Web/Tech

Intel Core i7 isn’t fast enough for Adobe

Uhl in Eagle, ID – I received this warning message today when I launched Adobe Bridge CS3 for the first time on my new computer, a Dell Studio XPS 435T. I thought it was pretty funny that it told me my processor was not compatible, even though it’s an Intel Core i7 920, one of the fastest processors currently on the market.

AdobeBridgeError

Lesson for you software developers: Don’t hard code specific processor versions into your product!

Secondly, any sort of system check is better done before the product is installed, not after. That way the user hasn’t wasted any time if they postpone the install until they upgrade their hardware, or, decide to install it on a different machine altogether. Anyway, it made me chuckle when I read it. And yes, Adobe Bridge runs just fine on my new computer.


Time for a New Receiver?

IMG_2000Uhl in Eagle, ID – After 20 years of faithful duty, my Carver AVR100 receiver may have finally bit the bullet. I'm surprised it lasted this long as it survived four years of college life and multiple moves without a glitch. It has powered my Snell E2 floor-standing speakers beautifully and, even though it's only a 4-channel amp with Dolby Surround (as in 4.0...compared to today's 7.1 systems), it sounds great with movies.

So now I'm researching whether it can be repaired and if so, how much would it cost. Blue book says it's worth only $100–$200 when fully functional, so if it's a costly repair, we'll probably just replace it. Even though we watch a lot of movies at home—free rentals from the library are a great thing—our home theater system is quite dated. We still have a 27" tube TV and we planned to finally upgrade to a flat-panel this year. But this incident may move a new receiver, higher in the list.

Anyway, here's how it went down...

Continue reading "Time for a New Receiver?" »


Booth-Duty at TechEd Developer

IMG_1386 Uhl in Eagle, ID – I just got back from a week in Orlando, Florida for the Microsoft TechEd Developer conference. It was a somewhat of a short notice trip. Much earlier in the year I had filled out an application to work at TechEd, as working at conferences is a good way to touch-base with your customers. As a program manager Microsoft likes you to participate in a couple conferences a year. Well time passed and I didn't remember receiving a confirmation that I had been accepted. So, a couple weeks a go, it was a surprise to me when I received an email that I only had one day to make my hotel reservations!

I flew out on Sunday so I could make a short conference worker training on Monday. Since the conference didn't start until Tuesday and I'd have the rest of Monday free, Heather decided to come down with me for those couple days. She flew stand-by and lucked out by getting the last seat possible on the leg from SLC to Orlando! If she hadn't made it, she probably would have just gone back to Boise. The perils of flying stand-by!

IMG_1395 It was nice to have Heather there the first couple days. The hotel was really nice and we spend a lot of time together. We ate some yummy food at the Bahamas Breeze, who is known for their coconut encrusted shrimp, which we both enjoyed! We also split a delicious, Dulce de Leche cheesecake. Yummy!

Then on Tuesday Heather left for the airport super early in the morning while I got ready for "booth-duty". My job was to answer questions about our product at the PerformancePoint Server booth.

IMG_1419 Typically there were two of us at a booth at a time and I only had one, three-hour shift per day, except for one day where I had two shifts. Aside from that I attended sessions and then one night I went out to dinner with my team. Overall it wasn't a good experience but by Friday I was ready to come home.


Which would you rather use?

Uhl in Eagle, ID – So I got a Garmin Edge 705 in anticipation of either the Quarq CinQo crank-based power meter or the upcoming SRM wireless versions. They both will be Ant+Sport compatible so they will plug and play once they start shipping and I make the decision which one to go with. So I did a couple rides with it so far and the latest build of TrainingPeaks WKO+ (Build 92) downloads directly from it.

But WKO only gives the usual workout graph and doesn't do anything with the GPS data. So I've been researching what to use to "map" my ride and it's been a series of products and web sites that just don't meet my standards. For example on Windows, I could use Garmin's free program:

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Or if I had a Mac, I could use TrailRunner:

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So which way do I go?! Yeah, me too. Looks like I'm going to have to get a Mac!


