March 29, 2006

Web Analytics


If you run a webpage or a blog you’ll know how important it is to understand traffic to your website. Most servers provide basic statistics as standard but these packages are often difficult to understand and easy to misinterpret. Enter Google Analytics – a free tool that easily lets you monitor and interpret traffic to your website.

Formally known as Urchin on Demand Google Analytics shows you how people found your site, how they explored it, and how you can enhance their visitor experience.

Google Analytics is free and comes pre-configured with over 80 reports that lets you track visitors through your site, and will keep track of the performance of your marketing campaigns – where your visitors are coming from and what they are looking at.

Google have integrated their Analytics programs with their easy to use advertising program AdWords. Even if you don’t maintain your own website you’ll be familiar with Google AdWords – they appear on most websites that contain advertising and are generally customised to the content you are viewing. For example, if you are reading a webpage about computers the ads presented will likely be about buying a computer.

If you do have a website getting Google Analytics up and running is easy. Simply create an account and then go through the set up steps. Google will automatically generate HTML code that you will need to enter on every web page you want to track. Once this code is live on your website Google Analytics will automatically start tracking your traffic.

It normally takes between 24-48 hours before you start to see results but after you do Google presents all the information it captures in an easy to understand format. You can view your traffic as numbers or graphs. The two report I particularly like are the marketing summary that tells you where your traffic is coming from and the content summary that tells you which pages are the most popular.

GPS Devices


The idea behind consumer GPS systems is simple – they aim to guide you from anywhere to anywhere else. Think of them as new-age Melways – but with the interactivity and accuracy of the 21st century.

Over the summer break I tested several consumer GPS devices in getting from my house in Port Melbourne to Mt Buffalo. I simply inputed my destination and the GPS device showed me a detailed map of the route, including all the routing information like KM to destination and the specific route I should take. Once you are on your way all of the devices I tested started directly you verbally. They’d say ‘turn left in 100 metres, the take the third exit off the round-about’ with navigation like this you can really focus on driving rather then worrying about your direction. If you do make a mistake, all of the devices will re-route you on the fly, that means they’ll all recalculate your journey and either tell you to do a U-turn or take you in a different direction altogether.

A word of warning; while in Melbourne I tested the devices on getting to destinations I already knew how to get to – some of them improved on my route, but too often their suggested route was longer and more time consuming. Specifically in Melbourne it would be nice to program all the devices to say ‘take me on roads without Tram lines’. However, all devices do let you avoid certain roads – you just need to be conscientious enough to program your preferences in.

All the devices I tested were portable devices, and all come pre-bundled with mapping software. It is possible to by third-party software to turn your PDA in to a GPS device. Additionally, all devices I tested came with in-car mounting systems and cigarette power adaptors.

In Car Systems:
Tom Tom GO 500 ($1199) – This unit was by far the easiest to use. The touch-screen interface was simple and clutter free. Inputting destinations and saving favourites was as simple as following the on-screen display. The voice instructions were loud and clear, and the mounting kit for the Go 500 is first class. The Go 500 also integrates Bluetooth meaning, if you have a Bluetooth phone the Go 500 can be your hands free unit. The Bluetooth software also allows you to dial and receive calls via the Go 500’s interface.

Navman iCN 520 ($999) – This is Navman’s mid-range GPS unit and I liked it. Similar to the Tom Tom, the iCN 520 uses a touch-screen interface but also has handy buttons to the right of the screen for easy access to features. I found Navman’s interface good, but not as intuitive as Tom Tom’s. The iCN 520 is also a more portable solution then the Tom Tom’s and could easily be used while walking as the device can fit in your pocket

Navman’s iCN 320 ($549). This device is smaller and cheaper then the 520 and this is evident when you first switch on the iCN 320. The first omission in this cheaper version is a touch-screen (in my opinion a critical component of any portable GPS system) – making it more difficult to access and use the device while driving. Where the iCN 520 and the Go 500 let you change options with a quick glance, the 320 has fiddly controls that force you to pull off the road when trying to change any settings.

Asus MyPal A636 ($999) using Co-Pilot Live software. The A636 is a Windows Mobile 2003 device and is the most feature rich of all the devices tested. It has Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS plus doubles as a PDA. Generally I’m not a fan of Windows Mobile devices (I find the interface clunky compared to Palm OS and Symbian) but the A636 and Co-Pilot Live software was very impressive and worked well together. Co-Pilot live is intuitive and easy to use and the software can be operated from the touch screen without the need to pull out the stylus – a big plus. GPS reception was good and routing accurate. One particular feature of Co-Pilot was its ability to notify you of fixed speed cameras – very useful while driving on the Hume Highway where there must be at least 4 in each direction.

