Category Archives: Usability

Sony a6000 Thinks It’s 12/31/69!

I just solved a terrifying and frustrating issue with family photos taken on our Sony a6000. I found no solutions online, so I’m posting the issue as well as my solution to spare others the same headache.

As I was looking at photos on our Apple Mac Mini computer tonight, I noticed that all of them had a Created date of 12/31/69 7:00 PM. What?! Was this OS X’s fault or the a6000’s? I did some googling to no avail. I only saw mentions of leap year bugs in other hardware and software products.

On a whim, I turned on our a6000 to see if it still had copies of the photos. It didn’t, but it still had an image index of all the photos going back to when we first purchased the camera, properly dated. However, each thumbnail displayed with a “?” question mark and “Unable to display” when trying to view on the camera. I had previously moved all the photo files to our computer while the camera was connected with its USB cable, which is why they weren’t on the camera anymore. As I started deleting really old photo thumbnails off the camera using the camera controls, I started getting messages like “Recovering Data,” “Writing to the memory card was not completed correctly,” and the camera would occasionally reboot in utter confusion with no real way of escape. I had stumbled upon a real mess.

This mess got me thinking, “maybe the Sony a6000 software engineers didn’t do a good job engineering for the case where photo files were moved from the camera to a computer via USB Mode and OS X Finder.” I haven’t ever run into an issue like this one with other devices, but maybe I needed another way to copy the files to our computer to extract the right creation date.

As an experiment, I copied the files for the photos from our Mac Mini back over to our a6000 via the file system–essentially putting them back where they came from. The photo index then had a few real thumbnails–the photos that didn’t have thumbnails were ones I had deleted on the computer months ago. From there I started OS X’s Preview app. I clicked File > Import > NO NAME. “NO NAME” is the volume name for the Sony a6000 memory card when connected in USB Mode. From there I imported the files to the Mac, and, voilà, the creation date was now correct.

The best guess I have is that the Sony a6000 is using 12/31/1969 (or some null value) as the file system created dates on its memory card. I’m also guessing that the OS X Preview app is extracting the created dates not from the memory card file system but from the photos’ meta data. Then I suspect it is using those values to set the created dates on the Mac’s hard drive when importing the photo files.

After successfully importing all the files from the a6000, I used the camera’s format feature to wipe the memory card clean. From now on, I will be using Preview, Photos, or some other OS X photo app to import our photo files, not dragging and dropping them from the NO NAME volume to our computer directly.

I hope this helps someone else someday. Drop me a note if it does.

 

Note: if you are trying to recover from the same issue, but you have already wiped your memory card or deleted the thumbnails for the files you are trying to recover, I do not know how to resolve your issue. I’m sorry!

Google Analytics Crash Course Notes

Thinking that you will adequately learn Google Analytics by clicking around the product, even over years, is a foolish concept. You will only understand a subset of its features and how they work together. You need to do your homework.

I cannot improve upon Google Analytics’ (GA) own crash course, titled Google Analytics IQ Lessons. It covers just about all the material in the paid Analytics courses (101, 201, and 301) at just the right level–not too high, and not too deep.

Here are my notes of the key gotcha’s and items to configure for your GA Web Properties. As well, I’ve linked to other helpful learning resources. As is my standard practice, this is mostly for my reference down-the-road, so it’s not comprehensive. However, I figure others can benefit from them as well.

Gotcha’s

  • Incognito mode and other browser privacy sessions count as new Visitors, Visits, and Page Views, as if the user had cleared his cookies. Not a huge surprise to most, I’m sure. (Although other trackers can still track you.)
  • Visits are separated by exits from the site or a 30-minute cookie timeout while on the site. Advertising Campaign attribution expires after a 6-month cookie timeout. Both are customizable.
  • Time on Exit Pages is not tracked because time is calculated between page loads on the same site. This also means that Bounce Page time is not tracked either. This has serious implications for some genres of sites, like blogs where a bit of traffic goes into and out of a single article. Know how to track Exit Page times and Bounce Pages, if you need to.
  • A Visitor can only trigger a Goal conversion once during a Visit, but can trigger an E-commerce Goal multiple times in a Visit.
  • Filters are applied between raw data capture and the Account’s Profile where the data is ultimately stored. Even if you change a Filter that sits in-between the raw feed and Profile, you cannot recover historical data. Try accomplishing the same filtering with Advanced Segments instead, which don’t run the risk of losing data. At the least, you should use Advanced Segments or other features to test concepts before creating a real Filter for them.
  • Domains and subdomains can break tracking in many glorious ways–especially E-commerce Goal tracking.