TopoFusion Power

Uhl in Eagle, ID – I'm not the only one who thinks power and GPS data would make a great combo. Scott Morris, one of the creators of TopoFusion, thinks the same way I do...

After looking at things in WKO I kept asking myself the same thing, over and over…Yeah, but where was this? Maybe I’m just a map freak, or a visual person, and I know that power experts have learned to use speed/cadence/HR as cues, but…I wanna see power on the map.

Continue reading Mapping Power blog entry on Scott's blog.


GPS + Power Meter = Awesome Post-ride Analysis

GpspowerchartUhl in Eagle, ID – I've always thought that combining GPS route information with power meter data would be a great marriage between the two technologies. Being able to click on a point in a power chart to see exactly where that effort was on a map would be extremely useful. So would the inverse: Clicking on a spot on a ride route to quickly jump to that point in the power chart. This type of functionality would make post-race analysis very easy.

I'm sorry, I don't race staring at my odometer or timer, so trying to figure out where so-and-so attacked and I nearly got dropped, is pointless unless I happened to make note that it was 1:15:23 into a race. On the other hand, I almost always remember where something occurred. For instance, so-and-so attacked right before the turn onto Cloverdale. So just click on the map at that location and the cursor goes directly to the corresponding point in the power chart! With location data, it would be possible to sync that point with Google Streetview!

Continue reading "GPS + Power Meter = Awesome Post-ride Analysis" »


Qwest Finally Comes Through

QwestfixUhl in Eagle, ID – Ever since we upgraded to Qwest's 4.5 Megabit DSL service, we never got consistent speed from it. During peak Internet usage times, I would "test out" at like 2.0 Mbps or less. Sometimes it would be as low as .6 Mbps! This wasn't much of problem before, but now that I'm working from home more often, the slow speed is a hindrance.

So over the last couple weeks I've been working with Qwest to find out what's the problem. The first field technician deemed my old Actiontec GT701 modem to be "bad". I called the business office and ordered a new 2Wire DSL modem. It arrived on Thursday, but when I tried it out, I still only tested out at less than 1 Mbps. I called Qwest requested another tech to come out in the afternoon since that's when the problem usually occurs.

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Pyro Sand Game

FallingsandThis is a simple, low graphics online game called Falling Sand. It is highly addictive in a hypnotic sort of way. Rather than try to explain it, just try it out (it's a Java applet).

BTW, the real point of this post is to test the integration between Digg and TypePad...I just thought I'd make it fun! While you're there, also try the Hell of Sand version. You can try different versions using the links across the top of the page.


Tech-Support Cutting into Training

Logmein

Uhl in Eagle, ID – After a good workout on Monday, the rest of the work-week lacked any quality workouts. Instead I was in front of a computer most of the time, even after work. I'm the computer-geek of the family and tech-support my relatives over the phone when they have technical problems. Though I've gotten good at walking people thorugh computer issues over the phone, it's just so much faster if I could see what's on their screen.

I've looked into remote control solutions in the past, but I have the requirement that it needs to work on a Mac so I can help my mother in New York. I had researched TightVNC and Vine VNC in the past but ended up abandoning them because they were too complicated to set up. But last weekend I came across LogMeIn.com. It lets you remote control another computer through a web browser! The computer you want to remote control still needs to install a client, but it's a small download and the installation is fairly simple. Now LogMeIn isn't perfect—the process for setting up my account so I could manage multiple computers across multiple family members, was clunky. But when I finally got everything set up, it worked great. With the other person watching the screen while you fix something, you have the opportunity to explain things as you go and it turns into a learning session. Like they say, "Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...!"

20080202cropSo my workouts suffered this week due to lack of time and energy. But today I got on the rollers and did a 2x20 workout. My warm-up didn't feel too bad, but when I started my first interval, my wattage was low. I didn't stress about it and just decided to ride it out and not worry about wattage. The second interval went better and got a decent average wattage. I ended the ride feeling much better after the ride than when I started and that's always a good thing!


