29 June, 2016

Front loaded text and scanning the page

We push our writers to always front load their titles and paragraphs not just because we think it's a good idea, but because studies back up the technique.

Jakob Nielsen posted a great article, "First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye," where he goes into the details of his research in this area.

Jakob starts with reminding us how our customers have many lists to read, err scan -- it's not just search results.

  • Search result pages
  • List of current and/or archived articles and press releases
  • Product listing
  • Table of contents
  • Question lists on an FAQ page
  • Bulleted and numbered lists, checklists, etc


11 characters is used as the baseline measure the number of characters a user actually reads when looking through a list (link text). The test is to see just the first 11 characters, and see if you can predict what's behind the link -- what will you get when you click.

The best link text has these characteristics.

  • Plain language
  • Specific terminology
  • Follow naming conventions
  • Front-loaded, action-oriented terms

The first 3 have something in common -- no slang or internal jargon.

What's the characteristics of bad link text?

  • Generic words
  • Made-up terms
  • Having the information-carrying text at the end


Jakob concludes with a reminder that our customers do have the option to read past the first 11 characters. What we need to remember is to front-load our titles and links, so the customer, when necessary will read the rest of it, i.e. it needs to grab their attention to read enough to validate it's the correct link (which would be followed by a click). "Nanocontent (first bit of a link) just needs to be good enough that users will sniff the most promising links in full." How?

  • Provide enough additional context, so the user knows what to expect (and make sure the clicked-to page actually delivers).
  • Clearly differentiate links -- don't make me choose between 2 very similar links.
  • Don't mislead or over-promise.


It's all so simple. Right?

28 June, 2016

Improve your writing for the web with the Hemingway Editor

As we know, readers on the web don't really read, they scan and skim articles, and won't ready anything that's long form. With the Hemingway Editor, you can improve your writing by making it more "bold and clear" -- make your writing standout so your audience actually reads it.

The Hemingway Editor is going to give you feedback and input on the following:

  • Sentences that are too hard to read
  • Simpler alternatives to words and phrases
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Use of passive voice
  • Readability score

The Hemingway Editor also has other helpful functions:
  • Basic formatting
  • Import from Word
  • Export as HTML
  • Character count
It's free to use online, ore a mere $10 for the app version.



27 June, 2016

Text (SMS) from your computer using MightyText

It's 2016 -- if you're not texting, you've fallen behind. I text my family, I get appointment reminders via text, and text is being used for 2-factor authentication.

At my company there are several different communications apps, from Yahoo Messenger, to Slack, to HipChat. They each work well, but only texting is guaranteed to reach the person I want to talk to.

With that being said, texting can be difficult from my phone if I have multiple conversations going on, or I have a lot to share. Fortunately, I've found a great solution. Whenever I'm at a computer, PC and Mac (I have both), I can use MightyText instead.

MightyText works with Android phones and Google Chrome browser. Not only can I type faster using MightText, I get notices from my phone on my computer screen. I no longer need to take my phone out of my pocket to see alerts or respond to text messages.

It also as the added benefit that I can easily attach any image that I can access from my computer. There's also an integration with Gmail, if you want to work within the Gmail interface (over having its own tab).

MightyText is on my short-list of must have apps.


Favorite Podcasts

It's been a year since I've posted, and only once in 2015... how time flies! I was sharing with a friend my favorite podcasts, and thought I could share here.

  • Daily Tech News Show (DTNS) -- I've been following the host, Tom Merritt for 10 years. He's excellent. If you only have time for 1 podcast, this is the one.
  • Serial -- Spin-off from This American Life (below). There have been 2 seasons. Each is a story. I would highly recommend listening to both seasons. 
  • This American Life -- Big variety; some better than others. The host Ira Glass is excellent. 
  • TWiT -- This is a network of Podcasts. The quality varies. The founder, Leo Leporte should be recognized as the person who pushed podcasts to be more mainstream. I've been to their studios in Petaluma, CA. Try these:
    • This Week in Tech. This was the original show that started the network.
    • Tech News Today. Started by Tom Merritt (DTNS).
    • The Tech Guy. Syndication of Leo's radio show.
    • Security Now. Deep technical -- if you like this stuff, the host Steve Gibson is the best.
    • Triangulation. Interviews with current experts in the tech field.
    • there are several more, too.
  • The Vertical Podcast with Woj. If you like basketball, Woj is highly respected NBA writer. Not the best radio voice, but well worth the time.
    [** I currently work for Yahoo, where Adrian Wojnarowski is also employed, though our jobs are unrelated.]

