Waking me up to complain about a low battery is terrible UX

If you design a product that might wake me up in the middle of the night, you should meet the following bar: I, or someone I love, must be in danger.  Not a hypothetical “If the power goes out and if something in the house is still managing to produce CO without power” type of danger, but something more actual and imminent.

Smoke and CO detectors seem to have been designed with a severe disregard for how the customer will react to the various interaction points other than a true emergency.  I can remember several times in my adult life when a chirping detector has induced me to get out a ladder in the middle of the night and climb up to check on various possible sources of the chirp, all in a semi-alert state.

Last night, the culprit was a CO detector that happened to be plugged in to the wall in our master bedroom, perhaps about 3 meters from where I sleep.  The acoustics of the alert sound on this device seem to have been designed to make it echo and reverberate around the house, which is great for an a alarm, but again is horrible for a low battery warning.  In my efforts to find the noise that only repeated every minute or two I got out two different ladders, stood on the ladder near the upstairs smoke alarm, then the downstairs one, then climbed into the attic to check that one, then stood in the room listening for the chirp again, then up to the attic to see if maybe there was another alarm up there that I didn’t know about.  Thankfully my wife happened to look down at the right moment and correlate a chirp with this CO detector plugged in to the wall.

I know that I should have probably replaced the battery at some point, but honestly I had totally forgotten about this particular detector.  It’s one of 3 CO detectors in our house, and I’m pretty sure that it’s been 3 or 4 years since the battery was changed because it runs off house power and the battery is just for power failures.  The end result of this particular warning was that the device was unplugged and batteries removed so that we could get back to sleep.

This morning as I tried to get back to sleep I was wondering how many middle-of-the-night ladder injuries are attributable to low-battery chirps.  I’m guessing that the low battery behavior is probably design-by-regulation and that manufacturers like First Alert don’t have a lot of latitude to make this better, but I see that Nest Protect is trying to solve the UX gap, although at quite a premium on price.

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Recovering from a lost SSH Key File on Amazon EC2 Linux Instance

Recently I went to log in to an EC2 instance and I realized that I could no longer find the private key file that I needed to connect via SSH.  I looked around the Internet for recovery instructions and found some complicated pointers regarding creating a snapshot and then an AMI then using that to create a new instance.  This seemed like overkill, and I couldn’t get it to work when I tried it anyways (The new instance always stalled at 1of 2 Status Checks and I couldn’t connect).

On a whim, I decided that the key file had to be somewhere on the image and that I could probably find and replace it.  I was successful so I thought I would outline the steps here for others.

Warning, the following comes with a “Worked on my machine” guarantee, which basically means that you shouldn’t try this unless you understand what’s going on.

For the sake of keeping things straight, I’ll refer to the instance with the lost key as Instance A.

  1. Create a new instance with the same Linux build as the instance you need to access.  Create a new key pair.  Remember to actually save and back up the private key this time.  I’ll call this new instance “Instance B”.
  2. Shutdown Instance A.
  3. Detach the root volume from Instance A.  Note where it was attached, usually /dev/sda1
  4. Attach this volume on Instance B, note the mount point.  It will probably be something like /dev/sdf. Some Linux distros will actually use /dev/xvdf instead of sdf.

  5. Connect via ssh to Instance B.
  6. Run: sudo mount /dev/xvdf /mnt (using the device that was noted when you attached)
  7. cd to ‘/mnt/home/ec2-user/.ssh’  (this will be ‘/mnt/home/ubunto/.ssh’ on Ubuntu builds, may be different for other distros)
  8. Run: ‘sudo mv ./authorized_keys ./authorized_keys.old’
  9. Run: ‘sudo cp ~/.ssh/authorized_keys .’ (<- This is the magic.  We’re copying the Public Key from the .ssh dir of the currently logged in user to the correct location on the mounted volume.)
  10. ‘cd’ back to home
  11. Run: ‘sudo umount /mnt’
  12. Detach the volume from Instance B and then attach back to Instance A as /dev/sda1 (or other original mount point as noted in step 3).
  13. Now restart Instance A and you should be able to connect with SSH.
  14. After you’ve successfully connected back to Instance A, you can Terminate Instance B.

Note:
Running through sudo and doing chown and chgrp may not be necessary if your UID’s and GID’s match between Instance A and Instance B.

No I will not alter links in a 4 year old post to help you optimize search results

Hopefully this isn’t too harsh.  I received a request today to alter an old blog post in a way that I can only assume is all about Search Engine Optimization.  The communication was mostly generalized flattery with a pass at being respectful of the integrity of my writing, but not enough that I think they actually took time to read through that specific post or any of my other writing.  I figured that the initial communication and my response might be interesting to those who’ve never had interaction with SEO folks.  Names and info removed.

 


From: [removed]
To: me
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2011 18:10:32 -0400
Subject: Contact Request: Link in Blog Post

You have contact request!

Link in Blog Post
From: [removed]

Hi Rick,

I hope this message finds you well. I’m currently working on cleaning up [company name].com’s online presence and noticed you have a link to our site in your blog post. First off, thank you for finding us valuable enough to link to – we appreciate it! Part our clean-up process includes adjusting links to match the current title we’re using on our site outside of the [company name] brand name.

