Why You Should Avoid Mass-Emailing Using the "To" Field

This may seem like an obvious blog post to most readers. If that’s the case, just move along, nothing to see here.

However, if you’re wondering why people have been giving you snappy responses and a stern look when you include them on mass emails where all recipients are in the “To:” field, please take a seat. I’ll explain why you’ll find yourself on the naughty step if you do it again.

First, when emailing dozens of people at once, you’re sharing the recipients’ email addresses with everyone else. Everyone, including aunt Wendy whose old computer is crawling with malware and nasty things that can harvest their address book. And including that careless salesperson who is quite happy to add me to their spammy mailing list even though I’ve never agreed to it. If you think that’s acceptable behaviour, then you should have no problem with me taking your personal mobile number and plastering it all over the city, right?

And secondly, in particular when you’re in a business environment, it looks awfully unprofessional to email customers or prospects openly. If you’re sharing a prospect’s information with no regards for their privacy, why should they trust you with information like credit card details? You’ve lost a sale right there.

Do yourself a favour and learn to use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field of your email client when sending group emails. Even better, use proper email marketing software (Campaign Monitor, MailChimp and many more) and present yourself like a real professional.

Note: I’ve created this post to ensure I can send this link to email marketers and friends who don’t understand why it’s inappropriate to send mass emails this way. Feel free to link to this post if you also need to explain it to someone.

Amazing launch party cake

Alfred App: 0.7 launch cake

It would be an understatement to say we’ve got great friends – they’re downright awesome! For our end-of-summer BBQ, which was also a bit of a deadline/launch party for the Alfred Powerpack, Lee made us an Alfred bowler hat shaped cake!

What better way to celebrate having been recluse shut-ins for months, working away, than by having a great day with friends? Even the rain stayed away for most of the day.

More photos coming soon, I’m sure, but I had to share this one!

[Photo credit: Michael Dales on Ember]

Three Reasons Why the Mac Community Makes Me Happy

As some of you know, in recent months, Andrew and I have been working on Alfred, our very own Mac productivity app. It’s been exciting, sometimes tough, but definitely enlightening. And finally, the fruit of our labour, the Powerpack, is nearly ready to be released.

We’ve met and talked to tons of Mac users, developers and bloggers. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a talk on social networking for business at the Apple Store in Cambridge, meeting more recent Mac converts.

While I’ve been a Mac user since the late 80’s (thanks grandpa for the hand-me-downs!), it’s only in the past few years that there has been enough of a community for it to really become exciting – which brought me to make these observations.

The enthusiasm of Mac geeks is boundless

This energy could have something to do with Apple’s approach – superlative “everything changes” descriptions – or with the feeling of being a trailblazer by always being on the hunt for a shiny thing more beautiful, more efficient and more undiscovered than the last shiny thing.

Sometimes, I admit, Mac users (myself included) love our gadgetry and possibly annoy those who don’t feel so strongly about their computer setup. But then, if that’s our personality, it’ll be either Macs, cars, stamp collecting or some other obsessive compulsive passion.

From the more practical angle, we spend an obscene number of hours a week at the computer so why not make it an environment that’s a pleasure to use?

So we just celebrate it! We post pictures of our desks on Lifehacker’s workspace Flickr pool, we publish our favourite apps on iusethis and show off our gadgets to anyone who’ll listen. (Or is it just me?)

A great willingness to contribute and participate

As our Mac productivity app Alfred is growing, I can’t begin to count how many offers to beta test, help out and write about it we’ve received. Sure, some are self-serving and coming from bloggers who are mainly looking for an exclusive sneak peek into the app, but all have some sense of altruism, where the ultimate objective is to make the Mac community better.

We have asked for feedback on Twitter, with questions like “Which colour scheme do you use?” to “Who’s still on Leopard and why?” Simple yet important questions, to which we sometimes received in excess of 100 responses within a few minutes from posting. It’s difficult to express how useful this instant feedback has been.

Aside from the practical or technical responses we received, the general chatter about the app and positive comments on blogs and on Twitter have been the fuel to our long evenings and weekends of work. Looking back at the Alfred favourites page is all the motivation we need to keep going sometimes.

The openness of Mac developers

I’m sure most people have worked this out but I’m not a developer, so it’s news to me. Through exchanging with Mac developers who use Alfred, meeting nice folks at CambMacDev and other events, it’s become clear that most Mac developers are willing to lend a hand, share some useful tips or offer feedback.

