Down at the farm: team volunteering @ Future Roots

August 13th, 2015

Unlike the last time we took part in some farm-based volunteering, the weather was kind to us yesterday when we all ventured into the wilds of north Dorset to Rylands Farm, the home of the Future Roots project.

Future Roots was founded by Julie Plumley in 2008, fulfilling her vision of a safe, positive environment where kids with various kinds of adversity in their lives could benefit from getting up-close and personal with the big outdoors. The farm runs various programmes for children from the age of 8, young adults, and older people, to help make a positive change in their lives.

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Having actually located the farm (some of us got a little lost!) we were set to work, weather-proofing an informal classroom. The wooden structure is situated with a view over the beautiful countryside, and Julie told us how children exibiting aggressive or challenging behaviour often found it easier to work where they could move outside on the building’s little veranda and not feel so hemmed in.

The classroom, like the rest of the farm, needs maintenance to ensure that it stays standing for people to benefit from for years to come – so we were set loose with sandpaper and woodstain to give it some TLC.

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The difference these kind of projects make to those in our communities who are less fortunate in their circumstances is incredible, and chatting to Julie about the vision for the farm and the stability and support they’re able to offer was inspiring (read Future Roots’ Case Studies for more info).

Thanks to all at Future Roots for having us and making us feel so welcome – we had a really enjoyable day!

Google’s mobile-friendly update

April 8th, 2015

mobile_phonesSo Google announced a while back that it was going to roll out some changes to its algorithm later this month that would increase the degree to which mobile-friendliness is taken into account in mobile searches. The update is expected to be significant, similar or greater in scale to the ‘panda’ update, which shook up the rankings to a considerable extent.

And as is the case every time Google announces a big update, there has been widespread speculation across the web about exactly what this means, how it will affect rankings, and what are the right and wrong things to do in response…. and there seems to be a fair amount of mis-information floating about out there too.

So, what are Google doing this time?

Okay, so while we don’t buy all of Google’s hype, there’s something to be said for looking directly to the source and identifying what Google are trying to do. Which, according to Google webmaster central, is adjusting searches run on mobile devices, to favour sites which perform better on mobiles.

So how much is this going to affect my site?

Well, if you get a lot of your traffic from mobile search, then yes, this is most likely going to result in a drop in your traffic. However, and this is the key thing – if your site performs poorly enough on mobile to be penalised in this update, the chances are that any mobile traffic to your website wasn’t doing you much good anyway.

So, do you need to look at Google’s tool that tells you how well your site performs on mobile devices? Yes. And do you need to do something about it? Yes. But you should do that so that you’re providing an excellent user experience to ALL of your users, not because a so-called SEO expert panicked you into doing so, citing a Google update.

Winners of the Dorset Business Awards

November 28th, 2014

Dorset Business Awards trophy and certificate

We can hardly believe it but we’re proud to announce that Freshleaf was the winner of last night Dorset Business Awards in the “Engagement with the Community” category! The awards celebrate the best of local business and culminate in a glittering awards ceremony with nearly 700 leaders of business and industry present. Our award was received for our active involvement in charity and community work funded by our commitment to give away 10% of our profits every year. We also get our hands dirty and help out with projects with each of the staff getting paid time off for volunteering.

We don’t do it for the recognition – we genuinely care about making a positive difference in our community – but it’s lovely to win the award!

Freshleaf in the finals of the Dorset Business Awards

October 17th, 2014

Dorset Business Awards Finalist 2014 Logo

We’re delighted, honoured and a little surprised to have been chosen as one of the finalists for the forthcoming Dorset Business Awards. The prestigious awards showcase leading companies in Dorset and Freshleaf has been selected as one of three finalists in the “Business Engagement with the Community” award sponsored by JP Morgan.

It’s a core part of Freshleaf’s values and ethics to support our community and our Charitable Support Programme is set up to donate 10% of our profits to good causes, provide pro-bono websites and take hands-on action with staff volunteering days, amongst other things. We don’t do this to win any awards, we do it because we genuinely care, but we’re obviously thrilled to have been selected as a finalist for this award.

