- Since I have returned to innerspring mattresses, most of my back problems have gone. This started a year ago with the mattress at my temp lodgings. I do have back-pain right now, but that is because of a slight pull again, which is nearly gone.
- I am working a short contract right now, helping out a small UI consultancy that is contracted to Vodafone. I hope to piece together money through short contracts this way, from CSS wrangling ot high level strategic design and research, while looking for a permanent job.
- I like my small flat. I have had boiler issues in the last few weeks, but those were fixed by nice gas maintenance people coming by. I have re-upped to stay here until at least September.
- I do not travel to NL enough. This has to do with unstable money issues.
Look, since the first screen came out we UI makers have spent decades telling people through the systems we designed that the screen is dead. You need a knob or buttons to tune the radio, you need to press quickly to cycle through digits in an alarm, you have to look at the remote and hit the special button to cycle through system entries for the VCR, you press the arrows on the microwave to change the cooking time or hit some timer button repeatedly, we use mice and pads and trackballs to move pointers and we are supposed to laugh at pets and small children when they try to paw moving things on the TV screen. 40 years of UI experiences right there: the screen only displays. (Then UI designers had the gall to name the paradigm of moving a mouse to make something on the screen, at least a foot away from the hand doing the moving, happen 'Direct Manipulation'.)
Customer: “Hello, I just bought this iPod, and I can’t make it go.”
Me: “What’s the problem?”
Customer: “It won’t go.”
Me: “Okay, how exactly?”
Customer: “IT WON’T GO.”
Me: “Can I see your iPod?”
(The customer takes out iPod Touch and shows it to me. I turn it on and open up Safari.)
Me: “It seems to be working fine.”
(I hand it back to her. She presses the home button multiple times.)
Customer: “How did you do that? It’s not working.”
Me: “Ma’am, what kind of iPod is that?”
Customer: “iPod Touch.”
Me: “Yeah… so try TOUCHING one of the icons on the screen.”
Customer: “OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO COOL! YOU’RE A GENIUS!”
Me: “Yeah, well.”
Sure this has now changed with tablet PCs, but those never took off with the general population, and you still need a stylus for most of them. Little personal organizers also come with styluses. And yes, touch screens really are nothing new; I remember seeing billboards for touch-screen systems in the mid-to-late eighties when I was visiting Brussels -- an HP business system, with the big slogan "Touchez l'ecran. L'ecran responds" or something close to that because I cannot spell French -- but that system did not take over the world, the mouse-based systems did. (I do remember my mother's answer to me telling her excitedly of this new computer I had seen an ad for was of course something about greasy fingerprint. Bit of a wet blanket, but I now fully understand where she was coming from.)
To this day, every touch-activated kiosk has some form of "TOUCH HERE TO START" on the screen because else the majority of people will not know what to do, and certainly will not try touching screens in public without knowing on forehand that is a reasonable thing to do, lest they look in public as 'stupid' as a small child or cat pawing something on the screen. And even then, most kios touch screens have such bad tracking you end up looking like a moron anyway, repeatedly mashing the screen until you walk away in disgust. You know where you got to see touch screens widely deployed? All Star Trek series after the original one. As in, touch screens are Sci-Fi.
But not to this snotty store kid, who probably even rewrote this exchange to make him or herself look better. Well, one day they will be older too, and their years of experience with technology will stand in the way of "just" knowing something so "simple" it is worth being oblique and patronizing about to a customer, instead of sharing the joy of something new finally hitting the consumer market.
(X-Posted to TST.com)
What interests me is how the tenor of these posts have changed. First of all, finally people are responding with a STFU, get the cheapest one, and just don't crack open the manual. But second, the whine has changed. It used to be "I just want a PHONE that MAKES CALLS." Then it was "I just want a PHONE that makes CALLS and DOES THE TEXT THING RIGHT" which means a leap in the USA. Now I just saw "I just want a PHONE that makes CALLS and does text and so I can check my emails why does everything have to have SO MANY FEATURES."
The really cheap people with not so much disposable income, young teens, want every feature they can get. Technology has now been completely mainstreamed: I remember 2 years ago watching The Young And The Restless and the teens were discussing using a USB key with a password logger program to get a login to check a guy's mails, and Mariah Carey is singing about being posted on YouTube and probably even knows what that means too.