Even as the non-developer that I am, I’m enjoying the exchanges, gaining some great business insight that will help me shape the future of Alfred. We’re lucky not to be dealing with the Russian roulette that is the iPhone App Store, but there’s still a lot to learn about the Mac ecosystem.

Overall, it’s just a great fun ride to date, and it’s only the beginning! Who knows where the next few years will take us…

[Image credit: Itty Bitty Mac Earrings by PixelParty on Etsy]

Competition Winners: Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers and More

My oh my, you’ve submitted some great gaming stories from the 80’s and 90’s for my competition last week!

Clearly, we all remember the uncertainty of whether a game would load successfully or not. Blowing into the NES cartridge hoping that we could get the dust out. Patiently waiting for games to load from a tape. As Simon points out, while the games and 3D demos were the best thing out there back then and are still brilliant in our child-like memories, it’s probably best not to revisit them now – it just isn’t the same. That still doesn’t stop a few of us from threatening to get our old console from the loft or find one on eBay.

After reading through all of your entries, I picked winners using a cat and a Random Number Generator (Disclaimer: no cats were harmed in the winner selection), ensuring that those who’d contributed great entries (like photos!) got an additional chance at winning.

So with no further ado, here are the winners! *drum roll*

ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers

Tom Music wins for his many awesome comments, but in particular for the late night sneaking to play Super Mario 3 without getting caught – and feeling like a stealthy ninja for it.

More info about the ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speakers.

Creative Zen 16GB in special edition red with EP-3NC earphones

Max, at comment #17, was brave enough to post a picture of life in the 80’s. For that alone, a prize was deserved! A patient sibling, Max seemed to even let the other kids have a go – as the eldest, I was rarely that nice to my sisters. (see comment #18 for my little sister’s views of games back then) 😉
More info about the Zen 16GB and the EP-3NC earphones.

Thanks to Evelynne and Sherlyn at Creative Labs who made this competition possible! Also, a big thank you to everyone who participated and don’t go too far – there will be more stuff to give away in the coming weeks/months if you all behave yourselves.

Competition: Win Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers and More

I was recently approached by Creative Labs, who offered me goodies to use in a competition here on That Canadian Girl. The part of their pitch that caught my attention (and made me laugh) was the mention of Sound Blaster sound cards. Do you remember them? Back in the 80’s? I do. This gave me an idea…

The 80’s was such a defining era with the birth of computer video games, Nintendo’s first NES, bad permed hairdos, leggings and shoulder pads… Ok, let’s forget the fashion of the 80’s, it wasn’t its best asset.

Which brought me to scheme this little competition. Want to win one of these two prizes?

Tell me about your best gaming memory from the 80’s

What’s your best gaming or technology-related memory from the 80’s (or early 90’s)? Leave a comment below – including pictures or videos of yourself in those days will not only make you more likely to get a prize (your entry will count twice), you will also be full of win! You have until end of day, Wednesday 21st July to enter, at which point I’ll announce the winners and share the best entries. 🙂

Win ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speakers

Creative Labs ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth Speakers

Win a Creative Zen 16GB in special edition red with EP-3NC earphones

Creative Zen 16GB MP3 player and EP-3NC headphones

Below are the terms of the competition if you’re new to it, otherwise you’ve got a week to give me your best 80’s stories. Good luck!
Read More

The Unavoidable Apple iPad Review

In a “sun set to rise tomorrow morning” announcement, I can now confirm that, as a convert to the Church of Steve, I bought an iPad on the day of launch.

While it may seem like a given to you, wise readers, I had somehow convinced myself in the two days before launch that I did not need a shiny iPad and would wait a few months to buy one. Of course, by 10:30am on the day of launch, after watching the stream of excited tweets from those who had bought one, I grabbed my car keys and heading into town to pick up a 3G iPad.

In order to put it through its paces, I decided to leave my laptop at home a few weeks ago while we were on holiday for a week. The iPad would be the closest thing to a computer I’d have access to. (Well, Andrew did have his MacBook, should all hell break loose and access to our webservers was needed for some reason, but the aim was to steer clear of it.)

First observations

Battery life

As soon as I opened the box and sync’ed the iPad with iTunes for the first, I simply couldn’t put it down. After a day and a half of non-stop use, the battery still had plenty of juice. Since then, the battery seems to have gotten even better with a few full cycles.