22 May, 2015

When you need two VLOOKUPS together

VLOOKUP is a quick and easy way to return a value from a bunch of rows, by matching a single value. But once you need to match two values, all of sudden things become a bit more difficult.

One solution is to concatenate the two cells in the source and lookup tables. Another is to leverage INDEX and MATCH.
=INDEX(E2:E1000,MATCH(1,(C:C=A2)*(D:D=B2),0),0)
When entering this formual, because it's an array formula, you must enter it by using CTRL-SHFT-Enter, instead of just Enter.

Here's how this works:
  • The MATCH syntax is
    MATCH(lookup_value, lookup_array, [match_type])
    where match type is 0 = exact, 1 is less than, and -1 is greater than.When the match occurs, it will return the relative position of the match within the range.
  • In our MATCH formula, it's looking for an exact match to 1 (lookup_value = 1).
  • If the value of A2 is found in column C, a value of 1 is returned, otherwise a 0 is returned.
  • Likewise for the value of B2 in column D.
  • When multiplied together, if a matching value in columns C and D on the same row match the values from A2 and B2, then a 1 is returned, else we get a 0 (lookup_array).
  • The INDEX syntax is
    INDEX(array, row_num, [column_num])
  •  When MATCH returns a value of the matching row, we get the value in column E for the corresponding row.
With this formula, if you needed to add a 3rd or even more cell matches, you could just extend the multiplication technique.

09 August, 2014

Columns side-by-side or stacked -- CSS to adjust for screen width

I recently had to brush up on my CSS skills to develop a solution where two buttons would appear side-by-side unless the view port was less than 480 pixels, in which case they should then display stacked. Through a bit of research I found a couple of solutions. When I tried to implement the solutions as presented, the buttons didn't appear side-by-side, but instead on separate rows -- I'm sure something I must of overlooked, but nevertheless I therefore came up with my own modified solution.

My particular example used 3 columns -- the middle just for space, which could be done with padding and/or margin. The key is using "@media." By default the widths of the columns were all set for 100% -- configured for stacking. When the screen was 480 pixels or larger, using "@media" the widths are adjusted 45%, 10%, and 45%. If you're not sure what each of these CSS properties do for you, try searching "css [property]" such as "css clear" and click on the link for w3schools -- usually the first or second response.

This should be enough to get you going. Depending on your use you may need to do further work, so when you;re on the 480+ pixel screen, you're not consuming all available width.

Class definitions

.mySection {
clear: both;
padding: 0px;
margin: 0px;
zoom:1; /* For IE 6/7 */
}

.mySection:before {
content:"";
display:table;
}
.mySection:after {
content:"";
display:table;
clear:both;
}

.myGroup {
display: block;
}

.grid_1of3, .grid_2of3, .grid_3of3 {
width:100%;
}

.grid_2of3 {
height:10px;
}

@media only screen and (min-width: 480px) {
.myGroup {
display: inline;
}

.grid_1of3,
.grid_3of3 {
width:45%;
}

.grid_2of3 {
width:10%;
}
}


HTML code

<div class="mySection" style="text-align:center;">
        <div class="myGroup grid_1of3"><img src="first_btn.png" border="0" /></div>
        <div class="myGroup grid_2of3"> </div>
        <div class="myGroup grid_3of3">< img src="second_btn.png" border="0" /></div>
</div>

16 June, 2014

Comcast will use your service to offer WiFi to other customers

Yes, you heard that right! If you're a Comcast customer and you rent a cable internet modem from them, then it has a separate wireless channel that other Comcast customers can use. This means as a Comcast customer, you can surf the Internet from any neighborhood where Comcast has an install base.

While in theory I like the flexibility as a Comcast customer to get WiFi anywhere (Xfinity WiFi Hotspots), in practice I'm not too pleased.

Why I'm not pleased.