New York Times Reference Search

Nytlookupcrop Uhl in Eagle, ID – As a user experience professional, I appreciate good design and today I was pleasantly surprised by a new feature of the online version of The New York Times. I read a lot on the web and I come across quite a few words I don't know (probably should have paid more attention in English class!). When I do, I go to straight to Mirriam-Webster Online to look them up. The reason I choose M-W, is because they allow you to listen to the pronunciation of the entries without having to sign-up for premium service (not the case with Dictionary.com).

This is my usual routine when I come across a word I don't know:

  1. Double-click the word to select it
  2. Press Ctrl-C to copy it
  3. Click the M-W icon in my Quick Launch bar
  4. Wait for the page to load
  5. Press Ctrl-V to paste the word
  6. Press Enter

It really doesn't take that long, but it's a bit of mousing and clicking. But while I was reading the NYTimes article, "The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies" today, I came across the word "husband" used in a different context than I've seen before. So I double-clicked the word to try and select it. It highlighted at first, but it didn't stay selected. After a brief, "Huh?!" moment, a second browser window started to open. At first I thought it was a pop-up ad, so I headed for the Close button. But as I was doing so, I saw the content and realized that it was a dictionary entry for the word "husband!" Cool, they read my mind!

Continue reading "New York Times Reference Search" »


Back to Work

Img_0982crop_4 Uhl in Eagle, ID – I re-entered the software industry today after the Cycling Sabbatical I started in October of 2005. During the last two years I focused most of my energy on my lifetime passion of bicycle road racing. Though I didn't get the results I had quite hoped for, I did manage to break most of my bests as far as power goes. I also learned a lot about my physiological limits and what training works for me and, just as important, what doesn't!

The time away from "real" work also gave me a much needed break from the hectic pace of the software industry. While I did some light computer consulting and created cycling-related spreadsheets, I was able to decompress and have a much needed mental break. I now feel reinvigorated and look forward to my return to the tech sector. And what better place to do that than the mother-of-all software companies, Microsoft!

No, I'm not moving to Redmond, Washington, but rather, today I started my first day with Microsoft in the same building that I left two years ago! You see, ProClarity was acquired by Microsoft a few months after I left. Hmmm...were they waiting for me to leave?! Unlike some other Microsoft acquisitions, they didn't suck Proclarity up to Redmond. They left most of the R&D team here in downtown Boise.

Continue reading "Back to Work" »


Updated Training Diary w/PMC

12042006pmc1Uhl in Eagle, ID – After my recent failed attempts at VO2 intervals, I decided to take today completely off. Instead, I spent most of the day making improvements to my homegrown training diary. I created the first version years ago so that Heather and I could log our workouts along with other relevant stats (resting HR, weight, etc.). We each use one spreadsheet per season and I usually improve upon it every fall when I redo them for the next year. Over time, it has evolved into a pretty sophisticated application!

20061104profileIn addition to tracking workout detail and daily info, I've got macros that extract critical powers (CPs) from a PowerTap file. There's a worksheet that compares those CPs to prior seasons. There's a power profiling table that uses conditional formatting to rank my mediocre abilities against pro cyclists. Basically, it's a full-featured training diary. But the one thing it didn't have until now was a Performance Management Chart (PMC). So today I finally got the PMC integrated into my Excel-based diary.

Continue reading "Updated Training Diary w/PMC" »


Wattage Overload

Groups_home_1Uhl in Eagle, ID –  No, not that kind of wattage, I'm referring to all the work I've been doing on the recently transitioned Wattage list. The Wattage list is a forum where cyclists can exchange ideas on how to train with a power meter to improve their performance. The list was previously hosted on Topica, but it had some major shortcomings. The biggest problem was a search function that didn't work very well and would only show results up to Oct 2004. Even after repeated attempts to contact Topica's support, I never got an answer why it didn't return all results. Anyway, I made the suggestion to move the list to Google Groups and that opened up a nice flurry of posts! There was some heated discussion, but in the end, most of the key members agreed on the move.

