Tiny Prints – Winning Loyal Customers

Business,Products by on March 13, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Every year my wife sends photo cards to our family and friends for the holidays. She carefully sorts through our photos from the year and selects several that she shares on the cards. She shuns the cards on photographic paper and instead selects heavy stock folded cards. The final product is usually great, however we’ve definitely been disappointed by print quality from time to time.

This year she used Tiny Prints (after a great experience with their birth announcements). Everything about the card was just better than the ones we had ordered in the past. But, the single biggest, unexpected awesomeness was the photo touch up they did on the cover photo of the card.

See the before and after below (yes, one version is scanned from the card). Sophie had a slight, but noticeable pimple to the right of her mouth in the original photo. It wasn’t something that we had thought to touch up, but we absolutely noticed that it had been removed when we got the actual card.

The amazing thing is that this is what Tiny Prints does. See co-founder Ed Han’s description from their ‘Our Story’ page:

Since our first year together, we’ve reviewed every order, edited every photo and obsessed over every typo and etiquette mistake on every card that has passed through our hands. After years of extreme perfectionism, our customers expect this level of attentive detail, and every member of our staff is proud to provide it.

I don’t think I could have been convinced in 2003 that there was a market for another online photo card company. Ofoto, Shutterfly and Snapfish seemed to have that market pretty locked up. However, there was clearly a high end to the market that had been overlooked and Tiny Prints has grown aggressively since. They initially launched with a focus on birth announcements, and have steadily expanded to a whole range of cards, calendars, photo books and even corporate cards (no save the date magnets though).

At this point, I can’t imagine we’d order cards from anywhere else. There aren’t too many businesses that fall into that category.

Why do all the backoffice web-apps suck?

Business,Products by on December 18, 2008 at 9:59 pm

As BrandVerity has grown, I’ve sought out web-based applications to run various aspects of the back-office. Without fail, I’ve been consistently disappointed with quality of these seemingly-mature applications.

I applaud the focus that many of these applications have taken. There are stand-alone applications that that handle invoicing, payroll, accounting (of-course), transaction processing, etc.

All of the web-apps appear on the surface to be inspired by web2.0. They have the right colors, fonts, ajaxy goodness, etc. However, they fail on either basic usability or on core functionality.

Here are a few highlights from my recent testing:

FreshBooks - Invoicing
A service complete with APIs for access that even snail-mails invoices… but doesn’t email invoices.

SurePayroll - Payroll
They handle state payments for Unemployment Insurance, but not Workers Comp deductions. Broken form fields that don’t accept the most basic of information (business identifier)

PayQuick - Payroll
Ajax forms won’t submit. Complete lack of guidance on what values fields expect ($ vs. %).

Oh, and PayQuick won the PC Magazine editor’s choice award with SurePayroll a ‘close runner up’.

Authorize.Net - Transaction processing
Took a week to get a ‘test account’. Menu system fails spectacularly in Firefox (menu items simply don’t appear, but you don’t know they are missing).

And then there’s the accounting packages. If you’ve ever dealt with QuickBooks online (IE only), I’m sure you wish for that time back as much as I do. It typically takes 3x the clicks than it should to accomplish anything.

Maybe the downturn has an upside? All the developers working on Facebook Apps and Social Networks just might end up working for these companies (or starting their competitors).

Painful Zune setup

Business,Products by on October 5, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Iva recently received an 80 GB Zune as a token of appreciation for her work on a project. The first thing that I did once she unpacked it was to plug it into the computer (running Vista). The setup process that greeted me was horrific. The experience was so bad, that I presumed I had gotten into some error state. This weekend, I duplicated the process on my own laptop (running Vista). Here are the screenshots (note, I have UAC turned off so it could easily have been worse).

After a decent amount of installing, I presumed that the Zune was installed. Instead I got this message.

There was no disc in the box.

Two error messages this time.

A roughly 30 MB download…

The process that started everything was when I plugged the Zune into the computer. Fortunately I caught the warning that I need to unplug the Zune. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t unplugged it.

I can’t imagine that anyone at Microsoft is happy about this process. I’m assuming that it is the result of either a real or perceived threat of a monopoly lawsuit.

I’d be incredibly cautious if I were Google. Similar encumbrances would be disastrous.

