Category Archives: Usability

Mozy Backup Inconsistencies

I’ve been using Mozy Backup on my Mac for a while now. It apparently works invisibly in the background which is good (hassle-free) but also quite dangerous if things don’t go as expected. I haven’t had the need to retrieve anything from Mozy’s online backup -though my friends tell me it works really well, but today I encountered the following conflicting dates which I’m hoping Mozy can explain:

According to Mozy’s online gauge, my last backup occurred 8 days ago:

Mozy Backup’s Online Gauge

But according to Mozy’s desktop application, my last backup was 3 days ago:

Mozy Desktop Status

So, which is it?

How to get the new Google Analytics interface

This may not work for everyone, but it worked for me… so I’m sharing it with a “your-mileage-may-vary” license.

Google recently updated the interface for Google Analytics. As usual, not everyone gets the upgraded interface at the same time, as Google likes to roll put their upgrades incrementally.

I track three different accounts through Google Analytics and only two of them were upgraded to the new interface (and of course, those are the ones I don’t really track on a daily basis). So here’s what you need to try:

The Hack:

Under the traditional Google Analytics interface, your URL will look like this:

Under the new Google Analytics Dashboard, your URL looks like this:

So what I did was simply edit my URL to look like this:

Simply replace “/home/report” with “/reporting/dashboard” and hit enter.

Let me know if that works for you!

Information Dashboard Nirvana

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the New York Stock Exchange’s trading floor (for the second time). While it’s a much quieter place now, given the amount of electronic trading that goes on now, it’s still an amazingly interesting place to visit.

The floor is divided into small islands, each owned by a particular firm or specialist. In and around each island, numerous flat-panels keep track of stocks, using various kinds of proprietary information dashboards. If you like data visualization, you owe it to yourself to visit the NYSE floor.

It’s great to see many of the principles of correct information display being put to profitable use (though I also saw a great many ugly dashboards in place).

Overall, a great learning experience. Thanks to my friend Dave for making it possible, again.

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Find Any Song on the iTunes Store

Having trouble finding a song on the iTunes store? Try this simple tip:

Go to the iTunes Store homepage, scroll down to the bottom and select a store for a different country using the drop down list provided. Songs not available on the US iTunes Store may be available on one of the country-specific stores.

For example, Elevator Boy, an 80’s tune by Danish group Laid Back, is not available on the US iTunes Store. Back in 1997, it took me a few years to find this song on Napster. The song, a favorite of local party-djs, was originally available as the B-side of Laid Back’s hit White Horse. So you get an idea of how hard to find this particular song must be. But head on over to the Danish iTunes Store and you’ll find it for 8Kr.

Also, if you happen to be into Progressive Rock, check out the wikipedia article, the progarchives, and the iTunes Essentials collection. Again, look through the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany iTunes Stores to make sure you really get everything. Many important groups are only available on their country’s store.

Got a tip for using iTunes? Leave a comment…

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Fetch email from multiple accounts with Gmail

Google’s Gmail now lets you grab email from all your accounts. Many folks have been waiting for this feature, though I’ve long since migrated all my email accounts to Gmail (I still have one too many addresses, but that’s another story).

More info available at Gmail’s What’s New center:

Get mail from other accounts
Now Gmail can check for the mail you receive at your other email accounts. You can retrieve your mail (new and old) from up to five other email accounts and have them all in Gmail. Then you can even create a customized ‘From:’ address, which lets you send messages from Gmail, but have them look like they were sent from another one of your email accounts. Please note that you can only retrieve mail from accounts that have POP3 access enabled.

This feature is currently only enabled for a limited number of users. We’re working on making it more available soon. Look for it in the ‘Accounts’ tab in Settings.

and detailed instructions at Gmail’s Help Center.

This plays very nicely into Google’s plans to charge Gmail users for additional storage.

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Who says Macs don’t crash?

Apparently, it’s a well know fact that Apple Mac’s never crash… In practice, it’s a different story. I’d had my MacBook Pro for two days when it first hung completely, giving me Apple’s version of Microsoft’s Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) – Apple’s version is translucent gray. Luckily, I haven’t seen one of these again.

And though crashes are few and far between -and my laptop does appear to be a lot stabler than my previous XP-based system- today’s crash was particularly nasty.

I’d just finished adding all the contacts I made at the We Media Conference last week, when the Address Book application became unresponsive. Eventually both iChat and Mail became unresponsive as well, so I went to the ActivityMonitor and shut down the non-responsive services (others I simply Force-Quit from the Dock).

