SMICK.NET | Website of Mike Smick Graphics and Web Developer

Pro tip for Tax Time – download full report of items purchased from Amazon

Tax time yay!  Man, I always forget things I’ve bought that relate to work. It’s been a year for g’s sake. I’ve started scanning receipts ever since I got my little Doxie scanner. But wherever I archive those isn’t going to be the same place my online purchases are found.  But I recently found from digging for an old order of a product for warranty return that Amazon has some very nice tools for getting your purchase data archive.

You can get an archive download spreadsheet quite easily, once you log in:

Go to Your Account > Your Orders > Order History Report

Fill out the start and end date (it goes back up to 10 years too!).  After a few seconds your report will be ready to download. It will be a .CSV which can be opened in Excel or other spreadsheet software, or even a text editor.  Looking for that equipment you bought for tax deduction? Just search on the spreadsheet (Ctrl+F / Cmd + F) for “Shelving” or “Laptop” or whatever it was.  Excel will take you right to it. All the order numbers, dates pricing tons of info, all there. Screenshot below.  Now on to the tax deductions, Blech…

amazon-order-history-report

January 27, 2015 at 11:45 pm | business, computers, gadgets, interesting, media | No comment

Fighting the PDF web problem

PDFs are a pain. They are VERY good for a few things, but they make sharing difficult because of a few reasons. 1 is for mobile browsing, the browser has to handle the PDF, download it, launch the client. And so many sites don’t identify the download size of a PDF, or alert you in the first place that the link is a PDF.

Because of the annoyances embedding converted PDFs has become somewhat popular, taking a PDF, converting it using a 3rd party service and them embedding it using Flash or a unified Javascript / HTML player.

These are somewhat improved over a straight PDF embed and download. But you’ll find some services are better, faster or cheaper than others. And if you’re taking the time to optimize, upload and embed your document, you want it to be available for the future and easily accessed.

Scribd is arguably the most popular doc embed services. They went from a Flash player to a very capable HTML5 player. It works well and renders fast. It also has a great full screen feature. But for downloading and printing, your visitors will have to login to the service which is annoying, jarring and takes them away from your site. It’s not that the reasoning of Scribd isn’t clear, it’s just not the model many of us would like.

In any case, I wanted to keep this short and offer you a few ways to get docs online and embed them to get around the PDF problem. One only hopes these technologies don’t introduce a host of new problems for you.

September 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm | media, publishing, webdev | No comment

Stop watching stupid crap

Another reason why the collective in society aren’t to be trusted, believed or followed without extreme caution.

This video below has less than a thousand views. That’s on the high end for the content it contains as compared to similar. It represents a vast array of human skills applied to bicycle stunt riding in the discipline of flatland. It takes place in a contest format  in Japan where riders meet up, share their skills and technique maybe win a little money. A little showing off, creative expression. As awesome and difficult as flatland is, it’s quite unknown and barely seen. But it takes a lot of energy and persistence to learn and requires a level of commitment most people just don’t have. In short, these people are more skilled and talented and peristent than 99.999% of the rest of the world.

And then we have THIS video below, featured on the front page of youtube giving it has 1.5 MILLION views. What can I say about this video other than it’s absolute crap. You can tell that in about 7 seconds or less.

Here’s where I was encouraged to write about this.  I ran some numbers. If everyone of those viewers of the second video watched it all the way through, that’s 7.5 million minutes spent or 125000 hours, OR 5,208 days, OR if you like, spread out it’s 14 years wasted on that talentless clown in the second youtube video.

It’s really hard to try to make a point about this without getting into the useless argument that one form of entertainment or expression is better than another. So I’m going to just be the alpha male and pounce on this. The bike video is better than the Ray William Johnson video in absolutely every way without question. There’s nothing good about the 2nd video at all. Nothing funny or worth remembering. I’m not enjoying it during the experience and after it’s a big pile of regret. After analysis and discovering the 14 wasted years thing, it’s another nice kick in the balls too.

To compare it to something else, let’s say you need a house built. 20 guys working 8 hour days for three months can handle that easily. At that count you’re looking at 14400 man hours, all together 600 twenty-four hour days.  That’s less than 2 years stretched out.

