Monday 25 March 2013

A blizzard idea

March 25th looked like a pretty good bet to launch the Sea Kayak Wales beta trip planning service when we were looking for a good launch date a few months ago. People should be thinking about an Easter paddle we reasoned. The weather will be enticing people who generally did not paddle in the winter we surmised. We did not expect that people would have to be planning on taking snow chains with them when running their sea kayaks down to the coast.

So all in all we now expect a fairly quiet response to our launch this morning.
This does give us some more time to research and prepare some of the extensive underlying data required to extend the reach of our trip planning services to more of the Welsh coast. This will open up additional opportunities for the sea kayak Wales  community to add their own private trip plans for more of the Welsh coastline.

Community members can already add their own private trip plans for Anglesey and have them included in the trips considered by the suggestion service. You can keep private trip plan ideas private (we promise not to peek) or you can offer to share them with everyone else. Either way around, the same trip suggestion process can factor in tides and winds to decide when to offer your own trip plans alongside those generally available to everyone else.

Entering a private trip plan is a pretty simple process using the prepared “wizard” that takes you through each step of the process until a plan is complete. Give it a try and add to the variety on offer.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Sea Kayak Trip Plans Just A Click Away

The Sea Kayak Wales project is launching a free, automated service that presents sea kayakers with customised plans for day paddling trips. The Beta service launches on 25th March 2013 with an initial focus on the popular sea kayaking coastline of Anglesey, North Wales.

Paul Griffiths, who came up with the idea and built the initial proof of concept, has a clear vision that he describes as follows. “The intention is to get more people paddling sea kayaks and to open up new stretches of the coastline to paddlers. Planning a trip in a new area can be a daunting task, the Sea Kayak Wales project takes care of the detail leaving the individual sea kayaker to just decide when they want to go. Our web service will deliver detailed trip plan suggestions for paddlers to choose from.”

The web based service can be found at Signing up is a breeze as you can use an existing Facebook, Twitter or Google log-in to join the service. The trip plan service just requires the paddler to choose the day they want to paddle and optionally set a preferred start time and skill level. The service does all of the rest. Taking tides and wind forecasts into account it runs a calculation that will present trip plan suggestions that fit the forecasts for the chosen day. A sea kayaker can then get an overview of each of the suggestions with a detailed paddling plan available for each.

The primary service is aimed at paddlers at the BCU 3 star level and above. However the beginner has not been forgotten and the service will also take tides and weather into account to suggest suitable paddling venues where a newcomer to the sport can build their skills in suitably sheltered and safe surroundings.

While safety is an important factor in selecting trip plan suggestions, the importance of retaining an element of acceptable challenge has not been forgotten. The Sea Kayak Wales service makes trip plan suggestions and it is up to paddlers to ensure they have the skills and appropriate equipment to tackle any of the trips proposed. Paddlers should double check wind forecasts and general condition prior to departure.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Launch Date

Anyone who visits our home page at SeaKayakWales will see that we have announced our launch date – the 25th March.

“What happened to the service in 2012?” you might ask. Well by the time we had everything tied down and running well enough to invite some initial testers to give it a try the days were shortening – sometimes to the point where if the tides did not co-operate there were precious few paddling trips we could suggest. Rather than disappoint, we decided to put off the public launch until more paddlers were likely to be looking for trip suggestions and when the days were longer – giving our service more suggestions to make.

One positive aspect of this is that we have also been able to add a facility to support relative sea kayaking beginners by suggestion great paddling venues where they can develop their skills in relatively sheltered and secure surroundings. Just as with the main trip plan suggestion service, winds and tides are taken into account to ensure that we can provide full details on times as well as places. Plus we can eliminate some venues when conditions are likely to be adverse.

We have also been working to extend the capabilities of the service to provide support for paddling areas beyond our initial launch focus on Anglesey. These will come on stream as quickly as possible and with the help of the community will allow the site to grow quickly to make SKW the default answer to the question “Where shall we go paddling tomorrow?”.

