Startup

Check My Colours: Stop Beating up Blind People

Ever had one of those days where you wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, then walk out into the street with a cane and beat down all the handicapped people you can find? I mean, sometimes you just have to make life harder for someone else, in particular the downtrodden and oppressed. Well as it turns out I’ve been doing exactly that every day, in 56 different ways. At least according to a new website, Check My Colours.

Colorblindness is a common vision deficiency. Its prevalence among men is up to 10% of the population. For women it’s less than a percent. Since I’m an astoundingly inaccurate mathematician I’ll average them and assume that 5% of the people who come to your website have difficulty distinguishing between colors in some capacity or another. The lot falls to designers to make a website color blind friendly. Determining which colors might need to be adjusted just got a lot easier with the new Check My Colours tool. All you do is submit the URL and it will list the offending objects and their associated colors.

The report includes three different categories including contrast ratio, brightness difference and color difference. From there it’s expected that you would adjust your CSS to modify the offending elements. Now this is where the trouble begins. Let’s assume that I’m not a color aficionado and the distinction between contrast ratio, brightness difference and color difference isn’t something I have a firm grasp on. Then what? I’m guessing I’m not the only one who would be taking a stab in the dark at finding a less malevolent color. Key suggestion: tell me the range of hex colors that would work with both the background and foreground colors. I’m sure the logic is already right there within the application so it’s just a matter of putting the info on the screen.

Test your new contrast colours here
Test your new contrast colours here

The next grievance with Check out my Colours, baby, is with the accessibility of their tools. Specifically, it contains the instructions at the top of the chart, “Click on the row to test other colours.” That’s great, but I’m always lapse to click somewhere, anywhere, within a general undefined area. I know Javascript allows you to set it up so that I can click on the entire row, but my vote is for a clear and defined button within that row to bring up the color contraster tester tool. And likewise I’d opt for an exit button as well. These UI features are fairly common and might confuse people without them.

Moving along, on the path to critiquing an otherwise pristine product, is the nice green submit button to the left. Try clicking it, if you dare. Once you have submitted your colors you can now sleep well knowing that your colors have successfully been submitted. To what point and purpose I do not know. But yes, they have been submitted. Once you click away from the tester tool you will notice that a few cells in the row are now an equivalent green. I’m not sure if it accomplished anything other than that.

Overall the Check My Colours site is probably best in its class as far as providing information that may help designers create color friendly sites. Interestingly, all the sites that I tested came up far short of passing the color test, with the exception of Check My Colours itself. Perhaps with a few tweaks and modifications this site will grow to be a tool common to the arsenal of designers. Then everyone can feel better about themselves knowing that they’ve made a world a better place for the color blind. That and it will likely at to the stickiness of your site.

SlapBack: Hi :)

I’m reading your review and it seems very interesting. Now, I try to address some of your doubts :)

You write: “I’m guessing I’m not the only one who would be taking a stab in the dark at finding a less malevolent color. Key suggestion: tell me the range of hex colors that would work with both the background and foreground colors.”

The range of hex colours are specified in the homepage, in “What is check my colours” section:
Text or diagrams and their background must have a luminosity contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for level 2 conformance to guideline 1.4, and at least 7:1 for level 3 conformance to guideline 1.4. The range for color brightness difference is 125. The range for color difference is 500.

These values are suggested by the world wide web consortium.

More documentation here:
http://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/#visual-audio-contrast-contrast
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/wai-pageauth.html#gl-color

Checkmycolours is meant to be a tool for web developers, so I didn’t think so necessary a detailed documentation. Now, the webapp is used by many many users so,I will write a more complete documentation as soon as possible :)

Then, you write: “The next grievance with Check out my Colours, baby, is with the accessibility of their tools. Specifically, it contains the instructions at the top of the chart, “Click on the row to test other colours.” That’s great, but I’m always lapse to click somewhere, anywhere, within a general undefined area.”

Yes, this is a good observation, but it is related to usability, not accessibility.

