Monthly Archive for September, 2008

Found, Sort Of.

In a previous post I wrote about starting another quest for a place to call “work.” Since then I’ve sent out a bunch of resumes with only one bite. I had a phone interview with some company somewhere in Michigan that I thought went fairly well. Jen and I are not open to relocating (again) so I asked them about telecommuting…

Paraphrase: “Let me talk to my people and get back to you. We’d really like to have you on board. I’m discovering how difficult it is to find someone with your split skill set.”

That was the last I heard from them. That was over a month ago.

Then one afternoon I decided to just apply to this place I kept seeing with an opening that seems to fit me pretty well. Their online application process was thorough; I finished the application at about 9:30pm and got a phone call-turned-interview the next morning.

The gist: I start work tomorrow morning at 8:30 on a contract basis for a couple of weeks with the intent for employment. We’re test-driving each other. I’m a bit nervous, and excited. I’m excited for the possibility of stable income. Relying on my freelance income has been really tough and sporadic the past 6 months and it only seems to be getting worse with the state of the economy and the holidays approaching too fast. I’m nervous for my freedom. I absolutely love being home. If I could, I’d be a stay at home dad and be thrilled to do it. But that’s not the case for us right now. I’m sure I’ll be fine integrating back into office life and having to be somewhere at a certain time. And having to take a shower now on a daily basis and wear different clothes from one day to the next… Jen will love that.

And I’ll need to remember that I’ll be in smellable proximity to other people.

Yuck, It’s Cold! (And Obama’s Website is Better than McCain’s)

My coffee—I get focused on the task at hand and forget it’s sitting right there and it gets cold. I wonder how much energy goes untapped, wasted from all the coffee cups in the world that get cold in a given day from heat transference loss? Could probably power a small country. Who cares about the global energy crisis… what’s McPalin Obamiden gonna do with my tax dollars about the “my coffee’s always cold” crisis?

Side note: From purely a design, UI, IA perspective and not at all indicative of my own views on the race, Obama’s website kicks McCain’s website right in the ass.

Okay, this is turning into more than a side note. Candidates: feel free to pass this along to your web designers.

Rating criterion and definitions:

  • Look-n-Feel—user interface; the visual impression and quality of the site driving my emotional and intellectual response and ability to gauge the mood and/or tone; the resistance (or lack thereof) of my ability to traverse the site; does the site’s presentation get in the way of its information; does it have continuity with itself.
  • Nuts & Bolts—information architecture; what’s behind what you see in the browser; the source code structure; organization of content; technology being used to serve the site.
  • Destination Hints—user interaction; the site’s link cues and triggers which allude to where you will go, or what you can expect to see behind a link (either text or graphic); the URL scheme of the site.

Dear John, | screen grab, September 27, 2008 | screen grab, September 27, 2008

  1. Look-n-Feel: Your head shots are not using the same scale (it looks creepy). The disproportionate scaling makes you look feeble and makes her look disturbingly not right. Quality counts, sir. Don’t you have other pictures that don’t make you look like you’re on staff at my kids’ school?
  2. Nuts & Bolts: Your home page has 1 HTML error and 213 warnings, which means you have severely poorly-formed code driving your site’s template. Please fix what’s wrong with the details and that kind of craftsmanship will trickle up the line to the impression you leave with people. Your site sits on an ASP based platform. Forget it man. Your site was built for Internet Explorer with no regard to the rest of the browser world. Thanks for perpetuating broken systems.
  3. Destination Hints: The links in your site to your own pages are not made for people. I’m glad machines are happy with your URL Scheme. What the crap is this: I have no idea where this link will drop me off. I can see it is related to an event (or the details for an event?) and, yeah, that’s not going to break when Mrs. Robinson tries to email it to the bridge club.

Summary: Frankly, in my initial visit to your site I was confused. I wasn’t sure what was real and what was an ad, or what was behind my browser’s finger. Please make me think with your pledges, promises, and your ideas for leading our country, not with how to get around your site, which is reminiscent of the late nineties. Don’t worry, I will not stoop so low as to make comments in context of your age which include terms like: the Cenozoic Era, or Arpanet. This is strictly an evaluation of your digital presence. Rating: 3.57

Dear Barack, | screen grab, September 27, 2008 | screen grab, September 27, 2008

  1. Look-n-Feel: Your design is strong, well laid-out, and not cumbersome to navigate. Good choice on your head shot angle and the fact that it breaks the lines a bit. That tells me you are not bound to the box you are in, yet you are comfortable with it. Your content grid could use a little TLC, but for the most part, things are legible and visually accessible.
  2. Nuts & Bolts: Your home page has 0 HTML errors and 92 warnings, which means you have poorly-formed code driving your site’s template. Please fix what’s wrong with the details and that kind of craftsmanship will trickle up the line to the impression you leave with people. If you are not using Open Source technologies to power your site, then good job making it look like you do. How fitting would that be?
  3. Destination Hints: Not terrible, in fact. But you do have a little bit of crypticity going on: …but it is not overwhelming. From this link I can tell I’ll land on a page with a post by someone, BUT I have no idea what post it will be. This tells me you are aware that real people visit your site and may in fact try to pass on links to others.