It doesn’t matter what I say people should do, but the question remains, why does crap get so much attention when we all claim to care about quality? I realize it’s just 2 videos but it’s enough to offer a warning to all of us. We should be seeking out things even in our mindless entertainment that will create an impression that bursts open our imagination. Demand the good stuff and we won’t be as vulnerable to the pull of all the crap begging for our attention. And those people making crap will be less encouraged to do so.

With that out of the way, I’d like to happily report (as a BMX flatland fanatic) that the following 2 videos have 9 million and 1.5 million views. Bravo people. I think the music helped both of these videos a lot though. Without the music, the views would be dramatically different.  That speaks to where content creators can be putting a lot of emphasis on.

May 8, 2011 at 2:16 am | bikes, freestyle, media, music, rants | No comment

Yahoo! is not shutting down Delicious social bookmarking

Update: I knew I was rigth on this one. Not that I had actual facts, but just because of critical thinking. Delicious may live somewhere else. (Why not keep the same domain too!) A blog from the Delicious team confirms it will live, though the actual posting is down at the time of this writing.

* * *

No web service is certain. Del.icio.us, or Delicious.com has been around for years and is no exception. So you always take a risk in depending on the cloud, using a free service. And given what happens to Yahoo services like Geocities for example, we’ve been shown that web services from Yahoo can be vulnerable despite their longevity.

Screenshot of Bookmarking and tagging a link on Delicious

But Delicious should be more immune than a lot of other fly-by-night web services. It represents a very important informational center with a long history in web years. Not only that, but as boring as bookmarks might seem it also makes up a unique and usable social network. Using Delicious, I can gauge interest in a particular subject, participate in the promotion of something, and find things that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to. I can locate like-minded people and get a hell of a lot of entertainment from all this information.

I was understandably shocked at the articles about the “sunsetting” of Delicious and a screengrab of an internal presentation at Yahoo! that proves it.  But here’s why I don’t think we have to worry.

We have entered the period where data visualization is JUST about to get a hell of a lot more interesting to a lot more people.  Touch devices in the hands of millions, tablets and readers set to become mainstays, phones, large format screens. This is the age where reading data live and interactive is going to enhance people’s lives.  There is NO slowdown. And let me quote Joshua Schachter, an original creator of Delicious, “Showing a user how popular his actions are is inevitably addictive.”

Ever since I watched this TED talk on Data Visualization by Hans Rosling I’ve understood how meaningful this is.  Services and tools that can be used for trending in more animated ways are here and are coming.

A problem with delicious is that it can be misused and spammed. This hasn’t been much of an issue for most of us though. The popular feeds may contain uninteresting items, but they don’t make up the majority of bookmarks and things will be uninteresting whether they be spambot or deliberate human bookmarks so users expect anomalies and know how to ignore them. They also don’t infect the more specific or specialized tags so the more you need good specific data, the less you’ll see spammy residue.

Let me point to the main reason I’m not convinced of it’s closing Delicious.  PR is a bitch. A user revolt on Yahoo is NOT what they need right now along with an impending layoff. They can call it a service that doesn’t align with their goals. But social bookmarking, whether they like it or not is a service people want and need.  I personally have invested enough time to generate close to 8000 bookmarks of my own. The beauty of it is, even though many of my stored links have probably expired (from dead sites) there is an extraordinary amount of data in Delicious, and feeds are generated from every which way. The mining of that data is valuable, but only if the service remains current.

If people who use Delicious and Yahoo are stripped from their Delicious collection and the ability to use, track and follow the site, you’re going to see blowback in the form of cancelled Yahoo Mail accounts across the board. Delicious being a very “hackable” simple system and has gathered followers that respect that kind of software. Those same followers aren’t ones you want to cross. Because those same people blog, promote and above all, complain in all the right spaces.

Yahoo isn’t ready for the backlash. They aren’t prepared to lose their ass over a simple site. Time to man up, get the right people, lean and mean on the job creating the next generation of tools used to view and data mine all these wonderful resources. And then selling those tools to the tablet content creators, to the tablet owners, to the digital signage companies, making them offers they can’t refuse. That is how Delicious will continue, through exploiting it from the inside and outside. Because as long as the data remains for the majority of us to share easily and hack a little bit, how it’s sold and marketed doesn’t really affect us. After all, we chose to make these things public because we want this data to be seen and found.

