Archives for February 2007

InqScribe and DVDs

InqScribe doesn’t support transcription directly from DVDs. If you catch me in marketing spin mode, I’ll tell you this is a good thing, because typical InqScribe use involves lots of little seeks and jumps around the media, and those seeks and jumps are an awful lot faster when you’re working with a file on a hard drive than when you’re working with optical media. (Nonetheless, DVD support is on the wish list for a future version.)

But whether it’s for performance reasons or simple necessity, if you need to work with DVD-based content, your best bet with InqScribe is to “rip” the DVD to a local hard drive file. And to that end, Lifehacker has a great article describing how to do this for both Mac OS X and Windows. The article talks about copying DVDs to an iPod, but to do this, you’re basically ripping the DVD to a MPEG4 file, which is what you need for InqScribe. Just skip the iTunes step.

posted February 27, 2007 by eric | permalink | Add comment

Blogging How We Learn

Phil Bell’s started up a blog tracking news and research about how people learn.

The blog provides a stream of information on how people learn. The focus is on cognitive, sociocultural, developmental, and neurobiological research and related news.

This is great. Not only because of its focus — there aren’t a lot of blogs that track issues related to learning sciences — but also because of its volume. Lots of stripped-down posts to interesting content. The last blog that filled that niche in the learning sciences was probably John Rakestraw’s LTSeek.

I think Phil’s wise to avoid dressing up entries too much; in my experience, the intellectual effort that demands, even if minimal, can only reduce posting volume. This looks like a classic send them away to bring them back blog, and blogs of that type don’t need long entries.

posted February 27, 2007 by eric | permalink | Add comment

Gmail fetches from non-Gmail accounts

Gmail is in the process of rolling out a new service called Mail Fetcher which allows you to check up to 5 non-Gmail accounts.

Now Gmail can check for the mail you receive at your other email accounts. You can retrieve your mail (new and old) from up to five other email accounts and have them all in Gmail. Then you can even create a customized ‘From:’ address, which lets you send messages from Gmail, but have them look like they were sent from another one of your email accounts. Please note that you can only retrieve mail from accounts that have POP3 access enabled.

This feature is currently only enabled for a limited number of users. We’re working on making it more available soon. Look for it in the ‘Accounts’ tab in Settings.

I use multiple personalities in Eudora on my own machine, but this is useful when checking-in from elsewhere.

posted February 26, 2007 by matt | permalink | Add comment

Good customer service

A series of coincidences has me thinking about customer service today:

In any case, we’ve gotten a number of nice compliments recently on our customer service. Mostly it seems that people are simply pleasantly surprised when we respond within a day to their request. It’s certainly not always possible, but we try. Simply getting a quick response by a real person seems to be as important for a small software company like us as a mega corporation like Citibank.

Second, people seem surprised when we can actually help them solve the problem. Again, we’re not always successful, but if there isn’t a solution in the tool, we try to come up with a workaround. Which brings up another reason for us (as principals) to do customer service: user feedback.

Being a small company, we can’t quite afford to have a customer service department. But echoing some of Joel’s themes, to me rather than being a necessary evil, customer service is an opportunity for a conversation with our customers. It is feedback on trouble spots for the tool, as well as feedback on how they’re using the tool. By having our key design and development staff involved in customer service, we are essentially perpetually conducting user testing and focus groups, all of which inform the refinement of the tool.

posted February 19, 2007 by ben | permalink | Add comment

Firebugs and CSSEdit saves the day!

One of the hardest things to do with all this newfangled Web 2.0 development is chasing down problems with javascript and css across different browsers. I’m sure there are a lot of great techniques out there, but here are two tools I’ve recently started using that have helped me chase down a couple of previously impervious bugs: the Firebug extension for FireFox and CSSEdit 2.0.

Viewing dynamic HTML with Firebug

If you’re using javascript to dynamically create or modify elements on a web page, it’s virtually impossible to see what is being created without explicitly writing code to display and debug. My favorite Firebug feature is simply its ability to show you the current state of a web page. Whether you’re inserting elements, or modifying an element’s class or css, Firebug can show you in real time where and how things are changing for the DOM, the HTML, scripts, and CSS. You can even go in and edit the page and see what happens.

Firebugs is still a little buggy (at least on the Mac), but it’s worth it! (It has problems with Network Monitoring if you’re using AJAX, which would be a really killer feature, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to successfully attach/detach the firebug display from a window, for example).

Real-time css editing with CSSEdit

Firebug will let you edit the CSS on the site, and it has a really nifty way of showing inheritance and which styles are being overridden by which other styles, but navigating through the myriad of panes and keeping track of edits is virtually impossible. This is where CSSEdit shines.

CSSEdit’s workflow feels a little odd at first, but once you grok it, it’s pretty straightforward. Essentially what you’re doing is viewing a web page in one window (using CSSEdit’s built-in browser), and overriding the CSS in the browser window in real-time by making CSS edits in another window. So as you type in changes, you can see the effects immediately. This removes some of the guesswork out of knowing what might be affected by your changes. The other really nice feature is an edit pane that lets you edit styles via a formatting palette similar to Microsoft Word’s. So you don’t HAVE to know CSS to make changes. And if you have a lousy memory like me, you won’t have to memorize the exact style name if you know where to look for it. It also has a pretty cool styles browser that lets you quickly see the names of all your styles along with a graphical preview of what the style looks like.

While neither application will help you do cross-platform / cross-browser testing per se, I find that by going back and forth between them, I can much more easily refine my style sheets to a nice clean cascading form, and then do cross-platform/cross-browser editing on one feature at a time.

Now if only someone would come up with a way to quickly browse all the documented CSS quirks, hacks, and bugs across browsers…

posted February 14, 2007 by ben | permalink | Add comment