And, at last: “What’s your best guess as to what the Submit button actually does?”

The submit button simply updates the hex values in the report and highlights it with a different color. So, the developer can easily get the correct values and replace them in the stylesheet :)

Thanks for your suggestions. I’m receiving many mails from many users, so I hope to be able to solve bugs and implement new features as soon as possible.
In next day I will probably publish a blog about these issues and the next updates, so… stay tuned :)

Startup

Vistor Contact: Let’s Stay in Touch

In the world of web development there are certain tasks that are redundant, repetitious and oftentimes outright boring. Among these is setting up a contact page. For this site I’ll concede that I borrowed a prefabricated tool so as not to have to hassle with it. Sometimes you may need a more ubiquitous solution. One that will allow you to plug it in anywhere. That’s where Visitor Contact comes in. They provide a tool that allows you to create custom contact forms and buttons.

The options are pretty straightforward. Above and beyond a basic form, it provides the option for email contact info, and Twitter and Skype as well. It also gives you the option to display a map to your location, has an auto-responder so you can look like a real business, and include fax and phone numbers. The tab itself can be displayed on the top, midddle or bottom of the page and on either the left or right side. And finally, it allows you to pick the static and hover colors of the tab.

After I made all my selections I present to you my new, duplicate effort, contact button. See exhibit A off to the right. (Removed since site is now down…) With any luck it will only appear on this blog seeing as how I already have a contact page link above.

Llama that insists upon font color freedom
Llama that insists upon font color freedom *

Now anyone who’s been paying attention to the Slap Reviews, should know I’m going to take major issue with this contact tool. And yes, I’m kvetching about hex colors again. Notice how you can select the color of the tab and then the color when you hover over it? Turns out you don’t have the option to select the font color. The only option is to leave it white. How silly of them. Well, I, myself, a huge mob of miscreants, and this here llama, all agree that Visitor Contact should get with the program and make the font color an option as well.

The only other nitpicky preference I would make is the option to select font size and have the tab size adjust accordingly. I find the tab just slightly bigger than I prefer. And since it’s nailed to the page, i.e. when you scroll down it stays in the same place, it just kind of sticks out a little much for my liking. Contact buttons are often best left as a more subtle feature.

In fact, I bet there’s a direct correlation to how obvious your contact button is and the popularity of the site. It’s kind of like the kid in school always following you around wanting to be your friend. Nobody wants to hang out with him.

There is a workaround which is to bypass the tab completely and embed the form wherever you like. Just create any web page, add the embed code and it will display the form wherever you choose. So, were you to want to maintain some level of cool, you could link that page in the footer. Thus removing the Please Please don’t leave me button from the page. It’s up to you.

I do enjoy the features of this contact form. I’m always beyond thrilled when a product works out the gate exactly as I expect. I’m sure I’ll find a use for it, despite the fact that it somewhat resembles that poor annoying kid in school.

SlapBack: Thanks a lot for the great review. I’ll definitely consider having a black text color too :)

(and then later…) I’ll definitely work on your suggestions :) Thank you for the feedback.

* Llama photo attribution. (Found on Wikipedia, posted with permission.)

Visitor Contact seems to have left the building. This article remains in its stead.

Pictaculous Pallette Startup

Pictaculous: Finally a Useful Color Selector

I remember the artistic kids in school. The few who could take pencil, pen or paint and create beautiful images. They had an eye and talent for art. Although I loved art, every time I would attempt to draw something it came out like a scrawl or scribble. It was a sad state of affairs. My lack of artistic talent continued into my adult life, leaving a trail of clashing eyesores in its wake. Then the day came that I took up web development. It’s great to work on the functionality, but when all’s said and done what the user sees is the presentation. The place where colors and layout matter.

Leaving layout aside for the time being, selecting colors has always been a challenge for me. There are plenty of tools to help, including this really cool color sphere. There are also tools that allow you to enter one color and it will show you other compatible colors. At the end of the day however, you need to have some degree of artistic skill to have any success with these. That’s where Pictaculous comes in. It’s the color selector for those of us who have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever.

