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Thursday, March 23, 2006

update your feeds - new address for the blog

This is a reminder that the blog has moved to

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These pages will remain online for archival purposes, but save for a reminder or two to update your feeds/bookmarks, there will be no new posts.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fun with browser compatibility

There's an old vaudeville skit where a patient's leg is sticking up in the air. The doctor pushes it down only to find the arm is now sticking up. The doctor pushes the arm down only to find both legs up in the air. This is not entirely unlike getting CSS to render properly across different platforms.

Having coded the redesign using Firefox, I cracked open my copy of the Internet Explorer 7 beta to see how things looked.

All in all, not too bad. There are a few positioning problems with the margins but nothing a little tweaking and a conditional couldn't take care of. So how did it look in IE 6... ?

Great Ceasar's ghost.

Much of the weekend has been spent pushing down legs and arms. But I think we're getting good to go. Much still needs tweaking, but the blog is now online and the rest will be soon be ready for prime time.

Those of you subscribed by feed will want to update to

Friday, March 17, 2006

website redesign - um, yeah, I was going to blog about this, wasn't I?

Well, originally the plan for the redesign was to blog each step of the way. That way everyone can see the steps involved in a project of this size and scope and be privy to the details that normally stay between myself and the client. You'd all get to see my plans, my compromises, the final results and all the decisions that led me there.

At least - that was the plan.

Unfortunately what's happened is that as an off-hours project. Much of the thinking, planning and deliberating about the site has been done when I have been away from a computer. Jotted notes on a napkin from the Tim Hortons. Thinking through site architecture whilst riding the train into Toronto. Thinking through options for the backend whilst brushing my teeth. The few free moments I've had at my computer I've had to choose between talking about the site and actually building it.

Really I should have found the time to do both - but the iron was hot and one has no idea what time devouring project lurks around the corner so I've been madly striking away. So whenever it came down to a choice between talking about the work and actually doing the work, 'doing' took precedence.

Sorry about that, folks. I'm just in the process of testing the backend of things and polishing off the CSS to work between the various browsers. Figure another few days of work left. As I start uploading the bits and pieces I'll try to do better at blogging while working.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Apple customer service - whose hard drive is it?

Heidi Miller's hard drive went kerflooey. Hey, it happens. But what followed is a little surprising.

After bringing her ibook in to her local Apple store for repair, the hard drive was proclaimed to be dead and a new drive would be $300. She had anticipated that such would be the verdict and had a specialist standing by to do data recovery on the dead drive. But when she asked for her old drive, she was informed that it now belonged to Apple. She could have it back temporarily, but if she didn't return it in 30 days her credit card would be charged an additional $300.

Heidi was put in contact via email with Robin Roberts, a media relations person for Apple, and asked some reasonable questions. Such as:

  • Does Apple get a rebate on returned hard drives?
  • If so, how much is that rebate?
  • If not, why is the customer charged $300 to maintain ownership of her own hard drive?
  • What is done with the hard drives that Apple retains? Are they returned for the rebate?
  • Are they refurbished and resold?

Robin responded that she would be happy to talk with Heidi over the phone but would not answer the questions as they 'relate to internal data that we will not discuss'.

Over in the comments section of For Immediate Release (where Lee Hopkins' report brought the story to my attention), Macfan has provided the relevant paragraph from the work authorization form.

“4. If repairing your product under warranty or extended service contract, Apple may use new, used or reconditioned parts, if permitted by the terms. If repairing parts outside of warranty or extended service contract, Apple may use new, used or reconditioned parts. Apple will retain the replaced part that is exchanged under repair service as its property, and the replacement part will become your property. Replaced parts are generally repairable and are exchanged or repaired by Apple for value. If applicable law requires Apple to return a replaced part to you, you agree to pay Apple the additional cost of the replacement items.”

This, to my mind, still doesn't explain why Heidi was to be charged $300 - full retail - for her original drive which was still just as broken as when she brought it in. And I'm left wondering how a company as savvy and slick as Apple can be so clumsy in its customer relations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blogging Dinner in Toronto

Just returned from a blogger dinner to welcome Shel Israel (co-author of Naked Conversations) to Toronto. The beer was a buck fifty more than advertised and the chicken wings disappeared faster than a termite at an anteater convention, but it was all good. To Alec Saunders, Dave Forde and Pete Dawson, who organized the event, a huge thanks.

I'm in the process of sifting through the business cards I collected to see who I need to add to my feeds. I always feel that an event like this demands that people should have a URL or net name or something floating over their head (akin to in a MMORPG). That way you know just who you're dealing with.
"Jeremy, well it's a pleasure to have met you. G'bye. ...wait a minute. Jeremy Wright. That was Jeremy Wright. That was b5media President Jeremy Wright. Oh krunk - I hope I wasn't a total putz when talking to him."
One of the great things about an event like this is you get to hear a lot of interesting conversations. I spent a good deal mixing my way through the crowd and listening in on the discussion. Met a lot of new folks whom I hope to meet again.

