Building a summer house

Tonight I started work on a new direction for the design of this site. Expect some strange occurrences for the next few days as I like to code on the live site.

PELC 2011

Me on the stage

Photo Credit

It was fantastic to be in Plymouth again this year for the 6th Plymouth e-learning Conference. For a full run down check out Steve Wheeler’s blog.

After last years great event I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to be on the steering committee to give my 2p worth of thoughts which made me even keener to attend!

There are a whole bunch of conferences and events and what makes this stand out is twofold: great people and a diverse collection of talks.

The people

From the moment of landing in Plymouth by way of train I met follow #pelc11 gang members old and new which really I cannot stress enough is a highlight for me. Everybody is so open to geeking out whilst still gabbing on about personal interests that it really didn’t feel like work.

New folk who’s blogs, tweets and projects I look forward to include: @t3h_pablohunny,  @andyjb,  @Marie_S , @CraigTaylor74, @janeseale, @ethinking and @doctrus

As you’d imagine a special shout out goe’s to Steve Wheeler for being an excellent host and helping to bring the event to life.

Talking points

Unlike some events where my ‘stand’ prevents me from attending sessions, I was able to enjoy a talk per session. Highlights include Andy Black’s session on mobile and Matt Lingard’s session on writing for the web.

My session, in the photo above with with Doug Belshaw and went down very well according to the kind comments after the session. We got folk to consider their own uses of mobile which allowed the session to fork between topics nicely. In addition to this session I was chair for a enjoyable session.

I love the people and the chat that happens in and around sessions that you just don’t get at enough conferences so roll on 2012.

Oh and I got to revisit my student days with a Goodbody’s breakfast at stupid O’clock.


On using twitter

I keep getting asked about how I use twitter and this was a Google Doc I was sharing but figure I may as well blog it.

When many of my friends or friends of friends discover I have a twitter account they laugh and tell me that it is pointless. Then I point out that it keeps me in touch with all topics of interest, some friends and professional contacts. I have been offered a job based on the types of things I tweet about (web stuff), met many great people and feel I am keeping 1 eye on my interests.

Also, laugh at me as they may, all of them update their facebook all so we are square!

A mere 140 characters, what is the fuss?

On the web, people push and pull content. Twitter is one tool that can help you find needles in the haystack and give you and your business insights into trends, likes and dislikes and also the opportunity to share your own knowledge.

I count 2 types of account:

#1 On personal accounts

To really understand twitter I think having a personal account is essential. Get an account, keep it public, use a real photo and fill out your bio with a URL if you have one.

Tweet about whatever interests you – I mix personal and professional so I do not swear in tweets and am aware that ‘colleagues, competition, friends and my mother’ may see my tweets. Sorry Mum, you raised a nerd. So for me this includes anything about motorbiking, drinking, social events, web technology and the ole day job.

#2 On professional/company accounts

If your business still exists then you must have an audience. You’d be surprised how people from that audience use or are interested in what your business does besides the obvious fact you sell services or products.

So start tweeting about what you are doing, places you are visiting, what services/products you are developing/selling and ‘sector’ news. Once you get your first followers you’ll begin to understand what segments of your audience are interested in your tweets and you can react accordingly. I tend to think what is it from the ‘professional’ twitter accounts I personally follow that I like and then see if I can translate this to my own professional accounts.

The 4 types of tweet

Your message to everybody who visits your account URL and all your followers – this is public

if you mention another twitter user, you’ll attract their attention by using ‘@name’ e.g. @zakmensah then the message. If you get mentioned by another user then you’ll see this if they @name you.

DM (direction messages)
You can send and receive private messages that only you and the sender/receiver can see. You must both be following each other for this to work. A few words of warning – at some point you will mean to send a ‘DM’ but accidently tweet ‘all friends’ this is down to human error and thus cannot be avoided, so even though it private do bear in mind that you could accidentally send it publicly so keep it clean. Also, you may be showing others your tweets from time to time and they may see your private DMs, again, keep it clean.

The purpose of retweeting is to highlight somebody else’s tweet, usually a URL of interest.

If a message appears in either my ‘all friends’ or ‘@replies’ then I can press the ‘retweet’ button which will add the suffix RT:name (of original sender) and then i can either edit the original message and send it to my followers or use the ‘new’ retweet feature which sends it to my followers without my editing.

I personally do not like the ‘new’ retweet feature so i rarely use it.

viewing the tweets shooting through your account is called the twitter stream and as all tweets are time-stamped you can view tweets along a ‘timeline’.


I generally use ‘@replies’ to get someones attention and then ‘dm’ if we are going to have a back-and-forth conversation as not to bug everybody who can see my tweets.

Deleting tweets
If you send a tweet that you regret or is not finished then delete it immediately BUT understand that once sent it may still reach those folk who saw it immediately or their twitter software caches it e.g. my tweetdeck shows me the latest 100 tweets and your deleted tweet could be visible if it is within that 100 – if i refresehdd my ‘stream’ then it would vanish.

Getting started

What you tweet and how you use twitter will depend on what your objectives are. These objectives vary for personal accounts, but for professional accounts your usage should align with your business objectives and tie in with your web strategy.

The following are a list of observations from my own personal experience:

Use one of the many twitter apps to help you manage your account(s). I use on my computer and phone.