The concept behind Picta is that you upload a photo and it will return the colors that match it. The general idea is that you will be placing the photo on a page and need to know what colors to frame it with. I’m going to let the Pictaculous group know that what they really created was a tool for the color inept. From now on when I’m trying to determine what colors to use for a website, I’ll find a picture I like, upload it to Picta, and it will show me my colors. Easy, and done.

For a trial run, I uploaded this picture of the San Francisco bay from Tiburon.

View of San Francisco Bay from Tiburon

I uploaded it to Pictaculous and it immediately returned a palette of colors.

Pictaculous Pallette

The main palette is on the top. On the bottom left and right are various palette suggestions from Adobe’s Kuler and Colour Lovers, respectively.

There are a few options for saving your prized colors. The whole palette can be emailed, or you can download an Adobe swatch file. This file appears to be a special doodad that can be uploaded into Adobe products and will set your colors to the proper hex values. I didn’t immediately find a use for it with Gimp and as such, will most likely stick to the email option.

Selecting colors from the Kuler or Colour Lover’s palettes was a bit more challenging. It took you to a different website and it wasn’t immediately obvious what the hex colors were. In particular with Adobe’s Kuler, the values don’t appear there at all. I think you have to sign up in order to get them. In situations like these I’m apt to use my trusty color picker. For those who want a good color picker my favorite is a simple standalone executable cleverly named, Color Picker. A fancier tool is Color Pix. It has a zoom freeze option which makes it easy to pick out single pixels.

The other feature of Pictaculous is the ability to email pictures from your phone and create a palette that way. It’s a nice feature to round out a quality product offering, though it seems unlikely to be used often. If I could negotiate one wish list feature it would be the ability to have a unique URl assigned to my color palette. That way I can return to it without having to dig up the colors from my email. As it is, Pictaculous maintains the same pretty URL throughout the entire session.

All in all this is a great site that I’m predicting will single handedly resolve my color picking woes.

By the time we got around to getting a screen shot Tagito was gone. We leave this dead leaf in its stead Startup

Tagito: Selling Digital Media Online

Selling items online is one of the major forces that keeps the internet alive. From shipping products from a warehouse, to connecting buyers and sellers of various objects, to selling digital media, the internet is full of commerce. As such, there are many resources for setting up an online store. In most cases these are shopping carts to sell physical items. Zen Cart is a popular choice for this. Tagito recently launched a tool that allows you to sell digital media online. This can be anything from documents, music files, video, or any other file that people can download.

By the time we got around to getting a screen shot Tagito was gone. We leave this dead leaf in its stead

What I like about Tagito is ease of setup. Create a free account, upload your file, set the price and it gives you a snippet of code to place on your webpage. This will create a Tagito tag for users to click and purchase. What I don’t like about Tagito is when somebody chooses to buy the product, they’re forced to create a Tagito account as well. Forcing users to divulge unnecessary personal information will drive away business. People don’t like signing up for new accounts and it causes them to rethink how important this purchase actually is. Tagito’s explanation is that it “prevents just anybody from downloading your stuff”. What? If I’m in business I want just anybody to download my stuff. I’m calling B.S. on Tagito. In their thirst for users they’re requiring registration, thus creating a stranglehold on their profits and yours.

The business model for Tagito is they take 10% of all sales. This is great for a startup solution as there’s no fees upfront. Payments are made through PayPal which is nice. Most people trust working with them.

Overall I’m going to give Tagito the Slap Down. Whatever that is, I’m not quite sure. In this case it means I’m likely to look for a new solution before using them. If it can be avoided, don’t make users register unless it’s necessary.

SlapBack: Steve – thanks for that.  It IS helpful.  I agree with the registration to buy being a hassle; it’s because we want them to be able to come back and re-download the file in case they lose it.  When we tried it the other way, people were complaining because they only got the one chance to download, and if something happened they had to contact the seller…etc. But hey – please think of a better way!