Keyboard

I expected the worst of the keyboard, and it’s nearly as bad as I thought. I can type at a fair pace on it, almost as fast as I do on a normal keyboard. It’s miles better than my first eee PC, which had a ridiculously awkward keyboard. The hiccup is that I have to look at my fingers. As a result, I’ll be getting an external Bluetooth keyboard of some sort soon.

eBook reading

I left for the holiday with a half-read paperback of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I knew I’d finish reading it within mere days, but I was too late to grab a copy of the two following titles (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) before going away so I picked up a copy for the Amazon Kindle, a bit wary of reading on screen.

It turned out to be a great read while indoors or outside in the evening. Even with polarised sunglasses out in the sun, it was just about usable – though only in landscape mode as the screen “disappeared” when in portrait mode, as is often the case with polarised lenses. I wouldn’t have been keen to take it to sandy beaches or too close to the pool (but then I don’t do beaches anyway!) whereas I wouldn’t have been too fussed to see a paperback get wet or covered in sunscreen.

The Kindle reader is, to date, my favourite of the available eBook readers. It has a huge selection of popular, current titles and all paid books I’ve downloaded to date have been well formatted. Much of the Project Gutenberg books are also available, but generally not very well laid out.

It probably won’t replace paperback novels on holiday, but certainly will be the end of carrying books – whether business or leisure reading – on long train journeys.

iPhone apps

I didn’t have very high expectations for upscaled iPhone apps, but most look good enough that they’re usable. They’re obviously no match for the iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the larger real estate, but until these become more common, many of the games and useful apps work fine in 2x mode. Some of the games would benefit from simply rotating to be the “right” way around for an iPad used in its protective case, and are progressively being updated.

3G functionality

I can’t really comment on using 3G as the Apple Store didn’t have the Three SIMs when I came in store, but I can already tell that it’ll be very useful. There certainly isn’t ubiquitous wifi around here, so 3G will make the iPad useful when travelling around the UK.

Favourite iPad apps

[Note: None of the links are directly to iTunes, since iTunes link are a bit annoying. Most links are to the developer site or app announcement.]

  • Evernote is incredibly swish in iPad version and as useful as ever
  • The Amazon Kindle app makes for easy reading
  • NewsRack is an excellent local RSS reader, sync’ed with my Google Reader account
  • Weather Pro HD looks fabulous and provides an overdose of weather data my husband really loves
  • Things, a to-do list app, looks great if you need a slick but simple app that can sync with your Mac and iPhone’s lists, though I admit that I haven’t bought this one
  • GoodReader and DropBox work brilliantly hand-in-hand – find the file you put in your DropBox, then view it in GoodReader

Much to my disappointment, I’ve yet to find a Twitter client I’m satisfied with. Tweetdeck is hopeless and crashes regularly, Twitterific makes poor use of space and the other options also haven’t won my heart.

I also hope a grocery delivery company like Tesco creates a good iPad app for food ordering – however, as they can barely get the web-based ordering to look good, I’m not getting my hopes up just yet.

Favourite iPad games

Well, what? You didn’t think I’d gone all grown up on you, did you? Of course, I’ve always loved iPhone games, from the simplest to the quirkiest, so some of my first downloads were game apps.

Some of the early HD games I picked up include:

There are also a few good contenders for 2x gaming (using the double size button to play iPhone games on a larger scale), including Fare City and Fruit Ninja. If either of these come out with a gameplay variation for iPhone, I have no doubt they’ll be great fun.

Where I view it being useful

In the past few years, I’ve often lugged my very heavy MacBook Pro in its (lovely but also heavy) brown leather and pink satin Lin & Leo bag to London for the day. Getting home at night, I’d feel completely lopsided with a sore back. Yet, my laptop would have had very little use in the meetings – so little in fact that I wondered whether to take it at all.

With the iPad, equipped with the super-useful DropBox app, I can have access to all the key files I need that day – just in case. With the SIM giving me Internet access anywhere, I can stay on top of things in a way that’s more comfortable than by pecking at the iPhone keyboard. By leaving my phone alone, it also means that I don’t burn down the (less impressive) iPhone battery and can still call home on the return journey to ask my husband to put a bottle of wine in the fridge.

Beyond navel-gazing at my own needs, I can see the iPad being a game changer for people who like to browse the web while watching TV – which seems to be most of my generation. It’s a cracking screen for browsing and effortless to use as there’s no learning curve for software.