You obviously have really good eyesight. Unfortunately, mobile users like my brother, a 40+ executive, do not; he has to take out his reading glasses these days to read small type. So you managed to come up with a mobile browsing organization concept that seems like it will only work on devices with at minimum iPhone-like slabs of glass, yet still manages to be about, literally, text in 2-point fonts. Also, if you browsed some old papers in the ACM Digital library -- you are a member, right? -- you could read how fish-eye and zoom-interfaces actually do not do so spectacularly well in tasks. So using them to arrange slabs of data in an already size-constrained environment in a way that leaves 50% of the screen unsused gray half the time really needs some justification here.
This is what user testing is for. Let me know how it works out with an actual cross-section of the population instead of 20-somethings. Meanwhile, look at how Sony Ericsson is doing tiling for their latest attempt, it uses the whole screen all the time.
See, I have been to a lot of adult-encounter sites, and I now have certain expectations of how that category should look: a little clunky, a little sleazy, a lot ugly. Beartopia totally drops that. No porn-stars on the front page, just guys in pictures that could almost be stock shots, even if one is shirtless in his garden and I know men would pay to watch him do porn. No huge bear paws, logos, cartoons, or everything beige. It is such a change I have to keep reminding myself Beartopia is for real instead of a design project meant to hit Digg's front page ironically, using Google maps and shared calendars and allowing you select friends for your profile in a social website way.
Here I was in the middle of a design office of Vodafone Germany, sitting at a huge table as German design weenie contractors were chatting and mulling around me in this open-plan office, typing in my profile info, on a page with luscious forest shots for backgrounds instead of hairy torsos, and sane typography on a single page instead of blue courier on sand in three pop-off windows that both make your eyes bleed and communicate to everyone you are up to 0 professionalism. Until I hit the 'Bears in My Area' results and opened profile headings. Yeah, it's the user-generated content that in the end makes an Encouters site an Encounters site, and this is immediately where I had to close the page in that office. Because Beartopia's users are men out for a good time after all, and God bless 'em for it.
There are also body-shops here, companies that 'hire' freelancers in 'permanent' positions. Basically when you contract out, the company that gives you work to do contracts with the body-shop company for yourservices at the fee you negotiate, and you yourself do the work, fill in a time-sheet, submit it to the body-shop, they harge the client, take a small cut, and pass the rest on to you, also taking care of all taxes and accounting and doing the tax magic for your business expenses when you submit receipts. These body-shops are called 'Umbrella companies' here. The one I chose on recommendation of the headhunter I work with is called The Parasol Group. I expect that name for an Umbrella company took three weeks of intense brainstorming. (I also keep wondering whether Parasol only has above-ground labs to create monster zombie cats and viruses that turn you into the picture of health and where Milla Jovovich comes in every time I think about this.)
Why am I boring y'all with this? Because I wanted to mark the occasion of me submitting my first time sheet. Ever, I have really never contracted on a daily rate. In fact, it's been over a decade since I've freelanced, and that just-out-of-school gig was all set prices for end results. The work was at a small mobile research and interaction consultancy, where we decided to start me out contracting until we all knew how we felt about each-other. I am very positive and would like to work with them again, and the three directors with whom I spent the week in a small office said the same. I think my technical background with my very specific design skills an complement their available skill set very well. Unfortunately their actual client is being wishy-washy for the project I was on is being unsure, so I cannot do any more work until feedback comes back for what I have done now. Ok, we'll just continue with me being called in when they need me at my day rate.
I learned all kinds of lingo like 'strategic designer' for this field usability consulting, which should allow me to position myself and communicate to other people locally in this business even better. They also got an idea what it means to work with me in that, always professionally, I will voice my opinion and recommendations about what is going on about projects in the room. And that when you hire me, you get someone who has a constant stream of 5 or so RSS feeds open to follow tech trends and products in the mobile space. You want 3 paragraphs on Google's Android technical capabilities, or how it compares in the market to other SDKs? 45 minutes please, I just need to do 20 minutes of research to confirm what I already know and have proper sources at the end of the document.
But yeah, first week of nice salary, and now a few days off. I could get used to this.
Better get to work.
