Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Features and benefits in the software world

I stumbled across an old article on CNN Money on how small businesses can attract new customers. I wasn’t that interested in the article and glossed over most of the points, but one did catch my attention:

Emphasize your product’s benefits, not just its features. Say you are selling a teapot with a spill-proof spout. Rather than simply mention the spout’s spill-proof shape, focus on the problems it will prevent: burned hands, ruined suits, etc.

This seemed interesting because in the software world features seem to be evangelized over everything else. However, after digging a bit, I realized the issue is a bit more complicated. In general, what I discovered was that when features are enumerated, they’re usually accompanied by or mixed-in with product benefits, and it’s not always clear-cut that favoring one method over the other is the best approach when it comes to attracting users (in general, even for free products, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to replace the term “customers” with “users” for something like this, as the bottom line is still getting people to use your product).

  • Case 1: Firefox (features then elaboration with benefits)
    The firefox features page shows a simple case of what I’m describing. Features are presented as headers and below each is a concise description of how said feature benefits the end-user. e.g.,

    One-Click Bookmarking
    Bookmark, search and organize Web sites quickly and easily.

    Nice and simple, feature (one-click bookmarking) followed by benefit (bookmark, search and organize web sites quickly and easily.)

  • Case 2: Blogger (mishmash of features and benefits)
    The blogger features page is a bit more of a mishmash. Sometimes benefits are listed as headers with an elaboration of features below it, e.g.

    Publishing your voice is easy and free
    …In a matter of minutes you can start posting text, photos, videos, and more to your blog…

    The header details a benefit of using blogger (it’s easy and free) which the description elaborates and lists a few features (ability to post text, photos, videos, etc.).

    In other cases, it’s vice-versa,

    New post notifications
    Your readers can choose to subscribe to your blog’s feeds, so they’re notified whenever you publish a new blog post…

    Like the Firefox feature page, it’s feature (new post notifications) followed by benefit (readers notified when now posts are published).

  • Case 3: Picasa (verb then elaboration of feature and/or benefit)
    Picasa features is interesting in that it’s headers are verbs describing actions you can virtually perform using the software (organize, edit, create, share). Following the header is a very concise description of features (edit: eliminate scratches & blemishes, fix red-eye, crop, … ) or a benefit (organize: manage your photos in one place, and find photos you forgot you had). This is unbelievably simple yet still seems to accomplish its goal of evangelizing the product. However, this is photo management software, so it’s worth noting that the software itself is a fairly simple mechanism.

There’s a lot more feature pages that can be looked at, but I haven’t found anything else too interesting. Apple does the same as what’s described in the Firefox case; features then elaboration with benefits (e.g. feature page for Xsan). Microsoft is a beast and lists features and benefits in a variety of ways for different products and in different ways. Narrowing the focus and just looking at Office, Microsoft seems to have a product overview for each product (e.g. Word 2007 product overview) which describes benefits and features in the same mishmash way described in the blogger case. There’s also a “Top 10 reasons to try” (e.g. Word 2007 Top 10 page) page which seems to be similar to the product overview, but more concise by listing only 10 benefits or features.

One issue with all the cases described is that the target is the new, uninitiated user. Users who are upgrading probably don’t want to read a ton of information about benefits and features they’re already aware of, so a list for upgrading users may be something important as well.

What’s best? worst? I don’t know. Overall, I like the Picasa case for it’s simplicity. Its features/benefits list is very short and uses only a few sentences, but within that space it manages to describe exactly why that piece of software should or might matter to a potential user and why they should use it.

The new blog

I’ve finally made the jump away from blogger and I’m now running a custom themed, wordpress blog on my server. I made the change for a number of reasons, among them the fact that a self-hosted wordpress blog puts all content on my server (as opposed to blogger’s ftp publishing, which leaves comments and profile information on blogger servers), wordpress has the ability to search through posts, and I wanted a new, wider design.

I’m fairly happy with the move, so far my only gripe with wordpress has been it’s auto-paragraphing feature, which screwed up my code boxes (<code>…</code>). I finally just gave up trying to fight with it and installed wpautop, a plugin which disables it. Unfortunately, this also means that I have to manually do the html markup for my posts and I’m not too thrilled about having to do this for all of my old posts.