Basic Checklist

  • Always have a raw Profile that has no Filters, Advanced Segments, etc.
  • Have a Profile that excludes internal IP address so you’re not tracking yourself and your staff as they click around your site.
  • Have a Profile that exclusively tracks internal IP addresses for debugging Google Analytics code on your site.
  • Use the Google Analytics Debugger Chrome Extension for your own debugging and analysis of competitors’ tracking.
  • Enable Auto-Tagging between Google AdWords and Analytics if you are using both products.
  • If you create an AdWords Profile, set up two Filters to focus-in on AdWords traffic (Campaign Source: google, Campaign Medium: cpc).
  • Set up E-commerce tracking.
  • Set up Goal tracking.
  • Set up Internal Site Search tracking. (It’s much easier than you think.)
  • Utilize _addIgnoredOrganic to attribute Organic Search Visits for your web site’s address (i.e. someone searching for “example.com”) to a Direct Visit instead.
  • Set up appropriate Custom Variables to track additional information about Visitors, Visits, and Page Views.

Hopefully, all these will help us do a better job optimizing our customer average lifetime value (LTV).

The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman

Several years ago, my dad, Bo Lotinsky, showed me the infamous 60 Minutes special on IDEO–the mecca of innovation. After watching it, I couldn’t help but buy their book The Art of Innovation. I finally got around to reading it, and boy is it good. As always, a bulleted list of ideas and quotes don’t do the book justice. They’re more for me to remember what I read and for you to be intrigued enough to read it yourself. Enjoy!

Chapter 3: Innovation Begins with an Eye

  • Keep a list of what bugs you in products.
  • Ask “why/why not?” to understand and challenge what has already been done.
  • Observe the action–not what people say.
  • “Think of products in terms of verbs rather than nouns…as animated devices that people integrate into their lives–and you’ll become more attuned to how people use products, spaces, services–whatever you’re trying to improve.”

Chapter 4: The Perfect Brainstorm

  • Stick to one hour (one and a half max).
  • “Start with a well-honed statement of the problem…at just the right level of specificity…open-ended.”
  • Play: “go for quantity,” “encourage wild ideas,” and “be visual.”
  • Number each idea. Aim for 100 per hour.
  • Build on ideas with variations. Jump to other trains of thought when the current thread has died.
  • Use giant whiteboards, Post-It notes, or butcher paper. The brain is wired for spacial memory, so move around the room to write and to revisit topics.
  • Start with a mental warm-up exercise if people seem to be elsewhere. One great exercise is to survey products in the same category you’re trying to brainstorm in.
  • Sketch, mind-map, diagram; don’t just write words.
  • Spend much more time brainstorming than writing. You want to stay on the creative side of the brain.
  • Everybody is on the same level. No one is the boss, expert, or auditor.
  • No idea is to be critiqued. Just write it down and continue.
  • Don’t make up any other rules.

Chapter 5: A Cool Company Needs Hot Groups

  • Even the world’s best historical innovators worked in teams. Loners don’t succeed.
  • Build teams around problems to be solved, not a team role.
  • Bring in people from all roles and experiences.
  • Look outside the group for ideas, solutions, and feedback.
  • Team leaders pitch potential project members. No one “owns” people. (Note: movie studios, Google, and Netflix do the same thing.)
  • Don’t mandate attire or business hours.
  • Provide snacks.
  • Have a geek club where people can show off the latest technology or demo something they have built.
  • Play hooky as a team and go on a field trip.

Chapter 6: Prototyping Is the Shorthand of Innovation

  • “A playful, iterative approach to problems is one of the foundations of our culture of prototyping.”
  • “A prototype is almost like a spokesperson for a particular point of view.”
  • “A prototype is worth a thousand pictures.”

Chapter 8: Expect the Unexpected

  • “History teaches that innovation does not come about by central planning. If it did, Silicon Valley would be nearer to Moscow than San Francisco.”
  • It’s almost impossible to predict how the market is going to use a product.
  • Spend time absorbing what’s going on around the world. IDEO has subscriptions to at least 100 magazines.
  • Observe people in the wild accomplishing tasks.
  • Hold an open house to solicit feedback and ideas from people.

Chapter 9: Barrier Jumping

  • Organizational checklist: merit-based, employee autonomy, familiarity among staff, messy offices, lots of tinkering.

Chapter 10: Creating Experiences for Fun and Profit

  • “As you step through the innovative process, try thinking of verbs not nouns.”