December 17, 2010 at 5:32 am | computers, media, publishing, tools, webdev | No comment

A clever visual mystery for a Facebook promotion

WOWIO books is an online ebook marketplace.  I stumbled across their site today as one often does in this world. What I encountered was so simple and clever it has to be shared.

One of their home feature banners offers a free Ebook, but you don’t know what it is, just that it’s a graphic novel. Of course you want to click to find out, they grab you with the mystery and the FREE, which is a real whammy.

Next you are transported to their facebook page. Actually they tell you this will happen, but you didn’t read that because you were too busy imagining the free awesomeness of a mystery revealed.

Then very clear instructions. You know you want the ebook, just press Like, as in become a Facebook fan.

Then a nice satisfying landing page to download the ebook. All within the WOWIO Facebook page in a customer “Offer” tab.

Fun, clever and a great use of visuals for a simple promotion.  The power of ebooks is that they are both flexible and attractive like that. They serve as a great free gift, because they have an emotional value to them. I feel bad ruining the mystery of this offer, but it’s worth it to point out what you can do with just a few images.

Nice job WOWIO. I’m your newest Facebook fan or “Likeee” or whatever you might call it.

October 25, 2010 at 9:43 pm | books, games, graphics, inspiration, interesting, media, publishing, webdev | 1 comment

Simplify all your social networking with Tweetdeck

I was pretty late to Twitter. Now I enjoy it the most out of all the social networking sites. It was when I got a smart phone that I started looking at social networking beyond just having a Facebook account. For several reasons, being able to check in with your phone makes social networks make more sense. Just on the PC, they seem very wasteful.  On the home PC, checking Facebook once in a while is OK for me, but I don’t see the point of living there. Still want to share some things and add new friends occasionally.  And I realized it’s nice to be able to set up a business fan page that people can press “Like” on and make you feel somehow desirable.

TweetDeck is Free!

Then I realized that I might want to separate business tweets from personal ones. And some new initiatives I’m working on such as my ReaderWar website made me want to create more separate accounts.

Too much redundancy though. I can’t be logging in and out all the time. Too much room for mistakes. I can’t be wasting that much time on them to say the same things twice and 3 times. Maybe it’s better just to post under one umbrella and let things fall where they may.  I thought that until I found TweetDeck.  It’s a cross-platform application that let’s you read tweets on your subscription and see in multiple columns your retweets and direct messages and user profiles.  It doesn’t let you read facebook postings, but it DOES let you post to both your facebook accounts, AND the business or other ‘fan’ pages you set up for yourself. If you’re an admin or owner of a fan page, you can post JUST to that page only using TweetDeck.

How do you post separately?  When you set up multiple account profiles for Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In etc., you can toggle them on or off when writing the tweet. See illustration below.

What you can do with TweetDeck

Post updates to Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Foursquare, MySpace, Google Buzz
View updates from these sites
Post to Facebook Fan pages (that you own or administrate)
Retweet comments from Facebook
Send messages to Facebook users
Look at Twitter user profiles
Attach Photos
Automatically shorten URLs (bit.ly is default URL shortener)
Quick Preview shortened URLs just in case
View embedded Youtube video links in tweets
View Facebook photos and through galleries
Global Filter posts or topics you don’t want to see (e.g. Justin Biebr or #fail)

So TweetDeck does a lot, it’s a fantastic app for your PC, Mac, laptop. They also have an iPhone and iPad version.

Other Applications like this

Hootsuite
Seesmic
CoTweet
Tweetie
Echofon

June 13, 2010 at 1:41 am | friends, learning, media, tools | No comment

On the eve of the Apple Tablet

Some would tell you that tomorrow the world will change.  I’ve loved all the coverage, I eat it up. As an ultra enthusiast of portables, this is a big year. And tomorrow is a significant day in the material world. Big player, massive expectation. Great potential no doubt.