OK. I think I reached the nirvana for Tagito’s business model. At first they made downloads anonymous, which didn’t work since people lost their files and ate up customer support time trying to get them back. Then they made users register and some guy with a blog comes along and pokes them in the eye for it. What if they gave users the option to register if they’d like to be able to recover lost files, or not register if they prefer to remain anonymous. Now that would be the real Slap Down.

SlapBack: Steve – yeah, we just put in the anonymous option, thanks to your validation. They get the download email, and it says that if they want to access the file in the future, they’ll just have to register. So, best of both worlds. So what we’ll do is let the seller optionally require buyer registration, and a click-through usage agreement before the download.  Just give everybody the ability to choose.

It appears Tagito did not withstand the rigors of startupdom. I’m not sure when they pulled the site down, but it’s either been rebranded or sitting in the vast and forgotten internet waste bin.

Yarp Home Startup

Yarp: Come to the Party!

In a world where users are leery to join yet another service, there’s an emerging trend away from user registration altogether. Who wants them anyway? I happen to be particularly hesitant to try various services if they require signing up first. Among the popular websites that I’ve failed to join is Evite. Every time I receive an invite I’m prompted to sign up. I still haven’t gotten around to it.

Answering the call of my anonymity is Yarp, an invitation service that doesn’t require user registration. Yarp has a very simple interface. Navigate to the home page, type in the name of the event, and fill in the details in the description. It then gives you a Yarp URL, which will keep track of who signs up. At this point you can email the link to your friends, either through personal email or directly through the Yarp interface. Those who receive it can type in their name, whether they’re attending, and then leave comments if they choose.

Yarp Home

Despite the overall simplicity of the service, they decided to complexify it by adding a survey feature. This acts exactly the same as the invitation section. People are asked a question and are allowed two responses: Yes or No. Kind of a boring survey if you ask me. Come to think of it, I’ll ask you. Here’s my Yarp survey as to whether the survey function should be axed.

A drawback to Yarp is that you have to keep track of the URL it creates for you. If you lose it there’s no way to recover it. This is how they keep other people from chancing upon your Yarplet, by creating what we’ll call ugly URLs. It contains a string of jumpled up characters that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. In this case, you are to send them to your closest friends.

All considered, I like the Yarp service. It sounds great for simple invitations and get togethers. Due to its anonymous nature and relative simplicity, it doesn’t have reminders, or any of the other bells and whistles that the full featured Evite has. More often than not, a simple tool is exactly what I want. And come on, with a name like Yarp how can you not like it?

SlapBack: Steve, Thanks for the candid write up.  We really appreciate it and we really like it when someone understands and appreciates the simplicity factor.  There is a difference with surveys.  Invitations allow guests; surveys do not.  Also, you can survey anything that allows for two choices.  For example, you can change Yes/No to OptionA/OptionB or 6pm/9pm allowing you to ask which graphic you like better or what time to see a movie.

View Docs Online Home Startup

View Docs Online: Another Way to Share Documents

In the spirit of reviewing online resources to share documents, I came across View Docs Online. This has an advantage over other document sharing services in that you don’t have to download the document in order to see it. Just upload the file and it can be viewed online.

It has the same user experience flow as the recently reviewed Files Over Miles. The user browses to the file, uploads it, and it returns a URL. In this case it directs you to that URL, which can then be passed along to those you’d like to share the document with. View Docs Online is different in that it only allows you upload viewable documents. Go figure. This includes anything from MS Office, Open Office, text files, etc.

View Docs Online Home

Let’s say you’re a business owner or consultant making a sale over the phone. The conversation reaches the point where you want to discuss the contract specifics. You can upload the contract, send the URL to the client, and then everyone involved can look at the same document in their browser.

Overall I found View Docs Online to be useful. It will receive a sanctimonious nod and induction into my ever growing tool set. The functionality I really wanted it to have, however, was the ability to edit the document and have those changes reflect on everyone’s screen. It uses a third party tool called Scribd to convert and display its documents, which doesn’t appear to have this option.