After rebooting my laptop, I loaded Address Book and was greeted by an empty rolodex. Just me and Apple’s numbers. My 600+ contacts gone. Poof! Maybe they went into Steve Jobs’ address book… good luck.

And rummaging through my hard drive yielded nothing else. I found a couple of files ( and stored under the Library/Application Support/AddressBook folder, but neither appears to hold any useful data. And of course any Address Book backups I did make are really old.

Luckily, I have my addresses backed up on my Dash phone, so if all goes well I won’t have lost that much information. Still, losing contacts is never good…

What about you? Any lost-info horror stories? Macs crashing? Suggestions for recovering my data or backing it up in the future? Leave a comment…

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Fixing WordPress to work with Ecto again

Ever since I switched to an Apple laptop (MacBook Pro), I’ve been using Ecto to post to my WordPress blogs. But a couple of weeks ago, Ecto starting having issues while downloading posts from my blog: it would just sit there on an endless loop while retrieving a post’s categories.

A quick trip to the Ecto support forums pointed the finger at a change WordPress had made to their code, apparently breaking the MovableType standard it uses. But enough with the geek stuff… on to the solution (thanks to user gusleig at the Ecto forums for originally posting this):

Disclaimer: I’m usually against modifying code to make things work with one particular solution. If this is indeed a WordPress issue, they should fix it so that everybody is on the same page. That said, if you’re using Ecto and WordPress, this should work for you.

1. Open the file “xmlrpc.php” with your favorite text editor (or whatever is available). This file is located in your blog’s root folder.

2. Find the line that says: ‘categoryId’ => $catid, – On my copy, this is line 980.

3. Change this line to: ‘categoryId’ => (string) $catid,

4. Save the file.

Ecto should now work correctly when fetching posts from your blog. The problem, according to Ecto, was that WordPress changed the way it reports the $catid, using an int variable instead of a string (as apparently required by the MovableType standard).

Additional info:

Bug ticket posted at WordPress trac.

Diff file at WordPress trac.

This fix should be officially incorporated into WordPress version 2.1.1

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Five Steps towards a Successful Website

These steps won’t necessarily make your website a success, but ignoring them could seriously hurt your chances of making it in an increasingly competitive environment.

1. Operate in stealth mode until you’re ready to launch.

It’s a no-brainer, I know… but until your product is ready, keep quiet. Monitor blogs (via Google Alerts and Technorati feeds) to get an idea of how many people are mentioning your future product. And monitor your competitors while you’re at it.

2. Create buzz, make’em wonder.

Without giving too much away (see step 1), post a simple landing page on your website requesting potential user’s emails. Keep them updated when something worthwhile happens. A developer blog is another good idea. Again, exercise caution when divulging information about your product.

3. Hold a controlled, limited beta.

Use the emails collected in step 2 to invite a limited number of users to your controlled beta. Invite users who can give something back to you and your product. Controlled betas allow you to carefully grow your website, scale it, fix it and determine where the problem areas are.

4. Make it easy to use, easy to read, easy to share.

Make sure your product is usable without reading a manual or getting an advanced degree in rocket science. The user interface should flow from one action to the next. Information should be well laid out and easy to read. Get out of the user’s way. Make your product ready-to-use. Hire a usability expert and an information dashboard designer. Community oriented websites should let users share their information. Allow them to easily embed your product into their blogs, websites, Virb or MySpace. Make it easy to click and share. Let them import their address books. Let them save to, magnolia, digg, etc.

5. Go public (no, the IPO is a little bit later).

Invite the guys at Mashable, TechCrunch, GigaOM and the relevant industry bloggers to use and review your product. Post it on Digg. You may do some of this at step 3.

That’s it for now.

Easier said than done, but these steps need to be on your mind while you build your product. No, they don’t apply to every idea out there… but if it applies to yours, you’ll know it.

Step 6? What step 6? Oh, yeah… hire a consultant who knows this stuff. 😉

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New Look

Well, finally… the blog has a new look. Everything seems to be working, but do let me know if you find any gremlins. The original theme (Subtle, with Subvert style) comes from Glued Ideas, but needed a lot of customizing to get some things working. I installed a local copy of WordPress on my MBP and replicated my blog with the help of several articles I found online and lots of elbow grease. Upgraded the server to PHP5 and WordPress 2.05. Some minor cosmetic details will be taken care of shortly, but meanwhile I hope you enjoy the new look and functionality.