The "e" in "e-commerce" does NOT mean "easy"!

As usual, we’d left some of our gift shopping to the last minute, but I
wasn’t worried — I thought gift certificates would be the
Very Thing, and I knew they were easy to buy on the Web. There wasn’t
enough time to order paper certificates, but Amazon’s site showed
this very attractive
e-mailed gift certificate
which would be ideal — I’d have it e-mailed to me, then print it and
enclose it in a card. Easy…so I ordered one (the site says “Delivered immediately; will arrive within hours”)
waited for it to be delivered.

And I waited — apparently Amazon’s definition of “immediate” didn’t
match mine (though they did confirm the order in less than a minute).
But an hour or so later, I got the gift certificate in my inbox…and it
was plain ASCII text, not at all what I’d expected, and not really
suitable for printing. So I redeposited the certificate in my account
and went to bed, planning to visit CompUSA the next day and buy a gift
card there.

But it turns out that CompUSA only sells gift cards in particular
denominations, none of which matched what we wanted to give. What to
do? Then inspiration struck: I’d make my own gift certificates —
after all, I had the artwork on the Amazon site to work from!

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as all that — the sample gift certificate
isn’t one GIF, it’s two GIFs and a bunch of text. And I don’t have very
good image editing tools.
But this seemed like the
best idea I was going to have, so I went back to the Amazon site,
ordered the gift certificates, and waited.

This time, the order got stuck in “being authorized by the bank” status
for over an hour — I was ready to call Amazon and find out what was
wrong, but they had cleverly removed their phone number from all of
their “Help” and
“Contact Us” pages in anticipation of the holiday rush. Eventually, I
thought of checking the online
tollfree directory
and found their number (800-201-7575), but just
before I picked up the phone, the gift certificates started arriving in
my e-mail. Two were plain text and two were graphical (which made no
sense), but none of them looked like the sample, so I set to work.

First, I tried using Windows Paint — it seemed like a simple tool for a
simple task. But its text capabilities are very limited — in fact, I
couldn’t put part of a paragraph in bold. So I moved on. Microsoft
Word disappointed me — I couldn’t figure out how to make the whole gift
certificate have a colored background (setting a background seemed to
work, but when I did a Print Preview, the text all showed up on a white
background). So I finally used PowerPoint, and after a few false starts
where parts of the page printed behind the background (in other words,
they were invisible), I had my four nicely printed and personalized gift
certificates. Whew!

Maybe I do need a faster computer after all

I’ve been looking at getting a new computer to replace my three-year-old
266MHz box, but yesterday morning, I had a heretical thought:
“Would I get any benefit out of a faster computer?” After all, I
mostly use it for e-mail and web surfing, and both of those are mostly
gated by my connectivity, not the processor speed. I don’t play games
on the computer much, so that’s not a reason. So why bother?

Then as we sat down to do our cards last night, I found a reason. As
usual, we wanted to send a copy of Jeffrey’s school picture along with
the cards, so we’d ordered plenty of copies back in October. And as
usual, we hadn’t worried about it since. But this year, the
photographers had screwed up, and we were short several sheets of
wallet-sized photos. We were all set to send out many of the cards
without photos, when I had an inspiration: use the scanner and printer
to make copies.

A quick trip to Office Depot later, I had a package of Kodak Premium
Photo Paper (I didn’t think plain white bond would do a good job) and
was all set to scan in a picture.

I thought the easiest thing to do would be to scan in a 5×7 and save it,
then write a Web page to put two copies of it together and print that.
Nope — what got printed was two very small sections of the picture; I
didn’t realize that, although I’d scanned
the photo at 600 dpi, the browser would treat it as 72 dpi and would
therefore assume that the picture was four feet wide!

Plan B: Use Thumbs Plus to duplicate the scanned image. That didn’t
work; Thumbs Plus is a fine program, but it’s designed to cut pieces out
of images, not add to them.

Plan C: Open some of the envelopes that already had pictures in them
and put several photos on the scanner at once, thereby getting me out of
the editing game. This worked, but then I discovered that Thumbs Plus
couldn’t print the pictures — all I got was empty pages! Now I was
starting to worry.

But then I took a close look at the software on my machine and found an
old evaluation copy of Paint Shop Pro 5 which I’d launched once and
never used again. Fortunately, Jasc
is very generous, and even though I was two years into my
30-day evaluation period, the program was willing to run and I was able
to print photos. I have no idea what else the program was capable of —
there were lots of menus and options, none of which I had time to figure
out (that’s why I’d only used the program once in the first place) —
but I didn’t care; it printed and I was happy.

So if you wonder why you got an inkjet photo instead of a “real” photo
from us this year, now you know. And next year, I’ll check the package
earlier — I did call customer service to complain and ask for a refund
on the sheets we didn’t get (they offered to send us more photos, but
it’d take six weeks, which didn’t seem too useful at this point).

Oh, and about the need for the faster computer? Well, during some of my
attempts to duplicate the photo, I had to wait several minutes while the
computer was busy copying the multi-megabyte image to the clipboard, or
rotate it, or whatever else I was trying to do. Clearly, that’s
unacceptable, even if it does only happen once every few years. And I’m
sure I’d find some other good use for a faster machine….

Happy Chanukah!

A timely joke, courtesy of my Mom:

It was Chanukah and the Tiny Village was in fear of not having any
latkes because they had run out of flour. Rudi, the Rabbi, was called
upon to help solve the problem.

He said, “Don’t worry. You can substitute matzo meal for the flour and
the latkes will be just as delicious!”

Sheila looks to her husband and says, “Morty… you think it’ll work?”

“Of course! As everybody knows…

Rudolph, the Reb, knows grain, dear!”