New Side Project: Home Security Hacks

After failing to find a good online community dedicated to home security tips and tricks I’ve decided to start my own. I created Home Security Hacks with the goal of compiling a comprehensive list of best practices for transforming a home into a sanctuary of comfort, safety and peace of mind. The first few months will be spent building up content to gain some traction with the intention of fostering a community of security-minded tinkerers in the long term.

Announcing GroupTweet Twitter Service

I’m happy to announce the launch of GroupTweet, a service that allows Twitter users to send private messages to specific groups of friends. This is a small project that I threw together to fill a feature-gap in Twitter that always bothered me: why can’t I send status updates to specific groups of followers? GroupTweet allows small groups of people to send updates to each other without those updates appearing on their public time lines. Check it out and let me know if you have any feedback!

Amazon Showcase 1.2 – Now With More Template-y Goodness

UPDATE: I reached a critical number of requests for the ability to create multiple instances of this widget, so I made some quick updates and pushed out version 1.3. Enjoy!

I’ve just wrapped up version 1.2 of the Amazon Showcase WordPress Widget. Besides some minor updates improving performance, this release included a new “Template” option to satisfy a highly requested feature regarding output customization.

Amazon Showcase WordPress Widget

User’s now have the ability to define a “templates” for each item displayed. This provides total flexibility over the HTML that is generated and outputted in the widget. There are several pre-defined ‘tags’ that you can use within the templates as placeholders for product information. For example, any instance of the tag ‘[author]’ in the template will be replaced by the product’s author name when outputted.

Head over to the Amazon Showcase WordPress Widget project page for more information and to download; and of course, feel free to send me any comments or suggestions you have!

Labels in Gmail are Terribly Inefficient – A Lesson in User Interface Design

For such a smart and innovative group of people, the Google developers have really managed to mangle the Label functionality available in Gmail. I was desperately hoping that the recent upgrades to the Gmail platform would usher in some improved interfaces for working with lables. Alas, I have been let down.

Let me clarify something before I get started: Labels are Gmail’s version of tags. Tags totally rock for organization and I love them dearly. They offer a lot of flexibility over hierarchical folders and are really powerful when you start applying several tags to a single item. Fortunately, many services are starting to move away from systems of organization based on hierarchical folders and towards systems based on tagging of data. Google apparently only received half the memo. It’ is so difficult in Gmail to apply more than one label that you find yourself stuck in some wierd “only-one-tag-at-a-time” universe. You are basically limited by the same restrictions as hierarchical folders, but there is a clever “Label” mask on this system to trick you into thinking you can tag like all the other cool kids. I say bollocks!

The best way to describe Gmail’s Label deficiences is through an example. I recently ordered a gift for my hot wife from Amazon. After placing the order, I received the standard order confirmation email with all the details of the purchase. Me being a tag freak, I wanted to tag the hell out of that email so that later on I could find it as needed. I decided to apply four labels (tags): Amazon, Receipt, Birthday, Nikki. So there you go: four tags. Seems simple, right?

Here is a break down of what it takes to apply these four labels to a single message in Gmail:

  • Click #1 – Select the email
  • Click #2 – Open the “More Actions” menu
  • Click #3 – Grab the scroll bar
  • Scroll #1 – Scroll to “Amazon” in the list of labels
  • Click #4 – Apply the “Amazon” label to the email
  • Click #5 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
  • Click #6 – Grab the scroll bar
  • Scroll #2 – Scroll to “Receipt” in the list of labels
  • Click #7 – Apply the “Receipt” label to the email
  • Click #8 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
  • Click #9 – Grab the scroll bar
  • Scroll #3 – Scroll to “Birthday” in the list of labels
  • Click #10 – Apply the “Birthday” label to the email
  • Click #11 – Open the “More Actions” menu, again
  • Click #12 – Grab the scroll bar
  • Scroll #4 – Scroll to “Nikki” in the list of labels
  • Click #13 – Apply the “Nikki” label to the email

Grand Total: 13 clicks and 4 scrolls

Am I the only Gmail user that finds this ridic-a-donk-ulous? (Now, I know you can just use the scroll wheel instead of grabbing the scroll bar, however: 1) some people don’t have scroll wheels, and 2) dammit, I’m trying to make a point here). So, is there a better way? Absolutely.

A Better Way

Here is my solution for a better interface for Labels in Gmail:

Gmail - More Actions

First of all, rip the labels out of the “More Actions” menu, they just don’t belong there.

There is a mile of open space in the tool bar. Let’s go ahead and add a “Labels” button there. This button will give you access to an overlay with actions specific to labels:

Gmail - Better Labels

There is a lot going on here, so let me explain: When an email is selected, all currently-applied labels will be highlighted. Clicking on additional labels will automatically apply them, and clicking on currently-applied labels will remove them. At the top of the list of labels is a text field that allows you to enter new labels. Simply type in all your new labels separated by spaces. Once you click “Apply” the new labels and other changes will be saved and applied to the selected email. Simple as pie.