If you want the real time edit functionality, a few competitors exist, including Google Docs. The only drawback to G-Docs is the lack of immediate gratification. It takes longer to sign in, upload and convert the document, and then adjust the sharing settings. The upside is that the document will then be saved in the Google account and available for future access.

I’ll still give View Docs Online full marks for creating a simple tool to quickly share a document online. If I’m looking for the quickest way to get a document in front of someone’s eyes, it definitely fits the bill.

SlapBack: Thanks for your review. I’m sorry but for the moment there is no plan to introduce the possibility to edit documents in View Docs Online. Maybe in the future, but there is no plan yet.

I agree. Unless Scribd comes out with this functionality it’d be a major redesign of the product to implement.

Files Over Miles Home Startup

Files Over Miles: P2P File Transfer

How many times does a meeting begin with everyone scrambling to get the same file on their computer? The first 5-10 minutes can easily be eaten away trying to transfer the right documents to all attendees. If people are in the same room there’s the usual ceremony of passing around flash drives. Sometimes Yahoo or Skype are employed to make the transfer. A variety of online solutions exist as well that allow you to upload a file to a central location and then send out a link where people can download it. The two I’ve worked with are Yousendit and LeapFile. The trouble with these solutions is that they send files through various servers leaving (literal) bits of it along the way. Files Over Miles is a new solution which offers to transfer files directly from one computer to another. As per it’s tagline, it sends it from browser to browser.

From a user standpoint I found Files Over Miles very easy to use. All you do is browse to the file and it returns a link. That link can be sent to others who can then download the file to their computer. As with many of these services, it’s encrypted before transfer. Of note and great admiration, they resisted the urge to make users register or leave personal information in order to use their service. Just navigate to the home page and you’re ready to go.

Files Over Miles Home

My first experience using FOM was a stark failure. I was behind a University firewall and it blocked the P2P connection. The FAQ points out that large organizations typically block P2P file transfer. A later trial at home worked as expected.

The feature I’d like to see is to share folders as well as single files. I find that often enough I need to transfer a series of files. If you can’t share a folder these either need to be zipped or sent one by one, which can be tedious.

One sticky spot is that FOM requires Flash 10. Based upon previous experience supporting a product that required Flash, I anticipate this being the biggest reason people have an issue. In fact, number one topic on FOM’s FAQ should say, upgrade Flash and clear the browser cache. (The other cureall is to check the firewall.) As it stands, Flash is very handy and commonplace, but I can feel another 10-15 minutes of meeting time slipping away resolving the upgrade issue. The current version of Flash also limits the maximum file size to the amount of available RAM on the computer. This probably wouldn’t be a huge limitation excepting massive files, such as a 2 hr video.

The most obvious limitation is that both computers must be on to transfer. Say you send a meeting invite with a FOM link for a file to be downloaded prior to the meeting. Then you pack up the laptop and go home. That won’t work out so well. This is a vote in the direction of using one of the other services since they store the file on a remote server.

All told, I enjoyed using FOM. What I like is the simplicity and ease of use. The name itself is as good as one can hope to find, though I have to admit it slightly annoys me. I can’t quite place what’s wrong with it but I can’t bring myself to type it too often either. Maybe it sounds too much like one of those make millions in a day schemes. Regardless, for me, simplicity will win out. This is probably the easiest way to shoot a file over to people in the shortest amount of time.

Thanks a lot for a great review and analysis of FilesOverMiles. Very insightful with interesting thoughts. I put folder sharing and FAQ changes on my todo list. I’ll also add a link to your blog post to FilesOverMiles site.

File Over Miles accidentally shipped its code base elsewhere. Or just turned off their services altogether. We aren’t sure when it shuttered its doors, but we know its a highly competitive and costly service to run. WeTransfer is a leading alternative.

Startup

3.ly: World’s Shortest Url for Short Urls

You knew it would happen. In a world of people posting links to links and URLs to URLs, a market has emerged to create shorter URLs. Tinyurl.com has been the forerunner in the field, but many others exist. These are all sites that create a short URL that will redirect to another, presumably longer one. It’s a forwarding service.