Intrigue surrounds this thing, not just because it’s Apple. Not because of controlled leaks. People are looking for something. They want to do new things, or do old things better. Will this thing help people do things, or is it just a device for consuming?

Many of us have realistic expecations for this. Writing and drawing, taking notes, good battery life, durability, responsive UI, games, specialized programs, photo and video viewing, reading books.  A netbook or high end notebook isn’t enough for some.  They want to interact more naturally. Some, like me want to be able to create higher quality designs using their refined motor skills and talent, not just push a mouse around.

These gadgets are personal man, they spark all kinds of debate. For some of us, they seem to run our lives, they own us as Tyler Durden would say.  But they let us work in special ways, to share, to communicate. We scupt them through the programs we use, the shortcuts we deploy and what we throw out entirely.

I was disappointed with some writers covering or commenting on these devices, who insist that they know what people want, or more often what they don’t need. Stupid.  There are enough people in the world in all niches that you could make any kind of tablet product fly if you targeted it properly.  Medical, education, logistics,  and more.  And don’t forget the technique many use to market wares to people who don’t know about them. Create the need by introducing a problem, one that people didn’t know they had.  A 9-year-old understands this brand of persuasion.  It’s a mixture of What-if? and Don’t-You-Hate personal inquiries that lead to great answers.

The must frustrating statements made to me have been things like:

As obsessed as I get with wanting to strike back at these with my own strong feelings about the potential for the device here. I’d feel just as energized if Apple didn’t announce a tablet tomorrow. The ball is already in play buddy. Somebody is going to take hold and run with these ideas. We all know after the media storm what many people are after.   So it’s exciting, and it feels like anyone’s game to win.

Now for my speculative remarks.

God knows I’ve listened to everyone else on these matters.   I don’t care of Apple does any of this, it’s just a fun exercise.  But I do have some personal certainties here. Take it or leave it.

  1. I don’t see how it could possibly be called “Tablet”, “iTab” or iSlate or iPad”  Not that the name matters at all to me, but it’s going to play off the graffiti theme or will have a cool name like “Moses” just like the “Newton” was used for their first tablet, something strong. If Steve Jobs did say this is his most important work ever, why wouldn’t he break the standard and  give it a name with real pwnage.
  2. I think the screen will be different in materials than anything else we’ve seen.  Or if we have seen it, we’ve forgotten about it. It won’t be like the iPhone and it won’t be OLED and won’t be Pixel Qi either(unfortunately), I think it will be something else that’s been overlooked by everyone. I’m betting a 3rd party company has been developing the substrate quietly for a long time, and it’s a key selling feature that Apple would NOT allow a controlled leak on. It won’t be unbreakable, but durable.  It will be something that works for reading and writing in daylight better than we’re used to. The screen will perform well, but don’t get your hopes too high, too many compromises are in play.
  3. Lack of ports will bother me. Focus will be on wireless connectivity and against my wishes, there will be a lack of ports, thereby making the device less useful to hobbyists. Apple always does this to me, so I don’t see this changing. If there are more than 2 ports, I’m betting they will be non-standard and annoying to connect to. I’m very curious if it will have an SD slot. I’m thinking not, tragically.
  4. Apple will allow docking in vertical position for pairing with a keyboard easily, and will probably have a good docking station for it (look at logitech’s dinovo keyboard charger dock for example of what you’ll get with this.
  5. Screen will be 10 inches. That’s my guess. One size, 10 inches.
  6. In order for this event not to end too quickly, there will be a massive amount of use cases and software revealed where all sorts of problems are “solved” in the demo. The use cases will take up a large portion of the time. Videos and testimonials in areas like design, home entertainment, commercial use and media creation (photo / video / audio).  Education will get some time, but not enough, because Steve trimmed that part for the sake of brevity.  Those items ARE most important for the device to succeed though. They’ll be more evident when the microsite goes live.
  7. A few years ago, Apple changed iMovie so you could drag your mouse across clip thumbnails and it would shuttle through the video. That was killer and you will see nice UI features like that for plenty of oohs and ahhs. These things WILL get people thinking and it will drive more innovation.
  8. Some kind of iPod goodies will be part of the announcements to hold interest, the 2 devices will fuel each others’ progress.
  9. Special Mac software will be what sells this thing which is also where the other “failed” tablets and multi-touch didn’t grab the mass market.  Designers will get graphic software, students WILL get office. Learning software will be apart of this. This device will do more than just App Store stuff. It will allow for custom builds.  Because it has to appeal to commercial users who want to create their own lock-in for their company.
  10. Price will be $899 or higher. Look at Apple’s current offerings across the board. How could it be cheaper if they stick to their pricing as usual?
  11. 3G will be available, but not locked to a vendor like AT&T.  That will too easily hurt sales.  No contracts required.
  12. There will be exclusive partnerships which are made to sound cool, but really are just annoying. Something about these tablets and portables that brings out the old-world corporations and their attempt to control the future by creating a false scarcity on things. Extreme content and intellectual property fascism wrapped in the guise of the simple and convenient purchase and exclusivity.