I setup tweetdeck thus:

I have 2 accounts side by side within tweetdeck showing the all friends, @replies and DMs. Then I made a series of new columns made up of ‘keyword searches’ using keywords I am interested in e.g. ‘bristol’ – you should search for your name/business

Tweetdeck auto-shortens URLS and so I Sync the shortner with my account so i can monitor usage metrics. You can also see the metrics in tweetdeck by following the guidance

Never tweet drunk.

Respond asap

Schedule time to check twitter and post updates, then shut it down when you are working. Thats right it can be a distraction so plan your twitter time.
A word of warning, Twitter can let your lizard brain run wild. Take note and close it when the work needs doing.” Seth Godin.

Do not chase followers. It really doe’s not matter how many followers you have or follow. Follow all the people/projects that inform you further about things you are interested in.

Once a week/month log on to and scroll through your followers looking for who is following you that you are not following. Add all though in your ‘domain’, do not follow those with locked accounts and no bio.

Block spam accounts

Remember that if you want a tweet to be re-tweeted, you should ensure you save save for the characters that a retweet will add e.g. RT:zakmensah uses 13 characters if you include the space and so you will likely want to keep your tweet under 100 characters to allow the retweeters name and yours.

Never tweet drunk.

#YearInReview What did you ship in 2010?

Seth Godin asked “What did you ship in 2010?” so here I go:

I took a trip of a lifetime to Taiwan.
I got my quill out and write a bunch of guides for the day job.
I spoke at PELC10 and am on the committee for the  2011 conference
I worked on ’10’ new projects including prodigal son and grew a great relationship with a client who keeps coming back.
I gave up 1 sunday a month to volunteer with Bristol Advanced Motorcyclists
I trained and ran in the  9-10 mile ‘fun’ run called the Sodbury slog
I started this here blog
She said YES – i got engaged

Huffduffer – my podcasts

Huffduffer is a web service that allows you to bring found podcast episodes together that you and others can subscribe to.

Already I have discovered ‘game theory’ and actually chosen to walk to work just so i can fit a episode into my day. My Hufferduffer account.

If found

Most of us have at least one USB memory stick in our possession at any one time. And most of us will have lost at least one of them too. They either disappear mysteriously or are left in the USB port of a computer in some far away land where nobody can return it, because after all it is just a generic USB stick.

To help improve the admittedly  slim chance of its return, I always add a simple text file in the root of the USB stick called ‘if found’. In this file I put my contact details so at least this way there is some hope that it will be returned:

Please contact me, Zak Mensah at tribehut @ to return this stick that I have clearly forgotten.

Thank you!

Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned


I was wondering what software and equipment a friend was using on a regular basis and thought that I would share my personal learning environment (PLE) here. I don’t require much stuff but feel I have everything covered with my use of the below.

The hardware

At the office we do not have a say about the computer at our desk – it is a Windows XP box and Samsung 2243 WM monitor which is currently turned on it’s side so that I can read lengthy webpages.

Being a digital media team we do have shared access to a range of kit to enable full digital media creation and support including macs, video, camera and audio kit. Most of which I never use so I won’t go into any detail save the fact I sometimes use the Nikon D50.

Personally, I own a Apple Macbook which my other half detests for its trackpad and my use of ‘spaces’ which moves things around on-screen depending on which corner the cursor is placed. I have a magic mouse which is terribly suited to my hand so never gets used and a Apple remote. The laptop is plugged into a pair of unforgiving Mackie MR5 speakers, which have made me realise that 192kbps MP3 recordings are too low quality!

I use my Xbox 360 mainly for watching DVDs and occasional spurts of online gaming.

I have a borrowed Apple iphone first generation which has hardly any apps on it and none of which are worth mentioning.


I use quite a bit of software but only on rare occasions.  I pretty much live in Mozilla Firefox,  thanks to cloud based services and extensions for web development such as firebug and the web developer toolbar. When coding I use Coda (or 1% of its functionality anyway). I use Tweetdeck for twitter and skype for synchronous chat. For client work I use Google Documents and ExpressionEngine for content management.

Web services

Dropbox sits in the background and is used for all of my file management so I use it pretty much solidly – though it is banned at work so I pretty much curse about this fact at least once  a day when I cannot find files or have to duplicate them. I find so many useful items via Google reader that I need delicious to keep track of it all and it works seamlessly across my work and personal computers too.

5 Websites that I always check for

  1. I am a fan of f1 fanatic which doe’s a great job at making me love the detail of the sport more and more
  2. Subtraction, an inspiration in many ways
  3. Techcrunch for tech news, though really I only check for Paul Carr
  4. 5by5 podcasts, the site that got me listening to podcasts – great while cooking
  5. Alistapart for people who make websites BUT many of the topics resonate with e-learning

Then about 100+ daily RSS updates covering web design and e-learning

Reasonable Doubt

I keep meaning to put my thoughts down. However my boggle has always been that I saw my main interests (Designing for the web, motorbiking and music to name the core) as conflicting together too much. But having used my twitter account for some time now I have decided to shrug off any such concerns. People can follow this or not – its that simple – i need this blog for me first.

Lots of the blog advice is to keep it super focused on “your brand” but I don’t see myself in that box so here is to throwing caution to the wind.