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How bad design kept me awake at night

It's 3 a.m. I'm asleep. And suddenly, I hear something. "Your bah," a broken voice says. I wake up. Why am I hearing voices? Is someone in the room? Am I dreaming?

Instinct takes over. I freeze. Silence. I must have dreamed it. Scenarios bounce around my brain. Burglars. Here to steal my column before the FuseLetter goes out. OK, now I am dreaming. I'll go back to sleep.

I'm at that half-asleep point where you sometimes think you're taking a step and losing your balance—and I hear it again, "Your bat e." I'm awake again. What's going on? I'm "bat e"? Maybe I am. I listen again. Nothing. Was my wife talking in her sleep? It sounds like something she might say, but she sleeps as if she's in suspended animation.

I think about getting up, turning on the light. If it's an intruder, maybe I'm better off pretending to be asleep. I can hear my heart beat. I can hear my watch tick. I can hear that high-pitch noise you hear when someone turns on a fluorescent light (but that doesn't count, because I can hear that most of the time even when the lights are out).

I must be dreaming. Was it something I ate? Am I just nervous because I haven't written the FuseLetter yet and don't think you'd appreciate it if I sent you a blank e-mail?

I fall back asleep. I dream I am an e-mail. It's like being "Beamed up" in Star Trek. I hear that familiar sound and I get all sparkly then disappear. For some reason I remember that the beaming up effect was really created by swirling Tang in a water glass.

And then I hear the voice again. "Your batter eis." And I wonder why I'm hearing this. I lay there thinking must have been having that dream about playing baseball in Cuba again.

Now I'm getting annoyed. If there is an intruder in the house why can't they at least be quiet. It's like when I was a kid, at home by myself at night. I'd hear the toilet flush at the other end of the house and wonder if it's a nervous burglar in the house or just our bad plumbing.

I feel around for the flashlight I keep next to the bed in case of emergency. I find a cough drop because it sticks to my hand. I feels something that might be a mouse and decide not to explore any further.

Now I hear a whirring noise. Then the voice again, louder—"Your battery is low," it says. And it all becomes clear. It's my little purple laptop. When its battery gets low (which takes all of about 90 minutes), it doesn't turn itself off to save energy like any smart machine would. Instead, it turns itself on just to tell me turn it off. I've heard that technology can keep you up at night, but this is ridiculous.

This is just one of the many questionable design decisions made in this little computer. This machine has an anti-ergonomically designed keyboard, and a particularly nasty button right on the side that can both put the machine to sleep (in this case, it's more like a coma, since it never awakens and you end up losing everything) and turn it off so you lose everything. When technology goes bad I show it who's boss and unplug it. But in this case, it's not plugged in, so I yank out the battery.

Now I'm awake. I find the pen and paper I keep by the bed and start writing this. Sometimes old technology is a relief. Pens and paper rarely speak to me (out loud, anyway).

And it all reminds me of the importance of design. Not so much the way things look, (because this little purple laptop could hardly be better looking), but the thought behind it—the thought that makes something pleasant and easy to use, as opposed to beautiful but dumb.

So what do you need to do to make your site smarter? Start with _ common-sense._ Use your site yourself. Ask your friends, and visitors. Learn when to listen and change things, and when to realize you can't do what everyone suggests.

Remember—you don't want your site to put people to sleep, but you don't want it to keep them (or you) up at night, either.

 

Shooting The Screen

It's a weird world where what you see on your screen may not exist anywhere else except on your screen. Sometimes you need to show people what's on your screen—so you can take a snapshot of your site for posterity, or make it easier for them to learn how to do something on the computer.

So how do you take a picture of your screen? No, you don't use a camera, you take a "screen shot" It all starts with the Print Screen key. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there, though. Rick Tew walks you through the process, from start to finish and helps you make your screen shots look good and work well on your web site so you can show the world what you're seeing.

Getting Your Press Release Out To The World

If you've been following along with Daniel Janal's series on press releases, then you've written your release. (If not, why not? Click here.) So now what do you do? Well, you've got to get the word out (which is not unlike "getting the lead out.") Dan explains where to post your release, how to distribute your release, and services that can get your release into the sometimes sticky hands of the media.

 

Html e-mail, anyone?

