Archived entries for Tech Support Tips

Wireframing with Balsamiq Mockups

Thanks to Pras for the pointer to Balsamiq’s Mockups application. I was sketching wireframes quickly within minutes of finding the product.

I believe in low-fidelity sketching at the wireframe stage. Balsamiq makes it easy with its large library of UI control stencils, its auto-complete driven keybroad stencil selection, on-screen snap-to alignment guides, a powerful inspector for precise control when rarely needed, and, more of all, a simplicity that makes it easy to start sketching or tweaking your mockup immediately.

The output is Balsamiq files, PGN or flattened image files, and XML. Because it exports XML it’s possible to use Balsamiq as a programmatic ingredient for downstream engineering systems and tools (such as partially automating the creation of detailed functional specifications, or using it as source for the automated building on the actual interface.

There is a rumor that they’ll be announcing clickable output files shortly, which might allow for the fast creation of clickable wireframes for usability testing (and other) needs.

I haven’t noticed, but it should be possible to customize what’s in the included UI Widget Library to a) take on a different visual skin; b) reflect new or fewer interface widget options.

All and all, I’m pretty intrigued. It seems there’s a market for consumer-friendly ways to design interfaces. Once more people catch on how to much fun we’re having, they’ll want a shot at designing and realizing all the apps they’re dreaming up, too!

I’d love to hear what you think of this approach. Have you tried it? Does it work for your teams”

Balsamiq Mockups For Desktop - * New Mockup

iPhone Volume Too Low, with Partial Fix

I don’t remember noticing this issue in the first several months of owning an iPhone, but lately it seems that the volume is way too low. Even when I max the volume many songs and podcasts are difficult to hear well. I suspected the ear buds were at fault, but lately I’ve been thinking that it might be software. I played around a bit and found that going into Settings > iPod on the iPhone and setting Sound Check to Off (and disabling Volume Limit for good measure) makes things louder.

I’m still not thrilled with the ear buds, and am shopping for new ones, but the software fix was a big help.

Leopard 10.5.1 Update Breaks Cisco VPN, with Fix

I updated my Mac to Leopard a few weeks ago. All good.

Yesterday I ran the update to 10.5.1. Not so good: It knocked out my Cisco VPN client. Permanently. Rebooting did not help. Reinstalling did not help. (I rely on VPN non-stop, even to retrieve my office email.)

So today I poked around for a while and after some deep searching found the fix. It’s easy, and worked for me on the first try. The solution was on Anders Brownworth’s site (thanks Anders!), and I’m reprinting an excerpt here in the hopes that it will make it easier to find for somebody else.

If you are running Cisco’s VPNClient on Mac OSX, you might be familiar with (or tormented by) “Error 51: Unable to communicate with the VPN subsystem”. The simple fix is to quit VPNClient, open a Terminal window, (Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal) and type the following:

sudo /System/Library/StartupItems/CiscoVPN/CiscoVPN restart

and give your password when it asks. This will stop and start the “VPN Subsystem”, or in other words restart the CiscoVPN.kext extension.

Rounding Off the Edges

In Alex Russell’s latest blog post, When Utility Isn’t Enough, he writes that he’s “starting to focus more and more on the ’sharp edges’ of the web development experience.” I think he’s suggesting that we — tool developers and envelope pushers — might best spend our time reducing the pain points instead of always chasing the latest advancement. I agree. He continues that:

“rounding off the sharp edges is an exercise in usability: things are only useable (sic) when they do what you expect them to. A system that hurts you more than you expect isn’t useable.

I share his conclusion that “sacred cows and continually sunk costs” can’t continue forever.

Come to think of it, this is probably one of the chief issues of the past year, and forward too. A common manifestation of this syndrome is the ongoing struggle between “because it’s the standard” and “because it works.”

Flickr Gifts For All

Heather Champ announced yesterday on the Flickr Blog good news for Flickr users Past, Present, and Future. If you’re an existing regular user, your upload quote rose from 20mb to 100mb. If you’re an existing Pro user, your upload quote rose from 2GB to Infinity. If you’re not a current Flickr user, it just got easier for people to gift accounts to you – and no longer just upgrades to pro.

Thank you Flickr!

Tip: Disable PDF Display in Firefox (Use Reader Instead)

Erik Bruchez on the XForms Everywhere blog walks through the steps necessary to make pdf files open in your dedicated pdf viewer instead of in Firefox. He also does a nice job summarizing why you’d want to do this:

  • The Adobe Acrobat Reader plugin, like any Adobe application, takes ages to start. While it is starting, your browser is frozen and you can’t do anything else.

  • When it doesn’t work, it crashes your entire browser, or just freezes it (the case with Adobe Acrobat 6.0 and Firefox).

  • When it works, usual browser shortcuts don’t work, including those to close your window or tab, navigate between tabs, go back and forward, etc.

  • To make things worse, there is really no reliable warning when you follow a hyperlink that you are going to open a PDF file. So you hang, crash or freeze without any courtesy notice.



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