Now let’s replay the above scenario with my version:

  • Click #1 – Select the email
  • Click #2 – Open the “Labels” menu
  • Click #3 – Apply the “Amazon” label
  • Click #4 – Apply the “Receipt” label
  • Click #5 – Apply the “Birthday” label
  • Click #6 – Apply the “Nikki” label
  • Click #7 – Click “Apply”

Grand Total: 7 clicks and 0 scrolls

This new “Labels” overlay halves the number of clicks required and completely eliminates any scrolling. Much better. So, what are you thoughts? Could this be even more efficient (you could definitely eliminate one click by making the “Labels” menu open up when the mouse hovers over it)?

Google, are you listening?

Sponsor Me in the 2007 CrossFit “Fight Gone Bad” Fundraiser!

Fight Gone BadThis year will mark my first participation in the CrossFit “Fight Gone Bad” Fundraiser, presented by Athletes for a Cure. Athletes for a Cure is a fundraising and awareness program of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It is designed to assist individual athletes in their quest to raise money for better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer.

I will be participating as a member of the CrossFit West Chester Team. If you are interested in donating to help me achieve my fundraising goal of $500, please visit my donations page.

Athletes for a Cure is proud to present the 2007 CrossFit Fight Gone Bad. In 2006, hundreds of athletes in 30 centers nationally raised nearly $110,000 to benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) by competing individually and as part of teams on one day in “Fight Gone Bad,” one of the most demanding workout routines in the popular CrossFit exercise regimen.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in America, affecting one in six men. Men are 35% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than women are to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ahletes for a Cure, a program of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, is a fundraising and awareness program to assist individual athletes in their quest to raise money for better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer. The Prostate Cancer Foundation is the world’s largest philanthropic source of support for prostate cancer research with a simple, yet urgent goal: to find better treatments and a cure for recurrent prostate cancer.

Feel free to contact me if you would like more information or are interested in participating!

2007 Personal MBA Manifesto Released

The revised and updated 2007 Personal MBA Manifeso and Recommended Reading List has been released to the public! Josh Kaufman and I met through our involvement in the Cincinnati Entrepreneur Meetup Group. He is an amazing individual and his Personal MBA program is a must for any one interested in increasing their knowledge of business. Here is a brief description from the site:

Business schools don’t have a monopoly on worldly wisdom. If you’re serious about learning advanced business principles, the Personal MBA can help. The Personal MBA recommended reading list is the tangible result of hundreds of hours of reading and research, and features only the very best books the business press has to offer. So skip the fancy diploma and $150,000 loan – you can get a world-class business education simply by reading these books.

Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Josh until I was halfway through my MBA at Northern Kentucky University. Luckily though, I was able to supplement that education though my reading of the PMBA books. Many topics just aren’t covered in most business schools, so the books fill in a lot of big gaps. Incidentally, a lot of the books actually teach certain concepts better than some of my teachers could. Ultimately I am glad that I had the opportunity to attain an MBA, but for those who don’t have the time, money, or inclination, the PMBA is an outstanding alternative.

Adopting CrossFit

I recently discovered CrossFit, an oustanding fitness and exercise program/community that I have adopted for myself. Here is a 100 word summary of the CrossFit fitness philosophy:

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.

I have put myself on the CrossFit program and will also be implementing The Zone diet in the next week or so. I have heard nothing but good things regarding this combination of fitness and nutrition, so I hope to realize some nice results. The community surrounding CrossFit is absolutely incredible. There are literally thousands of CrossFitters around the world who are friendly and helpful to beginners.

This weekend, CrossFit West Chester will be celebrating their grand opening event, and I would like to encourage anyone who is able to come and check it out. You can find out more at the CrossFit West Chester website. Ben Kaminski is the man behind this local CrossFit affiliate and is an outstanding person to know.

Announcing Solo Signal

I’m very excited to announce my latest blogging project, Solo Signal. As the assistant organizer of the Cincinnati Entrepreneur Meetup Group, I often find myself sharing the insights and knowledge of the web development process that I have gained over the past decade with curious entrepreneurs and business people.

The web offers countless opportunities for anyone who is willing to learn how to use it properly. Too often, however, many non-technical people are easily overwhelmed by the amount of information involved in this task. Solo Signal helps people overcome these issues by breaking down the web development process into easily consumed articles. I hope to provide business-minded individuals with the information, tools and understanding needed to successfully leverage the Web for their benefit.

Hop on over to Solo Signal and subscribe to the feed. I have all kinds of great topics planned and you won’t want to miss any. Also, make sure you leave some comments so that we can get some good conversations going!