Friday, November 23, 2012

How I Discovered Amazon’s Impressive Gift Wrap Service Via a Generous Friend

I received an unexpected package today from Amazon. Hmmm…

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I opened it and started to get excited. It wasn’t what I usually get from Amazon (batteries, pink toys, etc.).

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It turns out that my friend Mark sent me a birthday present! Woot! I was very impressed by the presentation. Each item had a fancy wrapping, a fancy ribbon, and a fancy card.

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I guess I’m known for my fruity shirts.

The gifts are perfect, and they arrived like a sir.

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I’m actually shocked the kids adapted so quickly to it all. Thing 1, and Uncle Chris:

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Thanks, Mark! I’ve got some learnin’ to do.

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Some day I’ll remember to give you your Christmas present from last year.

Thing1's Fun Run

Wife and I ran the Kent Turkey Trot again this year. She placed in the top 10 for women and I finished without dying so overall we beat our goals.

More exciting than mere survival, though was Thing1's race. She did a ~0.25 mile fun run. She was ridiculously photogenic on the way out but was moving so fast it was hard to capture her on film.

Congrats, Peanut!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Children: You Are Awesome

If you know me, you know that I can’t stop yammering about my kids. I won’t apologize for it: they’re great.

This occurs to me regularly. For instance, on Saturday I had the intimidating task of entertaining the kids by myself for the evening (Wife was busy). We had a great time. We didn’t do anything fancy—just wandered around the toys and Christmas decorations at Target and Lowes—but everyone was laughing and smiling and having fun.

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It helped that I remembered to feed them.

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“Look Daddy! A Christmas chicken!”

It’s not always so easy (we’re all cranky once in a while) but we’re having more and more good days as they get older and more independent. This is my message to new parents: it’s rough early on. But it gets better, easier, and so much more fun! Hang in there!

They start creating fun for themselves.

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And doing their own things.

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And sometimes they even like each other. Especially when they’re cold.

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And when we’re really, really lucky they wake up so happy that you can’t help but wake up happy, too.

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Happy Thanksgiving from the Harens!

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Usability Testing is Easy. And Cheap. And Painful (But Essential!)

Are you pretty sure your app is awesome and great and super wonderful? Here’s a fun exercise: find someone who’s never used it before and see how that someone uses it. But don’t speak. Let that someone drive.

If you haven’t done this usability test before, it’s painful to watch. You will see users stumble around what you thought was an intuitive process. You will witness rough edges being discovered for the first time—rough edges that you forgot about months ago.

There’ll be minor things that are glaring but easy to fix, like this non-question:

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But there could be fundamental issues with how the app works vs. how users try to use the app:

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(I can see Siri getting some people in trouble here…“WHO IS SHE!?”)

Sometimes though, there’s little you can do to catch certain issues. For instance, what is happening in this picture!?

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Those are fairly minor. There can be big, huge issues, too, though. For instance, when I tried to sign up for Angie’s List, I opted to sign up with my Google account:


Guess how that experience went :/. I have never had so much trouble giving someone my money. (To their credit, this appears to be fixed now.)

With a highly fragmented set of clients, third party credentials, and so many paths to conversions, it’s a tough problem that’s not getting any easier to solve. Sorry, there’s no way around it: you’ve got to test, test, and test some more.

Fun Times at Niagara Falls With the Kiddos

Wife and I first visited Niagara falls as something of a last little vacation before Thing1 was born. We’d never been and were curious what all the fuss was about. It gave us a fun story actually…

The car broke down on the way out. We were determined, though. We were towed to a shop where we left it to be fixed and took a rental to the rest of the way. We had a great overnight trip, saw the falls, laughed, etc., and then returned to God-forsaken Youngstown to pick up the car.

Good times. Anyway, we happened to find ourselves in Canada again last month. I had an appointment at the border crossing at Niagara Falls to interview for my Nexus trusted traveler card so we had a perfect opportunity to visit again.

But now we have a gaggle of children…so it’s even better :)

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They loved it!

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That’s the iPhone’s native panorama. Here’s the same shot with the 360 app:

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It’s fun reliving these experiences with them.

Except for the driving, they’re fun travel companions, too.

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Thank God for this woman. Whenever you see my kids behaving or being cute, it’s because of her.

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I don’t remember what exactly was going on here…but they’re all in one place so I probably thought that was significant enough to document it with a photo.

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“Princess Water”: take 1 cup water. Add a dash of cranberry juice. I hope this trick works for a while longer.

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We do more than eat, honest! It’s just that they’re not usually in range of the camera unless I distract them with food.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to Convert Battery-Powered LED Christmas Lights to USB

I wanted to spruce up my laptop for the season. I couldn’t find any reasonably priced USB-powered lights, but I did stumble upon some spiffy battery powered LED Christmas lights for $3 at Walmart. They included a 3-AA battery pack which means they use about 4.5v. USB is about 5v so that’s probably close enough for a direct substitute.

Here’s how I did it. Before ripping things apart, I jumped my USB-powered breadboard into the unit to make sure it’d work.

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It does. Alright, let’s pop this thing open:

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It looks like the battery compartment takes up almost all the space. That’s good for us. The switch supports blinking and fading so I’m going to keep it. I also checked it’s output voltage and discovered that it’s stepped down to about 3v:

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So instead of doing any circuit work, I’ll just keep the circuit it came with. Now I just need to tie it into the USB port. I hacked up an old USB cable:


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This would be a good time to look up common color codes or whatever to identify the power lines. Nah, let’s just guess. Red and black? Matches my multi-tester…

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Yup. 5 volts. OK, let’s unsolder the the battery pack leads from the board:

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They’re labeled B- and B+. Handy.

It turns out I lopped the USB cable too short so I added some jumper wires between the plug and the board (don’t judge my ugly soldering…):

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Don’t forget to add the shrink tubing before this next part. (Not pictured: I wrapped both wires in a larger tube, all the way up to the stress relief nub on the plug, too.)

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Solder the leads to the board and trim:

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Test them out and then figure out some way to attach them to your laptop:

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I used some removable sticky-tack for the board (sorry for the poor photo), and tape everywhere else:

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I recommend something other than tape. It looks awful.

UPDATE (17-Nov-12)! I couldn’t stand how terrible the tape looked so I tried something a little different today:

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That’s just a bunch of Duplo blocks with the lights wound around their nubs. I dabbed a little super glue on the end wraps to help hold the wires on. The entire block is held on with that blue sticky tack mounting putty. Time will tell if it will stay in place…

Merry Christmas :)