Continue reading "Wattage Overload" »


Lazy Programmers

Lazyprogrammers1_2Uhl in Eagle, ID – Even though I am on my work sabbatical, I still find it hard for the user experience guy in me to ignore bad design. I've always had a problem with ecommerce sites that don't allow spaces in credit card fields. It's totally developer-centric and ignores the usability of entering a sixteen-digit number. While the developer thinks that preventing users from entering spaces will help reduce errors, they are actually increasing them. All credit cards have spaces in their numbers for a reason. They are much easier to recite, write down and enter because they are "chunked". Allowing spaces in the credit card field also allows users to enter the number exactly as it appears on the card, making a visual inspection for errors much easier.

Lazyprogrammers2

Despite this, I've seen various methods used to prevent users from entering spaces. Some just warn, "no spaces" next to the field name. Others will not let the user type them in. While others will just flag the error on the page when the user tries to go to the next step in the checkout process. But today I found the ultimate in useless code: I entered my credit card number with spaces, as I always do, and as I tabbed out of the field, I got the error, "Please remove space(s) in the Card Number."!

Continue reading "Lazy Programmers" »


eBay spoof got me!

Ebayphishemail_2Uhl in Eagle, ID - Being on the Internet since 1993, I thought I was saavy enough that this would never happen to me. Well, today I was suckered into an eBay spoof web site and actually tried to log in with my user name and password!

I had an auction for a item on eBay and I already had received a couple questions from eBay members about the auction. When this happens, you get a nicely formatted eBay email with a button that says, "Respond Now". Today, I recieved a third question from an eBay member, asking if I accept PayPal. I thought this was a little odd at first, since the auction clearly states payment methods, but you never know, there are some dense people out there. I also noticed that the item number in the email body started with a "7" just like the actual item I was selling. So I clicked on the "Respond Now" button.

Continue reading "eBay spoof got me!" »


Computer Build

Computerbefore_1 Uhl in Eagle, ID - Now that I have more time on my hands (with no work and all) I decided that I'd build my next computer. I justified it by telling Heather that I'd be saving $300 off of buying a similar machine from Velocity Micro, who I respect for workstations. I'm building a workstation which is a computer good for 3D applications. I started dabbling in those last winter and really enjoyed it. Plus, I wanted a computer that would work well for Windows Vista, the next version of Windows that is due out by the end of next year.

I priced all the parts and found that I could get almost everything from NewEgg.com. I frequent sites like FatWallet.com so a few of the items had decent rebates that would help keep the costs low. The build went well and now I have a rock'n Athlon X2 4400+ machine, overclocked to 2.4 GHZ. It's got 2GB of quality memory (although I didn't go with ECC...to big a price hit) and two 74GB Raptors in RAID 0. I know a lot of people look down on RAID 0, since if one drive dies, your data is lost. But I have a daily backup strategy that always leaves me only 1 day away from restoring the whole system.

Cokmputermiddle_1I think people freak out because they don't understand statistics. Let's say a single raptor has a 1 in a 200 chance of dying in three years. That means two raptors in a RAID 0 system would have a 1 in 100 chance. Sure it doubles the chances, but even at a 1 in 200 chance, you still want to have a solid backup strategy...so why not go with the faster system if expenses allow? The same goes for health risks, just because a study finds that taking a certain drug doubles the likelihood of, let's say, heart attack, doesn't mean you're going to have one. Most cases they're talking about probabilities of 1 in a 2000 going to 1 in 1000. One in a thousand is still a pretty small likelihood and that increase is typically outweighed by the drug's benefit. Just like most things in life, it's all about benefits and risks.


iMac for the Folks

Imac Uhl in Boise, ID - My parents finally got tired of hearing all this great stuff about email and the "Internet" so they finally decided to buy a computer. As the family tech-guy, I purchased an Apple iMac G5 for them. I had it shipped to me so I could set it up (and play with it) then Heather and I would take a trip to New York and deliver it. It's a great little machine. Mac OS/X has such a cleaner UI than Windows XP. I hope it's still easy enough to use for my folks!


Stop bugging me!

Virus Advisories should not pop-up from the system tray when the user already has the latest virus definition files that would take care of the virus in question. Large, red messages like this:

Scrn0046_1 ...should only be reserved for serious issues, like when the virus was found, but not cleaned. Plus, the first option is comical -- I already have anti-virus protection, why is it asking me if I want to "Get it now!"?