The winners will be announced at the Dorset Business Awards gala dinner on Thursday November 27th and the whole team is coming along to celebrate the occasion. Time to dust off the dinner jackets I think!

 

Dummies and bandages – First Aid training

May 21st, 2014

If you’re anything like me, and did First Aid in the cubs or brownies, you’ll no doubt have fuzzy memories of the creepy Resusci Annie doll, and terrible attempts at putting people in slings – and not much more. And, because basic first aid is not routinely taught in schools, many of us have never had any first aid training at all.

Freshleaf first aid training

So, although we only need to have one trained First Aider here at Freshleaf, whenever it’s time to update our training, we all go along and get ourselves thoroughly updated on First Aid in the Workplace – and then we pick the brains of the excellent Dave Brassington (of Tailor Made Training) on all other aspects of First Aid we can think of while we’re at it!

Yes, the dolls are still a bit creepy, and it’s easy to write off First Aid at work as being about keeping the First Aid kit stocked up and writing in the accident book –  but really First Aid is a first rate life skill that has already come in handy for a couple of us. You never want to have to use it, but if you needed to, wouldn’t you rather know what to do?

Heartbleed – what you need to know

April 15th, 2014

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So, anyone with their eyes on the tech blogs or the national news will no doubt be aware of a significant security vulnerability in OpenSSL which is being referred to as one of the biggest security threats the internet has ever seen.

The issue has in fact existed since December 2011, but only became public knowledge last week. The vulnerability is present on any server running the affected version of OpenSSL – which was estimated at around 20% of all servers on the internet. It allows server memory information to be requested from the server when interacting with OpenSSL. If you’re not at all techie, XKCD has the best potted explanation.

What does this mean for my website?

The bug only affects websites using OpenSSL, this could be the case if your website uses HTTPS to securely transmit information. There is currently no evidence that knowledge of the issue was maliciously exploited by anyone prior to it becoming public, however the immediate priority is to secure any web server and website that could be affected by updating OpenSSL to a secure version. Once the server is secured, all SSL and SSH encryption keys should be changed, and any user passwords updated.

What we’re doing

In response to the threat, we’ve audited all the servers we run, manage or have access to. Of four potentially affected servers, one is internal and not accessible outside of the Freshleaf office; one is not currently in use; and the other two have been swiftly patched by our hosting provider, Rackspace. The server on which we host the majority of our clients’ websites was not affected.

We also changed passwords to all services we used, once we had confirmation that they had taken the necessary steps to secure their servers.

We are continuing to audit and review the situation, and are working with any affected clients to ensure that the necessary due diligence has been undertaken.

Freshleaf training – business ethics

March 6th, 2014

Here at Freshleaf two of the things we’re proud of are our commitment to training, and our business ethics. So recently, when we had a training slot scheduled, we decided to combine the two things, and spend some time discussing business ethics with the team.

Ethics in business can be a funny thing. Businesses exist to make money – and where money is concerned there’s the potential for greed, which in turn is at the root of so much unethical behaviour. Look at any of the scandals in the news over the last few years: MPs expenses, banks fixing the LIBOR rate, celebrities and huge corporations operating complex tax avoidance schemes…. even the horsemeat in food scandal essentially comes down to greed. It’s the desire of individuals to make more money for themselves, or to further themselves by making more money for their company (or both), that lead to the abandonment of what we individually know to be right, in favour of what we expect to be profitable.

Businesses’ attitudes to ethics vary from the genuinely ethical, through those who pay lip service to being ethical for PR purposes (how many people believe that Google thoroughly adheres to its “don’t be evil” ethic?) to those who quietly go about their business and hope not to be noticed, leaving nobody any the wiser until the scandal breaks in the news.

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At Freshleaf one of our founding principles is to be firmly in the former category – being genuinely ethical in all of our activities. But we can only do that if we all understand what that means. In our session with the excellent Nicky Cooksley of HR & Training Doctor we looked at how business ethics are a combination of personal morality, combined with the expectations of the employer, the standards of the industry or profession, and of course the law of the land. We reviewed our ethical policy, and went further to draft a customer charter which outlines to our customers what levels of service and behaviour they can expect from us.