Then, in a column called 'pushing the envelope', Fred Sampson, after telling us how he felt about the 1964 World Fair, complains that he is 'chained' by his personal electronics for distracting him too much. I don't want to give the impression that I consider him some sort of dinosaur, but in my life I find that my personal electronics don't distract me enough when I need them to (remember my plea for porno MMSes?), and in the few times they do, (I stopped assigning ringtones because nobody actually ever calls me), I know how to just switch them off.
Then, in an utter crib of 'queue' magazine's Q&A column, we now have 'ask doctor usability'. Unfortunately this person is no George Neville-Neil (whom I need to beat anyway up for writing I am not a software engineer because I do not write testcases -- well GNN, one can't write testcases when your bugs are of the sort that 'Ctrl-C' doesn't work right or a right-click menu is not showing up); this Usability dr person takes a question about expanding a software engineer practice and turns the answer into how a foreign language makes you evaluate a visual design better.
I feel like getting on a damn airplane and pleading with Steven to take up being an editor again.
So after passing the plebs in the normal security line (now stretching miles), I end up in my comfy spacious seat next to this MD specialist in thrombosis who is about to meet up with his girlfriend and give some lectures in Berlin, who becomes very talkative and proceeds in the space of two hours drink four or five glasses of Shiraz, served to us by a flight attendant so wide-eyed perkily enjoying her job of doing first class by herself and finding time to help out in the main cabin that we both suspect she's on crystal meth. Especially when she started saying she thought she was hearing a dog in the unheated parts of the cargo bulkhead.
My seat neighbour then proceeds to tell me how he loves going to Amsterdam to get stoned (I get that a lot when people find out about my history, since I am Dutch and lived in Amsterdam stoners always figure I must be totally down with the chronic and that they can tell me anything because of course I am a member of the club) and that he is actually just doing the stop-over in Amsterdam to pick up some grass and then take a plane to Berlin. Because with the EC they don't do customs checks and stuff, right?As we fly over the heartland of the US I proceed to tell him that I think trying to take weed into Germany by plane is just a stupid idea, and he should just buy some in Berlin already.We eat nice food and he asks for another glas of Shiraz. And a refill.
Some time during this flight he shows me his new cellphone which is on. As we get ready to land he tries to switch it off, but it is so new he doesn't know how. I know the FAA is 99% full of shit when they say cellphones will interfere with cockpit equipment, but I decide that we are so not taking the chance I am wrong during This landing, and offer to shut the thing down for him. I shut that Motorola down the only way a Nokia engineer who doesn't know how they work and where the on/off switch is, knows how: yank off the cover and pull out the battery. I put it back together and give it back and he considers my cleverness to be a sign I must be his new best friend. He thinks we should find a way to upgrade me the second leg of the trip. I tell him I doubt it will happen, he says he will just ask when they get on the plane, and I then think the wine is indeed doing its magic.
After we land it won't switch on again. Oops. Of course, I am not sure how it is supposed to switch on, but it doesn't. I make shit up and tell him it will in Europe, since he told me that is where he bought it for. My actual guess is that its battery was low in the first place and it doesn't have enough charge for the initial power-up. We have to hurry anyway to make our connection, and while he fiddles and gets stuck in the gate check, I hurry into the cabin. Ok, so I'll be stuck in Economy class for this Memphis -> Amsterdam flight, while he is in First or Business or whatever, which sucks because I would have loved to that longer leg in more luxury. But at least some relief was mixed in.
Of course, it is not like punk music ever started flowing forth from a bunch of 40-something neighbours in Minnesota, but somehow punk guerilla video seems to be doing it.
This exact phenomenon, incidentally, is what we were being told we had to make happen about 20 years ago by the likes of Laurel and Tognazzini in their UI books. Good stuff will happen when we take all these computer-based tools for video and music and writing and creation out of just the hands of technologists, and make them easy enough to be put in the hands of everyone else. This is why we have to study and make good user interfaces, no matter how much we feel we are 'dumbing down' these incredily powerful tools for computer neophytes who 'don't deserve it if they are not gonna put in the time to learn all this stuff right' -- a sentiment one can see expressed by technologists on Slashdot a lot when it comes to the user experience. Because by doing empowering everyone, we technologists give not just ourselves power to create on par with the big boys, but everyone else too, and the more gets created, the bigger the chance something really good will come forth.
