UPDATE wp_posts SET guid = replace(guid, 'OLD URL', 'NEW URL');

UPDATE wp_posts SET post_content = replace(post_content, 'OLD URL', 'NEW URL');


News & Updates

Our hosting is Green!

As of 2019 we are happy to be able to announce that our servers are powered 100% by ”green energy”. But what does that mean? Well, in this case, it means all the energy used to power the data centre* comes from renewable sources. Because our servers are in the UK, the provider is Ecotricity. Look them up. This isn’t about planting a few trees or an annual carbon offset – this is genuinely renewable energy!

For the new year I’m working on some standard hosting packages, which I’ll be launching later this month, but for now, if you need hosting, contact me to discuss your needs.

Our self-managed* hosting packages start from 10 euros per month and include:

  • Unlimited domains
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • 99.9% uptime
  • WordPress
  • Webmail
  • GDPR-compliant security, based in the UK
  • A fully-featured CPanel admin panel

With a self-managed package you are given full admin access and take responsibility for all of the management – adding domains, site backups, updates to your WordPress site, and so on.

Tools & Tips

Your Website and GDPR: Privacy Policy and Consent Copy

In my previous post, Are You GDPR Ready?, I suggested seven steps you should take to get ready for GDPR. In this post I’ll address numbers two and three:
How to Publish a Privacy Policy on your site to gain your user’s consent and Implement an Opt-In policy.

Publish Your Privacy Policy

Step 1:  Write Your Privacy Policy

Yes, the first thing to do, if you don’t already have one, is to write the policy. The new regulations advise businesses to use ordinary language so the best way to do this is to write it yourself. Take a look at the one on this site and also take a look at others, ideally for businesses similar to your own. Assuming you’ve done your audit already, you should understand exactly what data you have, how and why you use it, and where and how it is stored. All of that information needs to go into your policy document.

Step 2: Publish the Privacy Policy

To publish this to your site, create a new page for your website or blog and copy the policy text there.

It’s good practice to make this easy to find, so add a link to it from your website’s menu or somewhere out of the way but not hidden, like the page footer.

Step 3: Share Your Privacy Policy with Visitors to Your Site

If you have a website built around one of the many CRM platforms – Joomla, WordPress, SquareSpace, or Wix – the developers are ahead of the game, and there are a number of plugins that will make your work easier.

This site, based on WordPress, uses the plugin called GDPR by TrewKnowledge. It’s easy to set up and requires linking to your privacy policy page and some text added for the cookie consent popups. It has a bunch of other advanced features that you can use, if you need to.

Search Google and you can easily find similar tools for the other platforms listed above. If you’re not sure what any of this means, ask your web developer for help but don’t ignore the issue! It’s a necessary step in ensuring your site (and therefore your business) is compliant.

If you’ve got a static website, the simplest way to do this is make your new privacy policy page the landing page for your site. That way you know anyone who visits your site will have read it. Create a link to your main site, hidden behind the policy page, and require them to click link text that makes it clear that by clicking on the link to accept the site they accept the policy.

The downside of this approach is that it’s fairly unsophisticated: anyone visiting the site again will again be taken to the same policy page and will be required to consent on each repeat visit.

Implement an Opt-In Policy

If you collect email addresses for a mailing list or use forms, you need to ensure that users opt-in to any use of or storage of their data.

Opt-In to Mailing Lists

Most mailing list forms require the user to enter their name and email address before clicking a button to submit the form. Make sure that your text explicitly states how this information will be used (e.g., “in order to send you the weekly newsletter”, or whatever) whether or not it will be shared with or used by third parties, and anything else relevant to the person signing up in order that they can consent to it. You then need to ensure that any emails that are sent to the list, including any welcome message, makes it clear how the person who has signed up unsubscribes. That’s pretty standard stuff these days, but it’s worth checking that you have your house in order.

Opt-In for Forms

For contact forms, you must add a check box alongside a statement requiring consent for the data you provide to be used and stored. It’s also worth putting a link to your privacy policy but that alone is not good enough: you need to spell it out to the user there and then, in order that they can consent. An example of this is to say: “By submitting this form you consent to [company name] using and storing my information in order to respond to my inquiry.”

As with anything, there is more you can do but for small business and organisations it’s unlikely they will be necessary.

Disclaimer: This information is intended as guidance only. It is not a substitute for legal advice and is based on personal research conducted by the of the author. Ensuring your business is GDPR compliant is the responsibility of your Data Controller. 

Now read part 3 in this series.

In the next post find out how to makes sure files you create and store, on your laptop or other device, are secure.

Image credit:

Do you need help? Contact me now to arrange a personalised tech support or training session.
A banner with the words Tool Tip! and the words "Use icons on your docs and website" written on a small blackboard.
Tools & Tips, Websites

Using Icons in Websites and Documents

If you’re building a website or working on a document and you want to use some icons, where do you find them? A well-placed and well-designed icon can really give your site and files a professional look and feel.