Summary: Your designer needs a raise. The attention to quality is evident. It’s so nice to see good design getting the attention your site gets. Thanks for not being afraid of technology and congratulations on being one of the first (if not thee first) presidential candidate to have a Twitter outlet. Rating: 8.91

Disclaimer: at the time of this writing, I really am undecided on who to vote for or even to vote at all. If it were as simple as basing my vote on something as trivial as “design” then I guess it would be that simple. But it’s not, so I stand undecided and possibly uninvolved. Let’s hope the forthcoming debates clean the crap out of the circus ring.

Letters and Numbers

Web security is paramount. User accounts on the internets (like banking, and social sites where credibility and fidelity can ruin companies and destroy households) are to be revered more sacred than social security numbers.

Yet, in almost every login form I use in a given day, I’m asked for my “password.” If there was anything legacy still lingering—holding back the next-gen web culture, it is the mindset that was around when “password” was built into the foundations of this world.

“Let’s see… I need to create a ‘password’ that includes upper and lowercase letters, at least one number, and at least one symbol. Oh, and it needs to be longer than 5 characters. Maybe I’m just unlearned, but I’ve never seen a ‘word’ that fits those parameters…

We are faced with one of the fundamental problems the web has been fighting to overcome since Joe Mosaic-user called a file of information that loads in a browser “window” a “page.” I’m talking about terminology. Khoi Vinh has a great post about terminology issues. And I’m thinking beyond the basic anatomical titles of a website’s most fundamental unit here, down to the UI experience. Good UI is more than nice looking buttons and pixel-perfect grid layouts and awesome navigation systems. Great UI is also text—using the right words to help the user continue their quest as effortlessly as possible. Words have meaning and they invoke certain expectations and when a not-so-fitting word is used to explain something, we end up with misconceptions. And misconceptions lead to misinformation, which in turn eventually leads to someone like me who ends up catching grief from much needed potential clients who don’t understand (and don’t really want to understand) why a “page” costs that much.

So… in reality we don’t use “passwords” anymore. Those can be cracked in seconds milliseconds most likely. That’s why sites have mixed-case, alphanumeric and symbolic requirements on our user accounts. We are really using “passcodes” that we inappropriately refer to as passwords. But try fielding all the customer support inquiries when our users panic at the technical nature of the word “passcode.” It’s a good thing we’re not rallying around terms like “user authentication string,” or “security credentials.”

So now I’ve backed my thinking into a corner where the thought of using “passcode” in a world that already gets the passcode concept but calls it a “password” would make for a not-so-good UI experience. Enter a real-life situation:

My very first experience with the internet was at my friend Justin’s house back in 1994ever-ago. Well, it used to be my house, but that’s a story for another time. So he’s showing me this thing that I thought he called a “wet page” using this program called Netscape. It was amazing. There was no limit to the length (or width for that matter) of the “page”. Right from day one, the word page made no sense to me. But because I thought he said “wet” instead of “web”, my deductive reasoning kicked in forcing “page” to make sense in the context of the term “wet”—meaning like water; fluid, assuming the shape or limits of its container or pouring beyond the edge. The information on the page moved and shifted as he re-sized the window.

Just for a second, think of how our memory retention might be positively affected if we went into an online account experience right from the beginning thinking of our login information as a code instead of a word? Or think of how further along the web would be if no one thought of this thing you are reading as a page, but rather something fluid, dynamic, responsive and transformable? What would that even be called?

Gross. You Know You Do It Too.

Jen and I have been married for just about ten years and we’ve never really been the kind of couple obsessed with things like weight or religious exercise. But she signed up for a case study and that initiated our acquisition of a bathroom scale, which I’ve found comes in handy for certain things.

I’ve always floated within 10-15 pounds difference in my weight (except during the first few years of marriage after the first year). No big deal. I don’t really care.

This morning, my 6 month old copy of MacWorld was calling my name in the upstairs bathroom. In the 2-foot distance from the bathroom door to the throne, I decided to weigh myself—mind you not because I’m all that concerned about how much I weigh. 211.6 pounds. Cool. Last week it was 214.something, again not that I really could give a crap. This was an experiment. After I was “done reading” the same article again about how to screw up Leopard with terminal hacks cause we’re too cheap (or broke) to buy another issue for some fresh information and my free trial ran out 6 issues ago… I got back on the scale.

Post potty weigh-in: 210.6 pounds. Yep. My poop this morning weighed in at 1 pound.

That’s awesome. I mean GROSS! I mean… yes! I hope this makes all you closet poop-weighers feel a little more normal.