30 October, 2009

Exclude Websites in Your Searches / Custom Searches

I've been doing quite a bit of research lately on technical topics, where the results would frequently include results from a pay site, Expert Exchange. If you;re familiar with Expert Exchange, they've been very successful in getting their pages to return high in the list of Google results. I have found it very frustrating when I inadvertently click-through on one of their pages.

With a little research, I found that Google has a custom search option, where you can include and exclude certain websites. I have created a custom search that includes all Google results with the exception of Expert Exchange. To make it really useful though, I needed it to be in my search bar in Firefox, which I use almost exclusively for new searches. I found a Firefox Add-on to do that too.

Here's how you can make your own custom search.
  1. If you don't already have one, you must have a Google account.
  2. Go to the Google Custom Search page and click "Create a Custom Search"

  3. I had to start with a search that favored a site, and then returned to their Control Panel to remove the favored search and add the Expert Exchange exclusion.
  4. Test the search
  5. Add the "Add to Search Bar" Add-on to Firefox
  6. After restarting Firefox, right-click on the search box and select "Add to Search Bar..."
  7. Click the down arrow on the search box and select "Manage Search Engines..." so I could move my new custom search to the top.
  8. Test from the Firefox search box.
Of course this is just one of many uses for Google's Custom Search. If you want the same Expert Exchange as I do, you don't need to create your own, you can use the custom search that I've created.

Clean imported Excel data

Sometimes when I get data from systems in CSV format, it includes a leading apostrophe ('). When viewing the data in a cell, the apostrophe does not appear, but when I look at it in the formula bar, it does. Without removing the leading apostrophe, any comparisons come up false.

I tried removing the first character, but it removed the first displayed character. If you have a numeric field, you can divide the it by 1 (=c2/1), but that doesn't solve the problem for text fields. The solution is a built-in function Clean: =CLEAN(C2).

22 October, 2009

Windows 7 is (finally) here

Congratulations to Microsoft for their delivery of Windows 7! You can search about anywhere and read stories from all the news outlets. Of course the industry experts have been talking about it for longer, and have reported good things. I think it's worth mentioning a couple good practices when considering new software, particularly when it's an OS.
  1. Unless you have a compelling need, don't be first. In the case of Win7, I think we can be fast followers, but give it a few weeks to be sure there are no significant, unforeseen problems.
  2. Wait and get the OS on a new machine. Why?
    • You're likely running XP, which means there's no clear upgrade path -- you need to re-install.
    • It's possible your machine is 3 or more years old -- you bought one just before Vista came out, because you knew it had problems, so it's likely underpowered for Win7.
    Benefits include:
    • Drivers will (should) work on the new hardware.
    • You wont have to go through the painful install yourself. (All OS installs are painful, this is not a Win7 issue.)
    • You can use your old machine as backup storage, connected it to your TV, and/or give it to Jr.
    • Hardware prices will likely drop as we get closer to the holidays. Some experts have reported that manufacturers have over-built.
And somewhat related, if you get a new machine so you can get Win7, and you're considering the low cost netbooks, I highly encourage you not to get one with an Atom processor. The Atom processor is under-powered, and is not up to the task for many common functions -- don't blame Microsoft for that. (The Atom may be okay if you are only reading books and email. For example, it'll likely disappoint you if you are viewing videos online or trying to work in a spreadsheet.)

18 October, 2009

IE Only - Invalid Argument

I adopted some older code that I think had been working for some time. This code is part of an admin screen, and as I was testing some improvements I noticed an error with Internet Explorer. Since I predominately use Firefox, I'd never detected the error as a user of the admin screen. Internet Explorer reported the first character as having an Invalid Argument.

The simple code was opening a new browser window. The problem was a hyphen in the window name (Help-Venues).
window.open("venue_all.php","Help-Venues","height=800, width=720,scrollbars=yes")

12 October, 2009

Firefox 3.5 is embarrassed -- not as stable as Firefox 3

I had tweeted shortly after Firefox 3.5 was released that it was too unstable for day-to-day work use, and I had to rollback to version 3. Finally after successfully using Firefox 3.5 for about 3 weeks at home I thought I'd give it a go again and upgraded late last week. Today (Monday, 12-Oct-09), I've had two crashes. I suspect it is related to memory usage, as I've had many tabs opened and closed as I do some data cleanup in our CRM system.