There are many places to find them but you can quickly search Bootstrap, Font Awesome and Google via the Icon Reference page on the W3S site. Other icon sets, along with Font Awesome, are available from this Bootsnipp page.

From here, as the URL suggests, you can search the main open-source font sets using keywords. Or you can select a particular font set, if you have a preference.

The instructions below are for using the icons on your website. I’ll describe how to use them in a document in another post.

Search for an icon to use.

Type a relevant word into the Search box and click Enter. Keep in mind that most labels have a US focus, so you should look for trash instead of bin. In the example below, I searched for “home”. Scroll down the page to see the available options.

Get the link text for your icon.

When you’ve found the icon you want to use, click on it. This opens up a window showing the code to use for the icon. Press Ctrl+C to copy the code then OK to close the window.

Paste the code into your file.

Because the code is HTML, you need to make sure you are working in a format that can read it. If you are working in a WordPress template file (.php) or an HTML file, then you can just paste it in. If you’re in a blog post or page you will need to make sure it is read as HTML. In Gutenberg, do this by choosing the Custom HTML block type, which is listed under Formatting. If you’re using the Classic Editor, you should change to the Text tab and paste it in position.

Add a link to the icon source to your website’s header file.

When a browser reads an icon file link, t needs to know where to get that information from, so you need to put the link information in your website. The best place to do this is somewhere that’s related on the every page. In most WordPress template, these links will be there by default. If you find that your icons aren’t showing, check the header file, and if it’s not there, paste it in.You can find all the links on the Links for Font Icons page of this site.

That’s it! Just upload the edited header file to your server and your icons will be displayed. Here’s how my home icon looks on this page, with the icon code inserted here –>

For reference, here’s a link to my page with the icon source links:
Links for Font Icons

Tools & Tips

How to Install New Fonts in Inkscape

I wrote a post a few months ago about using SkyFonts to install new fonts in Inkscape, a freeware graphic design package that is a great substitute for Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. When a client was asked me about this, I directed them to my original post, only to discover that those instructions no longer work. Typical! The question then, is how to solve this persistent issue with Inkscape when the SkyFonts (which I find has become unreliable and unstable) workaround doesn’t work?

The new solution involves nothing more complicated (on Windows) than installing them in the standard fonts directory (C:WindowsFonts) but it also seems that in some cases this also fails to work. In my client’s case, it was because the fonts were not installed for all users. This means when you have downloaded a font, instead of double-clicking then clicking Install you have to right-click and choose Install for all users instead. Fine, but my client didn’t have this option! If this is the situation you find yourself in, here are instructions for adding new fonts that will be read by Inkscape (and Gimp). If they work for you (or if they don’t!), drop a comment below.

Download and unzip your new font files.

When you download a new font, it usually comes as a zip file. a. Download the zip files then extract all the files.

Install the fonts.

a. Navigate to the folder containing the new font files. These will usually be in TTF format.b. Select all the files, then right-click and click Install.If you see a shield icon next to the Install instruction you will be installing it as an administrator and the font will install for all users by default. If you do not see this option, you do not see this option, try holding Shift when you right-click, the choose Install for all users. As above, you should then see the shield icon next to this instruction.Finally, if this doesn’t work, move the fonts folder you created to somewhere on your C drive (I suggest C:Temp) and they repeat this step. This will remove the fonts from what may be a user-assigned directory.

Open Inkscape and use your new font!

If you had Inkscape open, close it, then launch it again. Your new fonts should be listed.

How did it go? Are your fonts all installed?

If you’ve not heard of this software before, it’s worth a look. You can download Inkscape from here and Gimp (like Photoshop but without the price tag) here.

Tools & Tips

Tutorials to Help You Use Your Computer

I’ve been gradually putting together a list of tutorials aimed at solving issues addressed by my customers. Now there are a few to choose from, this post will help you to find them more quickly and easily.

A diagram of the QWERTY keyboard lowercase characters
Productivity Tools, Tools & Tips

Typing French Accented Characters on a QWERTY Keyboard


If you’re using a computer designed for the English-speaking market, be that US, International or English-English, it  can be a challenge to type French accented characters. In systems set up for French speakers, its far simpler because they have a AZERTY keyboard, which gives quick access to the characters and symbols that are needed. For English-speakers, our systems are shipped by default with a QWERTY keyboard – so called because the first six characters on the keyboard are Q-W-E-R-T and Y. Since that keyboard is designed around the frequency of letters and characters used in English (and there are some US and UK differences, in the main they are the same) obviously there’s unlikely to be any reason to access the many accented letters used in the French alphabet. But what if you do find you need them? Maybe you’re studying French or resident there, or a native French speaker stuck with a QWERTY system. In this post I’ll describe three different workarounds that will make it much easier to find the accents you need.

