Monthly Archives: February 2013

Terminology (part 2)

Microsoft has been quite instrumental in introducing industry standard terms and practices in their software that are now ubiquitous. Launch any Windows-compatible software package, for example, and you instantly know how to navigate within the application because you will recognize the Windows look-and-feel as well as terms used throughout. You also expect certain behaviors; you expect to see a floating menu when you right-click your mouse for instance.

 

Wizards and defaults and things
Using a wizard to install a software package is a normal occurrence, and while doing so you will see fields capturing default values that the software creator(s) have defined as being the optimal values/locations/settings for most users. But have you looked up these terms in a dictionary recently? The original meaning of the word wizard was a reference to a person that exhibited magical powers, while the original meaning of the word default was a type of failure (failure to act, failure to meet a financial debt etc.).

Remember how, a few short years ago, if someone asked you for a URL your reply started with “h t t p colon backslash backslash”? Not only has technology given new definitions to existing words but it has morphed our usage of those words over time. Presumably when first utilized, the terms wizard and default seemed strange and out of place and are now entrenched in the vernacular.

 

And the relevance of all this is?
You might be wondering about the relevance of all this is, and it ties back to that interesting experience during a meeting at work yesterday regarding terminology usage. Basically, the discussion involved the term attachments, which is used to refer to read-only content that is associated in some way to another item within software (a photograph that is attached to an email, for example). After the person demonstrating a new software application being evaluated for deployment explained how attachments would be editable within the software the conversation quickly changed to how a new term was needed for such media, as the term attachments refers to content that is read-only in nature and that must first be downloaded before it can be modified.

It was a bizarre discussion of sorts but it illustrated the strength of the mental model that is associated with the term attachments. The concept of making an attachment editable seemed to border on heresy while simultaneously opening a can of worms. The situation gave me a brief peek into how difficult it can be to modify a standard industry term to augment its scope of meaning.

 


Terminology (part 1)

I had an interesting experience during a meeting at work today regarding terminology usage.

 

Industry standard terms
Have you ever stopped and thought about the industry standard terms that you use on a regular or even daily basis? For instance, if you stopped at a Starbucks coffee shop this morning what Starbucks-specific terms did you use to order what you wanted. If you shopped for a computer or software sometime recently what industry-specific and even store-specific, terms did you use as part of that process? It’s fascinating to stop sometimes and listen to the terms that we use as we go about our day. Have you ever though back to the days when you first encountered those words?

 

New terms for coffee
Going back to the Starbucks example, do you remember when you first encountered their specific terms for coffee? I grew up with standard sizes of small, medium, and large. The dimensions of same varied depending upon the item in question and the establishment that was selling the item but they were standard terms and easily understand. They were also highly representative of the quantity of the item that you were going to receive. In contrast, Tall, Grande, Venti, and Trenta are not terms that are standard, easily understood, or highly representative of the implied quantity. They have meaning only within the four walls of a Starbucks coffee shop.

 

Introducing new terms
On those rare occasions that I find myself in a Starbucks location I struggle to keep a straight face as I place my coffee order, and am always endlessly fascinated by patrons capable of adding additional terms like “skinny” to their coffee order without as much as a giggle. But Tall, Grande, Venti, and Trenta are now terms that rattle easily off the tongues of Starbucks patrons. Since those terms were first introduced into the coffee marketplace and reinforced by baristas they have become, in one sense, standard industry terms, albeit in a limited capacity. But consider the mammoth effort involved in establishing those terms versus using the more common small, medium, and large?

 


Different browser, different button

I had an interesting situation at work recently. Two coworkers were using the same web-based application and on a particular screen one coworker was seeing a button titled <Browse…> while for the other coworker the button in that location was titled <Choose Files>! How weird is that?

 

Age of miracles and wonders
Part of my job responsibilities involve providing technical support on the web-based application in question, but this particular issue had me baffled. How could the same button appear differently to two different people? We may live in an age of miracles and wonders but software is logical and not prone to pulling odd stunts like that. I logged into the web-based application, accessed the same window and also encountered the mysterious <Choose Files> button, which baffled me because it has always appeared as a <Browse…> button for me in the past.

Luckily my other coworkers are very accommodating so I rounded up a couple of them and asked them to access the window to determine which button they could see. They all saw the expected <Browse…> button, so the mystery deepened further.

It took me a few more tests but I FINALLY figured out what was causing the <Choose Files> button to appear as it had.

 

And the cause was…
The cause of the mysterious <Choose Files> button appearance was the browser that the coworker was using! While most of us prefer to use Firefox when utilizing the web-based application in question she was using Chrome, and for whatever reason Chrome was supplanting the <Browse…> button with its own <Choose Files> button.

