Archive for the 'Work' Category

Dissolving

“Sir? Sir…” I called after the man we just saw moments before-hand digging through one of the many garbage cans lining the 16th Street Mall downtown — looking for food, looking for anything. At about 9am, the biting cold of a mid-November morning starts to loosen its jaws a bit, up to 30° give or take a few. Cold, nonetheless. What difference does two or three degrees really make? His hair was exactly as you’d expect it to be; his clothes following suit. No bags. A hollow gait with each trash can his goal. I caught up to him, and… actually, let me back up a bit. This all started with an anniversary weekend getaway, a blueberry muffin, and a very special girl.

Breakfast — the day before… I was craving just a blueberry muffin and a vanilla coffee drink (or grandé vanilla latté with no foam for those of you who only speak metro), but got distracted by the notion of a vanilla custard french toast offering and when we ordered our food at the Corner Bakery Cafe, I still ordered that blueberry muffin. You know those kind of huge muffins with that crumbly topping? Fresh-baked and moist in the middle with a crunchy outer crust? Like this one:

blueberry-muffin

A blueberry muffin from the Corner Bakery Cafe

Well, the muffin was still intact by the time we finished our meals so Jen wrapped it up to bring with us on our adventures and we thought we could share it when we were hungry again. Then I realized I left my phone up in the hotel room. I needed my phone. You need your phone, right? Gotta have your phone. Once back in the hotel room, it made sense to just leave the muffin there and maybe call it dessert and not carry it around all day. So that’s what we did and the muffin sat on the credenza in a bag in the hotel room all day while we delighted in a long day of walking, playing together, filling up our cameras with funny faces and amazing places and things that make Denver what it is, and topped off with a fancy impromptu dinner at Maggiano’s.

One of the threads weaving itself through our weekend was a heightened awareness of homeless people. For the uninformed, here’s a little something about my wife that defines a significant part of who she is — and this in no way encompasses the extent of her traumas and triumphs: she was a teenage runaway and spent 10 days on the streets and dealt with situations and things most people only know about from movies and the evening news. Because of her experiences and the damage and repercussions and the road to healing she’s been on, she now has this incredible gift of tenderness, forgiveness, intuition and the super power to see right through bullshit.

Okay, so earlier this night after our fancy dinner while walking back through the 16th Street Mall on our way back to our hotel room she wanted to give our leftover food from dinner to someone. It wan’t much, but something is better then nothing when you’re hungry. And hardly anything becomes even less if you share it. The streets were thinning out and the nightly chill started its descent on downtown. it was getting kind of late and most places were closed, but she did find a few people who were homeless. She handed me the to-go bag and said, “Go give it to that guy right there.” Timeout — a little something you should know about me: I do not do well with crowds, I will always find the least in-the-way place to stand in a room, and I’m borderline paranoid of talking to people I don’t know. It took a lot for me to look back at Jen and say, “Okay.” I don’t remember how cold it was, but everyone was wearing winter jackets. This was, after all, November in Denver.

The man I walked up to was an older black gentleman, almost like my dad’s age, or maybe life just made him look older like that. He was standing with two or three other older people. I had the food in my left hand and reached out to hand it him. He took it with his left hand and reached his right hand out gesturing to shake my hand. As I was reaching for his hand, he said, “Thank you, I’ll pass it around.” His hand was warm and not nearly as rough as I was expecting. I think I replied with something stupid like, “Stay warm.” or something like that. I thought for a split second about saying something like, “God bless.” which seemed so trite or perfectly insensitive. My force field started to decay. My head started reorganizing. Jen gave me a gift. She probably knew it, too.

By the way, “renting” a movie in your hotel room is a rip-off (thank you Redbox and Netflix for spoiling us all.) We watched what I can only describe as a really bad camcorder recoding of a TV screen that was playing the movie Date Night. Even still, we laughed and ate our pumpkin cheesecake in our pajamas, leaving us in no shape to be eating a muffin. “Let’s bring it with us to breakfast tomorrow and we’ll eat it then.” She suggested. My wife is always full of smart ideas. No, brilliant ideas. She has this knack for knowing the right time for saying whatever needs to be said or doing whatever needs to be done.

Waking up quietly and peacefully is one of the few luxuries in life that I’m sure all parents of small children could just die for. The last bits of our weekend were upon us, and we were so excited to head back to our new favorite place for breakfast.

So there we were, Jen and I, sitting in our front window seats, laughing, reminiscing, loving each other and people watching as if this was our normal Sunday morning routine and we’d been coming here for years. We enjoyed an amazing breakfast for the second day in a row on the last day of our weekend getaway in celebration of being married for 12 years. I can still taste the cinnamon and vanilla custard baked into the french toast. We ate and talked and sat in the restaurant for well over an hour, and I fell in love all over again with my wife.

