Pew Pew Laser Blog

Code. Glass art. Games. Baking. Cats. From Seattle, Washington and various sundry satellite locations.

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A couple of weeks ago, Woot launched a re-design of their website. Woot is known for selling just one thing a day - usually a deeply discounted electronics gadget. Nearly all e-commerce sites live or die by conversion rates - the percentage of visitors who purchase something. I would expect that Woot is no exception. So I wonder if the new site design has had an effect on their conversions. - November 2005 Above is a screenshot of Woot's previous design. (Full disclosure - I had to combine a couple of images from the Wayback Machine to get that exact image, but what you see is a fair representation.) If I'm interpreting the results from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine correctly, this design had been in service since March of 2005. This image is a slightly compressed version of what's visible in my browser window; you can click the image to see it at full-size.

One thing about that page probably jumps right out at you - the "I Want One" button. It's big, it's orange, and it's surrounded by white space. It's friendly-looking, and you probably want to click it - just to see what will happen next. That's the call to action button - and it's the critical first phase of the "buying something" funnel. - January 2009 Above is a screenshot from January 22nd, 2009 showing Woot's new design. Again, this represents what's visible in my browser window, and clicking will open a full-size screen shot. The new design certainly is slicker and more modern looking. I notice some detail-work attempting to highlight important parts of the site. But I would bet that the Discussions and the Ads on the page are detracting from the main content of the page.

Most importantly, the "I Want One" button seems to stick out less than with the old design, and I find myself less compelled to click it. In fact, I think the Discussions box is drawing a lot of attention away from "I Want One". As the eye reads left to right, it naturally slides right over the button and on to Discussions.

As a sidenote, it really bothers me that this new design doesn't fit in my browser window. You see, I do have a fancy-pants wide-screen monitor, but I don't let my web browser use all of that real estate. Firefox runs in a smaller window so that I can see other stuff beside it - important stuff like Dreamweaver, my Palm Desktop, and File Explorer. Each web page gets only 950 pixels of width, and 855 pixels of height before the scrollbars appear. The new Woot design demands 1096 pixels of width; any smaller than that, and out comes the hated horizontal scrollbars. Listen up web designers - even if my monitor is capable of displaying a certain resolution, you're not going to get all of it. Consider that even if a visitor runs their browser at full screen, you've got all of chrome and sidebars getting dibs on those pixels. (The bookmarks sidebar is very popular in some demographics.) I know that most statistics report screen resolution (Google Analytics, for sure), but I really wish they'd report available viewport size instead.

So, here's what I'd like to know? Did Woot test before they redesigned? The question isn't "Does page layout and design affect conversion rates?", but "How much?" and "Am I losing customers?".

Video Round-Up.


What? You say I'm too busy to write a proper blog? No, never. I just thought you'd enjoy these internet videos:

Well worth the bandwidth, yes?

1 comment(s).

Geek Date.


On Friday night, the husband and I went to see Jonathan Coulton, singer / songwriter of the famed internet ballad Code Monkey.

Paul and Storm opened for Joco, and they were fantastic. I hadn't heard of them before; other than the husband telling some nonsensical story about P&S vs JoCo in some kind of Iron Chef-esqe songster showdown. They're great; hilarious and nerd-core. Check out their website and cast your vote for the Secretary of Geek Affairs.

I really enjoyed Coulton's set too. I'd never paid much attention to Skullcrusher Mountain before, and certain lyrics had me busting out in giggles. Everyone helped sing the Re: Your Brains refrain, and all the waving electronics devices (lighter-style) were beautiful during Still Alive.

I was glad I wore my boots to the theater - it was frickin' freezing. I didn't get to play DS with anyone, though. I guess we'll just have to go to PAX.

Twitters are no Substitute for Blogs.


Have you been considering putting Twitter (or something similar) on your blog? Because just sitting down to write a proper blog takes too much time? Twitters aren't quite an exact replacement for blogs. I suggest that you consider the following.

First, make sure that visitors will see your Twitters as new content. Put them in the main content section on your page, instead of the rarely noticed sidebars.

Your return visitors are expecting whole blogs anyway. Mightn't they be disappointed with the quick but often random thoughts coming out of your Twitter?

Consider how your visitors will comment on your Twitters. Hint: They won't want to go through the effort of signing up for a Twitter account to do so.

Lastly, you know all of those "@someoneelse" Twitters that comment on someone else's Twitter? They don't make a lick of sense to your blog visitors. Try to find some way to hide them.

All in all, if the problem is that you can't write a long blog, the solution might not be Twitter. Just write a short blog - just a little bit of fluff about what you're thinking. Or if you want to get daring; just blog what you would have Twittered.

1 comment(s).

Soup Has Returned.


Finally! The new soup joint at the bottom of my office building opened. They're a bit cheaper than the old joint, and they offer a full sandwich menu too. I had some Crab and Mushroom soup on Thursday. It was missing a bit of something, but I'll go back. It's just so convenient to get lunch without leaving the building.

