Dec
29
2008
0

‘Tis the Season

The Grinch

The Grinch

After a short break from blogging, I off two tidbits: one full of holiday cheer… and the other about an incorrigible Grinch.[1]

Holiday Cheer

A few days before Christmas I received an extremely nice e-mail from David DePaolo, of WorkCompCentral fame.  He had read my blog post about my local food bank and made his own donation to his local food bank.  Thank you David!

Incorrigible Grinch

I have a loud neighbor.  They talk on the phone loud, watch TV loud, play music loud, etc.  Loud enough so that I can hear whatever it is they’re doing over my own TV with the doors and windows closed.  The night before Christmas Eve at around 8 O’clock PM they were playing something that sounded like a marching band – complete with tubas.  I couldn’t tell if it was a radio or TV or what – but it was extremely loud.  Being a good neighbor and filled with the aforementioned holiday cheer, I went out onto my patio and hollered, “Hey!  Turn it down already!”  In a few minutes their marching band music died down to a low rumble.

A few minutes later I find out that I had just yelled at a group of teenagers with instruments walking down our street… carrolling.  That’s right, I yelled at carolers – I’m the Grinch.

Ho ho ho!

  1. Photo courtesy of slworking2 []
Dec
19
2008
1

How NOT To Build A Successful Website: Frames

No Frames, Please

No Frames, Please

A little while ago I posted about How NOT to Build a Successful Website using Adobe Flash.  Long story short, Adobe Flash websites are extremely unfriendly to both website visitors and businesses who own the websites. [1]

The second worst way to create a website is to build it totally out of frames.  There are several workers’ compensation defense firms who have websites built out of frames – and they’re terrible.

In the early days of the internet frames were an easy way to enable navigation throughout a website.  Since then easy-to-use intelligent server-side languages[2] and client-side languages[3] have made building website navigation tools a breeze.  More importantly, these other technologies and techniques do everything frames do – only better.

Here are some of the problems with websites created using frames:

  • Un-bookmark-able. Just as with Adobe Flash, users can’t bookmark specific pages within a website built using frames.  This means your website visitors can’t come back to visit that specific page and, more importantly, can’t send a meaningful link to their friends.
  • Un-navigable.  Depending on how someone links to your frame based website, its very possible that they will link directly to an internal frame.  This means a website visitor getting to your website from a search engine might never see your website’s name or logo!
  • Printing. Frame based websites don’t always interact properly with web browsers.  When you go to print, you might end up printing the wrong frame.  Make it easy for your clients to make a hard copy of the information they see on your website and don’t use frames.
  • Search Engine Optimization.  Search engines are designed to be smart.  Even so, search engines still have trouble untangling a website made out of frames.  If people cannot reach your website by searching for exactly what you’re about, your website is a failure.

I know why there some web developers sell frame-based websites.  From a development standpoint, they’re very very easy to write.  Frames are little more than HTML, so they’re if you can create a Word document, you can create an frames-based website.  I suppose it would be relatively easy to also recyle parts of that website in a new website.  These websites are also deceptively good-looking.  When the web developer is showing you a frame based website, you’re going to see exactly what you expect.  The “danger” of a frame-based website, as indicated above, is that its so easy for it to be shown to your potential clients in the wrong way or out of context.

I think I also know why businesses invest in frame-based websites.   They require so little skill to create that a business can just have one of their file clerks or some high school kid build the website cheaply.  The website would be, for all intents and purposes, free.

A website is essentially the 21st century equivalent of a resume.  You’re using it to tell your clients about you before you ever get a chance to meet them.  These days everyone considers Google to be a verb.  If your potential clients are already looking for you through the internet, shouldn’t you try to put your best foot forward?  A cheap temporary website is fine … as long as its temporary.  As soon as you can afford to do so hire someone to put togther something better.

Website Development Tips:

  • Never build a site out of frames.
  • Other web technologies and techniques do everything frames do, only better.
  • Think of your website as your business’s resume, since that’s what potential clients may see first.
  • Think of your website like a business suit.  If it doesn’t look good on a first impression, a potential client may never even speak to you.
  1. Original photo courtesy of eriwst []
  2. Such as PHP and MySQL. []
  3. Such as Javascript. []
Dec
17
2008
2

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 3 – Dedicated Repair Facility

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

Before I start talking computer repair, I offer three caveats.  First, I have no formal training in diagnosing, repairing, or even using computers.  Second, I have no experience with repairing an Apple or Mac computer.  Third, all of the below only applies to laptop repair.  Its incredibly easy to swap out components on a desktop.[1]

So, you’ve done the math and decided that it is more cost-effective to repair your non-functional and out-of-warranty laptop.  You know that having the manufacturer or a big box store like Best Buy, Circuit City[2] and Fry’s is a very bad idea.[3]  About the best you can hope for is that it will only cost you much more money than your computer is actually worth.  The worst you can expect is to pay for your computer to be returned to you in worse condition.[4]

Option 3: Dedicated Repair Facility

Since I use my laptop constantly, it was extremely important to me that I took it someone who I could trust to do a good job.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of decision I agonize over.  Weighing the various pro’s and con’s, relative merits, creating formulas or spreadsheets to help me synthesize and digest the data.

I over-analyze, in part, because I want to make sure I spend my money well.  However, its far more important to me that I make sure that whatever item I am researching is the most perfect fit for me.  I spent my free time for the better part of the week Googling for local laptop repair places.  Once I had a list of places, I started to par it down.

My criteria included: location, accreditation, apparent familiarity with my problem, initial diagnosis based upon my description over the phone, whether they performed a free diagnosis, whether I could locate any review or complaints, and price.  You know, that’s all.

I first created a list of every laptop repair facility in my area and then tossed out the ones with bad reviews.