I also learned that my doppelganger is also a fan of Shel's work. Seems my like-a-look was in the crowd at the AIMS session on Blogging for Executives and apparently was one of the few there who seemed to 'get it'. Just not a lot of enthusiasm directed Shel's way at that talk. Always comforting to know my like-a-look knows what's what when it comes to the importance of social media. I discover all this as Shel initially took me to be my like-a-look and seemed so happy to see me again. I felt bad that I wasn't, but assured him if I had been there I'd of been nodding right along with my like-a-look.

After clearing that up, I did get the chance to chat with Shel briefly and get a copy of the book signed. The Halton Peel Communications Association is having an evening devoted towards the discussion of blogging and I intend on giving this copy of Naked Conversations to someone there.

I'll have to keep my eyes open for future Toronto blogging events.

The great gray beast strikes again.

Well, once again the great gray beast known as February has come and gone leaving me with nary a post behind.

February has been a busy month for me. I've been working on not one, but two projects of comics as communication. Hopefully I'll be able to post samples of those in the near future. Another project has had me busy adapting WordPress into a content management tool. I'm looking forward to that one launching. As well, I've begun work on a website for Girls Incorporated of Halton. This one will involve a lot of custom PHP and MySQL work. It's been a while since I've done anything beyond minor tweaks so I've been boning up on that.

Of course, with paid work on the table, the first thing to be shelved are my own projects, meaning little movement in my site redesign, a complete lack of new comics over in TragicLad Theatre and, as mentioned, no posts to the blog.

Time to correct all that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Lessons in Web Design -

In a recent post, Seth Godin posted a reader submission, 'worst commercial website of all time', and asks his readers for other offenders. I have to admit, the site linked to is a contender for that title. Take a moment to visit

Pretty bad, isn't it.

What's unfortunate, is, for but a single line of code, this site goes from being your typical commercial website to being 'all time worst'.

The problem is that the site is set to match whatever the width of your monitor may be, but fails to do the same for the height. If you're viewing the site with a screen resolution of 600x400, the site looks fine. I'm sure the owners of the site are confounded with every complaint they recieve.

How many times do you suppose they end up saying, "I'm looking at it right now, and it's fine!"

However view the site on anything higher than the 600x400 resolution and the text becomes too small or stretched to be even remotely legible. Which is sad. Because one or two lines of code - if that - would have been enough to avoid the problem.

Visit and you'll see the site as it was intended to be viewed.

So what's the moral of the story?
I could sum this up as an argument against the use of Flash as your sole design tool for the web.

This could be an object lesson in the importance of double checking your work before going live. For want of a line of code this site would have been acceptable.

But I think this makes a much tastier story if the lesson learned is that we must try to view our business the way our customer sees it, not simply the way we do.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Collaborators and Rebels

The Halton Peel Communications Association had a wonderful guest speaker last Wednesday, Dave Howlett. Dave presented on the art of presenting, and it was excellent.

Donna Papacosta's already blogged about Dave's excellent tip on saying 'thanks'. So I'll talk about something else I found to be of interest from his talk.

Almost right at the beginning of his presentation, Dave told us that of an hour long presentation, the typical audience retains only one minutes worth of information.

Of course, my initial reaction to that was to pay double attention to what Dave had to say. I certainly wasn't going to be a 'typical' audience. As a result I believe I can recall pretty well every point of Dave's presentation.

By challenging his audience, Dave turned each and every audience member into a willing collaborator in ensuring that his talk was remembered long after.

It was a simple little throw-away tip that could have fit anywhere in his presentation, but by placing it up front, Dave got his collaborators.

This got me thinking about the hundred little ways we turn our customers into collaborators or, conversely, how we may unintentionally turn them into rebels, fighting our efforts without conscious cause or reason.

"Can I help you?"

It's likely the most oft repeated phrase in retail, and likely the most ineffective. I don't know about you, but my instant reaction is to say "No thanks" - even if I actually did need assistance. What's more, I'm more likely to depart the store shortly after being asked that.

I'm a competent guy. I can figure out what I want. I don't need some flunky teeny-bopper to help me. I can help myself. Uh oh - they're watching me. They're waiting for me to buy something. I was just looking but they obviously really want me to buy something. Maybe I should just go. That's it. I'm getting out of dodge.

During Christmas shopping, I overheard an exchange with a clerk who on some level understands that 'can I help you' will turn his customers into rebels. There was a middle-aged couple staring at a row of televisions with a blank expression. They clearly were looking to buy but were confounded by the choices.

"Is this a replacement for your old set or will this be a second set for the house?", is how the clerk approached. Damn, he was slick.

Turned out it was a replacement. Their old set was 13 years old and they decided to give each other a new TV for Christmas. The clerk then related a brief tale about his grandmother who managed to hang on to her old set for over 20 years but finally replaced it when the on/off knob fell off was lost. "Anyways, my name's Phil," he told them, "I've got to go help out in the back for a few minutes, but will be right back. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask."

He then went away for a few minutes, during which another employee blankly asked them 'can I help you' to which the answer was 'no.' But after a few minutes the couple actually sought out Phil and began asking some questions. I didn't stick around to see if he made the sale, but I have no doubt that he did. I also have no doubt that Phil is doing heads and tails above any of the other clerks. Because Phil's customers are all willing collaborators, helping him to close the sale. The other clerk's customers are all rebels, fighting the sale at each twist and turn.

So what about you? Are your customers collaborators or rebels?