Have you encountered similar baffling browser-based issues? Comment below and let me know.

 


Land and learn, then assess

If you are reworking your advertising efforts then taking a land and learn, then assess approach might be something to consider.

 

Advertising is not easy
Advertising is not easy, and if you are a small business owner or run your own home-based business then your budget constraints will likely weigh heavily on your advertising decisions. Even writing an ad for the classified section of your local newspaper can be difficult and analysis paralysis an ever present danger, where you become so focused on the analysis phase that you become incapable of moving forward. Posting ads on free sites like Craigslist.org and Backpage.com, creating flyers for neighborhood distribution, posters to be attached to public lampposts, and business cards to be distributed freely all require a different writing style in order to be effective. It’s enough to drive the average person insane.

 

Land and learn, then assess
A land and learn, then assess methodology is one way of avoiding analysis paralysis. By creating and distributing your item (be it product sample, advertising material, or other item) and then assessing its impact you can gather invaluable data. What you land may be a complete disaster but the data that you gather, be it verbal comments from potential customers, a dearth of responses or whatever the response turns out to be for your particular circumstances, you can then assess that real data and determine where modifications need to occur. Following your second land and learn, then assess iteration you should be very close to perfection.

Do you currently use a land and learn, then assess methodology? Comment below and let me know.

 


Are you ripe for identity theft?

In the past few weeks I have overhead coworkers at my full-time job engage in personal phone calls at their desk during which they have spoken aloud their social security number, their credit card number, or the answer to an account security question.

On my desk is a stack of paper, pens, and a laptop with Internet access. If I were so inclined I could have easily posted their personal information online or sold it later to an unscrupulous buyer. Luckily for my coworkers I would never do such a thing.

 

Never reveal your data
Anytime I read news articles online on in magazines or watch a news segment about identify theft, one of the “tips” that is offered is to never offer your social security number, credit card number, account number, password, or other piece of information unless absolutely necessary. If you didn’t initiate the phone call then do not give the caller such information. If you initiate the call and then suddenly get a weird vibe you should terminate the call; no legitimate company is going to have an issue with that. Indeed I did that once with my credit card so I can speak from experience – before I terminated the call I explained my reason to the customer service rep and he fully agreed that I should “go with my gut” in that situation.

 

How to protect yourself
Constant vigilance will not protect you from identity theft unfortunately; there are just too many opportunities for your personal information to fall into the wrong hands. But there are some easy and commonsense practices that you can do to at least make the identity thieves break a sweat. An obvious one is to be aware of how you shield your credit card while in line at a store or other place of business – I always hold my credit card so that it is nestled in my palm and pressed against my leg so that those in line behind me can’t see the card number and expiration date. Better yet, leave the card in your purse or wallet until you need to slide it through the register card reader. When checking your credit card balance by phone, use the phone keypad to enter the card number rather than speak the numbers aloud. Shred every piece of paper that features any kind of identifying data; what looks like an unintelligent sequence of numbers to you may be decipherable and valuable in the wrong hands. Shred receipts that include any part of your credit card number – it amazes me how many people rationalize throwing away receipts simply because most of the numbers are represented by a series of X’s! In the wrong hands those X’s represent valuable data.

How much attention do you pay to your surroundings when you are handling your personal information? Comment below and let me know.

 


Choosing Do Not Track

There are several different browsers available for navigating the Internet, and many different versions of same, but the newest versions allow you to set a Do Not Track preference.

Every browser is different
Every browser is configured differently so it’s practically impossible to write a series of steps that everyone can use to set their Do Not Track preference. Indeed, you will often find significant differences between different versions of the same browser when it comes to setting different browsing options. But taking the time to set a Do Not Track preference is one step toward protecting yourself and you browsing habits. When you visit a website, many will track your browsing habits in order to gather data on what areas of the sites you accessed, how long you stayed in those areas, if you returned to a certain page or product listing etc. Unfortunately a website is not required to honor your Do Not Track preference, so you still have to remain diligent whenever you spend time online.

Setting Do Not Track preferences
You have a couple of options available to you if you want to set a Do Not Track preference. One way is to look in the browser settings of your browser for a check box marked Do Not Track; clicking that check box will select it and set your preference not to be tracked when you visit websites.

Another option is to use this Microsoft Do Not Track Test Page  that will determine which browsers you have installed on your computer, their version number, and whether or not you have set a Do Not Track preference for any of them (it’s not uncommon to have 2 or more web browsers installed on a computer). In addition, the page also features instructions on how to set a Do Not Track preference for certain browser types.