Navman PIN 570 ($899) also runs on Windows Mobile 2003 but was the least intuitive device to use – infinitely more difficult to use then the A636. I was constantly struggling to enter address details – and this device really does require the use of a stylus – something that is impossible while driving. However, once I got the address inputted navigation was satisfactory however in strong sunlight the display becomes difficult to read. Additionally, the PIN 570 doubles as a PDA (like the A636) however it doesn’t have any of the additional networking features like Bluetooth or WiFi.

March 22, 2006

Trading Shares Online




If you have a portfolio of shares you might consider setting up an online portfolio to track their value – and while you are at it sign up to a site that lets you trade shares. The two most popular sites in Australia are CommSec and Etrade.

Both sites give you the ability to trade shares, but they also let you establish and maintain an up-to-date watch-list where you can add a listing of your shares, including the price paid, date and quantity purchased. This is a handy tool if you’d like to track the current value of your shares.

Both sites also allow you to trade shares. You’ll need to link your account to a bank account so you can transfer money in and out of your share trading account. Once your account has funds in it you can start to trade. Trading online is surprisingly easy – simply select the share you’d like to buy (you’ll need to enter the 3 character code), enter the quantity required, enter your password and submit your request.

A basic trade on CommSec costs $29.95 (up to $10,000) and Etrade charges $32.95. These rates come down the more you trade and both sites offer a discount on multiple trades purchased upfront. There are also other differences like initial opening balance required and the type of account and interest earned on the money invested. A good broker selection chart is available at here.

Trading shares online has many advantages – firstly it is cheaper then using the phone direct with a broker and secondly you can easily customise the way you trade. For example, if you buy shares and want to limit your downside you can set an automatic rule that sells your shares if they fall to a particular price. This can be based on price or percentage. The beauty of the online trade is that you don’t have to pay close attention to the market – as long as your preset the rules the site takes care of the rest. Trading online also means you can have easy access to your portfolio if you are overseas – all you need is access to the Internet.

March 10, 2006

Do your books talk?


Audio books are not new inventions – they have been around since cassettes went mainstream however over the past 3 years there has been a small explosion in the availability of titles. The biggest provider of audio book and content is Audible.com

Audible launched in November 1997 at the beginning of the dot com frenzy and survived the aftermath – when the service launched the product was too advanced for the current technology. In 1997 nobody had either CD burners or iPods and Audible nearly went bust. Nearly ten years on millions of consumers have both iPods and CD burners and Audible is now a hit. In fact Audible now has over 400,000 users and has partnerships with Apple’s iTunes and Amazon.com – two of the leading worldwide websites.

Based in the US Audible lets you browse and buy over 25,000 audio titles from all the popular categories including New Releases, Best Sellers and Award Winners. Buying from Audible is simple. Sign up for an account, enter your credit card info and you are right to go. If you use an iPod and iTunes the Audible file you download can be loaded into iTunes. If you are using another program chances are high that you will be able to do the same with your Audible content.

Your iPod should have plenty of room to hold your Audible file, however if you’d prefer to burn your content to CD you can do that as well. Audible files can be very long (some over 10 hours!) but your burning program should offer to split the content over numerous discs (as CD’s typically only hold about 80 minutes worth of music). There is plenty of support at the Audible website – just click the ‘Device Centre’ link at the top of the page.

Audible also offer listener packages aimed at high volume users. For example you can spend US$150 and get up to 12 books per year – that works out at nearly US$12 per book – a large discount to retail where you typically pay US$25. Additionally, if you sign up to one of their membership plans you also get access to daily Audible subscriptions. You can also purchase and download Audible content through the iTunes music store using either your credit card or a pre-purchased voucher available in stores.

I’ve been testing Audible over the past few months and have been extremely impressed. I purchased Bill Clinton’s autobiography – a large book in print and one that would have taken me over 6 months to read at my snails pace. Listening to the book (6 hours) took me a little over 2 weeks. Not only is it more time efficient but I also think I got more out of the book as it was narrated by Bill Clinton – it is his book after all – who better to read it to you!

March 1, 2006

The New BlackBerry’s


Two new BlackBerry models have just been released to the Australian market. The 7130e and the 8700v are enhanced models that make the best portable email solutions on the market even better.

Like the 7250 before it the 7130e also runs on Telstra’s high-speed EVDO network, resulting in broadband performance in the portable device. The 7130e has the reduced keyboard (like the 7100 models) but has newer software and is faster to use then the 7100 series. Like the 7250 it can also be used as a modem for your computer, giving you the freedom to work on the road at broadband like speeds.

The 7130e also comes with top-of-the-line features you’d expect from a smartphone, like polyphonic ring tones, speakerphone and Bluetooth. All of this in a sleek black design translates in to a great looking functional phone for those that need their email 24/7.