Three Ways to Type French Accented Characters

One way is to become familiar with the ASCII or ANSI codes for each accented letter or symbol. These are basically a combinations of machine-readable codes that anyone who’s worked with HTML will probably have come across already, and usually involve a combination of keys, such as Alt or Alt+Shift and a three- or four-digit number. For example, press Alt and type 0181 and the micro character, “µ”, is displayed. These codes can seem laborious to learn at first but, as a tech writer (by trade), I’m a big fan of these; they’re the only way to program special characters into FrameMaker template headings and in non-WYSIWYG coding tools with the benefit that if you programme the ANSI code you know it’s going to come out right at the other end. I guess I just got used to them. If you want to give them a try you can use the list shown in the table below.

LetterAccented Character & ASCII (Lowercase) CodeAccented Character & ANSI (Uppercase) Code
Aà = Alt + 133
á = Alt + 160
â = Alt + 131
À = Alt + 0192
Á = Alt + 0193
 = Alt + 0194
Eé = Alt + 130
è = Alt + 138
ê = Alt + 136
ë = Alt + 137
É = Alt + 144
È = Alt + 0200
Ê = Alt + 0201
Ë = Alt + 0203
Iî = Alt + 140
ï = Alt + 139
Î = Alt + 0206
Ï = Alt + 0207
Oó = Alt + 162
ô = Alt + 147
Ó = Alt + 0211
Ô = Alt + 0212
Uù = Alt + 151
û = Alt + 150
Ù = Alt + 0217
Û = Alt + 0219
Æ æ = Alt + 145Æ = Alt + 146
Cç = Alt + 135
Quotation Marks« = Alt + 174
» = Alt + 175

Another useful code is for the Euro currency symbol (Alt+0128).
And advantage of knowing the ANSI codes is they will work on ANY system: Windows, Mac, etc.

The second way involves installing the US or UK International Keyboard and using this in place of your US or UK default. This method is relatively simple once you’ve got the keyboard set up. There’s a small learning curve but no long term memory demands. I have a printed list of the ANSI codes – and sometimes they are useful – but since I installed the International keyboard I am using them less and less.

Finally, you can install the French (of French Canadian) keyboard, which uses the AZERTY layout. This isn’t so easy to use on a QWERTY keyboard unless you have excellent visual memory because the layout is very different. I don’t recommend this option on a PC. It’s less cumbersome on a MAC because that also gives you a visual keyboard option (this may exist for Windows, but if so I haven’t found it – yet). Since I’m talking about Windows here, we’ll skip right over this and go back to the International keyboard layout as I think that’s the most accessible of the three options for Windows users.

Here’s an overview of the differences and a quick reference for accessing the accented letters on the International keyboard and also a few other suggestions that make writing in French on a QWERTY keyboard more manageable.

Differences between the UK Default and International Keyboards

The two images below show the main differences between the regular UK and International keyboards. They’re really very similar – and anyone who also uses a Mac or iPad will be familiar with the placement of the @ and ” symbols; it’s just the behaviour, with regards to combining keystrokes to add accents, that makes the difference.

UK International vs Default Keyboard Layout (Uppercase/Shift)
UK International vs Default Keyboard Layout (Lowercase/No Shift)

UK International Keyboard Quick Reference

You can always find visual representations of the International keyboard to help you navigate it but they are pretty confusing in themselves. This list of key strokes is, I find, easier to use.

Accented Letter(s)AccentDescriptionExample
á éAccute  (single quote), the letter (a, e, i, o, u)‘ a = á
‘ e = é
à èGrave`(key to the left of the 1 on the keyboard), the letter (a, e, etc.)`a = à
`e = è
êCirconflexShift+6, e^ e = ê
çCedille (single quote), c`c = ç
öTrémaShift+’ (single quote), o‘ o = ö
« »Quote marksCtrl+Alt+[
[ = «
] = »

The only snag with the above is that the key you use to apply the acute, grave and tréma accents is also the one you need to work alone, should you need a plain ol’ apostrophe. To do this, just hit the apostrophe (single quote) key, then hit the spacebar twice: the first time to make the apostrophe mark, the second time to add a space after it. The same goes for UK and US English-style quotation marks (curly quotes):

To get an apostrophe, type: ' (single quote), space, space

To get UK/US quotation marks, type: Shift + ' (single quote), space, space

Once you have the International keyboard setup you’ll wonder how you every managed without it. Setting it up can be tricky though – so in my next post I’ll give you instructions on how to do it.

If you are trying to setup your QWERTY or AZERTY computer and need help or have issues with any other aspect of your home or business IT, read about the range of services we offer and get in touch for a quote.