In an effort to glean a corner of the short URL market someone decided to make it as short as possibly- 3.ly. That’s it, the entire domain name. For instance, I submitted the name of this site and it created 3.ly/slapstart (since removed…), which now forwards to slapstart.com. In this example I selected a custom extension, otherwise it would have chosen the shortest combination of letters and numbers possible.

3.ly Home

Surprisingly, there’s some controversy with domain name shorteners and in some cases they’re even banned. The trouble revolves around people using them to submit banned sites on comment boards. The hazards are fairly obvious to envision seeing as how you have no idea where you might end up when you click the link. This article outlines some common usage and pitfalls of URL shorteners.

A note of curiosity regarding the 3.ly domain name itself, the .ly extension belongs to the country Libya. The domains are managed by Nic.ly and can be purchased through a certified reseller. Overall it appears to be a valid process, though I can’t shake the feeling of walking through a third world market trying to keep my wallet away from some guy’s pet monkey. The annual fee is ~$75/yr.

The other curious note about their domain is the 3. Try to register 3.com and it will tell you it’s an invalid domain. Apparently they lowered the bar for the .ly extension to a single character.

3.ly is taking a stab at a market that’s already a couple hundred competitors full. So much for being first to the marketplace. But, they do have the whizbang about them in that they truly have a short URL. Perhaps their biggest problem is that is doesn’t look like a URL at all. Unless you’re familiar with running from monkeys in the Mideast.

SlapBack: (Pleasantries…) Would you consider appending an ‘update’ to your article regarding Threely and its current, latest features?

Yes, I’ll consider writing an update to the article based upon latest features. In fact, here it is, though I fear all is not well in the 3.ly camp. Mainly, confusion! But let’s trudge through it and see what we find. There are two new features, and a third on the way. Sounds like kids. Now let’s see how well they’re behaved.

Kid number 1: We’ll call him Jimmy. Jimmy is a piece of Javascript that you click and drag into the URL of a different web page. Once loaded the new Jimmyized (or Javascriptized) URL will immediately create a Threely. If this sounds confusing, it is. It’s certainly neat and I had no idea you could drag and drop Javascript snippets from a webpage without cutting and pasting. I’m guessing many others do not as well, or even get what just happened there. So, the user now has two options to create 3.ly’s. First, copy and paste the URL into 3.ly’s box and submit the form. Second, the new click and drag Bookmarklet, aka, Jimmy. My thoughts are this would be a great place to put a short video screen capture that demonstrates how to use the new tool. I got it to work but I have a feeling I didn’t do it right.

Kid number 2: Sam. Sam’s the boring kid- a bean counter. He’s the type that keeps updated and accurate records, sits in the front of class in school, organizes his pen collection. He’s useful to have around though. Let’s say you’d like to know how many people clicked on your Threely. That’s where Sam comes in. Just add a dash “-” to the end of it and it takes you to a page that shows just that. For example, the Threely I created for this post 3.ly/slapstart (since removed…), will now show how many times 3.ly/slapstart has been clicked. It’s actually pretty helpful and gives you a mild sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Sam does have one quirk resonate of his older brother. It says, “Click anywhere on this page to disable page auto reload. ” What on God’s green earth do we need that for? Neat little feature. Cut it and keep it simple. Or at least create a button that says Auto Reload On/Off all artisically dolled up so you call tell whether it’s pressed on not.

Kid number 3: The ultrasound is in, and it’s a girl! Her mother insists on calling her Jessica. It’s hoped that Jess will be the social one. Bring some flair to the family. With her will come user accounts, threely tracking, amongst other features. This is actually helpful, seeing as how I just created a few new test Threely’s as I’ve long since lost the previous ones. Tracking will probably be a more elaborate form of Sam’s add a dash method to view how many times a Threely’s been clicked.

Unwanted Cousin: Holga. Little is known about Holga except that she exists. For those who want more information you can email Threely support. It’s been rumored that she has something to do with a developer API, though no other information is available about her.

