Tuesday, December 2, 2008

2009 Western Washington Calendar

More link-love to be sent out here, for the Western Washington calendar John is pimping out too. This would make a great low-key gift idea for the holidays:

2009 Western Washington Calendar


A collections of images from Western Washington. Photography by John Hagen from the Bellingham, Mount Vernon and Seattle area.

If you enjoy photos of tulips, Space Needles, majestic mountains, and freshly tilled earth, check out this calendar!


2009 Taste of Haines Calendar

So I need to send out some link-love for "The Taste of Haines" calendar my brother has posted on lulu.com. If you have a chance, check out some of the excellent photos from the small town of Haines, Alaska, where we grew up:

2009 Taste of Haines Calendar


A collection of images made around the Southeast Alaska town of Haines, Alaska.

Despite the name, it's not about food, it's all about scenic photos and whatnot. So if you have a hard time keeping track of dates and birthdays, pick up a copy!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Lifehacker tip: Label your hard drive with installation date

The weekend before last I went through the tiresome task of upgrading the hard drives on my main desktop. I was up to my scuppers with music and videos without much headroom to do anything else. I always thought that a 500GB secondary drive would be enough, but that didn't last long. Also, they tell you it's a good idea to replace your drives every couple years before you hit the mean time before failure (MTBF). I think those drives have been in my computer before I upgraded to a quad core system a year ago. And who knows how long they were in there before that.

Then it struck me. Instead of wracking my brain and trying to count the months since I last installed the drive, why not label my drive with the installation date? That way I know for sure how long it's been in there, and I have a good idea of when I should replace it next.

So the next time around, there won't be any doubt as to how long this drive has been in the computer. May this hard drive last me well into my Windows 7 years (and maybe 8). Now, only if the OS, or even the SMART info would just tell you when you added the hard drive...


And as a bonus, I need to send a shout out to Acronis True Image 10. I've been using this for a couple years for ghosting my primary hard drive (I just copy everything on the secondary drive to an external drive for off-site storage). In addition to being able to copy and compress an entire hard disk, it also has some utilities built into it for mucking around with your partitions. Acronis gives you the ability to clone a source drive to a destination drive, and will also resize your partitions to fit onto the new drive. This was exactly what I needed for moving things from the old 500GB drive to a 1TB drive.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mad about MySpace, or "How do I change my profile picture?"

"How do I change my profile picture on MySpace?"

What started out as a simple task turned into a huge ordeal, highlighting everything I hate about MySpace. These are a few of the reasons I've been avoiding MySpace like it's some sort of Digital Detroit.

I was on my way out the door this morning to meet up with my brother and sister in law for Thanksgiving, and decided to update the status on my Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and MSN accounts. That's when I noticed that the profile pic on my MySpace account was out of date, and wanted to update it with the same pic on my Facebook account. I saved the pic from one site, uploaded it to MySpace, then went about to set it as the profile pic. Alright, no speed bumps yet.

I started out looking near the profile picture for a link that should say "Change profile pic" or something to that effect. Nothing. Then, I searched the menu for something under the "Profile" menu. Nothing there. Then I remembered that some sites actually have that option on the destination picture, rather than on the current profile pic. I looked on the page with the picture I wanted as the profile pic, and again, came up short. In all reality, I spent about 15 minutes searching, hunting and pecking for something that should have taken at most 3 clicks.

After wasting too much time with that crap, I started to run late, and gave up. Upon returning from dinner, I found a Yahoo! Answers post referring to this problem. For some awful reason, MySpace calls this functionality "Set as Default."

The "Set as Default" button is used to change the profile pic.

What kind of lessons were learned by this example, besides the fact that MySpace is an atrocious website?
  1. Make the simple tasks easy. Take time to understand what your users are actually doing on your website, and optimize your site for that core set of tasks. As a web developer it might make sense to bury an option under 3 layers of menus, but think of your end user.
  2. Do usability tests early and often. Companies that care about making their site easy to use will perform usability tests on their website. This consists of having a set of scenarios or end goals, and having a user try out your site and see what kind of success they have with accomplishing their goals. You can do this with low-fidelity "paper prototypes" or mockups of what your site might look like. Or you can also do this with a nearly finished or production quality site. The risk is that any usability bugs you discover become much more expensive to fix.
  3. Use web analytics tools to understand the behavior of your end user. You can sometimes use web analytics tools to understand your users' behavior on the site. There are tools like Omniture that can analyze "click streams" and see what the common tasks are. After making a small change, you can then analyze the users' success rate with their end goal. Additionally, you can also define reports or alerts for important pages on your website. If you see fewer users on your login page, or fewer users getting from the login page to the login success page, then this tells you there might be a bug on your login page.
The true question is, should MySpace really care that much about the usability of their website? Here are three tactics that MySpace could have applied to find this usability bug, but in the end, I eventually succeeded. Plus, it's not like they have to care about revenue generated from purchases. However, their value is based on their user base and ad impressions. Users are fickle, and you shouldn't give them yet another reason to leave your website for one of the competitors. Hence, bugs like this are still important enough to fix.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Why Windows Vista is a Pain in my Ass

This is why Microsoft doesn't get it. They spend 300 million on changing user perceptions of Windows Vista. They hire Jerry Seinfeld to talk about anything but desktop computing. But I spend an hour trying to figure out how to copy files from an XP fileshare, to my Vista desktop. I have read permissions on the XP share, and write permission on a local folder on which I have read/write permissions. It really is a simple conceptual model, but why doesn't this work on Vista? How did the ads fix this problem?

So they have these ads where they're trying to change the public perception of their operating system. But spending 300 million on ads doesn't fix the underlying problems. I still have to copy the file to an external drive to work around this problem. On my Vista laptop, there is only a 1 in 3 chance that my laptop will wake up. Otherwise, the screen locks up in a blue screen of death, the screen will be permanently black until reboot, or the network will be entirely unavailable.

Instead of spending ridiculous amounts of money on advertisement to trick users into thinking Windows Vista isn't that bad, why doesn't Microsoft just spend that money to fix the bugs? If the bugs didn't exist, and things worked as seamlessly as they did in Windows XP, then they wouldn't have to spend so much money on PR. It's not that hard to figure out is it? Let's get things straight Microsoft!

Who thinks this will be like one of those twisted SAT problems? Windows Vista is to Windows 7 as ME is to XP...