The new 8700v available exclusively on the Vodafone network ($799) is a more consumer friendly version of the full-sized 7200 series BlackBerry. The 8700v design is more ‘phone-like’ and now includes dedicated ‘Send’ and ‘End’ keys and speakerphone (like the 7100 series). It also features 2 convenience buttons that are user configurable. I set mine to take me directly to the address book and calendar. The 8700v is also a quad-band phone that makes using it around the world easy.

The 8700v’s screen is much brighter then the older models and now comes with a brightness sensor that adjusts the displays brightness according to ambient light. The new 8700v also runs on the new Intel XScale processor meaning navigation and usability is much faster. The software has also been updated and now supports MMS capabilities (although the BlackBerry still comes without a built-in camera). The new unit comes standard with 16Mb SCRAM and a full qwerty keyboard.

The new BlackBerry’s, like the existing range provide legendary email support and the operating system is robust and stable. With added competition from Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola it will be interesting to monitor RIM’s portable email market share. I suspect for the business executive that relies on email BlackBerry will remain number one. Most competitors products, while compatible with push-email just don’t have the ease of use that the BlackBerry has and subsequently won’t command anywhere near the market that RIM does.

Melbourne 2006


In the lead up to the Commonwealth games there are some great websites you should check out to help you follow all of the action coming to Melbourne between 15th – 26th March. The best website in my opinion is www.melbourne2006.com.au

Melbourne2006 is the official site of the Commonwealth games and is jam-packed with information on ticketing, getting to and from the games, the different venues across Melbourne and even a link to buy tickets!

If you are interested in a particular sport check out the ‘Competition Schedule’ link. Clicking on this link takes you to a grid that tells you what is on and its location. If you’d rather be presented with a list of the sports available on a particular day just select a date from the drop down list at the top of the screen. You can even investigate pricing and the availability of tickets for certain events by clicking on the ‘Schedule and Prices’ link underneath the ‘Competition Schedule’

Travelling to and from venues can be a challenge, however the Melbourne 2006 website makes it easy to plan your trip. Click on the ‘Traffic and Transport’ link and you’ll be taken to a page that lets you choose between Traffic information and transport information. As most venues don’t offer public car parking your best bet will be to catch a train, tram or bus to your venue. Your venue ticket also provides you with free access to the public transport network on the scheduled day. You can find out how to get to your games venue by either clicking on the link or going here.

If you want to look the part when going to the games you’d better check out the Online shop by clicking on the link or going directly here. Here you can choose from a huge range of officially licensed merchandise that will make your time more memorable. All purchases made from the site are done using secure SSL technology so you can be sure your credit card details will be securely captured.

There are also some great competitions to check out by clicking on the ‘Competitions’ link. You’ll have the opportunity to win tickets to many different events, including a private box at the opening ceremony. Just follow the right link to enter!

Lastly, if you want to follow all of the latest scores during the games and have access to a computer you can log on to Herald Sun to keep abreast of all the action. The website is updated continuously throughout the day so you won’t miss a beat.

GPS Devices


GPS technology is over 15 years old and is improving in accuracy and availability all the time. From a consumers perspective GPS or ‘Sat-Nav’ is the technology that enables them to go from one place to another place without consulting a paper directory. When car manufacturers first starting integrating GPS into car’s onboard computers it was like Knight Rider had finally arrived!

Satellite Navigation Systems can be used for determining your precise location and providing a highly accurate time reference almost anywhere on Earth or in Earth orbit. GPS or Global Positioning System is the only currently operational satellite navigation system and has an accuracy of about 5 meters.

The GPS system was designed by and is controlled by the United States Department of Defence and can be used by both military and civilian applications. GPS is available for public use, free of charge.

Over the past few years GPS devices have become cheaper and increasingly more affordable – to the point where a handheld system can now be purchased less the $700. The new GPS chips are also gaining in accuracy and are less sensitive to interference.

GPS coupled with an electronic mapping system enables you (either with an in-car device or a handheld GPS device) to accurately pinpoint yourself on an electronic map anywhere in the world. ‘Sat Nav’ systems are the new age equivalent of the Melways.

About 5 years ago car manufacturers like Mercedes Benz and BMW started integrating GPS technology into their cars – the technology was only available to the very wealthy, however over the last 2 years there have been devices available as after-market accessories that bring GPS technology to the masses. Additionally car manufacturers now offer a built in GPS solution.

GPS devices are also useful in other fields like fishing. Lets say you catch a lot of fish at a particular point in the ocean – with a GPS device you can record the exact latitude and longitude and re-visit the same location any time. The GPS device will guide you there.