Friday 21 September 2012

Strange Web Hosting from

We have been long term users of the services of Easily - initially to buy and maintain domain names and then to provide hosting for a set of small but important web sites. We noticed a while back that they were reducing their offerings – virtual servers are no longer available and yes, to be honest, their own web interface is a bit clumsy and very dated – but things worked once you were used to them. Thus when we started a new Windows based web project we were happy enough to set up the public test web site with them. This site makes extensive use of an SQL Server database.

This week we found that we could not access the database from SQL Server Management Studio to make adjustments to one of the tables and the related stored procedures.

First off a wise developer always suspects his own set up – what had changed that might block remote access from our Windows 7 desktops and laptops? Fortunately we maintain web sites hosted elsewhere and were able to attach and manipulate SQL Server instances at those service providers. So no problems at our end.

Rang the Easily 0800 support number and after a reasonable wait was able to explain the problem. The support person dropped off the line for a bit to “check on something” and then said the issue would be raised as a problem at their end. I asked for a “ticket number” and was told (strangely) that there was not one yet but it would be sent to me in an email shortly.
An Email arrived a hair under an hour alter – and this is it: (names etc. elided)

Thank you for contacting Easily.
The reason you have not been able to connect to the MsSQL database using your database management software is because we have improved our security and require IPs for users to connect from now on.
Please can you confirm the IP address you are trying to connect from, please confirm whether it is a static or dynamic IP address you are connecting from.

Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t work from a location with a fixed IP address and I like to be able to maintain web applications I am responsible for even when away from my normal desk.
There is another issue here as well – Easily introduced a breaking change without notification and without putting up any sort of a notice on their support page. This has probably left many others to undertake unnecessary work trying to resolve the issue – it certainly burned up a chunk of my time that should have been dedicated to project work.
In case you were wondering about the Easily support page – this is what it shows this morning (Friday 21st September):

Wednesday 19th September 2012 

Some customers may be experiencing a problem viewing their Easilyme websites.This issue is being looked into by our engineers and has been classified as extreme high priority. 

We hope to resolve this issue as soon as possible and would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any inconvenience caused. 

Is that issue still open do you think or do they just not keep the support page up to date?
My response to the Easily email was as follows:

Nice to hear you guys are keen on security - but it makes good sense to contact customers in advance of changes that break things - or perhaps to put a notice on the web site where folks check for ongoing issues - just a thought.

I do not have a fixed IP address - it is assigned by my Internet provider BT or (when I am out and about) by Vodafone - or perhaps by any kindly wi-fi visitor provision at sites I and visiting on business. I might even from time to time change my Internet providers as well.

Even my local office network IP address is supplied dynamically when I connect to the local network.

I very much doubt that many of your customers will have fixed IP addresses or that they would be keen to only manage their databases from a fixed location if they have such.

Demanding fixed IP addresses to connect from does not look like a very sound idea.

How do you suggest that I (and probably most other customers) continue to manage their databases? Or are you suggesting we "up sticks" and move elsewhere?

No response so far except an automated acknowledgement of the email to their support email address.
Interestingly, the SQL server in question has a URL  of seem to be another hosting company. They are owned in turn by Peer  1 Hosting while Easily are owned by Group NBT. Thus I assume that Netbenefit or Peer 1 are providing the SQL server resources for Easily. Thus it is perfectly possible that it is Netbenefit who have implemented this barrier to our web site database – who knows?

I just need this to be resolved quickly with access to our database fully restored.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Progress report

This blog has been rather quiet of late as we have been working hard completing the “All Wales Trip Plan” service design and writing the code.

Our primary objective has been to get a service up and running for the Anglesey coast. Anglesey is a popular destination for sea kayakers and is as challenging in many ways as it is beautiful. Our service will present trip plan suggestions matched to a sea kayaker’s skills but selected with a close eye on the forecast winds and tides.

Effective trip planning can be a fairly time consuming (perhaps daunting) task that is sometimes rushed or even not done at all. The SKW project has taken on the challenge of automating the process of creating custom trip plan templates and then serving up detailed trip plans for a specific time and date.  The trip selection process itself is complex and has to crunch a lot of values to come up with a suitable list.