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How doctoring should be done – ePocrates

Personal,Products by on September 16, 2008 at 9:04 pm

I had a bug land in my eye while running yesterday. I thought I had taken it out, but I woke up in the middle of the night with my eye sealed shut by eye goo. I flushed out the bug, but by the end of the day, my eye was still irritable and very red.

My doctor looked at my eye and said that it looked infected and said she would prescribe a topical antibiotic. She then told me that they don’t see eye infections all that often and pulled out a PDA and confirmed the proper dilution of the antibiotic prescription.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this, but it is such an obvious thing for caregivers to use. Maybe its because doctors are slightly technophobic or perhaps they don’t like admitting they are uncertain but this seems like a far superior model than prescribing drugs on memory. I’ve got to imagine that there are some compelling statistics to be found on lives saved or reduced prescription error rates, etc.

She used a database from epocrates. I love the concept. I of course want it networked, databased and analyzed but this is a great start.

Airlines, the FAA and Technology I Always Assumed Existed

Products,travel by on September 10, 2008 at 10:48 pm

I’m so immersed in the the high-tech world that I assume the implementation of obvious ideas has penetrated most other industries.

I was surprised to learn recently that air traffic controllers have to form a mental picture of weather patterns and flight paths in order to decide which flights to ground and which to allow to take off. From this Wired Article:

… the current system, in which an air traffic controller must take weather information from multiple sources and create a mental picture to determine how it will impact different flight paths.

Fortunately, a few researchers from MIT are taking the obvious step and putting weather systems, forecasts and flight paths into an easy to use interface (ok, so the interface isn’t exactly easy to use, but it sure beats a mental picture):

It is being tested in NYC and in ~3 months it has already saved 2300 hrs of delays ($7.5M in operational cost savings).

Mozy Restore Sucks

Products by on June 13, 2008 at 8:56 am

I want to apologize now to all the people to whom I’ve lauded Mozy. I take it all back. I am far from alone.

Mozy is actually a succubus, a demon sent from hell to suck the life out of men (coincidentally, one of the top 5 South Park Episodes ever). Your relationship with Mozy begins much like one with a beautiful woman. However, one morning your hard drive crashes and you realize that you’re married to Roseanne Barr. Except that she has your data. And she’s sitting on it.

My hard drive crashed. It’s been 3 weeks and I just finished recovering my data. After this experience it is pretty clear that Mozy has invested heavily in backing up your data, but had the interns write the recovery code.

My story of woe follows if you’re interested in the details. The executive summary is Don’t Use Mozy. I strongly regret having bought an annual subscription for 2 computers (instead of paying monthly).

I’m still trying to find an alternative solution. JungleDisk (S3), Carbonite and Crashplan seem to be the leading contenders.

Restoring Via Mozy

Day 1: I installed my new hard drive and used the opportunity to install Vista. I installed Mozy to restore my files, but it didn’t recognize my computer. Online help files had no information about this instance. I emailed support.

Day 3: After a bit of back and forth they sent me instructions to uninstall Mozy, reinstall it partially and then run an attached script that edited my registry. Fine. A little inconvenient, but acceptable.

I ran the script, started Mozy and went to restore my files. There were no files to restore. Nada. Not a single of my backed up files could be found. I began to grow concerned and this time I used their painfully slow live rep support IM. After much confusion, they told me that I could only do a Web Restore or order DVDs (but that my files were safe). The DVDs would cost $100 and I had no interest in waiting for physical media to be mailed, so I chose the web restore.

The first step in the web restore process is to ‘build’ a restore. I kicked off the restore and refreshed the page a few times waiting for the downloads to be ready. After 10 minutes of this I gave up. 7 hours later, my status still said 0 of 18K files ready. I was a little concerned so I emailed support.

Day 4: No word from support, so I used IM to ‘speak’ with a rep. They told me that it usually takes a day or two for restores of my size to complete. Later in the day, support emailed me back and informed me that my download was at 17.9K of 18K files. Almost there!

Day 8: Still at 17.9K. I emailed support again. A day later I was told that the issue had been escalated.

Day 12: Still at 17.9K files. Still nothing after escalation. I emailed support again.

Day 13: I’m pretty pissed at this point so I IM support. They first tell me to do something that I cannot do (start a second restore). After we get over this confusion, the rep logs into my account and uses ‘extra priviledges’ to start a new restore without canceling the first.