As most of us know, if there are issues with the kids, it’s often not the kids, but the parents. In this case, these features are fairly nifty. As a tech enthusist, I applaud them. My concern is that bells and whistles (kid analogy is starting to break down here), need to be just that. 98% of all Threely users are going to go to the home page, enter the URL, get the Threely, and go about their day. I know development’s still in progress, but whenever you get around to it my plea is to make sure to graphically represent the kids as appropriate. I.e. small and out of the way. Currently, they distract and overwhelm as they take up so much space on the page. My off the cuff would say to put Jimmy and Sam on a different page titled, “Extras.” Jessica can be a little more prominent. I’ll defer to a UI designer figure out the best way to incorporate them. In broad general terms, I’m thinking the Google home page design will work for you.

SlapBack: Yes I agree with your points, but it is nowhere near to finalization/completion.  The interface and complete user experience will be ‘upgraded’ soon, I’ll let you know when it happens.

Chords.fm Home Startup

Chords.fm: Rip Chords From Your Favorite Songs

Geeks aren’t always the most social beings. Historically they’ve been shuffled to the background, pushed into garbage cans, duct taped to flagpoles. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for glasses wearing computer obsessed aesthetically challenged nerds. I’ve enjoyed my role in this long and rich tradition of classism and beatings. Rain Man– that was a nickname attributed to me in High School. Always spaced out, thinking about something else, somewhere else, imagination taking the lead. I still refuse to watch the movie. But years of degradation and despair have led to finding ways to beat the system. To overcome the oppressive forces of “cool”, and just for a moment, learn to resonate its aura.

These attempts can come in many ways. From Dogbert using his intellect to reverse the direction of trash can exposure, to dot com founders making loads of money, the days of geek bashing have dwindled from their golden era.

Dilbert Copyrighted Comic. (We used to be allowed to embed it!)

On the list of tricks geeks have employed to escape the clutches of meat heads and the bimbos that adorn them, is music. Not marching band music, mind you, but picking up a guitar and playing some songs. It instantly brings people around you. Whether on a stage or just messing around with friends, knowing a few tunes can quickly change one’s perceived ranking in the social ladder.

Chords.fm provides a tool to speed dweebs out of the clutches of bullies and into the admiration of peers. They built a simple Winamp Plugin that will display the chords to your favorite songs. It saves time and effort searching for the right chords online or figuring it out by ear. Once installed, click the button to chord the song. When it’s ready press play and the chords will float across the screen Guitar Hero style, and you can strum along.

Chords.fm Home

The primary flaw with this software was pointed out on a comment board. It’s a plugin for the waning Winamp, as opposed to iTunes. I have to concede that I didn’t have Winamp installed as I never had the need for it. The next flaw is that there isn’t a clear uninstall path. Maybe I deselected too many option during install but I don’t immediately see where the files even live. I didn’t see them under the Start Menu, Program Files, nor is there an uninstall option in the control panel. This bugs me, more than a little. There’s a help forum I can pick through or post to, but it appears I’m stuck with this plug-in until the 15 day trial ends. (Ultimately I found the files under Program Files/Winamp/Plugins, but who knows if there are registry entries as well. I’m not a big fan of manual uninstalls.)

Now that geeks the world round can use this plugin to increase their status I’m reminded of a story a friend relayed to me. During the audtion for the Fonz role in Happy Days, a series of cool guys were told to go up to the mirror and comb their hair. Henry Winkler, the eventual winner, allegedly walked up to the mirror, comb in hand. Instead of using the comb he just looked at himself and said, “Hey”, in the classic voice we all know. Moral of the story, he was cool enough not to make a change. Food for thought. Now if I could just get this Chords! tool uninstalled, that would be really cool.

Great review, thanks! Yes we know we need to do the uninstall thing. You’re totally right. On the list for the next release.  Working on iTunes and Media Player plugins, too, as well as a standalone version for Macs and PCs.