Below is the last message upon restarting Firefox. While I'm disappointed and a bit frustrated, Firefox is embarrassed.

We'll see whether this is a consistent problem, forcing me back again, or if other daily tasks workout.

09 October, 2009

Manage your Contacts

Most of us have Contacts spread among many systems and it takes a lot of effort to keep them in sync or they're not in sync and you find yourself re-entering contacts in each system. With the help of Outlook (2003), LinkedIn, Gmail, My Digital Life, and Contact Scrubber for Outlook, I was able to sync a majority of my Contacts.

Here are the steps I used:
  1. I downloaded and installed the LinkedIn Toolbar for Outlook. With the toolbar app, I was able to add Contacts from LinkedIn into my Outlook Contacts -- the master list.
  2. Then I used TeamScope's Contact Scrubber for Outlook to merge any duplicates that Outlook hadn't already picked up.
  3. Next with the help of My Digital Life blog, I exported my Gmail Contacts and imported them into Outlook.
  4. Again I used Contact Scrubber for Outlook to merge duplicates.
  5. Then with the help of My Digital Life again, I exported my Outlook Contacts and imported them into Gmail.
  • Contact Scrubber for Outlook is a Trial that works with 1000 contacts or less. I also had to try twice before getting it to install on my XP computer.
  • My iPhone keeps sync'd with Outlook, so I had no additional work for my phone.
  • Over time Outlook and Gmail will accumulate differing new Contacts, but a repeat of the process will bring them back in sync. (With the new LinkedIn Toolbar, those Contacts will keep in sync with Outlook.)

02 October, 2009

New Survey on Privacy and Tailored Advertising

The NY Times has posted a recent survey on tailored advertising (“Contrary to what marketers say, Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It”) released by professors from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkley. It was not a surprised to learn that 2/3 (66%) of Americans do not want online tracking. It was a surprise to learn how many did not understand our privacy laws – most assumed they provided more protection.

First I want to dig into the perceptions of our privacy laws as reported in the survey. If a website had a privacy policy, 62% of the respondents thought that meant that your collected data couldn’t be share with other companies. Another 16% didn’t know. Therefore, only 22% knew that a privacy policy was information the website provides on how they may or may not be using collected data about you. Other misconceptions in regards to privacy policies were as follows.
If a website has a privacy policy…
  • 54% assumed that if requested, the website must delete information about you
  • 46% assumed that they have the right to sue a website for violating the privacy policy
Of the 5 questions in all about online privacy, the average score was 1.5 correct answers.

Offline privacy fared very similarly, as survey participants had bad assumptions too, with an average score of 1.7 of 4. For example, 49% assumed that a store cannot sell your address and phone number without your permission.

This survey also debunked the belief that young adults don’t care about their privacy. The 18 to 24 year old group reported more than half the time (55%) that they do not want tailored advertising. It jumps to 86% of young adults against tailored advertising when it is based on data collected about them across multiple website. The number hits 90% for young adults against tailored advertising when the tailored advertising is as a result from following them across multiple website and offline behaviors.

As I had blogged about recently ("How Safe is Your Data?"), this survey also mentions the difficulty of protecting your privacy on websites through regular deletion of cookies, and how it is even more difficult to remove the Flash cookies.

There is much more information in this survey that makes it a good read for Policymakers, Marketers, and individuals with seeking better understanding of Americans’ expectations and perceptions on their privacy. Clearly people expect companies to take their privacy seriously and it’s an easy way to lose their trust. Americans also have expectations that regulations would be in place to protect their privacy.

If you want to get more involved in driving changes to privacy regulations, there are a number of groups in this space including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Consumers Union, and Center for Digital Democracy, among others. In fact I have found a Legislative Primer, September 2009 (13 pages), “Online Behavioral Tracking and Targeting Concerns and Solutions from the Perspective of Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Consumer Watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Times, U.S. Public Interest research Group, The World Privacy Forum.”