Also, if you don't watch E's The Soup, you're missing some high-potency funny in your life. Check it out.

A Lament.


I am suspicious of the relationships between video game publishers and the many organizations in the video game press. It seems to me that there exist far too many cozy relationships between most reviewing organizations and publishing organizations.

I've been an EGM subscriber for many years, and that publication has always worked conscientiously to create a culture where reviewers could give accurate scores (good or bad); independent of the advertising that had been purchased in their pages. They've written trustworthy reviews with accurate and specifically described the features, pros and cons of the game under review. In fact, EGM (and it's sister website is the only video game magazine that I trust.

I have read other video game magazines in the past, and I found them lacking. Their coverage breadth was too shallow, and too many reviews were positive to the point of straining credibility. Also, there were far too many glossy shots of bosomy “hotties” - which I find irritating and disrespectful to the reader. The other magazines were not for me.

Alas, last week EGM and were sold from ZiffDavis, and the new owner has shuttered EGM, and let go much of the staff. Without EGM, it seems that Penny Arcade (a game-focused webcomic) will be my only remaining trustworthy source of game reviews. In addition to the webcomic, the writer Jerry Holkins shares his thoughts on video games that catch his fancy. I find my tastes run quite similar to his; I've purchased (and loved) Puzzle Quest and The World Ends With You pretty much on his say-so.

Seven Best Capers.


Wired's Threat Level has a round up of The Seven Best Capers of 2008. Our local favorite, The Snohomish Smokescreen, is also a favorite of the article. I also like The Washington-Jackson Switcheroo; the ATM owners ought to be a little culpable in this easily preventable scheme.

Back that Sweet Data on Up.


A few months ago, I finally sprung for an external hard drive for data back-ups - a slick 320G drive w/ USB and Firewire connections. I can't have over a decade's worth of code, photos and music vanish. With my drive, I had wanted:

I did have a little trouble getting everything to play nicely; mostly with regards to the file system for the drive. The potential file systems were HFS (native to Mac - but which WinXP won't read), NTFS (native to Windows - but which OSX can't write to) and FAT32 (which both Mac and XP can read and write to - but is ideal for neither).

I had to give up on using Time Machine - apparently TM will only use an HFS drive. When I used OS X's Disk Utility to create an both an HFS partition and a MS-DOS partition on the same drive, XP kept seeing the drive as "unallocated" (un-formatted). Even after the solution presented below, the Disk Utility was unable to split the partition into two.

With HFS and NTFS out, that left FAT32. Unfortunately, WinXP won't format drives larger than 250G as FAT32. But the hubby tipped me off to these steps.In summary:

  1. Use XP's Disk Management utility to partition, but not format the drive. This utility is very well hidden. It's in Control Panels> Administrative Tools> Computer Management. Take a deep breath, then drill into Storage, and there's Disk Management.
  2. Download Ridgecrop's fat32format command line utility to format as fat32 - it's super zippy fast.

This process gave me a single FAT32 partition that both XP and the Mac can read and write to. The only thing safer would be some off-site storage.

PSA: There are only 2 kinds of hard drives out there - those that have crashed, and those that will. What's your data recovery plan?

What Did I Say About the Taunting?


Snowy Backyard As we were driving home from some lovely half-price gift card shopping, we started getting some rain with hard middles hitting our windshield. The husband boldly proclaimed that it wasn't remotely cold enough to stick. The snow, which did not like being taunted in this manner, quickly set it's mind to sticking. This picture illustrates the current state of our backyard.

The UW weather guy says that it'll rain shortly, and take care of all the snow. I sure hope so...

1 comment(s).

Back Off the Wagon.


I have started a new live of indentured servitude to an anthropomorphized raccoon. Santa Claus brought me Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Nintendo Wii. I did some fishing, paid off my first mortgage, and had my house re-modeled. Would any of you like to visit my town? Let me know - I've got peaches.

For the rest of you, perhaps this will be interesting: Big Fish Games is offering two free downloadable puzzle games for PC, and 50% off any other game. Go to and enter your email address.

Edith Wrap-up.


Remember the saga of Edith Macefield? She's the little old Ballard lady whose house was being eaten by a L.A. Fitness and a Trader Joes. She hadn't wanted to sell to developers, and eventually passed away in her home, as she wished. There was a rumor that she'd willed her house to the developer's construction manager, who'd been taking care of her.

News piece number one is someone vandalized Edith's fences with the messages "LA Fitness killed Edith" and "Save Ballard". Yet another example of how deeply Seattle values it's neighborhoods.

"News" piece number two is that that the New York Times has finally caught onto this story. (If the NYT website says you must register to read the page, just clear your cookies and refresh the page.) NYT was able to confirm that the construction manager was willed the house, and he'll sell it to help pay for his daughter's college. I'll be interested to see if and how the house gets integrated into the business complex.

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