And also massive, massive amounts of crap of how people had milk this morning on their cornflakes and their cat was so cute. But crap the creators at least get to like. And while they are sitting behind their Macs editing video, at least they are off the streets.
*I still can't believe I get to call myself that. But it is true, I was one, even if the gig was slightly adverse and I did not have all the trappings. I was one.
Obvious but as yet missing link: make your project on iLife, and then one-button upload it, not to .Mac homepage, but to iTunes, for sale. No publishing intermediaries except for Apple's website. All royalties yours.
(He's about to announce something new about iPods.)
For the last week I have been racking my brain for visions of users accessing entrprise data through mobile devices, so I can submit them as candidates for mobile WebServices implementations. But what the hell do I know, I am a software weenie: all I need from my enterpise is my meetings, email, person look-up, and calendar. Hardly interesting. I needed to ask people who do not do what I do.
Go Ask The User.
So who inside this software shop here in Burlington really needs or uses enterprise data? Well, HR for one -- all our files and profiles and stock options and histories are logged on our global intranet. I went downstairs to talk to the people in HR; I saw that today I had gotten email from one of them so she was in. I am on really good terms with them all, so when I asked Lauren "Could you report to me those moments that you are away from your desk and you think 'Geez, I wish I could get to this page on our intranet because...'" not only did she come up with a good one on the spot -- people ask her about their salary and time-off accounts all the time while she walks through the building, when she can least answer them -- she also offered to pass my request along during the staff meeting Thursday. This should lead to some really usable and practical proposals for implementations. HR would already be a fabulous one because of the security and routing implications.
Then during that discussion we found out I need to "find" 16 hours of vacation that I "didn't report" during the last year, or I will be penalized for being too much of a workaholic and lose a large chunk of my vacation balance.
The holiday and me being home had thrown him off, and he wouldn't eat till 9. :(
But had some long nights chatting with various attractive women who came to visit me this last week. The cats must think I have no male friends. Still, this is a depressingly vapid entry. Because I have nothing really to say right now, the most exciting thing in the last two days was the rebalancing of my 401k by a computer, and how I decided to let it do my "dabble for fun" stock portfolio as well. It told me to ditch all the stock I ever bought, and I couldn't blame it.
You see, Nokia has all its HR stuff on the web. Courses, profiles, salaries, benefits, it is all on the intranet. Some of it is even reachable over the public Internet, the benefits like medical and dental and 401(k), because they are outsourced by Nokia to this HR company. One of the services you can subscribe to from the benefits website, for a modest yearly fee, is a service called mPower, that is linked to your 401(k) retirement account. It asks you stuff about your finances and what you want to do about retirement, and then tells you what you should invest your 401(k) on based on a mathematical model, decades of historical data, and all its knowledge of every fund and stock the 401(k) can be traded in. After you agree on its recommendations, it will even tell the financial institution managing the 401(k) to do the buying and selling to rebelance according to spec. I was leery at first, but my fund was tanking in 2001 like everyone's was, and it wasn't like I knew what the fuck to invest in. And jeezus, just by running it every 6 months and accepting the recommendations, my 401(k) has done so well the accretion dwarfs the subscription fee. Even this last year, and barely lost anything in 2002. I fully recommend it.
Of course, with the state employment in general is in, this is all so totally irrelevant to most of the people who will be reading this. Still, for a compugeek like me, having the machine come up with all kinds of recommendations for funds and plans I would have never thought of myself, is great fun. So I extended it from my 401(k) and told it about my stock trading account. As said, it told me to dump all the stock I bought when buying stock was still hip, and which, like a exercise equipment bought off the television, I haven't looked at in years. It suggested a little balance of indexes and mutual funds instead. Ok. Man, I had to hunt like the dickens for my old Datek password. Watching the balance was a depressing experience. No wonder I never looked at it.
I have never bought exercise equipment off television, by the way. I would be on more fun mailing lists if I had.
Flying up the 16th of Dec, flying back the 24th. I love flying the 24th, since there is no-one on the plane, and the full crew are always festive. One time I flew back with British Airways and got treated to 3 mince pies with clotted cream, and every member of the cabin crew was wearing reindeer antlers.
Here's something you didn't know about me: I like airline food. Actually, I like eating, and the airline food tastes good to me.