I’d be curious to hear about the favourite apps and most interesting use you’ve been making of the iPad. What drove you crazy Mac people to get one too? If you don’t have one, do you think it’s all hot air or are you green with envy?

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to iOS4 for the iPad, to see how much multitasking and the new fine touches we’re seeing on the iPhone will add to the user experience.

BarCamb 3: Bringing Cambridge together with geekery

BarCamb 3 in Cambridge

On Monday morning, my arms, legs and brain felt like jelly. There was a sleeping bag and some schwag strewn across the living room. And I couldn’t stop smiling. Must’ve been the morning after a BarCamp!

For those who don’t know, the past few months have been spent organising BarCamb with a few other volunteers. The aim of BarCamp events is to bring people from a variety of fields of interests together to do short talks, exchange experiences and generally geek about. For more on this, I’ve written a BarCamp Virgin’s guide last year.

Since this weekend, I’ve recovered so I thought I’d gather my thoughts and write a wrap-up post before my goldfish brain forgets all the best bits.

This weekend included:

  • 54 presentations
  • 10 sponsors
  • 26 trays of sandwiches
  • 45 litres of fizzy drinks
  • 30 pizzas
  • 100 BarCamb mugs & tshirts
  • 1 episode of Doctor Who on the big screen
  • 2 knackered organisers & some sleepy volunteers
  • half a dozen games of Werewolf
  • a few months of preparation
  • 80 or so people who hopefully had a great time!

As an organiser, I attended more sessions this time than with the previous two BarCamps I organised. Probably mainly due to having a fantastic co-organiser, Lee, and a brilliant venue provided by Red Gate in the Cambridge Business Park.

When we kicked off the event, I asked for a show of hands to see how many newbies we had – I was both thrilled and worried that we had nearly 50% newbies. Why worried? Because usually newbies are a bit nervous of presenting and leave the board looking a bit bare for the first day. I couldn’t have been any more wrong because as soon as I invited people to put their topics up on the board, it was like the IKEA stampede and I had to flee the area!

Saturday went by like a blur, attending a few good sessions, feeding over 70 ravenous BarCampers at lunch, more sessions in the afternoon including my own on baked-in virality. As we stretched into the evening, it was comedy to see a group huddle into one of the rooms to religiously watch Doctor Who over pizza and beer.

As all good BarCamps must do, the evening turned into a night of Werewolves, Settlers and the occasional snorer in the corner…

On Sunday, the turnout was smaller but the sessions were still great. We finished mid-afternoon, cleared up the Red Gate office and many of the survivors headed to the pub. (I was pooped, I went straight home!)

You can find a few of the presentations of the weekend on Slideshare, with more coming soon, I’m sure. Some of the presentations topics are listed here, and we’ll aim to add the full list in the near future. There are also some great (and some not so great) photos in the BarCamb Flickr group.

A few attendees asked whether Cambridge Geek Nights were being revived and, in the light of how much interest there is, I suppose we might just have to do that! Beers, geekery and chatting coming soon to a Cambridge pub near you.

[Photo credit: Networking through the day, photo by Martin88, All rights reserved]

South by SouthWest Interactive: Take 3

It’s Wednesday night. Well, no. It’s Thursday morning 4:30am in my head & body. But it’s Wednesday night in Austin, Texas.

I’m at South by SouthWest Interactive for the third year running, having arrived, via far too many security gates and angry Customs people, a couple of hours ago.

Tomorrow should be fairly laid back, but Friday, everything kicks into high gear for 5 days of intense conference presentations and panels, evening parties and non-stop meeting new people and seeing old friends.

As old Ottawa friend and Austin roommate Kelly suggests, no need to unfollow me on Twitter, you can just mute me for the weekend if you’re not interested in details of my every move during SXSW.

I’ll report as well as I can from panels, serendipitous meetings over the week and will hopefully post some pics – or at least link to other kind photographers’ shots.

If you’re also in Austin, do tweet me (@vero) and we’ll meet up somewhere, somehow.

My new pal Alfred: Mac quicklaunch application

The past few days have been just a bit of a mad ride, following the launch of our Mac quicklaunch application, called Alfred, which garnered +2500 users in its first 48 hours.

We created the Alfred App to fill our own need: A quicklaunch tool that can search your local computer as well as the web, that is fast, looks good and, most importantly, doesn’t chew through memory like a hungry hyena.