Chords.fm took their awesome service offline and left with nary a word. We held a moment of silence in the office in their honor, during our lunch. With everyone out of the office it must have been really quiet in there.

Startup

Iconfu: Icons for You

I came across Iconfu on a comment board I frequent from time to time, Y-Combinator. It’s a somewhat simple online tool for people to build icons for various purposes. By somewhat simple I mean that there are so many options I feel like I just walked into an art store with a bazillion different tools, canvases and paintbrushes. Being a non expert in the art arena, I look for the basic paint brush, color selector, and fill. These work without too much hassle.

The exportable formats include png, gif, and ico. Conspicuously missing from the list is jpg. Many designers feel jpg should be done away, but I wonder about the decision to exclude it. The format option is actually my favorite feature, which at any given time allows you to click the respective link and download your masterpiece.

Regarding my “somewhat simple” comment, a more thorough exploration of the site reveals more options than I would ever dream of using. Truly an impressive offering of tools, were anyone to be sophisticated enough to use them. It begs the question, will someone who’s art illiterate such as myself take the time to learn how to use them? Those who are familiar with graphic design will probably already be experts in Photoshop® or Gimp. What’s their motivation to work with this then?

But I press on, determined to make use of this new tool. It’s clear the developers spared no expense when it came to adding functionality. A brief overview includes 12 different drawing modes, 10 different tools, 17 different actions,  embedded comments, a nifty color levels graph, an animator, and a special Give Up button that causes  George Costanza to appear on the screen.

My least favorite part of Iconfu is perhaps the most important- the color selector. I have a theory about color selectors and it goes as follows: all color selectors should be banned forthright. Seeing as how there are thousands upon thousands of colors available, how is it that I’ll be able to pick the one I want with a little tool such as this one. Iconfu’s color tool is no better or worse than anyone else’s, but what I’m really looking for a a nice little box where I can enter a 6 digit hex code. (Yes I noticed a way to enter the RGB values but it’s less than obvious.) When I’m designing a website I usually spend hours trying to select colors. I use an arsenal including a color picker and various websites that tell me which colors are supposed to match the base one I start with. This effort invariably fails and I resort to using a prefabricated theme, but I digress. My plea to Iconfu, give me a box to enter the hex code and we’ll call it even.

The default size is a 16 x 16 pixel frame which happens to be the same as one needs to create the favicon.ico for a website. In the spirit of Iconfu, I attempted my own. See my current favicon which is posted here for posterity.

Icon created using Iconfu, kindly redone by Iconfu's creator (see comments)
Icon created using Iconfu, kindly redone by Iconfu’s creator (see comments)

All in all I found this tool a bit too complex for the entry level user, such as myself. I’ll give them credit for having helpful menus and even tutorials. I have to admit, for my next favicon I’m a bit more likely to use a simple man’s tool, such as favicon.cc. I’ll note that Iconfu does have the option to upgrade to attain a 48 x48 pixel frame as well as other options. The fee is as little as $2, which can only be reminiscent of my favorite line from a cult film. Reenacted and remixed here. (movie clip starts around the 1:30 mark…)

< Video removed since poster was cited for copyright violation. Drat! Go rent Better off Dead then. >

SlapBack: Thanks for the review! I agree there are perhaps too many options on the editor page, but I’m not sure if I want to factor out a “simple” mode for beginners, but it might be the way forward if I need to avoid intimidating new visitors. You’re right that colour selection is a tricky UI issue, and something I’d like to add in the future is a kind of palette thingy that prevents you from picking discordant colours. But if you want a hex field, I can give you a hex field.

Iconfu went by the wayside. A note from its founder is all that remains- “Iconfu, the world’s most popular and advanced online icon editor, has been shut down. There is nothing left but the code and a big database of free icons. The community, the spirit, the laughter around the campfire – all gone, and with them, dreams of a bigger, more iconic, Web. Others may yet succeed where I have failed. Good luck to you.”

Update per someone in the comments- Iconfu.com was sold and built from the ground up by a new team. Go check it out!