Like this site? You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Troubleshooting, Websites, WordPress

When WordPress Migrations Go Wrong

WordPress is a fantastic CMS with so many plugins and ways to extend the functionality, there’s not much bad to say about it – which goes some way to explain why so many of us are using it to build our own and other’s websites. That said, it’s a technology like any other and sometimes things go wrong. Of course, they only ever go wrong when you least want them to, so here’s a quick summary of the three most common errors that I come up against when moving WordPress sites.

Why would anyone be moving a WordPress site you ask? Well, you might be moving hosts (yes, that can be done!) or you might have been working on a local or development copy so you can test and verify a major update without disrupting the main site. For those of us working away on the backend, moving WordPress sites is just one of those day-to-day things.

But that doesn’t mean it’s foolproof! Three most common issues I see are:

  • Plugin issues causing conflicts, resulting in the illusive error: “The site is experiencing technical difficulties.”
  • Images not being displayed on pages, even when you can see they’re there in the media library and nothing has changed (except for the site having moved, of course.)
  • Redirect errors and stray URLs preventing the site from loading or displaying correctly.
  • Problems with the links in the database or connection info in the wp-config.php file resulting in the “Error Establishing a Database Connection” error.

Let’s address these one-by-one.

Fix the WordPress Error: “The site is experiencing technical difficulties.”

This one, while utterly terrifying (it literally says nothing useful about the issue you are facing) is actually one of the easiest to fix. If you get this error you will often find that you can login to the admin dashboard but not see any of the pages on the site. To test this, type /wp-admin after your domain and see if you can login. Usually you can – which is good because it means the fix I’m about to describe will work.

If you get this error, you need to be able to access the WordPress files on the server OR to be able to access the admin dashboard.

If you can access the dashboard, you need to deactivate all the plugins. Then reactivate them one at a time. Each time you reactivate one, test the site (I usually have this open in a separate tab and refresh the page to see) then continue, adding them one at a time until the site breaks. When you find the offending plugin(s), you can usually resolve the issue by uninstalling then reinstalling the plugin. It’s super easy to do.

Another way – and by far the fastest and easiest (given the number of plugins you could be facing) to deactivate all the plugins is to change the name of the plugins folder, which you can get to via cPanel file manager or via FTP. Just rename it – it doesn’t matter what, but logically “pluginsOFF” or “zplugins” works – then test the site, see if it works (see if you can login to the admin dashboard, if you couldn’t before) then rename it back to plain old “plugins”. Once this is done you do exactly as described above: activate them one at a time ’til you find the culprits, then remove and reinstall them.

Not so bad, eh?

Now for the next one.

Images Don’t Display After WordPress Site Migration

This is one of my favourites; Okay, it’s not, but whenever this happens it always takes me a few minutes to remember how easy and fast the fix is.

First, navigate to Settings and then Permalinks, then change the selection from whatever setting you have (usually Post name) to Plain.

Screenshot of the Permalinks settings page in the WordPress dashboard used to fix a broken wordpress migration
Fixing the Permalinks

Save this setting (scroll down and click the button to save) then change it back to Post name. Check your site (refresh the page or check in an Incognito browser, if you’re not sure it’s refreshing) and many times out of 10 this will have fixed the issue.

But sometimes it won’t! In this case you may well find the issue is some stray links in the database – so onto the next fix.

Fix Redirect Errors and Stray URLs that Stop Your Site Loading or Displaying Correctly

Now you’re into database editing territory, so you might want to call on tech support (via your host) or a friendly techie (like me) to get this part done. But it can be done and it needn’t be terrifying – just as long as you make a backup first.

With your backup in place, login to PhpMyAdmin and find the database you are using for your live website. Then just search EVERY table for the URL you used for your development site (or the old site name if you’ve changed the location of it) and the live site. There are some simple SQL queries to use for changing the URLs, but do remember to try every permutation of the URL you can think off. I once had a problem with a site and found a bunch of old URLs addressing my local installation (localhost), which had long since been deprecated! Work your way through these and you should find you’re on your way to a fully functioning site, unless…

Fix a WordPress “Error Establishing Database Connection” Issue

First up, don’t panic. Despite being monumentally unhelpful this message is also another relatively simple fix. You need to check that your database details in wp-config.php match the details of your actual database and with those two things syncronised, usually you’re good to go.

You’ll find the database name in PhpMyAdmin and the wp-config.php file in your site’s WordPress folder. If in doubt try changing the user password, which you can usually do through MySqlDatabases in cPanel. Make sure your user has full permissions too.

If you get this far and your site still isn’t loading, it’s definitely time to reach out for help, even if the “IT Guy (or Gal)” that comes online to fix it does just one of the four things above and they work (yes, this often happens!)

If you need more detailed explanations for any of the fixes above I can do more step-by-step description, but if you know your way around WordPress this should tell enough to get your site up and running again. I know it’ll be a useful reference for me the next time a site migration goes “pop”!