People watching. We tried to guess the stories of the people we saw. Jen kept pointing out people who were homeless, explaining how she knew based on various clues I’d never pick up on. We watched a lady have an entire conversation with the thin chilling air. We watch a different lady move from one table to the next in the restaurant making up various stories trying to convince people to give her money. We saw a rich man (you can tell by the shoes, the overcoat, and the way he wore his baseball cap) walking around with and talking at what could have very much been his son who’s all grown up, but probably feels lost and unsure of himself. We watched a handsome man standing outside, patiently standing, nervously standing and watching in all directions; checking his phone every other minute, waiting for someone to show up. He was early, or maybe she was late. We guessed at his story and figured this was a Match.com moment in the making. She finally showed up. “It takes time to make yourself look nice. And he better appreciate her cause she looks pretty for him.” Jen says with a smile in her voice.

We finished our breakfast and continued to sit and watch and talk. We never got to the blueberry muffin. Once again, we ordered too much food. “We can just take it home and the kids can have it.” she said. We talked about our dreams and wishes. We held hands and watched the world spin itself up around us. And we watched the same guy that went down the other side of the street work his way back up on our side stopping at each trash can looking for something. Looking for anything. Without missing a beat, Jen grabs the muffin out of her bag, along with three dollars in cash that we had left and handed it to me. “Go give this to that guy.”

I’d like to say that I responded immediately with, “That’s what I was just thinking!” But, no. I challenged her. I started reeling with reasons why that was a bad idea to give someone in need a bit of food and a few bucks… “He’ll just buy alcohol with it.” I started to spew out and quickly realized what I was saying and tried to take it back. Words have this amazingly linear trajectory. There is no reverse. As I was trying to not say what I was saying, I got out of my seat, took the muffin bag with her three dollars and sped out the cafe doors. During my insolence, he managed to make it to the corner of the block. I went from a brisk walk to a hasty jog to catch up.

“Sir? Sir…” I called after him. He turned slowly, cautiously, perhaps incoherently. I must have caught him off-guard, calling after him like that. I handed him the bag and the money. He reached out to take it from me with both of his hands. I know I looked into his eyes then, but now recalling the story I barely remember them. They were so hollow and light.

“Thank you, brother. Thank you.” I can still hear his voice. Smashing what was left of the stale, hard candy-coated shell I’ve been constructing around my heart for most of my life. Going to work the next day and sitting at my desk and organizing electrons never felt so meaningless. The newly exposed, raw flesh of my heart was not ready to be so contained so soon. It still isn’t. Almost every day now for the past six months I’ve thought of this weekend and I’m finding myself more and more unsettled with what I spend my time doing everyday.

I have an idea, and I’m going to need a lot of money, or a miracle, or both.

10:25am, A Chat With My Co-Worker

So I’m sitting at my desk today, minding my own business working away on my current project when I suddenly get an instant message from one of my co-workers. The following conversation is real and took place at approximately 10:25am, Mountain time. The names have been changed to protect me, and I fixed his horrible spelling. I love my new job… Continue reading…

Building Without Designing

I’m deep into a big, stinky bucket of a goobery gunk of a redesign project at work. It’s actually more than a “redesign,” it is a restructure as well, with new content, better organized content, purging of cruft from the directory structure, oh, and it is mostly uncharted territory for me as I’m having to not only learn the ins and outs of the company’s business model, online history, legacy system issues and multiple site goals, but I’m having to also get very intimate with a Content Management System I’m not terribly familiar with. I am, however, having a blast doing this. Continue reading…

User Interfaces, Having a Job, and SVN Delete *

Last Friday I officially became a real employee for SurveyGizmo. I spent two weeks testing the Gizmo waters while they spent two weeks testing the Jase waters. Verdict: we like each other… so much so that they want to pay me regularly for giving them some styles and some code and a bunch of pixels, regularly. Sweet.

Now, part of my job involves religious interaction with SVN via the terminal or shell. Translation: command line interface… just monospaced text with no (gasp!) buttons, images, or pretty pictures. I’m not new to terminal life, but I’m not a pro at it either. I’m not afraid of it. Um, at least I wasn’t until Monday which coincidently was my first real day on the job.

In my defense, I’d just like to point out that even a text-only interaction has an interface: the commands that need to be typed. For instance, in SVN, when you are ready to save your work, part of the process may include adding new files to the repository that did not exist in the previous version of the file set, like a new image or style sheet, or a new template file. So to add new files, you use the ‘add’ command which finds new files and preps the forthcoming commit command to include the newly added files. And if there are a handful of new files, you can use the * shortcut which essentially means ‘all’. So the command: svn add * would trigger SVN to add all the new files to the revision queue.

One would think the ‘delete’ aspect of the SVN user interface would work as the counter-part to the ‘add’ interface action. It does not.

So on my first real-non-contracting-trial-day, as one of the first things in the morning, I ran this command: svn delete * in an attempt to get some deprecated files to stop showing back up every time I did an update sync with the repository, thinking this would notice that the files I’ve deleted are missing and prep the revision state to not contain those. You see, I’d delete the un-needed files via FTP but they would pop back in from SVN because I did not remove them from the version controller.

I managed to wipe out my entire set of working files, as well as a slew of other files that were in the directory where the SVN command was issued, in about 1.5 seconds. Then I spent the next hour or so with my office-mate trying to get them back by restoring previous revisions from SVN, but for whatever reason, I got stuck in this weird loop that would bring some files back, but not all. So I had to beg our sys-admin to intervene, which he did rather speedily, in between LOLs and questions like, “How far into typing d-e-l-e-t-e did you get before thinking this might not be a good idea?”