Question 1: Can you repair laptops?

This is a really good question even if you’re looking to have your desktop computer repaired.  Repairing a desktop is dead simple.  If a part stops working, you open it up, pull it out, slap in a new one and “rock on completely, with some brand new components“. [5] Repairing a laptop is far more involved.

If they couldn’t repair a laptop, I would not have any confidence they’d be able to repair a desktop and would move on.

Question 2: Can you repair components?

There are a lot of “computer repair” places, but most of them either only deal with software problems or only replace large whole computer parts.  Their solution to a laptop problem is to replace the motherboard or tell you to buy a new computer.  That’s like a mechanic telling you that you need to either replace the entire engine or buy a new car because spark plugs are just not their thing.

The good thing about a repair facility that does “component level repair” is that they will actually look for what caused the problem.  Then they will need to try and replace just that little part.  Depending upon your computer’s symptoms, you might need a new power jack, new chip on the motherboard, or even have the solder on the board around a chip melted and re-applied to the motherboard[6] .

If the repair facility couldn’t repair a component level problem, I moved on.

Question 3: Can you diagnose the problem over the phone?

When calling a repair facility, ask for a technician and describe the problem for them.  Obviously, you can’t expect them to actually know what’s wrong, so don’t hold them to it.  On the other hand, they should be have some inkling as to the cause.

A small aside about workers’ compensation defense, and then back to laptop repair:

Sometimes during a doctor’s deposition I need to ask a question that deals with legal issues.  Invariably, the other attorney present has a different take on the applicable medicine or, more likely, the law.  In these situations, I state my position about the medical-legal issue in terms of, “Doctor, its my understanding that…”  Then, I say, “Doctor, for the purposes of this question, assume that my understanding about the applicable law is correct.  Now… [insert insightful question here]?”

This keeps objections and interruptions to a minimum and allows the doctor to focus on my question.  If the other attorney is correct in their legal position, my question and the corresponding answer are irrelevant.  Posing the question in this fashion completely removes any basis for objection since the doctor’s response becomes entirely dependent upon whether or not a given legal position is correct.

When describing my computer problems over the phone and getting a snap diagnosis from the technician, I ask them the following, “Assuming the problem is [the problem you’ve just diagnosed], are you capable of making this repair and how long would it take?”

If the repair facility technician had no idea what the problem was or would refuse to venture a guess based on what I was saying, I moved on.

Question 4: Who will be doing the diagnosis and repair?

I located a surprising number of local people who represented via their website or a posting on CraigsList.org that they were able to repair a variety of laptop problems.  Some of these were just people who did the work out of their home.  They may very well do a good job and certainly charged less – but they weren’t for me.  I had a little more confidence[7] in a repair facility employing a repair technician than I did in a some guy who put up an ad or website.

Occasionally, a local repair facility will actually out-source the diagnosis and repair.  This, of course, begs the question – why do I need you?

As I mentioned above, I wanted to talk to a technician – preferably the one who would be performing the job themselves.

Question 5: How did you treat me on the phone?

Some technicians can’t help feeling superior to the their clients. [8]  If the technician was the least bit rude or condescending, I hung up and moved on.  Repair facilities are in the customer service industry as much as they’re in the computer repair industry.  All it takes is one unfriendly or  unknowledgeable person answering the phones for you to lose a potential client.

If you follow the above criteria to create a list of local computer repair facilities and ask the above questions, you’re going to stand a decent chance of finding the best place to get your laptop repaired.  Good luck!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. They’re bankrupt, so don’t bother []
  3. For those of you who just can’t wait to find out: I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  4. Or, in my case, have Dell ship your laptop to a construction site in Oakland.  Yay. []
  5. Thank you Cake! []
  6. This is called a “re-flow,” since the original solder is melted and made to flow back around the chip or connections.  If your computer gets heated and cooled a lot, this might be your problem. []
  7. And, perhaps wrongly so.  This is just a gut feeling. []
  8. Unfortunately, this is also true of some attorneys. []
Dec
15
2008
1

300 Registered Users!

Tonight, we dine in HELL!

He's really excited about so many users!

Just this last Saturday we reached 300 registered users – and King Leonidas couldn’t be happier.[1]

On August 20, 2008 the 100th person registered for this site since its re-launch on July 6, 2008.  On October 20, 2008 the 200th person registered.  In the time since this website’s relaunch, I’ve:

  1. You know, King Leonidas from the movie 300.  The really happy looking guy to the right. []
  2. I’ve got at least two or three more checklists planned. []
  3. More laptop advice on the way. []
Dec
12
2008
0

Website Upgrade to WordPress 2.7!

Wordpress Upgrade

Wordpress Upgrade

I upgraded the website to WordPress 2.7 RC 1 over the weekend.

I generally do not bother installing the updates between the major upgrades.  My major concern in upgrading is eliminating possible security issues and obtaining additional program features.  I maintain a totally separate website from PDRater.com, also running on WordPress, where I install the very latest versions of WordPress and try out new variations on the look-and-feel of this website, new calculators, and new ideas about how best to present the current calculators.

Very late Wednesday night I upgraded this website to WordPress v2.7.  I’m not sure I fully appreciate how much better it might be than the various release candidates.

Thursday morning I discovered an unintended effect of upgrading is that it “broke” one of my plugins.   (Reza: Thanks for pointing it out!)  I had modified an existing plugin, EasyPayPal, to allow this website to accept credit card payments.  WordPress v2.7 changed the user profiles area of the website – and made it so that instead of seeing an option to become a paid subscriber, you just saw a cryptic PHP error.  This is nothing that would have compromised a credit card number or anything – it just would have prevented anyone from giving me money.

A little bit of bug testing, one new line of code and its back up and running.  :)

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