After some intense development weeks, we launched it on Sunday night, while watching the Canada-USA Olympics hockey final (wooh!). With the intention of sharing it with a few friends for a “quiet beta”, we mentioned it on Twitter and went off to bed.

Little did we know, on Monday and Tuesday, the stats were on fiiiire with over a thousand downloads per day, great feedback via Twitter and a bucketload of feature requests by email.

Users have described us as a perfect Quicksilver replacement which, as a long-time user of Quicksilver, is a true honour. It was with much sadness that I read at the end of 2007 that developer Nicholas Jitkoff would no longer be evolving Quicksilver (considering I recommended it to every new Mac user I met) so when Andrew suggested that we develop our own flavour of quick launcher, I was over the moon! Designer Ollie Kav created the fab look of the site, working closely with us.

If you fancy trying it out, you can go to Alfredapp.com to download the beta version – the main reason we need your email address is that we haven’t yet built in an auto-updater so this will allow us to let you know when the next version is available.

We’ll launch an Alfred blog in the near future to keep a roadmap of features and let users know how things are progressing, but for now, you can keep us company on Twitter!

Sainsbury's self-checkouts fail on so many level

Not so long ago, having had a pretty good day at work, we managed to leave the office at a reasonable hour. We popped down to Sainsbury’s to quickly pick up food for a few days. Before we knew it, our shopping trolley was full! When it came to pay, the very few cashiers were busy.

A smiley young staff waved us over to the self-checkouts. Hesitating, we pointed at our full trolly, but she laughed and said “I’ll be there to help!” Sure you will…

It was an experience, to say the least. We were held hostage by the constantly unhappy self-checkout, which seemed to be randomly shouting Tourette-style, “Unexpected item in bagging area!”, “Please remove item!” and so on, so forth. By the third time we had to wait for a staff member to come and authorise a bag of lettuce, I begged her to PLEASE stay until we were done. (Please, mummy, don’t go!) My patience was wearing thin and Andrew was making barely-joking threats that the next unexpected item in the bagging area would be his foot.

On the way out, we talked through the user experience of these nightmare machines…

The objective of the machines is to reduce the amount of cashiers tied to tills, so that staff costs can be reduced, and making more efficient use of space so that 4 self-checkouts can be fitted in the space of two traditional cashier areas. For each section of 4 self-checkouts, there is – at least in theory – one member of staff there to help people with the process.

Sainsbury’s denies that anyone has been made unemployed as a result of the installation of the machines, and that the now excess cashier staff have been moved to ‘restocking and cleaning’ duties. (Source: Daily Mail, 5th March 2009)

Our local Sainsbury’s was renovated in September, coinciding with the opening of a large Tesco in the centre of town. Four tills were replaced with ten self-checkouts. There certainly weren’t four eager staff members looking to help the self-checkout victims.

Even as the highly tech savvy person that I am, I’ve been bewildered by the checkouts. As Bashford points out, the machines speak Engrish at best and are very temperamental. Every item MUST be put down in a bag and weighed before the next item can be scanned – this becomes a slow, laborious process when the bagged salad doesn’t weigh enough and the checkout complains.

To say the least, this is a first world problem on par with having to use my old iPhone while waiting for my broken one to be replaced on insurance claim. I realise that it’s a pathetic thing to moan about when Chile’s just been rocked to its core by an earthquake. Petty, petty, petty me.

That aside, the way I see it is that a team of engineers designed this software, another company whitelabelled it for Sainsbury’s, then a business manager decided on what scale to roll it out in stores. At what point did their standards slip so low that it was deemed good enough to replace real people? Granted, our local staff wasn’t always smiling or terribly knowledgeable, but they were human and able to deal with unexpected issues. (A nice lady even shared her tips for great pancakes. “Mix the butter into the batter so you don’t have to butter the pan!” I’d like to see a computer give me a tip that smart!)

Unless stores offer a real benefit, like further discounts or faster, more reliable software, when going through the self-checkout, consumers will continue to feel let down by the hellish experience. Personally, I’ve taken to ordering food online from Tesco – not a perfect experience either, but certainly a simpler one!

Next week, I might go stand by the checkouts and ask consumers what they think. Or maybe I’ll ask you here… What’s your take on replacing checkout staff with machines?

[Image credit: BBC News article, Rex Features picture]