To which I replied, “It never occurred to me that this would happen. SVN’s user interface is broken! Why is ‘delete’ not the reciprocal of ‘add’?!”

“Yeah, delete is not the mirror opposite of add.” Pure genius.

“See? Busted interface.” I snapped back. Then he just laughed at me some more.

Gizmo: the Redesign, Week 1

I’m in the middle of week #1 now at my almost new job and so far it’s going really well. I’m about 95% sure this will be my new place of employment, leaving 5% for the (unlikely) unknown that could take place over the next week and a half or so. The mood at the office is nice… work gets done, and things have deadlines and emergencies pop up frequently like those whack-a-mole things arguing for time and screaming “C’mon! Beat me!” yet things remain relatively calm and light.

My first task should be to help my new co-workers make a decent cup of coffee.

Dear co-workers, coffee grounds lose their purpose once they leave the filter; they become pollutants to the point. Coffee was not meant to be crunchy or opaque, it was meant to have flavor, body, and aroma while doubling as a delivery mechanism for the molecular compound of the gods.

My first real task is to design a set of prototypes for the new public face of the site. So far, so good. I started it on Monday, and yesterday (Tuesday) version one of the homepage made it to my boss’ screen where it was then simulcasted to my other boss’ screen somewhere in Massachusetts. There was plenty of feedback. I love feedback. A lot of nice things were said and some helpful insights were passed down. Today, I buzzed through about 3 progressive iterations based on their feedback.

At a certain point, though, it all starts looking like junk. At first, it started out with what seemed like innovation and elegance—like a colorful, spicy sushi roll—but has now become unsalted mashed potatoes (to me at least). This tends to happen when I’ve been staring at a layout for hours, pushing elements over here, then over there, using this color and that one trying to find the zen within it all. This also happens when the review of the first draft illuminates missing things. The beauty in the simplicity starts to wain when trying to find places to put things in a design that never intended to have these various things. It is not design if it ends up looking slapped together where everything starts looking like an after-thought.

Still, I left the office today feeling great, like progress was taking place. It also feels good to leave at the end of the day knowing I don’t have to stress about finding work tomorrow. I love knowing that I won’t be surrounded by it at home. Freelancing is just as much a prison as it is freedom. At this point, the only thing I miss about freelancing is being around Jen and going on bike rides and adventures with her, picking up the kids from school, and taking a shower at whenever o’clock.

So, I get home and flip through my feeds and view finished, functional designs and I start thinking, I’m just a hack. Look at that. I’d have never thought to do it that way and that’s awesome. This is all, of course, just self-imposed garbage. The feedback and reactions dictate quite the opposite. And in my own defense against myself, each site (and sometimes each page) has its own set of problems and issues and requirements. Self, get over yourself.

I have some ideas to try out tomorrow to bring the innovation back into the project that I felt like the first draft had. The simplicity needs to be reinstated one way or another—it has to on a conversion site.

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?

Looking. Again.

I love freelancing, I mean being self-employed. I love waking up hoping that today will be the day that that promised check shows up only one month late. You know, that check that covers the mortgage, car payments, electric bill, will put a bit of food in the kitchen, etc… Yeah, I yearn for that sinking feeling that hits when today’s date is the same as the cut-off date before obtaining yet another late charge. But my most favorite thing is when I get to spend an hour of my baby girl’s day drafting yet another contract only to have it return void due to either incompetence or indifference.

Pardon me… vomit alert. This post is just a “guts on the floor” dump while trying to make sense of my life at the moment. If you find this, just ignore it. If parts of this is about you, I don’t mean to offend… this a cleansing moment for me to get the junk out of my head so I can prepare for the next wondrous phase of my life and you already know what I think anyway. Okay that sounds more sarcastic and melancholy than I actually feel. I’m excited to venture out again into that place people call “outside.” Continue reading…

Lost

Sometimes I feel like a lame designer. Tasked with a project of “freshening” an existing site has at times been tough and I’m not sure why. Am I losing my eye for design? Maybe the existing site (from a recent project) was so bad that a freshening is not possible. But then does that make me a bad designer?

Shouldn’t I be able to clean up any design and make it at least a little better? (emphasis on “little” as that’s about the time-frame I’m usually given to perform pixel-surgery on three- to sometimes four-year-old sites)

Feeling lost in my profession, kind of washed up, and contemplating digging out my knee pads and diving back into crates of floor tile, buckets of thin-set and huge orangey sponges. I forget what it’s like to walk away from work at the end of the day feeling like my involvement made a difference and that difference by virtue being improvement. Continue reading…

The Primer and the Time Logic Loop

The problem with being dependent on a cup of coffee to help get things going each day is that [for me] most mornings require that I’m already coherent in order to make the coffee.

Some days are worse than others. Today I almost made a cup of hot water.

Hello

In two days I start telecommuting again. But until then there’s a ton to do to get the home office set up in the basement and convert it from a storage facility to a productive working environment. Ready… set… go!