It gave us great food for thought, and we also had some interesting discussions about the personal ethics of various (non-work) situations, and how people go about justifying slightly or even massively unethical behaviour: “nobody will ever know and no-one will get hurt”; “everybody does it” etc.

Not your usual training topic, but, as it turns out, really worthwhile!

A thoroughly festive outing

December 24th, 2013

Well, the festive season really is upon us (complete with rain and gale force winds!) – and what better way to celebrate, than with a fantastic five star three course lunch?

We’ve been to some nice venues for our Christmas get-togethers over the years: The Captain’s Club in Christchurch, Cafe Shore at Sandbanks, the excellent Tickled Pig in Wimborne. But this year we really pulled out all the stops with a visit to the stunning Chewton Glen hotel in the New Forest.

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Pulling up to the hotel through the fantastic grounds, with all the twinkly lights, couldn’t fail to get you in a Christmas mood. And from the attentive staff greeting us at the door, to the really first-class food in a beautiful environment, it was an experience to remember. The food was divine, and a lovely time was had by all.

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And it wasn’t just lunch. Because at Freshleaf we aspire to offer genuinely five star service to our clients, we had arranged with the hotel to have a chat with Ashley Ely, Chewton Glen’s Hotel Director, to see what we could learn. A nicer man you couldn’t hope to meet – Ashley patiently (and honestly!) answered all of our many questions about the delights and challenges of five star service in a really customer service driven industry, giving us some really interesting insights. While there may be some substantial differences between the hospitality trade and the website development sector, we were able to learn a lot and get some ideas on ways we can improve what we do.

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A big thank-you to Ashley and all at Chewton Glen for a lovely afternoon; and a very Merry Christmas to all!

A day at the farm

December 4th, 2013

It might not be where you’d expect to find web developers, but High Mead Farm was our destination last week for a spot of volunteering. High Mead is an amazing place  – a working farm community project which provides engaging and useful work along with animal therapy for those with learning and physical disabilities. Tucked away just up the road from us you could be forgiven for not knowing it’s there – but the benefits it provides to its service users was plain to see from the moment we arrived.

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So, all togged up for the bracing November weather, we arrived at the farm to see what we could do to help out. The day started with a quick tour of the animal residents – the ferrets, geese, ducks, goats, rare breed pigs and miniature ponies – and an overview of how the farm got started and what the nice folks there are achieving.

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Then, having got to grips with who lives where (and donned some extra layers of warm socks and some very attractive woolly hats), it was off to work. We started with digging the poisonous Ragwort out of the ponies’ field, then we dug some veggie beds in the poly-tunnels, and made a new raised planting area.  Then we topped the day off with taking the goats for a walk, then setting fire to the massive bonfire –  before all gathering around it to get warm again.

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Thanks to Mark and Will and all at High Mead for making us feel so welcome – it was a really enjoyable experience and good for us all to do some “real work” for a change! To find out more about High Mead Farm, visit their website.

 

 

Git Workflow, Deployment and Hooks

June 17th, 2013

Git Deployment

We use a simple post-receive git hook to make a production ready repository that we can push to from our local machines. We’ve also setup SSH keys on the servers we deploy to so we don’t need to enter passwords.

 

Git Hooks

post-receive

The most important hook that allows us to add the application repository on the server as a remote on our local machines

#!/bin/sh
cd ..
unset GIT_DIR
env -i git reset --hard
git checkout -f

i.e.

~$ git remote add production user@server:/var/www/some-application.com

 

post-update

Our post update hooks run Laravel’s built in migrations and Composer’s update function so our packages stay up to date.

#!/bin/sh
cd /path/to/laravel
echo "----------"
echo "Running PRODUCTION migrations..."
/usr/bin/php artisan migrate --env=production
echo "----------"
echo " "
echo "**********"
echo "Running Composer Update"
unset GIT_DIR;
/usr/bin/php /path/to/composer update
echo "**********"

Which gives us the output of php artisan migrate and composer update in our local shell when we push to a remote repository.