Have you found this blog post of value? Comment below and let me know.


Green arrows

You are sitting at a traffic light. You are in the turn lane and the traffic light is red against you. Suddenly, a green arrow appears directly in front of you. What do you do?

 

You turn in the direction of the arrow!
The answer is that you turn in the direction of the green arrow because that is its sole purpose for being illuminated – you have the right of way to turn in the direction of the arrow. It’s a fairly simple concept; we all learned as kids that an arrow indicates a specific direction and that the color green indicates “go” when used in traffic signals. And yet it never ceases to amaze me how many times I see people here in the Phoenix metro area fail to grasp that basic concept until there is barely enough time for them to clue in and make the turn before the opportunity is lost and everyone else in line has to wait through another rotation, at which point the cycle invariably repeats itself.

 

Green arrow and green light
The only thing seemingly more confusing to the locals is a green arrow paired with a green light. Apparently this causes quite the paradox; how can one go left and forward simultaneously? So most people either remain frozen in place, which is rather infuriating to those lined up behind, or they move forward just enough into the intersection to block it and then stop to contemplate the paradox, which is equally infuriating. Or maybe I’m just in too much of a rush to actually get to my destination while everyone else is enjoying the journey.

What driving habits of others make you nuts? Comment below and let me know.

 


New blog post schedule

I wanted to let you know of my new blog schedule for this blog. Starting March 1 I will be reducing the number of scheduled posting from daily to just 2 a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. While I have enjoyed maintaining a daily blog post schedule, it requires an inordinate amount of work and I need to focus that effort on other aspects of running a side business.

Thanks for your continued readership, it is greatly appreciated.


Shakespeare and puppets

I attended Class 6 Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors over President’s Day weekend in which they utilized puppets to play several of the characters. Yep, I said puppets!

 

An innovative twist
The words Shakespeare and puppets rarely appear together in the same sentence, if indeed the same paragraph, and yet the inclusion of the puppets was an innovative twist on the popular play. Obviously one of the challenges of any production of this play is procuring the sufficient number of identical twins to play those crucial characters and, during the talk-back session with the actors after the play, the director explained how some productions use actors that share similar facial features while others use completely different people as a sight gag. Obviously the use of puppets was an example of risk-taking at its finest; the advertising postcard shows only puppets and doesn’t indicate that human actors round out the additional cast members.

Incorporating puppets into every Shakespeare play would overplay the novelty – a puppet Hamlet’s father’s ghost, for example, would likely dilute the sense of terror that the character brings, and a puppet Romeo romancing a puppet Juliet would dilute those iconic and beloved characters to the level of a Sesame Street skit. A play titled “The Comedy of Errors” is an open invitation.

 

How this applies in business
Risk-taking is a minefield through which only the cautious should tread, but informed risk-taking is almost like walking through that same minefield with a partial map of where some of the explosives are buried. With informed risk-taking you may not know all of the variables at play but you have done sufficient due diligence to make some value-based decisions and defined your back-out methodology if things suddenly go south. In the case of Class 6 Theatre, incorporating puppets as integral characters of a Shakespeare’s play is a great example of innovative informed risk-taking.

 


Want a FREE website?

You are not “tech savvy” but you want to create a website regardless. Oh, and you don’t have a budget to purchase a domain name or hire a web designer to create the site for you. What are your options?

 

Web 2.0
Does the term Web 2.0 exist anymore? It seems like the expression was on everyone’s lips just a couple of years ago but I rarely encounter it now. Anyway, one of the wonderful aspects of the Web 2.0 era was the proliferation of free website creation tools that were available to anyone. The only caveat was that you had to accept some advertising that was either incorporated into your free content or that promoted the company that was providing the free content. In some instances the advertising was more blatant than subtle but choice is a wonderful thing – you can always try something else.

 

Finding a free website
The easiest way to find resources that offer free websites is to type some derivation of the words free website into your favorite search engine. Or you can check out sites like yola.com, weebly.com, webs.com, wix.com and so on – the options are vast. Then peruse these sites and see what they offer – some may have more limitations than others, some may showcase examples of what can be done with their software, and some may have pay-to-use options that will be of interest to you.

Many (if not all) of the “create a free website” companies offer easy-to-use templates that feature drag-and-drop functionality; in other words you select a template that you like and then add, move, and/or delete screen elements by dragging and dropping them onscreen. Some may limit the number of pages that you can have in your free site while others will limit the size of the site based on the amount of content (text, images, videos etc.) that you include. As with everything else in life you should read the fine print and understand the limitations within which you will need to operate.

Have you created a free website? Comment below and let me know.

 


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