You've surely received HTML e-mail with pictures and formatting. Some people love it because it looks just like a web page. Other people hate it, because it takes longer to download and sometimes you even have to be connected to the web to see it.

But if you want to make it yourself in NetObjects Fusion, here's how.

  1. View the page you want to send in your browser. If you're using NetObjects Fusion, do a local publish (not a preview).
  2. View the page in your browser
  3. Choose Edit/Select All
  4. Choose Edit/Copy
  5. Create an email message (make sure it's in HTML mode)
  6. Choose Edit/Paste
  7. You may need to use your email program's "background" feature to select the background graphic, because this usually isn't pasted automatically.
  8. Send.

If your page has rollovers or fancy JavaScripty things, it most likely will not work right in the email message.

Extra sensory deception

High tech smellovision and feelie-mice bring new meaning to the term "touch typing."

The sense of smell is supposedly the one that's can trigger memories faster than sight or touch. Sight and sound are all over the web, and touch is even starting to appear in devices that give you force feedback. But smell? So far the Internet doesn't smell like anything (unless you can imagine engineers, in which case it smells like Doritos, Coke and M&Ms).

Now, Digiscents.com's soon to be released "iSmell" (yes, that's the name, I'm not making up any of this!) will allow you to smell the world through the web.

The iSmell is "a personal scent synthesizer." It's a small peripheral that plugs in your computer and emits a broad range of fragrances "to enhance consumers' multimedia experiences." It comes with an on/off switch, just in case.

The first market for all this is games, probably because it's so big, and people who buy video games seem to have an unreasonable amount of disposable income.

But eventually, it will find its way onto scent-enabled web sites, advertisements, movies, and even music. Imagine if a web site smelled particularly good—yet another reason to return there (or leave it open in your browser!).

All this sounds great to me—as long as you remember to turn it off before visiting edgy or juvenile sites where who knows what you might end up smelling :)

E to V (electronic to virtual) Letters

E-mail is great, but sometimes these days you can get more attention with real postal mail like letters, postcards, flyers, and booklets. The trouble is, real mailings can take a lot of time and money to put together.

Now a site called www.eletter.com will do it all for you (reasonably). Upload your address list and document file and in just a few days, your mailing will be on its way! E-Letter prints, folds, stuffs, seals, addresses, adds postage, sorts and delivers it all using the post office. Templates and a free trial are available.

E-Zines Made Ezier

If you have an E-Zine (like the FuseLetter), check out Netmaster Solutions' Free Directory of Ezines to find out where to place your ads (you can search 55 subject categories); which e-zines accept ad swaps for a mutual boost in readership numbers; and find additional resources - 55 more places to list your Ezine.

Are your e-mail addresses obsolete?

You would have thought that e-mail addresses were so portable you'd never lose track of a friend or associate again. But according to ActiveNames, approximately 20% of all e-mail addresses become obsolete every year.

http://www.activenames.com offers a free download for individual users and server versions for online businesses. According to ActiveNames, "The free personal software version integrates seamlessly and non-intrusively with the email program of a user's choice, working in real-time in the background to verify the status of an address. When sending an electronic message, ActiveNames instantly checks the address entered by the sender against its database of ActiveNames users. If the intended recipient's address has changed, a dialog box appears notifying the sender of the change and offering to send the message to the new address. The recipient's contact information is then automatically updated in the ActiveNames application."

Of course, this requires that you give permission to ActiveNames to send e-mail to people you know to encourage them to sign up (nothing wrong with that if they have a good privacy policy).

It's an interesting concept (one I haven't tried personally yet). It could be a boon for businesses with mailing lists (provided the people on their list sign up). But I wonder—if someone is important to me, and me to them, wouldn't we tell each other if our addresses changed? Right now, the more-wired among us have domain names that don't change, even when our ISPs do. And sooner or later, won't everyone just be born with a lifetime e-mail address?

And now, a few words from
Leonardo Da Vinci:

    Every now and then go away,
    have a little relaxation,
    for when you come back to your work
    your judgment will be surer.

    Go some distance away
    because then the work appears smaller
    and more of it can be taken in at a glance
    and a lack of harmony and proportion
    is more readily seen.

One Final Word

Every once in a while it's good to unplug your computer to show it who's boss.

 

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.