The design is still a work-in-progress as there are a few rough edges, but I’ll be making these improvements gradually. Overall, I was aiming for a simple, clean but non-generic look, and I’m pretty happy with the results. So, goodbye to blogger and goodbye to the old blog (or it’s template at least, as all the posts are still here).

the old blog

Rtf2Html 1.21

This is a minor update to Rtf2Html (my lightweight rtf to html converter). This version will detect tabs within the RTF text and convert any tab characters to 4 spaces in the HTML output.

Web design project: Universal Construction Corp.

Small website for Universal Construction Corp.,

UCC Web Site

Wasn’t crazy about doing a fixed-height design, but it was by request of the client. Given a fixed-height requirement, a bottom menu seemed like an cool idea; it’s fine if viewing the site at or above the desired resolution (1024×768), but at a lower resolution navigation becomes annoying as your forced to scroll down to get to the menu. If doing another fixed-height site, I’d likely avoid a bottom menu.

Rtf2Html 1.2

I made some updates to the lightweight rtf to html converter I created a while back.

Changes include:

  • Context menu for textboxes, making it easy to select, cut, copy, paste, etc.
  • Ability to view a preview of the output to ensure correct result.
  • String for color hex values are now simplifed, if possible. (e.g. #0000ff = #00f). This, in a small way, conserves space.
  • Support for a few basic special entities, less-than sign, greater-than sign, quotation mark, and ampersand. Also, the copyright symbol is converted into it’s appropriate special entity (this allows compatibility with older browsers and/or content w/ non-unicode character sets)
  • Conversion of newline characters to <br /> elements.
  • The executable now has a cool icon.
These are in addition to the previous formatting options supported: text color, bold, italic, underline, and strike-thru.

Not supported are: font-type, font-size, bulleted lists, paragraph alignment, bold-italic font-style. I’ll probably look into these in the future. They’re not difficult to implement, but, especially when embedding within existing HTML content, it’s beneficial to be able to toggle these options on and off (specifically off, as it may be better for the styles of the parent element to be inherited in certain cases). The work of updating the interface + implementing these additional options is more than I’d care to undertake at this time. Especially as this app is only meant to format source code that I post here.

A more standards compliant portfolio

I spent some time yesterday updating my portfolio. Everything is now more (XHTML 1.0 Transitional) standards compliant; it would be fully compliant except for a few css errors due to lightbox js and its hacks for cross-browser support.

My resume is also updated and is now a proper XHTML document instead of the MS Word generated HTML markup that was there before. This along with some other, minor, changes have eliminated issues preventing it from displaying correctly in Safari. It should now display correctly in Firefox, Safari, and IE7 (there a minor issue in IE7 where the bullet points are bigger than they should be, however, it doesn’t look bad and I’m leaving it alone; IE seems to size characters in the Symbol font differently than other browsers). Things are ~99% correct in IE6 and Opera, there are some minor spacing issues. I’m not going to bother with IE6 as I’m not concerned about compatibility with a deprecated browser for this page. I might look into the Opera issues later on.

The Associated Press wants to license quotations

The AP wants us to pay for quotations by purchasing one of their new “quotation licenses.” If your about to vomit, wait, there’s more, the license also gives you the privilege of snitching on those who refuse to pay and the noble honor of refraining from any criticisms that may be damaging to the almighty AP. All this for the increadibly reasonable price of… wait for it…. $12.50 for 5-25 words!

oh, and if your wondering where fair use and civil rights fit into all this, here’s the best part, the AP’s interpretation of fair use is: “Contact the owner of the work to be sure you are covered under fair use.”

Newer articles have mentioned some nonsense about negotiations with the Media Bloggers Association. Daily Kos puts it best,

The dumbasses at the Media Bloggers Association, of course, are walking right into that meeting because they crave nothing more than creating the impression that they, you know, represent bloggers (they don’t).