Wrapping up, It won’t be for this guy =(

I’ve been disappointed before and probably will this time too. I’m doubting the Apple Tablet will be my choice of tablet in the long run. There’s a lot out there now, with the Entourage eDGe, HP’s offerings, and I’m really hopeful for Notion Ink’s Android tablet with the pretty Pixel Qi screen.  A lot of devices are using Wacom technology for pen recognition. I think I’ll be paying for the most flexible choice.  Apple doesn’t have that reputation of being flexible or open.  But I bet it will do a few things I’ll be jealous of when I see it in the field.

January 27, 2010 at 1:30 am | design, gadgets, mac, media | 1 comment

HTML Email Newsletter Marketing

I’ve spent the last month doing contract work with some great people at Build-A-Bear Workshop® putting together HTML email newsletters. It’s been a good experience for several reasons. After seeing how a large retailer does things, I’m more equipped to help other clients off the ground with their marketing.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best in the business there and I’m soaking up all I can. Like any other company, there are plenty of improvements to be made but I never doubt the talent that surrounds me there.  And they are all so friendly and kind.

I’ll give you some useful high level information on HTML newsletters so you know how it (mostly) works.  For starters, most companies are using service providers such as Constant Contact, Vertical Response, or Responsys for helping to manage the mailing lists and newsletter content to an extent. There are many companies, more every day who are providing these services.  I can’t tell you who’s the best, but given the competition that’s out there, I am certain you’ll find one at your price point with plenty of tools that will help you immensely. I recommend using a provider if you are wanting to create a newsletter to send frequently to a large list. Don’t send from your personal email account, because you risk getting flagged as spam and compromising your other individual sent email messages. You also want the join and unsubscribe process to be easy and obvious. This isn’t so with your contacts in your address book.

Next you have your newsletter email content.  Basically newsletters need to be created using completely old school web design methods.  Table-based layouts with minimal CSS for text styling. Graphics are good, but you’ll want to keep the size minimal so the email loads quickly.  We use GIF files exclusively, but GIF and JPEG should be fine, best format for the graphics you’re using. Photoshop has a decent slicing and HTML export process so you can cut up portions of a graphic and export it as a layout. I’m talking about this as if you’ll be generating your own designs. But you’ll find plenty of premade templates from your service provider, or online.  What’s nice about designing your own is obvious. Your marketing should look like you, not like a generic template.  If you can get the information across with a template so it’s compelling and you get the outcome you want, then who’s going to argue with you.

If you want to send a test graphical email in your personal account, giver it a shot. Copy directly from a webpage and paste into a composed message, making sure the message is in rich text mode. That should copy the content mostly accurately. There are a lot of tips out there.

My suggestions for getting things off the ground:

Subscribe to 5-10 email newsletters by online and brick and mortar retailers. Your university alumni association and financial advisor and a local community center or museum will provide plenty of diverse content. See what they are doing, look at the similarities, use of subject lines, and headline text. Look at what providers they are using. You’ll often see it in the unsubscribe url links or just in the footer somewhere.  Are they focusing on one CTA (Call to Action) in their emails or providing a lot of click-thrus?  What sort of information do they have prominent above the fold, and what is their email’s footer used for?

