As I prepare to leave Boston, I find myself reflecting on where I’ve lived, and the differences between the various cities.

Omaha is often thought of as part of “flyover” country – a different world within the United States. When I was in high school, a girl who transferred in from the coast was afraid she’d be riding horses to school.

Well, that’s one rumor I want to put to rest today. People in Omaha (and the rest of Nebraska) have cars, just like everyone else. What’s more, unlike Boston, we don’t feel the need to explicitly prohibit horses on the freeway – it’s generally understood that they aren’t allowed.

A road sign with no walking,  no bicycles,  and no horses shown on it

That’s a real sign on the on-ramp to I-95 / Rte 128 in Newton, MA, just outside of Boston. I would think the horse indication wouldn’t be necessary, but what do I know. I guess the culture in Omaha is just too modern for me to understand Boston’s ways.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 219 user reviews.

If you watch TV at all, you’ve likely seen a few (hundred) ads for this Digital TV Transition that’s taking place next February. It’s part of $200 million ad campaign to make consumers aware of the switch.

These ads tell you a few things. First, there’s a change happening in February 2009. Second, if you use an antenna, you need to get a converter box. Third, there’s a government coupon program to help you buy a converter box. But it stops there, encouraging consumers to find out the rest of the information on their own; particularly about the price.

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Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 162 user reviews.

When Listerine began marketing their pocket breath sprays, I was really taken by the shape of the product.

Listerines pocket breath spray

The rounded edges combined with the hole at the top made it look and feel completely different to anything else that I keep in my pockets or desk drawers. To this day, I can grab my Listerine out of the center console of my car in short order without looking – the form is that unique. I imagine the same is true for purses (ladies?).

That’s why I was so mortified when I saw another, very different product cash in on that same form factor…

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Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 203 user reviews.

Last night, while I was watching Countdown, I saw a brief ad for some new web content on the MSNBC website. It flashed by so quickly that all I caught were the colors. But after doing a bit of digging, I found what they were pushing.

A couple of things caught my eye. First are the Snood and Breakout games that they’ve included. Nothing new, until you see the news headlines flash across the screen. It’s an interesting way to pass the time without wasting it – at least you’re keeping up with the latest headlines.

A game similar to Snood,  with headlines that drop down as you play

More interesting is their new Spectra Visual Newsreader, covered yesterday at UX Magazine. Essentially, you pick your favorite news stories and they swirl about you, waiting for you to flick through them.

A cloud of news stories in the Spectra Visual Newsreader.

My only complaint is that, despite the fluid collection of news stories, you’re forced to flip through them one at a time, in order. I kept clicking on random stories trying to grab something different out of the cloud.

But really, I think MSNBC should work on fully immersive environments. How cool would it be to have news stories swarming around you!

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 178 user reviews.

My recent free time has found me cleaning, organizing, and tackling projects that have been on the back burner for far too long. Top on that last list: Cataloging and posting my pictures from my trip to Spain with Shipra last September.

Even though it’s old news by now, some of the pictures are pretty cool. Even if you saw them on my iPod, I’ve added commentary and interesting facts, so you should take another look. You can browse my entire Flickr stream if you want; after the jump, I go through some of the highlights.

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Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 252 user reviews.

It’s been a while since my last update, but some pretty substantial stuff has been going on in the interim. First and foremost, I’m changing things up professionally (again): Starting the day after Memorial Day, I’ll be returning to Microsoft’s Developer Division to continue my usability research work.

It was a tough, but exciting, decision to make. Following along with this year’s MIX Conference clinched it for me; I realized how much fun DevDiv was having without me! Plus, you really can’t beat Ux team at DevDiv, and while being the lone soldier had a lot of benefits, it will be nice to be back with that team, doing what I love to do.

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Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 166 user reviews.

This will likely be fixed in no time, but the irony was too much to ignore.

Jakob Nielsen released his Alertbox just a few moments ago, implying in the summary that, of all the bad design decisions a company can make, those around content are the most costly:

Bad content, bad links, bad navigation, bad category pages… which is worst for business? In these examples, bad content takes the prize for costing the company the most money.

Intrigued, I followed the link, only to find this:

A screen grab of the latest Alerbox,  only access is Forbidden!

So not being able to even see the content… does that fall anywhere near the “bad content” end of the spectrum?

A bit of investigation reveals that the entire Alertbox subdomain is somehow restricted in its access. Hopefully this issue isn’t too costly for him.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 201 user reviews.

I so called this one.

So I’m walking out the door today, and as I go to turn off the TV, I see the e*Trade talking baby commercial. Just before I turn it off, I heard something that didn’t jive with what I had heard the 10 times I added the video to my last blog post (yes, I obsess at times).

I step back and play the commercial again, and sure enough: eTrade is now advertising savings accounts that earn six times the national average – down from their initial claim 8x. It turns out that the national average isn’t actually falling; eTrade just couldn’t sustain their initial promise. There aren’t any online videos with this updated version yet, but I’ll be keeping an eye out.

This makes me even less likely to sign up for an account with them. In two more months, will it be four times the national average? Or perhaps they’ll aim for the top of the bell curve. Either way, it won’t be with my money.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 277 user reviews.

Yes, I know it’s been a couple weeks. It’s actually been a big couple of weeks, but more on recent developments coming soon. In the meantime, my 12 half-written blog posts were giving me the evil eye, so yet again, I’ve returned to my neglected blog.

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Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 184 user reviews.

In general, I’m not a fan of wikis. I appreciate them as a collaboration tool, but I think their usability leaves something to be desired. However, six months ago, I decided that I needed a place online to keep notes, elaborate on ideas, and keep track of to do lists on my various side projects. A wiki was an obvious choice, so I set out on trying to find a choice that was at least semi-usable.

I stumbled upon Stikipad, and I was impressed. The design was simple, the markup commands easily accessible, and it didn’t require any complicated setup. From that day six months ago, if anyone asked me about setting up a wiki, I recommended Stikipad as the most usable alternative.

Yesterday, I was distraught to find that I couldn’t access my wiki. Every time I tried to sign in, I was redirected back to the sign in page. No errors – my password was correct – it just wouldn’t pull up my account!

Once I learned it was happening to a friend also, I decided to check out their help page to see if there was anything about this issue. The page is, itself, a wiki, and it turns out it was edited 15 days ago; likely, with that bold message at the top (posted here in case Stikipad comes to their senses):

A warning on stikipads help page telling users to stay away.

Conclusion? Stikipad must be dead. I can’t imagine a legitimate business functioning for two weeks with such an inflammatory message on the landing page of its help site.

Really, it’s a shame. I thought Stikipad had a lot of potential. I guess it goes to show the extreme importance on having bulletproof customer service when you’re in the web industry (especially if you’re asking people to pay you): It seems like customers will put up with occasional bugs, as long as the company is responsive. But dropping off the radar entirely is simply unforgivable.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 186 user reviews.