  • I pay Comcast to have their Internet service, which enables this capability.
  • I pay another $8 to rent their modem, which is also required for this capability.
  • I was never asked; my account was opted-in.
  • If I have an issue with my connection, I have to hold a long time (typically), and if something is wrong at my end, I have to pay for them to correct, yet again Comcast benefits from my service working.
  • If you live in an apartment complex, Comcast advertises your apartment complex on the list of available hotspots (mine shows up).
  • Unless you have Comcast, if you want more than the guest pass allows (see below), Comcast is making money from this service, yet isn't passing it back to its customers that make it possible.
  • It has the potential to slow down connectivity for all of us on the same Comcast Headend. Note, it shouldn't slow you down specifically, unless the headend itself is congested. Comcast claims a separate 6 Mhz channel is used.
There may be another benefit beyond flexibility for you. If you have friends and relatives visiting, and they're Comcast customers, they can use for free and not consume your data -- it seems Comcast caps data at 250 GB per month. If your friends or family don't have Comcast, they can still use it as a guess, twice for up to an hour in a 30 day period.

What can we do about it?

  • Dump Comcast. I know this can be difficult, because for most of us the only other option is a much slower DSL connection.
  • Replace the Comcast modem (more info here and here) with one of your own.
  • Figure out how to opt-out -- I looked through my account options and couldn't find it.
  • Write Comcast and your congressman. This of course is a slow process, but worth doing.
  • If you're not already rebooting your cable modem on a frequent basis like I am, do it just for fun and kick-off anyone who might be connected. Also be sure to turn it off when you're not at home.

If Comcast was to make a few changes, I might be more amenable.

  • Ask me -- no auto-opt-in.
  • Offer me free onsite service -- if the service is failing for me, it's also failing for any other Comcast customer who wants to use the service via my rented modem.
  • Ah, rented huh? The modem should not have a rental fee.
I don't think any of these things are unreasonable, yet when you're already recognized as one of the worst companies to do business with and you have a virtual monopoly, Comcast has no incentive to be reasonable.



22 May, 2014

Firefox Status Bar gone missing? Let's bring it back!

With the release of Firefox 29, the Status Bar work-around no longer worked. I don't recall when it stopped displaying, but now there's no option. I found a handy add-on that brings back the Status Bar, Status-4-Evar, so my other add-ons display again.


20 March, 2014

Remove all hyperlinks within Excel

Ever copy a webpage of data into Excel, and it brings along a bunch of hyperlinks? Of course it isn't practical to remove each hyperlink manually. Fortunately there are a couple of options to perform a bulk removal of hyperlinks.
Note that I'm using Excel 2007 in my examples.

OPTION 1

  1. Select the cells that contain hyperlinks.
  2. On the Home tab, in the Editing section, click the Clear drop-down arrow.
  3. Click Clear Hyperlinks.
I have found in some cases that the Clear Hyperlinks option isn't available. In those cases, use option 2 below.

OPTION 2

Use the following macro:
Sub NoMoreHyperlinks()
ActiveSheet.Hyperlinks.Delete
End Sub
For those of us that need a reminder on how to create macros, here's a more detailed process.
  1. Press Alt-F8 to display the Macro dialog box
  2. Enter a new macro name (such as "NoMoreHyperlinks") in the text box just below "Macro name:"
    - This will change the Create button from an inactive to active state
    - If you already have one or more macro, the name of one may already be in the "Macro name:" text box. That's ok, just type over it and Excel will realize you're wanting to create a new macro.
  3. Click Create -- this opens the Visual Basic Editor
  4. Copy the lines above and paste into the edit window
    - Note if you didn't use "NoMoreHyperlinks" as a name, you will need to make sure you update the macro code accordingly
  5. Close the editor window -- you should be back on your worksheet
  6. Press Alt-F8 again
  7. Select your new macro and click Run -- all your objects should now be deleted from your worksheet
 That's it!

06 September, 2013

Helpful Outlook Shortcuts

I'm always looking for shortcuts to reduce the time I spend moving the mouse. My company just sent this email with a few helpful Outlook shortcuts, and therefore I'm sharing them with you...

Outlook 2010 Shortcuts

  • Ctrl + E will help you find a message or other item.
  • Ctrl + Alt + R will reply to an email with a meeting request.
  • Ctrl + Shift + A will create an appointment.
  • Ctrl + Alt + F will forward an email as an attachment.
  • Ctrl + Shift + M will draft a message from any Outlook view.

Outlook 2011 for Mac Shortcuts

  • Shift + ⌘ + K will send all the messages in your outbox.
  • Shift + ⌘ + O will display all unread messages in your inbox.
  • Ctrl + ⌘ + C will check recipient names in an open message.
  • Ctrl + 2 will flag an item for follow up for “tomorrow;” Ctrl + 3 will flag for “this week;” Ctrl + 4 will flag for “next week”.