After you’ve absorbed from these newsletters, then find a way to use these proven methods available, but setting your newsletter apart from them. Newsletters are big right now. Everyone is trying to capitalize on them. Unfortunately most recipients don’t want to receive hundreds of newsletters from everywhere,  so you want to be interesting and create value with it. Basically have something great to say.  Are you saving people money, providing good industry information or making them aware of products and services they might not know about?  Maybe you’re just entertaining people or keeping them up to date with the company or service they already are using.

I don’t claim to have any kind of statistics on email newsletter profitability.  I know that they have been very successful in the company I’m working with. They are reaching out to a lot of people with sales, events, new products and more. But they have a big list to work from though. These communications are helping them because of all the work they’ve done beforehand generating interest. And I think given the size lists that you can acquire over time, you will be getting a lot of bang out of the work you do on your newsletters.

Do you have to send frequently?  Not necessarily. I believe you should send at the very least, once every two months for informational type content and updates.  I personally like getting newsletters once in a while from my webhosts and my real estate agent friends.  Your biggest fans and consumers might want to have information on sales from you quite frequently, maybe even more than once a week, but others might be turned off on having so much unread junk mail in their box when they were kind of luke warm about the newsletter to begin with.  But then again, you might as well take the attitude of marketing your tail off and see how people respond to it after a while.  You’re going to be using a list service so you’ll gain a lot of insight on how people react to your messages, where they click the most, who’s leaving and finding out why and how often.

November 20, 2009 at 12:49 am | media, webdev | No comment

Japanese movies on NBC’s Hulu

Hulu is pretty cool.  TV and movies on the Internet done fairly well.  I have spent several hours watching episodes of an old favorite, Quantum Leap. Commercials are annoying, repetitive and ineffective, but thankfully less of them are on Hulu per show than broadcast TV.  I wanted to share a few links to Japanese movies on there. Hopefully they stay a while so this post is relevant over a few months. Some shows and episodes are pulled quickly due to copyright or strategy of some kind.

Ashura – A demon hunter searches for a mysterious young woman with magical powers
When the Last Sword is Drawn – a poor swordsman joins an elite band of samurai warriors
Kokoyakyu – High School Baseball Documentary – A national obsession
Pray For Death – Best title ever, terrible movie, Japanese immigrant bullied by gangsters is forced to reveal he is in fact a ninja. (obvious)
Nanking – Feature film about the Japanese invasion of Nanking, China, in the early days of World War II. Interesting story-telling convention.

And finally to round it out, a older SNL skit and a newer SNL Digital Short.  I’m not sure which one induces more cringes.

October 15, 2009 at 2:15 am | Japan, media | 1 comment

Interesting possibilities in Photoshop CS5

I remember getting pretty excited the first time I saw the Seam Carving technology from a SIGGRAPH demonstration, which eventually made it’s way into Photoshop, The GIMP and Xara Xtreme.  That seemed to happen quickly, and I’m certain because the code was made open to a certain extent. A custom app was built, a plugin for the Gimp was great.  Xara and Photoshop integrated Seam carving really well. And it works. It’s actually one of my best new tools I can make use of probably once for every web project I do.

Now things are evolving even more with what may be upcoming features that will help with fixing and doctoring photos.  I don’t find doctoring photos that enjoyable really.  I love helping customers, but I wish most of this wasn’t necessary.  That being the case, if you have to doctor a photo, it might as well be pretty easy to do.

Here is a video of Improved Seam Carving and PatchMatch, both of which were part of an Adobe/Princeton/University of Washington project.  To my knowledge, nobody said explicitly this WILL be in Photoshop CS5. But it is shown operating in the Photoshop interface and take from it what you will. As an aside, I like this website I discovered.  CS5.org. Despite it’s authoritative look, it appears not to be an Adobe site. Granted I could be wrong, but it’s showing Youtube Videos rather than using an Adobe player, and it’s showing a white paper using Scribd rather than an Acrobat-esque flash paper embedded PDF viewer.  Still that doesn’t mean it’s not all great information.

Adobe does have a video from a few members of their user experience UX design team re-published on the CS5.org website.  It features some discussion and examples of multi-touch and how they can leverage it for their graphics creation tools.

October 4, 2009 at 5:10 am | computers, design, graphics, media | No comment

Next Page »