I am booking my first multi-leg flight. Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire etc are being useless. The first two actually do the best approximation of listening to my request for a trip where I do not return from the same airport that I left for, but Orbitz was seriously suggesting I fly to London during the day, stay overnight for eight hours in the dead of night, and then take an early hop to Paris. No darling, no. Not even for 350 dollars, especially when you pair it with returns over Heathrow of hours doing nothing but wait for a connection. Expedia did not serve me up with these monstrosities, but it wasn't much better.
Best one I found was on NWA/KLM's booking system directly: return non-stop on the 24th from AMS to BOS. Alas, the legt to Paris scares me: stay in Detroit for 3 hours for a total of 12 hours of travelling. Add two hours in the BOS airport and it is just daunting.
The whole flying experience is detestable. Airports were already dehumanizing, but these days the ground-system is stretched to its limits, with everyone, on both sides of the counter, being either frazzled and stretched beyond any reasonable limit to comply with start-stop go-stay choreography of getting you through all the (data)checkpoints, or desperately bored and resenting the waste of time. I keep looking at fares, comparing them with the cheapest ones, and going 'is it worth two-hundred dollars to only be checked once? Just twice?' and the answer keeps gravitating to 'yes, gawd yes.'
Since whenever I re-enter the US I already get thrown through a burocratic blender of wait wait wait sit wait show wait answer wait get stamp leave (dash for connection if not immigrating final destination) I resent the other security checks. And you get questioned like you are some two-bit chump, by part-time kids in rent-a-cop uniforms going down a script, when you board a plane to the US from NL, with those people who know nothing about you deciding whether you get to go home or not. Kids who look like they are doing this for some extra cash besides going to college. When pinkfish and I returned from my brother's wedding, I almost got us prevented from boarding the plane because I was in lower-back pain and suffering from a lack of sleep, and thus getting angrier as this guy kept asking me dumb questions that somehow were supposed to separate me from the bomb-carriers of the world. He even said as much at the end: "you are sweating too much, I'm going to get my supervisor." And this upper-class twit blond chick in a suit shows up and goes through my passport while asking me more stupid questions like how the wedding was and if we had a good time -- which is a) really none of her business b) can't really be turthfully answered in my case unless I gave short stock pat answers like "Sure" and "Fine" which is suspicious anyway.
Didn't book the NWA flight, it wants to know my passport number and that is at home. Will give me time to consider how I feel being in Detroit airport for a 3-hour layover, or whether I want to take my chances and not lock in this 510-bucks price and wait for something more reasonable to become available.
More reasonable than a multi-leg trip with a guaranteed direct flight? What am I thinking?
Note these terms. These terms are the new world of Digital Rights Management [DRM] in the mobile phone world. And remember, as much as people bellyache about Palladium and computers locking your data in, there are more mobile phones in use than actual PCs.
( And why they won't work )
[Cloned from my Slashdot blog]
Finally I can step through my shared libraries again like I couldn't in JBuilder 7, and Eclipse understands that sometimes sources live far away from their libraries. It understands the dependencies between projects, integrates with javadoc beautifully, and all options to set up what needs to be set up are where I expect them to be.
It has refactoring tools built in, not as 3d party for-pay extensions. While very basic, they are aslo straightforward and understandable, and allowed me to very quickly extract the commonality between classes.
I am addicted to CTRL+M for automatic inclusion of imports of classes you just type in the body of the code, and if the system can't resolve the import, it asks you explicitly. It reformats code when asked, sorts class members after a template you can set, does inline parse warnings, but without being stupid, and generally feels rock solid.
I am about to dump JBuilder off my system.
So I got to check 2.5 hours early, thanks to the fact that congestion in CA seems to mean "we all on this five-lane highway have to drive 45 for a stretch, and have one standstill at this difficult junction". Geezus. Well, at least I got the choice of emergency seats on both my flights, stretch-out-city baby.
Efficiency is bad in my book when a process gets so sped up that the people around it are harried and out of breath -- much like current software engineering. Good efficiency is when a process works such that the humans have time to interact and do what humans do best, like explaining to you as a neophyte that all you have to do is just leave the cars in, all gas has been taken care of, and to not forget your cellphone, well that is a cellphone isn't it what is it gosh is that your cat? Returning the rental was a good efficient process. I may feel iffy about driving, but the new car with power everything and the whole process around it was a nice experience for a first rental ever.