Day 14: My files are ready (both restores)! But I’m traveling. Mozy is quick to tell me that I only have 7 days to download the restore files before they are deleted and I have to rebuild.

Day 19: I get back to my PC under restore. All I needed to do was download 30GB in 10 separate files. Unfortunately, Mozy seems to allot more bandwidth backing up files than for downloading files. Using Flashgot, Mozy would only give me 300-400 Kbps - about 10-20% of my measured available bandwidth. Not to mention the countless timeout errors that I received from Mozy.

Day 20: After many problems downloading, I finally got my files. A handful of hours unpacking and my files are back in their rightful place. Later in the next day, Mozy emails me to tell me that all of the restores have been deleted.

Yes I did get my files in the end. But restoring files took so much time and energy on my part that I may as well have been running my own backup system. Their support utterly failed (not for a lack of good intentions though). I’m now looking at alternative solutions and will switch over as soon as humanly possible.

Update:
I should add that Mozy is re-uploading every single file. So, according to the backup client, I have 6 more days until the cycle is truly complete.

Backing up to the cloud – Mozy & Mesh

Products by on April 23, 2008 at 11:57 am

Based on a recommendation from a friend a while ago, I began using Mozy for backing up my machines. I have been incredibly impressed and have recommended the service to anyone within earshot.

I had been using Sharpcast for photo backup, and using a Linksys NSLU2 and an external hard drive to conduct local backups. My initial excitement about Sharpcast quickly eroded as they abandoned the product and left all of the rough edges in place. I grew tired of the (slight) administration overhead of managing local backups and decided to give Mozy a try.

Mozy has been awesome for several reasons:

  • It just works. Install the client and you can basically forget about it.
  • Excellent interface. It is incredibly intuitive. I’ve always been able to quickly find the things that I want.
  • Easy to retrieve backed up documents. Mozy offers a number of easy ways to get your backups. DVD, context menu, explorer extensions, website, etc.

I’m pretty convinced that there isn’t a better solution out there. However, Mozy doesn’t do the one thing that would be very useful: sync. And since they’ve been acquired by EMC, I don’t expect tremendous movement.

So, I’m pretty excited about Microsoft’s recent announcement of Live Mesh. While GDrive remains as mythical as the ‘man-month’, MSFT is launching a beta of Live Mesh, a pretty ambitious Remote Desktop in the cloud (Good overview at TechCrunch). While I’m most excited by the ‘Unified Data Management’ of Live Mesh, I can definitely see the benefits of ‘unified’ every-thing else. It is a great desktop-up balance to the cloud-down approach taken by Google/Adobe. I tend to favor the ‘cloud-down’ approach but there are definitely instances where desktop-up are favorable (like document backup and sync).

I’m a very happy Mozy user at the moment and will continue to recommend it, but Live Mesh is the first offering that has the potential to dislodge it.

Update:

I take back all the good things I said about Mozy. Mozy actually sucks.

Fix: Error when double clicking an Excel file: Windows cannot find the file

Products by on December 17, 2007 at 12:14 pm

If you don’t have this error, don’t bother reading this post. It took some time to find a fix and my hope that this post will help others in the future.

Somehow my Excel installation got into a funky state where I had problems opening files from anywhere but inside Excel.

Firefox gave me this error message when I tried to open an excel file off an Excel link:

associated helper application does not exist

Windows explorer gave me this error message when I doubleclicked the file from anywhere (desktop, windows explorer, etc.):

Windows cannot find ‘path\file’

In both of these cases, Excel would open but no file would load. It took a bit of digging, but this blog post put me on to the solution - I had to unregister and regregister Excel.

The original post was originally written for Excel 2003. If you’re running 2008, here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. In Excel, click the Microsoft Office Button (in the top left), click Excel Options (at the bottom of the menu box on the right), click the Advanced category, and then under the General section, clear the Ignore other applications that use Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) check box.
  2. In Windows, open a command prompt: Start > Run will get you the run dialog box. Then enter “cmd”
  3. Navigate to the directory of your Excel installation. On my machine that is C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office12
  4. Enter this command: excel.exe /unregserver
  5. then enter this command: excel.exe /regserver

I would expect that a similar fix would work if Word, Powerpoint or other Office programs end up in a similar state.

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