So how are we doing? We plan to invite a group of experienced paddlers to act as alpha testers around the end of this month. We will be looking to them to assess our trip suggestions and trip plans and give us some expert feedback. They know the waters around Anglesey very well and have a good feel for the capabilities of kayakers at a variety of skill levels. If that does not result in too much additional development work then we should be able to open our doors to all comers shortly thereafter.

The service will then be in a public beta. We have a massive list of features to add to the site and we will be rolling those out on a continuous basis – helped on (we hope) by suggestions and constructive criticism from paddlers trying out our service and the suggested trips.

Why are we calling the public service a beta? Well partly because there are lots of extra facilities we have yet to build but also because we have the rest of the Welsh coast to include. Once we are satisfied that we have the facilities that the majority of our users need in place and we have started to “roll out” to the rest of the coast then we will probably be confident enough to declare Sea Kayak Wales properly “live”.

Right from the start we will be encouraging Sea Kayak Wales members to record their own trip plans so they can be included in their personal trip suggestions lists. Such private trips will remain private to individual members unless they choose to share them with the community. Members will be able to build their private paddling routes taking advantage of the Sea Kayak Wales database of launch points and key coastal waypoints.

The Sea Kayak Wales web site service is free – so sign up now, if you have not already done so, and be one of the first to access our trip planning service as soon as it is available.

To sign up, just click the login link towards the top right of the page at SeaKayakWales. If you have a Google or other OpenID account then just click on the appropriate icon but if you need to set up an account just for SKW then follow the link on the page.

Friday 10 February 2012

Who owns a Sea Kayak News poll?

When working up the new facility on the Sea Kayak News page that allows members to present a poll of options to the community for their votes we had to make some decisions about ownership. The problem arose while we were working on the facility to edit a news post. Normally the edit function would be used to correct typos in the title or web site URL. In parallel with the ability to edit a comment (available for all comments created by any user) the new ability to edit a poll potentially made it possible for the person that posed the poll to change the results after other members had voted.

We decided that the originator owned the poll overall and had the right to edit the title and to delete the poll if they felt they wanted to. However we also decided to restrict the poll’s originator from deleting or changing the text of an option that had attracted one or more votes. The idea being that votes belong to the voters and not the pollster. Clearly, there will be occasions where a poll originator will want to clarify a poll option even after it has attracted some votes – we feel that this can be handled by adding text to the available section above the poll options that allows for additional details.

A feature of the page that allows Sea Kayak Wales members to post a poll is a checkbox that (when checked) will automatically add an option to the poll with the text “Other (please leave a comment)”. This is a deliberate ploy to encourage pollsters to keep their poll open. I, for one,  am often frustrated by polls that do not allow for my opinion or circumstance in the options available. Now, should that checkbox default to be checked or unchecked?

So – now you can poll our sea kayaking members on just about any relevant topic which is a nice extension to the option to ask questions that had already been added to this dedicated social bookmarking facility.

Friday 27 January 2012


Strangely, Markdown is a markup “language” and was created by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz. The idea is to allow anyone to generate plain text and have that text re-formatted into valid HTML giving it some structure. The basics are very simple to learn and allow anyone applying this technique to add emphasis and style to their words in a very simple manner.

We thought it would be a great idea to allow members of the Sea Kayak Wales web site to post comments using markdown. We encourage our users to comment and discuss items posted to the news page (a social bookmarking facility for sea kayakers). Anyone can just enter their comments as plain text and that is (more or less) how they will be displayed.

Keen observers might note that when a web URL is entered then it is automatically converted into a link to that URL. They might also notice that some attempt is made to organise what is entered into paragraphs and that whitespace is often trimmed. This is all done by the Markdown processing supporting the discussion pages.

Markdown can be used to emphasise text. Putting an asterisk before and after a piece of text will have it rendered in italics [ *display in italics* ].
Put two asterisks before and after a section of text and it will appear bold [ **this will be bold** ].

Lists can be displayed in a “bulleted” format using this markdown:
* List Item 1
*List Item 2
* List Item 3 etc

Headings can be denoted with hashes or in a more literal manner:
### A Level 3 Heading
A level two Heading

Full details of Markdown can be found in the Wikipedia article ( or on the Daring Fireball web site (

Have fun but please don’t overdo it.