Users are busy people, we don't sit here in front of our computers waiting to read about the latest viruses, especially those that we are already protected against! I knew that I was protected because McAfee already popped-up a message earlier today that the latest updates were installed...whoop-dee-doo!! That was yet another, unnecessary message shoved in my face. I really don't want to know every time the software is updated.

Subscription-based software should always update automatically, there's no need to bother the user with it. Only warn the user when the update failed or hasn't occurred in a while. I bet you if you talk to your customer support people, you'll find that there are a lot of customers who contact them when they see this informational message, thinking that they have a virus.

Scrn0049So making it so advisories don't display if the user is already protected, will save you money!!! If there's some crazy, architectural reason why this can't be detected, then at least change the look of the advisory so as to not look like a virus was found. Here's an idea:   Sorry for the diatribe, but I've become less tolerant of poorly designed software recently.


Creative Muvo TX FM

Muvoholstermod2_1 I just purchased a Creative Muvo TX FM mp3 player to replace the iRiver 180T I sold a while ago. The iRiver was a good player, but after the jog dial went out on me due to excessive use of the scan within track function (since I listen to a lot of talk shows), I decided to sell the warranty replacement I received and try something new.

After some research, I decided on the Muvo. So far it's been a great little player but as always, there are a couple of usability issues. The first one is the holster that came with the player. Kudos to Creative to actually include it in the package and not force customers to buy it as an additional purchase. The problem with it is that you need to remove it from the holster to remove the USB key. This seems like an obvious need people would have and the current design with slight modification actually would allow for it. So I manage to use a sharp razor blade and trim the area round the slot so that the USB key would clear it and now it works perfectly!


Adobe's Colorless Palettes

Photoshop_7_tools_2 Currently, in all Adobe products I've used (Photoshop CS, Illustrator 10, Elements 3.0) the tool palettes are black and white *until* the mouse pointer is over them.

My suggestion is to *always* show color for the tool buttons. This aids in target acquisition because color provides yet another cue in addition to shape and button location. In other words, with color, it's a heck of a lot easier to pick out the eraser tool when coming from all the way on the other side of the screen, than when it's black and white. Especially since there are other "rectangular" looking images in the tool palette.

The other benefit is you would avoid any confusion novice users may have distinguishing black and white buttons and disabled buttons.

I remember when Microsoft introduced the "coolbar" widget (used in various flavors of IE from Win95 to Windows 2000) so that IE's toolbar buttons were monochromatic. What a usability mistake! This made discerning between the buttons much more difficult, especially for a product with such a high frequency of clicking back and forth between the content area and the toolbar (it didn't help that the coolbar button's disabled state was very similar to its enabled state!).


eBay Bad Experience #2

Uhl in Boise, ID - Well, this is the second bad experience I've had on eBay, but the first one was due to an incompetent seller so that's not eBay's fault. This one, on the other hand, was a string of poor UI design decisions on eBay's part that caused me 20 minutes of pain and frustration. Here it goes...

So, holy crap, I just went through a whole ordeal when all I wanted to do was print a packing list for an item I just sold. I had printed one before but I didn't remember exactly how. I've only sold a handful of items on eBay so far and the last one was over a month ago. Today, the auction ended on a foldable keyboard for a Toshiba Pocket PC I was selling. I was prompty paid and wanted to get the item ready to ship. So I fire up the browser and go to My eBay so I can print a packing list.

Scrn0004_edited2I scroll down to the "Items I've Sold" section and there's this nice big button called "Print Shipping Labels". Hmmm...that sounds pretty close, so I check the box next to the item and click the button. I see a PayPal page with a choice between UPS or USPS. PayPal has some deal with both shippers where you can enter all the info, purchase and print a shipping label then all you have to do is take the package to a dropoff location. All I want to do is print a packing list and the page looks similar to the one I used a month ago, so I play along. I think to myself, "I know I did this last time, but I'm not sure how". So I see that the "Continue" button is enabled even though neither of the two radio buttons for UPS and USPS were selected. So I click "Continue" without making a choice. Buzz! Wrong answer! I have to make a choice, so I just randomly pick one.