Your Post with Link: [link removed]

If you could please change the current link text from saying “[company name]” to “[company name] [important industry keywords]” it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for taking the time. Let me know if you have any questions on this change seeing as I fully want to respect your blog post as is as well. I look forward to hearing back!

Sincerely,

[removed]


Hello [removed],

I am not a big fan of altering links just to serve Search Engine Optimization. If your request below is really about cleaning up branding, I would gladly change the link but if I do so I would also add a nofollow tag. If [company name] prefers not to be linked to in this manner, or the original form from the blog post I wrote over 4 years ago, I’d gladly change the post to remove the link.

Just as a side note if you don’t know already, many bloggers are going to be defensive about this sort of thing. I’m not trying to be difficult, but taking time to edit a post just to serve your employer’s search rankings isn’t on my list of priorities.

I am a bit curious what sort of success rate you have with this type of request.

Regards,

Rick Hallihan

Moving Contacts From a Verizon Feature Phone to Hotmail for Windows Phone 7

First, I have to explicitly state that the following process is not endorsed or supported by Microsoft or Verizon.  I have used it a couple of times successfully, but I can’t guarantee that your phone won’t spontaneously combust or otherwise cease to function if you follow the steps below.  If you have trouble, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.

I have heard several stories lately from folks who are finally taking the plunge into the world of SmartPhones on Verizon (with the AWESOME HTC Trophy).  Some Verizon reps simply state that you can’t move contacts from the old to the new phone, but they helpfully print out a hard copy of the contacts from the old phone.  Others point to the Microsoft Article on Syncing Outlook Contacts with Windows Phone which isn’t very helpful if you don’t have or use Outlook.  I figured it would be worth putting up a post on the process I used.

The first step is to make sure your contacts are backed up with Verizon’s Backup Assistant from your old phone.  The process is different for different phones, but should be similar to the following.

On this feature phone, you select MENU, then Contacts, then Backup Assistant, then OK, and finally Backup Now. If you have not used Backup Assistant previously there are a few extra steps to set up a password, but they are pretty self explanatory. Verizon also has a great deal of documentation on their website at http://verizonwireless.com/backupassistant

1contacts2backupassist

3loading4backupnow

Once your phone shows “Pending: 0” that indicates that all of your contacts have successfully been updated to the web.  You then need to sign in at http://verizonwireless.com/backupassistant 

If you haven’t already signed up for Verizon’s online account access, there will be extra steps here.

6signin

7signin2

 

After signing in you should see a screen listing your contacts.  Click on “Select All”

8selectall

Now click the drop-down next to “Select All” and select “Export Contacts”

9exportcontacts-closeup

You will be prompted to select a file download type, select “Outlook (CSV)”.  We’re not actually going to use Outlook, but this is a file format that Hotmail can import.

selectfile

Your browser may prompt you for permission to download the file, select “Save” and make a note of the file’s location.

downloadprompt

Once you have the MyContacts.csv file saved, go to http://hotmail.com and log in.  You will need to use the Primary Live Id that was first associated with your Windows Phone during setup.  From the main screen, select “Contacts”

a1hotmail

On the contacts screen, select “Manage” then “Import” on the Menu. 

ManageImport

On the next screen select “Outlook”.  Again, we’re not actually using Outlook, that’s just the common language that both Backup Assistant and Hotmail know how to use.

a2importscreen

Next click the “Browse” button and locate your MyContacts.csv file, then click the “Import contacts” button.

a3selectfile

If everything has worked as expected your Hotmail Contacts should now include all the phone number from your previous phone.

a4success

A few points to note.  If you are using a Live Id that is not a Hotmail Address, you can still log in at Hotmail with that Live Id to access the contacts section.  Also, if you have been using Hotmail for a long time your Contacts folder might have a large number of entries that you no longer want.  The web interface has some good options for cleaning up and combining duplicate contacts, and is also a good place to sort through and clean out unwanted contacts.  Any changes you make on the web will be synced to your new Windows Phone.

Gateway CX2620 Battery is Now Charging

My trusty CX2620 has been serving the family well for almost 3 years now, but for about the last year the battery hasn’t held a charge that would last more than 5 minutes.  I had attributed this to a bad battery, and with replacements going for around $150, I wasn’t going to sink that much money into an obviously aging laptop. 

A combination of events recently lined up to get my laptop battery back in action.  Our original power adapter’s cord had broken through the insulation around the place where the DC cord enters the adapter brick, so we ordered an el-cheapo replacement from Ebay.  This new adapter had the same specs as the original, and we managed to continue along, still not able to hold a charge, but functional while plugged in.

This new adapter only lasted a couple of weeks before giving out entirely right before we were going on a trip.  We decided against getting another cheap adapter, and put in a order for the original OEM spec adapter, to be shipped to one of the destinations on our trip.  When it wasn’t there when we arrived I checked the order status to find that it was backordered for another 4 weeks.  Since we were suffering from laptop withdrawal, we ended up running out to Circuit City and picking up a Kensington Universal Notebook Power Adapter (K33404US).

Well, the new adapter is a 90 watt adapter, vs. the original 60 watt.  Low and behold, the battery will now hold a charge almost as good as when it was new!