I hope bad things happen to them. Maybe Tom Curley will be mauled by a cougar. *crosses fingers*

Images from the Pheonix Mars Mission

As many already know, the Pheonix lander touched down on Mars a few days ago. It’s a great feat of engineering and it’ll be exciting if we find life under the permafrost. However, aside from whatever scientific value they may hold, I’m not really fond of the pictures from the lander or the rovers. While there is something eerily cool about seeing the surface of another planet, Mars is (1) not a very pretty planet and (2) the cameras can only give a very close-to-the-ground shot of the landscape (the flat, rock-covered, brownish-red landscape).

pheonix lander mars surface

That being said, one of the coolest images I’ve ever come across is below; it’s an artificial cloud formed from the gas of the rocket used to launch the pheonix lander.

pheonix rocket clouds

I also love the colors and how they blend together, as well as the “texture” of the clouds. I’m thinking this might be a great texture and color scheme for the design of a web site or GUI widgets or something… I don’t know, it just looks damn cool.

Full resolution images available at the Pheonix Mars Mission site.

Facebook security issue and the voyeurism of the AP

Report from the AP on Facebook security lapse.

“A security lapse made it possible for unwelcome strangers to peruse personal photos posted on Facebook Inc.’s popular online hangout”

ok, these security issues aren’t exactly uncommon on the internet and this one seems mild in it’s effect as: (a) it’s been fixed and (b) despite the assertion of “unwelcome strangers” perusing one’s photos, there’s only confirmation that 2 people exploited the security hole, Byron Ng the one who found it and an unnamed AP reporter (and perhaps a few others).

The extent to which Ng exploited the security lapse is unknown (although, we do know he look up private photos Paris Hilton at the Emmy awards and of her brother Barron Nicholas Hilton drinking a beer with friends – scandalous!) and in any event he should be credited with exposing the exploit (although it seems to be a simple URL edit, and he just raked it a ton of publicity).

The actions of the AP reporter on the other hand,

Using Ng’s template, an AP reporter was able to look up random people on Facebook and see the most recent pictures posted on their personal profiles even if the photos were supposed to be invisible to strangers.

The AP also was able to click through a personal photo album that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg posted in November 2005.

… is a bit unethical. There are other ways to verify a security hole. You could easily create dummy accounts or un-friend a few people to have some test accounts to verify the security issue. Sure, looking up random people (and Zuckerberg) and viewing their photos works too, but you’d think a member of the press would have a bit more integrity.

Finally, CNN’s “Story Highlights” seem to be written by someone who doesn’t like conjunctions, leading to fun implications,

Technician could access private photos of Paris Hilton, site co-founder

From child pornography to civil liberties rape

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve noticed a somewhat increasing number of child pornography possession cases over the past few years. Law enforcement agencies via. the media (and the media itself, many times) seem to be constantly reminding us that child pornography is a rampant problem, decimating our societies with predators lurking at every corner of the internet waiting to exploit the young and innocent.

Yet, logic brings up a few problems.

Take for example the case of child pornography found on the PC of the individual who went to Geek Squad, which is fairly typical of most of these child porn reports.

The results showed 130 child porn images along with “a commercial video clip of child pornography, and two video clips of minor females changing into swim suits that appeared to have been taken by a hidden video camera,” according the US Attorney’s eventual complaint.

Are the images authentic?
Invisible experts say so. Of course, this can’t be verified independently as possession and distribution of child pornography illegal. We just have to believe what we’re told.

Can it be verified that the females were minors?
No, but we’re told they look like minors, that’s apparently good enough for the law.

Can the source of the videos be verified?
Well there’s a “a commercial video clip of child pornography”; whatever that means (underground market?), but that’s about it.

Is this legal pornography with adult actors?
They’ve told us no, as police officers and FBI agents are experts of pornography. Of course, then they’d know that there are segments of the porn industry dedicated to young, “barely legal” women as well as voyeurism.

If this is indeed an act of sexual exploitation, should the possessor of images depicting the act be guilty of a crime?
The one in possession of the image is not the one who committed the act of exploitation. He/she has done no harm (either directly or indirectly) to the victim. As a society, we’re punishing him/her because the majority feels his personal actions are deplorable.

If this is sexual exploitation, where’s justice?
Consider the true crime, the true victim, and the true perpetrator.

In the end, our policies don’t lead to justice, they lead to abuse of the individual and of our civil liberties.

Such is the case with Temple University doctoral student Roderick Vosburgh, who apparently clicked on an FBI-planted hyperlink somewhere on the Internet. The link pointed to a file on an FBI server that contained no porn, but logged the IP addresses of everyone attempting to access it. Vosburgh’s IP was one of those, and the FBI came knockin’ on his door early one morning, arrested him, and searched his home.