Chapter 11: Coloring Outside the Lines

  • “The person who toils endlessly at his desk is not likely the person who is going to hatch a great innovation.”

The Unplugged by Ruven Meulenberg

While researching user experience design techniques, I stumbled upon some nifty whiteboard magnets for prototyping called GuiMags as well as a complementing book called The Unplugged.

GuiMags look like the nicest way to prototype something before going to HTML and CSS. Labor intensive forms of prototyping don’t seem to add much value, and paper and traditional whiteboard prototyping only works until you’ve changed your mind about something and have to throw your work in the trash or erase half the board.

Although I decided to postpone a magnet purchase until I am doing design again, I was able to get my hands on the book. Its premise: we limit ourselves by the technologies we use. Instead of thinking outside the box, we’re often thinking and functioning in it. A large part of this thinking inside the box is how we develop software.

Although, everyone interested in the topic should pick up the book, here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Every major form of art that involves technology (music, film, video games, graphic design) starts outside technology. Artists do not limit themselves by their technology but by the limits of their own minds. As a software engineer, you often limit yourself by the technology you use day-to-day.
  • Spend as much time as you can iterating on concept and design before going to implementation.
  • Design the software front-end not the back-end first.
  • Just like there are code freezes, freeze the product when it has passed the design phase.
  • It is often wise to outsource the implementation.
    • This serves as a peer review of the design before it goes to implementation. Software developers traditionally think about the back-end first.
    • Different cultures have different strengths: “England and Western Europe are great at design, Ukraine and Macedonia have amazing and prompt developers who can think for themselves, the Netherlands always emails back the same day, India is extremely polite, etc.”
    • Work can be done while you are sleeping. “This can cut the development time in half.”
    • Because you already know what you want and won’t be constantly changing the design, contractors will want to work with you even if you pay less.
    • Only be satisfied with five-star developers.
    • Pay more than you agree to pay.
    • Do one-week sprints. Longer sprints end up getting delayed, with excuses.

With the last (sub)point in mind, I think this methodology is well-suited for an agile development process.

There is a lot to gain from reading the book, so make sure to grab a copy for yourself.

Bad Form, Rhapsody, Bad Form

I used to subscribe to Yahoo Music Unlimited. It let me download as much music as I wanted without paying per track or album. It was much cheaper for me than Apple iTunes. Then they decided to shut the service down and migrate users over to Rhapsody Unlimited. Although Rhapsody is a tad pricier, I was okay with the change. I was still getting a better deal.

The Rhapsody installer worked fine and actually migrated about a third of my Yahoo Music downloads and all of my ripped CDs. Although a little disappointed about having to manually download the rest, I was satisfied.

It took me a little over a month to get around to the “big download” since my first install. A newer version of Rhapsody had since been released, so I routinely applied the update. Then I opened up My Documents/My Music/Yahoo Unlimited to see which old Yahoo tracks I needed to manually download into Rhapsody. To my dismay, the new version of Rhapsody was deleting all my Yahoo tracks (whether previously imported or not). It was systematically deleting WMA files one-by-one off my computer but leaving all the folders and any tracks I had ripped from CD. I could see it happening before my eyes. All along, Rhapsody didn’t say a word; it just acted normal and then dropped all the deleted tracks out of My Library when it was done.

If Rhapsody is manually inspecting each Yahoo Music file to determine whether or not to delete it, shouldn’t it kindly find the same track in its own service and download it for me? Or at least give me a list of the tracks it just removed so I can go find them myself? I’m not quite sure who made it, but this has to be one of the worst usability decisions ever made. It’s almost like switching over to Blu-ray and having someone sneak in and take all your DVDs back to Best Buy.

The good news is that before uninstalling the Yahoo Music Player, I had used Marc Abramowitz’s Export2Excel plug-in to dump a list of all my tracks just in case. I’m glad I did. Thanks, Marc!

I’m now getting carpel tunnel while rebuilding My Library.

I’m Only Semi-Impressed Now

Do you remember what everybody’s pet-peeve was when cell phones first came out?

Pocket-dialing–when somebody accidentally dials the last person they called while their phone is in their pocket. They don’t know they did it so the person on the receiving end fruitlessly repeats “Hello? Hello?” and then finally gives up. Somehow, engineers and cell phone users have adapted, and the pocket-dial is virtually extinct.

There has been a lot of deserved praise for the Apple iPhone. It’s a really slick device, and it has pioneered a lot of great usability improvements. However, they haven’t fixed the longest-standing usability issue. My roommate just pocket-dialed me from his iPhone.